Celebrating East African Writing!
34, 35, 36…the rounds were slowing down and with every swing his stiff head was turned to the large newspaper cutting precariously hanging on the mud wall. There were other smaller pieces but from his angle, Tamko could not see them. There was no need to read them; they had been his faithful companions every night in his nightmares. 37…38…he glimpsed at the screaming headline again and grimaced,
70 DIE AT SACHANGWAN FIRE ACCIDENT
He lifted his blue swollen tongue now as heavy as a bag of ballast. He had accidentally bitten it when the ordeal started. As if on cue he instinctively licked the rope just like he had painfully done over the last one hour of his agony. The room was now getting darker as the sun went down the other side of the roof as if hiding from his cursed fate. Another soft ligament snapped…or was it a bone that cracked? He didn’t know but the now familiar sharp pain scudded like a cloud down to his groin. A hot trickle gushed out from the soggy pair of trousers. He felt the steaming urine burning its way down his once muscular legs but he didn’t have enough time to think about it as another rotation was coming to a close and he was forced to stare at the glaring headline again. The pain had numbed almost all his nerves but the brave ones were now screaming hoarse with each searing spasm from his neck. On the floor below him, a pool of blood was slowly building like a muddle during a downpour. For the umpteenth time, Tamko tried to drive his glance away from the yellowed page but he couldn’t. It was another battle he was losing like he had done all his life.
The crowd was milling outside the town council social hall. Everyone had a bunch of papers tightly clutched to their chests. Their faces all betrayed frustration and pain while some still showed tinges of hope amid all the desperation. Small groups had formed as each recounted their misery to their fellow sufferers. It was as if the more they told their jeremiads, the more their loss would lessen,
“It was my pastor, that damn dog! His wife was doing so well and when they approached me…oh my God, I called mother immediately. I was so proud then thinking I was my family’s saviour…” a young woman was recounting her sad story as she heaved softly. Her grief was shared by her three companions.
“Njeri, don’t worry, God will never forsake us, am sure this meeting is an answer to our prayers,” another victim consoled as a glimmer of hope flashed over his face.
“No, Baba Jim, it is not that easy, my mum is now a vegetable, today morning she couldn’t even recognise me, her daughter! I was secretly happy now that I failed her that much, why should she tell my face?” Njeri was inconsolable. Her hands were now shaking and her threadbare sweater seemed to pull her towards the ground. Maybe it was the burden on her shoulders that made her seem shorter after every statement she made.
“You are lucky you have your mum, my husband died two weeks after we discovered all our savings and our land’s title deed were gone. I know everyone blames me, even the other families in the slum look at me with suspicion!” the third woman could not even lift her face to look at the others. From her graceful gait, it was obvious she had seen better times.
“God will intervene, He can’t allow so much pain to be caused on innocent souls, our Lord can’t,” It was Baba Jim again. Every now and then, their faces were turning towards the door of the hall, not in the anticipation of its opening but just to confirm the fast fading notice was still hanging there. By now, the words were etched into everyone’s mind like deep imprints on metal;
THE PUBLIC IS HEREBEY INVITED TO PRESENT COMPLAINTS TO THIS COMMITEE ON THE ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES OF PYRAMIND SCHEMES OR ANY OTHER SUCH ACTIVITIES…DOCUMENTATION WILL SERVE AS PROOF IN INCRIMINATING ANY SUSPECTS…
The notice gave all the gathered hope of at least getting something back after three years of suffering. They had waited for over three hours but compared to court injunctions, promissory notes, bouncing cheques, the pain of aching legs to them was child’s play. At last, there was a buzz among the group standing by the gate, a fleet of shiny cars all bearing the feared GK number plate crawled into the compound. The hitherto gloomy air lifted and a breeze of hope seemed to blow now as they all awaited redemption. It was one hour before the proceedings started. Tears flowed freely as broken hearts burst their banks amidst the turmoil of betrayal,
“It was all we had, now we are camping like refugees by the road side, we live on the mercy of passersby. The pastor now lives in Kileleshwa, but the police can’t touch him!” one woman wailed. It was the same sad story over and over again for all of victims. Some of the committee members already acquainted to these tales of sorrow all over the country were dozing off comfortably. It wasn’t in their mandate to console, theirs was to listen and advise the government on how such schemes could be prevented in future. The circus was getting monotonous with the aura of gloom pervading every corner of the badly lit social hall.
Clouds of humid air hang heavily in the crowded hall and everyone seemed shifty. The chairman was at the verge of cutting short the intermittent tales of sorrow when a scrawny figure staggered into the hall. Even from a distance it was obvious he was inebriated. The menacing looking guards were already rising when one of the committee members intervened,
“Let the man speak please, we are here to listen to everyone, but sir make it short, we are out of time,” pleaded the commissioner, “for the record, can we have your name please?
A hush descended on the hall, and for three long minutes, the man looked at one commissioner to the other and their discomfort was excruciating,
“Sir, your name please, or how can we assist you today?” the chairman was already getting impatient and the trickle of sweat down his face betrayed his discomfort. He was a former minister and it was obvious he was used to comfier offices. At last, the strange man’s lips quivered and his face slumped as he began to speak,
“It’s nothing at all, my name…it’s nothing, gone forever, me, my name, we are gone! We flew long time ago never to land…” he paused to look at the perplexed committee. No one could make head or tail of his words though they all had an inkling of how his pain could twist his mind that much.
“They come in dreams, kill me every day, then go merrily waiting for the next dream. I can’t chase them for I deserve it, hope is anathema for where I entered no hope can rescue me, not even my name or your committee,” his words were measured and he was now shaking uncontrollably.
“Sir, we understand your pain but we need details of what happened to your money to assist you,” one committee member interrupted. She had stirred a hornet’s nest, the shaken man stood and glared at the lady,
“Money! Money means everything to you but not me! What am I without any family to call mine? What will my money do to stop the nightmares…” he lifted a chair and waved it at the committee before being thrown out of the hall. It was another familiar thing about him. His appearances in all these complaints’ meetings always ended the same way. He was always overcome with emotions and nothing much was recorded about his complaints. The proceedings had to continue with or without the enigmatic man.
Outside the hall, Tamko was thinking fast as he searched for a cigarette stub in his pockets. It was a habit he had picked to temper his frustrations. Another door had been shut on him; Nairobi had become the city of closing doors. It was time to move back to the village. What do they say again? East or west home is best, he thought. Everyone there blamed everything that happened to his family on him, and rightfully so but his options had run out. His reserve of 150 shillings would take him to Nakuru and from there he would hitchhike till Salgaa his home town. It was nothing new he was trying as the vagaries of town life always led the jaded traveller back to the village they had earlier scorned.
***** **** ****
The biting cold shocked Tamko out of his drunken stupor. The night was still though he could hear faint footsteps at a distance. Where was he exactly? The thick cloud in his mind thawed and memories trickled in slowly like a morning shower. He had hiked a lift on a trailer up to Salgaa town which was a popular stop over for tankers. Later he had gone to a chan’gaa den where he got plastered before staggering to the bushes for the night. His head was screaming from pain and he hurriedly searched for a cigarette stub to calm himself. The footsteps beyond the road were more rapid now and as he struggled to stand up, he noticed a trailer surreptitiously parked by the road. On one end of the trailer was a cop holding a gun as several men siphoned off fuel and dashed off to the bushes. Curiosity got the better of him even as he frantically searched his pockets for the puff. By the time he got it and the matchbox, he had managed to crawl to the other edge of the thicket where the men were hoarding their loot. Having been an accountant in a government office, figures criss-crossed his mind and Tamko smiled wryly as he lit his cigarette knowing he might as well make some booze money for the next day.
**** **** ****
“You are a very lucky young man, “Tamko could hear a voice but his eyes and his whole body were stinging with stitches of pain. A second later, the blur cleared and he realized it wasn’t one voice but a bedlam of screams, groans all laced with tinges of pain and suffering. He tried moving his neck,
“Don’t even try that sir, you have second degree burns…” the voice was there again hovering over him like a vulture’s shadow.
“But what happened?” Tamko asked curiously,” why am I here? “
“You were involved in a deadly fire accident, over 60 people died trying to siphon fuel at Salgaa and you are one of the survivors,” the doctor opined.
Tamko went silent trying to dig up any thread of memories that could help him remember and gradually, like the clearing of a mist, everything dawned on him and with it, a veil of gloom settled in his heart as everything sank in slowly. He knew he had to get out of the hospital there and then.
The red bulging eyes were looking at the rope pleadingly. His thoughts were now a stream, the thoughts of losing his family’s land, the pain of causing his father to murder their mother and two little sisters in cold blood over the same, the pain of causing a fire and scorching poor villagers though unknowingly…the stream was murky and putrid. His life had all changed when the pyramid schemes collapsed and the promises he had given his mother came tumbling down like a sand castle. He wished they had informed his father before using the title deed but it was too late for regrets. He knew the ghosts of all these lives were after him and he tried to calmly exorcise them even as the lightning flashes of pain shot through his neck.
The rope was still adamant refusing him a send off. He felt as if all his thoughts were flowing into the rope and then back to his head. There was no more pain to be felt and as he closed his eyes he knew it was the last time he would see the light. He was now free from his tortured existence.
PYRAMIND SCHEME VICTIM COMMITS SUICIDE IN MUKURU SLUM
It would have passed just like any other suicide but Tamko wasn’t new to the press. The reporter went into details about his misfortunes after losing money in the pyramid schemes, his lone struggle to get it back, the fire accident…it was the stuff that recipes for suicides were made of.
©Chrispus Kimaru 2010
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 Friday and the story with the highest figure shall be Crowned Story of the Week. Be sure to fill in your name and verifiable email. You can include your critique/comment after the vote.