Blows rain down on him from all directions. He draws his knees and crosses his puny arms above his forehead to shield himself. He is only a child.
The recently retrenched; and frustrated, the mentally unbalanced, the just- plain- nasty, and ordinary- Nairobians, all jostle to edge in a blow, a kick, a punch.
“Ua! Ua! Kill! Kill!” They bay in unison, above the city’s incessant cacophony. A few meters away a police officer shakes a matatu tout for a few shillings.
The little boy, his forehead caked with blood, tries to speak, but his words are drowned by the mob’s red hot rage. Desperately he combs the crowd, in the hope of seeing his little sister “Mueni” and his mother. The two had separated from him only a few minutes ago. He’d helplessly watched them cross a busy street ahead of him. When he finally managed to cross, they were nowhere to be seen.
A portly man in a sapphire suit hits him from behind with a monkey wrench. The mighty blow, cynical in its delivery, fells the boy.
Unexpectedly, he rises and bolts across Kimathi Street weaving in between hooting cars. A cream Toyota screeches to a halt, inches from the fleeing boy. Instinctively he stretches a hand, leaving a bloody imprint on the car’s waxed bonnet.
He hesitates at the entrance of a restaurant, uncertain whether to rush in or not. Something solid hits him in the small of his back causing him to double over. On bended knees he raises his left arm as if to seek the mob’s permission to speak. With the other he franticly rifles his pocket in search of a newspaper cutting that contains his story; the one that had his picture as one of the top ten performers in the last KCPE exam. His sister had teased – the picture made him look more handsome than he really was.
He sees a blow coming but is too weak to evade it. His body rocks from its force. Through blood clouded eyes he stares up at the city’s tall, grey, straight buildings. Their neat shiny columns, dance against a backdrop of a clear silver sky. He fails to understand how the inhabitants of such a place can fail to see him for what he is – a scared boy; separated from his mother and sister. He just wants to go home.
In a fresh surge, the mob bears down on him. Showing no mercy, they buffet his bedraggled body. As he topples onto the cold indifferent sidewalk, a red pool stains the grey slabs. He is not the first to fall here and will not be the last.
“These thieves don’t die easily,” a woman with ample hips shouts. Bending, she strikes the boy’s inert frame with the heel of her shoe. Flabby thighs pour out from her tight black skirt, tapering down to tiny shins. Her massive breasts rise and fall with each strike.
“Give him a chance and he will be off like a hare,” she says, striking again. The boy does not move.
Hobbling on one shoe, she strikes again; and again, until her chubby face stipples with perspiration.
“I swear to God this one is finished,” she says, touching the tip of her tongue with her forefinger, then raising it toward the sky in an oath. “Who did he steal from, anyway?” she asks a man in the crowd.
“Don’t really know, but does it matter. These boys steal from everyone these days,” the man says.
“And what was it he stole?”
“They steal anything. Anything they can lay their hands on,” he replies; then saunters off.
Remembering she is already late to pick up her son from school the ample hipped woman slips on her blood stained shoe, and hurries across the street.
©P. Ochieng Ochieng