Celebrating East African Writing!
The wind howled drunkenly and staggered through the dust in the street. Someone honked and raced his rickety banger down the deserted street.
A distant thud of night club music pounded on the atmosphere. Then a desolate scream tore the lurid night air apart from somewhere behind the dark thin shadows. Boni’s heart staged an irritated dance and suddenly halted in his chest. The stupid thing almost tippled over to his stomach.
It made him desperately chagrined. He bit his lower lip hard and cursed aimlessly. He cursed himself loathingly. He thought terrible things about himself. He even declared himself a jerk that had no business living in the good old world.
He felt hot in his head as he struggled with his brain, trying to unearth a terrible word to brand himself with. But the bloody thing was dead. His brain was dead. Everything was dead. Everything except his heart. It sat somewhere in his cold chest and kept knocking its scrawny knuckles onto his spirit. And talking of his spirit, his spirit too was dead. Knocked out cold.
As he lumbered down the solitary street, Boni thought he was soon going to drop dead too. But he struggled with his will. He kept telling himself that he had to live. He had to. He remembered his folks at home and secretly promised himself that he would not die. Never.
Such a starry-eyed people, his folks at home. Boni remembered the promises he had made, or had been coerced into making and cursed again. He remembered the conversation he had had with his father on the eve of the day of his departing.
“Son,” the old man said, “when those people give you a job, do it with all your strength and will.”
“The Government has a long arm,” he puffed at a rooster cigarette, “don’t try to cheat them.”
“I know you’re an obedient young man, don’t grow horns when you go to the city.”
“There are many dangers lurking in the city.” The old man coaxed the last smoke out of the cigarette and crashed the minute stub. Then he fixed a concentrating gaze on his fingers. They were greasy with dirt. Too many days of turning soil in his quarter acre farm. Too many evenings crashing burning cigarette stubs.
For a long time, silence reigned in the poky little room. The flickering fire at the far end availed the only light in the room. Now that it was dying away, darkness loomed from a secret corner. Boni could feel its ominous presence. It was strangely beginning to frighten him. It was even stranger that it was beginning to frighten him now. Boni had spent many of his personal moments in the dark. He would blow off the lamp and lie in the bed, staring into the heavy darkness, his mind blank and free. Darkness made him feel emancipated. It was his friend. Well, until now. It had turned against him.
Perhaps it was because he was about to desert it. He had heard that Nairobi was a city of many lights. When he went to the city, he would surely see lesser of darkness. And now it was angry. He could feel its terrifying silence in the old man’s voice.
“When you go to the city, son,” he said, “be careful my son.” He could feel the terror in his father’s voice as he added, “remember we’ll be waiting for you.” There was another stretch of silence before the old man said in a strange voice, “please son, you’re my only son. And I’m growing old. Please … don’t come back to the village in a casket.”
Then he hung his balding head between his knees and stayed thus. It was moments later that Boni realized that the meeting was over. As the last twig gave its last flicker, he fled out of the room.
Now, it was the end of another day. Another day of looking for a job he was made to believe was waiting for him. He had lumbered from one office to another searching for it in vain. He felt the khaki envelope in his numb hands. It was old and dog-eared. Inside the envelope were his academic certificates.
If someone had shown any interest in them, he would know that his name was Boniface Maina, born September 15, 1986. He would know that Boni had gone through a primary school. And when his father sold three quarter acre of his land, he had managed to take Boni to a high school. Thankfully, Boni had attained a mean grade of C+. Not too bad, Boni. You could still go places with that kind of grade. Not too bad. The Government had announced it was creating many jobs. It surely had secured yours. And so he had come to the city. Only no one dared ask what he carried in that weather-beaten envelope. No one.
Once a receptionist at a middle class hotel had screamed at his sight. Screamed venomous insults and all kinds of derogatory exclamations.
What kind of creature did he think he was? She wondered aloud. What evil thought in his shaggy-haired head had inspired him to go limping his dirty soul into her office! Look at him!
For the first time since he set off in the early morning, Boni favoured himself with a good look. He studied the dusty plastic sandals on his feet, the big toe, poking restlessly towards the world. He saw his faded blue jeans and the red T-shirt with ‘Arizona State’ shyly announcing in fading black. But before he could seriously think about anything to plead his case, he felt a heavy hand grip him and violently throw him out of the place. He stumbled, bashed his head on a traffic post and turned to protest. His protests died in his lips when he saw the menacing sneer on the hard scarred face of the bouncer. The bulging muscles put his bellicose spirits to rest. When he shambled away, stark pain was written all over his haggard face.
Today, Mwangi, a friend he had put up with in Mathare slums, had borrowed some clothes for him from a mean fellow called Daktari. A black cotton pair of trousers and a coat to match. Never mind the coat was way above his size. Mwangi had offered him his grey shirt. He still wore the plastic sandals.
As he stumbled his way down Juja Road towards Mathare valley a creepy feeling of returning darkness enveloped his mind. There was an incessant gong somewhere in himself. Someone was restlessly beating at it. He remembered the wasted form of his old man crouched by a dying fire. He remembered the tears in the affectionate eyes of his aged mother. And the beseeching look in the eyes of his little sister. She had urged him not to go, convinced that he was deserting home for good.
The moon stared at him from the high heavens. It seemed to be passing a message from his folks at home. He stared back and tried to decode it. But his weary brain managed nothing. He threw in the sponge and continued on his languid walk. He forgot about the moon. Immediately other thoughts invaded his unmanned mind. There was a particularly aggressive thought that kept rankling his brain. No, it was not a thought. It was a reminder.
He had to pay Daktari for his generosity. Fifty shillings or three of his teeth. The murderous snarl in the granite face and the flexing biceps had assured him that the man was not in any joking mood.
The day was now over. And Boni had not a penny in his pockets. There would be hell at home. He knew Daktari was waiting for his suit. And his money.