The Chinese are building us a road. Mzee Kweyu’s dog is missing. They say the road will bring development. But development without dogs means more thieves. There will be more thieves breeding and more thieves being bred. Then our development will be stolen. It will all go away.
Akuriba is a feared old man. Very. Not that he has anything worth fear. He is in fact so weak and he might die the week before next. Or the year before next. Or the day before next public holiday. Whichever comes first. But he is very feared.
To reach school, the other hurdle you had to overcome was Akuriba’s road. That is how we called the beaten path that passed next to his gate. Now Akuriba had this dog that barked so hard at women and small children doing their poo business. It was very ugly and had a scar below the left eye. We called it Simba.
How many times did Simba chase us? There even are days we ran because we imagined Simba following us. There are days elders coerced us to do work by simply calling ‘Simba! Simba! Simba!’.
Akuriba is feared because he could tame the dog. My elder brother once told me he had seen Akuriba slap Simba because Simba had refused to take the daily dosage of bhang. That he had even grabbed its tail and tied it on the fence post in disciplining the dog. The carnivore had thus obeyed and puffed at the roll he was offering. And Simba was so feared.
But that, too, is gone.
The road the Chinese are building will touch the kingdom on one side and the lake communities on the other. They say commerce will flourish. We shall sell chicken and we shall buy fish. More cockerels and tilapia will be transported along. But that will be then. For now, it is dog meat.
Gone are the days dog barks supplemented the evening noises of children playing under the silent moon. The children no longer play. They, too, know that it is no longer secure these days. They cannot trust the lurking shadows in the trees any more. When there is no dog to bark, that moving shadow might be Oroya. Okay, Oroya is dead, but who says there are no more night runners being born. Or it might be a msumbichi. Yes, robbers are no longer scarce here and they walk like emperors.
The Chinese spend their days giving instructions to young black engineers and hand-men alike. These engineers will walk with raised shoulders and cowboy walking styles over the weekend when they enter the night club. But during the day, they bow their heads before their idols of young bosses. In the evening these bosses all pile themselves in the front cabins of lorries and go back to that camp at Shianda. You may not know what they watch, or what they say, or what they sing. You might not know what they read or which blogs they follow or what plans they hatch for tomorrow. But you definitely know what they will roast and what they will eat.
We have a new breed of children. They have round Caucasian heads and their mothers’ hard hair and hoarse voices. They never look at you with happiness even when you jingle a coin. They never frown. They are just there. And how they start to cry is just like pa! If you are not strong, they’ll wake you from sleep and you will slap them. Papa Netia says he warned his daughter not to feed the kid on beef but she forgot to hear. He had suggested that though she could not identify the father, she was only supposed to feed the baby on their traditional food, back where the baby belonged. He says he had even thought of talking to Akuriba over that issue. She refused. Now the baby cries like that old John Deer tractor of Choochi.
But that is not the hardest part. People are asking themselves what will happen when the children want to build isimba. A boy’s first isimba is built where the father points the finger. It is the father who drops the first hoe in the digging of foundation. Then the father spits to bless the soil, after which the boy will offer a hen for sacrifice and then other boys will help their peer to make holes and plant poles for the hut. But where will these boys get their blessings from? Will they hire an omusuku to come hit the ground for them? Who will receive the red cockerel when that time comes? Who will spit in the soil for them? Who will even shave this first hair of theirs? It is so sad.
People don’t like the local chief anymore. The whisper is that a mouth cannot talk and eat at the same time. He was supposed to write to the national government to come take their expats but he too forgot. They have decided to use the political wing. Next week Monday, a motion may be tabled in parliament. I don’t know very well, but it is rumoured that Akuriba, Kweyu Marinda, Matseshe and other veterans have been bought suits to go demonstrate in the city. If they go, we shall see them on TV. If they don’t, it will still be fine. After all, it is just a rumour.
It is one year since the road construction began. It is one year since the barking of dogs began to stop. One full year of short Chinese men in yellow helmets under the burning sun. Two more years and the project will be over. If the rain season stays long, two and half. For two and half years we shall cage our dogs in our own sitting rooms. If we go to the market, we shall go with them. If we go to the river to bathe, we shall let them look at our nakedness by the riverbank. And we shall ensure that our daughters are watched, especially in evenings of moonless nights.
If you asked me, I’d have suggested that we write a letter. We write a letter and send it those thousand miles across the ocean. We tell them one thing. That if it is roads, we have had enough of roads. No thank you. You can as well go build more roads for the communities down south because I hear they have only paths for donkeys and wild snakes. No, thank you.