Celebrating East African Writing!
Written by Esther Kariuki
This year, the year 2012 has been a most peculiar or rather interesting year for His Majesty Kamaa. Kamau is the king’s forename but he prefers when it is shortened, it is more memorable that way and it is crucial that it is remembered by the people he encounters. For many years, while on the throne, the king has ever ridiculed the act of musing; pondering over events whether of the past or future is for weaklings. Leave that to the fools who spend eons in schools, what a king needs most is might and all of the king’s victims can attest to his might. The mere sight of him leaves grown men getting their knickers in a knot and surrendering their wallets to the king. Kamaa however has had his share of musings this year and surprisingly, it appears that he does not detest this weaker side of him.
From the king’s favorite spot, somewhere along the busy Khoja roundabout, he is staring at the Chinese contractors conversing with the Kenyan laborers toiling on the road from Ngara.( That is how the king knows his streets; Tom Mboya street is the road from Khoja, Moi Avenue is the road from Jeevanjee …). His scary gaze is firmly fixed on the huge yellow tractors but his mind is elsewhere. The king is in Mucatha, fourteen years old with a panga gripped tightly in his left hand. It is on the left arm that he has a huge scar caused by a burn, his stepfather inflicted this on him; he burnt him for not obeying him. Kamaa can barely remember what he had failed to do that aggravated his stepfather so; the man just hated him because he was not his son. Kamaa with vengeance burning hot in his eyes seeks his stepfather to settle his score with him.
He wrinkles his nose and his mouth shapes into a frown. That day Kamaa’s mother should have defended her son, her blood, but she did not; she chose her husband. Kamaa remembers how he had held the panga high and challenged his father to a duel. The man was extremely petrified he nearly cried pleading with the king to put down the weapon. His fear gave the king confidence and he began shouting how he would enjoy persecuting the man who had once been his oppressor. His mother then came to the scene to the rescue of her scared husband, she stood in front of her husband and cried out to her son to put down the machete. What followed was one of the most painful memories the king bears. He had tried to reason with his mother, she knew how vile her husband had been to him, he tried to make her see that they could get rid of him and live happily as a family. His mother, an obstinate woman, did not shift sides, she stood with her man.
His Majesty loathes women, his friends have often asked him why he does not like women and his answer has always been the same: women are treacherous creatures, never to be trusted. This response has been a phrase he has crammed but now as he recounts how his own mother betrayed him, he realizes that the words hold so much truth. He had not dropped the panga but not because he had given into the cries of his mother, it was out of rage that he did it. A rage different from the one that had led him to pick up the panga in the first instance, then he had been angry at his stepfather but now he was mad at his mother. He would no longer be a son to her, he ran and got into a matatu headed for ‘Nairofi! Nairofi town!’ He had no money but the tout had not bothered to ask for fare, maybe the way he had clenched his fists and gritted his teeth through the entire journey had scared the tout.
The king, with his right hand now lifted over his face to shield it from being scorched by the April sun, remembers how, naïvely, he had hung around that bus stop situated on a roundabout, with hopes that his mother would come fetch him. He had planned that he would camp at a bench that he had spotted within the busy matatu terminal but that had never happened. The bench was ‘property’ of the older street boys; the black shaggy haired ones. He had been first appalled by their sight; appalled but not frightened. Kamaa noticed that the color of their skin had much to do with the layers of dirt it harbored rather than genetics, and the hair was a contrasting brown, more like the soil they had farmed on back in Maragua where his real father had died. The street boys had bullied him and he had taken it all in without a word, he knew his time to rule the streets would come but first he had to learn.
Learning was difficult, he would weep at night yearning to go back home but each time he would remind himself he had no home, the streets of Nairobi were his home now. On one of his first training days Kamaa had been forced to defecate on his palm and walk around holding ‘it’ behind one of the bullies. It was one of the weapons they used to get people into surrendering their shillings. The king had been disgusted by that act but now he smiles wickedly as he still keeps up this trend- it’s always funny to see the shock on people’s faces as he reveals his filthy hand. Kamaa snorts as he recalls how those women had humiliated him at River Road, “nkt wajinga ningekuwa tu na shonde io siku”. This is another painful memory, another reason for his loathing of the female race.
Long after he had been crowned king of the streets, Kamaa began to feel what all other normal grown men feel…lonely. Each day he felt a strong urge for a female companion, he would tell himself that he hated women for their cowardice and treachery but this new want was beyond him, he could not switch it off like he had done with all his other emotions(except rage). He would not confide in anyone though, he would find a woman by himself and fix whatever was happening to him. Kamaa knew he could not step foot at K Street, the ones who were there were university girls and they would not even look at him twice. The place to go was River Road, he had heard that he only needed fifty shillings…the king was no poor man, he strutted to River Road with not fifty but two hundred and fifty shillings- he was on a mission to impress. Kamaa has shut out this incident from his mind for so long, as it all comes back to him now, he tries to fight it in vain. It’s all vivid now, how they had ganged up and hurled insults at him, pointing out his poor state of hygiene. He had grown mad and waved the notes he had in the air, he had money and that’s what they needed. They had laughed mockingly at him and said they did not accept dirty money, money that had the stench of a pit latrine. That day he swore that he would never succumb to that silly feeling again, his hatred for women now burned with an eternal flame.
Women, Kamaa now finds himself thinking, I hate women. He tries to count the number of women he has scared, some would even shed tears of fear before him. It makes him happy to see a woman under his mercy, once one had emptied her entire coin purse to him. The king is genuinely pleased with himself for terrorizing the female folk; he has never failed to scare any woman, except for one. She was a girl really, not quite a woman yet. She is the only one who has escaped the king’s claws, she left him dumbfounded and until now he keeps wondering what that girl is made of. She’s the one who has got him in his present state, one of thinking about the past, analyzing his life.
Kamaa still remembers how she looks like, the incident did not occur long ago, just two weeks ago. He was seated on the exact same spot he is when he met her, a fairly tall, slender, dark-skinned beauty. She walked with her head high, an aura of confidence all around her, her steps were tiny but quick. It was the innocence on her face that had triggered him to mark her as his next victim. As usual he got her to stop in her tracks then offered his speech of how he respected her and he would not want to smear the dirt on her. He even showed her a syringe and told her the contents were the HIV virus. He had expected her to give him all her money, probably shopping money as she was headed to Ngara market. “Ha! Ati Kamaa? Sikupatii anything! Jaribu kunipaka mavi na utajua leo umepata ule mmbaya” the conviction in her voice and her clenched fist left him wordless. All women should be like her, so brave, Kamaa was now thinking.