The King’s Return to Port Florence

Source: The King’s Return to Port Florence

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The King’s Return to Port Florence

IMG-20160829-WA0001The King’s Return to Port Florence

The luxurious bus had stopped briefly at the valley viewpoint. The passengers in first class preferred it here for meal breaks and nap rests in between the journey. It was an exciting time for me, a first timer in this luxurious bus in first class.  During the break, the bus served canned beef and canned fish on the lap tables with small wet warm napkins for face and hand cleaning. Wine came in special wine glasses, which I relished then topped it up with a chilled canned beer.

Everything around it was luxurious this bus. The TV that sat on an elegant hoist had a large flat screen. The pictures could not have been clearer than this and our eyes engaged to the full glued all the way. Most men in the bus had massive bellies, fat shinny faces, roundish at the oval chins. The women were more luxurious with golden necklaces and studs of diamonds on their noses that drew attention to self. Their dresses had silk or denim decors and their bangles laced with silver jingled with sounds of belled goats when they moved their arms about in that provocative manner as I could observe.

They all sat in the front, breathing heavily and sweating Ajo had pointed out to me as part of orientation in first class before the bus took off. I wondered why it did not occur to them to put on their personalized air conditioners that bulged at the roof of the bus.  An imaginary line like the equator divided them into two halves of class, the middle haves and the lower have-nots. Then progressively the classes lowered to second and third and so did the seats sizes and comfort of the spacing. Even the air became dense, stuffy, and acrid as you moved away from first class.

Ajo my cousin had paid for my ticket in first class just so I could get the hang of it, I mean of first class life. He is a generous man this diminutive business mogul from Kothacha. We sat side-by-side talking in maffled tones as I kept inquiring about one thing or another in the luxurious bus. Later I switched and we talked about our village-Kothacha

Ajo stretched then belched loudly from overfeeding but failed to apologize. “That would not be expected or even necessary in first class,” Ajo said after he sat back and relaxed. Then he added with a slight sheepish chuckle, “You only apologize in first class if you break wind and only when it is loud you know. People pay for these things to relax!” He said this last part of his sentence with defiant twist in his tone as if someone had asked him to explain his misdemeanor in first class.

Ajo moved back and forth uneasily in his luxurious seat. His lips worked tellingly but words did not form. He appeared coy, and lost in thought his face blank and expressionless and so I thought he would perhaps drift off and sleep, but I was wrong on my assessment. He swiftly turned around thereafter and said to me, “Thadayo, tell me about Amollo OKol. Spin me that yarn that you weaved so neatly before the break. It has the ingredients that can easily stir sleep inside watery eyes and bring peace inside weary soul.”  Therefore, I resumed the story. The story of Amollo Okol

Amollo Okol had worked with the Indian Coolies in the last mile on the metal snake-that is what the villagers called the railway line when it first hit Port Florence in 1911. The queen had come all the way from England to flag off the first train my father told me. He was there just to see Amollo OKol stand tall towering above the coolies and the rest of all the migrant workers from our village. My father was more than pleased when Okol from Kothacha village was the only black who interpreted the queens English to the audience accurately. Putting the icing on the cake Okol did a dry run on the first train at Port Florence. Imagine, just imagine Amollo Okol allowing the metal snake to slither with ease then jack to a halt to loud cheer from crowd and my father was there just to witness the whole thing. Okol could drive a train.

Okol retired shortly after and retreated to the village much to the disappointment of my father. However, he soon made up for his early retirement. It was such a seamless change over as a power switch between heavy loads of high voltage.  “How did he do that? Retirees from Railways often had conflicts. I mean adjustment issues. Not fitting back to reality.” Ojo said in a flat dull voice.

“Okol was different,” I said then continued with the story. When he arrived in the village, our lives became Okol and Okol became our lives. He was the earth around which our world revolved. To cover his back the village provided the axis that allowed him rotate and together we had a small peaceful universe in our village in Kothacha. Whenever there was any medley noise, we would be sure it would be the motorcycle of Okol ferrying merchandise to his shop save for thunder.

Okol was adept at business, exploiting to the full the connections he had made working with the Indians at Port Florence. He had the charm and charisma that watered his young business ideas and it thrived beyond the wildest of dreams, his and ours.  Soon Okol had a name, larger than life itself. Our village in Kothacha became synonyms with Okol. At that young age, I was already aware that Okol was the oxygen we breathed. Besides, he had a big heart of a philanthropist.

When Okol distributed free sugar on the dictum of one hut one-kilo plan, we wondered how he would ever make money failing to see his vision. Old women from the village asked in wonderment, “So when does he get time to collect the eggs of white ants. Taste so nice”. Later they began to crave the same sugar to make tea and they looked up to Okol to do the needful. Okol did not disappoint. Not once.

When Okol started stocking matchboxes, it created quite a revolution; the passing of embers from one home to another fizzled out. Akol was changing the village in a way that no one had ever done before. From one home to another and from one thing to the other, everyone adored him. He did honest business met us halfway on prices most of the times. His business empire expanded. The villagers had a saying, “if you do business, do it with the heart and mind of Amollo Okol”

People created a poem to praise Amollo Okol. I recall it now. It went something like this

“You need a sweat scent, burn the woody with a fragrance of Amollo Okol

You have no food; no provisions- open a credit book with Amollo Okol

Your son has a wedding get a gift pack from the shop of Amollo Okol

You are on a journey get a ride from Amollo Okol”

You could say that Okol was our king and we were in a way his subjects.

“So what happened after this empire expanded? Did he open more shops in other markets?” Ajo asked as we approached Port Florence.

“No” I replied then continued, “like good stories with bad endings Okol’s journey ended with a wicked twist at the tail end.  Allow me to continue this story on our return journey.”

The luxurious bus ate up tarmac and gobbled the miles. The bus cut through the force of opposing wind with a whiz like a power turbine. Before we could turn and yawn for the second time in this journey, Port Florence was staring at us from the distance of Kano plains. Right before our very eyes, the magnificent red lights in the famous red light street beckoned us. The shiny silvery water surface reflecting with a bewitching elegance in the moonlight teased us. In the horizon where the clouds kissed the lake slightly a color change from greyish pink to yellowish umber signaled the break of dawn. This amazed me as if I had expected the night to continue unchallenged by day. The bus sneaked in Port Florence with the quietness of the night still enveloping it and the chill of break of dawn made our fingers tremble with cold. It was four am, a gloomy Saturday morning in the early part of May.

Ajo accompanied me to the supermarket, the only one that operated 24hours in Port Florence. We needed to have a quick cup of coffee to warm ourselves up before proceeding on our journey to the village. At the entrance, a sentry welcomed us with wide-open arms; a thin cynic smile played on his lips his mouth agape.  He said, “My lords, I cannot frisk you for I am not worthy. I cannot put any metal detectors on you. That will be injurious to your reputations and lower your dignity. I have seen you alight from the luxurious bus and that is all I need to know. I am your loyal servant. Just give me ten shilling coin and my soul shall be saved.” He concluded. I looked at his face in awe. He was wearing a beaming smile now with a winner’s confidence, his white big teeth exposed to the pre-molar.

First, I was baffled. Then amusement overtook me. I looked at Ajo. He was nodding the way good listeners do as if agreeing with every word this man was saying, matching the guard eyeball to eyeball. This peaked my curiosity that quickly changed to surprised then humor in that order. I started with a slight chuckle, which escalated quickly to a high laughter. It got louder by the second then boomed so loud I got worried it would boomerang and wake other sentries curled up in sleeping positions in the verandah of the mall. I laughed until I could not stand straight. I laughed until my body shook as jelly desert on a flat saucer and my ribs ached.

I groped and reached for Ajo to steady myself even as I laughed some more. It was amusing that just by boarding the luxurious bus; all our sins were gone, in a flash. I found it funny even shocking that this bus had made us white as snow. It had in fact elevated my standing to the level of a lord, perhaps a landlord. I was still laughing when Ajo pulled out a fifty-shilling note and staffed it in the hands of the sentry. Then Ajo turned round and I saw his face reincarnate into an ashen of annoyance.

“Now listen up and get this straight into the space between your ears,” Ajo began to scold me in a firm voice his index finger waging at my face. “You are the people who don’t get it. This is wrong, very wrong for this country. When you trust the security of people or even a country on the hands of beggars. You are toying with a time bomb literally. Do you see what I see? This whole supermarket can be bombed off to smithereens because of a ten shillings coin. Can you see how obnoxious our security system is?” He asked looking straight into my iris his pupil dilated with fury.

My laughter trailed and waned then I froze. My thoughts jammed into confusion leaving a sour taste on its aftermath in my mouth. I remembered that I was a beggar like the sentry he had just paid alms and I needed to earn my keep on an account of good manners. Therefore, when we eventually ordered coffee in the café I had shriveled back to my place and the lofty feelings I had acquired from the luxurious bus had actually evaporated.

We sat and sipped coffee in silence. Ajo pulling and sucking the liquid from the plastic mugs loudly to cool the hot black coffee that burnt the tongues but tasted so nice with sweet aroma. The sound from the tight pulling and sucking of hot coffee made audible syllables. I kept hearing “fuuss….kwoot, Fuus….kwot, fuus….kwot”

Silently in my heart, I thought about Ajo’s overreaction to my laughter. I could not allow it to dwell and take root in my head for long. Beggars, I reasoned have no such luxuries and so it thawed and flowed away like rivulets from rainstorm from my heart.

Twenty minutes later, after serious haggling Ajo agreed with the taxi operator on the charges to take us to Kothacha. Ajo sat in front next to the driver. I sat in the middle, the back seat were unoccupied. We started on light banter again. Kids talk clothed with urbanite humor was my forte and I usually used it to full effect to warm my way to Ajo’s heart for I know that people who give nothing gain nothing. I give joy. This day the taxi man was beating me to it. He led the discussion that meandered around love, lies of ethnic politics and deceit of election stealing. To his credit, we also weaved some yarn about women leadership, the confluence of money and religion as well as significance of wine to a social being.

The ease with which Ajo often made friends made me think that it was perhaps the sole reason he was so successful in business. Moreover, this could also be his blindest spot, I was thinking about it more deeply now. The duplicity of this double edge personality played in my heart. This driver matched him word for word, joke for joke as the miles drained with the minutes. The encounter with that weak-kneed sentry in the mall recurred in my mind and I tried to sue it away like a bothersome fly but it just would not go. I chewed the mental cud Ajo had deposited in the space between my ears. These humbling thoughts emanating from Ajo’s foul language hounded me like a bad smell on this trip.

Ahead in the beam light of our cab on this journey, a young man raised his hand to stop our taxi. He was well dressed like someone on a mission.  A big gunny bag was at his feet and a travelling bag dangled from his shoulder gave that impression of an urban dweller. “Ah guys let me pick this man, he is going our direction. I could make some money. You know you really squeezed me so thin on the rate I charged you. I can make up with his pay.” The taxi driver said in a pleading sort of way. Ajo considered his request for a while. He said, “Ok. Pick him and pay yourself.” The driver stopped slightly ahead on this lone early traveler. The man came over tagging his load with him.

The traveler pulled the car boot and put the gunny bag. From the way he hauled it, I could tell it was a heavy load. He closed the boot quickly and took a seat at the back.

“Where are you going at this early hour?” the driver asked. “Ndori, I have business there. I will pay you five hundred. Here it is.” he replied as he gave out the note to the driver. What he had offered to pay was rather excessive and it got me wondering. Why would he be so generous?

After he closed the car door and sat, I felt raw power ooze from this strange lanky fellow’s presence. I could not explain it but I could feel its palpability. The driver ignited the engine and the car accelerated to full throttle. Something odd draw my attention more and more to this man. He was smartly dressed but he still looked queer under scrutiny. I switched on the inside light to study him. His eyes were bloodshot and his eyelids puffed up and bruised. His shirt had some sprinkles of bloodstains and his shoes were muddy. Something was not right about this eyebrow bender of a man.  I could see Ajo craning his neck backwards also pointing to the danger that his act of good heartedness could bring us harm.

The man we had just picked was reeking of alcohol. A strong smell of Famous Grouse brand that exude from him permeated and took over the taxi. There was also another subtle smell.  An odd expensive women perfume that lingered from the back. This smell in my estimation was perhaps from the boot where the traveler had deposited the gunny bag. I thought it could be a camouflage. The further we traveled, the stronger the smell got and it was unsettling. I could not hold back my thoughts anymore, I opened my mouth to ask but Ajo shot straight ahead of me.

“Wewe, where do you work? What business do you do?”

“General business and brokerage,” the man replied without hesitation. He fell short of giving specifics

“Why are you up this early, who opens a shop or a brokerage at five am,” Ajo drilled further

“Ahhh, I do this all the times. Ahhh. Ahhh.” The man stammered and again filed to complete his sentence. We became alarmed but more so scared.

The man shifted in the chair. I saw his hand slip into the lower pocket. I was now studying his every move. Total silence descended in the taxi even as the driver stepped on the gas. He focused grimly ahead. In my mind, I could only guess that he would do the most sensible thing; drive all of us to the next police station just to ascertain what kind of guest we had just picked. I was again dead wrong on both the guesses my head was tabulating and the direction our journey would take. Our nameless guest had smarter plans up his sleeve.

At Holo market just as the car slowed down on the road bumps, the stranger in our taxi yanked the car opened and he jumped out. He yelled even as he stepped out with the precision of a trained movie star. “No. No. No” he was shouting at the top of his voice as if we had just taken him captive. The driver stepped on the breaks and the car skidded to a creaky stop. I attempted to open one door but he had ran and stood next to the car to commandeer it. He shouted with the command of a general, “Don’t move. Stay right where you are”. I looked out of the car window and that is when I saw the gun barrel directed at my head. Instinctively, I dived down and took cover and so did Ajo. The taxi driver took cover too.

In the dead silence of the morning dawn, the sound of a gunfire rented the air. I kept my head low, my ear pricked like a trained dog, and I picked the sounds of footsteps of him running away. My heart was beating so loudly and hard threatening to burst through my chest. I could not tell if one of us had suffered gunshot wounds. It bothered me just thinking what his target could have been. My main concern at this point turned to self-preservation and so I touched myself continuously all over as if I had just lost my fourth sense of feel. I did confirm though that no blood was oozing from any opening in my body. Ajo recovered fast and said, “Remove that gunny bag from the boot. It could be a timed bomb. “

The man kept shouting as he ran away towards the shops in Holo market then he disappeared from our view. When the noise had died down and our shock abated, the taxi driver opened the boot and hauled out the gunny bag. “Please size it up. Just touch it to confirm what could be inside” Ajo instructed the driver while still seated at the co-driver.

“Parts” the driver said

“What parts” Ajo asked anxiously

“Body parts, I think” he replied.

“Get back here and let’s get moving, you greedy fool. Your thirst for money is the cause of all this mess,” Ajo snapped at the driver his bossy class voice coming back on the fore.

The driver banged the door and started the engine again. In the haze of dawn, shadowy figures of people emerged from all directions on hearing gunshots. Some people started running towards our car perhaps thinking, the stranger had harmed us. “What is it? Who has been shot and why.” One of the people shouted, but we gave no answer, instead we sped off at breakneck speed towards our destination.

Inside the car, we all could not just comprehend what had just happened. We all started talking at the same time each of us asking question and talking in tongues like the disciples did the day of the Pentecost. Adrenalin coursed through our veins and added to the incoherence of body and soul. I felt Ajo’s breathing pace heighten, then he became restless, cross and bullish like a caged lion.  He heaved loudly and sighed but no relief was on sight. When he was done with shouting obscenities and curses at the driver, I asked gently afraid to agitate him further, “Why don’t we report this matter to the police? Escaping from the scene of crime could make us co-perpetrators or even criminals. What do you think sir?”

“You are right, this ignoramus has just plunged us into deep hot shit. It is neck-deep,” Ajo said then sighed so loudly again, I thought he would box the driver at the nape from the back but he did not. Instead, he said, “If we are lucky we could get away with it. We are innocent. Even God knows, but the law is an ass”

“What if someone took the car details and called the police. Those people who had come there could do us in. We would be in a worse position. Let us drive back.”  I said more reservedly. The driver slowed down to allow us make the decision. As we were still mulling over the possibilities and our chances of escaping with murder literally, a reflector shinning far ahead warned us of danger. Then we saw the signs-“STOP POLICE CHECK”.

Two police officers on either side of the road raised their hands, pointing skywards signaling us to stop. A third hauled out his riffle from the leather hanger over his shoulders and held it on the ready. The taxi driver started to slow down. In panicked trembling voice he said, “Give me all the money you have all of it.” I fumbled with my pockets, fished out all the coins in punch scoop, and poured them on his lap. Ajo gave him his wallet with wards of notes so fresh crispy you could smell them a mile away. The notes popped out above the wallet neatly arranged in denominations of various currencies both local and foreign. The driver lowered his window as we approached the checkpoint. The spikes blocked the road from one end to the other.

“Open the door and come out slowly. Put your hands where I can see them. Do not try any games with me. This is a .33 Russian caliber machine and it is automatic,” one of the officers shouted. We got out of the car as instructed and leaned face down. “Turn around and put your hands behind you.” The other officer commanded.

As he reached out to his handcuff to lock us up the driver attempted to give him Ajo’s wallet full of notes and bulky the size of a mini brick. The police officer looked at it briefly and said, “Stop that temptation. Why are you putting my profession to test? This is blood money; we do not touch blood money, only clean money. Take that wallet away from me,” The driver allowed it to slip and dropped on the ground on its own with a thud. No one attempted to retrieve it, not even the police. The Police locked us up and put chains on us the way they do goats heading to the market for sale. Ajo had not said a word from the time he gave out his wallet, his face sullen and blank. The taxi driver attempted to say something but squirmed and gave up. I thought I had sufficient courage to raise some sort of defense for all of us and so I said.

“Afisa, Afisa,” I stammered searching for the right words to use. “We have just alighted from the luxurious bus. My name is Thadayo Makus from Kothacha and this is Ajo Mbuta from Kothacha. We hired this taxi to take us home but on the way, he picked a criminal. We are law-abiding citizens’ sir, I pay tithe every month, ten percent sir. My boss is the main beer distributor in Gem County, a respectable man with family and wide business interest in Port Florence. You could actually say that he is the king of Port Florence. He is a man of means. May I add sir, that he is very honest? He neither takes nor gives any bribes. He is a religious man sir and his wife is very prayerful and a member of the women’s guilds. As for me, I go to church every Sunday and fast twice a year sir. We cannot be part of this criminality. We are innocent sir”

The police regarded me for a while and my hopes of freedom flickered like an oil lamp with a dirty wick. “Balderdash, cork and bull story” the police bellowed and with those words, my heart sank. After I had finished stringing those words and breathed another sigh, it occurred to me that I had sounded very much like the spineless sentry at the mall. The only difference this time was that instead of asking for money, I was the willing giver even to my last coin. I looked up to the officer’s face pleading with my eyes for his heart to soften and move towards forgiveness. Bidding him to buy my bull story, but he stood firm un-swayed by my platitudes.

When I saw that the officer had in fact ignored my pleas, I resigned myself to fate and spoke less. We were quickly bundled into a waiting police car. At the scene of crime, the police retrieved the gunny bag a key exhibit the police marked with a felt pen. Exhibit 34A and another unknown to us they marked 34B

Ajo and I arrived in Senoma police station remand cells awaiting charges. The officer was kind enough to inform us that we would be arraigned in court the following day at Port Florence. That evening on TV our news was the leading item. The area OCPD had called a press conference detailing what in his view had transpired. How he had just unearthed through an undercover operation a serious crime ring. Ajo and I looked confused and clueless on the screen that displayed this saga. The TV journalist gave it a screaming headline, which was scrolling at the base of the screen.

“Traffickers of albino body parts arrested on Tanzan road.” The OCPD said when he finally came on screen, “Our officer on patrol arrested these dangerous criminals. We have trailed them for some time, but we have not been successful. Today at dawn, the officers acting on a reliable tip-off from the members of the public made this very daring and significant arrest. These are notorious criminals who have been kidnapping small children mainly albinos and ferrying their body parts across the border to sell to witches to do witchcrafts. We shall meet them with the full force of the law.”

It bothered me a lot that Ajo was not saying anything, just shaking his head in wonderment sometimes whistling in disbelief as well. In my mind, I got thinking how the police was using the power of TV to ensure that our incarceration was completely beyond redemption. I imagined they had instructions to do this neatly even before our case could get a mention in court. I imagined how the judges having watched TV would be prejudiced and how our fate would have almost sealed with this TV exposure.

That evening, as we slept in a cold concrete police cell, fleas, louse and bedbugs feasting on us Ajo had slowly recovered from shock and he began to speak again. He said, “Thardy finish that story. Tell me about the last part of our story. Tell me about Amollo Okol. How did they fix him? Was it similar to our story?” Ajo always called me with that special name whenever he needed a small favor from me, you know like a sweet story.

However, this evening I was in no mood to tell any story. I did not want to tell Ajo that the same villagers Okol had uplifted so much broke into his shop and murdered him in cold blood. I did not want to reveal to him that the police who were accomplice to this murder were the same people investigating the same. I could not bring myself to tell him that they had paid Okol with pain and torture and humiliation. That would only make our stay in the cell more miserable so I chose to say nothing about Amollo Okol, the King of Kothacha.

In my mind, I considered something completely different. I wondered if these fellow remands had ever boarded the luxurious bus. If they ever stopped at the Valley View, point and drank wine and beer. This was particularly critical for me because I did not see any line imaginary or real that divided one prisoner and another on status, class, fame, or fortune. A prison cell I could now reveal was the ultimate equalizer better than the equator.

Later I slept very briefly-a deep twisted nap that complicated further my visit to Port Florence. It was just before dawn. I dreamt that election was over at Port Florence and post-election violence had started immediately the tallying computer had spewed fraudulent linear numbers stupidly. Instead of Joy and jubilation, it had brought in its aftermath chaos, human suffering, human displacement, and police brutality. Police officers occupied very empty space armed to the teeth at Port Florence.

In my dream, I saw an officer take aim and shoot at a child playing in the balcony. I saw a girl’s body fall lifeless like a bird hitting power lines at high speed. Then I saw the boy who was playing with the girl walking up to one police officer who was shooting people indiscriminately using human targets as practice objects to sharpen his skills on long-range shooting.

The boy stood in front of the police and said in an even voice, “I think the body bags you had stockpiled before the elections will soon run out. You may need replenishment urgently. See those ones are already rotting. Vultures are feeding on their eyes. Their relatives will have nothing to bury.” In my dream, I saw the police officer in Port Florence size up the boy. He directed the gun on his head, but the boy did not flinch. Instead, he said, “Go ahead and just do it, scatter my brains and eat it for pudding but it will not stop us from separating. Why are you afraid?  Hate is holding you back because I have come to you with love. You see, for fifty years, it has been the same story. Hate that has made you profile all the people from Port Florence. The same hate that has made you practice ethnic cleansing here. Your boss is using you to further his agenda of exclusion, discrimination purely because of my creed and tribe. I am here to tell you that time is up it is over. Freedom is coming tomorrow.  Can’t you see that flag, that flag we hoisted today in the pelvic hole of those rotting bodies.” The boy stopped talking and stood at ease arms akimbo in defiance.

The officer in my dream moved towards the flag, it was flapping joyously singing with the wind. The flag was singing the Kavirondo song. The officer moved closer to study it. It had a dark shade reminiscing the people here, the bright clouds at one corner was kissing the lake gently. In between where the silvery lake emerged, there was an ember and an emergence of a red sun signaling the break of a new dawn. At the base the officer could see the writing now very clearly. He read the words in the flag in capital-The Republic of Kavirondo and it sounded strange and bitter in his mouth. He turned around to face the radicalized boy again. The boy said, “We are divorcing you. This slavery like slave trade must end. It is abusive, stale, biased for far too long. We are breaking away; it is no use sticking together anymore.”

In my dream, I saw the officers face break into a cynical smile then he grinned then laughed loud and hard. Harder than the laughter, I had had in the mall the day before. Suddenly he changed swiftly, his face grim with anger the way Ajo had behaved at the mall. The officer beckoned the gunships and the tanks. They started rolling down flattening the uncollected bodies and smearing them on the tarmac as they rumbled ahead and took position. The boy stood still unmoved. Then there was a loud noise as if one of the planes flying over Port Florence had dropped a bomb. I shook my head and woke up from the dream, the deeply disturbing dream. I desperately wanted to share it with Ajo so I shook him to wake up.

Instead of sharing the dream and possibly seeking an interpretation, which was what was in my mind, I said something else completely different. I said, “Ajo, we need to prepare our defense. We really do need a lawyer and fast. We have a bad case in our hands”

The following day the Monday of the Pentecost, our time had come. In my mind, I considered the King’s triumphal re-entry into Port Florence.

“All rise,” the court orderly said and the people in the court obeyed including the King. Then he said, “This is the matter of Ajo Mbuta and Thadayo Makus and others verses the state case file number 34C.” He handed over the file to the prosecutor.

The prosecutor in his starch pressed uniform put a watertight case against us at Port Florence main court. He said, “Your honor this is a matter of grave National importance comparable only to some degree to the management of electoral process or bungled elections to be sure. The issues at hand are grave and concern human dignity, life and death. A case your honor becomes complex if it involves loss of life. The people before you have profited from exterminating life of law-abiding citizens. This they have done through a web of deep-rooted cold-hearten people. We shall need time to unravel it. Your honor I make a prayer before you that the two accused be remanded for a further two weeks to allow the investigating officers to complete the investigations.” The prosecutor rested his case.

The courtroom fell silent. I looked across the room and a saw our relatives Ajo and mine. I looked at Ajo’s wife in luxurious dressing exactly as those women I had seen in the luxurious bus. I wondered why it had not occurred to her that what we needed most at this time would be a good lawyer to get us out of jail instead of cat-walking in expensive clad revealing a lot of flesh. Inside me was a boiling volcano that wanted to erupt any minute to consume everyone especially after seeing my wife and Ajo’s. I wanted to shout at them and tell them that we were starving and sleeping on cold hard concrete. I desperately wanted to tell them this was no place to play seductive cards-it was no luxurious bus. Nevertheless, as you can already tell, time and tide waits for no man. I looked at Ajo and I saw the King’s lips pot and form as if he was sipping that nice coffee with sweet smelling aroma at the mall. In my head, I could hear the sounds and even the syllables of Fuuus…Kwooot…fuuus…kwoot, Fuuus…….

The judge looked up. He held file 34C in his hand. In a half a tick he said,” On the prayer of more time to investigate. The court finds the request reasonable. The mattes conversed are weighty. The court grants both prayers” He stopped mid-way in the sentence. Grief gripped my heart and my inner spirit bolted.

My mind drifted in a flash back to my weird dream of the night before. I could touch the radicalized boy in my thoughts. His words came back bouncing hard at me. Slavery, freedom, divorce, flag. As I tried to make sense of them, I could hear clearly the Kavirondo Song, loud and succinctly.

“Justice be our shield and defender..”

“Dwell in unity, peace and liberty..”

“Plenty be found within our borders..”

 

The judge raised the hammer and I knew time had come for him to auction our souls at the fall of the hammer. I wondered if he would do it to the highest bidder. At a closer look, I discerned that it was a gavel. The judge held it suspended in the air a sad look in his face. I could tell by the design of this gavel that it could in fact dispense justice to those who desire and deserve it. I willed him to do the right thing. I saw his arms that had hang in the air to infinitude began to descend as I waited my heart in my mouth. The gavel fell on the table and the court rose up in adjournment.

A visit to Port Florence

The luxurious bus had stopped briefly at the valley viewpoint. The passengers in first class preferred it here for meal breaks and nap rests in between the journey. It was an exciting time for me, a first timer in this luxurious bus in first class.  During the break, the bus served canned beef and canned fish on the lap tables with small wet warm napkins for face and hand cleaning. Wine came in special wine glasses, which I relished then topped it up with a chilled canned beer.

Everything around it was luxurious this bus. The TV that sat on an elegant hoist had a large flat screen. The pictures could not have been clearer than this and our eyes engaged to the full glued all the way. Most men in the bus had massive bellies, fat shinny faces, roundish at the oval chins. The women were more luxurious with golden necklaces and studs of diamonds on their noses that drew attention to self. Their dresses had silk or denim decors and their bangles laced with silver jingled with sounds of belled goats when they moved their arms about in that provocative manner as I could observe.

They all sat in the front, breathing heavily and sweating Ajo had pointed out to me as part of orientation in first class before the bus took off. I wondered why it did not occur to them to put on their personalized air conditioners that bulged at the roof of the bus.  An imaginary line like the equator divided them into two halves of class, the middle haves and the lower have-nots. Then progressively the classes lowered to second and third and so did the seats sizes and comfort of the spacing. Even the air became dense, stuffy, and acrid as you moved away from first class.

Ajo my cousin had paid for my ticket in first class just so I could get the hang of it, I mean of first class life. He is a generous man this diminutive business mogul from Kothacha. We sat side-by-side talking in muffled tones as I kept inquiring about one thing or another in the luxurious bus. Later I switched and we talked about our village-Kothacha

Ajo stretched then belched loudly from overfeeding but failed to apologize. “That would not be expected or even necessary in first class,” Ajo said after he sat back and relaxed. Then he added with a slight sheepish chuckle, “You only apologize in first class if you break wind and only when it is loud you know. People pay for these things to relax!” He said this last part of his sentence with defiant twist in his tone as if someone had asked him to explain his misdemeanor in first class.

Ajo moved back and forth uneasily in his luxurious seat. His lips worked tellingly but words did not form. He appeared coy, and lost in thought his face blank and expressionless and so I thought he would perhaps drift off and sleep, but I was wrong on my assessment. He swiftly turned around thereafter and said to me, “Thadayo, tell me about Amollo OKol. Spin me that yarn that you weaved so neatly before the break. It has the ingredients that can easily stir sleep inside watery eyes and bring peace inside weary soul.”  Therefore, I resumed the story. The story of Amollo Okol

Amollo Okol had worked with the Indian Coolies in the last mile on the metal snake-that is what the villagers called the railway line when it first hit Port Florence in 1911. The queen had come all the way from England to flag off the first train my father told me. He was there just to see Amollo OKol stand tall towering above the coolies and the rest of all the migrant workers from our village. My father was more than pleased when Okol from Kothacha village was the only black who interpreted the queens English to the audience accurately. Putting the icing on the cake Okol did a dry run on the first train at Port Florence. Imagine, just imagine Amollo Okol allowing the metal snake to slither with ease then jack to a halt to loud cheer from crowd and my father was there just to witness the whole thing. Okol could drive a train.

Okol retired shortly after and retreated to the village much to the disappointment of my father. However, he soon made up for his early retirement. It was such a seamless change over as a power switch between heavy loads of high voltage.  “How did he do that? Retirees from Railways often had conflicts. I mean adjustment issues. Not fitting back to reality.” Ojo said in a flat dull voice.

“Okol was different,” I said then continued with the story. When he arrived in the village, our lives became Okol and Okol became our lives. He was the earth around which our world revolved. To cover his back the village provided the axis that allowed him rotate and together we had a small peaceful universe in our village in Kothacha. Whenever there was any medley noise, we would be sure it would be the motorcycle of Okol ferrying merchandise to his shop save for thunder.

Okol was adept at business, exploiting to the full the connections he had made working with the Indians at Port Florence. He had the charm and charisma that watered his young business ideas and it thrived beyond the wildest of dreams, his and ours.  Soon Okol had a name, larger than life itself. Our village in Kothacha became synonyms with Okol. At that young age, I was already aware that Okol was the oxygen we breathed. Besides, he had a big heart of a philanthropist.

When Okol distributed free sugar on the dictum of one hut one-kilo plan, we wondered how he would ever make money failing to see his vision. Old women from the village asked in wonderment, “So when does he get time to collect the eggs of white ants. Taste so nice”. Later they began to crave the same sugar to make tea and they looked up to Okol to do the needful. Okol did not disappoint. Not once.

When Okol started stocking matchboxes, it created quite a revolution; the passing of embers from one home to another fizzled out. Akol was changing the village in a way that no one had ever done before. From one home to another and from one thing to the other, everyone adored him. He did honest business met us halfway on prices most of the times. His business empire expanded. The villagers had a saying, “if you do business, do it with the heart and mind of Amollo Okol”

People created a poem to praise Amollo Okol. I recall it now. It went something like this

“You need a sweat scent, burn the woody with a fragrance of Amollo Okol

You have no food; no provisions- open a credit book with Amollo Okol

Your son has a wedding get a gift pack from the shop of Amollo Okol

You are on a journey get a ride from Amollo Okol”

“So what happened after this expire expanded. Did he open more shops in other markets?” Ajo asked as we approached Port Florence.

“No” I replied then continued, “like good stories with bad endings Okol’s journey ended with a wicked twist at the tail end.  Allow me to continue this story on our return journey.”

The luxurious bus ate up tarmac and gobbled the miles. The bus cut through the force of opposing wind with a whiz like a power turbine. Before we could turn and yawn for the second time in this journey, Port Florence was staring at us from the distance of Kano plains. Right before our very eyes, the magnificent red lights in the famous red light street beckoned us. The shiny silvery water surface reflecting with a bewitching elegance in the moonlight teased us. In the horizon where the clouds kissed the lake slightly a color change from greyish pink to yellowish umber signaled the break of dawn. This amazed me as if I had expected the night to continue unchallenged by day. The bus sneaked in Port Florence with the quietness of the night still enveloping it and the chill of break of dawn made our fingers tremble with cold. It was four am, a gloomy Saturday morning in the early part of May.

Ajo accompanied me to the supermarket, the only one that operated 24hours in Port Florence. We needed to have a quick cup of coffee to warm ourselves up before proceeding on our journey to the village. At the entrance, a sentry welcomed us with wide-open arms; a thin cynic smile played on his lips his mouth agape.  He said, “My lords, I cannot frisk you for I am not worthy. I cannot put any metal detectors on you. That will be injurious to your reputations and lower your dignity. I have seen you alight from the luxurious bus and that is all I need to know. I am your loyal servant. Just give me ten shilling coin and my soul shall be saved.” He concluded. I looked at his face in awe. He was wearing a beaming smile now with a winner’s confidence, his white big teeth exposed to the pre-molar.

First, I was baffled. Then amusement overtook me. I looked at Ajo. He was nodding the way good listeners do as if agreeing with every word this man was saying, matching the guard eyeball to eyeball. This peaked my curiosity that quickly changed to surprised then humor in that order. I started with a slight chuckle, which escalated quickly to a high laughter. It got louder by the second then boomed so loud I got worried it would boomerang and wake other sentries curled up in sleeping positions in the verandah of the mall. I laughed until I could not stand straight. I laughed until my body shook as jelly desert on a flat saucer and my ribs ached.

I groped and reached for Ajo to steady myself even as I laughed some more. It was amusing that just by boarding the luxurious bus; all our sins were gone, in a flash. I found it funny even shocking that this bus had made us white as snow. It had in fact elevated my standing to the level of a lord, perhaps a landlord. I was still laughing when Ajo pulled out a fifty-shilling note and staffed it in the hands of the sentry. Then Ajo turned round and I saw his face reincarnate into an ashen of annoyance.

“Now listen up and get this straight into the space between your ears,” Ajo began to scold me in a firm voice his index finger waging at my face. “You are the people who don’t get it. This is wrong, very wrong for this country. When you trust the security of people or even a country on the hands of beggars. You are toying with a time bomb literally. Do you see what I see? This whole supermarket can be bombed off to smithereens because of a ten shillings coin. Can you see how obnoxious our security system is?” He asked looking straight into my iris his pupil dilated with fury.

My laughter trailed and waned then I froze. My thoughts jammed into confusion leaving a sour taste on its aftermath in my mouth. I remembered that I was a beggar like the sentry he had just paid alms and I needed to earn my keep on an account of good manners. Therefore, when we eventually ordered coffee in the café I had shriveled back to my place and the lofty feelings I had acquired from the luxurious bus had actually evaporated.

We sat and sipped coffee in silence. Ajo pulling and sucking the liquid from the plastic mugs loudly to cool the hot black coffee that burnt the tongues but tasted so nice with sweet aroma. The sound from the tight pulling and sucking of hot coffee made audible syllables. I kept hearing “Fuuss….kwoot, fuus….kwot, fuus….kwot”

Silently in my heart, I thought about Ajo’s overreaction to my laughter. I could not allow it to dwell and take root in my head for long. Beggars, I reasoned have no such luxuries and so it thawed and flowed away like rivulets from rainstorm from my heart.

Twenty minutes later, after serious haggling Ajo agreed with the taxi operator on the charges to take us to Kothacha. Ajo sat in front next to the driver. I sat in the middle, the back seat were unoccupied. We started on light banter again. Kids talk clothed with urbanite humor was my forte and I usually used it to full effect to warm my way to Ajo’s heart for I know that people who give nothing gain nothing. I give joy. This day the taxi man was beating me to it. He led the discussion that meandered around love, lies of ethnic politics and deceit of election stealing. To his credit, we also weaved some yarn about women leadership, the confluence of money and religion as well as significance of wine to a social being.

The ease with which Ajo often made friends made me think that it was perhaps the sole reason he was so successful in business. Moreover, this could also be his blindest spot, I was thinking about it more deeply now. The duplicity of this double edge personality played in my heart. This driver matched him word for word, joke for joke as the miles drained with the minutes. The encounter with that weak-kneed sentry in the mall recurred in my mind and I tried to sue it away like a bothersome fly but it just would not go. I chewed the mental cud Ajo had deposited in the space between my ears. These humbling thoughts emanating from Ajo’s foul language hounded me like a bad smell on this trip.

Ahead in the beam light of our cab on this journey, a young man raised his hand to stop our taxi. He was well dressed like someone on a mission.  A big gunny bag was at his feet and a travelling bag dangled from his shoulder gave that impression of an urban dweller. “Ah guys let me pick this man, he is going our direction. I could make some money. You know you really squeezed me so thin on the rate I charged you. I can make up with his pay.” The taxi driver said in a pleading sort of way. Ajo considered his request for a while. He said, “Ok. Pick him and pay yourself.” The driver stopped slightly ahead on this lone early traveler. The man came over tagging his load with him.

The traveler pulled the car boot and put the gunny bag. From the way he hauled it, I could tell it was a heavy load. He closed the boot quickly and took a seat at the back.

“Where are you going at this early hour?” the driver asked. “Ndori, I have business there. I will pay you five hundred. Here it is.” he replied as he gave out the note to the driver. What he had offered to pay was rather excessive and it got me wondering. Why would he be so generous?

After he closed the car door and sat, I felt raw power ooze from this strange lanky fellow’s presence. I could not explain it but I could feel its palpability. The driver ignited the engine and the car accelerated to full throttle. Something odd draw my attention more and more to this man. He was smartly dressed but he still looked queer under scrutiny. I switched on the inside light to study him. His eyes were bloodshot and his eyelids puffed up and bruised. His shirt had some sprinkles of bloodstains and his shoes were muddy. Something was not right about this eyebrow bender of a man.  I could see Ajo craning his neck backwards also pointing to the danger that his act of good or hardheartedness could bring us harm.

The man we had just picked was reeking of alcohol. A strong smell of Famous Grouse brand that exude from him permeated and took over the taxi. There was also another subtle smell.  An odd expensive women perfume that lingered from the back. This smell in my estimation was perhaps from the boot where the traveler had deposited the gunny bag. I thought it could be a camouflage. The further we traveled, the stronger the smell got and it was unsettling. I could not hold back my thoughts anymore, I opened my mouth to ask but Ajo shot straight ahead of me.

“Wewe, where do you work? What business do you do?”

“General business and brokerage,” the man replied without hesitation. He fell short of giving specifics

“Why are you up this early, who opens a shop or a brokerage at five am,” Ajo drilled further

“Ahhh, I do this all the times. Ahhh. Ahhh.” The man stammered and again filed to complete his sentence. We became alarmed but more so scared.

The man shifted in the chair. I saw his hand slip into the lower pocket. I was now studying his every move. Total silence descended in the taxi even as the driver stepped on the gas. He focused grimly ahead. In my mind, I could only guess that he would do the most sensible thing; drive all of us to the next police station just to ascertain what kind of guest we had just picked. I was again dead wrong on both the guesses my head was tabulating and the direction our journey would take. Our nameless guest had smarter plans up his sleeve.

At Holo market just as the car slowed down on the road bumps, the stranger in our taxi yanked the car opened and he jumped out. He yelled even as he stepped out with the precision of a trained movie star. “No. No. No” he was shouting at the top of his voice as if we had just taken him captive. The driver stepped on the breaks and the car skidded to a creaky stop. I attempted to open one door but he had ran and stood next to the car to commandeer it. He shouted with the command of a general, “Don’t move. Stay right where you are”. I looked out of the car window and that is when I saw the gun barrel directed at my head. Instinctively, I dived down and took cover and so did Ajo. The taxi driver took cover too.

In the dead silence of the morning dawn, the sound of a gunfire rented the air. I kept my head low, my ear pricked like a trained dog, and I picked the sounds of footsteps of him running away. My heart was beating so loudly and hard threatening to burst through my chest. I could not tell if one of us had suffered gunshot wounds. It bothered me just thinking what his target could have been. My main concern at this point turned to self-preservation and so I touched myself continuously all over as if I had just lost my fourth sense of feel. I did confirm though that no blood was oozing from any opening in my body. Ajo recovered fast and said, “Remove that gunny bag from the boot. It could be a timed bomb. “

The man kept shouting as he ran away towards the shops in Holo market then he disappeared from our view. When the noise had died down and our shock abated, the taxi driver opened the boot and hauled out the gunny bag. “Please size it up. Just touch it to confirm what could be inside” Ajo instructed the driver while still seated at the co-driver.

“Parts” the driver said

“What parts” Ajo asked anxiously

“Body parts, I think” he replied.

“Get back here and let’s get moving, you greedy fool. Your thirst for money is the cause of all this mess” Ajo shouted at the driver his bossy class voice coming back on the fore.

The driver banged the door and started the engine again. In the haze of dawn, shadowy figures of people emerged from all directions on hearing gunshots. Some people started running towards our car perhaps thinking, the stranger had harmed us. “What is it? Who has been shot and why.” One of the people shouted, but we gave no answer, instead we sped off at breakneck speed towards our destination.

Inside the car, we all could not just comprehend what had just happened. We all started talking at the same time each of us asking question and talking in tongues like the disciples did the day of the Pentecost. Adrenalin coursed through our veins and added to the incoherence of body and soul. I felt Ajo’s breathing pace heightened, then he became restless, cross and bullish like a caged lion.  He heaved loudly and sighed but no relief was on sight. When he was done with shouting obscenities and curses at the driver, I asked gently afraid to agitate him further, “Why don’t we report this matter to the police? Escaping from the scene of crime could make us co-perpetrators or even criminals. What do you think sir?”

“You are right, this ignoramus has just plunged us into deep hot shit. It is neck-deep,” Ajo said then sighed so loudly again, I thought he would box the driver at the nape from the back but he did not. Instead, he said, “If we are lucky we could get away with it. We are innocent. Even God knows, but the law is an ass”

“What if someone took the car details and called the police. Those people who had come there could do us in. We would be in a worse position. Let us drive back.”  I said more reservedly. The driver slowed down to allow us make the decision. As we were still mulling over the possibilities and our chances of escaping with murder literally, a reflector shinning far ahead warned us of danger. Then we saw the signs-“STOP POLICE CHECK”.

Two police officers on either side of the road raised their hands, pointing skywards signaling us to stop. A third hauled out his riffle from the leather hanger over his shoulders and held it on the ready. The taxi driver started to slow down. In panicked trembling voice he said, “Give me all the money you have all of it.” I fumbled with my pockets, fished out all the coins in punch scoop, and poured them on his lap. Ajo gave him his wallet with wards of notes so fresh crispy you could smell them a mile away. The notes popped out above the wallet neatly arranged in denominations of various currencies both local and foreign. The driver lowered his window as we approached the checkpoint. The spikes blocked the road from one end to the other.

“Open the door and come out slowly. Put your hands where I can see them. Do not try any games with me. This is a .33 Russian caliber machine and it is automatic,” one of the officers shouted. We got out of the car as instructed and leaned face down. “Turn around and put your hands behind you.” The other officer commanded.

As he reached out to his handcuff to lock us up the driver attempted to give him Ajo’s wallet full of notes and bulky the size of a mini brick. The police officer looked at it briefly and said, “Stop that temptation. Why are you putting my profession to test? This is blood money; we do not touch blood money, only clean money. Take that wallet away from me,” The driver allowed it to slip and dropped on the ground on its own with a thud and no one attempted to retrieve it not even the police. The Police locked us up and put chains on us the way they do goats heading to the market for sale. Ajo had not said a word from the time he gave out his wallet. The taxi driver attempted to say something but squirmed and gave up. I thought I had sufficient courage to raise some sort of defense for all of us and so I said.

“Afisa, Afisa,” I stammered searching for the right words to use. “We have just alighted from the luxurious bus. My name is Thadayo Makus from Kothacha and this is Ajo, Ajo Mbuta from Kothacha. We hired this taxi to take us home but on the way, he picked a criminal. We are law-abiding citizens’ sir, I pay tithe every month, ten percent sir. My boss is the main beer distributor in Gem County, a respectable man with family and wide business interest in Port Florence. He is a man of means. May I add sir, that he is very honest? He neither takes nor gives any bribes. He is a religious man sir and his wife is very prayerful and a member of the women’s guilds. As for me, I go to church every Sunday and fast twice a year sir. We cannot be part of this criminality. We are innocent sir”

The police regarded me for a while and my hopes of freedom flickered like a lamp with a dirty wick. “Balderdash, cork and bull story” the police bellowed and with those words, my heart sank. After I had finished stringing those words and breathed, it occurred to me that I had sounded very much like the spineless sentry at the mall. The only difference this time was that instead of asking for money, I was the willing giver even to my last coin. I looked up to the officer’s face pleading with my eyes for his heart to soften and move towards forgiveness. Bidding him to buy my bull story, but he stood firm un-swayed by my platitudes.

When I saw that the officer had in fact ignored my pleas, I resigned myself to fate and spoke less. We were quickly bundled into a waiting police car. At the scene of crime, the police retrieved the gunny bag a key exhibit the police marked with a felt pen. Exhibit 34A and another unknown to us they marked 34B

Ajo and I arrived in Senoma police station remand cells awaiting charges. The officer was kind enough to inform us that we would be arraigned in court the following day at Port Florence. That evening on TV our news was the leading item. The area OCPD had called a press conference detailing what in his view had transpired. How he had just unearthed through an undercover operation a serious crime ring. Ajo and I looked confused and clueless on the screen that displayed this saga. The TV journalist gave it a screaming headline, which was scrolling at the base of the screen.

“Traffickers of albino body parts arrested on Tanzan road.” The OCPD said when he finally came on screen, “Our officer on patrol arrested these dangerous criminals. We have trailed them for some time, but we have not been successful. Today at dawn, the officers acting on a reliable tip-off from the members of the public made this very daring and significant arrest. These are notorious criminals who have been kidnapping small children mainly albinos and ferrying their body parts across the border to sell to witches to do witchcraft. We shall meet them with the full force of the law.”

It bothered me a lot that Ajo was not saying anything, just shaking his head in wonderment sometimes whistling in disbelief as well. In my mind, I got thinking how the police was using the power of TV to ensure that our incarceration was completely beyond redemption. I imagined they had instructions to do this neatly even before our case could get a mention in court. I imagined how the judges having watched TV would be prejudiced and how our fate would have almost sealed with this TV exposure.

That evening, as we slept in a cold concrete police cell, fleas, louse and bedbugs feasting on us Ajo had slowly recovered from shock and he began to speak again. He said, “Thardy finish that story. Tell me about the last part of our story. Tell me about Amollo Okol. How did they fix him? Was it similar to our story?” Ajo always called me with that special name whenever he needed a small favor from me, you know like a sweet story.

However, this evening I was in no mood to tell any story. I did not want to tell Ajo that the same villagers Okol had uplifted so much broke into his shop and murdered him in cold blood. I did not want to reveal to him that the police who were accomplice to this murder were the same people investigating the same. I could not bring myself to tell him that they had paid Okol with pain and torture and humiliation. That would only make our stay in the cell more miserable so I chose to say nothing about Amollo Okol.

In my mind, I considered something completely different. I wondered if these fellow remands had ever boarded the luxurious bus. If they ever stopped at the Valley View, point and drank wine and beer. This was particularly critical for me because I did not see any line imaginary or real that divided one prisoner and another on status or class. A prison cell I could now reveal was the ultimate equalizer better than the equator.

Later I slept very briefly-a deep twisted nap that complicated further my visit to Port Florence. It was just before dawn. I dreamt that election was over at Port Florence and post-election violence had started immediately the tallying computer had spewed fraudulent linear numbers. Instead of Joy and jubilation, it had brought in its aftermath chaos, human suffering, human displacement, and police brutality. Police officers occupied very empty space armed to the teeth at Port Florence.

In my dream, I saw an officer take aim and shoot at a child playing in the balcony. I saw a girl’s body fall lifeless like a bird hitting power lines at high speed. Then I saw the boy who was playing with the girl walking up to one police officer who was shooting people indiscriminately using human targets as practice objects to sharpen his skills on long-range shooting.

The boy stood in front of the police and said, “I think the body bags you had stockpiled before the elections will soon run out. You may need replenishment urgently. See those ones are already rotting. Vultures are feeding on their eyes. Their relatives will have nothing to bury.” In my dream, I saw the police officer in Port Florence size up the boy. He directed the gun on his head, but the boy did not flinch. Instead, he said, “Go ahead and just do it, scatter my brains and eat it for pudding but it will not stop us from separating. Why are you afraid?  Hate is holding you back because I have come to you with love. You see, for fifty years, it has been the same story. Hate that has made you profile all the people from Port Florence. The same hate that has made you practice ethnic cleansing here. Your boss is using you to further his agenda of exclusion, discrimination purely because of my creed and tribe. I am here to tell you that time is up it is over.  Can’t you see that flag, that flag we hoisted today in the pelvic hole of those rotting bodies.” The boy stopped talking and stood at ease arms akimbo in defiance.

The officer moved towards the flag, it was flapping joyously singing with the wind. The flag was singing the Kavirondo song. The officer moved closer to study it. It had a dark shade reminiscing the people here, the bright clouds at one corner was kissing the lake gently. In between where the silvery lake emerged, there was an ember and an emergence of a red sun signaling the break of a new dawn. At the base the officer could see the writing now very clearly. He read the words in the flag in capital-The Republic of Kavirondo and it sounded strange and bitter in his mouth. He turned around to face the radicalized boy again. The boy said, “We are divorcing you. The relationship has been abusive, stale, biased for far too long, fifty years, and counting. We are breaking away; it is no use sticking together anymore.”

In my dream, I saw the officers face break into a cynical smile then he grinned then laughed loud and hard. Harder than the laughter, I had had in the mall the day before. Suddenly he changed swiftly, his face grim with anger the way Ajo had behaved at the mall. The officer beckoned the gunships and the tanks. They started rolling down flattening the uncollected bodies and smearing them on the tarmac as they rumbled ahead and took position. The boy stood still unmoved. Then there was a loud noise as if one of the planes flying over Port Florence had dropped a bomb. I shook my head and woke up from the dream, the deeply disturbing dream. I desperately wanted to share it with Ajo so I shook him to wake up.

Instead of sharing the dream and possibly seeking an interpretation, which was what was in my mind, I said something else completely different. I said, “Ajo, we need to prepare our defense. We really do need a lawyer and fast. We have a bad case in our hands”

The following day the Monday of the Pentecost, our time had come.

“All rise,” the court orderly said and the people in the court obeyed. Then he said, “This is the matter of Ajo Mbuta and Thadayo Makus and others verses the state case file number 34C.” He handed over the file to the prosecutor.

The prosecutor in his starch pressed uniform put a watertight case against us at Port Florence main court. He said, “Your honor this is a matter of grave National importance comparable only to some degree to the management of electoral process or bungled elections to be sure. The issues at hand are grave and concern human dignity, life and death. A case your honor becomes complex if it involves loss of life. The people before you have profited from exterminating life of law-abiding citizens. This they have done through a web of deep-rooted cold-hearten people. We shall need time to unravel it. Your honor I make a prayer before you that the two accused be remanded for a further two weeks to allow the investigating officers to complete the investigations.” The prosecutor rested his case.

The courtroom fell silent. I looked across the room and a saw our relatives Ajo and mine. I looked at Ajo’s wife in luxurious dressing exactly as those women I had seen in the luxurious bus. I wondered why it had not occurred to her that what we needed most at this time would be a good lawyer to get us out of jail instead of cat-walking in expensive clad revealing a lot of flesh. Inside me was a boiling volcano that wanted to erupt any minute to consume everyone especially after seeing my wife and Ajo’s. I wanted to shout at them and tell them that we were starving and sleeping on cold hard concrete. I desperately wanted to tell them this was no place to play seductive cards-it was no luxurious bus. Sadly, I did not get the time to. I looked at Ajo and I saw his lips pot and form as if he was sipping that nice coffee with sweet smelling aroma at the mall. In my head, I could hear the sounds of “fuuus…Kwooot…fuuus…kwoot “emerging from Ajo.

The judge looked up. He held file 34C in his hand. In a half a tick he said,” On the prayer of more time to investigate. The court finds the request reasonable. The mattes conversed are weighty. The court grants both prayers” He stopped mid-way in the sentence. He raised the hammer and I knew time had come for him to auction our souls at the fall of the hammer. I wondered if he would do it to the highest bidder. At a closer look, I discerned that in fact it was a gavel. I could tell by its design that it could dispense justice to those who desire and deserve it. I willed him to do the latter and I saw his arms hang in the air to infinity as I waited my heart in my mouth. Then the gavel fell on the IMG-20160829-WA0001table and the court rose up in adjournment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Kulu kulu birds, Baby mongoose and Iguana

Kulu Kulu birds were everywhere no matter where you looked. The whole village of Nyasmwa was one big swam of birds flying in threes and fours, with an irritating ghoulish noises on their trail. They were strange, stranger than fiction these birds. Pink chested, big black winged with large grey claws. On their heads marble large eyes patched and bulged out roundish to see in three D. Their beaks were rather short and curved shapely and sharper than the hawk’s.

No one had ever seen them before. No one knew where they had come from, and worse still no one had a name for them. As they flew low and fast then changed course and sored up and down and cawed Kulu kulu kulu kulu kulu we stopped and wondered in awe. I asked piously, the way one would ask a religious monk or a priest at confession. “Okelo, Wuod Agoro, tell me- which birds are these? What do they want in our village? How did they arrive here? What would be their agenda, food, home or what?”

“Yaa,” He sighed and said, “No one knows from where they come or where they are going. They must be wind, ill wind. These birds of sadness have been here since the army worms invaded the crops. Could they be following the worms? But they also feed on corn.” Okello’s remarks and his tamed voice got me thinking and premonition came to mind.

Kulu kulu birds had taken over the village swooping and pairing. We stood still me and Okello studying these monsters that we had nicknamed Kulu kulu, for their manners or lack thereof. I wanted to tell Okello that this was a bad sign of sadness. That from our folklore, strange bird’s invasion was prophetic for pain and mourning but I did not. Instead I told my son to look up and study the sky. “See this looks like an eclipse.” I said pointing to the sun and without guessing which one it really was, of the moon or of the sun or of the Holy Ghost? The sun had clouds around it, round like an enclave of the hedges in our village. The rays pierced through the clouds with beams which were dim and yellowish and it felt lukewarm the way it happens at sunrise but it was now approaching midday. At class six my son knows the story of the eclipse of the moon and of the sun and of the earth

Okello and I shifted our attention from the Kulu kulu to the eclipse and back to the cows. The cows started mooing loudly in unison like they had conspired all at once to start a riot and break away from the tether ropes. I had never seen my cows this wild like prisoners on a prison break mode. They gored fiercely, their horns in the air with raised tails as they jumped on three legs, one leg tied to the ropes. Then they puffed loudly from the widened hollow noses. The sound was scary and ominous-“Fuu, fuu, fuu” and the birds went, “kulu, kulu, kulu kulu.”

“Release the cows at once.” I instructed my son and he moved with haste to obey the command. But this day nothing was going right. The cows pulled Okello along and fell him down in a manner that I had never seen happen before. I thought he had broken his rib on that fall. The cows were riotous like the Kulu kulu or perhaps incited by them. I could see the corner of Okello’s mouth turn in a shape to start a cry but my son managed to stifle it. The other cows rioted too. “Okello, Okello, be careful, set the cows to the lawns and come home at once after watering.” But my son disobeyed and failed to take the cows to the grazing fields. He ran off in opposite direction totally unexpectedly to my shock.

As I walked following the riotous cows to the grazing fields I watched the Kulu kulu, chase away other birds. I could see that the other birds were silent, Cowed and muted by fear of the Kulu-kulu. The village was eerily peaceful with the sort of stillness that precede dawn but it was now well past noon. When the wind started to blow gently, the trees stared unmoved. The awry stiffness of the tress that stood still and disobedient never to sway and salute the Kulu-kulu or their master caught my attention. The loud conversation of monsoon would normally shake the trees, the shrubs and the branches and they would dance to its tune alongside the grass that would swivel to share secrets. This time it was absent.

The Kulu-kulu had upset the order of things in Nyasmwa village. I got worried that perhaps it was not just the trees and the birds and the air and the sun that would be under the grip of the Kulu kulu. The brief talk that had gone on between Okello and me about the Kulukulu invasion in our village was laden with fear of the unknown. This same fear was slowly getting the better of me. I tried to act normal ignoring the increased pumping rate of my heart in my chest but I could hear it in my ear lobes.

When I arrived in the hut after watering the animals, Seruya my wife was missing. Okello was nowhere to be found. A hen scratched the earth next to the hut and picked some feed with speed so fast, I could not see it with my naked eyes. That bothered me too. Cheru, our heavily pregnant cat mewed loudly following me everywhere I went as if it had a message to pass. But I was too restless to calm down and receive it. I searched the rooms looking for Seruya calling her loudly in fear. “Seruya, Seruya,” but there was no answer. Outside the hut the Kulu kulu birds still cooed and preened, Kulu kulu. In the confusion I was hearing them differently. It was like they were now calling my son. “Okello okello Okello Okello.”

When I became frantic and searched deeper, throwing everything everywhere  hither and yon in a huff I noticed that  the big baby bag which we had bought with Seruya at Bindo and packed with new baby things like, pampers, nappies, bibs and small clothes was nowhere near, it was actually missing too. Immediately I felt relief, my breath speed eased and paced well and the tense muscles around my nape relaxed. I concluded that Seruya must have gone into labor when I was out in the fields attending cows. I called in the boda-boda (moto-bike rider) and soon I was on my way to Bindo.

On the way to Bindo my thoughts wafted and sweat daydreams floated and rested on Seruya and the baby. My heart melted with excitement, I felt peace and pride at the same time. I prayed silently for safe easy delivery, for Seruya cutting my prayer intermittently to swoon over my love- Seruya. “Okello will have a follower and his indiscipline and perhaps tantrums would mellow “I said loudly and the bike rider thought I was addressing him.  “What?” he enquired. ““Forget it. It is a monologue. My own private thoughts” I answered.

In my mind I had plans for Okello and Seruya and the baby. Okello should flower the way “Obongo’S”-one boy family should. I turned ideas in my head. My thoughts visited the discussions we had had with Seruya on the names for the baby. The lullabies I had formed in my heart for the baby, milled in my mind and I smiled. Silently, I started to hum the lullaby in whispers.

“Eeh Galy galy a sweet girl

Eeh Galy galy a small girl

Eeh Galy galy a smart girl

Eeh Galy galy a secret girl”

In no time I was at the maternity in Bindo. “My wife came in here a while ago. Has she gone to the delivery room” I inquired from a nurse at the reception desk.

“Name please?” the nurse asked.

“Seruya-Seruya Aol and my name is Matias-Matias Aol the husband” I volunteered the details anxious to get the news, smiling from ear to ear.

“Yes, she came.  She is expecting twins. There was a small complication which we could not handle here. We have transferred her to the referral hospital in Miyumo. She went in our ambulance. I have just called the team. She is doing fine. They are done with rapture and the first baby is out. They should be in the hospital by now.” The nurse said.

“Thanks you so much. I must join them right away. I will see you when we return to the village” I said giggling shyly in happiness. I left at once by public transport to Miyumo.

At the referral hospital my lightheadedness quickly evaporated and gave way to heavy heartedness. I was referred from one desk to another before someone could even confirm that my wife was admitted in this facility. Finally, a male nurse called me outside. That was a red light right there. I could tell from his uneasiness that the birds of sadness had followed me to Miyumo and they were ready even to build their nest on my head. The nurse shaped his mouth as if to speak but stayed silent and it was extending to eternity in my mind, this suspensive silence. I directed my glare at his face trying to lock and pin his eyeballs and wrestle them down. His eyes shifted and he became evasive. I cursed wondering why he was taking a whole day to say a word. I tried hard to swallow saliva but my mouth was completely dry. He was still focused on a blank wall right in front of us when I felt a sharp pain prick my heart and hold it tightly. I pushed down the esophagus to contain a bulge of hard lump climbing up my throat as I waited for him to speak.

He opened his mouth but stammered. He said, “They. They did not make it.”

“Who” I asked sharply feeling my lips quiver and the other words that had formed in my mouth dissipate. He took the advantage of my faltering and went full throttle, speaking a mile a minute explaining how it all happened. His words were floating in space as echo in my head. Bits and pieces of his words. “The boys were fatigued. The mother had undergone severe bleeding. We rushed her to theater. We had to make decisions very fast. The hard decisions even to save the mother. The first one came out still breathing but shortly only shortly. The second one was dead before birth…” He was going on and on and on. But my mind had blocked. He was here with me but his words were distant and faint and meaningless.

“Where is my wife? Where is Seruya/” I found my voice finally and asked. “She was is still recovering in the recovery room after theater, we shall wheal her back to the general word shortly”

Later they wheeled Seruya to the General Word. I was waiting willing with all my willpower to stay calm and comfort her at this dark moment. When I spotted her from a distant, laying still, the sight of her looking completely famished from fatigue, pain and blood loss and all that emptiness around her, I cracked. I cracked on looking at the big baby bag still full of unused clothes and wipes. I cracked at seeing her timid face and her eyes searching, looking for someone to say something. No one talked. You could hear a pin fall. Tension was thick in the air, you could cut it into two equal halves with a blunt knife.

“Honey I am here” I managed to say with an unfamiliar voice unsure of what to tell and even how to frame it.

“Give me the girl I need the girl first.” I could see her hands searching the bed, then she massaged the breast as if preparing to start breastfeeding right away. My wife was asking me and the nurses for the baby firmly, sure that she was at the nursery but the nurses were taking too long to bring her along. It dawned on me that no one had told her about this story of death that was peddling around hovering over our babies like the Kulu kulu. As I battled in my head about how I would break the news, I got thinking. My wife could remember every details of it before theatre. Baby girl. Her first cry. She even had a name, then theatre came and took it all away, all that was now lost in a haze of the stories of the nurse. Then I recalled the conversation I had with the nurse at Bindo. Something was wrong. Seriously wrong.

I looked at the nurse, the male nurse who had passed the bad news to me, then I turned and looked at my wife. Who was fooling who? I asked myself quietly still in shock as to the possibility that our children could well be alive somewhere in another person’s arms. But where are they? Why is this nurse playing stupid games? Who could he be working for or with? How deep or high up does this ring, child trafficking ring go? Anger was boiling inside me. My fingers started clenching into a tight fist in my pocket. I wanted so much to punch this nurse at the mouth and I became afraid that I could lose control completely any minute. I moved closer and sized him up, then I did something completely different.

Instead of taking aim, I knelt at the bedside next to my wife. I looked at her in the eye and said. “Honey, they all went to be with the lord ahead of us. We shall join them in the fullness of time. I have just been told by the doctor that they were both boys. All died at birth, one a few minutes after delivery. The other, stillborn.” Something stopped me dead on my trucks, I could not continue this conversation anymore. This filthy narrative stated to taste bitter and nasty in my mouth. I felt guilt, guilt of betrayal. I felt hate, self-hate of a pathological liar. It overpowered me and it was in the process of swallowing me up. Something screamed and snapped in my head with tough questions. It yelled, “Why are you playing the mouthpiece for child traffickers, why Mathias?”

“Lies. All lies. I gave birth to a baby girl in the ambulance. I held her in my arms before I went to theater. I don’t want any funny jokes. This is not interesting to me or to anyone. I need to see my girl at least the girl -now.” My wife snapped.

The doctor came along together with the lead nurse. In a baby stretcher they wheeled in the doctor pealed back the shoal and then the bodies gleamed. They were both boys dead black tiny dark boys with funny curly hair, one looked more like baby mongoose. The blackness confirmed that they had stayed in the morgue for too long. At close look one appeared premature with a long head of an iguana. The other was of a completely different decent, they could not possibly have any of my genes. None. I wanted to shout loudly and repeat what my wife had said earlier or even do combat with the doctor but something held me back. It was as if I had become a puppet of some sort controlled remotely by some invincible strings, quite against my will.

The nurse said in a weary voice, “Can we move them back to the morgue”. My wife tried to protest but she was too weak to speak. Her lips quivered and her body was shivering continuously with emotional turmoil fever. Her arms rose and fell limp and lifeless on the bed. The doctor said, “The bleeding has resumed. We must take her back to theatre. Lose of a two children can be very traumatic. She may suffer bouts of severe depression or even temporary insanity. It normally occurs in most women after giving birth due to intense labor-pain.”  The doctor’s words floated in my head, but I could see them as only callous as the crocodile tears that they were. I chewed them like bitter cud but spat them out with disdain.

The nurses administered more anesthesia as they arranged to wheal Seruya back to theatre. The doctor also recommended some medicine which he said would calm her down. The nurses worked frantically to put drugs through her shriveled veins in drips. I panicked that they would inject her with something else perhaps to rub her memory or even to comatose her altogether to cover their trucks. I wanted to hire a private sentry to keep watch over my wife but I did not know who to trust anymore. I just sat there helplessly, muted and blank staring at a blue fly on the wall.

Later, on the journey back home my mind wondered about the day. It was dead in the night when I arrived in the village empty and lost. The kulu kulu birds had taken a nest rest while my wife was now on bed rest. I wanted so much to understand the meaning of this day, just so I could get some peace in my heart but nothing was making sense. Nothing.

Okello was still awake. He opened the door for me sheepishly perhaps afraid that I cold punish him for his earlier sins. Then he asked about his mother and the baby and the emotions rushed in over me like a flash floods over the river bank. I held him tightly afraid that he could also varnish, fearing that if I answered him I would burst out with loud wails. Instead I called him and said, “Wuod Agoro, Wuod Agoro. It is well.” Then I set him to sleep.

The following day, the relatives and villagers from Nyasmwa assisted me to bring the iguana and baby mongoose to the village in small wooden boxes which would not fit the description of coffins. One villager said, “If these are not your real children, a hyena would pull away the tomb stone and eat them up at night. You wait and see”. But I did not answer him. In a shallow grave at the spot where the cows had fell Okello, we buried them. Against my advice fellow villagers conspired and invited the pastor to conduct a brief funeral service. As he sang I could see his chest pull in air and rise and fall with Holy Ghost.

“Look and liiiiive, my brother liiiiive ….

“Look and live my brother live, I have a message from the lord hallelluuuyaaa that you must look and live”

In my head the words were different. It was

“Look and liiiiiive ..

“Galy galy live. I have a message…and Live”

Early in the morning the day that followed, I woke to be the first at the tomb side like Mary Magdalen. I had hoped that I would find the tomb stone moved and the tomb empty. I was wrong. The stone was in place and the soil was more compact.

Three weeks later on cold miserable Friday evening, Seruya arrived in the village crest fallen and down spirited as a captives of war arriving at the victor’s camp. Her arrival in Nyasmwa unannounced would set in motion a chain of events that would change our lives completely just like the Kulu Kulu did. It was the day Cheru our cat had given birth to two kittens. Okello had said, “Daddy one is a boy and the other is a girl,” as he played with the kittens. The mother cat was calm, and contented and cool licking the kittens and mewing softly.  Seruya, looked at them carefully like a lab technician does the slide of a smear test. By studying this cat and her kitten, my wife’s brain opened, a curtain was drawn back, and a window of wisdom emerged in her head. She said, “Honey I recall now. I should have remembered this in the hospital. I had done a scan on the third trimester. It clearly showed we were expecting a boy and a girl. Yaaa. Let me get for you the ex-ray film”

We were expecting fraternal twins. The films were clear, twins-a boy and a girl, fully formed, but in our backyard we had buried two premature boys. The same day we went back to Miyumo armed with our burial certificate and the scan and the discharge documents. We were greeted with real shock, the hospital had no record of Seruya, none. It was like all this story about giving birth was a figment of our own imagination, a pipe dream. No one was interested in looking at the documents we had, we went back home more determined than ever before to trace Galy galy.

That week we sold half our herd not on a draught offtake program but in a bid to raise funds to come to the city to follow leads that were pointing towards where our daughter and son was. Thadayo, my uncle who works in the city had said, “In this town everything is about money. You will need money to get the appointments booked, the files opened, the networks oiled and the system working for you.” That week we arrived in the city, we had an appointment in a lonely establishment, with tall white buildings and policemen with big guns at the gate. I recall the forest opposite the huge gate and the tranquil that surrounded those imposing white building, with not a dot, not a shade of any other color. In my mind I reasoned that the white signified purity and integrity and that their dealings would be above board. But I countered by chickens too early before the hen could even start to brood.

“The rings a target the rural folk. Mostly ignorant women who arrive in the hospital unaccompanied” The inspector said.

“We have documented cases of elite families from urban areas losing children to these cartels in high end hospitals. It is a very complex ring.” The assistant pathologist said

“The trend is worrying. Some of these children find their way to the Pacific Coast and even West Indies” the lead investigator said and my heart skipped several bits before in evened back.

“It is alarming. About 0.5% of children born in LDCs are lost to child traffickers at birth. This is according to the statistics available in the world health organization website” The statistician confirmed.

I sat there next to Thadoye in this air conditioned office absorbing what sounded like a descriptions right from hell but the chief investigator calmed my nerves. He said, “We shall get to the bottom of this. We shall put together a competent team from the CID, NIS, The assistant and chief pathologists, The military police and the Global Police organization-the local chapter and have this done in under one month.”

In under a month, one hot Saturday afternoon in early part of October, the team arrived in Nyasmwa to exhume the iguana and the baby mongoose. I wondered why Thadayo had not informed me of their coming. When I called him and asked why he had not given me prior notice, he answered. “Don’t worry, we have it all covered. On the sides I have also hired a private investigator and a private pathologist to give us independent results. They are part of that team. Allow them to do their work. We shall fix these goons.” “Do we need a journalist, a photographer or even a lawyer? What if they double cross us” I enquired fearing that the web could be complex and deep. “No.” he replied. “These guys are professionals. They will do a good job.” He insisted.

The “Professionals” opened the graves and took samples. They cleaned everything up tracking and picking every born with meticulous detail of a surgeon. That day the Kulu kulu birds returned to the village with a vengeance. They kept booing and laughing above our heads as the “professionals picked every bit of the Iguana and baby mongoose. I looked up the sky but there was no eclipse of the moon or of the sun just one line of thin cloud in a clear blue sky. I kept asking questions but they kept referring to one another. “Will you bring back the bodies and rebury them “I asked as they staffed everything into gunny bags and zipped them up cleaning without a trace. In my mind they were messing up the evidence packing it away.

“We need to have this stored safely for future reference,” the lead pathologist said. His answers was vague and calculated. They were friendly with one another and I could see them laugh and share jokes with careless abandon. This bothered me quite a lot. How could my children’s theft be painful and funny at the same time? I just kept asking myself and I could not get it.  They promised that they would give the results of their findings in one month. A month came and went, then three then six passed and a year elapsed and there were no results.

I called Thadayo persistently, bothering him daily about this Ponzi scheme. At some point I almost thought he himself had been sucked in the ring. But when he came back to the village, he sold his two cows and he told me to sell the entire heard to beef up the war chest. He said the next team would be more robust, more accountable and energized with the kind of money we had assembled from the sale of our cows. He said, “I will assemble another team from the EACC, Dir. Of CID, Dir. Of NISS the Interpol, the pastors, the journalist and the lawyers and the prosecutors. We have to get to the bottom of this”. I believed him and that’s when I started writing this story of the Kulu Kulu birds, the iguana and baby mongoose.wp_20151225_13_11_22_pro

Unchained

It was dark, the pitch darkness that often follow the end of full moon. Up there, in the grim sky faint view of submerged stars broke the monotony of blackness. Black Forest school was quiet, deathly quietness that was expected after the prefects had patrolled the halls and the form two’s whispers had died down. Ham had wanted to go out to visit the convenience but he just would not get the courage to do it. Someone with malicious intent could be larking out there in the dark he reasoned. His restless mind relived the day. The school had been awash with the pressmen at break time. The prefects had loitered checking if anyone would open his mouth to speak to the press. It was under control until a pressman had cornered him.

”hey, what happened? Was he your classmate? Was he in form one Blue or Red? Do you have any information about this molestation in your school? How many form threes are gay, do you know?” The press kept following him as flies swarming around to a bad smell. Ham wondered in his mind if he had any role in their presence in school.

Ham had waved his hand weakly suing them away like he usually did to the pestering blue flies in the school main ablution. When they did not go away he opened his mouth and said, “Please leave me alone I am just a form two and I don’t know anything you are talking about. Please, please.” that’s when the prefect saw him and booked in his role of offenders for the day. Speaking to a strangers was out of the question even Ham knew it was against school rules at Black Forest School.

Hams mind rested on something else, the prefect that had booked him. He had followed him to class then stood in front of him sneering. His big black pimples looked darker and riper. Ham could tell that he was in deep trouble. With a menacing grimace the prefect had announced, “You will face the music. Tomorrow. See me at lunch time”

After the nine O’clock news that evening things had taken a turn for the worse. Ham had settled in the main hall after dinner to view news-bad news. This was part of the reason sleep would not come. Ham stayed awake in his bed, gazing from the decker bed through the grilled window his head rested on the window ledge. He gazed into the emptiness. Sleep had deserted him and much as he willed to sleep, it was the dark thoughts that kept crowding his young mind and chased sleep away. Then his mind went back to the news of the evening.

The whole school was here watching. The bad publicity his school had attracted had brought a sense of gloom and fear and unity in different measure to the whole school. The pictures were there, as clear as daylight. The pressman chasing him, the equipment hanging above his head. Then the news came in quick sharp short sentences that shocked everyone initially. The juicy part, was Perhaps what they had intended the public to know “Which class would you get most gays in the school?” the newsman appeared to ask Ham on the TV screen. “Form two” Ham appeared to have confirmed. The whole school listened in a lull, then a student giggled and a burst of loud roaring laughter filled the hall.

The news had been edited Ham could tell. He had been fixed into a corner.  Even with that knowledge of impending punishment his thoughts refocused at the laughter. The whole school laughing at itself, at how low it had sank to the abyss of moral decay. He worried that this piece of news and the laughter would make the following day’s lunch date with the deputy captain more complicated.

His mind drifted to yet another direction, piecing the pieces of how it all started scrambling. This make believe face of Black Forest that had stood the test of time as an edifice was slowly falling apart. This lie that had gone on for far too long was being unmasked and it was shocking even to him.

It was the last Saturday before school closure the previous year that this heavy burden befell him. He had wanted to share his own experience with Jay Po his best friend in form one before the school closed but he did not. Now Jay Po had fallen a victim. Last week on Friday to be exact Jay Po could not walk to the dispensary anymore. His wounds had soared, spread then became septic. The deputy headmaster had advised him to take two weeks bed rest. He had assured him that it would be alright.  He was just there sleeping in the dormitory when the rest of the school was in class studying for night preps.

On the night Jay Po escaped Ham had sneaked back into the dormitory to help him park. In whispers Po had shared.

“I had intended to use the ablution next to the lab one when they attacked me” he had said in a weak voice

“Who were they did you see their faces” Ham asked anxiously

“Yes, the deputy captain and four others, I could see their ghostly faces in hoods in the dark. His stocky rugby muscles was evident and his voice gave him away”

“What did they do it, those brutes, how did they hurt you this much, why Po why did they do it?” Ham inquired

“I really cannot tell why. They pulled me to the wilderness. That deserted dark place where form fours study-under those dark shady trees. There, they forced me to a scrum position. The deputy captain forced my neck between his knees like an ox on the yoke. Then the others kept pulling down my shorts. I could hear them scrambling like hyenas do over carcass as they tore my shorts then soft tissues with their sticks. Then when they finished. The prefect helped me with the short. He said.” “My friend if you try to tell this to anyone, we shall come back for more. This time you will be dead.” “I could hear the steps of their shoes fade away as they varnished with slight cackles of vultures after a voluptuous meal.” Po said then paused for breath “Then who helped you back to the house. Did anyone notice?” Ham asked in a low tone. “No. So far no one knows this other than you and the deputy headmaster. I reported it to him directly. He has not taken any action even with all the details I shared with him. I think he is protecting the perpetrators. I am leaving this school tonight. I am sneaking out before I die here”

Ham had helped Jay Po sneak out. Together they staffed a few belongings into a plastic bag then they tiptoed to the fence. Jay Po frame faded away and vanished into the night as he hobbled his wounds weigh on one leg. Then he melted under the cover of darkness. Ham had walked back to class and pretended to study but his mind was with Po. Would he tell his parents? Would he die quietly from his wounds? He could not tell. He had not opened his mouth to anyone on this matter until today when the pressmen appeared in his school.

These pressmen who talked as if they had more details than he did surprised him. Now as he lay in his bed gazing into the dark sky he was sure someone else perhaps another student had seen him escort Jay Po to the fence. How else would the press just pick on him? How else would he be the one to be interviewed by this unethical journalist? Still it was a mystery to him.

A bat flapped and swooped through the gaping holes that the louvers had once occupied and snapped the mosquitoes that had been buzzing about his head.  His mind wandered and strange as it sounded even to himself, he was now thinking about his school-To be a student in Black Forest School was no cake walk, he thought. It was not what his father had described to him earlier. The Black Forest school that had straight paved walk ways lined with flower beds and painted stones and working hot showers with flashing toilets was a lie. Instead he found many things missing, security lights were long dead the pit latrines were full and fat white maggot’s wriggles on the floor every time he visited. Everything about it was a miss even seeing the head teacher was a chance.

The gong of the assembly bell went before winks of sleep could form in his eyes. Students prepared and rushed out to assembly. The headmaster walked in carrying a copy of the Daily News. His face evidently cold as and tense as a corpse with anger. He spread the front page of the paper for the student s to see. “Student Gang Rape in Black Forest school-Confirmed”.

The headmaster was waving the paper wildly and swearing. He said, “This is the work of a student in form one who sneaked out of this school at night to spread falsehood and rumors about our school. This is what they do when their rich parent force them to schools they don’t like. They will not succeed with their bad motives. This schools reputation and success has been built on my sweat.  A lot of hard work and painful sacrifices of the board, parent, the old boys association plus the Ministry. Under my watch I shall not and I repeat shall not allow a few misguided form ones to ruin this school. My own legacy has gone into making this school one of the best in this republic. We shall expel you from this school if you do this kind of thing. That student Ham in form two who spoke to the press see me in my office at ten” he concluded. The prefects who were lined next to him nodded. The teachers applauded then the students clapped in appreciation. The assembly dissolved.

At ten Ham arrived outside the headmaster’s office trembling like a malaria patient with high fever. To his surprise his father was already seated on the outside bench waiting to see the headmaster. His father called him outside a few meters from the office. He could tell his father was visibly annoyed and in his mind he was sure that perhaps he had received the expulsion the head-teacher had talked about in the morning assembly.

“My son I need to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” Ham’s father said anger chocking his words. He coughed to clear his voice then continued, “Did you confirm that the school had gays? Was that you talking to the press? I am an old boy of this school and I can tell you without fear of contradiction that it is total rubbish. This is a respectable school which has produced best brains in this country. Those who matter. The best leaders. Do you want to demean all that my son?” Hams father paused shaking his head in wonderment.

Ham kept quiet. He had wanted to share. To tell his father everything about the school. But still he hesitated. Will he believe it even if I tell him? Will he accept that his Alma matter is a pale shadow of its old shelf? He just did not know how to go about it. His father was in such foul mood.

“My son speak up. My patience is running thin. Tell me what happened. Was there a case of rape here?’

“Dad,” Ham called his father softly then said, “I have two stories to tell. One for Jay Po, the story in the newspaper you are holding and my own story. Which one do you want?”

“I want your story son. Tell me your story. What did they do to you? I will listen and I will not judge you. Please tell me,” Hams father said in a mellow voice his attitude in an about-turn.

“It was the last Saturday of first term last year when I was in form one” Ham started to narrate his story his voice cracking in pain and with tears flowing on his face. “Three weeks after you dropped me in school. It was a dark Saturday. The prefects had organized night entertainment. We were dancing in the hall. “Sinamakosa” the re-mix by Cool James was playing. There was this form four who had been very friendly to me in the dormitory. He was not a prefect. He had been sharing his bread and even butter with me. I thought we were close. I trusted him Dad.” Ham paused. “Tell me son what did he do? Did he hurt you? Tell me now” Hams father inquired sympathetically his hands on his son’s shoulders in that loving way fathers do.

“He did more Dad, he damaged me.” ”What exactly?” his father asked in panic. “He asked me to escort him to the toilet. It was dark, security lights don’t work in this school-you know. Behind lab one, he started groping me. I told him to stop but he did not listen. Then suddenly he became violent. He pinned me to a wall behind lab one. He …he.” Ham stammered. Pause.

Ham’s sobs had escalated into shrieks of loud mourns. His father produced his handkerchief and dabbed the tears, wiping it clear from his face while kneeling next to him. His father egged him on. He said, “Tell me my son, and just tell me now. What did he do?” Ham’s father asked again his voice shaking fearing for the worst. “He produced his pipe” Ham continued the story amid pain. “It was hard as a rock, this pipe. He kept jabbing it at my navel, chiseling it away until it became red hot from friction. At some point I thought he would barrel his way through my gut. He was pinning and strangling me. I tried to fight out but he was way too strong. Then things changed. His breath became heavy. His saliva started dripping continuously on my chest like that of rabid dog. Then to my utter dismay his pipe enlarged like a puff under about to bite with a venom. Then his pipe burst open and poured a hot sticky mass of magma on my clothes. Immediately he pulled his short and ran into the darkness and back to the hall.”

“I cannot take this anymore. Wait here my son. We are leaving this school this very moment. Ham’s father said. “But before we leave I will put some sense into the head of that head teacher. I must teach him a lesson or two.”

Ham’s father walked away in a hurry back to the administration block. Ham stayed. His mind wandered in and out of Black Forest School. He wondered if his father was perhaps late on his rescue mission. He could tell that darkness had descended in his heart. The experience behind lab one he had changed him to a different Ham. He felt numb, depressed and unloved. Twice he had sneaked into the night behind lab one to try and pin down a form one to understand what kind of darkness had driven that form four to do it to him. A silent voice had called him from doing it even when he had posed like a praying mantis to pin his target. It was that hymn in the Golden Bells that had kept him sane, away from the strong urge to pin down any form one behind lab one.

Ham’s father emerged from the administration block. Ham started singing the Hymn and his father joined in:

How can it be that I should gain, an interest in thy savior’s blood….

Died he for me who caused his pain…

Bold I approach the eternal throne…

No condemnation now I dread…

La la lala..Lala…Lala….lala..lala la..la

As he sang a calmness started sweeping through his body and into heart. His father sang louder clapping with praise. His tears dried and a small smile started dancing on his face in the place of sadness. The grip of darkness began to loosen. The links of the heavy burden became lighter. By his confession HaWP_20170603_10_06_44_Pro[1].jpgm had been unchained.