Storymoja

Celebrating East African Writing!

ELEVATION…by NDAGO ABENEA ODHIAMBO

“The smell of smoke.” The one nearest the door was saying. We both lay on a mat on the floor. A third man was cooking our midday meal in a suffocating corner of the room.

I said, “Does not reach my nose.”

“Blocked noses!” to me. To the third man he was saying, “And you?”

“Me what –”

“Cigarette smell –does it come to you?”

The one who was cooking said, his mind crucified in a distant dark place, “No –it does not.”

“And yet it comes so thick and clear.”

“I’m cooking,” he was saying gruffly. “The smell of what I cook is a hindrance.”

The smell reached me. I said, “I now catch it.”

“Indeed! Don’t you?” the second man was saying with relief.

I nodded, then added with venomous whisper, “You must look who it is –it can only be the fool.”

He rose, reached the door, and we heard “House must remain vacant today.”

The one who was cooking clicked wrathfully. His right hand which gripped the ladle halted. “I will one day murder with my bare hands. –Not even the death of a tenant reduces the greedy punctuality of care-takers in the slums of this city!”

We two angrily joined the one at the door, confronted the smoker almost simultaneously: “Not today: tomorrow. You must give us time.”

“No,” he was saying, “today. –A new tenant comes in today.”

The third man said, angrily, “We are not begging: we are telling. –You can evict us.”

The care-taker was leaning on the concrete wall, visibly shaken by the sight of the three of us in a lawless depth of the slum. A dry, gaping mouth. The cigarette stick between two fingers decomposed with a coiling smoke.

Our unbending threats forced him to give in at last with sacks of anger and hurrying away, spitting. “I give you tomorrow only –tomorrow is last…”

Above our heads in the heart of the sun wind was a nuisance. Under a burning slum heat the roof creaked with brown rust like a pestering ghost; pressed in the cracked walls were ripe abdomen, clean wings and hairy feet of a thumb-size cockroach; the crumbling dark corners web-festoons –racks for the dead with hollow bellies and bound wings, and owners buying time on eight feet and a dangerous pair of turquoise gleams; and a rat’s tail constantly bothering the floor with swift, mocking crossings as if contesting ownership with us. Outside was laughter of children. And nude sewage smell, garbage universe, old clothes dangling on lines, the hen and her chick, lone goat, and the dog bending on an old bone with the belligerent sound of canines…

*                                      *                                      *

After the meal I was saying to the third one, “He finished his journey –your brother.”

“He did not take three days after we arrived home,” he was telling us.

The second one was saying, “These clothes remind me of him.”

One of us said, “Especially the blue one.”

I said, “I remember him most with that mirror on the chair.”

“Why?”

“He once found me holding it, looking myself in it. Then he had said, courageously: ‘I stopped using that mirror. When I held it last in my hands I saw a round, black face.’’

“Did he say that?”

“He did.”

The second one said, “Judging by that photograph, the disease had reduced him to bones.”

It showed him jolly, bulging with health.

“Me,” one of us was saying, “I remember best his voice talking long into the night till we were all asleep.”

“–And his footsteps pacing the dark floor as he hurries to pass urine out in the yard,” the third one said.

“I remember best the look of his face suspended, frozen somewhere abruptly by the striking lightning of death –a frozen absence.” I said.

Each of us seemed rapt in memories of him…

“It is strange,” I said again. “The flesh and bones which used to fill that coat on the wall is now no more.”

The third one said, “No more. –It is now under the earth.”

The second one was saying, “Even there under the earth he is a tattered thing now. –Don’t they say bodies burst after three days?”

“Indeed!”

I was saying, “I dread the idea of death. –Our three bodies here will disappear from the face of the Earth.”

We were laughing at the cruelty of it.

The third one was saying, “It sounds bad. –It is good the soul is eternal. It lives forever.”

“But is that true?”

“I do not know,” the third one was saying. “It is what they say.”

I was saying, “I doubt it myself.”

The second one was saying, “It is the only way man can hide his face from the horror and terror of that thought.”

The third one asked, “But what thought?”

“The thought of dying.”

“What I dread most,” I was saying, “is that in dying, the whole universe becomes your sworn enemy. It denies forever the very truth that you ever lived. You begin to exist only in people’s minds –which is hopeless.”

*                              *                              *

The night of the next day some of us walked to the sewage stream and plucked pink wreaths of the bougainvillea flower. These we hung onto the red grills of the door, and threw a few over the creaking roof. Neighbours and friends who knew him sat in the house with us through the night; marijuana smell and the tin lamp burning, the black soot rising. When dawn came we cleaned the floor with water. Then we packed his wooden bed, blue chairs, clothes and all luggage into the hired van; and coldly left behind us the open door before the care-taker would arrive, smoking…

© NDAGO ABENEA ODHIAMBO 2009



If you would like this piece to be the Story of the Week, please vote below on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being weak, and 10 being excellent. The numbers will be tallied on Friday 24th July and the story with the highest figure shall be Crowned Story of the Week. Be sure to fill in your name and verifiable email. You can include your critique/comment after the vote.

12 comments on “ELEVATION…by NDAGO ABENEA ODHIAMBO

  1. Neema
    July 21, 2009

    I don’t quite know what to make of this story; I found it a bit confusing but there’s undeniable talent. I give it an 8.

  2. Kayeri Amaganga
    July 21, 2009

    I give the story a 9 (Nine).

    Abenea is obviously talented at the craft. I found the story an accurate and moving commentary on the helplessness of the lives of the lowly in an unequal materialistic society.

  3. mathenge kabui
    July 21, 2009

    impressive, the best i have read so far.Great talent 9.5/10

  4. solomon.abayo
    July 21, 2009

    captivating.not.unlike.wole.soyinka.i.didnt.get.it.at.first.9/10

  5. jumba elizabeth
    July 21, 2009

    This is a very powerful potrayal of life in the slums.The tense make an immediate happening. The first person narration gives it authenticity. I suppose the roommates are deliberately nameless and faceless; this can happen to anyone living in the slum.I give it an eight.

  6. jumba elizabeth
    July 21, 2009

    This is a very powerful potrayal of life in the slums.The tense make it an immediate happening. The first person narration gives it authenticity. I suppose the roommates are deliberately nameless and faceless; this can happen to anyone living in the slum.I give it an eight.

  7. Wanyonyi Wirula
    July 22, 2009

    Sharply critiques the indifference of the modern rich. I give Abenea a 9

    Wanyonyi Wirula

  8. solomon.abayo
    July 22, 2009

    i give it a 9.i have read a book or two by soyinka.its not unlike one.

  9. kaigai
    July 23, 2009

    i can tell agood story when i read one. and this definitely good craft especially stylisically. i give it 8

  10. Shem Ogembo
    July 23, 2009

    Quite an excellent piece of writtig. I found the story subliminal as it capture the reality of slum life and human fear of death. Give it a 9

  11. Chesi Lumasia
    June 22, 2014

    The lifelessness of the protagonists is brought to life by the plausible dialogue! You need not have dwelt amongst the faceless and nameless as it were to identify with the slummy reality that is our life! A 9 is sufficient.

  12. Robert Wesonga
    July 27, 2014

    The futility of our attempt at life mocked. Like the nameless character, we should only but resign to fate – maybe. 8.5 I give

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