Arid Lily

Tuesday, August 04, 2015
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ARID LILY

He was not supposed to have been born. At least not on earth. He felt an intruder. An alien that had mistakenly found an abode among earthlings. Abode? No … not abode but refuge. Refuge? Still, no. He was an illegal immigrant in the land of mankind, fauna and flora. Not that he was not prosaic. He had two eyes, a nose, a mouth, a pair of ears, hair … toes. He could even speak human. He had a human name. A Kenyan name. a common mwananchi he was and he felt the same pain that those who lived in Mukuru wa Reuben felt. The awful and stinky smell from the ditches that meandered aimlessly in his neighbourhoods also caught his nose. The ditches that nursed the filth that had the unimaginable as ingredients. Waste of all manner; babies who had not yet qualified to be called babies, unsightly diapers, nauseating sanitary towels…

Babies. The immature babies brought something to his part of anatomy that thought. Twenty-five years ago, he should have been in the same ditches with the forcefully born babies. Yes. But the efforts of Kamanda bore no fruit. All of Kamanda’s techniques to get rid of him before his birthday saw no light. If one passed the hands of Kamanda, the master of abortion, unharmed, then he was more man than Kamanda. The one built like Mount Elgon and who spoke like the waters of Chania Falls. To make it even bitter, he proved undisputed when he should not have been. He failed to respect the science in the family planning methods that had been employed twenty-five years and some months ago. He still masqueraded into his mother’s womb.

That was not enough. During his baby days, his mother had locked him in a room with a jiko on so that carbon monoxide could take its course. Carbon monoxide failed terribly. It failed so badly Mother doubted its existence. When she came back from wherever she had gone, she found the baby sound asleep and not dead asleep as she had expected. The baby was snoring so well in the stuffy house which was a one-room shanty. Not one-bedroom shanty. One room. She was vexed. She held the baby by its ears the way the UEFA Champions League trophy is held, and placed it on the burning jiko.

"Ng’aaaaaa!!!"

That was enough to awaken the residents of the ‘unresidable’ Mukuru wa Reuben. They had not yet sunk in slumberland. They were wide awake building castles in air, in their beds. They rammed into the room and found Mother pants down. The infuriated audience took the baby, whose sitting-equipment-to-be was smoking hot, and taught Mother some motherhood. She lost her left ear. A good Samaritan of Kenyan decent took the infant to hospital for an emergency hospitalization. Had she not been nursing the mob could have cremated her in open air using the oven of tyre and petrol. She too was taken to hospital. Tigers and lions had tried to play ‘food’ with her body. Nairobi Women’s Hospital almost ran away at her sight. She looked like a twin sister to a gorgon. A lesson well taught. Where would she place her expensive earings that made every roving eye settle on her?

That is how the main character in this short-story found the name Kuchina written all over him. A Luhya neighbour called him so and the name stuck like glue on paper. The neighbour said it meant ‘a humongous stone’. The neighbour wanted to call him Luanda which stood for ‘a rock’ but he feared the infant could not carry such a heavy name. Kuchina was not a Luhya … actually his origin was a puzzle he did not bother to solve. It was too big for him. Difficult from every perspective and point of view. So he remained what he was. An alien among earthlings. No matter how much his heart ached and throbbed as the waters of River Nzoia when he was asked who his father was, he composed himself like the waters of Lake Turkana. The desert lake that is too mean to have an outlet. But then it is an arid lake. You do not give if you get less. What if it gets consumed and you remain hollow?

The North Western part in his country reminded him of himself. His life. He felt even worse and more neglected. Why did he have to go through all the predicaments and worst of ordeals? Was he not like anybody else? Even his education shook like a thin climber on a weeping coconut tree. And he was lucky to have been educated. But he did not go as far as he would have wished. As far as where he would see signposts claim, “EXCUSE US, DOCTOR KUCHINA, BUT NO EDUCATION AHEAD!" His ‘no education ahead’ came prematurely. In primary.

“When life gives you peanuts, make peanut butter!” he could console himself.

What about two grains of sesame? His school life was exactly that if at all what he went through in school was a life. Cold mornings with not a droplet of tea down his gut, torn shoes with holes in soles, torn uniform … torn everything!

“I am the last one in my lineage to feel this pain,” he promised himself each day-break.

He clung to his books because he knew that his life was in them. He could not survive a second without them. They meant neuro-surgery to him. His dream, though he barely knew what it entailed.

“My children will never … never … ever go through what I’m going through today … I swear!”

And he received education on the mercies of a teacher who went by the name Pamela. A kind lady with a heart of a goddess. She was a mother to him. She understood him. Though a lady struggling with storms of life, she offered to buy that pen for Kuchina. Kuchina did not disappoint. He was always at the top.

He did not disappoint except in one occasion. He could not hold it any longer. Cobras and pythons slithered in his stomach. He felt extremely hot down there. So he worked out a plan that morning when there was no teacher in the staffroom which had its door ajar. He gazed at the fat kettle which was almost bursting from the tea in it. He also glared at the tempting slices of bread on the platter next to the kettle. A demon told him to do something … a god told him not to dare. He trusted the demon and borrowed the kettle and bread without permission. Permission which he could not have been granted even if he pleaded. With the kettle in one hand and slices of bread in the other, Kuchina took off like a bat out of hell and went behind the school toilets to have his feast undisturbed.

The teacher on duty, Imonje the feared, was however on the look-out. She grasped the suspect with her massive hands together with the evidence and took him back to the staffroom. She locked him in and called other teachers to come and celebrate the cake. He was whipped like the donkeys in Kitale. Brutally. Every part of his anatomy had a dose of the cane. After the thorough discipline he could not convince his nerves to work.

“Umekuja shule kujifunza wizi?” the deputy who was born with a cane in his left hand hissed venom. He caned good.

“Hapana! Ni shetani alinifanya!” Kuchina tried to save himself but that provoked even more beatings. Canes rained on him ruthlessly. He realised the more he talked, the more he was whacked. So he sobbed silently blaming his mother who never showed up in the room back in Mukuru wa Reuben till evening. She could stay for two hours and leave.

The teachers who had a share of Kuchina laughed at the culprit writhing with pain. All of them except Pamela who did not raise a cane on Kuchina. She knew that it was not his wish to have the tea. He had been forced by circumstances. Pamela. Pamela reminded Kuchina of the few …er, two people in his life that meant the world to him.

The twenty-five year old remembers what marked his final day in school.

“I'm sorry, Kuchina. I can’t help at the moment,” Pamela said to the young Kuchina on the final exam date.

“I understand, madam. All the same, I have you to thank for all the goodness you’ve shown to me. I know if it could have been within your ability, I would have sat for my KCPE."

He packed his few books in his paper-bag and left school. Left school for good. Teachers watched what should have been Index One vanished from the compound. None wanted to sacrifice a cent for Kuchina. Had they not loathed him from the genesis? Had they not been against his admission? Had they not sent him out of class for fees even at a time when primary education was free? And they claimed that the economy was tough. Five hundred for his exam fee was something they feared to sacrifice. They were twenty of them. That is twenty five bob each. Something that all of them could do within two shakes of a lamb’s tail. But they let him go. Pamela could have helped … she had helped him since Class One but at the moment she had nothing. Genuinely, she loved the boy. When she saw Kuchina disappear she felt remorseful. She could not hold back her tears.

“Why is he going?” the deputy asked.

“He has no money for exam.” The science teacher observed.

“Aaargh! These people from Mukuru are always like that,” the Swahili teacher.

“Wacha aende! Kwani his parents think we have money to waste? Let everyone take responsibility. We also have children, bwana,” the female religious teacher said religiously.

The sentiments made Pamela bitter at the selfishness of her colleagues. She could do nothing. She only felt pain.

★★★★★

He still recalls the voice he loved. What it said on the day he was beaten, during break time.

“Why did you steal?” she was bitter with love.

“Nice, I'm sorry …?

“But you’ve not said why.”

“I hadn’t taken breakfast.”

“And you had to steal?”

“What else could I have done? I couldn’t help it.”

”You should have told me; aren’t you my friend?"

The friend took him to the school canteen and bought him soda and two mandazis. He raveneously gorged on the delicacies. Nice understood him. She knew how life was in Mukuru wa Reuben. The soda and mandazis helped reduce the pain externally and internally.

“Don’t do that another day, Steve,” that was Kuchina’s first name. The writer is thinks Kuchina and Steve mean stones.

“I …I … I won’t!”

“I don’t want people to laugh at me when I walk with you.”

Nice. Nice was nice. So nice. She was the other person in Kuchina’s life that meant the whole galaxy. The girl who reminded Kuchina that he could clench a fist. Who reminded Kuchina that despite his frail fiscal background he was fat. So when you dared prickle Nice, you were in for it. The fists and fat would pour on you.

Nice was affluent. It was said that the glamorous girl was the minister’s daughter. Lobok—the first minister from Turkana. A pawpaw in a mango tree. But all the same, honourable Lobok was a tycoon. The reason behind him taking Nice to a commoner’s school was to show that he too was a common mwananchi. Though not that common. It was for a show.

Kuchina and Nice have been friends since primary. The love that blazed in their hearts has never lost brilliance and flame. In fact, she might end up becoming the better half … wait! Would the minister allow his only daughter to end up in Mukuru wa Reuben? The girl who had been to Oxford and back as an Oxon? The English lecturer at Egerton University and carrier of his hopes? The expected first female president of Kenya twenty years to come? Would he let her slip away like that? Their love was a shaky bridge which had crocodiles underneath waiting for a party which they were sure of. The twenty-five-year-olds had a whirlwind ahead. Waiting with glee to shuffle their feathers. Would love survive? I'm asking, would it?

★★★★★

During his teenage, Kuchina discovered something he wished he should never have discovered. Something about his mother that made him almost lose his mind. Something he could not find enough words to explain. Something he … something that … something that left him dazed, perplexed … and what is that word in your mother tongue that almost sounds like ‘gaped’?

It was when he had finished roaming all over collecting plastics to get money for a shirt. He come home. He had known Mukuru wa Reuben as his home and it has remained home even as you read this. He heard his mother screaming on top of her voice from the room. In mind he knew that an intruder had probably attacked her. He gave the door a hefty blow that left it breathless. The door sang its swansong as it was divorced from the hinges.

The horrifying snap that met his eyes blinded him for a second. The proverbial Adam and Eve had found Eden in the room. They even had not discovered that a legal intruder was watching them fall in the devil's trap. The live streaming went on in the innocent eyes of the young lad. They went on to look for the mythical Cain, Abel, Seth and the many brothers and sisters. They, however came to realisation seconds later.

“Toka nje! Umbwa-ghasia!” his mother scolded; not afraid.

Kuchina had picked a curse. The curse, however, seemed impotent. So this was what mother did with the chain of men Kuchina was forced to call uncles? It was painful to accept that mother was a whore. A bitter syrup. That is why she hated him. He reminded her of her own mistakes… and … and …and what about the day she came home drunk like a fish? Had she not wanted … wanted … him to … to … with her!

★★★★★

The news was all over. It had spread like fire in the dry thickets of Maasai Mara. Not of what occurred in the room at Mukuru wa Reuben but something else. The minister was dead. Nice had lost her father. Nice was a total orphan. Mother had earlier on succumbed to cervical cancer and now papa. Papa had gone too. Not form cervical cancer. Men do not suffer that, silly. He had gone. He was not there. He would not boast in her presence and fill her with pride. The pride he gave when he said that she was his lecturer.

“Here comes my beautiful lecturer,” she would miss the voice. The voice that gave her assurance. Though she was twenty-five, she still was the little Nice. The young Nice was still in her. And the one who made the young Nice feel nice was gone … papa was gone. Gone. Gone far in the clouds, higher than the Everest and deeper than pacific.

“It will be okay, Nice,” Kuchina comforted the little Nice as the first minister from Turkana received a national burial.

“He’ll never come back. You and I know that … I am an orphan … a total orphan …”

“Nice, everything will be nice. I know how you feel but I am sure after sometime, the hurricane will abate.”

She did not add more to Kuchina’s words. She needed not spoil the broth. She made her sleep on the hustler’s chest. The chest that had cast a magic spell on her hence enchanted her for ages. Papa was gone, yes, but tears could not flow forever.

So the man from the dreaded Kenyan arid sank in the dry sands of Turkana. The sands that had swallowed men and cattle. The thirsty sands that drank all rivers and rain. The sands that were almost drinking Lake Turkana. He sank with all pride and honour. Rumours about his demise are still there. He was assassinated … he was bewitched … he was … someone did something to make to make the sun sink on Honourable Japheth Lobok. The first minister from Turkana. The place Kenya forgot. An isolated island on the main land. An island that was a country by itself. Turkana felt the pain. She felt the pain of losing a son. Lobok, the chief’s son who had gone to Kenya was no more. Lobok whom they expected to be the next president and join Turkana to Kenya. Lobok, oh, Lobok! He died even before he finished the race … oh, Lobok, why did you have to go and leave Turkana so cold? Lobok, answer us!

★★★★★

The wound of losing Lobok was still fresh. Fresh like the news bulleting you'll listen to at the top of the hour. Kuchina and Nice spent time together in his room at Mukuru. Not the one that belonged to his mother but his. He could afford a penny to avoid the landlord, who was always timely, form barking at him. So he had thought, why not? He had to be close to Nice so that Nice could not do something not nice and bring more melancholy to him and the entire country. He had to be with her. He was all she had and she was all he had.

As she slept soundly on his lap, Kuchina pulled out of his breast pocket something he had picked behind the minister’s mansion during the day of burial. His teachers back in primary had warned him not to pick things. He might pick a bomb one day or even a ‘flying toilet’ that had landed safely by the railway. But that was primary and the booklet was irresistible. The government seal had attracted him to it.

PERSONAL JOURNAL

May 6, 2004
At Hilton Hotel; Rainy

I feel guilty. Like a criminal disguised as a fighter for human rights and welfare. Perhaps putting the guilt in this journal will decrease its intensity. It sure will:-

When I joined the August House some years back, I thought of entertaining myself a bit. I drove my car to some club at the street where men meet girls. I was attracted to one girl and I thought, ‘why not have this one for a one-night stand?' She smiled as if she was reading my mind and then heaved her way towards me. I sank in her dimples and her kiss emasculated me. I took her to my car. Off to Runda. Having finished whatever we were to finish, I sent her back to the club loaded with money. I told her ‘not to tell.’ I had used all the tricks of the game well and I knew we were safe.

Some months later, my wife in Turkana called and told me her time had reached. Not the girl I met at the club but my legal wife. I made it to Turkana using the helicopter and I took her to Aga Khan where I was sure she would deliver safely. She delivered safely … however seconds later she couldn’t move. Physically immobile. The girl she gave birth to, whom I called Nice, was taken care of by the nurses. When I asked for the cause of my wife’s death, I was told cancer had been eating her slowly. I was afraid that Nice too had malignant cells but tests proved wrong. She was healthy. So I had to accept that may wife, Pricillah, was gone.

Immediately after the burial, something weird happened. The girl I had met at the club showed up at Runda with a baby. I asked her what she was up to knowing she wanted to tarnish my name. She said the baby was mine. I told the men at the gate to throw her out. I was sure during the night we met, I had my methods intact.

Minutes after she had left, I realised I had done something I’d come to regret. I recalled her words during our revellery: IT HAS BURST! She was right; the child was mine. I couldn’t trace her to call her back. I couldn’t dare. I am the Minister for Children Rights And Women Affairs, remember. I can’t plunge myself in such.

But l felt guilty this afternoon as I drove to Hilton. I saw her with what I am sure is the child. They were walking so close; they even talked. They looked alike. The guilty me tried to change the route but accidentally splashed water on the two.

“KUCHINA!!!” I heard her scream as I sped off. She was cautioning her son… our son!

★★★★★

Adapted from
Man of The Cloth and Other Stories
An Anthology of Short Stories
by Brady Kenya
©2014
First Edition

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