Celebrating East African Writing!

Set me Free by Clifford Oluoch

The scream from Pope, my 5 year old son jolted me. Fear etched at the end of his squeaky voice and I knew that he was not injured. Nor was he in pain.
“Coming,” I shouted as I quickly put on my robe, slipped into my green antique slippers that Dad had bought for me a long time ago. Talking of Dad, or The Honourable David Mavita as he was formally known, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was scheduled to give a press conference on the perpetrators of the 2007 Kenyan election violence.
Pope’s scream came again. Louder and sharper, almost a screech. Impatience. A 5 year old knows only ‘now’.
Then my cell phone rang. Nuisance. I decided to ignore it as I walked out of my bedroom to see what my son was up to so early on a bright Sunday morning.
The third scream coincided with the ringing of my second cell phone.
“What is it darling?” I asked tenderly. My son’s stooped back greeted me, Spiderman’s web and face taking the shape of a map at the back of his blue pyjamas.
“Look mum,” he said softly pointing at something on the wooden tiled balcony floor. Pope’s head blocked my view so I had to go round him. He, however, did not turn.
It was a bird lying still on its side. It must have fallen from the gigantic mugumo tree that proudly occupied the centre of the sixteen flat compound, one of Dad’s vast investments. The incessant dirge-filled chirping, from the other concerned ‘family’ of birds hanging on the branches, formed a mournful mood.
A Chestnut Belly Starling. It’s the closest I had ever come to one and its deep purple almost bluish colour felt like God’s paintbrush had been too perfect. Its eyes were shut.
From the background I could still hear the persistent ringing of my phones. Who could it be on such an early Sunday morning?
“Is he dead?” my son asked, making me wonder how he had determined the gender of the bird. Pope’s eyes bulged and his lips trembled to complement his quavering voice.
I energetically rubbed my hands for warmth, and then gently lifted the delicate bird, the twittering from his comrades in the stooping branches increasing in intensity. The bird was light and its velvety feathers tickled my hands like warm water running down my hands on a cold day. It was no bigger than my fore-finger.
“No, he is not dead!” I affirmed. Pope stood up, his head just above my hip, and held on dotingly to my robe. Together we transferred the bird to his room. I drew the purple Harry Potter curtains and sunlight flooded the room.
“Get me a cereal box from the kitchen store,” I told Pope. He dashed out.
I took one of Pope’s old brown face towels and gently wrapped the delicate bundle in it.

Both the phones were either beeping or blaring by now.
Pope came back with three boxes of differing sizes. We chose the biggest, a box that I had promised to make a car with.
“Hold him.” He cupped his hands to receive the bird like a devout Christian taking holy communion.
I took another, bigger towel, folded it twice and then spread it inside the box. It fitted perfectly – a cosy nest by human standards.
Pope looked at me. I smiled and nodded. He cautiously placed the bird in the box and then turned again to me. There were many question marks in his teary eyes.
“Let’s turn on the heater,” I told Pope.
“Mum?” Cracking voice. Insecurity. His bulging eyes blinked continuously.
“No, darling, he won’t die! There is a reason God sent him to you.” I emphasized the last word as I gently patted the top of his head.
“Can I stay with him today?” he asked. Mary, the house girl, was the key to that question. She would have to forfeit her day off.
“Yes,” I replied absent-mindedly as I moved to my room to attend to the two phones that were still generously soaking in message after message. Like most of my urban Kenyan friends, I owned more than one handset, courtesy of turf wars between the mobile phone companies.
There were record breaking number of missed calls and messages. I decided to start with the messages.
“Check the brking news on tv.”
“ICC releasd the names of politicians. “
“ Whats the latest?”
“Yr dad deserves 2 die.”
“May he rot in Hel.”
“ICC Prsecuta comng 4 yr dad.”
“ Ol Poltshans nvr dai – they rot.”
None of the messages, most of them from numbers I did not recognize, were from Tim, my husband, stuck in Australia for his PhD studies. I was sure he would call.
So it had finally come to this. The list of those involved in the election violence had at last been released by the ICC thus bringing to climax weeks and weeks of debates on every medium in the country.
My dad’s name was on the list. My heart sunk at the vitriol that some of those phone messages conveyed. My mind turned to Dad and his vast amount of wealth, some of which I was not only a beneficiary of but also an administrator. Majority of his property was in my name.
Another call came. It was Wangu, Dad’s house girl of more than twenty five years. She was sobbing.
“Dad was found collapsed in his room and has been rushed to hospital!” Wangu was almost family and I could feel her distress. Dad, diabetic and hypertensive, had been in and out of hospital regularly since losing in the 2007 general elections – the first time in his twenty year political career.
“I am sorry I have to rush to hospital to see my dad,” I told Mary who was missing her day off for the third week in a row. She frowned but she knew that I would pay her overtime.
Before leaving the house, I decided to switch on the TV to get the latest news.
“Breaking news: ICC releases twenty names of perpetrators of 2007 election violence” flashed on the screen. Dad’s name was the first one: David ‘the monster’ Mavita – ex-Minister without Portfolio. Thao Matek, Mbaya Mbofu amongst others. There was no woman on the list.
“More than 1,500 people died and 500 000 displaced,” the scroll bar rolled on. Footages of displaced persons carrying their belongings were relayed.
“The ICC has vowed to use Kenyan as an example to the rest of the world on how to combat impunity.”
Then they showed some of the political rallies that Dad had held to incite crowds. I flipped channels and found the same stories. I switched off the TV.
“Pope, do not feed the bird,” I said as I walked past his room. He turned and waved.

…….to be continued.

©Clifford Chianga Oluoch

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.


3 comments on “Set me Free by Clifford Oluoch

  1. Eve's reflections
    May 11, 2010

    Waiting anxiously for the rest! A 9.


  2. mac
    May 14, 2010

    9 out of ten.The bird lying with the eye closed, being put in a warm box while other birds rent air with incessant dirge-filled chirping.Relatives of those in Ocampo’s list will sing dirges, while in truth the PEV perpetrators will have a warm nest of prison in the Hague.Good use of symbolism.


  3. kyt
    May 14, 2010

    nice article 8


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