Celebrating East African Writing!
It was already 4am when I staggered into my room. A putrid odour hit my nostrils and I remembered the utensils had not been cleaned for a week, who cares, I am a bachelor! I groped for the wall switch only to remember the thick headed landlord had disconnected my power the previous evening after a nasty quarrel,
“I don’t need your security, I drink up to the wee hours daily and my house is bare, so what security fees are you talking about, is it for that watchman who is so stoned to even notice a goat in the dark?”
“Kijana, I don’t care where you work or what jet fuel you drink, my house my terms or else you will find that mattress of yours on the stairs!” his words were stinging as he intended everyone to know that my earthly possessions comprised a mattress and a nonexistent brain.
“I will move out of this filthy dungeon, useless…” the barbs had gone back and forth till Timo my neighbour came to my rescue,
“Hey, Joe, I have my salary advance, let’s go and have one,” Timo was always my saviour. When I am down in the dumps (meaning I had drank my rent money ) he always hid me in his house till I managed to borrow from one of my friends.
My head was throbbing and I knew I had to lie down fast. The bump on my head was growing and I wished it would go away before I reported to work. I didn’t want anyone to suspect I had been nabbed and clobbered in a brothel by hostile council askaris, why can’t they let men have fun? After all we are not the ones strutting our stuff, I mused. The matchbox was nowhere to be found on the table strewn with books and moulds of cigarette ash. With the dim light of my phone, I noticed the bible and clutched it as I stumbled onto the one inch mattress . It was a ritual I always performed every time the guilt of wasting my life on booze caught up with me. Sometimes I would read a verse and cry swearing to God that I wouldn’t touch the frothy stuff anymore and promising to go to church. The next Sunday would obviously get me so plastered that I would curse the pastors with their loud megaphones outside my filthy flat. It always surprised me how comfortably they could preach outside the line of pubs with their back rooms where prostitutes plied their trade below their noses. My suspicion was that some frequented these dingy places later in the comforting cover of darkness to vent out their frustrations of preaching to indifferent slum fools.
I hit the pillow and randomly thumbed the book of 1st Chronicles. I loved the Old Testament as it reminded me of the classical mythologies I had learnt in college:
Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among nations…
*** *** ****
The labyrinth of streets was crowded but I floated seamlessly as I run after the man in a white flowing gabardine. A wind of curiosity filled my sail and I had a feeling that the man actually wanted me to catch up, after all, I didn’t know how I got there or why I was running after him. I came to a halting stop outside a magnificent house. This was not Mukuru my carton city slum. It was as if I had suddenly jumped from a plane and landed in a long forgotten city. The house was resplendent and the mysterious man was nowhere to be seen. I looked back and wondered where the hell I could be .The steps to the lobby were strewn in a rainbow of marbles with a gleaming balustrade to match. My feet grudgingly felt the coolness as I walked into the house which oozed grandeur from all corners. Beyond the large oak doors, the man was sitting comfortably on a gold gilded chair. I wondered how he lured me from my favourite murky dreams into his ethereal realm. I longed for my whores who never invoked fear but sang my odes after our escapades in those dreamy beds. There was something so familiar about him that my brain with its stunted cells ached as it tried to invoke its power of remembrance,
“Welcome Joe, I knew you would get here someday. You are one nasty dodger though…” his mellifluous voice was like music and I felt goose bumps growing all over my skin. It reminded me of my first kiss surprisingly from my sassy secondary school teacher (how I miss her, but that for another day)
“…you always wanted to see me but never had the courage to seek me,”
The man was going on and on but my eyes were transfixed on his face trying to fix his enigmatic face. Maybe alcohol doesn’t improve thinking after all, I thought. Then it hit me, the recognition hit me like a heat wave from my aunt’s steam cooker and I shook to the bone. I felt every fluid in me congealing into a lump of jelly and my stomach started churning like a long dead monster awakening from its deathbed,
“Am I dead, am I, why me, Jesus? Please tell me it’s a dream, my Lord I know I am a sinner but…”the words came in stutters and I cursed all those who prayed calling for the redeemer to come down. In my reckoning, many would even sell their mothers than face the calmness of the face before me.
“Joe, you are not dead, I saw your pain and thought a morning with me would do you no harm, relax and talk to me…” his easy nature at the face of a sinner like me was disarming,
“But Lord, why me, you know I was arrested in a brothel while soliciting for sex…” his booming laugh cut me short,
“You are so naive my son, I said I have seen your ways, do you know why you were arrested? Jesus asked,
“Yeah, I was having sex with a prostitute for God’s sake…oh sorry,”
“Don’t swear by my Father’s name lest you be damned my son,” a grave tone was now infused into His baritone.
“I am sorry, am overwhelmed, the things I have done in this world don’t warrant me your visit, I am an incorrigible liar, a drunkard, a lecherous…”
“Calm down, I came because deep down your heart lies a very humble soul…” he continued unperturbed. An unsettling sense of calm flooded my body and for the first time in a long time, I smiled.
“Now, when you were having sex with that young woman, I realized the latex thing you were wearing was about to burst. So I intervened by causing the askaris to bust you, otherwise, you could be on your way to an early grave. And when did my people think that latex would offer them protection?” his face was now a mask of sorrow and I felt touched knowing the question was directed to me. I had to try and divert his attention,
“Oh, I remember, who is in Ocampo’s envelope? I hoped the answer would satiate months of anxiety.
“Joe, the bible cautions us to always be patient. Ocampo is an honest man and with time, he will let Kenyans know the list of those evil people,” again his answer was evasive.
“And when is the world going to end Jesus?” I casually enquired. He kept silent for a long time and lastly, He answered,
“ Joe, I have given you eyes but you don’t see, I have given you ears but you don’t hear, what more can I do?” he cryptically answered. It was obvious the question had made him uncomfortable and I didn’t want to upset him lest He decided to pull my file from the registrar of lives. A spell of silence descended on us as I had a million questions to ask yet I didn’t dare ask. I wanted to ask about Stella, about how many children I would get, about my future, whether I would ever get rich, the list flowed like the Mississippi but unlike the sinuous river, it had no end. I tried testing the waters once more,
“Okay, do you support the draft constitution? The clergy are dead beat against it, what’s your take Jesus?” Another long pause,
“ My father gave every person good reasoning and no one can stand before me to say so and so told them to do this or that, you have your reasoning and so, you decide,” I was disappointed, I had expected fireworks. My well of questions was bubbling though some were too personal to ask. I remembered my neighbour’s daughter who had gotten pregnant during our relationship. I really wanted to know whether the bastard was mine though I had vehemently denied ever seeing her at the elder’s meeting. I also wanted to know the number of sins I had and more so about hell. His voice startled me,
“Joe, I know all those questions you want to ask, but I can’t answer them. In doing so, I would go against my Father who only wanted me to visit and make you believe in yourself,”
“But I can ask a few more, Can’t I? Like, who will win the Kenyan presidency in 2012 elections?” it was a crazy query but I knew time was running out,
“Every nation gets the leader it deserves, so Joe you will have to choose your leader and I can’t tell you who that will be,” his answers were now infuriating me. After such a bout of fear, I thought I deserved more,
“So you won’t tell me who I will marry, please Jesus?” I was now pleading in spite of my growing anger. Stella was my dream girl and though I already had a girlfriend, I knew that ultimately, I would like to settle down with her. She was a nurse in our estate and she hated me with all her guts. My drinking and my debauchery was an open secret. Still, I always vowed to change for her before I found myself haunting the chang’aa dens and brothels. This man Jesus was just difficult. No wonder the Pharisees had done away with him,
“What is that you are thinking? I am not stubborn Joe, I just want you to chart your destiny without any predetermined thoughts,” I had forgotten the man could read my thoughts and I recoiled in shame. As if he didn’t mind my outrageous thoughts, He added,
“Now, it’s almost dawn, you must go back to your life. Lucky you, the hangover is over and so is that ugly bump but remember, your life is in your hands…”
“No, no, please don’t take me back yet, I want to know more, for example why do children die, why do planes crash, why do you cause so much pain, did Americans create AIDS or did you, is drinking evil, why did you let George Bush win, why did you let us kill ourselves, where is Satan , is Osama alive…” So many questions , so few answers. I felt lighter by the second and I knew I would be floating through the maze of Mukuru streets back to my hovel.
“Oh no, that’s why we gave you the intelligence to figure things out. but like I said, the destiny is in the people’s hands, now shoo away and start walking straight,” with that the first light of dawn started streaming and I felt myself flying back past missiles of flying toilets and over scenes reminiscent of Sodom and Gomorrah.
**** **** ****
A soft drizzle was starting as I approached the crowded bus stop and the fool I am equated umbrellas to bad juju. I was ready for a quick drenching when I felt a soft touch on my shoulder,
“Morning Joe, come and share the umbrella,” It was Stella and her face stole the breath from my lips. She looked gorgeous and as the compliments came flooding, she shushed me,
“You are lucky, I am going for some stuff in town, by the way you don’t have a hangover, that’s a miracle!” something was not right, i tried feeling my bump from the previous night’s ordeal at the brothel but it was gone. I strained to catch a thin strand that was tickling my brain but it proved elusive,
“Are you okay?”Her uncanny eyes had caught my struggle to conjure something from the cogs of my rustic mind.
“Oh, yes Stella, I am, by the way I have realized that my life is in my hands…” as I said this, a feeling of dejavu flooded me and the damsel held me closer. I was smitten but assumed the biting cold was on my side, or was it?
©Chrispus Kimaru 2010
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