Celebrating East African Writing!
Written by Gitura Kihuria
Kamau was perched on top of the 5th story building that was coming up in downtown Nairobi.
Having tarmacked for five years without securing formal employment, the university graduate had taken into working as a manual labourer at constructions sites to make ends meet.
Even though he wasn’t qualified in the construction business, he still thought that the building was coming up fast. But since he got his daily wage of KS.200 at the end of every week even though Njoroge the foreman would sometimes delay their pay, he cared less and in any case his qualified buddy Omosh who introduced him into the trade was a floor below him and that gave him a sense of comfort.
Meanwhile, Peris Nduta one of the several food vendors that had erected food stalls near the building was pouring down the excess water from the steaming pot of githeri.
Though the ravages of life had taken a toll on her life, she still maintained her stunning looks. In another life perhaps, she would have been a model of no mean repute.
She began the job after separating from her come-we-stay husband of six years who she bore three daughters when she couldn’t stand the constant beatings she went through every time he came back from the changaa dens that littered the sprawling Mathare valley.
He blamed her for not giving him a son claiming that she had bewitched him. On the other hand, his drinking buddies often teased him that he only sired daughters because maybe he was the underdog when it came into matters of the bedroom.
Infact the other reason that Nduta left her husband was because he was failing in his manly duties.
When she went to fetch water from the communal tap on Sunday, she would hear women saying that their men could not rise to the occasion due to the kumi kumi that they imbibed which was often laced with additives to make it ‘cook’ quickly and which made it more portent.
These additives were also known to affect men’s virility over time.
Women food vendors and construction sites have a symbiotic relationship. Every where a building is coming up, you will find them.
And for Nduta, with the pace and speed of constructions in Nairobi, it meant that she was doing brisk business.
Of cause this wasn’t her dream job, a lady friend had confided to her that she could earn more money beyond her dreams if only she could raise enough money to pay recruiting agents at Moktha Dadda Str. who would get her aupair and nanny jobs in Europe.
Being a Monday today, she wanted to collect her debts while selling her food which she normally sold on credit during the week.
She had lost money on many occasions when some workers disappeared with her pay after a building got finished.
This had affected her ability to save enough money to pay the agents to secure her dream job.
But today, she vowed she wouldn’t sell to her customers on credit unless they settled the previous week’s credit with the exemption of Kamau and Omosh.
She was fond of the two and had a good rapport with them. They would often tease her that they would marry her and she would reply in jest that never in her life would she get married to construction workers.
Some of the workers she had served had just finished lunch and many were taking a nap when she decided to go look for her favourite customers who had not shown up because their food was getting cold.
…on the other side of town, Bwana Githongo a.k.a clenched fist; which he was christened by friends out of ear shot because of being a miser was having lunch with both his quantity surveyor and contractor at the Stanley.
They sat slouched on their chairs because their protruding bellies couldn’t allow them to sit upright.
They were discussing business after taking a sumptuous lunch which they were now drowning with Tusker beer.
“Be creative” Bwana Githongo said after the contractor mentioned that the money he was receiving was not adequate for the building project.
To which they all bellowed with laughter.
“I have to continue cutting corners while sourcing for materials because Bwana Githongo always complains that I take him for an ATM machine. Besides, I need to increase my profit margin” the contractor thought out loudly.
None of the workers had ever seen the developer Bwana Githongo. They on rare occasions saw his window- tinted Range Rover Sport parked opposite the building at River Rd.
But the person behind the window- tinted Range Rover Sport was one to be revered. He had deep pockets and they owed there livelihoods to him.
Wasn’t he doing his part in building the nation?
…”did you feel the building sway or is it because I haven’t taken lunch” Omosh asked Kamau as he helped him tie the sub-standard metal rods used as frames for the pillars.
Kamau didn’t care if the building swayed or danced, he had received an SMS from his Motorola ‘phone booth’-christened so because of its huge size for a mobile phone-the previous day informing him to attend an interview on Friday for an IT job he had applied some time back. And that is what preoccupied him for the better part of the day.
When Nduta got to the second floor, the building swayed once again then quickly collapsed with a rumble raising a plume of dust up in the air.
Before rescuers arrived, wananchi who had rushed to the scene were frantically digging with their bare hands, metal cutters and crowbars to save dozen of workers trapped in the rubble of the collapsed building.
When he came to the second day, Kamau couldn’t bare the searing pain on his legs which had been crashed by a slab of concrete and felt that it was just a matter of time.
He however mustered his remaining strength to make a frantic call back home. And when he pressed the call button, the phone lit the tomb and he saw the protruding hand of his friend Omosh which still had the fake Rolex wristwatch that he had bought from the Somali hawker covered in rubble.
Five days after the incident, the Israel search and rescue team along with their sniffer dogs were on site concentrating on the area where rescuers said they heard muted voices coming from the drainage pipes and holes.
Though Nduta didn’t have physical injuries, she was at ground zero and could not move an inch on either side in the pitch darkness. Lack of water and food had taken a huge toll on her for the five days she lay buried alive.
She felt no hunger anymore but felt life slowly ebbing away from her body. Her dreams buried with her.
Her eyes slowly closing, she felt surreal and unusually serene. She was floating in a tunnel of light and could see many outstretched hands calling her.
Meanwhile, Nduta’s children couldn’t bear the pangs of hunger after their mom failed to turn up and had ventured out to scavenge for food in the dumpsites of Nairobi where they were warmly received by street kids.
At the end of one week, seventy injured people had been taken to KNH trauma department and eleven had been confirmed missing.
At the end of two weeks, the private developer Bwana Githongo was still at large and a warrant for his arrest had been issued.
The rescue was finally called off and the president thanked the gallant people who took part in the rescue namely, H Young, who provided the excavators, Israel search and rescue team, Kenya Army and the police , fire brigade, Red Cross and not forgetting ordinary Kenyans who used their bare hands to remove the rubble.
A short prayer was said and a minute of silence observed for the victims and the president announced flags to fly at half mast as was often the tradition in such tragedies.
©Gitura Kihuria 2010
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