SHORT STORIES

Stories inspired by random things that make life interesting. Stories inspired by others, and my mind

TEMPORARY INSANITY

“Look, I am really sorry about everything. Let’s start over…..” he said while fidgeting with his copy of the house keys.

I shrugged. Sucked in air and sighed.

“Seriously, it was a mistake. I-…” he stopped midway then looked me in the eye , hoping to get a response, but I gave none.

He moved closer to me. I stood transfixed and watched him take drunken steps towards me. He was still intoxicated from the previous night’s drinking spree.

He tensed when I stuck my hand in my trouser pocket ~ and there was a brief moment of relief on his face when I removed the Samsung galaxy I had given him as a present when he got his job promotion earlier in the year.

“Where did you get my phone? I thought we agreed to respect each other’s privacy?

I could feel anger rising in me. I bit my lower lip and walked away from him. I could hear his footsteps behind me, rushing to overtake me. He held me by the collar of my nightdress and tried tackling me to get his phone back.

“Don’t you dare touch me…..if I go to the police you will never get out of jail. You know what they told you last time you were there….”

He held me tighter, and I could feel the tightness in my throat as he pulled my dress getting tighter.

“I am taking it back, if this is what you will be using to text her every day as I am seated here waiting for you to come home. I am not giving you back this phone….”

Tears stung my eyes. I was shaking in rage and helplessness. I thought the anger inside me was going to kill me.

“She is just a friend. Haven’t I told you that she is just a good friend?”

There it was- the all so familiar purge of rancid words. I closed my eyes tightly and felt hot tears roll on my cheeks. His hand was now on my wrist, clasping tight. His face was on my face, and I could smell the pungent reek of alcohol as he begged me to give him his phone.

I pushed him away using all my strength. I was yelling in anger, saying things that were unfamiliar to me, and battling the deep rage that was consuming my entire being

“You know you have a problem. You are too insecure, and it makes me sick….i am tired of your drama.” he said while running after me.

“You know what I am tired of? I am tired of your lies, of your cheating. I am tired of all these women you claim are just friends. I am tired of my friends calling me to tell me that you have been spotted with yet another one…..”

A huge sob rocked my body.

He reached for me, grabbed me and scared me. I thought he was going to strike me hard, so I shielded my face.

“Look, give me the phone, and I swear, I will be out of this place. I am ready to move out and leave . we can work something out. I can go and stay with a friend until we figure something out.

He sounded pathetically calm ~ like he had always wanted this and was jumping at the opportunity. I know I was supposed to feel relieved, but somehow, the whole thing made my head pound.

“ I deleted everything. And I am not giving you back this phone.” I said flatly. My tears had subsided, replaced by some raw emotion I couldn’t really place.

I could see him getting impatient.

I rushed to the toilet. He followed me.

“Look, at least let me get my back up. Everything is on that phone, including my client’s details. And I am expecting an important business call, please….let’s not get emotional.”

I dropped it inside the toilet. He screamed. I flushed. Over and over in urgency. A cacophonous swell of yells and flushing water filled the room. My heart was healing, my soul was being soothed.

choo

His breath hissed from his lips like an inflating balloon.

Then he grabbed me and pushed me on the wall, he was seething in anger. I was not scared. I felt strong in my vulnerability. Courageous even. And so, when I reached for the my trouser pocket and removed a small pocket knife, my mind was clouded.

I struck the bulls-eye I had mentally etched across his chest and released a blood drenched knife.

He fell in a slump at my feet, his gaze fixed mercifully on me.

My hand was bloody, and even as I flushed the toilet again to try and drown the phone that had refused to sink, I left a bloody mess on the toilet cistern. But I continued flushing, as if I had been possessed by a demon.

“Temporary insanity….” That is what they called it when they found me, still flushing the toilet long after the phone had disappeared.

toilet

 

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Categories: SHORT STORIES | 6 Comments

SCATTERED SUNRISE AND SUNSET

Sitting on the rugged rocking chair that she had always sat on at her balcony, Antonia stared at the moon that was illuminating a shimmery light among the clouds. She stared absent mindedly at the paths the light made between broken lumps of cloud and marveled at how they looked like a map being drawn. She fixed her gaze on the star studded skyline and couldn’t fail to notice the beauty of the shooting star, and how slowly the sky was clearing to bring in a new day.

star 1

Her sleeping baby boy made a cooing noise in her arms and she made a “shush” sound to silence him. She realized that she needed to put him in his cot. She walked barefoot, ignoring the coldness of the tiled floor that she stepped on. As she laid her son to sleep, she remembered that she hadn’t given him his cough meditation, but she didn’t wake him up.

“Just a few more hours and it will be morning. I will give it to him when he wakes up” She said to herself and battled briefly with the slight guilt that was forming in her mind. She was doing her best in this motherhood thing that was new to her, and in as much as she wasn’t doing it perfectly, she knew that she loved her son.

She sat down on her computer to send an email to her husband who was out of town to tell him that she couldn’t wait for his return home. He had been away for eight days, and Antonia missed him terribly. He was a loving man and always showed his affection by buying her expensive gifts with a lot of public display of affection. She liked every minute of her marriage.

Her phone vibrated in the pocket of her jeans. She ignored it at first, thinking it’s a message from her network provider. It went on and on. When she removed it and stared at the huge screen of her cell phone, she couldn’t recognize the number.

 

“Hey, who am I talking to?”

“Hello, don’t tell me you deleted my number.”
She recognized the voice immediately, and she was awash with many emotions; chief among them a lingering fear of the uncertainty that this phone call brought.

“Karen, where are you? I lost my phone and had to replace my sim card. Why did you take so long to call me? I have missed you.” Antonia asked while twirling her hair.

Karen laughed. The boisterous laughter that she always had back then when they were staying together. That unmistakable laughter that masked the pain that she had gone through while growing up. Even when she had told Antonia of how many times she had attempted to end her life and the many days that she stood staring at the busy streets, wishing she would just dive in front of a moving car, she always concluded her stories by giving a hearty laugh that would confuse those who didn’t know her well…laughter was her escape, her way to fool the world that all was well, even though those close to her knew that she was broken on the inside.

And here she was, calling Antonia, four years after they last saw each other.

phon

“Antonia, I am calling to ask you if you have seen it…” She said in a drowsy voice. It was obvious that she was drunk. Her voice had a sleepy drawl, of someone who had over indulged the previous night.

“Seen what?” Antonia asked.

“The paper – Have you seen it?” she asked.

Antonia didn’t understand. From the other end where Karen spoke, there was a loud hoot, and the sounds of vehicles moving rapidly.

“Where are you? “ Antonia asked concerned.

“Errrm, I got a morning gig. These days I do a 8 to 5 job. I am a good citizen, shifted my into being a better person.” She said and let out a loud laughter that scared Antonia.
“What paper are you talking about Karen? And what is in it?”
Karen laughed.
“I know you have seen it, quit toying with my mind, and don’t be like that. You got married to a wealthy man alright, but don’t forget us down here. You were once here ma’…”

Antonia could feel a wave of anger rise in her. She didn’t know why or where it came from, but she didn’t like the suspense that Karen was creating in her mind.

Sunrises are known to be cathartic, to be a significant representation of a new dawn…and the sunrise outside her window was intense. It was about 6:17 am when Antonia stepped out of her house, leaving her son still peacefully asleep on the cot. It was still slightly dark when she stepped into the chilling cold with her blue earphones concealed under her hooded trench coat.

hooded-beauty

The newspaper vendor was still laying out the newspapers on the stand when she arrived.
“Give me today’s publications. All of them…” she said.

The vendor gathered several newspapers and handed them to her in a small heap. She took them hurriedly, and rushed towards her house. The streetlights cast an eerie shadow of her as a tall being rushing towards the unknown. She stopped, and ruffled through the newspapers. There was nothing much…politics, celebrity news, development, just the normal things. She was beginning to think that Karen had gotten her worried for no reason, until she saw her photo splashed beneath a headline.
Exposed: Minister’s wife was once a prostitute.

Her heart sunk. All the words lumped into some form of jumbled up text that rose from the face and hit her hard.

She walked on…

Her shadow followed her.

Thup! Thup! Into the rising morning…

She held her hood and started running towards her house. The shadow ran too…like a past that refused to disappear. She increased the volume of the music in her earphones, trying to block the dawning reality. In the haze of her mind, she wondered who could have revealed what she thought was her well guarded secret. For four years, she had kept the lid closed tight, she had moved to a different town…she had changed her number and started over…she had even changed her name for heaven’s sake!

“Oh No, Karen…you didn’t…” she thought to herself and called the number from her call log. She got the busy tone. She tried over and over until she felt a hot liquid slip from her eyes. She wiped using the corner of her sleeve and more kept rolling, like a waterfall.

She continued dialing.

Nothing.

She dropped the newspapers she was carrying and they scattered into the wind, like ash thrown in a gale. In different directions her story went, but she didn’t care.

blown

She dialed Karen again. This time it went through.

“Did you tell them?” she whispered while her entire body shook, from the cold, and from a feeling that burned her belly.

“Are you insane?” Karen responded and gave a hearty laugh. Antonia paused.

“How did they know? Someone must have told them…”

“Yes, someone must have told them….but not me bitch. I cant do that on a friend.” Kare said.

There was beep on Antonia’s phone. An indication that there was another call coming through.

It was her husband.

Her voice trembled when he asked her where she was.

“Running errands…” was all she could say at the moment. She made a few steps forward before the reality hit her…

The lid had fallen, and she had to do something. So she turned and ran in the opposite direction. She pressed the volume knob of her music player and the music blasted in her ears. She wanted to listen to a song that would fill her with hope, desperation, release, sorrow…

By the time she arrived at Karen’s door step, a place that she once called home, a place she had sworn never to go back to, it was dark. The skyline shone in neon colors and the rusty iron sheets reminded her of just how much the place had remained unchanged.

“Why did you come?” karen asked when she opened the door.
“I couldn’t face my husband. I couldn’t Kare. He is a church minister…it would have brought him so much shame.
“You came with nothing ~ what about your son?”
Antonia leaned forward and embraced her, and a strong sob rocked her body. For the first time since she saw the paper, she remembered her son.

Meanwhile, at the same rocking chair that she had sat on that morning, Anthony sat while watching his phone. When it rang, he sprang to it and laughed.

“I am sorry, I was in a meeting, I should have called you earlier.” The sub editor of the paper said.

“No problem sir. You did a good story. I loved it. Every piece of it was delicious. What a scandal.”

And they both laughed.

“But Sir, you have known this from the first time you met her, why did you decide to expose her like that, aren’t you a man of God?”

Anthony laughed so loudly.

“ She didn’t know that I know…and that’s the interesting bit. I donno why I did it. I guess there is a little evil in all of us.

“True…” the sub editor said.

Then they both hung up. And the sun sunk deeper into the sky.

sunset

Categories: SHORT STORIES | 6 Comments

3000 SHILLINGS WORTH OF SORROW

It was dark, so dark that even the golden glow of the street lights couldn’t reach the oppressive blackness at the bottom of the dank alleyway. I continued running without looking behind; with my baby Reni clutched to my chest. My bare feet made sucking noises as I stepped on the soggy ground as it had rained not a while ago.

I didn’t look down, I concentrated on the rhythm of my heart…I could feel a sharp pain forming in my chest, but I continued running….the wind was cold, and in the night air hung the smell of glue that street children in the city love sniffing.

I continued running….

I suddenly stopped when someone threw a feeble light on my path.

“where are you going at this time of the night?” he asked.

“Running away from my husband” I responded. For a brief moment he looked at me without saying anything. He looked at his wrist and realised he didn’t have a watch, then he muttered something under his breath.

The man held my shoulder and let me to the pavements of the many shops in the city. I could tell he was a watchman from the big rungu he carried.

Nairobi by night was a dead, compared to what I had seen on the day that I first came to the city, two years ago.

“Is that your baby?” He asked beaming a ray of light onto my baby’s sleeping face.

The pavement was cold, and still wet from the rain. I sat down and I felt the emotions that I had inside me overpower me. a huge sob rocked my body…

“Madam, is this your baby?” he asked again, this time his voice getting stern.

I nodded.

He didn’t say anything. He just stared at me, long and hard. I felt very tiny under his gaze.

We sat in an uncomfortable silence, until I heard the sound of an approaching car.

A woman dressed in a short black skirt emerged from the car and came to the pavement where I was seated.

“Young lady, I have been following you, u probably didn’t notice, because you were concentrating more on the running…” she said, and a weak smile cracked her face.

I looked at her and I noticed her hair. it was long and bulky, just like I have always wanted my hair to be. I liked her immediately.

“Am sorry, but I was running away from my husband. He was chasing me with a knife, I was scared that he might kill me…” I said without attempting to wipe away the tears on my face.

“You poor thing, come with me. Let’s go to my house, we will see what to do about your husband when the day breaks.”

The watchman who had found me looked at me with pitiful eyes and patted my back in a fatherly way.

“Maybe you can give her a job at your house madam, so that she can buy shoes” He said and I suddenly became aware of my lack of shoes.

The woman nodded and led me to her car. A wave of relief washed over me. Renee was still in my arms, unaware of the night. Unaware of the changes that awaited us…

Where rich people stay, the sun rises with beauty—as I realized when I woke up at the strange woman’s house. Everything was arranged in some kind of order, so different from the clutter that I was used to in the slum where I had spent my life since I arrived in Nairobi from the village.

To be a good guest, I had woken up earlier and tried to clean. The woman, my savior woke up almost immediately, beaming with excitement.

“You can start working today…” she said.

My gaze was fixed to the ground. I wasn’t used to this kind of treatment.

“Hey, do this, take this 3,000 shillings and go to the market, buy yourself clothes and something for the little one…”

I was taken aback by her generosity.

“-but madam,” I started, but she just smiled, opened her purse and handed me 3,000 shillings.

“Go now, I will feed the baby for you. I don’t have any of my own, but there is nothing hard in giving the baby milk, is there?” she said and smiled. She had the most perfect smile. It shone from within her.

She gave me her open shoes to wear to the market. Outside, just next to her gate was a supermarket, and I marked it, to make it easier for me to find my way back.

“There are very nice things in Gikomba, if you get there early. I will be right here, waiting to see what you have bought…” she shouted from inside.

A bib. A leso. A feeding bottle. Tiny shoes that the vendor had told me light up when a baby walks. Fruits. Malenge that my mama had told me makes babies stronger. A house decoration for my new boss and clothes for me…that’s what I came carrying.

The supermarket was still there. The people I had passed selling fruits at the entrance of the gate were still there, but the house was empty.

It was empty.

I ran inside.

It was empty.

A feeling I cannot explain engulfed me. A burning, all consuming feeling.

I ran up and down…to the fruit’s guy.

“hey, the house is empty…” I yelled.

He didn’t understand.

“who are you?”

“Reni’s mother. The woman who stays here, where is she?” I asked while pointing at the now deserted house.

“Ohhh, the owner of that house…she moved out immediately you left. She had given the landlord a notice three months ago…”

“No, she went with my Reni…?”

“Check inside the house, maybe she left her there”

I ran like a maniac. The goods I got from Gikomba lay strewn on the ground.

I went into all rooms.

Upstairs.

Downstairs.

Upstairs.

Downstairs again.

Oh dear Lord, thy Kingdom come!

“Reni…” I shouted. My voice was echoed through the large house.

Something inside me died. Something rose inside me, and in an instant flash, I was vomiting all over the house….

“My baby…my baby…my baby…” I whispered all over until they are the only word my brain could process. My baby…

I ran outside. I was bathed in sweat. Oh, sweat and tears.

The man selling fruits was still there.

“I didn’t find her…I will try and find the landlord, then maybe he can lead me to the woman.” I said. My voice lacked something. I couldn’t even convince myself.

“Madam, the landlord died 6 weeks ago. Maybe the new agents will be able to help you. Just hope that the dead mzee had all the details somewhere…” he said and went back to slicing the paw- paw fruit he was carrying.

“Uuuuuwi, my baby. My baby….”

I ran up and down. People stared at me without saying anything. My legs felt very light.

Next to me were the things I had bought from Gikomba. I sat on them and folded into myself like a big cat….

“Renii…” I shouted, but the only response I got was my own voice echoed to eternity. Over and over.

Categories: SHORT STORIES | 2 Comments

PAPA’S TEARS

Darkness was fast approaching. I stuck out my tongue at Naya, and she reached out as if to grab me, but I dodged neatly and she fell on the ground. We burst into loud laughter.

‘I will catch you tomorrow’, Naya panted.

‘No tomorrows. Catch me now!’ I shouted and giggled playfully.

I did not wait to hear what she had to say. I ran home.

A bright dust of fireflies swept ahead of me. I captured one of them and clutched my fist tightly. I made a small hole among my fingers and peered inside to see if the fly still had its tiny green light, but I was disappointed to find out the light was gone.

I heard Mama shouting my name from a distance and increased my speed. She was standing by the door when I arrived.

‘Don’t you have some sense in your head to see that it is dark?’ she asked, pocking my forehead furiously with her finger.

‘I was playing with Naya’, I whispered.

‘Eish! Playing with with Naya at this time?’ she said harshly.

‘Ma-,’ I started, but she did not let me finish. She rushed into the hut, and it was difficult to predict whether she was going to get a cane; which she always kept in the kitchen, or if she had gone to continue with cooking.

I remained outside for a while, to watch the situation. When she did not come out and I heard her hum a tune in the kitchen, I entered the house and sat on the mat that was spread in the center of the living room.

Papa came and found me playing with the shadows of my hands. I made images of fierce dogs, venomous snakes, scorpions…

He slumped himself on his chair and it creaked loudly under his weight. There was only one chair in our hut, and it belonged to Papa. Nobody ever sat on it, not even when Papa was away. When we had a visitor, Mama would get a stool from the neighbour; not letting anyone sit on Papa’s chair.

Papa scratched the hairs of his chin vigorously. He always did that whenever he had nothing to do. Occasionally, he pulled one strand of hair from his chin and examined it carefully. I wondered what he always looked for in those strands.

I pretended to be reading my Progressive English textbook. My eyes were fixed on the book, while my thought wandered to my day at school.

‘Papa, is it true that all children are angels?’ I suddenly asked. Our class teacher had told us during Religious Studies that all children were angels.

He continued scratching his chin without saying anything.

‘Papa’

‘Eh!’

‘Are children Angels?’

‘They are’

‘Is Jiwe an angel too?’

‘He is’

‘But he is crippled Papa; he has no legs’

Papa smiled.

‘Papa, am I an angel too?’

‘You are.’

My eyes shone. I had never thought of myself as an angel.

‘Is it right to slap an angel papa?’

‘No’

‘Then why did you slap me the day I took one shilling from your wallet?’

‘Angels do not steal’

‘ I did not steal, I took’ I just took one…

‘Took without my knowledge – you stole.’

‘No, I took’

Our conversation was interrupted by a loud hammering on the door. Papa was sitting next to the door, but he did not move to open it; instead, Mama came from the kitchen fastening her leso around her waist. There were little bids of sweat on the tip of her nose and her forehead was shiny. Opening of doors and other inferior jobs belonged to women.

Mama wiped her forehead with the back of her hand when she reached the door, but before she opened, it was kicked violently and it flung open.

Papa shot up in alarm. I also stood.

It was Chief. He was not wearing his uniform. He stood towering in front of us.

‘I salute you Chief’, Mama said bowing her head.

Chief did not look at mama. He stepped into the hut and his heavy shoes made a Thup! Thup! sound as he walked on the lose soil on the floor of our hut.

Thup! Thup! He walked towards Papa.

He stopped about two footsteps from Papa. His shadow was thrown on the cracked wall of our hut; it was enormously exaggerated and his image looked like a giant; ready to devour Papa.

The air was still.

‘Have a seat Chief’, papa said, pointing at his chair – the one nobody ever sat on.

‘Did you abuse your employer today?’ Chief said, ignoring Papa’s invitation.

Papa folded his eyebrows as if trying to remember something and shook his head immediately.

‘What did you do?’

‘I told him that I cannot wash his inner clothing’

‘Why?’

‘We are both men Chief; and none is lesser. Will my grandchildren in future ever respect me if they learn that I washed the inner garment of another man? Will they? I am his House boy, but above all, I am a man…’

‘Are you a man? Do you know that Asians are the backbone of this village’s life? Do you know how much your employer pays me in rent? Do you? It can buy you and your miserable family! I will allow nobody to insult him, least of all you Dog…’ Chief said.

His words pierced my bowels.

He caught papa by the collar and slapped him.

Yes, Chief slapped my papa-

He slapped him again and again. Papa did not move, neither did he try to shield himself from Chief’s blows.

He was kicked on the stomach and he groaned in pain. It was terrible. Every time Papa groaned, I felt intense pain in my stomach.

Mama screamed.

Chief kicked Papa harder.

In the agony of my mind, I wondered if Papa would come out alive. He tried to stand but Chief kicked him so hard on the head that I thought Papa’s skull was going to shatter on the floor.

Mama screamed louder. I was half dead with fear

‘Cant you see how poor you are before exchanging words with your employer?’

I felt the need to defend Papa.

‘My papa is not poor. There is a hundred shilling note in his wallet. I saw it’

My voice was shaking. In anger and in fear.

Chief walked out and disappeared in the darkness.

Nobody talked. Only the crickets songs were hard outside. Accompanied by Chief’s fading footsteps.

Mama covered her mouth with her hand and a severe sob rocked her body. Papa reached for the table for support and stood up.

‘Papa, Chief will burn in God’s big fire.’

In spite of his pain, Papa smiled.

‘Baba Mercy, what did you do?’ mama asked.

‘I cannot wash Patel’s innerwear just because he is an Asian and I am African…I cannot’

I noticed that papa did not call him Mr. Patel like he always did – he just said Patel.

‘What are we poor men before rich men? What are we?’ mama asked, wiping her tears with the hem of her leso.

‘Mother of the house, do not serve my meal. I am full’ Papa said.

‘I am full too’ I said.

Mama went to the kitchen, and she let out a full-throated cry.

‘Papa, is Chief a black Asian?’

He lifted my chin and looked right inside my eyes. His breathing was fast.

‘Your eyes are still too small to see the big things of this world Mercy. One day you will know…’ he said.

He carried me and placed me on his lap. I lifted my hand and wiped the blood on his temple. I felt my eyes mist. I rested my head against Papa’s chest and felt his heart beating fast. Like how my heart beats when Naya and I chase each other around.

‘Papa, does God love poor people?’

‘I don’t know’.

‘ The teacher for Religion taught us a song today’

‘Sing it’

‘ These mountains shall move says the Lord,

These troubles shall fade, says the Lord

It’s not by power, nor by might,

But by spirit says the Lord.

 

‘ I know that song. We used to sing it back then when I was a little boy’

‘ These mountains shall move says the Lord,

These troubles shall fade, says the Lord

It’s not by power, nor by might,

But by spirit says the Lord.’

 

We sang together, and our voices merged with the stillness of that night. We became one in song. Papa stroked the back of my hand. I cried.

Papa continued singing and with each note, his voice became shaky. He chocked on the words; then he started crying. For the first time I saw papa cry. I sang on as he cried.

‘Papa, will you go to work tomorrow?’

‘No’

‘Do you have another job?’

‘No’

The light of the lamp in the room glimmered weakly in the darkness.

‘Go to sleep’ Papa said.

As I lay on bed, my mind wandered to so many places. I couldn’t quite comprehend the events of that night, but one thing I was sure of was that Chief would burn in the fire the teacher had described richly. The fire that burns for all eternity, burning all people who had been wicked in their stay on earth. I was sure Chief would burn in that fire. I fell asleep smiling, imagining how Chief would yell out, crying for Papa’s help as he burnt away, slowly by slowly…

Categories: SHORT STORIES | 1 Comment

OH MY NESSA…!

The car slowed down and my best friend James patted the back of my hand and whispered :
“We are here bro, and I believe that she is already here too.” he said and gave me a half a smile. A feeling that I cannot name consumed me as the car made a complete halt next to a black Subaru that was parked in the church’s vast parking lot.

I stepped out. James adjusted my tie for me. I looked at my watch. The face was misty and I reached for my back pocket, got my handkerchief and wiped it. It was 9:07 am. I walked slowly. Tap. Tap. Tap. Just as I had practiced at home…just one foot after the next. I hummed a happy song in my head.

We reached the entrance of the church and then I saw her, right there at the alter. I continued walking slowly…tap. Tap. Tap. Towards my Vanessa. The one. My Vanessa, she who was at the front of the church.

The choir, dressed in their immaculate red robes were singing about angels. So beautiful. The way their voices merged with the instruments they played, forming the most beautiful sound…right into heaven. Right into my heart.

I could feel eyes bore through me as I continued walking towards my love. I huddled on my coat and continued. Not missing a step. James walked behind me. I could still feel the smell of the “newness” of my tuxedo linger somehow. Tap. Tap. Tap…I marched onward.

The choir continued singing. James breath was at the nape of my neck.

Then I reached at the altar where she was.  I looked into here eyes; the frozen smile on her face. I smiled back. James squeezed my hand. I ran my fingers through her veil. It was beautiful.

The congregation started clapping and singing…the choir rose. Over and over…they sang…the drums talked. The guitars whispered a melody…

“You are Lord, you are Alpha, You are Omega…” their voices echoed on.

I lifted the veil that covered her and caressed her face lightly. I was in rare form. I stood there before her and studied her…like I was seeing her for the first time. she looked so different.

“Nessa…my baby” I whispered under my breath…

And then  I spoke to her there at the altar.
“Baby forgive me for those many times that I wronged you…you look so lovely…you are so…”

James held my shoulder and whispered:
“Chris, you shouldn’t be saying those things…at least not today…”

The choir went on. Outside, the sun was beginning to hide under the clouds. I had waited so long for this day. I had waited so long for this Saturday, and now here it was…the wedding day.

I sighed. My sigh was carried through out the church. The choir was now silent. The priest stepped up and poured holy water on my face. The water formed a stain on my white shirt. I made the sign of the cross…

OH LAMB OF GOD…

I went down on my knees, just there in front of Vanessa. James knelt with me too. and we prayed.

“Tell us something about her…talk about your beloved…” the priest said in a thick Italian accent. I smiled. James followed and stood behind me.

“The love that I have for her…even you who know us as a couple will agree that I cannot talk about it now and finish. She is the best thing…I wish I could go on and on about why I love Nessa…but not today. Today I just want to look at her…”

The choir rose and sang…

My heart sang.

Emotions rose in me…I almost broke down…

But not today.

I slipped off her white gloves and placed the golden ring on her finger. I inspected it for a while and smiled.

I wished the smile that was frozen on her lips would widen.

Oh my Nessa! My beautiful Nessa…

I wished she could tell me what she felt about it, but she remained queit.

“Nessa…why did you have to die? Why when today was supposed to be our wedding day…Oh my Nessa?” I whispered to her cold face.

Tears blurred my vision and dropped into her casket…

I started crying.

Oh my Nessa!
“Why did you have to leave, just four days to the wedding?” I said over and over…mumbling to myself. James reached for my arm but I pushed him away.

My tears streamed freely. I saw Nessa’s mother break down too…she was seated at the front benches. She covered her face and wept for her daughter who had been killed in a car crush just four days to her wedding day.

“My Nessa…Oh Nessa…”

A sob shook my whole body. James trying holding me again, but I walked from him…

I started running…from the church. I don’t know why. I just started running; I couldn’t take this pain that was in me…
“Somebody catch him…” I heard someone say as I made my way out of the church. The sun had hidden its shine now…I didn’t look at my watch. I didn’t need to…I knew what I was going to do. I didn’t matter the time.

I could hear heavy soles on my trail. I didn’t turn to look…I just RAN.

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WHIPS, TEARS AND BLOOD

I huddled at the corner of the bed, holding my small transistor radio closer to my chest. I stroked it absent-mindedly and fondled with the volume knob. Its music fill up the whole room.
I’ll tell the whole world
About the carpenter’s son,
About thirty-nine strokes.
I’ll tell the whole world
About flesh torn to ribbons
About the cross, sweat, whips, tears and blood….”

I shut my eyes, taking in the song completely. I hummed the tune and felt my entire self moving into the song. The room ceased to exist – I became one with the song. For a moment I felt like I was in a distant place –

 My sister Arossi burst into the room with a  big parcel clutched under her armpit. Her perfume came in with her.
“For Heaven’s sake, this is a bedroom, not a pub. Reduce that volume,” she said without looking at me.

 She threw the parcel on the bed, and it  landed next to me.
I sighed and turned the volume knob until the song became a whisper in the background. Her back was turned on me, but I could see from the cracked mirror she was holding that she was applying a layer of lip balm on her lips. It had the artificial smell of strawberry fruit and it made me suddenly aware that my lips were dry. I licked my lips and continued looking at Arossi through her mirror. She dusted baby powder on her face and proceeded to rub her face furiously.
“Arossi, three people dropped messages for you on phone.” I told her.
“Who did they say they are?” she asked without a trace of interest. She continued to smear powder on her face.
“Marriko, Fena and…”
She rolled her eyes in an exaggerated manner and said that they were bothering her with calls.

I wished people would bother me with calls.
“Mama, come!” Arossi shouted while making faces on the mirror.
Mama did not respond. There was clattering of plates in the kitchen.
“Mama…” she called, raising her voice.
“ Ehe!”
“Come, hurry!”
“What is it Arossi? Why do you shout as if the house is on fire?”
Mama came to the room while wiping her wet hands on her flowered skirt. Her eyes were fixed on the huge parcel on the bed. She did not look at me; her gaze was at the parcel.
Arossi unwrapped it slowly but carefully. For some unknown reasons, I found myself wishing she would get through with it. A smile cracked her lips.
She pulled out a dress and they both let out a loud shriek of excitement. Mama hugged Arossi. They did not seem to notice my presence in the room.
Beneath the low voltage bulb of our room, the dress glittered.  It’s whiteness consumed the whole room. From my sitting position, I could see that it was made of expensive and unique material. I felt the urge to feel its smoothness between my fingers rise within me.
“Sammy and I ordered it from a boutique in Nairobi” Arossi managed to say. She was still squeezed in Mama’s tight embrace.
“You will be very beautiful that day.” Mama said to Arossi.
“Mama, I have always been beautiful” She responded with a beam.
Mama poked her in the stomach and they laughed playfully. They did not look at me. Arossi hummed a wedding song and Mama joined her. Holding hands, they made some dignified moves. They were in their own world – a world of weddings, joy and beauty. They locked me out of their world; they always did.
“So, is everything ready now?”
“No Mama, there is still one thing. The maids” Arossi said, her face suddenly turning serious.
“Who will you take?”
Arossi shrugged her shoulders and slumped herself on the edge of the bed. Mama settled next to her. There was a brief silence. They did not recognize my presence.
“Can I be your maid?” I broke the silence.
They both turned to look at me.
“Maid?” Arossi asked as if she was hearing the word for the first time. Mama stared at me.
“Yes, I want to be a maid at your wedding”
“You?”
“Yes, Me. I want to be one of the maids Arossi”
Mama whispered something under her breath. I did not catch it.
“But you cannot be my maid!” Arossi shouted.
“Why cant I? I am your sister.”
“Fariji, cant you see…please understand”
“Understand what?”
“That you cannot come to the wedding!”
A needle passed through my lungs. My deep breaths made the needle pierce deeper. I felt anger rise up within me but I determined not to cry. – I had cried enough. No more tears.

Arossi looked at me, probably expecting me to cry. I didn’t.
Mama rose and walked out of the room. She did not say anything, she just walk out.
“Arossi, I am your only sister, I want to attend your wedding.” I said trying to hide the tears in my voice.
“Surely Fariji, you cant come”
“Why don’t you want me to come?”
“Don’t make it difficult for me Fariji, I said you cannot come!”
“I want to see your husband, you have never introduced me to him, I want to know him”. I said, and I felt my lips fluttering.
Arossi clicked. I could see that she was beginning to get angry. Anytime I mentioned meeting her friends, she got angry. Whenever her friends came to visit, she locked the bedroom’s door from outside and went with the key. She had never let me see her friends.
Once, when they were chatting in the house, I had heard her telling her friends that she was an only child to Mama. She did not mention my name in any of her conversation. Mama never mentioned me either. To them, I did not exist.
“Arossi, let me come and play my flute on your wedding day. I know how to play the flute…” I said and reached for my bag to show her the flute I had made out of reeds. It was my companion.
She drew deep breath and shot an angry look at me. I felt terrible under her gaze.
“Fariji, if you stay in the house on the wedding day, I will buy you a present”
“What present”
“A scarf, I don’t know… I will think of something. Please promise that you will stay behind”.
“I do not want a scarf or anything that you will think of. I want to come to the wedding.” My voice was beginning to get high.
“No, you cannot come. I will not argue with you anymore!”
“Why Arossi? Don’t you want me to see you as you wed the man you love”
“No, you will spoil my happy day, you will not come”
“How will I spoil it?”
“Fariji, you are my sister, but cant you see? We are different. You are an albino, and if I parade you on my wedding day, people will talk. It’s complicated, please understand. You just cant come.” her last words came out in a fast speed that seemed to surprise even her.
Her words tore me to shreds. I had never seen Arossi so furious. Her powdered face became paler, almost ashen in colour. Her words reechoed in my head and everything before me swallowed up in some kind of blue flash. My emotions were towered, and I could not contain it anymore. I felt hot tears sliding from my eyes.

I wiped them furiously. I had swore to myself that I wouldn’t cry, yet the tears were betraying me.
“Arossi, whose fault is it that I am not who you want me to be? Whose fault…?”

I couldn’t contain them anymore. The tears kept coming.
More tears. More pain. More bitterness. Severe headache.
“I would love to be as pretty as you; but tell me Arossi, what can I do to change myself? Just tell me now and I will do it. Tell me what I can do!”
The needle in my lungs got sharper. I breathed shallowly. Arossi’s fierce eyes never left me. I was aware that my body was shaking, and hard as I tried to stop it, I couldn’t.
“Mama!”
No reply. The clattering of plates in the kitchen continued.
“Mama!” I screamed until I felt pain in my throat.
“Ehe!”
“Mama, it is your fault! Mama why did you make me an Albino? Why didn’t you give me colour like Arossi? ”
There was silence. Deathly silence. My words bounced back to me, and they entered the depth of my heart. I was tired – fed up. Fed up of being hidden in the dingy bedroom. Fed up of being bribed with scarves so that I remain locked in the bedroom.
“Mama and Arossi, what am I to you? What am I?”
I asked them the question I have always wanted to ask . the question that I have always wanted to ask not only them but the entire world. I wanted to know what I was to them. My tears went it to the sores on my cheeks and it itched. I scratched my cheeks; the itching continued. I continued scratching and scratching. The itch got worse. I wiped my face with the back of my hand. The sores were bleeding. Just like the carpenter’s son who they had put on the cross I felt Sweat, tears and blood on my face.
“Mama, tell me something, why do you treat me so?”
Mama leapt towards me and lifted my chin.
“Fariji, is this about the wedding? We did not know you want to come so bad. You can come and sit at the back where not many people will notice you…”

Ahhh! The pain in my chest got so heavy, I thought I was going to die.
I pushed Mama’s hand away. She didn’t understand. It was not about the wedding; it was about me. I wanted to be a part of them. I wanted liberty.
Arossi whispered something in Mama’s ear but Mama’s face remained expressionless.
“Fariji, don’t you see that you will scare the guest at the wedding? I have a new digital camera, and all the details of the wedding will be recorded. You will see the photos. Just make this easy for me fariji…” Arossi said to me.

Her words killed something in me.
“Arossi, forget the wedding, I do not think I want to come. I will stay in the room.”

“I will get you the most beautiful scarf dear little sis” she said.

I wanted to tell her something – I wanted to tell her that there is nothing that could replace the pain that I was feeling – but I just couldn’t speak. Something was pressing so hard on my chest.
I covered my head with a blanket and shut my eyes, hoping I would fall asleep.

Thirty-nine whips. Whips in my heart. My heart being whipped – thirty-nine strokes. My heart being stripped to ribbons, just like they did to the carpenter’s son.
###########################################

Three years after the wedding, Arossi comes to visit. She is holding her two-year-old daughter. The little one is Clarissa. Her eyes are shy. She steals a glance at me and smiles. I stretch out my hand toward her and she hurries towards me. She is drawn to me. It is the first time we are meeting. Arossi is avoiding my eyes.
Clarissa is pretty, but not like her mother. She is pretty like me. She does not have colour like me, her hair is brown like mine, but I know she is pretty. Her smile is cute. I put her on my laps and she leans on my chest.
“When you grow older, I will tell you the story of the carpenter’s son.

About whips, sweat, blood and tears. It is a story of victory amidst suffering and pain”, I whisper to her and she holds me tighter, and smiles. The attachment has just begun.
I hear a sob. I look at Clarrissa. No it is not her crying…. it is Arossi.
“I do not know what to say to you”, she whispers.
“Do not say anything, Clarissa has already told it all!”
Arossi continues to cry, just like I had done on her wedding day!

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THE RICH RIVER

 

 

 

I must have been six years old at that time, but the events of that day are forever engraved in my mind. It was my first day at school, and like everybody else, I put on my heavily starched green tunic dress. None of us had shoes—shoes were for upper primary school pupils, and for the few whose parents worked in the big city.

 

I was scared. School scared me. From the stories I had heard from my elder sister, it was going to be terrible.

 

“Your class teacher is going to be Mrs.Onyango. She will lift your dress and pinch between your thighs…,” she had told me in the morning just before I left for school. Although Mama had rebuked her and assured me that all would be well, I still had some lingering fear within me.

 

“I am Atieno,” the girl who sat next to me said.

 

I did not reply. I just stared at her. She was the talkative type, and I was shy.

 

“Did your mother give you anything to carry to school?” she asked almost immediately.

 

“Yes, sweet potatoes,” I replied weakly. For some unknown reasons, I found her question irritating.

 

“Give me some, my mother did not give me anything,” she said, looking straight into my eyes.

 

I reached for my bag and gave her the tiniest piece of my sweet potatoes. She shoved the whole of it in her mouth, then stretched out her hand for more. I looked at her in disgust, then gave her one more.

 

She munched on it slowly, then smiled at me.

 

“Look at my hands, my mother lashed them yesterday.”  She held out her arms for me to see.

 

My stomach lurched at the sight of her hands. They were bruised and swollen. I did not believe her. No mother lashes her little girl like that!

 

“What did you do to earn that?”

 

She did not answer. She just smiled, but I noticed the tears in her eyes.

 

There was heavy silence between us. My thoughts raced to my mother. Sometimes she got angry at the things I did, like making faces at her visitors, but she had never caned me so badly.

 

The teacher entered the classroom and interrupted my thoughts.

 

“Good morning everyone?”  She greeted us in a low voice.

 

We all stood up and saluted her.

 

“I am Mrs. Onyango, your class teacher,” she continued in the same tone.

 

Silence reigned.

 

“I want each one of you to give a brief introduction about who you are,” she continued.

 

The introductions began at the front. Most of the pupils spoke softly, and it was with great difficulty that those of us at the back got to hear their names.

 

Mrs. Onyango, probably bored by the monotony of the introductions, was beginning to doze off.

 

“My name is Atieno, I am six years old, and my mother is a seller,” my desk mate introduced herself with a confidence.

 

“Young girl, we do not say seller, we say business lady,” the teacher corrected her.

 

“Yes, Ma’am”.

 

“So what does your mother sell?”

 

“She sells herself, Ma’am.”

 

“What?”

 

“My mother sells herself to interested buyers.”

 

There was silence. Nobody talked. Atieno and the teacher looked at each other.

 

The teacher made her way toward Atieno, her eyes so fierce, that for a moment I thought she was going to hit her.

 

“How do you know that she sells herself, young girl?”

 

“That is what she tells me every night when she leaves the house.”

 

“Do you know it is wrong to lie, Atieno?”

 

“I know it is wicked to lie, and those who lie will burn when good people go to heaven, Ma’am”.

 

“How many children are you at home?”

 

“It is just my Mama and I. My Mama says she had me by mistake. She says I am the bad one who refused to die like the rest, even after she drank a whole gallon of detergent to get rid of me while I was in her stomach.”

 

Atieno’s voice faltered off, and there were tears in her throat.

 

Loud murmurs went through the classroom. It must have been the pupils wondering why Atieno was holding such a long conversation with the teacher. We were too young to understand.

 

“Who brought you to school?”

 

“Myself.”

 

“Class, you are dismissed for break…” the teacher said, and I noticed her reaching for the wall for support. Her eyes were also very red.

 

* * * * *

 

That evening as we walked home from school, Atieno walked at a sickeningly slow speed. I felt the need to be her friend. Nobody wanted to talk to her.

 

“Some of my sweet potatoes are still in my bag, maybe…,” I started.

 

“I think I am full,” she said, looking straight ahead.

 

“But you didn’t take lunch.”

 

“I never take lunch. I am used to staying hungry.”

 

I saw tears glinting in her eyes, but she blinked them away rapidly.

 

“Where do you live?” I asked in a final attempt to sound friendly.

 

“Across the river; that is where I live with Mama.”

 

“I also live across the river with my Mama and Papa,” I said.

 

She did not look at me. She picked a piece of grass and chewed absent-mindedly on its blade.

 

We walked on without talking to each other until the river lay before us.

 

“Do you swim?” she finally broke the silence.

 

“No, I fear water,” I replied honestly.

 

She did not comment, and I began to wonder why she had asked me the question.

 

“In the depth of this river, there are six one shilling coins, and four five shilling coins. That makes a total of twenty six shillings.”

 

I did not quite understand.

 

“How do you know?” I asked perplexed.

 

“I threw them in,” she said with no feeling at all.

 

I was amazed. I loved money. The highest amount of money my mother had ever given me was two shillings, and here she was, telling me that she had thrown twenty six shillings into the river, yet she could not even buy herself a piece of Maandazi for lunch!

 

“There is a man who comes to our house at night when my mother has gone out to sell herself. He touches me, then gives me the money,” she said to me without a hint of feeling.

 

“Does your mother know?” I asked, concerned. My mother always told me to report to her any man who touches me.

 

Yes, she does.”

 

I felt my heart beating strangely. And there was a searing pain in my chest.

 

When we reached the river, she groped in the pocket of her green school tunic, fished out a shinny ten-shilling coin, then, after studying it carefully, hurled it into the river with all her might. The waters swallowed the coin hungrily as we looked on.

 

I noticed the veins in Atieno’s face. I noticed the tears in her eyes. I noticed the sorrowful look that clouded her face.

 

“Yesterday, the man gave me ten shillings, but yesterday he did more than touch me,” she said with her gaze fixed in space.

 

I also took the fifty-cent coin that I had and dipped it into the flowing waters of the river. I do not know why I did it, but I found satisfaction in seeing it disappear in the river.

 

Atieno lifted her dress and dipped her feet in the shimmering water. I did the same. Then she removed her clothes and walked slowly into the river. I did that too.

 

That day, we swam and played in the river until we reached the plateau that lies beyond childhood, beyond fear, beyond sorrows of this world…where one just swims like a fish or soars like an eagle, or one floats like a ghost, unaware of anything that is going on around them in this corrupted world.

 

While in the water, Atieno held my hand tightly, looked into the depths of my eyes, then told me to be her friend…and I cried.

 

When I reached home that night, my mother pinched my ear for having stayed out late. She served me Ugali and fish for supper.

 

“Mama, in the depths of River Gol Richo, there are so many coins; to be precise, there are thirty six shillings and fifty cents,” I told her after eating my meal.

 

She did not understand, and she did not bother to inquire. She just sent me to bed, and that night, I dreamt of nothing but Atieno, the river and myself, and how I would seek the man who gave her the coins, and hurl him into the river with so much might, just as Atieno had done with the ten shilling coin he had given her after destroying her.

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