Celebrating East African Writing!
There is a hamlet in Nairobi Province called Banana Hill. It’s located about 30 kilometres north-west of Nairobi CBD on the road that leads to Naivasha. Banana Hill borders Kiambu District and so it’s basically a rural area featuring all the trappings of a bucolic Kenyan hamlet – intertwined dirt roads, donkey-drawn carts ferrying stuff along the dusty roads, haggard-looking women carrying bundles of firewood on their stooping backs, ashy dishevelled juveniles playing noisily on the flanks of the dirt roads, motorcycle taxis and bicycles ferrying passengers and the occasional battered motor vehicle raising a dust cloud as it zooms along the roads.
It was always dusty during the hot weather and muddy during wet weather. But the people of Banana Hill lived on; never once complaining of the bad roads, or the lack of electricity and piped drinking water, or deteriorating security situation, or the dilapidated educational and medical facilities.
Like most Kenyans, they thrived in complacency. Their mantra is, “Nothing can be done by anyone to change anything.” Most Kenyans repeat these demoralizing words every morning.
Billy Dondo was a resident of Banana Hill. Contrary to the name of the area, he was a bean farmer and owned a quarter of an acre piece of land on which he grew beans using irrigation. He sourced water from a small stream that passed near the edge of his land.
Dondo also loved eating beans, especially when they were fried with diced onions, garlic, tomatoes and dania and served with brown bread. After such a meal, he usually washed it down with a glass of mala (sour milk.)
He had built a small two-roomed corrugated iron sheet house on the edge of the land. He lived alone.
“I will not find a wife and marry her until I build a stone and mortar house on this land,” he’d assured his father when the father kept pestering him about his worrying prolonged bachelorhood.
To supplement his farming income, Dondo had taken a loan from Equity Bank and bought a motorcycle. He then used the motorcycle as a taxi and ferried passengers from the main bus stop in Banana to the various homes built on the flanks of the numerous intertwined roads. He charged 30 shillings per trip and on a good day ferried twenty passengers thus earning him 600 shillings. Every morning he deposited the earnings in his Equity Bank account.
Dondo had worked hard over the past couple of months and had managed to repay 80% of the initial amount that was loaned out to him by the bank to buy the motorbike.
“Since you have repaid most of the loan, now we can allow you to take another loan,” said the bank manager at Equity Bank in Nairobi when Dondo visited their offices. “We can loan you twice as much money as you took before. We are happy to see that you’re a hardworking young man. Come tomorrow with your identification documents and you’ll sign the necessary documents and we’ll give you the money you want.”
When Dondo heard these words he leaped into the air in joy. “I’ll use the loan money to buy two new motorcycles and then hire two riders to operate the taxis,” he said to the grinning bank manager. “This way I’ll triple my income and continue to repay the loan. Soon after completing payment of the loan, I’ll own both motorbikes. Ha ha ha …I can almost see that four bed-roomed stone and mortar house coming up on my land.”
Dondo was so overjoyed that he decided to visit his elder brother and tell him the good news. Dondo’s brother, Willy Dondo, worked in Kahawa Barracks, an armed forces garrison on Thika Road, Nairobi.
His bother was so delighted with the good news that he immediately went to the Afco shop which is located within the barracks compound and brought three cartons of canned pre-cooked kidney beans.
Each of the cartons contained a dozen half-kilo sealed cans of beans.
“Take this home, brother. It’s a gift from me, Willy, your elder brother. Congratulations. I hope that you work hard and acquire more motorbikes and become rich.”
When Dondo got home that evening, he restlessly opened the cartons and noticed that the expiry date written on the bottom of the cans was the following day.
“These beans will go bad tomorrow,” Dondo thought in alarm. “I cannot let that happen. I must eat all of them today before they spoil.”
Since Dondo and his siblings had been raised in poverty, and had sometimes gone to bed without food, he felt immense pain whenever he had to throw away left-over food.
So Dondo found a can opener and a large wooden spoon and sat on his favourite armchair in the living room of his tin house. He gazed at his watch. It was 7:30 p.m. He set himself a time limit of 12:00 a.m. when he would finish eating the beans.
He stacked the cartons of canned beans beside the armchair and, under the dim yellow light of a kerosene lantern, he began to eat from the cans using the wooden spoon.
“Ah, these Afco beans are not half as bad as I thought they were,” he confessed, lifting a spoonful into his mouth for chewing. His cheeks bulged out.
Effortlessly Dondo worked through the first carton and casually tore open the second. He peeked at his wrist watch. It was only 9:00 p.m.
Without twitching an eyelid, Dondo cleaned up the second carton and easily tore open the third. A pile of empty tins festooned the corner of the floor where he was throwing them after emptying them.
Though he began to feel bloated, Dondo decided that there was always room in his tummy for delicious beans. After all this was his favourite dish. He again raised his wrist to peek at his watch. It was only 10:30 p.m.
Dondo stood up and stretched out his hands and began to gyrate. He did this for a short while. His belly now looked like that of a pregnant woman in her second trimester.
He’d once observed a group of Caucasian campers at a local petrol station shaking their four-wheel-drive vehicles as they were being refueled. Apparently this action expelled the air from the fuel tanks, thus allowing them to take in more fuel. Inspired by this Western wisdom, Dondo gyrated some more.
After expelling the air from his tummy, Dondo sat down and grasped the can opener and spoon and laboured to empty the contents of the cans into his alarmingly ballooning belly. Anyone listening from the outside of his door would have thought that there was a Jua Kali artisan in the house busy banging tins into shape in the house. But there was no artisan in the house: it was just Dondo’s spoon working rapidly to scoop delicious beans from the cans.
Any resentment that Dondo had for the Kenyan armed forces quickly dissipated. He had always been angry at the Kenya Army for sitting leisurely in the barracks feasting on subsidized beans and farting away the most productive years of their lives instead of using their guns and advanced training to help fight spiralling crime in Kenyan towns, villages and hamlets.
“I love the Kenya Army,” Dondo confessed through a mouthful of beans; his teeth grinding the stuff. “If these guys can cook such delicious beans, then they should be allowed to sit leisurely in their barracks doing nothing but growing fat on subsidized foodstuffs. Long live the Kenya Army! May your bottoms grow fatter!”
At exactly 12:00 a.m. an exhausted Dondo scooped the last spoonful of beans from the can and deposited it into his mouth for climactic chewing.
“Ahhh!” he sighed contentedly and leaned back on the armchair. He patted his bulging belly. “That was a good eat!”
His tummy was ballooning out like that of a pregnant woman in her third trimester.
The next day at 8:00 a.m. Dondo departed from his house and went to the bus stop and boarded a matatu to Nairobi town, hoping to meet the bank manager at Equity and get his hefty loan. He remembered to carry his national ID card, birth certificate and bank statements.
The 14-seater matatu he had boarded was colourfully painted and was christened Perfume, which was written with bright yellow letters on its rear windscreen. Dondo had made sure that he’d left his motorcycle taxi with another rider who’d ferry passengers and collect fare from them on his behalf. Dondo had assured the rider that he would pay him a commission at the end of the day when he returned from Nairobi town.
It was chilly and drizzling and windy in the morning and most passengers of the matatu had shut the windows so as to keep out the biting chill. That’s when Dondo’s inflated tummy decided to go bad. Tumbo ikaharibika!
He realized with panic that he couldn’t stop passing wind. Highly toxic fumes suddenly began escaping from Dondo’s loudly growling tummy. The killer fumes spread swiftly throughout the crammed confines of the matatu. Shocked passengers began to cough and wheeze and beat their chests in a desperate attempt to clear their clogged lungs and windpipes. It smelled bad. Really bad. If hyenas could lay eggs, and one such egg got rotten, and the rotten hyena egg was cracked open; that hellish aroma that would come out of it was similar to the one now filling the matatu.
The women in the matatu began to scream in terror. “Wooooiiiii! Tunakufa! Tunakufa! Dereva, tafadhali simamisha gari! Wooooiiiii! (We are perishing. Driver please stop the vehicle!) But alas, the driver was asthmatic. The bad smell had poisoned his lungs and overwhelmed him. The driver coughed incessantly while beating his chest. But he was unable to unclog his windpipe. He shortly passed out. With no driver to steer it, the vehicle lost control and veered dangerously out of the tarmac road.
The swerving speeding matatu came to an abrupt stop when it hit a large roadside tree. The impact floored the tree. The driver died on the spot. He’d left behind two wives, a young girlfriend (fresh out of high school), three cows, a goat and a pussycat named Boflo. He really did.
Most of the passengers were badly injured but still managed to crawl out of the wreckage alive.
The people of Banana Hill went bananas when some of the injured passengers pointed an accusing finger at Dondo, identifying him as the main cause of the accident. Angry residents pounced on a fleeing Dondo and beat him badly before frog-matching him to the local police station where he was locked up in the cells.
The following day, Dondo was ferried in the police van to the High Court in Nairobi where he was charged with murder. True story.
© Denis Kabi, 2009 www.deniskabi.wordpress.com
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