Celebrating East African Writing!
Stanley Mugambi was a piece of shit. Or so he believed. Well, not in those exact words; a section of a filthy layer of scum floating on the beautiful stew of life – he preferred that. He had believed it for a month now. More so on last Friday’s night. “Fire purifies the stew.” Also, he was madly religious, Christian to his hair roots. The kind that has a verse or chapter ready for any situation in life.
Stacked at one corner of his bedsitter were a hundred and thirteen issues of the Watchtower – keepsakes from his Jehovah Witness connections. He kept count. Arranged neatly around that favourite pile were several other Christian journals and books, bought every end month from random street vendors in the city. After each 30, 31 or 28 days, faithfully… Till two absent pay slips ago; he had taken it upon himself to save Winfred from the fiery depths of hell.
One Wednesday, after her habit of wearing short skirts to work, attracting sinful leers from the men, got offhand, he preached. She listened, but did not give a hoot. She had beautiful thighs and legs no doubt! But such beauty was meant to be concealed, to be saved for a man who would leave his mother and father, take her and become one with her. Like Jehovah Jireh intended. As if ignoring him – and the thighs’ goose bumps in cold mornings – wasn’t enough, she lifted the short skirt for the married messenger on her desk the next morning. Mugambi found them intertwined as he came into the office humming “Amazing Grace” to deliver the second summon he’d worked all night on. He had tried to look away, but the grip of writhing, sweaty and moaning sin was stronger than optical muscles. So he watched them romp, till Winfred noticed him, then his evangelical gears kicked in.
Quoting Leviticus 20:10, he urged his colleagues to take them outside and stone them to death, but none of the cowards was without sin. None cast the first stone. Some muttered things like ‘Old Testament’ and ‘fundamentalists’. No word of the Lord could be termed as old in Stanley’s presence.
“…There is a reason it is all in the Holy book; for humans to follow and get renewed in its everlasting youth. Any self respecting believer should follow the bible from cover to cover… Hallelujah!?”
None could stone the boss though and thus ended his insignificant career as the janitor.
Stanley Mugambi was a piece of shit, well, not in those exact words, but he had almost stolen coins off the blind beggar’s bowl and communed with prostitutes in a bid to survive. He had prayed till his knees bled. Well, almost bled, with no answer. Hunger had become a family member and still, no ravens brought meat. Lucky Elijah. No angel comforted him while he slept contemplating death. Ah! What would make the Lord come down in a whisper? Had he not believed with all his existence? Had he not taken his own cross and followed Christ? Did he have to find a cave? Questions were many, so were doubts. But he had held on, braving everything the devil brought his way. Lucky thing he didn’t have wealth or children to be taken away like Job. He persevered it all. Until the cursed hunger got the best of him.
He had been walking through the narrow streets of Majengo, belly pulsating, feet tingly and mind numb. For three days he had survived with only a piece of mutura two hookers had bought and forcefully fed him the previous night when he had fainted trying to bring them to the light.
The kid was about six years old, skinny, face ashen and with extremely kinky hair on his dome. He was kicking a ball made of polythene bags and God knows what else. Stanley saw none of that though; his eyes were on the loaf of bread in the boy’s hands. When he leapt, all that seemed to drive his body was the emptiness within his belly, he grabbed the bread, punching the child full in the face while he resisted. Something gave in under his knuckles, but he didn’t pause to know what. He flew like the wind, straight to his rental and locked himself in. Then tore into the food.
It was after he had sated the emptiness in his belly that it shifted to his chest, slowly swirling into a black hole that swallowed his soul whole. He was suddenly aware of the sounds around him, outside. He expected the usual idle environment when he opened the window, instead, he got a crowd walking past, leading them was a man carrying a bundle wrapped in a blanket and behind him several women were wailing and calling down the rage of Jehovah Shamah upon murderers. Stanley Mugambi fainted for the second time in two days.
When he came to, the police had come and gone, the media had aired the story at the 7.00 pm and 9.00 pm bulletins. No suspects had been arrested, but the mother had pleaded with the nation to help pray for the fire of the Lord to consume all those who killed innocent beings. Mugambi knew none of these, but his soul was ablaze, the Lord had answered the woman’s prayers and he could feel it. The agony was too much for one man, the yoke too heavy to bear.
“What did I do Father? What did I not do?”
No wife urged him to curse God, but he did anyway. He called him every insult he had suppressed in his eighteen years of salvation. But that only added weight to the guilt upon his heart. Life was hell already, it would make more sense to slip to the other side and taste the real thing… but how he craved for paradise. How he wanted to drink from the flowing rivers of milk and honey by the golden streets and ruby walls. The Lord could be appeased surely!
Stanley slipped out of his room, across the compound and crept to the corner where the landlord parked his matatu. While humming “Amazing grace” again… he siphoned petrol off the tank as the hum grew into a whistle. The bucket felt light as carried it back and poured the liquid round and all over the room. He hit the end of the tune and started “Have thy own way, Lord”. Then it the hum changed into a Bass 2 croon as he lit a match and dropped it.
“Refiner’s fire, my heart’s only desire
Is to be holy, set apart for you Lord.
I choose to be holy, set apart for. You, my Master…”
The flames first licked the open pages of an old leather-bound King James Version. “…Love thy neighbour as thou love thyself…” He dropped into his knees and prayed for the Lord to accept his humble burnt offering as he accepted Jephthath’s.
Crickets and frogs went mute. The wind stilled. Stars skipped a twinkle. Then Room 7 burst into flames. Stanley had loved his neighbours to death.