Falling Fort – Ray Mwihaki

Brick upon brick, cemented
Wth pain and regret,
Fortress of shame and reserve
Safe haven, sheltered from love
Never again to give way
Never again to break.
Promises and certainty to hold.

Then come the wind
Fondness planted his seeds
Like the magic beans was their growth
Theres a crack on the wall, Tears washed away by rain in torrents
Floods carried doubt and reserve
Forces too strong to hold,
BOOM!!

 

BOOM – Mwangi Ichung’wa

The man in the Kevlar vest and a tactical helmet poked his head cautiously through the doorway and said, “They refused.”

In the darkened office, the man behind the large desk sat facing the large windows and the incredible vista of the night lit city they afforded. He grunted at the news and took another large sip from the tumbler in front of him.

“They refused?” he rumbled.

Mbiyu, the man at the door nodded apologetically. “They said the government cannot resign. They think you’re mad.”

“Do you think I’m mad?”

Mbiyu shook his head, a clumsy action, with the helmet on in the narrow space between the door and its frame. “Doesn’t really matter what I think, doctor,” he said. “They said I have twenty minutes to talk you out of this.”

The doctor grunted again and took another large gulp from the glass. Then he stood up. Mbiyu took a half step back into the corridor. There were six dead GSU officers behind him, their bodies contorted and their equipment scattered all over the place. The blood stank. The doctor had killed them.

“Mbiyu, I need to trust you,” the doctor said, still behind the desk. “You standing there like a frightened rabbit doesn’t really augur well for that. Why don’t you just step in? Leave the door wide open. That way you can still get out. ”

Mbiyu shook his head again and his helmet clanked against the door. “I’m fine over here, doctor. Now, what will it take to end this?”

The doctor stepped in front of the desk and sat on the edge there. He reached for the tumbler then stopped. He cleared his throat.

“Remember our conversation?” he asked. “What would be good for this country?”

“Yes,” Mbiyu said, “but right now, if you want to live, which I still believe you do, you will come with me. In another -” he looked at his watch “- fifteen or so minutes, the special forces will storm this place and everything will be dead.  Right now, that’s you.”

The doctor laughed. A sad little chuckle. “I thought you’d stay here with me to the bitter end, Mbiyu,” he said. “Tell you what, don’t worry about the time. I have something else to tell you. Then we’ll have all the time in the world.”

Mbiyu cocked his head. Something else? What? The good doctor here, a physicist, claimed to have planted a series of fertiliser bombs all around Nairobi’s central business district. In his left hand, he held what he claimed was a remote detonator for all of them. He had made some outrageous demands, the least being the immediate resignation of the government’s cabinet and dissolution of parliament. The police commissioner had especially scoffed at these. The alleged bombs would cause a lot of damage and loss of life if they went off, especially on this Friday night and the doctor had refused to disclose their locations.  The policemen who had been sent here to arrest him were lying in the corridor, dead. Now, the whole block was sealed off and the media were reporting it as a burglary gone wrong. If they knew, the large crowd behind the police barriers would have run right home.  So what did the doctor have up his sleeve?

“What are you talking about?” Mbiyu asked. “What do you mean?”

“The bombs I told you about?”

“Yes?”

“One of them is nuclear.” then the doctor laughed. He laughed until tears came to his eyes.

“You’re lying,” Mbiyu scoffed. “Where would you get those? You’re lying! I have to make a call.”

“Go ahead. Ask for more time, oh and a peri-peri pizza, large.”

He stepped out into the corridor. The doctor could hear a strained conversation, followed by raised voices then abrupt silence.  Mbiyu’s head poked through the doorway again, this time sans helmet. His face managed to display defeat and rage at the same time. He had a tic on his right cheek.

“They refused,” he said flatly.

“What? The time or the pizza?” asked the doctor. He gulped down what was left in the glass. There was a bottle somewhere behind the desk. Mbiyu didn’t flinch as he reached for it despite the fact that he knew the submachine gun that had killed the cops outside was back there too.

“Both,” said Mbiyu. He looked squarely at the doctor as the man refilled his glass. “Are you fucking about?” he asked. “About the nuke?”

The doctor giggled as he set the bottle of Glenlivet on the desk. “Am I what? What was that you said? ‘Fucking about’?”

“Yes.”

“No. I am serious. And if your friends come through that door in -” he looked at his watch “- the next twelve minutes, it’s the end of the world as Nairobi knows it.” he started laughing again.

“Shut the fuck up!” Mbiyu shouted. He stepped forward and the doctor waggled a finger at him with his left hand. The little light there was glinted off the object in it.

“Careful, son,” the doctor said. “There’s still time.”

“For what?” Mbiyu waved his arms about. “You’re going to kill us all. What about all the innocent -”

“Innocent? Innocent?” the doctor got off the desk and reached behind for the police issue G3 rifle he had back there. He gingerly placed the detonator on the blotter and with amazing quickness, changed the magazine on the rifle for a fresh one. He picked up the detonator and walked over to the window and faced out, holding the rifle by the pistol grip.  “No one’s innocent, you fool,” he scoffed. “Every one of those ninnies down there is born tainted. Why do you think the world is as it is, Mbiyu?” he half turned to look at the younger man. “Man is evil. Haven’t you been listening?” He loosed a short burst from the rifle at the street below. The window shattered and the screams from below were all the more clearer in the cold breeze that rushed in.

Mbiyu sprang forward, covering the space between them in one leap. He stopped short of the desk, the hot muzzle of the rifle half an inch from his chin. He could smell the cordite, he could hear the pandemonium from the street and he could see the clock on the parliament building about a kilometre away through the shattered glass. The clarity was immense. He had never felt more alive.

“It comes to you now, doesn’t it?” the doctor asked quietly. The muzzle never wavered. “The essence of it all. It’s beautiful too, isn’t it?”

Mbiyu nodded.

“You see,” the doctor continued in his silent voice, “this is the problem with Man. we never get it, until it’s gone. That, Mbiyu, is what all this is about.”

“But -”

“No. there’s no ‘but’. Now sit down.” the doctor pointed at a chair with his chin and lowered his gun hand. Mbiyu sat quickly, winded and confused. The doctor went back to the desk and produced a second tumbler, filled it with whisky, went over and handed it to Mbiyu.

“I don’t drink,” Mbiyu said. “I told you that earlier.”

“You do now. Celebrate your new position as the fifth horseman, Mbiyu.”

Mbiyu took the whisky, sipped it and mumbled that there were only four horsemen.

“Who’s to say?” said the doctor. “Really?”  He knocked back his glass and let it drop on the floor. “How much time do we -”

Three canisters arced into the room, two of them hissing. The one that was a flash-bang flashed and banged loudly enough to deafen Mbiyu, who was in the act of diving off his seat. A helmeted and heavily armoured figure, clad in all black, burst in through the door, firing an AK-47 blindly into the room. Then there were three such figures, spraying the office full of 7.62 millimetre holes. Then there was silence. The doctor staggered up from behind the desk, the detonator in one hand, the G3 in the other. There was a large patch of blood on his shirt around the midriff.

“Weka chini!” screamed one of the men. The doctor laughed again, painfully this time. He raised the G3 and fired one shot before the deafening clamour from three AK-47s pushed him out of the window. Mbiyu and the three men rushed to the window just in time to see the doctor’s body slam into the roof of a police Land Cruiser fifteen stories below. There was a beat, and then the earth shook, hard. And again, three times. The fertiliser bombs. A thin wail rent the air, the sound of a thousand screams. Mbiyu went back to his chair and sat down. His tumbler had fallen right side up on the floor and there was about half an inch of whisky left in it.  The squad leader took off his mask and watched him raise the glass and take a sip.

“Are you insane?” the squad leader asked.

“Nope,” Mbiyu replied with a smile, “I’m celebrating.”

“This?”

“No,” Mbiyu said simply. “That.”

There was a flash outside. It was brighter than the sun and filled the office with a hard white light so luminous it was tangible. The squad leader’s eyes went wide.

 

BOOM.

 

 

  

 

 

TALES OF THESE EYES – Ambala

You have never met Mr. Horace. But if you did, you would know.. I saw him once, for an ounce of a second. But his memory imprinted on my brain. Etched; for life. Like it was tabula rasa. I bethink not his physique; his neck downwards rests a complete blur. My recollection of him lay on his head….like head, thorax and abdomen (my science teacher would be proud of herself, clearly her daily scientific yells were not in vain)..

His face spoke a thousand words all at once….it was expressionless yet oh so vocal at the same time. His mouth; black succulent lips, dry and cracked, like they had no idea of Vaseline petroleum jelly. Like the sun had assaulted them, and sportsman was their best friend. Or perhaps rooster, supermatch, the works. No, not embassy kings or dunhill. Not those. And this succulent set seemed to constantly say something…sssssssss..ssssssportsman. sssssssurely..ssssssssssengenge(barbed wire).

And his nostrils; they yearned for more breathe. He had twin round well-defined nostrils, the size of two plums. One nostril could easily house  a mobile phone, and leave enough room for carrying the charger as well. Shortage in oxygen..0-2..pure oxygen jam..if he attended it, it would read ‘pure carbon dioxide jam’.

That alone, I get to Horace’s most prominent feature; the prominentest feature. The one that you must skew when you look into his eyes. Eyes, did I just say eyes?? Horace had eyes. Well. So do many other mortals. But these were one special pair. Vessels of honor, fashioned just for him. For never has it been seen, a pair so large. Gigantic. Humongous. Name it. These eyes could see all. In another life, Horace could have been an overseer, a foreseer, a visionary, or perhaps a disco-lighter. He could dart his eyes around at a night club for hefty sums..and the ladies at Rezorus would say ,“oh, what brilliant light!”, as they sway their hips to Mr. Vegas. In a Mexican film, Horace would be known as Horacio, like his counterparts Fernando, Arturo and not forgetting, Alejandro. His parents had named him Horace Ongili, hoping that he too may one day become a great and powerful man of sorts.

But no, Horace was none of these things..he was a construction worker. This I could tell from the piles of cement dust puckered at the corners of his eyes. This man did hard work, he toiled hard every day of his existence..he had creases lined at the corners of his eyes.. Horace was a unique being; he knew nothing of it, but he was.

At times, his short and stout Indian boss at the construction site would anger him. He would say things such as ‘kijana we nakuja apa mafanye kazi majuri majuri-tik’ things he barely understood. And his breathe always reeked of methi, and fenugreek. Occasionally, paprika. Papparika. Chilli.pepperth. red hot chilli pepperths. These aromas and the man’s annoying voice would so annoy him. And his anger; Horacio’s anger could cause a ground-breaking. His owl-like vessels would speedily turn from snow-white to red beetroot. With Kenya’s transport system well elaborate on them. Rivers, valleys (like the one formed at Narok). Superhighways. You could see them all in this red network. You could almost envision the Chinese engineers dashing orders at young robust African men. You could almost feel these men’s pain, as they take these orders, with thoughts of their famished kin back home…and with that, they would carry one more brick. It was always one more. One more brick to further enrichen a roads minister’s pocket, and enrichen  the Chinese economy too.

This anger would consume Horacio, so bad that it would heat up the fluids inside him. The ‘strungi’ that he took in the morning, bouts of water, and last night’s ‘chibuku’…they would all boil inside him. Boil. Boiler. Boilest. Then they would rise up in vapor form, finding their way back up to the head. Evaporation. And when they met with his cold round eyes, they relaxed (condensation), and formed some salty liquid. Tears. And Horace would cry. Fountains, rivers. And when Horace cried; Ngamau who was innocently playing by the riverbed in his hometown Kathiani, Kabaa, would be swept away by the floods; into the Tana River, turned Galana, into the Indian Ocean. And Amina, who would be crossing from Mombasa to Diani, would drown in the MV Likoni, a sad and salty perish. So no, Horacio must not cry. He would better go home to cool off.

And he cannot afford to pay the hefty transport costs to his home in Embakasi. No, so he walks. And walks. From Westlands to Embakasi he walks. Darkness falls, but he still walks. He owns no torch, for Horace needs no torch.; his eyes illuminate the way. Like a Bedford track’s headlights; old but functional.

He finally arrives. Happy, satisfied. Having breathed in tones of exhaust from the passing industrial area trucks. His nose is good for global warming, he thinks. He now walks briskly, closer to his home. His one-roomed house; a king’s palace in his eyes. Suddenly, his knees shiver, and salty liquid streams from his skin pores. Freedom is for them. Fatigue, we’re home. Solace.

The door ajar, Horace staggers in. Seeps in and goes straight for the superfoam mattress. For he has no sense left to smell his wife’s cooking, or let alone exchange niceties. All systems closed. Boots kicked off. Stinky feet..fumes spreading through the one room. A housefly drops in dismay; a stinky death. Horace’ back on the foam, the journey to rest land begins. He quickly recaps his day, and two bright lights show on the ceiling. His eyes. And these huge vessels do not close easily. The large masses of skin begin to come together. Preparation. Like the closing of a shipping dock. Or a garage. They gather together, shaking, unified. Harambee-harambee. Slowly by slowly, they come together, the bright lights slowly fading. Slowly, slowly. Darkness gradually prevails, leaving just the candle that Mrs. Horace had lit. The eyelids make one last attempt to resist sleep, they try. In vain. And when they finally close; when the garage doors finally meet; large and heavy, like the eyes they protect; they go “BOOM!”

 

 

 

 

TOMATOES, a story ending with “Boom” – Raphael Kariuki

Image

This dog Ruto is an asshole. Angry, dangerous, poor, weak and heavy hearted. Look at his face right now, all scrunched up in mirth at another stupid joke by one of the other dogs at the table, and you can’t tell. You can’t tell how much he hates his existence. The fucking worthlessness of anything his. The 2 shillings they pay him (before tax). The shit-smelling kennel of a house, the scrawny children, the bitch. The bitch. Ruto fucking hates her. Ruto hates everything, not least himself. He hates it because he wants it to be better. Always has. Always wanted to make a good life. To love, to make a good home, a smiling family portrait. A small farm on the scenic escarpments of the Rift Valley, with healthy tomatoes like the fat red ones they sell by the roadsides of Eldoret. Fat potatoes, fat carrots, enormous cabbages packed in great bulging sacks by the asphalt.  It is this bitter dream that fills him with that thing that has been turning into a deep down calcifying hate with every passing day. It is why he can’t sleep without first passing by the officers’ bar at the police station. But the story does not start here.

*

It might have started about 4 years ago at around 11am in an elegant little eatery in one of those sunny towns in Europe frequented by the very wealthy. Inside this particular eatery, four wealthy men discussed important things over the kind of brunch they serve in such places. Rare things, vintage things, fresh this, organic that, like in travel magazines. Whatever. The four men were involved in farming, but none were farmers. You could call it agri-business, but not quite. Science and technology. Not quite. Maybe bankers or traders or investors. Gentlemen of taste. Fuckers of fine things. All the above. They were revising the growth strategy of one of their best performing interests, owing to the fact that the so-called emerging markets were doing their emerging rather faster than had been projected. Good. But the story might have started further still.

Many miles away, many years earlier, one afternoon.  A cultured wind caresses the crow’s feet on the face of a middle-aged man admiring the lawns around his country estate. As large as a small country. Not his only one. Mild grassy hills rise and fall in gentle waves of different shades of green, decorated with well-behaved trees in perfect little copses here and there. Not a sound in the wide blue sky. The scent of wood and flowers. A swell of pride. A checked smile triggers a nice feeling of elation that courses down his throat, filling his chest, pumping in his heart. It tingles the loins and rises to the head. And he gets another idea. This is his favourite game. There is a rush to being a king.

The story could have started anywhere, it does not matter. What matters is that three months ago, this dog Ruto shot a poor man in the back and then in the head.  It was around 3pm, during a riot in and around Ngara market. Ruto and his fellow dogs had spent the early part of the day guarding the market, protecting the stalls from the people who owned them. These people, the market people, had stayed massed around the police cordon all morning, shouting, chanting, demanding the right to go back in and do what they did for a living, selling fruits and vegetables. The dogs had remained firm. From 7am to 8am to 9, 10, 11am, they had held their ground true to the inch.

And while they stood, Ruto’s mind had wandered off to the events of the previous night. He had always suspected the bitch was cheating on him but could not prove it. He had not confronted her since that last time last year when she retaliated by leaving him and taking the children with her, to his great embarrassment. But this night had been too much. Something about the way the house felt when he got in just after midnight. Was it warmer? Was that a smile on her face as she slept? Was she even asleep? And the children happened to be spending the weekend at her sister’s in a different side of town. Conveniently. So Ruto had confronted her. Not violently, no, he had just asked, quietly enough, how long she had been fucking Inspector Njuguna. She had responded by reminding him that he had hardly quite entered her in 5 years. That’s when he slapped the shit out of her head. Just one slap. She had fainted. She might as well have died, he had been too drunk and mad to care…

The market people are getting even more agitated. Someone starts a manic scream. Others start beating on the tin walls of nearby shanties and stalls. The police line is getting tetchy.

Ruto’s mind is lost in 5 years ago, after the stupid elections. While quelling a riot in Kibera, something had struck his hip, he never got to know what, and although there was little visible damage, save for a slight limp, some part of his plumbing must have taken a hit. He had not been able to perform satisfactory coitus since. He’d even given up trying…

Bang!

A split second of darkness followed by hell. Someone had thrown a rock and it had hit Ruto’s helmet just above the visor. Ruto was used to this. All the dogs were. They attacked the rioters with all the fury that had been brewing in them since morning. The market turned into a scene from the middle-east for the rest of the day. At 3pm, Ruto, limping worse from a fall, cornered 2 men trying to make their way with bales of cloth past a pile of burning stalls into an alley. He followed them in. The other side of the alley was blocked by a burnt out fruit cart. The men dropped the bales and ran, with Ruto in laboured but determined pursuit. The younger man made it through. Ruto shot the straggler in the back. Once. Twice. He walked up to the fallen, already dead man and shot him one more time in the back of his head.

Officer Ruto takes the deepest, most satisfying breath of his life, ever. The deed is done. An involuntary smile warms his face as he exhales. Trembling, post-orgasm, he starts to walk. No hurry, no feeling, nothing.  He limps nonchalant back out of the alley, into smoke and flying rocks and a blaring siren he can barely hear.

Back in the alley, the man who had made it over the cart wails as he runs back for his father. A minute later, holding his father’s body close to him, hot tears streaming down his cheeks, 19-year old Salim watches the dog Ruto go back to hell.

Salim’s father was the first fatality of what later came to be known as the Tomato Riots. There were two more deaths that afternoon, including a policeman who was set on fire by a mob.

*

Salim and his father had been living in Nairobi for about a year. They had moved here from a refugee camp in the north, where they had been living for 6 years, running a brisk trade in smuggled silk and linen. Everything changed abruptly for the worse when both Salim’s mother and sister were abducted one night, raped and murdered a day later. Salim’s father and elder brother only got told of the violations and deaths after presenting the ransom payment. The killers had been from their home country, from their very clan.

Salim’s brother had arranged for their move to Nairobi, where he helped them establish a fabric stall just outside the Ngara market. But he had not joined them, instead choosing to move back to Somalia. They never heard from him ever again.

Father and son worked hard, eventually establishing reliable sources of illegal fabric and turning a modest profit even after paying their taxes to the de-facto “local authorities” who rule over the Somali part of Nairobi. When trouble started around the Ngara market, both had adopted an extra-careful attitude when running their shop, wary. Eventually, they had taken down their stall and reconstructed it a bit further away from the market.

A few weeks leading up to the fateful Ngara riots, after a properly indulgent breakfast at the nearby Fairmont The Norfolk, 3 senior government officials sat with a small group of local and foreign investors, agreeing on things. Many of the things they agreed on were in fulfilment of agreements that had been established a few years earlier at the same venue. And just like the preceding agreements, these ones too were accompanied by certain tasty arrangements between the parties involved.

A day after that meeting, teams of inspectors started combing through fresh produce markets and small scale farms round the country, claiming to be conducting an agricultural survey. Rumors of something sinister went round. Still, it was quite a surprise when sellers at Nairobi’s three main markets found notices at their stalls requiring them to either destroy or sell under the amnesty of the Government of Kenya and GreenTek Global, their tomatoes, capsicums and potatoes. Apparently, most of them were stocking unlicensed varieties developed by the global horticulture giant. Of course there was major outcry. Shortly after the issuing of the notices, Ngara market was the first that anyone had ever heard of to be closed for copyright infringement. This was what caused the so-called Tomato Riots.

The day after his father’s death, a numb Salim went to report the matter to the nearest police station. That was where he saw Officer Ruto limping out of a door and past him along one of the building’s dark corridors. A whiff of beer and sweat followed the policeman down the hallway. Unthinking, Salim followed the whiff. Down a stairway into an open yard. Ahead, Ruto limped slowly into the station bar. Salim followed, got in, sat as far away as he could in the small place, ordered a cold soda and sat uncomfortably among the policemen scattered across the tables, fortunate that he was not the only civilian. As he sat alone sipping the soda and pretending at reading one of the forms he had received in the process of reporting the death, an idea came to him.

Some nights later, getting in touch with the right group of people proved much harder than he had anticipated, but a man who claimed to have been a close friend of his brother, while reassuring him that his brother was still alive and “active” with other “brothers” elsewhere,  introduced him to some people. The kind of people who arouse the interest of intelligence and security agencies in America & Friends. Patient but eager, he was quick to learn what wires went where. He also established a fast friendship with the man who claimed to have been his brother’s “brother”, who appeared quite influential in the fellowship. This was how he was able to get the grenades, three small ones.

At the same time, the resourceful Salim, resourceful by necessity, started frequenting the station bar for lunch, under the partly legitimate guise of processing his late father’s documents. During his visits, he managed to make acquaintance with a few officers. At the same time, he made sure to observe how the kitchen was run, noting that the supplies were sourced by a burly senior officer named Njuguna, who appeared to be close friends with Ruto.

One evening at the bar, Salim manages to get Inspector Njuguna aside for a chat. He proposes to the senior officer an attractive deal where he supplies the kitchen with vegetables at half price, thanks to his “connections with relatives in horticulture export.” The truth is, he is buying them at normal price from City Market, where business is back to normal, for the time being at least, and selling them to Njuguna at quite a loss. The last thing on his mind is profit, but he has been busy selling fabric to support the plan. Inspector Njuguna quite likes this sharp Walalo kid. He likes sharp people generally. You can do things with sharp people.

It does not take too long to befriend Officer Ruto. Salim even goes ahead to offer both Njuguna and Ruto their own special weekly groceries packages. For Njuguna, it is 6 tomatoes, 6 capsicums and 6 onions for wife and children. For Ruto, it is 6 tomatoes.

Salim delivers the packages every Friday evening before proceeding to the usual evening meetings with the fellowship. Always in those flimsy black jualas you get at any market stall anywhere.

*

Another officer tells a joke, this time from all the way across the bar. All the officers, most tipsy but not yet drunk, erupt in raucous laughter. This is the best part of the day, after the shit work but before the alcohol takes him to that fucking dark place. Ruto is happy now. He looks up, feeling light, to see Salim at the door. He is pleased to see the vegetable boy. This time Salim is carrying only one little juala of tomatoes, Ruto notices without thinking much of it. The slightest hint of puzzlement starts to form in Ruto’s mind as he notices a most strange smile on the Walalo boy’s face. Odd, the quivering lips. Then the boy throws the tomatoes at him.