Celebrating East African Writing!

Cell of Freedom by Simon Mbuthia.

Truth is obscene. Especially the truth in this room. It’s smeared all over the walls in the ghoulish form of dead men’s semen. And the semen is rotten and stinking and staring at me as I sit huddled in a corner.

I hold up my pen in defense and aim it like a spear. Before the day ends, I will spear another victim to death. I take no prisoners.

But what day is today? I bet it’s Monday. It smells blue. There’s a Monday hue hovering in the air like a naked ghost. It is chilling and I hug my old green coat and tug the black hat down to hide my face from the Monday blues ghost. And I feel brave again.

Bravery. That’s an obscene word too. But cowardice is no virtue. And I’ll take my spear and trail Lady Morality down the tortuous path. And spear her to death.

I’ve committed a crime. But I’ll plead innocent in the court of pleas-e for the heck of it. There’s a terrible disease eating away at my crotch but I’ll not go to hospital.That’s the tragedy of this victim called Life. And to think that he’s my next victim!

Love your life and love your neighbour’s too.

Thou shall not kill.

But we carry spears in large baskets and spear our victims and bury caskets everyday. Then we lay wreaths and smile. And the smile in our faces is the shit in our arses.

Every where we go, big greedy flies buzz after us, chatting cheerily and chanting slogans as if we are some passage to this great dream of theirs. Bastards.

Flies are bastards, don’t you think. But we should have wiped our arses clean, don’t you think too. Tribalism is a shit.

And the ghosts, weird things that wag long necks and sharp noses to smell our future. Ghosts with flat hairy buttocks.

Ancient Indians, it is rumoured, won their independence by simple shitting. I will win my independence some day.

Bloody dream!

I’ve been in this cell of freedom for so long that my buttocks have shed their clothes and grown roots on this rickety chair. It’s a long time now since I came in here to search for freedom, and piles of books later, the beast still manages to slip off the grasp of my greasy hands.

Elongated shadows of time

Slinks silently in the night

With weird beards twitching

Yes, we’ve lost the sight

Shit! Bloody black poetry. Who cares?

When they come with pens and notebooks and microphones and recorders and they want to know our favourite African poets we will lick our lips and shrug a shoulder and blurt out, ‘ W.H. Auden, Robert Frost, W.B. Yeats, Thomas Hardy Longfellow,  John Keats,’ and then sophisticatedly, ‘and Shakespeare.’

But I like the Russian’s poems, what’s his name …. er … er …oh yeah I got it – Tony Mochama!

One more story.

I was brokenly stumbling home having just met the resurrected image of a country’s failed dream. The dream had accosted me in form of a grizzled woman. She had finally caught up with me, she had said.

Teacher Anita, the teacher in charge of the kids’ hostel had been taken ill. So after grumbling and arguing about how I’m a respectable (I’ve always thought of myself as respectable) history teacher that mende headticha Mwenje coerced me into slipping into her rugged shoes.

It was when I was supervising the lunch time meal that she came. She was a wasted thing, something out of this world with all its trouble. Something that was made of thin sticks for bones and a dry creased cloth for a skin. The cloth looked like it had been hurriedly thrown on the sticks so that it looked like they were always trying to poke out of her. She creaked her way up to me and announced; “I’m hungry. You’re the one in charge here. Tell them I’m hungry.”

I told her straight away. “There’s no food here.”

It was true. Some of the kids had been late. And there was no food for them too. I had made it clear to them that it was their fault. I had always taught them about Charles Darwin’s ‘survival for the fittest’. They couldn’t blame me. She too could not blame me.

“I’m sorry.”

I ransacked my pockets for some coins. There was nothing in there. It was hopeless. I smiled like a fool. “Tomorrow,” I told her. “Come tomorrow.”

As she dragged herself away to the cemetery, I noticed how the disheveled dress she wore trailed after her like death eagerly trailing after life.  I knew I had to resign from the bloody job.

I didn’t waste a minute. After handing in my resignation to the shocked headticha, I trudged wearily home, the dream to feed the nation pulling funny faces in my mind’s theatre stage.

I remember how I kept cursing and muttering ‘shit, oh shit’ as I hammered my head with my fist, trying to get something into coherent order in there. Then I saw the crowd.

I had a mind to forget all about it and go cursing my way but the laughter and the chatter got my curiosity juices flowing.

There it was, hanging bashfully from the rusty barbed wire fence. It was a grimy underwear. They said it belonged to a woman named Mother Nature. A worker at the nearby Chemchemicals Ltd. told me that they had discovered it on their way back to the factory. A sooty man I identified as the local charcoal seller kept chewing nervously at his black lips and scratching at his crotch. I think he was sweating.

They said Mother Nature was dying somewhere in a village hut. The underwear was her gift to mankind. The local carpenter was in a hurry to draw the measurement of her casket. They said that it must be green.

Someone in the crowd started the song of our history and everyone joined in. I braved the first four lines which went something like this:

Our history is a black history

La la la la la la la la la la la

A history, a history of much misery

La la la la la la la la la la la la la.

Then there was mutiny in my spirit and I thrashed out my fist in violent despair. Of course it caught the wrong man. They stopped singing and a commotion started.

Someone rammed his fist into my left eye. I was also the wrong person. Someone hit him and I hit another wrong person. And we kept thrashing out and hitting the wrong people until we could hit no one else and we started hitting the right people.

That afternoon, they banished me out of the bloody place for incitement. I have no regrets. I will win my freedom someday. But it’s a long story, this one.

I must not tire you any longer. I know you’re bored with me as much as I am with you. Now, hurry along to your mothers lest they come to lift their skirts at me.

This story is part of a longer short story. If you like it so far, and would like to read the rest of it, vote below.

© Simon Mbuthia 2009

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 Wednesday 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.


9 comments on “Cell of Freedom by Simon Mbuthia.

  1. Chiira
    July 10, 2009

    Superb work…Gets a solid 9 from me.


  2. Clifton
    July 10, 2009



  3. chrispus
    July 11, 2009

    i realy love the style, the flow is just amazing, i give it an 8 for the poetic flow.


  4. peterson
    July 12, 2009

    nice job done. i find it too symbolic though!!!! i give it a 9.
    mother nature will surely one day die and that will be a bad and dreadful day for mankind. mankind is killing itself. we say in swahili “mtoto akililia wembe….” i think mother nature will give us a double edged “panga”


  5. Cthulthu
    July 13, 2009

    It is good but is it poetry or prose?


  6. james
    July 14, 2009

    i find it boring


  7. Suziey
    July 15, 2009

    Boring for real! I give it a 2 for the attempt.


  8. anonymous
    July 15, 2009

    The beginning is beautifully written…would like to say the same for the rest of it but the load of cusswords put me off


  9. Mbuthia
    July 19, 2009

    One hot afternoon, I was waiting for the road to be clear so that I could pass across to Uhuru Park. I was waiting together with my fellow countrymen and women.
    On the other side of the busy Uhuru Highway, was another countrysoul: a dusty young man; bloodshot eyes and dreadlocks. He was shouting something across to us.
    I will not change anything or put any asterik. He said, “don’t fuck my mind!”
    Of course he added,”it doesn’t matter what colour tv you are …” which confirms that he was insane. But the non-violence of his voice sent my mind in a whirl. The story is long. I’ll make it short. The young man was simply pleading with the society opposite him not to mess with his life, his mind. But it had already did.
    I wished I could something for the young man, show him that a brother was on his side. That evening, I wrote the above story. It is his story. If I, by luck meet him again, I’ll give him the above comments.

    Simon Mbuthia.


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