Celebrating East African Writing!
Written by Kevin Gachagua Rigathi
August 23rd 1999
It was almost midnight when Michael Omare drove into the estate. As usual, the street lights closest to his home were flickering on and off. He was almost convinced it was some kind of punishment for not attending the neighbourhood meetings. Pulling to a stop in front of his gate he silently prayed that the watchman wasn’t asleep again. At this time, hooting in the neighbourhood was strictly forbidden and it wouldn’t do to make his relationship with the committee any worse than it already was.
After a minute, he groaned and got out of the car. He needed to remember to start the search for a new watchman. He looked through the little box next to the gate and to his dismay, the man wasn’t even there. He was still puzzling over what to do when there was a deafening report and a nearly unbearable pain shot through his back. Feet crumpling beneath him he hit the ground hard and for a time he couldn’t bear to open his eyes. When he did, there was a gun nozzle inches from his face. There was no time to even gasp before a bullet drilled into his eye and out of his skull; he was dead a second later.
The killer crouched looking down at his victim ensuring he was dead. He had never actually killed with a gun before but he knew what death looked like. His job was done. Standing, bathed in the light from Omare’s still running car, he took one last look around and then fled. What he failed to see was the frightened watchman staring from the gate’s peep hole, his lip quivering.
March 3rd 2011
Stephen Matu was the newspaper’s editor-in-chief. He was sustained by caffeine, tobacco and a twisted mix of passion for and revulsion towards his job. The person in his office was the man who perfectly brought out those very traits. Stephen never loved his job or hated it quite as much as when Andrew Gitahi walked through his door; especially when he walked in with that smug, self-satisfied grin that he currently had on his face. Somehow, he knew he would need to take a cigarette break after this meeting.
“So, Andrew, are you finally going to let me in on this big story you’ve been working on?” he finally asked.
The young man’s grin grew wider as if he’d scored some kind of victory. “Of course,” he answered. “I’m thinking we’ll call it ‘The Big Man’.”
Stephen raised an eyebrow, “The Big Man?”
“Tell me sir, what do you know about Tom Mboya’s assassination?”
Stephen glared the man into submission
“Fine, I’ll tell you,” the younger journalist said, throwing his hands up in surrender. “When he died, the biggest mystery surrounding it was a cryptic remark his killer made in custody. He said ‘Why don’t you go after the big man?’ No matter how much they questioned him, he wouldn’t say any more. Only, ‘the Big Man’.”
“So what? Some political big shot called for the hit and the killer was too afraid to name him? That’s hardly news. Unless you can tell me who and somehow prove it, that’s not a story.”
“Ah, but that’s the thing,” he said. Stephen had clearly taken the bait. “Why would he be afraid? He was sentenced to death. He had nothing to lose. If he was going to pay then why not take his employer down with him?”
“I don’t know, perhaps a misguided sense of loyalty?”
“Then why bring it up in the first place? Why even mention it?”
Stephen mused for a moment then said, “Go on.”
“What if he didn’t have a name? What if all this time he was telling them what he knew and they just didn’t get it? If you don’t know someone’s name, you describe them. You pick on a defining trait and so in this case….”
“The big man,” Stephen provided. “Interesting theory but that’s all it is. First you have to prove why I need to even consider it let alone green light it and pay you to follow it up.”
Andrew picked four files from his lap and dropped them onto the desk. “The first file is everything I could get on the Tom Mboya case, but we already covered the fascinating bit. The rest of them is where things start to get really interesting. Like this case right here. 1982, Florence Nashpei a 32 year old woman was gunned down in a drive-by shooting. The driver didn’t get far before getting caught. After questioning him, he would only reveal he was hired by a very large man.”
The journalist seemed to get even more excited as he opened the next file. “David Muthee, 1990. Killed in his apartment. Killer didn’t get away, stopped by one of the other tenants. In custody, he was evaluated to be partly insane because he claimed he was recruited by a giant.”
There was an expectant silence before he continued, “Last but definitely not least– 1999, Michael Omare. Killed right outside his gate in cold blood. The story we’ve been running all month, how his killer has been caught at last, over a decade after the killing. Dramatic isn’t it, how Omare’s watchman recognizes him after all this time in Nakumatt of all places? The suspect’s prints match what was found on the body. During the police interrogation, he answered every question about the murder with chilling detail except one. When they asked why Omare was killed, he simply answered ‘You’ll have to ask the big man,’ and wouldn’t say anything more.”
Stephen sat back heavily into the chair. He stared at the files on his desk absorbing the information.
“I’ll admit, this is interesting,” he finally volunteered. “But it isn’t evidence.”
“I need a bit more time. I have more information but I want to verify some things and do some more digging.”
“Fine, but the budget isn’t inexhaustible. If you spend too much on something this fanciful I’m cutting you off.”
As the journalist walked out, Stephen found himself craving for a cigarette.
Andrew walked out of the news headquarters feeling rather pleased with himself until someone grabbed his arm and shoved something hard into his side.
A voice whispered into his ear, “Get into the car right ahead of you or I’ll blow a hole through your kidney.” It wasn’t the kind of statement one argued with so he complied. He was barely seated when he felt a prick on his thigh. He looked down to see a syringe and a needle poking through his trousers. His vision blurred almost immediately and as the car started to move, his vision was already fading into blackness.
When he came to, he was sitting in a large living room. He groaned and rubbed his throbbing head. As his vision cleared, he realized he was seated in front of someone. The man before him was very old but he still looked incredibly strong. Something about him just spoke of danger and as his mind cleared, Andrew realized what it was. The man was very, very large. Even with his back bent over from age he was at the very least over seven feet tall.
“Do you know who I am?” the old man rasped.
Andrew gulped. “I have an idea.”
“You’ve been asking around about me. Some would say that’s the wrong kind of questions to be caught asking.”
“Are you going to kill me then?”
The old man laughed with genuine mirth. “No, Andrew Gitahi, I will not. You’re here for an entirely different reason.”
“What would that be?”
“You’ve stumbled on a secret nearly nobody ever has. A small part of it due to a few mistakes I made but even then, few could have come this far. So you deserve a reward.”
“The whole story; every little bit of it. An interview with me,” A disturbing smile cut across the wrinkled face.
“Why would you do that?”
“For two reasons. The first–look at me. I don’t have much time left. What do I have to lose if everyone knows? The truth is, for all I’ve done, I’ve already got away with it.”
The man had a point. He was nearly 90, maybe older.
“The second reason is simple. I’ve done great things in this country Andrew. Terrible, but great nonetheless. All in the shadows I’ve shaped this nation in my own way. But what’s the point of greatness if nobody ever knows what you did?” He paused and wet his lips. “So I want you to tell them; to place it all out there. When they speak of how this country was formed, they may hate me for my part. They may refuse to speak of it. But they will know.”
He stopped speaking and stared at Andrew for a long time, making him shift uncomfortably. Finally the old man continued. “I’ve read your work; I know you’re up to this task. I also know this is one you can’t resist so you can stop hiding that recorder in your pocket and we can start this.”
Andrew flinched, took the recorder out and looked at it, pressed stop then placed it on the table and hit record again. “Ok, let’s hear your story.”
“My name is Elias Wetangula.” He stopped suddenly and gave a strange little smile. “Or as some may call me, The Big Man.”