Perfect Moment

Perfect Moment

‘No one can explain the shape of clouds,’ whispers a man sitting at the window of a moving train, ‘clouds are nothing but shifting faces; alien sea creatures and breathtaking landscapes.’

Can you believe it when I say the devil peeked out from behind a cloud and laughed at me? It sounds ridiculous, right?

My whole body shook. I wanted to thrust my hands through the white clouds to strangle the laughing face. Before I knew it, I spilled passion fruit juice on my beard and on my neck tie and the glass was rolling on the floor. Absentmindedness. Luckily, the glass didn’t break. I didn’t even know at that instance that broad neck ties were no longer in fashion. It was Namibia who pointed out this to me in a voice that was more of a lover’s song than a school Master’s. Later, she got me the latest neck ties from a tailor in some backstreet shop; thin glossy strips of cloth that didn’t look at all like neck ties. From then on I swore against positioning myself at train windows.

I was determined to save my face from further disgrace now that Namibia was holding the end of the fishing rod for me. Her patience was extraordinary.

Namibia’s kind of beauty -the obscene flawlessness of it- scared me. Her fragility made me think she would crumble into dust and blow away. It was bit long before she took notice of this fear in me.

‘Don’t need to be afraid of yourself,’ she addressed me with a smile. She fondled my shaking hands until I raised my eyes and looked into her eyes. She had the determination of a goddess. She vowed to rescue me from my tormentor, from myself.

Today, I still hold onto the memory. It is as vivid as anything can be.  She pulled a perfumed white handkerchief from her handbag, asked me to stay put, and set about wiping the spilt juice from my chin and neck tie.

Later, I would protest against Namibia’s love. I felt an inexplicable surge of hostility growing inside me against her saintliness. Was she a jinni sent by her mountain goddess to sweeten me and then swallow me alive?

We grew up in the same neighbourhood. We both had jumped the fencing wall as children to our little makeshift house, hidden from view by frangipani bushes. The lonely old Asian couple who owned the compound never took notice of us. It was childish and sweet then. But now, the memory of us straddling on the sidewalks of jacaranda-lined streets in school uniform before hurriedly parting, felt artificially imposed. These dark thoughts dug a pit inside me.

Everything about her spelt beauty. My mission to find fault with her left a sour taste in my mouth. Her smiles and kissing and warmth were unwavering. She was flawless and pronounced. So, I began to hatch secret plans to destroy part of her. My mission was to reduce her from the elevated platform of impeccability to the acceptable podium of human error. I was driving to the centre of town for an important business meeting when the idea hit me.

Dr. Barasa and Anil Bhaji called from Nairobi and Dubai respectively to reiterate how important our Chinese client was to the firm. They both reminded me that I was working for one of the best law firms in the country. I purred on Skype and Anil Bhaji laughed. Dr. Barasa didn’t. He has this ugly scar on his forehead so that whenever he intends to smile, the opposite signal is registered.

I braked outside a pharmacy. It took me roughly ten minutes to purchase a box of new Mumbai-made scalpels and a 250 ml bottle of iodine tincture. I reversed the car, and drove back toward my apartment on the banks of Lake Nakuru.

I knocked at the front door just to make sure Namibia was home. I didn’t want to scare her beforehand. I had watched this scene many times in serial killer movies. I would act normal. I would entice her into thinking everything was fine. I would take her to bed and then there, I would do whatever I wanted to do. I would tie her up, lock her in the bathroom, put on the TV and drive back to work. At the office, I would act normal.

I was alarmed. I didn’t find her in the house. Normally she would be inside watching her favourite cartoon show or listening to Khadja Nin. I knocked once more and decided to go back to the car to get my keys. I checked all over the house for her, behind the couches and under the bed. There was no sign of her. Alarmed, I ran back to the car and drove back to the office.

The meeting with the Chinese client took place at the appointed time. I was nervous and absent minded but by good luck my client took no notice of my disorientation. Afterwards, I closed the office door, sat back in the chair, thinking of how to seal loopholes in my plan.

I checked the diary and found that I had a free afternoon. I was a member of an exciting book club that met thrice a month at Java. I drove from the office block with my mind orbiting about the subject of Namibia and why she wasn’t at the house. Was she a jinni? Where had she been when I returned to the house? Was she clinging against the ceiling and watching me? Had she made herself invisible? Had she read my mind? I had returned to the house with a clear intention. I wanted to make life bearable for both of us. This way, I would be able to reciprocate her love.

At the book club meeting, a blockhead suggested Theodore Frasier’s American Tragedy. As the elated member purred over the synopsis, I got uncomfortable and excused myself. I rushed to the washroom and splashed water on my face and stared at the mirror. A stranger stared back at me. What the hell was wrong with the world?

Dr. Barasa and Anil Bhaji called at 5:00 pm to ask how the meeting with the Chinese client went. I briefed them accordingly.

Still troubled by Namibia’s mysterious absence, I pulled over my car, dumped the medical package in the roadside trench, inhaled deep and reassured myself that I was safe from any suspicion or accusation that Namibia or her mother goddess might hold against me. It was my way of coming out clean and starting over again.

When I arrived at the house that evening, the house was as dark as a medieval hideout. My first impulse was to call out for Namibia. No one answered. I drew out my keys, opened the front door and groped my hand through the darkness. When I put on the lights, I nearly passed out from fright. Namibia sat in the sofa in the middle of the house, staring at me, like a light-emitting goddess. I put my hand to my chest and tried to stifle perspiration by mumbling pointless self-assurances.

‘This is a special night for us,’ she uttered.

I kept mum. With a frightened expression on my face, I tried to gather my lips to a rhythm.

‘That is so romantic of you,’ I muttered with false conviction.

Namibia stood up from her goddess position and walked over to me. Before I said my last prayer, she was all over me, kissing and unbuttoning my shirt. She held me by the neck tie and in the master-dog fashion led me to the kitchen. The whole thing was confounding to me.

I went down on my knees. She closed her eyes and drew in a gush of air.

I wanted to confess my sins – about a box of Mumbai-made scalpels and a 250 ml bottle of iodine tincture – but I thought better of it. I didn’t want to spoil the moment, the pleasure.

We drank beer, made love and slept in each other’s arms. Namibia woke up earlier than me the next day. My tongue felt dry and brittle, like a cow’s. I couldn’t look her in the eye. As she was busy fixing breakfast, I walked to the window to watch the lake. It danced in grey and the view was gobbled up in artistic amorphousness. In the distant, I could see a swarm of pelicans, dipping their giant beaks into the water.

Despite making love to Namibia, the darkness in me didn’t die. It fed on itself and grew. The second time an idea struck me was two months down the line. I was standing behind her in the kitchen. The impeccable smoothness and shape of her neck was enticing. Looking at her, I felt like Dracula. I felt the urge to pounce on her and suck her dry. But since I am no Dracula, I thought about smashing her forehead on the surface of the kitchen sink. That would level things, I postulated. Just then my cellphone rung. I rushed to the sitting room to answer it. Namibia’s older cousin, Muthoni, a police officer attached to the Airwing Department in Nairobi was visiting.  We would have dinner together.

During her first day, Muthoni studied us like an adult. ‘Go out and run,’ she counselled, ‘it’s good for your hearts.’ Namibia was yoga faithful. I tagged along like seaweed. I didn’t want her to call me a slug. Well, my parents didn’t raise a slug. They would literally chock to death if they heard someone call me a slug. I wore my sweat suit and sneakers and went after her. After yoga, we meditated for a while facing the lake.

Leaning against the railings on the balcony reminded me of my university days when I slipped out of my room to catch a smoke. I am glad I quit. I don’t really know if my lungs would have survived the abuse.

We joined Muthoni for breakfast. She is a weetabix-milk-apple faithful. Namibia and I stuck to brown bread, fried eggs and white coffee.

A week was left of Nambia’s annual leave. I drove her and Muthoni to town and left the car in their care. Muthoni was desperate to visit Menengai crater. The lake, she said, held a magic spell. The documentaries on National Geographic Channel only intensified her belief. I wished them well, hoped into a matatu and crossed the streets on foot to the office.

I had no effing idea how a portrait depicting a young white woman shooting down a rhino found its way to the wall of my office. I had never taken notice of the portrait except on that day. It sat directly in front of me, on the wall where nothing else stood, screaming for my attention. I thought about the young white woman and suddenly a curiosity to establish the relationship between the young white woman and Namibia led me to the front office to see Rehma Abdalla, the office receptionist. She is not the cliché type of receptionist with a snobbish twist of the lips and a repulsive attitude that is commonplace here in Nakuru. Rehma graduated with a degree in Economics from University of Nairobi. She is an excellent reader of faces.

Rehma’s husband, Dr. Abdalla, is a great friend too. We watch football together over the weekends at African Eagle Club. Dr. Abdalla and Rehma are blessed with two beautiful kids. Fadhili is eight and Mahmoud is four. Both are cricket players.

‘What is it with your face?’ Rehma asked. Her fingers were moving fast on the computer keyboard.

‘It’s about the portrait in my office.’

‘Mandela’s or the rhino girl’s.’

‘Rhino girl’s.’

‘What is it? You want it removed or something?’

‘I am kinda rattled.’

‘Nonsense,’ Rehma pronounced, ‘there is nothing wrong with the portrait. It is your perception of it that has altered. Namibia loves you. I know the woman. And by the way, does she still do yoga?’

‘She says she will do it on the morning of her wedding day.’

‘Haha.’

Rehma’s counsel granted me temporary reprieve. For when I got back to the office, the young white woman shooting down a rhino was just plain work of an amateurish painter.

After work hours, I drove to industrial area to see my mechanic friend, Njoroge. He is street-smart guy. I rehearsed my words.

‘This is not Uganda or DR Congo. This is Kenya,’ Njoroge said, eyeing me suspiciously.

‘I can tell a young boy who knows a boy who knows an old boy to take care of your problem. Are bad people after your life, mate?’

‘Yes,’ I lied.

‘In your line of work, it is expected, isn’t it?’ Njoroge theorized, ‘we all play dirty. The only problem is public perception. You are clean and everyone else is dirty, yeah?’

‘Can you deliver on something?’

‘Hold it right there. We have a big problem,’ he said, ‘I quit, you know, shortly after you saved my ass from landing in prison. I am living straight now, like a priest or even like God himself. Bring your car and I will repair it but what you are asking me to do is no longer my line. I don’t want to sling mud at my own face. I am too old for prison now. I am a father to a high school son. A future rugby star. Plus, a few days ago two boys from DCI haven’t a visit over the Asian hardware incident. They asked a few uncomfortable questions, unasikia? Guys like us just disappear puuuuh like dust and we’re never seen again.’

Njoroge fell into a pensive mood. Then he lifted his face with a frightening suddenness. His greasy hands were large and clumsy. He was cradling a huge spanner. He bit his lower lip and put on a different face. I was about to apologize and zoom off when he gestured to me to follow him inside. I sighed, thanked the heavens. Inside his shop, he placed his thick index finger on my breast and addressed me like a stray child.

‘I am doing it to save a life,’ he spoke, ‘nothing less. If anything comes back, it is squarely on your ass. I will deny it. Understood?’

I nodded.

‘Good. See me after two days.’

‘Thanks man.’

‘Not yet.’

‘I will be here in two days.’

‘Does your car need anything?’

‘Next time.’

‘Ok, next time it is.’

After my meeting with Njoroge, I drove to African Eagle club. I winked at Jefferson who gestured to me to go upstairs. I met Tito and we shook hands. He is the smartest peddler I know.

I want to say here that I was first hooked to hard drugs during my university days in Nairobi. My roommate John introduced me to ‘cool kids’ and soon we were cruising out of town to the Coast for beach parties. We peddled it around campus and ended up with a lot of cash to spend. We had a cut of twenty five percent on all dealings. It was hazardous business too. We had to cajole Onyango outside the campus and stick the end of gun in his butt before he promised to seal his lips.

One day, while returning home from a pool party, John hit his bike on a pole and broke his neck. We were riding behind him, high as always. He died on the spot, before the ambulance arrived. His death shocked us and our group broke up. I grieved over the death of John for months. I struggled with addiction afterwards until I met Namibia, opened up my heart to her. I don’t know how it happened, but I confided everything in her, just like that. Maybe it was her eyes or the movement of her lips or her voice, I honestly don’t know. I began taking withdrawal pills.

Lately, Namibia has lost her old cheer. You can’t believe what she wants me to do. She wants me to confess to my family. My father intends to leave his estates in my name. A cancer has eaten him up so bad. He’s turned into a sack of bones.

The perfect moment came a month after I drove to Njoroge’s automobile repair shop. We went down to the lake, treaded into the acacia trees. Namibia wore trouser jeans with lacerations at the knees, a vest and sunglasses over her hair. I was dressed in sneakers, khaki pants, a hakuna matata t-shirt and safari hat. Inside my bag, I carried Njoroge’s gift.

Feverishly, I pinned Namibia to the bark of a yellow-barked acacia tree. The guide pulled out his cell phone and walked off. I heard him mumble something about the park not being a safe place to make someone pregnant. There were rhinos, lions and all kinds of dangerous animals. A few paces away, a male baboon was mounting a female one. The pair squeaked in pleasure. Namibia cast one glance at the creatures and pulled me to her. Why not? I unzipped my trousers, pulled down her trousers and groped through the warm fluids of her body.

Then it hit me. It was the perfect moment. There was no one around except a squirrel standing on its hind limbs gnawing at some nut. The baboons had tired of their act and gone separate ways. I asked Namibia to open my bag and take out whatever was in it.

‘Are you kidding?’ she asked, ‘what is in there?’

She opened the bag and took out two bottles of water, a Maasai shawl and a camera.

‘There is more,’ I suggested.

Then she reached for it, a cold piece of L-shaped metal. She took it out and stared at it for a long time with shocked eyes. She shook her head sadly. There were tears in her eyes.

‘For how long have you been keeping it?’ she asked.

But before I could respond, she threw the pistol on the ground and began to walk away. I knew I had wronged her in more ways than I could atorn for. I had screwed up, I knew. Watching her walk away was like watching the moon disappear behind clouds. My world was suddenly unlit. I looked up at the sky through the leafless branches of the yellow-barked acacias and caught the image of a smiling face. The devil was peeking at me from behind a cloud, again.   I lowered my eyes to Namibia, her back turned against me. She was flawless and pronounced. The distance made her look smaller. I looked up at the sky again and saw that the devil hadn’t even bothered to hide its big head. I picked up the pistol and aimed it at the edge of the cloud. When I released the trigger, it felt ecstatic. Somewhere far away, I heard the alarming scream of a woman. I chuckled.  The cloud devil was dead. I sunk to the ground in blissful sway.

About the author:

Wanjala Njalale is a Nairobi-Based writer and poet. His work has appeared in The EastAfrican Magazine, Brittle Paper (UK), Aerodrome & Enkare Review, among others. 

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Where Do I Go From Here?

Where Do I Go From Here?

She was the girl next door. Voluptuous. Short-haired .

On Saturday morning, she cleaned around the house, her music system blasting forth with the latest gospel tunes. She loved Mercy Masika and Sinach and would sing along. She seemed to be in perpetual search of a stronger possession, the spirit of the creator maybe, the way she stared into vacancy for long moments.

On Saturday, my habit was to take my breakfast after the morning run: fried eggs, brown bread and white coffee. I then sat in a plastic chair on the balcony, reading newspapers andbiting at an apple, or just staring into vacancy like Stacey.

Stacey would move about in a short dress or shorts, cleaning the floor, humming, wiping sweat from her face using the back of her hand, occasionally throwing her clear white eyes at me, smiling wildly.

She was a traffic police officer. I imagined her short fat fingers opening up to receive bribes from intimidated matatu drivers. The money was earth and sweat-stained, rolled into tiny pieces, invisible to the naked eye. I imagined Stacey amassing these notes from matatu drivers until all the corners of her house were full with them, until she was rich and untouchable like our politicians.

I kept my distance from Stacey. I lived under the notion that I was a better citizen. I wanted nothing to do with corrupt officers. I desired a better country for myself.

The first time Stacey knocked at my door, I had just swallowed antimalarial tablets. I turned down an offer to go watch weekend football with my friends ata nearby pub. I was resting in a chair when she knocked and entered. She was carrying a dish of steaming stew and chapati. She placed it on the coffee table and inhaled deeply. How did she know?

“You don’t look well,” she said.

I tried to smile but failed. My body was aching terribly.

“Just a headache. I will be fine.”

“Quick recovery.”

She lingered for some time at the door, likeshe had something to suggest. Atlast, her courage failing her, she left without a word. A waft of perfume trailed her. It was a kind of perfume I would buy for my girl on her birthday. But I was under the weight of malarial fever. The spices she used to prepare her meal and the scent of her perfume, conspired and pumped up my nausea. I fought hard to keep down the fruit pieces I had swallowed that morning.

Days went by. She dropped by to say greetings. She peeped from the doorway to say a joke.

The tension faded slowly. I drew water from the underground tank for her. I even fixed a TV antennae for her.

Then one day, I went to her house. I knocked at the door and waited.

“Come in.”

I found her crying, curled like a child who had never experienced love.

I sat down and tried to comfort her.

Why would a trained police officer cry? I wondered. Police officers should be stoic. Then I recalled ‘polisi pia nibinadamu’ advert.

Later, I took her down to the park. We sat on a bench and talked about nothing. She began to smile.

‘I brought you here to express my gratitude for that day.’

‘You mean the day you were sick and I came in uninvited with food?’

‘Yes. It was a great thing you did. It helped my recovery very much.’

‘You are a lone ranger, why?’

I evaded the light of her eyes.

After smiling for a while at the surrounding: couples holding hands and leaning against each other, flower bushes, algae-ridden trees, and at the funny spots on other people’s faces, we turned to each other, Stacey and I, wondering why it was us and not anybody else.

‘I have no one else,’ Stacey said, ‘I grew up in my uncle’s home in Trans Nzoia but my aunt hated me. She always accused me of seducing my own uncle. It was heartbreaking. My parents died when I was three. They were going to Kampala to get merchandise for Mum’s newly opened shop in Kitale.’

Stacey was staring ahead at a bush of blossoming yellow flowers. Bees were circling. The sun was dropping slowly towards the west.

It was like an enchantment, listening to Stacey’s tearful narration. She was so vulnerable. I moved closer and took her fat hand in mine.

‘What happened to you after your aunt’s accusation?’

‘I moved out. I didn’t want my uncle to defend me. It would’ve worsened the situation. My jealous aunt was still breathing fire down on me, like a dragon. I was enrolled at a Children’s home. A friend of my late mum’s visited me every Sunday. But life at the home was a strenuous routine of cleaning, walking in groups, reciting gratitude, singing boring songs, waiting to leave.’

The park was crowded by people walking from work, city visitors from upcountry, con people, souls searching for purpose and hope, lost souls, souls contemplating suicide, job seekers with worn out shoe soles and frayed brown envelopes, contended souls counting their blessings, a lonely preacher screaming about salvation, beautiful people.

‘I think we should walk back to the house,’ I said.

Sitting on the bench and scrutinizing the passersby was exerting. I was thinking about a cup of coffee.

‘It’s getting cold and ugly,’ she replied.

We walked back to my house. I made coffee and we sat down to enjoy the warmth of the house.

I was fascinated because Stacey said she loved books. She ran her fat fingers across the spines in the small wooden shelf that I kept. It was the most sacred place at my place. I wanted to yell at her so she wouldn’t contaminate my favourite books with her bribe-soiled hands. I sat back thinking about how my coffee had too much sugar and how it was ok that way.

‘Unbowed,’ she said, ‘I would love to re-read it.’

‘You should,’ I replied.

We watched news together. It turned out that we were supporting different presidential candidates. This made it even sweeter. After debating for a while, I opened the fridge and brought out beer. One, two, three …. We counted.

‘Let’s go out,’ she suggested.

We arrived at Capital Club. I was still undecided about Stacey. My good friend Malcolm Muigai said it was the hottest place in town. His claim was debatable, butwhat the hell! I wanted to get a glimpse of the other side of Stacey.

Below were parked cars and glittering bikes bathed in disco light that poured out from the first floor onto the street.

We climbed the short stairs, panting drunkenly.

Seated, Stacey took out her cellphone to show me pictures of herself and her fellow officers. In most pics, she took the centre position, as if she were the axis of the group. She was saying how much they owed each other and how much bullshit they carried in their heads.

I ordered for more drinks. Stacey protested, saying she wouldn’t take anymore.

‘I have already exceeded my limit,’ intoned Stacey, ‘early tomorrow I ought to be at work.’

After a moment of free laughter, of sipping from our glasses, we sprung to our feet and headed for the dancefloor. Nyashinsky and Tekno Miles. We danced in each others’ arms. We begun in high tempo before slackening off into a gentle sway, as if we were a pair of orphaned children rocking each other to sleep. It was at this point, inebriated, that I opened up.

‘I have lived in more towns than I can recall. I was a perennial job seeker. Here for a month, there for a couple weeks, here for a year, and so on. I was a bitter citizen. I was a tattered cloth.’

‘So how the fuck did you get out of that mess?’ Stacey asked. Her face was softer, more caring, less cop-like.

‘I dunno. It was a flick, I guess.’

‘A flick you say?’

‘To live is to gamble.’

‘I want a cold beer. I’m feeling thirsty.’

We danced some more and drunk some more. We poured out our deepest secrets and confessed our shame. We fantasized about a future without pain and suffering. We held and squeezed each other’s hands.

‘There was this man I dated,’ begun Stacey, ‘he worked with an insurance firm. That was before I joined the service. We were happy. After high school, after two years at college studying IT, after a year of sitting around the house, I joined the line for police recruitment. I was slimmer. I couldn’t believe my luck when the chief recruiting officer handed me the invitation letter. That same day, I went over at my boyfriend’s to share the good news. Then the son-of-a-bitch told me it was unimaginable. Can you believe that?’

Stacey took a sip of the beer.

‘So you broke up,’ I supplied casually.

‘What choice did I have? I walked back to my rented room and cried like a baby. There was no way I would’ve passed on the God-given chance.’

Stacey and I talked about our situations late into the night. And then, succumbing, I leaned towards her, kissed her lightly on the lips.

‘Why?’ she asked.

‘I don’t know.’

An awkward silence followed.

The loud music in the club, the disco lights, the couples, all fell into an invisible, inaudible, background. It was just Stacey and I. I could see the expectation in her eyes.

Later, we left the club and ended up at my house.

The bright morning sun roused us. We sat there looking on helplessly. I stood at the door to the kitchen room, a mug of coffee in my hand.

‘How old?’

‘Two months.’

A short silence ensued.

I was hurt that Stacey had played me.

‘Whose?’

‘My first boyfriend, that son-of-a-bitch.’

I stood and paced around the sitting room in angry disbelief.

‘How dare you?’

Inside, I felt a strange kind of relief, a satanic calm, as if a load had been taken off my back. I was ashamed. I knew I was as guilty as Stacey. We had played each other.

‘What is your plan going forward?’

‘I will raise the baby by myself.’

‘And him?’

‘He has a wife and four kids.’

I was angry that Stacey was not asking about me. She showed no concern about the pain I was experiencing, the pain she’d caused.

I didn’t recognize the new me. Why would I be jealous over a fat police officer who kept her hair short, who played gospel music in the morning , who  drunk beer in the evening, one who collected bribes, a heartless  double-dealing woman, a woman carrying another man’s pregnancy?

I looked away, through the doorway to the rusty roof of the next block of houses. A spider was weaving in the corner of the front door. I despised the industriousness of the spider.

‘I am happy for you.’

‘Happy?’

‘Kids are beautiful.’

I was tired in a disabling manner.  I wanted Stacey out of my house. It was a mistake, everything was a mistake, I whispered to myself.

When I set out to jog the next morning, my body trembled with vile energy. My breath was thick-hot, my tongue rough against my mouth. Jogging turned into sprinting. I ran past the road junction, I ran past the unfinished blocks of houses where I used to turn, past a Protestant Church with blaring gospel music. It was only after I felt an acute shortage of air in my lungs and the unwillingness in my legs to carry any further that I stopped, doubled over and cursed loudly. Fuck!

About the author:

Wanjala Njalale is a Nairobi-Based writer and poet. His work has appeared in The EastAfrican Magazine, Brittle Paper (UK), Aerodrome & Enkare Review, among others. 

 

 

The Student

The Student

Cobwebs and gecko skeletons fell from the ceiling, and the students screamed in exaggerated terror and threw their brooms in the air.

Scenes like these are common in the first few days of the term. At Shuleni High School, everyone was involved in tidying up. The gardeners and cleaners employed by the school were few, the work itself overwhelming.

I enjoyed watching the lazy movements of the opening day. Languor from holidays should be shed in layers so that a radical void isn’t created. Human beings aren’t like machines and settling back required a mental as well as physical adjustment. A day or two was enough.

The support staff brimmed with new energy, only one or two donned a disheveled and forlorn look. Waweru, the driver, had soaked himself in alcohol like a suicide. He looked like a ghost of a person who had died in mudslide.

Miss Hamisi, the newest member of staff, was the only other member of staff around; that is if you didn’t count the school principal and her deputy. Miss Hamisi’s previous work station was of the national pedigree and we all looked forward to meeting her. Her arrival was announced during the closing ceremony of last term to loud applause from the student body.

I was in the staffroom rereading Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood when I heard a knock at the door.

‘Come in,’ I said gently.

At first, I thought it was the new teacher. I spotted her conversing with the school principal a few minutes before I entered the staff room.

The student came and stood before me, hands clasped in front. The look on her face indicated that she had been waiting for this moment. She was troubled, I could tell from her worried look. She kept changing her legs.

‘How may I help you Dorothy?’ I asked, ‘you look like someone in trouble.’

There was a moment of silence. When she finally lifted her face to speak, I saw tears. She couldn’t speak. This was the same student that bore the reputation of arriving in school the earliest and leaving the school hours after the rest were gone. She would deliberately ‘forget’ something in the hostel; a book, bus fare, anything that would keep her longer in the school compound. Most of my colleagues laughed at the student’s forgetfulness but I did not. Because I realized that there was a pattern to all her actions. For instance, she never went to the secretary’s office to call her parents as the others did. She would rather stay behind in class.

‘Are you going to stand there and cry or are you going to speak up?’

‘I… I…’

She stopped. Tears were gushing freely now. I heard a stifled noise escape her.

‘It is going to be alright,’ I said to assure her, ‘every problem has a solution.’

‘Do you mean to say that…that… that my parents can get back together sir?’

I froze. Unknowingly, I had given a promise, an assurance that was clearly impossible to fulfil. The student stopped crying, wiped her face with a white handkerchief, and  searched my face. I couldn’t allow her to read the shame I was feeling.

‘If they can spare time to talk, maybe they can reach some level of agreement.’

‘Can they?’

I skipped her question. To change the direction of our conversation, I paused questions of my own to her. I wanted to understand her behaviour.

‘For how long have they been separated?’

‘For a year now.’

‘Do you have siblings?’

‘A younger brother, Dwayne. He is eight.’

‘Since the separation, where have you been staying?’

‘With my paternal granny. She is blind.’

‘And your parents?’

‘They come in turns to see us. My mother is alcoholic. My father…’

‘What about your father?’

‘She is with another woman, Miss. Hamisi.’

‘The new teacher?’

‘Yes. My father is the County Director of Education. He wanted her to be here, for me.’

This was too much to process. I couldn’t imagine the amount of emotional weight the student was bearing.’

‘I hate her,’ she finally pronounced, ‘I hate that woman. She is the reason my parents are not together.’

‘Listen here Dorothy,’ I intervened, ‘your parents have their differences. It has nothing to do with you. They love you and they would do anything for you.’

‘Anything for me? Let them get back together. Let us be a close-knit family again.’

‘Dorothy, it is important for you to be strong for your junior brother,’ I appealed, ‘he needs you more than anyone or anything else.’

I did not believe my words would have any impact. I knew that the student was too anguished to be consoled by such cliché words.

‘My father says that my brother Dwayne is not his biological son.’

‘What?’

At that very point, Miss Hamisi walked into the staffroom with a smile.

‘I will send for you,’ I yelled after the student.

‘Mr. Wafula,’ the new teacher saluted, ignoring the fact that my attention was still on the student that had just left.

‘Miss Hamisi,’ I replied, my eyes searching for something amiss in her chubby face, ‘how are you?’

‘I am fine,’ her voice was mashed potatoes, ‘Inshallah.’

As she spoke, I knew right away that I wouldn’t begrudge her. Something told me that she had a kind heart, not the sadist child-torturing creature I had begun to construct in my mind.

‘It feels great to have you,’ I blubbered.

Before Miss Hamisi could reply with ‘Thank you. I already feel at home’, I heard noise coming from the corridor. We rushed out too see what it was. Students had abandoned their brooms. They were shouting and screaming at two other girls.

I hurried past Miss Hamisi. I separated the girls who were fighting. I was horrified too see that one of the girls was Dorothy, the Form 2 girl who had come to see me earlier, before Miss Hamisi burst into the staffroom.

‘To the Deputy Principal’s office, now!’ I yelled. The girls broke into a run toward the administration block.

As I walked towards the Deputy Principal’s office, I couldn’t help to empathize with Dorothy. She had provoked the fight. The penalty for such an infringement was severe. The other had sustained a cut above her eye. I wondered whether the Deputy Principal would listen to me. First, I would beg her not to involve the new teacher, Miss Hamisi. That would be like adding petrol to an already raging fire.

I turned my head to ask the other students to resume their posts. I caught sight of Miss Hamisi, standing still, her lips shaking, horror written all over her face. She knew who the girl was, I gathered. She remembered her from the cellphone photos Dorothy’s father had shown her. But she looked undecided, which was a good thing. Because by the time she recovered and began to plow towards the administration block, I had already explained to the Deputy principal why that particular case demanded careful handling.

Dorothy was like an egg.

And Miss Hamisi? Well, it would be a great idea if she learnt to keep her affair with Dorothy’s father out of the girl’s earshot and eyesight. Dorothy wasn’t dealing with her parents’ separation very well. No child ever does.

Dorothy came back after a week. She was accompanied by her father, the County Director of Education for Bidii County. A tall man in an expensive blue suit, climbing down from a GK car with a shiny black briefcase. After whispering something to the driver, he began to walk towards the principal’s office. Dorothy held onto his other hand. She was all smiles.

Now don’t ask how I saw all these. My desk is positioned at the window that overlooks the school entrance and parking lot. I had to elbow Mrs. Otieno out of this position. I had to bribe Mr. Nyambane with two bottles of Guinness beer.

I had a literature class with Form 4s. I grabbed my notes and headed to class. After an hour of heated debate and note-taking, I walked back to the staffroom. I poured myself a cup of tea and waited.

Before I could finish the cup of tea, sure as hell, the deputy principal burst into the staffroom. The principal wanted me in her office.

Everyone was seated. My chair was placed furthest from the door. I was the arresting officer, the first person on the scene, the guy whose word mattered.

Ladies and gentlemen, this was the County Director of Education, not a half-witted random gorilla from the bowels of Wakanda.

I chose my words carefully. I told how the student approached me on that fateful day, what she said, the help that she expected. I told how she cried, how emotionally anguished she was, how this led to violent behaviour afterwards.

There was silence after my ‘deposition’. I searched the principal’s face and the County Director of Education’s. I was unable to gather what was cruising in their heads at that particular moment.

Then I saw them look at each other knowingly. I saw them smile and turn to me. The principal was first to speak.

‘Mr Kipkorir has something to say.’

‘OK.’ I retorted.

‘Dorothy isn’t my biological daughter,’ he broke, ‘I married her mother when she was pregnant. I accepted her as my daughter. Her real father found out somehow. My wife told her. I don’t know how they met or when this happened. When I found out I was mad. It was betrayal. A bitter kind of betrayal. I filed for divorce. She wouldn’t grant me. She is sunk, you know. I have tried all I could but…’

There was silence.

‘We must keep my daughter from finding out. It would ruin her if she finds out.’

‘I agree,’ intoned the principal, ‘what do you think Mwalimu?’

You really want to know what I think? Of course the student deserves to know the truth. Soon or later, she would find out the secret on her own anyway. If this happens, she might lose all the trust. She is to be made aware, like now-now. Do this together, you and your alcoholic wife. Do it at home, not here. The girl is raising questions already. She thinks it’s Dwayne, not herself. Get on with it Mr. County Director of Education. Get on with it. Get on with it. It is the only way. Spill it out, the secret. We can clean the floor afterwards. But now, the truth. Only the truth. You hear me, only the truth. You wanted to know what I think; this is what I think.

‘If you break the news gently,’ I said instead, ‘she will come around. I trust that she would.’

Later, I saw the County Director of Education having a genial chat with Miss Hamisi at the parking lot. The student was in class to exchange her notebooks. There was a look of confusion on the student’s face when she emerged and saw the pair standing close, their necks bent in a gesture of shared intimacy.

A few minutes later, the school gate swung open and the GK car, with the student in the front seat, sped away.

Wanjala Njalale is a Nairobi-Based writer and poet. His work has appeared in The EastAfrican Magazine, Brittle Paper (UK), Aerodrome, AfricanWriter and most recently Enkare Review. 

 

Mau Mau Poems

Mau Mau Poems

“THE CROW”

 

Perched upon a fencing post

As regular as childhood sun, the bird

In the morning when cadavers

Were indignantly disposed off

In the garden beyond the camp

Before the ghosts of men, bare as strippers,

Were flogged and compelled to dance

For hesitating to execute an order

From a baby-faced stammering guard

 

The crow saw it all, like a piece of cloud

It flew southward at sunset

The gloss on its wings proclaiming false eternity

The blessed white patch upon its chest

And the crude chattering, utterly horrendous

 

Only I seemed to notice the bird,

Its clockwork consistency, a devilish creature

The bits of decomposing flesh hanging like worn cotton threads

From the ends of its accursed beak, the bird

It became my pastime to fantasize a British rifle in my hands

The bird dirtied by dust, in pieces.

 

“SUNSET”

 

It was beautiful; the figure of man

Swaying so gently, back and forth,

To the power of wind

 

He hang upside down like a giant bat

By his bruised and bleeding ankles

Like a slaughtered beast in a city abattoir

He was no man, only African

Sweat and mucus oozed from his nose

Like semen dripping out a white prick

Into the soft flesh

Of a frightened Gikuyu woman’s mouth

 

The figure had no name

Only a number pressed into metal

Fastened around a bloodied wrist

A human pendulum

Swaying so perfectly for all to see

 

Later, work brigades returned

From quarries and rice paddies,

From emptying waste buckets,

Cutting grass and washing the masters’ garments

It was time for a quiet ceremony

In remembrance of Nicodemus Mwangi

 

The voices, so full of emotion

Reminded me of the quiet rage

In the body of a young woman, Muthoni

 

As the sun sunk at the end of the world

The silhouette still swung, back and forth,

In gorgeous perfection.

 

 

“SHIFRA WAMETUMI”

 

True beauty never fades

Wild flowers are not

So are the patterns in the clouds

There is one thing which is;

Your eyes, the waves surging forth

From your secret oceans

 

Shifra Wametumi, your name

My body trembles when my fingers

Touch the flawless smoothness of your dark skin

Those nipples that resemble bullets

In your indomitable heart

Rests the whirlwind of good fortune,

Sunshine, belief, tomorrow

 

I am drowning in your erotic sea

In the ends of your reckless beauty world

I beg you to love me wholly,

I beg you to infuse me with the courage

To hold a gun against an invading army

You, the embodiment of true black,

Kenyan, Gikuyu spirit.

 

Wanjala Njalale is a Nairobi-Based writer and poet. His work has appeared in The EastAfrican Magazine, Brittle Paper (UK), Aerodrome, AfricanWriter and most recently Enkare Review. 

 

Flash: A Night of Their Growth

Flash: A Night of Their Growth

They cast their garments to the wind. Half-blind, they embarked on a journey in search of new selves. Deeper into the bounty of nature they trudged. They paused when they came upon an open ground. They marveled at the evenness of grass, at abandoned fireplaces and overgrown worship places. They halted, eyeing each other with wonder. They were not on their own and they knew it. Invisible spirits accompanied their footsteps. In the whir of dry savannah wind, they heard voices.

These voices were soft, like the pale orange light cutting through the surface of a lake at dusk. Drums, drumsticks, violins and guitars played afar. A rhythm created with both casualness and dexterity.

Possessed by a power they didn’t comprehend, they recognized the whispering in the wind. They danced to songs not heard before. They choreographed in circles not rehearsed. They swayed to the enchantment. They were heirs of a new age. One by one, they fell to the ground in exhaustion.

The young men melted in arousal. They cried into their palms like abandoned gods. They didn’t just copulate that night. They whispered innocuous lies to each other. They claimed attributes that they didn’t possess. They murmured pleasantries. They talked of heroes and legends of their past. At the end of the orgy, they reached out and held each other’s hands. They were warriors.

 

Wanjala Njalale is a Nairobi-Based writer and poet. His work has appeared in The EastAfrican Magazine, Brittle Paper (UK), Aerodrome, AfricanWriter and most recently Enkare Review. 

A Love Letter to Love

A Love Letter to Love

 

Love, if I had a voice I would intone like an orchestra singer

My silhouette on the window curtain would reveal

How fear-washed and ignoble I look; no one is braver than love

Hold me tight here outside my bedroom window

Then squeeze me until I am out of breath, like fish on sand

Or until your face is undeviating in my memory,

Like the gang leader who murdered my parents

Then whisk me away on horseback at full speed

Through aches described by Pablo Neruda

To someplace far away, on a beach lined with coconut trees

Where the sea whooshes with a soothing rhythm

I am just a young lover offering my heart to be reaped apart.

 

Wanjala Njalale is a Nairobi-Based writer and poet. His work has appeared in The EastAfrican Magazine, Brittle Paper (UK), Aerodrome, AfricanWriter and most recently Enkare Review. 

Poetry: …Wild Boy

Poetry: …Wild Boy

 

 

….wild boy

He tickles your tits between his teeth,

He gabbles something about taste and colour.

He even tells you that you are incomparably beautiful

In elation, you whisper reciprocation into his ear

All the while thinking your world is taking shape

towards completion,

that he would stay to fulfill your wild wishes

When his bear skin touches yours

you dissolve into that other world

where your breathing is irregular.

You cannot discontinue what is happening

No one has ever.

 

 

He tears the cloth from your waist with admirable violence

He touches your skin and buries his head between your thighs

leaving saliva marks on your body scars

You want to believe that he is looking at you

not what you’ve been through

not your dark secrets or fears or your queer dreams

You’re grateful for everything he’s done, every word he’s said.

You float away on his wings

Equating him to an angel of salvation

 

 

Both your body and soul are quivering

From this pleasing voyage

You whisper that you love him

but he doesn’t whisper back

When the heat has passed and you’ve taken a bath

you return to the living room

and find that he’s gone-

the wild boy is gone

You rush downstairs. He’s nowhere

The road is full of cyclists, beggars and crazy lovers

You realize that you are a particle of sand on a faraway beach

Your feet doesn’t belong to you

 

 

You want to pursue the wild boy

to his house

He did cast a spell of magic over you

Now, you are all by yourself.

 

Wanjala Njalale is a Nairobi-Based writer and poet. His work has appeared in The EastAfrican Magazine, Brittle Paper (UK), Aerodrome, AfricanWriter and most recently Enkare Review.