Celebrating East African Writing!

When The Cat’s Away…

Written by Wanjeri Gakuru

Jude closed his eyes and lay perfectly still in the soft velvety darkness. He tuned out the sound of the rain as it beat down on the corrugated roof like heaven’s million man march and cocked his ear to the sound of the steady stream of the water as it swooshed down the roof gutters and into the hollow belly of the water tank down below. Judging from the intensity of the rain he was sure the two hundred liter tank would be filled to the brim by morning. He smiled as he made the mental calculations. Ten shillings per liter was a lot of money and all that separated him from it was a few hours of darkness. He snuggled deeper into his bed, the aquatic lullaby soothing him to sleep.

He woke up the next day, had a hearty breakfast and stepped out into the glare of an afternoon sun. He walked over to the tank; the slick blades of grass tickled his bare feet as he opened the tap at the bottom of the tank. He cupped his right hand beneath the tap’s mouth, ready to scoop the cold refreshing waters but only a thin jet seeped out. Puzzled, he turned the tap to its end but the water only gained a few more inches thick.

Usilalie bahati ya mwenziwe mlangoni! Ever heard that saying?” called a voice from behind him. “Don’t expect to benefit from other people’s fortunes my friend.”

Jude turned to face Paul, the tall, muscular man who was cockily leaning on the wooden end of a hoe, a bemused smile on his face.

“I hope you weren’t thinking about finding water in the tank to sell?” asked Paul. He paused for dramatic effect before adding, “ because I already sold it! That’s the problem with sleeping until 12pm,when the cat’s away, the mice make their money! Ha ha ha!”

Jude mutedly stared back, clenching and unclenching his bony fists. He turned on his heel and walked away from Paul who by then had doubled over in laughter. He made fast for the lone mango tree at the far edge of his father’s expansive farmland and sat on a protruding root. He watched as the farm hands tilled the soft yielding earth and was transfixed on their hoes as they rose and fell to the rhythm of a Mexican wave.

How dare Paul speak to him in that manner? Who was the worker between them? It certainly wasn’t him, the son of the boss. This was his father’s farm and as such he deserved respect. Jude kicked hard at a rotten mango that was near his feet, it burst open and the slimy succulent pulp clung to his toes. He rubbed his foot against the grass and thought of how one day every single blade of grass within the 100 hectares of farmland would be his and just like the mango pulp his first act as boss would be to rub the sticky Paul out of his life once and for all! As a dreamy smile cut across his face he heard the sound of a rumbling engine and knew at once that his father was back.

He quickly jumped to his feet and raced back to the house. A mud splattered Datsun pick-up stood near the entrance of the house and leaning against it was a short, pot-bellied man with tiny pin-drops of sweat congregating on the top of his wide nose. He was hacking away at the cakes of mud stuck onto his gumboots.

“Hallo dad”, Jude confidently called out.

Jude’s father slowly lifted his eyes and looked at his slim, gangly son as he walked towards him. Unkempt hair, bare feet and the previous day’s clothes on his back. Was this to be the heir to the Muguga farm? This one with an avid appetite but an aversion to both work and weight gain? Seems even after completing secondary school the world hadn’t knocked any sense into him, he still lay half the day in bed and the other half he sullenly sat beneath the mango tree. Why hadn’t his sweet Sarah bore him another son before she left the world? Muguga made a loud sigh before returning the greeting.

“Eh…dad…P..Paul sold the water in the tank without your permission. He said it himself!”

“ Don’t be silly boy! Fr. Bernard came for it this morning for the seminary. What is wrong with you?” Muguga angrily replied.

Jude’s face fell. He quickly ducked into the house and made for his room to hide his embarrassment. He threw himself on top of his bed and punched his pillow in frustration. He fought back tears as he heard the Datsun’s engine revving once more. Paul had tricked him and he had made an absolute fool of himself in front of his father yet again. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d ever seen him smile at something he’d done. Not since before his mother’s passing, back then it was fun and laughter now only sadness reigned, disappointment was an ever-present cloud.

He sat in his room until the sun made its graceful descent from the sky and a light drizzle began. He went downstairs, quickly ate his supper before crawling back to his room. He’d drifted off into fitful sleep when suddenly a loud thunderclap and a rain soaked figure hovering above his bed violently shaking him by the shoulders roused him from sleep.

Amka! Wake up! The sky is falling!” shouted Paul, his clothes completely soaked.

“ What? What’s happening? Where is dad?” shouted back Jude as he quickly followed Paul down the stairs. At the last step his bare foot hovered above ankle high water that was slowly rising. He gingerly lowered one foot into the icy waters, his heart beginning to beat faster as he followed in Paul’s wake.

When he reached the front door he stared in wide-eyed terror as his mind tried to comprehend the scene before him. Torrents of rain were falling in heavy sheets; strong gusts of wind were beginning to peel back the corrugated roof of one of the silos and lying before him was his beloved mango tree: broken. Its roots were spread out like outstretched hands begging for clemency. Jude stared at the tree, the tree he’d planted with his mother, the tree he sat under and reminisced, the tree he sat under and dreamt, the tree that served as his refuge…his tree…was gone.

“Put on your jacket and boots, you’ll find me at the cowshed!” shouted Paul as he made a mad dash to a building a short distance from the house.

In the shed the farm workers were all huddled together, a terrified bunch and each speaking at once.

“Where is mzee? My children are cold” “The house is full of water”

Nyamazeni! Everyone be quiet!”

Every tongue was stilled as the workers turned to unison to face a defiant looking Jude.

Watoto wote kwa nyumba, mothers take your children to the sitting room. I want the men to stay behind and direct the animals to the big garage. Everybody move now!”

There was a moment of silence as before Paul shouted, “ Endeni! Haven’t you hear mzee’s son?”

The women bundled up their children and made for the house as side-by-side the men worked tirelessly to direct the petrified goats, cows and sheep into the enormous garage at the side of the house. Soon the red-orange rays of the sun lit up the sky just as the rain began to die down and the tired, mud-covered troupe finally walked into the house. As the workers rallied around Jude, gratefully sipped on hot cups of tea and rehashed the previous night’s adventures, the house phone began to ring.

When he put the phone to his ear, the smile that had lit up Jude’s following Paul’s comical reenactment of him barking orders the night before quickly slid off as he heard the news that his father’s Datsun had been involved in fatal accident.

He dropped the phone from his ear and began to openly weep. The workers respectfully took a step back but Paul looped a strong arm across Jude’s shoulders and said, “You know what they say right? When the cat’s away, the mouse can handle things.” Jude hiccoughed a laugh as he gazed up at the new operation manager of his farm.

© Wanjeri Gakuru 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.


2 comments on “When The Cat’s Away…

  1. Ivory Punk
    October 25, 2010

    good vivid description. Don’t know why but i am afraid that Paul will rob Jude eventually.



  2. Evelyn
    October 28, 2010

    hhhmmm…Jude n Paul..interesting combination…8!


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