Celebrating East African Writing!

If Only Tonight He Could Sleep

You’re not supposed to be here” Edu said wearily, sipping his beer. His bleary eyes remained fixed on the Indian Ocean. The usually deep blue waters were a churning grey as a storm cloud in the horizon fast approached the mainland.

Well, you’re not supposed to be here either. Being a working day and all, Sera replied, strolling up to him.

He opted to say nothing.  He had been hoping he’d get away from her for just a couple of hours, have a few beers and some much needed shut eye. The irony of it all was not lost on him. There was a time when he would have chopped off his arm to spend more time with her.

 You know what they say about day drinking don’t you, dear?

“You want one?” he offered.

She frowned. Now you’re just being mean.

“Sorry,” he said, running a hand over his clean shaven head.  He still hated upsetting Sera, even when she was being infuriating-which was often. “I’m a little tired. That’s all.”

She flopped down next to him. You’ve been saying that a lot lately.

“That I’m tired?”

That you’re sorry.

“I know.”

Sera’s gaze shifted towards the newspaper which he was using as a placemat for his cans.


Poor guy.

Edu grimaced, taking a swig from his Tusker can. Poor guy indeed, he thought to himself. As far as he was concerned, Jared was a pompous ass and being rattled by the cops would do his character some much needed good.

I know you never liked him, but they’re giving him such a hard time when the killer never even left the building. She paused, looking up at him. You’ll get away with it you know. They do not even know you existed in my world.

“Ahh, the perks of secret love,” he drawled bitterly. “What we had, was it ever real?”

Of course it was.

“And yet, when it came down to making a choice, you chose him,” he pointed out.

She bit her lower lip; something Sera did when nervous or anxious.

I guess deep down, I wanted to be with the both of you. I really thought you’d be okay with it, she confessed.

“Are you serious? How?” he asked furiously. “From the moment we met, you kept telling me you’re just waiting for the right time to break up with him. It was the only reason I stayed.”

Sera shook her head. You always had to be so serious about everything.

He blinked at her in disbelief.

 “We are in business together and he’s like part of our family. I’ll need to break it off carefully” she’d said. And he’d let it slide; shoving his doubts to the back of his head.

They had been quite a pair, he thought. To the world, Edu was the reclusive owner of a successful start up company, the guy who lived a floor above her in apartment 3D, the nice guy: always the designated driver, always polite to the neighbours and the help, always in the background. As for Sera…well, Sera was something else entirely.

She was a beauty; with her smooth dusky skin, lithe frame and dark eyes full of mischief and mirth. But it was more than that, Sera was always so full of energy and excitement, it radiated off her, lighting up any room she walked into. It had always made Edu want to be close to her and revel in the magic that was her presence. So for one year, they secretly dated.  For one year, he experienced an intense, extravagant love tinged with a longing that gnawed at the soul. The kind he couldn’t walk away from even if he tried and lord knows he had tried.

Then last Saturday night, they had their worst fight ever. He had been waiting in her apartment; they were to have take out Ethiopian dinner then watch a movie. Sera had forgotten their plans and had instead gone to a party with Jared; coming home late. They had an ugly exchange of words. Then came his ultimatum, her final stand delivered with a taunting smile and him demanding to know what she was so smug about. By the time the dust finally settled down, Sera was dead.

The memories of that night were loud, jumbled up and jagged. Some, he had trouble figuring out if they had been real: the feel of his fingers around her neck, the panicked look in her eyes, her thrashing body as her nails clawed desperately at his hands. Then there was the terrible stillness, the lifeless eyes, him mechanically picking her up, laying her out on her bed and neatly tucking  in a Maasai blanket around  her curled up body as though Sera was only sleeping. But worst of all, was the sickening horror and self loathing he felt as he stole back to his apartment upstairs.

He mentally shook himself, waving off the memories. It was then he noticed that a beach boy had stopped several feet away to gape at him.

Give him your winning smile, dear.

Edu waved at him. “Vipi boss,” he called cheerfully.

The beach boy shook his head and hurried off.

I think you scared him off.

“I’m I going mad?” he whispered.

What do you think?

He leaned against the palm tree’s trunk and closed his eyes.  He was tired, everything in real time felt off and his thoughts were like fragmented pieces of a mirror glued back together all wrong. She was just in his head, he chanted to himself.  If he could get a good night’s rest, he’d be able to clearly figure things out.

Just ‘cause it’s in your head doesn’t make it unreal you know.

The first time -after her death- Sera paid him a visit, he had woken up with a start from a nightmare to find her seated cross legged at the foot of his bed watching him. Edu had initially thought her the remnants of a bad dream.

Her appearance was solid, nothing like Casper the friendly ghost. It was like the real, in-the-flesh Sera except she now had a hoarse voice, purplish bruise marks around her neck and was eternally wearing same little black dress she wore that Saturday night.

Edu had never believed in ghosts. Nana, his mother’s elderly house help, had tried to make him a believer as a child with her fantastical tales of the spooks that lived and thrived in Mombasa. Instead, he’d found them hilariously entertaining and begged her for more much to her chagrin.

A part of him had been terrified by Sera’s appearance but another part of him had been grateful he had the chance to ask her for forgiveness, show her how truly sorry he was.

Then her visits became more frequent and with each visit, Edu felt more jaded, hollow and desolate within. Worst of all, was the terror he felt for the encroaching shadow he sensed within,  swirling and wrapping itself leisurely around his mind…distorting…needling…cooing…

 He noticed that her face had gone wistful. “What’s on your mind?” he asked.

I was just getting started…so many places to go to…so many things to be… and it was going to be epic.

“I know.”

Now…I’m here…stuck.

Edu sensed a vicious edge to her words. Odd, as Sera had never been an angry person. But she had once admitted to him that she felt lonely on the other side, hence the reason she was always visiting him.  Sera had never been a lonely person either.

“I’m sorry,” was all he could come up with. Again.

You’ve got to really stop saying that.

She titled her head, her shadowed eyes staring intently at him. Oh well,” She said with a shrug. At least you and I get to be together forever just liked you wanted.

“I really wish I could take it back.”

You killing me?

“My falling in love with you, that’s when it all started going to hell,” he said with sudden absolute clarity.

You can’t mean that. We were good together weren’t we?

His voice tightened.  “That’s the thing, Sera. I’ve been trying really hard to remember the last time we were last happy together. But I can’t remember.”

She smiled at him sadly. I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean to hurt you.

She abruptly got up, skipped towards the shore and twirled with her arms outstretched, closing her eyes as a gust of wind blew in.

Sera paused and held out her hand towards him. Come. Let’s go for a swim, she said.

He frowned.  “The water’s too rough and you know I’m not that good a swimmer.”

The water is not that bad.

“I will drown and you know it.”

Please don’t be such a buzz kill.

He smiled. “You go on and enjoy your crazy swim.”

Tell you what, we go for a quick swim and I’ll finally let you sleep for a while.

Edu considered. The very thought of his head hitting a pillow and drifting off peacefully was sheer bliss. He studied the tide, sizing it up. He desperately needed that shut eye.


She flashed him a wicked grin. Hand over heart, dear.

“OK,” he said as he unsteadily got up to his feet. “Just for a few minutes,” he whispered as he followed her into the raging ocean.

 Copyright © 2012 by J .N. Kariuki 


12 comments on “If Only Tonight He Could Sleep

  1. Ife Watson
    May 15, 2012

    This is a good story. I love the way you navigated the twists and turns – especially the way the idea of Sera being a ghost was introduced towards the end. I also think the idea behind your story can be considered a cliche after the tradition of ‘Macbeth’s sleeplessness’. However, you brought some originality into your story.
    There are a lot of typos in this story – mostly wrong use of punctuation marks. Some sentences are jumbled up with no pause and there is a misplaced use of the comma and semi-colon in most places. The latter is used to provide a further explanation on a preceding word or phrase. Also the use of quotation marks in demarcating dialogues is not consistent right from the first line of the story. You need to choose a consistent style – double or single quotation marks.
    There are some wrongly spelt words –
    “I’m I going mad?” he whispered.” Instead of ‘Am I going mad?…”
    “She titled her head…” Instead of ‘She tilted her head…”, etc
    A good story but it can be better.


  2. Simon
    May 15, 2012

    I liked the story even though i thought some of the lines seemed cliche. I liked the dialogue also. it seemed real enough with the spirit/ghost having seemingly wicked sense of humor. Not a bad job.


  3. Phillis
    May 15, 2012

    This story can be made perfect, just need some improvement on spelling and punctuation. I also like the introduction of Sera as a living ghost and the end of it all. You created the urge to read on.

    Please work hard on it and complete the mystery J.N. …Take my like!!!. Thnks.


  4. J N
    May 17, 2012

    Thanks everyone. This was fun. It was like being on

    @ Phillis: I confess to having written it and submitted it last minute and in haste. Still it’s no excuse. I’m sorry for making you the reader have to go through such silly errors. Glad you enjoyed it though.

    @ Simon: I tend to crush on supernatural characters that are deliciously devilish which is probably why I came up with Sera the ghost…the cliche remark is well noted…perhaps it is because Edu & Sera are young people who are seriously into pop culture? I don’t know. My goal was to have their thoughts and dialogue have the feel of a normal young person who when talking to friends tends to regularly use popular (English or Swahili) phrases, movie references, football lingo etc…I don’t know.

    @ Ife: Thanks for taking the time to pore over the story. It’s what I needed. I took your comments to heart and have tidied up the tale. Will post the revised version on a different blog prior to moving on to another writing challenge.


  5. Early man
    May 20, 2012

    Brilliant. couldn’t help but notice Albus Dumbledore’s last words to Harry Potter “Just because it’s in you head doesn’t make it unreal”


  6. Phillis
    May 21, 2012

    Congrats N.K .

    I agree with the judges, its a winning story and can’t wait for the end of it all. Promise that soon you will give us something more to read on the same story???..thnks.


  7. Simon Boit
    May 22, 2012

    Deadly story. Congrats JN. Btw, I like your blog too. Was pleasantly surprised

    Early man: The line is similar to Dumbledore’s. I believe Dumbledore’s line went like “Of course it is happening inside your head Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?

    We seem to be a lot of Potter fans here.


  8. Simon
    May 23, 2012

    Deadly story. Congrats JN, your blog is deadly too.

    Early man: We seem to be a lot of potter fans. I believe Dumbledore’s actual words were “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

    Story moja: Figment looks like an interesting forum where budding writers are encouraged to write anything without pressure and it is a great way of spotting talent. Perhaps we can have a similar forum?


  9. early man
    June 7, 2012

    Simon…I used to be a Harry Potter fanatic back in primary school and all though high school. but now I’ve jumped ship and can confidently say that the greatest story ever told/still being told is ” Song of Ice and fire” by George R R Martin. The popular Tv series “Game of thrones ssn 1″ is based on book one of the franchise” A game of thrones” and ssn 2 which just ended on book two – ” A clash of Kings.”


  10. Rainmaker
    June 13, 2012

    Twists and turns and the end highlights how great this story is…..The story felt real; I could feel the characters and visualize them in real life. Keep up the good work and as someone said if you could do away with the typos and quotations marks, then excellence is there for you to grab it.


  11. Patricia
    June 21, 2012

    Loved the story especially where it’s revealed that Sera is a ghost talking to her killer. i did not see that one coming. kudos. Concerning any grammatical errors, we all make them once in a while so don’t worry. Great story


  12. Amos O. Ojwang'
    November 14, 2014

    Good work done…


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