Celebrating East African Writing!
Outside, the wind blew; a soft haunting moan that echoed eerily into the night. And then it happened. A succession of noises coming at me from the corner of the room.
First, a surprised gasp , as his throat was gripped in a sudden tight clutch; then came the frantic and desperate squeezing punctuated by his kicking, like an attempt to drown a dog that was refusing to drown. A small interlude of strangled silence passed by. Then an unnatural croak followed by a long-drawn sigh which lingered on too long for my comfort. Then finally utter stillness– more ominous and eerie than the wind which had preceded the whole saga.
All that was left of him was his stiff body, stretched out and abandoned on the floor, his face buried in the wild tangle of his dreadlock hair.
I shifted uneasily in my corner, beads of sweat starting to pour down my face. I tensed as I heard the sharp impatient snap of metal. It was the sign.
I got to my feet, heaving my thin frame along with me. The end had finally come for Gaito, our friend, who had become, in the words of Korosh, dispensable. He knew too much.
It was spooky standing there, knowing that I had been witness to a murder. I felt as if l would choke from the nausea of guilt overtaking me.
Korosh’s face glistened in the dim light and I could vaguely make out the stare of sadistic satisfaction on it. He was a man with a huge build and doing this chore had been indifferent–rather like performing a simple ritual on a chicken. Of course, it helped that Gaito had still been drowsy, under the effects of the weed we had been smoking all evening.
‘Its better for him,’ Korosh explained matter-of-factly. ‘He died happy and we also get to save our backs. Everyone wins.’
My lips trembled.
‘Hey man, let’s get out of here,’ he said, gathering up his mask and heavy black jacket. He reached for the door then something made him stop. He looked at me. ‘What’s wrong, buddy? Aren’t we going?’
My stomach was knotted in cold fear. I stood there paralyzed like a frightened rabbit, unable to open my mouth. He looked at me with contempt oozing out of his eyes. ‘Shit. You aren’t thinking of quitting on me, are you?’
‘I…’I stammered. Then the words came pouring out quickly ’No, no! Of course not!’ I yammered, in a frenzy of denial and gesticulation.
The stupor of the drugs was finally wearing off. I could hear Gaito’s mother like a faraway voice in another time zone. ‘One of these days, you will get us all in trouble,’ she was saying in anguish, her voice a pitiful plea. ‘One day I fear you will not come back home again and we will have lost you forever. Please stop it, Gaito.’
‘Ma, don’t you say those things!’ Gaito had protested, slurring and swaying like a leaf shaking in the wind.
‘Leave her alone.’ he muttered toward my direction. ‘She’s old and superstitious besides.’
His mother sighed in frustration as we disappeared into the gloomy night before she could do anything.
Suddenly I snapped back to the present when I felt the cold end of a blade touch my throat. I spun about to look straight into Korosh’s eyes. ‘Don’t even think about it,’ he hissed through gleaming clenched teeth.’ We are in this together all the way. Don’t do anything silly boy that you will regret.’ And then at that moment he seemed to falter, a confused look settling on his face.
‘Anyhow, he‘s gone, isn’t he? We can’t bring him back. Besides, I could swear the damn bloke is alright where he is, grinning for all we know. Damn it boy, It s time we started thinking of ourselves.’
I swallowed, unable to bring myself to say a word. For the fifth time, I was asking myself how I managed to get myself talked to into a murder rap.
‘Well, c’mon! ‘Korosh barked, the hard edge back to his voice. ’What are you waiting for?’
Like a puppet walking jerkily on rubber legs, I followed him. Dazed, I ran after him in the streets. I suddenly realized that we were securely joined at the hip and that from this moment there was no separating us. It was a bond that was as life promising as it was choking.
‘Which—which way do we go now?’ I inquired nervously.
‘This way,’ he said, and off we were again, bounding down the street like a couple of dogs. It was only later after we found ourselves another ruined building, that I was able to sit and calm my nerves again. Korosh lit a cigarette and offered me another from his pack. I accepted it without a word. For the next few minutes, we said nothing but smoked and puffed in the dark, my own fag quivering uncontrollably in my mouth. Through the haze of thick smoke, I began thinking.
The fuzzy edges of my mind were beginning to clear and harden. Finally like a shot from the blue, I came round to the decision. I was backing out.. I wasn’t going to go through with this. I was going to go straight to the responsible people and confess. Gaito’s blood tormented me and something in my Dandora guts told me that I would never know a moment’s peace from his ghost. . My own life was probably worth nothing, I decided.
At that moment, my thoughts were interrupted by loud snoring and I turned, only to realize that Korosh had gone to sleep by my side. Instinctively I went completely stiff like a cat and then crouching low, I eased my way stealthily toward the door. Once there, I lunged for the door. The next moment, I was sprinting down the street like a race car, going the same way we’d come. Behind me, I could hear his voice. ‘You damn fool, come back here this moment!’
Leaping over a culvert like a gazelle, I went on , running into a thicket and collapsing behind it, breathless. A few minutes later, I heard him run past me like a ship in full sail, still cursing under his breath. I waited until he was gone.
Tomorrow first thing in the morning, I told myself. I will tell the authorities and then let the consequences be whatever they would be.
©Xavier Owino 2011
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 Sunday and the story with the highest figure shall be Crowned Story of the Week on the next Monday. Be sure to fill in your name and verifiable email. You can include your critique/comment after the vote.