2018. I have just returned from lecture theatre. I feel worked up. Everything is messy. The bedroom is unkempt. Clothes thick with oil-like dirt glare and sprawl on the bed. Sharp stench perforate my nose. I haven’t washed utensils for two weeks now. I can’t tell how, but ugali has become my best serve, nowadays. I am loving the progress. However, this new found love has come with responsibilities. Sufurias scrabbling isn’t my forte. Korokoto, my roommate, isn’t a man to depend on. He’s lazy as Ludlam’s dog: I think his blood is extraordinarily thick with indolent. What’s more vexatious, nowadays, he’s acting so manly. Village’s coath has caught up with him and he’s behaving like a 5BC man. “Women jobs aren’t mine to do,” he provokes. “God’s daughters can do the washing,” he adds. “Is this not the same man who does laundry for Vexena? But, what can’t a man do for a woman?” I think out loud. Obsequiously, he praises Vexena but in our solitary dungeon, he gives me orders pointing at this or that thing with his lips. “A man’s shoe must reek,” he says swinging his strong foul smelling legs when I ask about the state of his shoes stuffed with dirty socks.
I hate Wednesdays. My hatred for this day surpasses that of a jealous woman who thinks another woman: a moredom lover is about to elope with her husband. Seven to seven lectures. Presentations. Assignments. Class attendance. And dealing with draconian dons: more of syndicates is infernal. It’s diabolical especially when a unit such as prosody is taught by a native. Synthesizing words as ‘Eurobe‘, and ‘tekree‘ horrorizes. Some dons donned in academic attires: a suit, a tie, a pair of goggles, and a moustache like that of Hitler are an irony.
My phone rings. I don’t pick it up at the first ring. I just watch it ring till the ringtone dies. I don’t know whether I love this ringtone or not. The song ‘I Cry Tears For You‘ by Romain Virgo, reminds me of Teryl. We are in the library, mauling literary questions on: Poetry of East and Central Africa. At the edge of our table, there sit, head sunk in a book, a novel I bet, a young lady of a medium height, light-skinned, donned in a white blouse which exposes her breasts cleavage. Her smile is heavenly. I fall into step beside her as I move against the flow of students heading in the library. “They call me Babyface, ” I say smiling while descending the stairs heading for the exit. “Baby what?” She asks. “Your face is more of a man than of a baby, ” she intones jokingly. “Oh, yeah. I mean they call me that, ” I defend myself. “It is a good name, baby face, ha ha,” she laughs. Silence fall between us: a clouded and biting silence. After a three to four minutes of face exchanges, she stops, rubs her hands and look me direct into the eyes. “This is where I stay. Do you mind coming in for a cup of coffee or tea maybe?” She requests. A fight breaks in my conscience. “Should I or should I not?” I think loudly.
Before I joined campus, I heard narratives about campus girls: that campus girls are dangerous than the devil or are romantically fixated and eat men’s money like starving pigs. Before me is one: a campus girl. Beautiful as goddess Athena, with an angelic smile and face. I barely know her and she doesn’t know me either. We are total strangers brought together by curiosity and infatuation. ” I should get inside, it’s getting cold out here,” she requests. “Oh, yeah, yes, you should,” I respond to her request almost immediately. I feel weird inside. I want really to tell her this: that I like her and I want to have a date if it’s okay with her. “I am Teryl by the way,” she says.
It’s the third ring now. I’ve not bothered to pick up the phone. “He’s in trouble, again?” I whisper to myself. I have ‘saved’ Korokoto from dozens of troubles. Not once, not twice, not even thrice – many are the instances I have covered up for him. Since first year first semester he has been having strands of campus girls. Vekhekhe, just to mention, has on many occasions showed him dust. She has eaten his money like a termite leaving him poor. “I won’t cover up for him again. I leave God to save him this time round,” I whisper between spontaneity of breaths. I have not seen him for days and he doesn’t call to inquire if I am okay.
I tumble to the edge of the bed and stretch my right hand. I pick my phone, swap it sideways to see the caller. It is Jim, my twin brother. I hit the dial pad and return the call. Jim’s voice is sad and hoarse. “Kijana, ” he greets. Of my six brothers, Jim is slightly light-skinned. He has taken after my elder brother in body complexion, height, and even how he addresses situations. When we’re at home during the festive days, he doesn’t fail to remind me that he saw the sun minutes earlier than me. Therefore, he sits on the sofa, and just like Korokoto he bosses everyone around. I love many things about him. First, he’s pure-hearted. Second, he’s the best chef in the whole world I know. He cooks chapatis so tasty. Jokingly, my sisters say that those chapatis slide on knees down their throat. Third, he brags a lot that he sponsors me in campus. “Niko fiti Sana, sina maneno, niambie,” I return his greetings. “Umesikia Toni amepata accident?” he ask. Jim’s statement catches me by surprise. His news is heartbreaking.
As humans, we strive to belong: we want to be identified as belonging in a particular group or family. Secondary school results are out. I have not met my target. Everything is blurry and all I see in my life is a dark passage. I have come to the city. Life here isn’t welcoming. Unlike in the village, everybody is busy minding their business. Nobody cares to know who their neighbors are: what their names are or where on the belly of earth one has come from. I abhor waking up early in the morning, being stuck in traffic, and working. I hate the sight of blood. Every day, I must wash the meat parlor. Sticking my hands in the fridge nauseates me. Evenings are worse, these are surge hours. Nobody need take chances and miss a matatu. One is forced to jump on any matatu. A little delay calls for attention by these good-city-men. You hop on any matatu as long as the conductor has announced its destination. In the matatu, sit wherever. Complaints are invitations of insults from conductors or other passengers who have had enough of city’s insanity. Home isn’t a place to be either.
A two storey building stand haggardly by the roadside beaten by age and years of reeking dust. A single room. In it a small sofa set, a small wooden table where cutlery sleep every day, and an old television set. The room is full just from these countable items. There are three by two timbers nailed vertically on each side of the wall three quater way to the roof. Six by one timbers horizontally run from left to the right wall forming another roof. A wooden stairway ascends up the top of the wooden roof. That’s the bedroom with an eight by eight mattress. Sundays are my off days. Toni’s wife is home. “You barely leave the house in order, ” she screams. I don’t want to say anything to her. I understand my mistakes. Yesterday, Saturday morning I didn’t fold the mat I sleep on. “We aren’t going to stay like that here. This is my house,” she screams again. Yes, it is her house but it’s my brother’s too. A hot slap lands on her cheek.
An uncouth feeling cut deep in my chest. Tears well up in my eyes and I can feel them coldly hitting the edge of my stomach. A feeling of loss assumes control. Melancholy fills the room.
Saturday, 5.00 P.M. I dig the earphones deep into my ears, swap the phone’s screen sideways, tap on the boomplay and select Baadaye by Amos and Josh. I loathe what I am feeling and thinking. My brother isn’t dead and I am here playing loss songs. I find distraction from the long queue of passengers waiting for city bus to arrive. I order roasted maize, a woman seated by the window, stretch her right hand and grab the corn I have ordered. I give her a fifty shilling note to pay. I thrust the silver coin change in my back pocket and let my jaws act on the maize cob on my behalf. “Do you believe in God?” She ask. God has been part and parcel of my life. It is Sunday, we must perform a kit on the fruits of the Holy Spirit. In the script, I am Ananias and a girl I have loved with the whole of me is sapphira. What a coincidence? Or God is just a God of miracles? “God is my absolute hope,” I say softly. The stranger reads a verse from the Holy Bible she produces from her purse. ‘God doesn’t advocate lies. He’s a God of truth,” she emphasizes. I nod my head in agreement. “Is the stranger trying to tell me something. Or she just is a random thief?” I think almost audibly.
For minutes, I try to figure out what instances in campus I have told lies. I can’t remember a lie. I can’t. However, I feel I have. “I am no saint,” I think to myself. I have just lied to the conductor. He has asked me if I am going to the City. Here I am going to Nairobi from Eldoret and my answer was no. The woman by the window translate the word of God, and all my tongue find to say is ‘Amen’. I am headed to Nairobi to see my brother. Jim called me on Wednesday and reported the bad news. The conductor slaps the City Hopper’s ribs. This is how the conductors signal drivers to stop. I jump out, eject the earphones from my ears, stuff them into my back pocket, and swing my black backpack on my shoulders. It is 6:30 P.M. Alex isn’t at his work place. He isn’t there, obviously. I proceed to Toni’s work place. Mwangi, his workmate is there. I don’t greet him. I place my backpack on the shelf and proceed outside the shop. “Are you going to visit Toni, today?” I ask. Darkness is building at every corner on the horizon. “It is late already. Let’s visit him tomorrow morning,” he says.
Sunday, 10:00 A.M. I profusely stretch and yawn. I reach for my phone, swap it sideways and check what time it is. “Damn, I am late,” I curse. Before going to bed, I had asked Mwangi, to accompany me to the KNH to see Toni at exactly 8:00 A.M. “It’s 10 A.M,” I retaliate as if my memory is failing. Something strange is happening. I call my sister Esther. I ask her if we are together going to the hospital. She tells me that Alex is on his way coming. “Coming or going to the hospital?” I wonder hanging up. Something ain’t adding up. Alex should be at the hospital or he should be on his way to the hospital. How then is he coming back? My sister seems not to be in a hurry. She’s sleepy and struggling to wake up. I fold blankets and put them at the head of the bed, sit on a beige plastic armchair leaning on the wall at the door, and drown my head in my phone.
The door opens from outside. I am startled. I never expected anyone. It is my brother, Alex. I am bilated to see him. His presence shimmer light of hope. Oh, yes, Toni is coming home whole. “Hi, Kev, you’re here,” he greets me. I nod trying to read his face. Toni used to called me Kev. The previous week before he got an accident, he had sent me an SMS, ‘Hi, Kev,”. My response was precise, ‘Poa. I’m good’. That was our last chat. “I came yesterday at around 6:40 P.M. What’s the plan for today. Are we visiting Toni?” I ask. Alex scratch his head simultaneously and his eyes fall on the floor. Gasping, he says, “Kijana amepumzika.” I have always thought myself strong: courageous or hard-hearted. I know now. I am not. This piece of news break me tenfold. “What, Toni is no more?” I jump from my plastic seat. “Yes, he’s with his maker,” Alex intones.
Memories of my late brother assail me, I remember when he saw my sister’s big belly, “Let me feel the boy move, ” he requests. He places his right ear on my heavily pregnant sister’s belly. Two or so minutes later, he removes his ear from my sister’s belly. ” The boy has a barking spider,” he says laughing. Toni has always been the family comedian. He has a touch for everything. He’s our humorist and to him everything is humorous. On another occasion, he repeatedly strikes a blue plastic cup he’s grasping on the door’s hedge to ease the porridge that has stuck in it. “Today’s bricklayers are useless as a woman’s beauty. See, mother, your door’s falling,” he says gulping the little porridge that has collected in his cup.
She grasps Dawn – Toni’s daughter and run towards the dam. Jose has spoken: A soft spoken tall light-skinned gentleman. Toni and Jose are good friends. They have seen it all in the city. Not once or twice have they escaped the city municipal council snare for pushing carts full of groceries on busy Nairobi lanes.
Jim grips the cross, with writings, our heartfelt condolences, lifts it in front of him and leads the casket. My brothers, cousins and a few friends clasp handles alighned on the casket and follows my brother Jim to where we are to lay to rest Toni. “From whence the body came, there it returns. For it came from soil and to soil it shall return. May the Lord God remember Toni’s soul when the trumpet bleat to announce your son’s coming. Amen,” the pastor intone.
I’ve never seen my father cry. He is. His father has hit the belly of the grave. Mourners are surrounding the grave, spades in hands to send Toni to his creator. My father varnishes from the vicinity. Women, old and young. Men old and young. Children: both boys and girls resonate to auf Wiedersehen songs.
He plants the cross at Toni’s head.
The sky darkens. And there is a heavy rain. A sign that God is happy, that His servant has gone to be with Him.
Under the acacia’s shade, the girl Toni left when he went to the City soaks emotionlessly in the heavy downpour.