The Commute – 4

The Appetent Operator

Darling dearest,

Time is a vessel, delivering me ever closer and closer to you,

Space is a fiend, taunting me constantly with reminders of our separation.

I’ve found that the most bizarre, the most inspiring – in their own particular ways – of characters tend to reveal themselves in the dark of morning…young illustrious kids trudging along to school, their ABCs and 123s not as easy as had been advertised, werewolves heading the opposite direction to hang up their boots after a hard night’s toil and, of course, this zealous captain who piloted our carriage.

This morning, while fleeing demons only apparent to him, this man put on quite a show. There was the poor defenseless gear stick that he assaulted with such senseless violence as might put a gear stick with less mental resolve in the madhouse. There was the chassis of the bus, which on occasions when it wasn’t five feet in the air, was scraping against the road at speeds of deliver-me-to-my-Maker kilometers per hour.

This man was blind to the law, deaf to our pleas to spare our lives and…er, seemingly medically mute since he communicated with aforementioned demons through nods and shakes of his head.

The last straw came when he drove our bus at full speed through a bump, it took off on a tangent into the air, performed a half-barrel roll, bounced off the road, yes, find any reputable book of records anywhere in the world and I promise it will affirm my word, that this morning, at the hands of a madman a bus on a road I journey on flipped, so that momentarily up was down, bounced off that same road, righted itself and continued on as if all was it was meant to be.

Upon this last act of anarchy, I decided to protest, and was on the point of walking up to the driver to give him a piece of my mind when I was thrown into the roof of the bus by its unpredictable trajectory so that I ran back to my seat humbled.

Grim as it sounds that I thought I might see the end of days in this bus, maybe even that might have been mercy compared to the grimmer fate that awaited me.

The Commute – 3

The Upsetting Scramble

My dear Delilah,

I’ve always believed the two of us should never be further apart than the wheels of this bus and the road they kiss.

But it’s such a shame we can’t fit into a pea pod, if we tried with might or prayer.

Dearest darling, we stood on that bus stage for ages after the first bus had left. We waited and waited and waited.

And because humanity had outspent the auspices of the sun, which had today thus elected to rise on planets Mars and Jupiter and never on planet Earth, it wasn’t long before frost set in. I had a sudden sobering realization that I could not move my limbs. I tried to remember the last time I had blinked, and between the icicles on my lashes and the paper crisp eyelids judged it to have been so so many minutes ago.

So this is it! This is the end! So I believed it was.

I should make my peace. So I did

Maybe write a will? But I had nothing to will to anyone.

Then, even as I gradually grew comfortable with my inevitable end, a sound came to us hollow and distant. A honking noise, rabid, erratic, on any other day incredibly annoying, but today it was like the call of adhan to a Muslim lost in a foreign country.

It arrived a minute later, blue yellow paint peeling off, leaning too much on one side, some of its windows jammed in place in awkward angles. You should have seen the effect it had on the queue, how quickly the poor frozen humanity thawed and then just as quickly forgot every last lesson of civilized decorum. It was a fight for all I tell you as every man, woman and toddler scrambled after that poor carriage which strained under the new weight.

I made a run for it too before I found myself hurled to the pavement by a lady half my size who then gave me such a feral hungry look I wondered if she was considering how to prepare me for lunch. Marinate him first or, what the heck just throw him in the pan.

Then just as the madness peaked and the bus was nearly toppling over, another bus arrived and soon a whole fleet, and so we all calmed down, looked at each other overwhelmed with shame, picked up our handbags and backpacks and dismembered limbs and fell back into organized files once more and we were soon all comfortably accommodated in one or the other bus. I looked to my side to regard the passenger I shared a seat with and to offer them the blessing of a greeting but who else should it be there, next to me, than that old man from earlier, cross as ever with me.

Thus was there so much discomfort in this ride I took this morning, even as it paled in comparison to what disaster I was being delivered to.

The Commute – 2

The Magisterial Traffic Charmer.

My dear Delilah

Today I vowed to journey to you faster than a mayfly can write a legacy.

I should have known.

Some mayflies live longer than others.

You see there was this man at the bus stage this morning. He was a very spirited man, a hardworking man.

He reeked of some liquor, which perhaps explained why he looked a very happy man.

And between his ‘No Fear’ branded tee from the nineties and the ripped trousers he was basically a half-naked man.

And he was a charismatic man. Traffic flowed at his behest and ebbed upon his request.

He was the people’s man too i think. He paraded the queue at the bus stand ad libitum and any dissenters were put in their place. All he had to do was raise his arms, up high, and get really close and these souls would flee back to the comfort of the collective.

My eyes lie sometimes but on one occasion he brushed against a boy during one of his parades and the boy’s terrified mother frantically scrambled from her purse a syringe and vials of what my short stint as a nurse’s assistant once leads me to believe were vaccines, which she mixed into a cocktail and pumped the boy full of it, then hugged him so mightily I thought he might suffocate.

It might be a tragedy that the man’s sway with people at one point made think him the I-want-to-be-that-man man, but then again a far worse tragedy is going to happen today.

The Commute


The Interminably Long Queue.

My Dear Delilah,

Every road I take leads to you, every morning, evening and every summer.

But today something terrble happened. Something foul and very awful that will change everything about so many things.

You see there was this matter of the long queue at the bus station i had to contend with. I tell you my dearest Delilah, this queue was hellish. It spanned three abreast,and hundreds long. Strangely enough, it sequenced a member of every culture I can imagine. There was a man and his hijabi wife, followed by another couple with their toddler, all donning matching turbans, all the way down to a mysterious looking old woman with a twisted smile and a milk white scarf whose cult I couldnt quite place. And this sequence as it was repeated itself over and over ad nauseam.

The size of this crowd intrigued me so much that thought I foolishly, given to abandoning foresight, to ask the old man in front of me, ‘Which gate of Heaven do you think this bus pulls up to?’

For that, my dearest one, for my childish kidding ways, I was reprimanded in every tongue available and my parenting brought to question. Then I was banished by the crowd to the end of the queue, which was where I stood already, only now it had the coat of shame and guilt painted over it.

And thus began my commute Delilah. Yet not even this was the worst that happened to me today.

That comes soon after.

photo courtesy: Africa News 24-7

Microfiction #20: Up Is Down


Is peanut a type of butter.
What about upside? Is it a type of down?

Stop it with the pointless questions. You won’t amount to much in life if you persist so.

But Kevin never listened. And he never ceased persisting so.

When he got his first job, he questioned why ties had to be so unyieldingly stiff.

He custom made his own ties, from soft material that flailed gleefully in the wind. It was horrible. He would spend the majority of the day pulling it off his face. He had trouble communicating with his colleagues.

But he persisted on, obviously, seeking solutions to his new formed problem.

One day, he finally got it, and like a small child learning to stand, shivering with fear of failure, fear for his life and worse his reputation, he did the unthinkable.

The next day he walked into the office, much to the horror of everyone he met, walking…on his two feet!

It was awkward at first, seeing things upside down. Reading people’s expressions was particularly hard. But over time he found his thoughts grew more lucid, he fainted less and less per day than his colleagues did on average. He soon conducted research to prove that walking upside down improved life expectancy vastly because of the new ease of ingesting food that came with it.

His new antics, originally a source of ridicule, soon earned the attention of the Council of Revered Upsiders who put out the word that he be captured immediately. He evaded capture effortlessly, because his pursuers couldn’t keep up, running on their hands as they were and passing out every few meters.

Legend has it that he outlived his rivals, spending the rest of his days in the woods, persisting in his research and silently inspiring a cadre of rebels like him, at a camp known to a few exclusive where an inscription in a cave wall of him with arms and legs outstretched in midair doubles as tribute as well as proof that he was the closest a man had ever come to flying.

Microfiction #19: Unfit

Something caught in Joanna’s throat. It might as well have been the finger of death how mightily she coughed.

She coughed and hemmed and wheezed and her eyes watered incredibly. Then she coughed some more, forcefully and without apology, until her airway cleared.

Then she cursed her ancestry on her father’s side, out loud. Having done that, she proceeded to curse her ancestry on her mother’s side in most flowery language.

Then she cried for a short minute when she remembered how close she had just come to death. That inevitably graduated to sniffing and snorting the phlegm that blocked her nose.

Then she receded once more to cursing and swearing. She swore by the Christian and Islamic God, and threw in a few deities whose names she remembered.

Then she calmed herself once more, readjusted the headphones on her head, and rasped into the microphone:

‘Asante mpenzi msikilizaji for being patient with me, you’re still listening to the one and only Radio Mwuungwana,…’ While her bewildered colleagues looked on in horror from the other side of the studio.

Joanna didn’t last long in her new job.

Microfiction Monday #5: Frozen.

…wherein Razim is stuck…


Razim never once passed a chance to complain that he never had enough time to do all he wanted to, and so it was quite a surprise that when time froze one day, he had no use for it.

To his credit though, it wasn’t just time that froze, his body too was stuck in stasis. At best all he could do was count all the raindrops hanging in the air like diamonds. There was more than enough time for that, or to be more precise, there was none to worry about. He couldn’t remember exactly how it happened, except for the bright flash of light that came immediately before it all, and then after that everything just stopped.

Given his lack of motor functions, his mind naturally wandered.

It took him back to high school, where he remembered a queer little girl who turned down the romantic advances of the school’s most fetching guy, with his cleft chin, chiseled jawline and all, because she found his chi repulsive. Oh, what a laugh it caused around the place for a month or so. The poor guy, never having experienced such dejection before was absolutely devastated, if at least humbled.

Martha, or Masha was her name?  He couldn’t recall, because presently his mind slipped away to a less cheerful memory, the day when he lost his leg in a car accident and blown away were any lingering illusions that he’d move on to university in the States on a football scholarship. He remembered every painful detail of that horrible day in stunning clarity and well-ordered chronology like sequences in a movie. He’d lost a lot that day, and gained just as much, like the metal leg that stuck to him now like an endless taunt.

Then his mind fetched another memory he’d forgotten but ought not to have, and he couldn’t quite remember why he’d forgotten it. It concerned the girl, Masha was her name, there was no doubt of that now. Another thing there was no doubt about was that Masha was in fact, his wife!

Yes he remembered now. Masha the little girl who confounded many with her quirks, had found his chi endearing and married him. And she was now carrying his child. As a matter of fact, he’d left his bed tonight to fetch her almonds from the store around the corner because she so craved them.

He suddenly had a burning desire to be released from the time void. He desired to reunite with Masha because she needed him and he wanted desperately to see her again. He wanted to be released, to be unfrozen.

The master of his prison seemed to be listening, for soon he felt motion return to his limbs, but with it came a great heat that enshrouded his body with blinding light like a massive beacon. The heat would not let up and increased steadily and when finally the bolt from the sky released him, he was crisp as a leaf in the summer sun and rain drops fell once again, eager and unfettered.

The Tormented


Part Two

Perhaps this is as good a time as any to let you know that you’re going to die. No I don’t mean that in an existential kind of way, ‘All living things will die’, no I mean that you, sadly have no further part to play beyond this story. This is the end for you. I figure we should get this out of the way already. It’s like I said earlier, we know the destination already, we’re here for the journey.

So enjoy the ride while you can, indulge in your speculations and draw up plans for escape as much as you please, but just keep your hopes low.

The teenager stares you down like a meal then points you to the chair with his mighty arm. Something is choking you at the base of your throat, there’s a high possibility that it’s your heart in its new unnatural position. The chair looks a fairly long journey away, but you couldn’t move your legs if you wanted to anyway. Your knees almost fail you, but a pair of strong arms grab you before that happens and dump you into the now empty chair, its former inhabitant having being dragged to his final destination, be it six feet underground or the dumpster outside.

Your hands are fastened to the arms of the chair by leather belts wrung so tight your palms almost immediately lose color. The young man rinses his bloodied fists then dries them with a dirty looking towel.

It’s at this point when I say unto you, ‘Goodbye, Adios, Kwa heri ya kuonana.’ It doesn’t really matter that I don’t know you very well, I still cannot stand watching you slowly decay under the assault of a brute. You deserve better.

So forgive me, once again, for I must exit this story here, and I only pray that you have a happier afterlife!

“Wait!” You shout to the young man before he lands the first punch. Now, now what’s on your mind?

“I have something you need to hear.” No, you don’t, but I can’t wait to hear this.

For some reason, you seem to have the brute’s attention too.

“Would you willingly jump into a pool of boiling oil?”

“Would he what now?”

“Is he teaching metaphors or something?”

The dissenting voices around you quiz in confusion but the teenager stays silent, so you continue, “I doubt Vickie would appreciate her messenger going back in a casket, after all the trouble I went through to get here. How do the English say it? ‘Don’t kill the messenger?’

The effect is immediate. Fred turns towards your two captors who shrink back in response.

“And you two never thought to ask him who he was first before offering him to me? Before bringing him here?”

“No, they never seemed to care. Never once stopped to wonder if I was a police in civilian clothes, wearing a transmission device with an army of backup waiting to swoop in here at my confirmation.” Oh yes, fan the flame. “I understand the risky nature of our business, but to tolerate such recklessness among your officers can only mean you are comfortable with an early doom.”

The teenager seems to be mulling over your words, a reaction you were hoping for but not really expecting. You’ve stumbled upon something here. Maybe a past history between these three? Fred turns to his apparent second-in-command, an old looking man.

“Am sorry, but this is the last straw. Their recklessness has been too disruptive to ignore anymore.”

The lieutenant hangs his head in disappointment but then nods in concession. The two men who have caused you so much unpleasantness this evening are dragged out by half the gang in attendance into a remote room in the building, where their cries and pleas die off to the curt sound of two gunshots.

That bit of business done, attention shifts back to you and a question that’s been gestating for what might be an eternity is finally spat out…

“And who are you precisely?”

…but you’ve been preparing for it…

“Vickie said it would be best for all concerned if I don’t tell you. Just in case, someone snitches.”

…the hook is cast…

“Fine.” He grumbles after a long pause.

…and the fish bites on the bait.

“Why did she send you here?”

“She wanted me to give you a message. The gang is pushing through with that heist they’ve been planning.”

Oh yeah. No good has ever come from talking without constraint, but your now-deceased captors’ inability to stop yapping might prove to be your savior tonight. But you’re not out of the woods just yet. The young man stares you down skeptically, before finally turning to his clansmen.

“Do you hear that? The Stupid Ones are walking to their deaths tonight.”

The place erupts in guffaws and howls.

“The army couldn’t be happier to have live volunteers for target practice.” One man shouts in the background.

“The bullets will slice right through them, haha.” Someone in another corner laughs.

“So all the stash and money,” you try to amplify the burgeoning prospects, “…only two guards looking after it all. And the ladies…”

“What about them?”

“All unguarded and bored and waiting to be rescued…”

“What good are they to us?” You are taken back by the question.

“Um…uh…some of them are excellent bookkeepers, they can help you guys keep track of all your money and assets…”

The subsequent boos give you momentary pause. Clearly these men are hard to read.

“…and uh, most of them are excellent cooks and will help you with laundry and keeping the place clean…”

It’s cheers and nods of approval this time. Bingo!

“Enough!” commands the young man, “We will attack immediately!”

The hall erupts into a flurry of activity as the gang proceeds to arm themselves with all manner of potent ammunition and drench their bodies in concoctions that their local witchdoctor promised would grant them invincibility.

The moral standing of these people aside, they seem to have neglected the place they’ve chosen to call home. It’s stuffy and dark, puddles of some disgusting liquid litter sections of the floor, and the squeaks from the roof above give you the feeling there’s a colony of rats up there enacting a Game of Thrones-esque political thriller. You really can’t anticipate parting with the place more fervently. As you prepare to take your leave, however, Fred asks you to slow it down.

“You’re coming with us, messenger boy.”

“But, I…”

“But nothing, come on.”

The gang sets off in an armada of pickups and jeeps that carries itself with the pomp and noise of a wedding procession and the urgency of a presidential motorcade. You find yourself sharing the company of Fred and his silent deputy who takes on driving duty at the moment. Freddie pulls closer to you and gleefully shows off his ‘toy’, a rocket launcher with cryptic-looking controls and a name etched to the side in paint: SPARKY.

“Oh, that’s just her name.”

“Why do you call it…her, Sparky?” You ask.

“Because, doofus, when she’s on song, she makes a lot of sparks.” He laughs like a maniac and rubs the machine intimately.

Somewhere along the way, your car breaks off of the procession into a dirt path that’s soon swallowed by thick forest. You think this is it. Maybe they didn’t believe you or they were planning to dispose of you even if they did. Your fears are not even remotely allayed when the car pulls up just at the edge of a clearing, a cabin in the middle of it with lights on. Fred’s deputy honks twice and the lights inside the cabin blink twice in response.

“Well, gentlemen, that’s my cue.” Fred pulls his hair back with a comb, “I’ll be asking Vickie about you, errand boy. Now hold on to this for me.” He winks and hands you the rocket launcher as he leaves the car.

You’ve dodged bullets all night so far, you figure this is where your luck runs out. It’ll take Fred a minute tops to discover Vickie has had no correspondence whatsoever with a scrawny, clumsy eleven-toed nerd that fits your description, and then after that it’s curtains down for you. First, you’ll need to take out Fred’s mute lieutenant.

As if reading your thoughts, the man leaves the car and jumps on the car’s bonnet where he lights a cigar and merrily puffs away. You figure you could make a run for it, go for the thick tree cover but the tree line is too far away from the car and a seasoned gun wielder would make waste of you before you got far. So you decide to join him outside.

“Fred’s gonna get himself killed for this kind of stupidity. Taking his rival’s wife to bed.” The man complains, “He used to do it because he loved her, but now I think he only does it to spite his opposite number. Worse, I think Vickie is beginning to realize it too. But warn him however much I want, he never listens to me anymore.”

Something about the way the man talks ropes you in. There is some undercurrent of pain under the man’s shaky voice. He’s also quite possibly the only sane person you’ve met so far since the turn of midnight. You get the distinct feeling that he, like you, is here not by choice.

“Forgive me for asking,” you intrude, “but I get the feeling you’ve known Fred for a really long time?”

The man pauses a few seconds too long as if weighing the question, his eyes focusing into the distance.

“Fred’s parents were passionate career criminals, just like him.” He narrates. “It, of course, cost them their life. Then it was up to his failed businessman of an uncle to look after him.

“I tried my best, God knows I tried my best, to stop Fred from following his parent’s path, but I suppose I didn’t try hard enough.

“When finally, he took up his parents’ throne, I saw no other choice for me except to…stick with him, keep him in check, stop him from doing something stupid, like executing his own gang members.”

The last part seems laden with accusation, “Am sorry if I made your job hard today.” You say apologetically.

“No,” he responds, “Those two were always too clumsy for their own good. Still, it doesn’t help with team morale.”

A long silence passes between the two of you…uncomfortable and palpable.

“But we’ll pass through whatever storm, him and me. Together till the end if need be.” The old man adds.

It’s a charming sentiment, one you don’t get to admire though. Because, latching on to the old man’s last words is a chortling yell from the direction of the cabin. The old man jumps immediately from the bonnet, on edge.

This is it, you think, time to make like a ghost and disappear. But you figure a blow to the old man’s head with the bazooka in your hands will knock him out cold and you can truly be free and safe to make a run for it. However, because you are clumsy, you struggle with the machine, and fall flat to the ground. From down there, you see horrors that will stick with you to the end of your times.

A lady emerges from the cabin, you can only guess that it must be Vickie, it’s hard to see in the darkness. In her hand she carries a sphere of some sort, round like a football, only it can’t be a football because you notice that there’s hair on the top side of it, and upon further inspection, you notice two eyes and a mouth and you realize that Vickie or whoever it is, is carrying the miserable remains of Fred’s thinking faculties.

You see the old man break down in front of you, like his life had meaning no more. You see him fall down to his knees and cry like a pained parent. You see him defy his anguish and rush towards the lady with his gun out and you see him meet his own end as a man hidden in the bushes flanks him and mows him down with his own semi-automatic firearm. You watch Vickie walk towards the man and laughs heartily at some joke you’re not in on.

“I can’t believe they actually fell for that.” The new man says, “Yet they call us the Stupid Ones.”

Vickie says nothing, just stares at the body on the ground before her.

Now’s the time. Your feet respond to your command and you run. You run like you never you thought you could. Your feet are cogs of a mighty machine, your lungs and heart the engine of NASCAR racecar. You run until your shoulders ache, and force you to stop, and you realize you’re still carrying that awful bazooka. You examine the name etched to the side, and find yourself taken over by a fit of laughter.

You finally get it, the joke, and it’s not a funny one. Which is why you’re laughing.

The world is filled with people tormented by a need for something. A need for purpose, others a need to break free from a prison only conceived in their minds. For the men and women you’ve run into tonight they are tormented by a need for superiority, to stand over the remains of the biggest threats to their perfect little worlds.

Your own torment is a need for establishment, for a grand stage where you can talk and people will listen, where you can paint and people will be drawn in.

Which is why you put your life at risk tonight, chasing that elusive spark you were fortunate enough to experience through a half-daze.

You’re laughing not out of humor but out of sheer want of anything else to do.

It’s madness.

“What’s wrong with it?” You don’t quite notice the car pull up next to you.

“Is he one of them?”

“He might be, they seem to have an intimate connection with their weaponry. See how he’s cradling that bazooka and smiling at it like it was a baby.”

“So he is one of them.”

“I’d stake my writing arm on it.”

“So, what to do with it?”

Before the end comes, you do finally notice the car, and more importantly its occupants. A firm faced lady, who could only be Vickie. Now that you see her close up she seems a perfect match to the idea of her you’ve been carrying in your head all night. Next to her, an unfamiliar face carrying the ghost of a smirk as the man behind it draws his gun on you and pulls the trigger.



Oh hello there, welcome back from the dead. I have a teeny tiny request to ask of you. When I was halfway through writing this piece, a friend of mine challenged me to create a story with a relatable and/or adorable and/or dynamic character(s) and then kill them off. So I had to change a few things around, including the ending to accommodate his homicidal cravings.

So you, brave soul who has read through all the horror of the story, I would love to hear your feedback on whether you think I’ve successfully stood up to the challenge, character-wise and otherwise, in the comments section.

Thank you so much for reading.

The Tormented


Part One

A perfectly rational individual spends dinner with friends, shares his day’s misadventures with them and laughs heartily at every joke they throw in, but only six hours later is discovered wandering the streets, carrying a bazooka and laughing like a maniac.

Wouldn’t you say that is the very definition of rapid decline? Of madness?

But how does it even start? And what sequence of events build upon each other and draw the poor individual slowly but methodically toward their fall over the cliff?

It starts where the sign says “Begin” and ends in one of arbitrarily many possible points. But we already know our destination, we’re really here for the journey and nothing more.

It starts, more importantly, with me, no, not me, you. Yes. You. See, my sense of self-preservation being so high, I am forced to shield myself from the terrifying scenes and sequences that this story will take us through. So, yes. It starts with you.

You are a writer or a composer or a designer of some sort…someone who thinks creatively, who also pulls shifts at a dull day job which just sufficiently caters for your financial needs.

It starts with you being jolted awake by something in the middle of the night. Your mind is pummelled with fading memories of last evening’s soiree and…yes, the most brilliant idea you’ve ever conceived! All work you’ve ever written or composed pale in comparison to this new concept you’ve been inspired with.

Instinctively, you rush to turn the lights on and look for your notebook and a pen. But there’s a blackout. It’s rainy season, so why not? You turn back to your mobile phone and use its screen’s glow.

You manage to locate your tools and sit down, take a deep breath, call on your inner Zen to help you condense your thoughts. It’s getting clearer now, yes…it’s, oh boy…you are going to be stinking rich…this idea…this is a masterpie…

Something interrupts you. A familiar annoying sound from a familiar annoying source. The increasingly irritating creaking of a bed from your neighbor’s room.

At this point you begin questioning why you never moved out of campus after graduating and once again defend yourself by citing the affordable rent prices available here. It’s worth putting up with the shenanigans of these cannabis fuelled campus boneheads. For instance, your neighbor and his girlfriend jumping up and down on a spring bed like kindergarteners. You’d think they get a trampoline and indulge their gymnastics fantasies outside, when it’s warm and sunny, like all normal rational people do.

Thankfully, though, the creaking stops a minute later. Pfft, those pretenders don’t even have the stamina for sustained physical exercise. It’s laughable.

You don’t get to laugh though.

That idea, that crazy, awesome idea…it’s, uh…it’s gone! See ya gone! Vanished!

‘Tis a disaster!

Your mouth does that thing where it hangs loose, and any manner of detritus carried by wind blowing your way would find easy entrance into your system. Completely helpless. Rendered catatonic.

You start pacing around your room in a futile attempt to remember. Then bang your head on the wall, slowly at first and then more forcefully. Then you open your wardrobe and stare in it for a good long while, perhaps expecting a miracle there.

“Akhh!” You complain and decide to go outside and get some fresh air.

You don’t intend to walk too far. The night is too cold and you’re hoping that if all else fails you can just jump back into bed and pick on the thread again in the morning.

You don’t notice the crowd of night-revellers and club-goers is growing thinner and thinner until it’s too late and you’re all alone in a dark street. But, you’re not really alone it turns out. Up ahead, you see two dark silhouettes imposed against a light streaming out from a nearby open window, two stray voices engaged in a lively chat.

The conversation presently comes to an end. The bigger of the two spectres turns towards you, you can’t really tell that it did, you just notice its voice is now projected your way.

“You know the drill mister, phone, wallet, anything valuable, pass it over.”

You turn out your pockets to lay bare the desolate emptiness inside them for all too see.

The big shadow’s voice booms in disappointment, “Well that’s no good at all. Don’t you have anything to offer up? Your life might could depend on it.”

“Them jeans on him look pretty new.” The other voice joins in.

“Yeah,” the big shadow agrees, “I think I’ll have those if you don’t mind.”

“What? I think I’d rather keep them on, thank you very much.” You respond in outrage.

There’s a momentary pause and then the two disembodied voices roar in awful ghoulish laughter. When the bigger shadow speaks again, however, there’s no humor in its voice anymore, just irritation.

“Oya, nugu wee, can’t you tell when you’re being mugged?”

Clearly somebody forgot to give you the script. But you’ve never been one to stick to the script anyway so it wouldn’t have mattered. Stuck between complying and saving your dignity, you decide to do nothing, until the bigger shadow moves towards you and into the light, revealing a face so utterly ugly it pegs homo sapiens sapiens two eras back on the Darwinian evolution scale.

Prisoner to the principle of causality, you find yourself complying without really meaning to.

“Too late for that now.” The Picasso mask twitches in unnatural ways with each word. But while you’re distracted with his face you don’t notice his fifty-pound fist making due haste towards your head. It doesn’t feel like a fist though, more like a train or a truck. In your stupor you have lucid nightmares about metal fists, and trucks…and trucks with metal fists.

When you come to, you’re staring downwards at the moving ground and immediately infer that you must be hoisted on the big man’s shoulder. The pair are still talking. They can’t seem to find a reason not to. Even when they’re carrying an innocent man to God-knows what horrible destination to carry out what nefarious intentions they harbored, they were still in a light enough mood to chat.

The smaller man starts talking about El Estúpido, some rival crew from another part of town and how their ambitious plot to rob an army warehouse tonight is bound to fail. The big man asks him how he could possibly be sure the raid was happening tonight. The smaller man explains that he heard the news from Vickie, the spy that Freddie had planted within the rival clan’s rank.

“Who’s Freddie?” You dare to ask.

The big man laughs again and hurls you to the ground forcefully. “Who’s Freddie, he asks!”

“He’s Frederick Mwaura, of course. Only the most fearsome gang boss this part of the world? Kills hundreds when his heart so pleases? How dare you not know who he is?”

“Don’t worry, you’re going to meet him soon.”

“Yeah, you’re gonna have some good time with him too.” The big man agrees, “He likes his punching bags warm and breathing.”

You want to thank them for clearing that up but get the distinct feeling that your candor would be lost on them.

“Get up and walk,” the big man orders you and you drag yourself to your feet unwillingly.

“If I was the boss, I’d march into El Estúpido’s casa right now and get myself some easy bounty.” The pair’s conversation continues, despite your interruption.

“Yeah,” the big one agrees, “All that cash stashed up and only a couple of guards to protect it.”

“And the chicas man. All of ‘em sitting there pretty and bored and unguarded, waiting for us to rescue them.”

“Yeah!” They burst into laughter again while you continue to contemplate how unoriginal it is for a Kenyan gang to name themselves with a foreign-sounding word. What did El Estúpido mean anyway?

Presently the two thugs chaperone you through the dark streets of a neighborhood you’ve only read about in the crimes section of the local daily, where the dogs’ barks are a tad meaner than the acceptable norm, and the sun’s rays never reach.

Thump thump. A sound close by.

You’re shoved into a dark building where the air smells damp and polluted.

Thump thump thump. Closer and closer.

Paint is peeling off the walls at will and the corridor seems to gradually shrink in size and elegance.

Thump thump. Closer still.

You find yourself in this large room, a cathedral of a room, smoke from a hundred lit joints and a hundred churning mouths drifting around and the faintest glimmer from a flickering bulb reveals to you the source of the disembodied thumping sound.

A man built of bricks, a teenager by all looks of him, is laying waste to another man tied to a chair in the middle of the room while the spectators around him watch in contemplative silence. The teenager looks so imbued by the thrill of violence and so familiar with it, every swing of his hand feels like a well-choreographed and pre-rehearsed dance move. It is this same terrifying aura that seems to hold his audience in captive silence.

You cringe with every blow that lands on the poor man. Finally, the teenager yells. A yell somewhere between a powerlifter’s howl while breaking his personal best record of weights lifted, and a roar of deep pleasure, of release.

When he turns to the three of you standing at the door, for the first time in possibly your whole life you feel genuine panic grip you.

“Next customer, boss.” The big man giggles.

As he nudges you forward.

Looking for part two? Look no more, it’s over here:

A ‘Simple’ Swahili Wedding

A word of caution for non-Swahili speakers, the Swahili-English translations used in this writing are as primitive as they could get, both for comic reasons and because Swahili is awesome. Learn it so I wont have to translate next time.



It’s supposed to be the wedding of the decade. The daughter of a chief marrying the son of a respected doctor. She’s an accountant and he’s a secondary school history teacher. She’s good with numbers, he’s good with dates and today’s is a date that’s been long time coming. She being a pedantic realist and he being a nostalgic dreamer means that they will complete the proverbial ying yang loop, form the perfect couple, and half the stars in the sky will go supernova and turn night into day. At the moment, however, heavy clouds crease the night sky which beams down with malcontent.

For the third time tonight it threatens to pour as the groom and his flock of minions walk into the mosque and make a beeline for the front, where the imam and the bride’s father await, the expressions on their faces radiating an unimpressed mien. Between him and his destination, a crazed sea of white and black and green and blue kanzus stretches the mosque’s capacity to its choking point. Kofia-donned heads literally turn as the man of the day passes by, dragging his wedding gear, from the over-size black robe laced with gold trimmings and the blunt ceremonial wooden sword tucked in his belt, to the massive turban on his head that precariously flirts with the physical principles of balance and gravity.

He deposits himself immediately opposite the imam and nods to his future father-in-law who is either too distracted by the groom’s excessive decorations or unhappy at his wanton disregard for punctuality, since he doesn’t nod back. The imam begins the ceremony with a short lecture about the highs and lows of marriage and quotes a few verses from the Quran.

Then he holds the groom’s right hand and asks him to repeat what seems, to the groom at least, like the recitation of a full twenty-page chapter of the Quran in a single breath. The groom’s heart does the tachycardia thing, a hamster racing a hamster wheel off its hinges. He mumbles and stutters. The imam sighs and repeats, enunciating each word carefully like a nursery school teacher. The groom does better this time, but only just.

“I…Matano bin Mashaka…accept…” a year-long pause, “…to marry…” a decade flits by, “…Zubeda.”

“Zulekha.” The imam corrects.


“Bint!” The imam corrects again.

“Bint…uh…” What was the father’s name again? He can’t for the love of everything lovable remember it and the fuming dragon that sits where future father-in-law was a minute ago doesn’t make matters easier either. A century has passed by, by the time the groom finishes his vow. The relieved imam does the Islamic rendition of the “By the powers vested in me…” bit and prays for everlasting blessings to be bestowed on the budding marriage. The father-in-law is now smiling broadly. It’s a smile that could mean anything, “I’ll kill you the next time you forget my name” or “Thank you for reducing the number of stubborn bubbleheads living in my house to fifteen. Now scram both of you, and don’t bring her back!”

Then its cheers all round as plates of halwa arrive. After that, the crowd of a thousand or so bludgeon the poor groom with affectionate embraces. His family is big. Half the city’s population is surely crammed within this tiny mosque and since his memory serves him well when recalling names of people who began revolutions or destroyed civilizations ages ago but fails him dramatically when trying the same with the people he called friends and family, the groom is meeting his extended relatives and friends for the first time all over again. Cousin Muhammad is actually cousin Mahmoud and uncle Ali is in fact uncle Alwi. In the end the groom resorts to the only nomenclature he’s always been comfortable with as he thanks Cousin 453 and his father, Uncle 78 as they smother him with musty-odor-sheathed bear hugs.


A motorcade outside whisks the groom and his entourage away to his bride’s home. They arrive to what can only be described as a razzle dazzle peacock fashion show. It’s almost dizzying how many different colors the bride’s relatives have managed to cram into their dresses individually. But now the groom faces a tougher challenge than acclimatizing his eyes to the bewildering scene.

The tradition at this point goes so: the bride, having recited her own vow earlier that night, is ‘locked away’ in a room somewhere within the house and one of her relatives stands guard. The groom is presented with two options. He and his lackeys can either try to force their way in, or if he is of a more diplomatic persuasion the groom can bride the guard.

Today’s is the case where the groom’s only option is surely diplomacy, for the simple reason that his entourage is locked outside and that the bride’s aunt who has taken up guard duty makes the room’s door look small in comparison. She grins widely as he slips two thousand-shilling notes into her welcoming hand. The deal is officially sealed. He is allowed admission.

Inside, the bride sits at the edge of the room’s only bed, white dress pouring out all around her, her face and arms buried under layers of make-up and hinna tattoos, but if you are to believe the groom’s account, she is actually “bathed in delicate radiant light that would shame the sun on any summer’s day and an ethereal fragrance that would push roses and carnations into fits of suicidal fantasies”. He whispers a dua to her as per the norm, their first intimate moment, and wishes they could jump out the window if only to escape the photo session that awaits them outside the door.


An hour or a day or a week later, they escape the incessant paparazzi and the motorcade whisks them away to the groom’s residence. It’s drizzling again outside. Well, no it’s actually pouring dreadfully now. Their driver, the groom’s older brother, focused on the now increasingly treacherous road, accountant and history teacher turn to each other. The groom had prepared a ton of poems for this moment, until the rose-shaming fragrance had wiped his memory clean, but twenty or so years of watching the occasional chick-flick movie have him covered…maybe. He blurts out, “I love you…sweet pump…kin”

She’s calm despite the excitement of the occasion as she stifles a laugh and replies in a cool voice, “Well, sweet potato, I love you more.”

The groom’s found his courage and confidence again but not the rehearsed poems, so he chides, “Really? How much more?”

Then the conversation picks up and they’re soon gone. They’re lost in their own world. The real world around them dissolves away and if the bus and truck ahead of them collided and burst into a million pieces in a shower of burning flames and human screams, they won’t be able to recount it to anyone tomorrow or ever. They’re so lost, they don’t even notice when the car finally pulls up to the groom’s home.

“Well I love you a gazillion multiplied by a gatrillion times more.” The groom smirks, impressed by his own ability to remember a very big number, fake or not.

She replies with the same calm voice, “And I love you Mugabellion to the power of Musevenillion times more.” In other words, infinity to the power of immortal forever. She really is good with numbers. The groom is stumped and sulks for a second after losing his first contest with his wife.

“And I would love it if this awkward conversation continued another time.” Their driver, an unwilling passive third-party to the exchange interrupts.“We’re here.” He announces unceremoniously.

Outside stands the groom’s family’s home. Two massive tents on either side, one for the men, the other for the ladies. And people. People everywhere you turn. The couple notice them for the first time and feel dizzy. Hundreds, maybe thousands have come to the wedding, to marvel at and envy the newlyweds.

The bride is chauffeured away to a temporary wooden stage under the ladies’ tent, where a thousand phosphorent lights and garlands of flowers festoon across the face of the makeshift stage. Then the ululations pick up and morph into a wedding song as the groom’s mother and aunts serenade their newest family member. There’s a phrase around this part of the world, “Bibi harusi wetu.” Our bride. She’s married a family, not just a husband.

The forgotten groom is paraded into the house by his brother who shouts to no one in particular, “Someone feed this oaf, he needs his energy up to prepare for his big performance.” The older men and teenagers hanging around laugh like maniacs.

With the groom inside and the bride on the other pole of the house, calm falls on the men’s tent. The topics of conversations that follow dart from football and politics and at some point the death of the groom’s younger brother a few months ago comes up. It’s inherently taboo to talk about funerals at weddings but for these people today, having been shocked by the nature and timing of the groom’s brother’s death, talking about it here is almost therapeutic.

The teenagers in attendance joke about marriage and other weddings they’ve attended. One of them waxes nostalgic to the click around him about a different wedding he went to where state-of-the-art amplifiers and 20-feet high speakers blasted the music of Ali Kiba and Diamond into the night sky. “What a dump of a wedding this is.” He complains. That it had stopped drizzling minutes ago doesn’t seem to improve the teenager’s mood.

The saving grace of any Swahili wedding, however, no matter how dislikeable to those invited, is of course the feast, or feasts.Tonight’s feast even has a name, Kombe la Bwanaharusi, the groom’s cup or something like that. You know Swahili people love food when they give fancy names to feasts. When the sinias (big plates) arrive and the guests behold their contents, all inhibitions and doubts and ill-will simply melt away.

Tonight, the guests are treated to a surprise. Upon inspection of the plates, they discover they’ve been served six different types of foods, from viazi vya nazi (potatoes of coconut), samaki wa kupaka(painted fish), nyama ya kukaanga (fried meat…?),mahamri (I doubt there’s an English equivalent word), kaimati (some round pastry thingy coated in sugar), mitai (another pastry thingy coated in sugar) and tambi (sugary noodles). Seven types it turns out, not six! But wait, upon further inspection, the guests realize the plates come in pairs. There are seven other different types of food in the accompanying plates, mikate ya tambi(sugary-noodle bread), katlesi (cut-less with each bite), viazi vitamu (sweet potatoes!), sambusa(samosas), mkate wa mayai (bread of the egg),mkate wa sinia (bread of the plate) and viazi karai(fried potatoes) You could call it the centenary gladiator match of the calories, a cholesterol and sugars bloodbath. The Swahili people won’t heed you, they’ll continue calling it Kombe La Bwanaharusi.


It’s growing late, the tell-tale signs of the approaching morning begin to show. The groom is tired and sleepy and growing increasingly irritated. He chucks modesty down the drain, rushes up the makeshift stage while the songs and ululations crescendo to a climax, and before anyone can realize what’s happening scoops up the bride, who looks equal parts amused and relieved but not necessarily shocked, and takes off at a canter like a deranged kangaroo, the turban falling off his head. His mother finally jumps to her feet and gives chase shouting, ‘Bring our bride back,’ her singing partners flocking her sides and ululating without let-up.

“My bride, mine…” the groom shouts back, head growing giddy from his defiant shenanigans. He makes for one of the parked cars whose passenger door is thankfully held open by his brother, gently sets his wife down on the seat, jumps over the bonnet american-movie-cops-like, fishtails the car out of the parking spot and zooms off, executing a perfect drift around the corner that would send James Bond running for the bank. Cheers and whoops from the men’s side and ululations from women’s side and the groom’s mother’s child-like tantrum sing them off into the night.

“Wow,” the accountant laughs, “I didn’t know your family was so…”

“Clingy?” The history teacher says.

“Affectionate.” She completes her sentence.

“They’re clingy. My family’s clingy. I should have warned you.” The dreamer reflects. There’s a long pause and then he adds, “We have might have to relocate to Russia or China or Antarctica where they can’t find us and shove chocolate cakes down your throat every morning and dress you up like Disney princesses every weekend.”

The realist wraps her arms around her husband’s free hand and rests her head on his shoulder as she thinks of the long tiring hours she spends at work every day.

“I don’t know,” she whispers with a broad smile, “I think am actually looking forward to being treated like a queen.”

The Lion Loses His Mane II

Part Two.

Click here to read Part One of this story!

            Whenever Obadia looked back to those years he spent in the forbidding Kilangwe forest, he always recalled that the camp was buzzing when two particular things happened. One, a raid on the supply convoys or the settlers’ plantations had been successful which usually meant more food than they could eat or two, when Sunday came rolling in. For all their faults and deficiencies, the settlers and their oppressive government had a devotion to their religion that was inspiring. Which meant that the rebels could hang loose on Sundays without worrying about surprise attacks from the colony corps. The older members of the ragtag band would spend the free time with their spouses and children, while the younger members spent the day engaging in pastimes like racing and wrestling. For more than four years Obadia reigned supreme in the wrestling ring . So they called him Simba, because no one who challenged him lived with their pride intact afterwards. Recently, he had been thinking of revisiting that part of his past, taking it slow, until he could find his form again. Now the doctor in front of him was dashing those plans with his complicated talk about open aortic knuckles and hypertension and…

“How long do I have?” The words escaped his lips before they fully formed in his brain.

The doctor smiled his famous smile, which had the effect of momentarily reducing the tension Obadia felt but then irritated him as he waited for the doctor to explain himself.

“I was just thinking that if I were a movie doctor, I would have led with, ‘I have good news and I have bad news’. Yes there is good news, Mr Obadia. The reason I asked you to stay calm was because I’ve seen patients panic when they were told something was wrong even when their condition was perfectly curable. Hypertension is not cancer. It won’t kill you, in fact years from now it may stop being a bother if you stick to the dietary changes i am about to recommend, and take the medication prescribed seriously. In the meantime, I would recommend you avoid any activities that involve too much…uh, excitement.”


            By the time they left the hospital, the sun’s heat was bearing down on them more forcefully. A soft easy breeze carried away the heat, and a delicate balance between pleasantly warm and unbearably hot was established. A procession had begun, heading further inward to the city, in anticipation of a demonstration weeks in planning to vent anger towards the incumbent tyrannical president.

Pleased with himself for having completed his duty, the son skipped off to school. Obadia was ready to go home, but he had something to do first. He followed the crowd which grew thicker and thicker the further he went, so that a journey of fifteen minutes took him more than one hour. Outside the building he was aiming for, the crowd was biggest and gathered around a black bulletproofed car where the torso and head of  the incumbent president’s most vocal opponent popped through the car’s roof, a megaphone carrying his voice far and wide, an umbrella wielded high above his head to insulate him from the sun. He sang promises of better healthcare and education, more jobs and equality for all. Obadia chuckled as he wondered whether the crowd would be this big if the young politician spoke what was really in his mind. Then the car moved on and the crowd eagerly followed.

Inside the cyber café, Obadia noticed three college-age boys and a girl behind their computer monitors. One of the boys was playing a video game, occasionally shouting at his invisible opponent for being too competent. The girl was reading a news article that talked about the government planning to add censorship regulations which would see some types of books already in circulation end up banned. They all seemed oblivious to the commotion just outside. Obadia sat behind one of the monitors and called the café attendant to help him write an email.

His distrust of people who came from Europe, itself another scar from that war for freedom they fought ages ago, had grown even worse when his eldest son had taken up a scholarship offer from there, against his father’s protests, and then stayed there permanently after landing a job. There was a long fight, and then father and son had stopped talking to each other. One of the two mobile phones Obadia carried with him was a dedicated line which only received calls from his son. Almost five years ago the phone had stopped ringing.

“Same address?” The young man who owned the cyber asked. Obadia nodded back. He stared at the screen for a long time, unsure of what to write. Scolding his grown-up son wouldn’t improve things. Giving him another lesson about the values of his forefathers and explaining to him how he was violating them wouldn’t help either. He sighed and dictated to the young man who typed as fast as he could:

Dear son,

I have yet to think of any force that is strong enough to wedge a permanent rift between father and son, besides death that is. Whatever it is, whatever petty argument brought us here, may soon be insignificant.

Your old man is not what he once was. Doctor Hamud tells me I have a condition, I don’t understand it yet. Frankly I still don’t believe him, I feel fine most of the time, I feel great right now. But I would give anything in this world if I could see or hear from my son at least one more time, even if we continue to hold radically different opinions about everything.

Your loving father.

The young man hit send and the email was whisked in a dazzling show of computer graphics. The reply came barely a minute later, buoying Obadia’s hope before crushing it completely just as quickly. It was an automated reply. The same reply he’d been receiving every time he sent his son an email. The message thanked him for asking about his son, told him his son was glad to hear from him and promised that his son would be sending him money by the end of the month, and wished him a wonderful day.

Outside, all hell broke loose. The black bulletproofed car raced past. Such was its driver’s hurry (or panic) that he drove in the wrong lane. Then the roar of tens of thousands of feet stomping on the tarmac. For fifteen minutes straight, a crowd of young athletic men raced past the window of the cyber café, yelping and yelling. Trailing them was one of the many small platoons of anti-riot police deployed around the city, wielding 2-feet long batons and menacing tear gas guns that barked angrily. Any stragglers, blinded by the gas or wounded otherwise were beaten to a formless jelly.

When the police disappeared from sight down the road, Obadia took his leave, now eager more than ever before to get back home. It was be not to be as easy as he expected.


The tiny black phone shrilled wildly, the sudden burst of life after five years of hibernation threatening to blow its speaker apart. It vibrated violently before falling off the table. The young cyber attendant caught it with his hand before it crashed to the floor. He looked at the name on the screen and shook his head in despair as he rushed outside and searched for the old man, who was not to be seen anywhere around.


At some point, Obadia must have believed he would make it home without incident. Then a few times it looked certain that he would, but the streets of a city embroiled in running battles could be deceiving at times. He dodged one group after the other until he couldn’t anymore. He found himself pinned at a T-intersection road, an angry mob to his left, a platoon of riot police to his right several yards away and another angry mob coming up the rear. Just behind the police lay the bus station whose matatus would take him home. He knew this road, he knew there had to be an intersecting alley somewhere along it between him and the bus station. He looked for it and discovered that the police line was camped behind it, leaving it absolutely open. He looked behind him at the crowd growing closer and noticed some of its member wielded machetes, some of them looked sharp enough to make him cringe. He shook his head and made his decision.


Officer Mathew Mrimwa, the soon-to-be political scapegoat, watched the frenzied crowd mill about several blocks down the street, shouting angry words and slogans and hurling banners with suggestive messages high into the air.

He never truly understood the circus that was politics and he did not much care about trying to. He’d been relieved of that burden when he joined the police force. He had a commanding officer above him, whose orders he had to follow. That officer had another one above him and so on all the way to the commander-in-chief. When the orders came trickling down the chain of command, there was no time for a “maybe let’s think about this first” discussion.

“Break their bones if you have to. Show no mercy. I want these usurpers scared so bad their forefathers will cream their tattered suits in their graves.” Those had been the orders from the guy whose orders he had to follow, though he may have used less polite language. Mrimwa couldn’t remember. That would come later, though. Right now they were to hold the line.

A loud crack sounded three feet to his right as one of his fellow officers fired a teargas canister into the sky. So sudden and loud was the sound he only barely managed to stop himself from flinching. He flipped the visor of his helmet down as he traced the projectile’s arch in the sky. A moment later it landed within the threshold of the rioting crowd and unleashed its lethal contents. Mrimwa watched, with a certain amount of satisfaction, the chaos unfold as the rioters amusingly tried to clear the radius affected by the gas, falling and tripping over one another. A second canister was fired and soon another one, all with the same effect. And then the other shoe dropped. The rioters regrouped quickly and responded with a flurry of rocks that rained down like fiery angels of doom. One of the newer officers failed to get his shield up in time. He yelled like a small boy as a rock twice the size of his palm hit his helmet, denting it and breaking the visor glass. Shards of the glass pierced his left eye and most of his face that side, drawing a stream of blood.

The rock pelting stopped and the crowd continued its shouting and whistling and cheering. That’s how it had been all of the past one hours. One side threw a punch, the other responded, everyone sat down to nurse their injuries and then the cycle was repeated.Mrimwa, however, was impatient. He wanted to end it all as soon as possible so he could escape the blistering heat.

During the lull, an old man suddenly appeared in the no-mans-land, from one of the roads that forked off the one hosting the swansong battle. He walked like a man half his age, back straight and eyes wide with either horror or hunger. He looked confused and stranded for a moment as he took in the scene. Then he looked back where he came from, shook his head pensively and started walking toward Mrimwa and the rest of the posse.

It might have been the immense heat that blurred Mrimwa’s judgement, or the relentless screams of the officer who was possibly going to spend the rest of his life blind in one eye. Or his need for a quicker conclusion to the day’s proceedings. Or maybe the way the old man boldly walked toward them undeterred by their might and numbers sparked an outrage within Mrimwa. Whatever the reason was, Mrimwa did not think through the decisions he made in the next few minutes. He tapped the baton by his side and moved to intercept the approaching man.


All through that seemingly unending trek through the scene of a battle in recess, Obadia hugged the sidewalk of the street, his eyes fixed on the ground. Yet he still walked with his back straight as he was used to doing. The alley he was making for inched thankfully closer and closer with each defiant step. Then, from the corner of his eye, he noticed one of the riot police break away from the group and move toward him, meeting him just at the edge of the elusive alley.

The policeman was mad about something, clearly, and he was shouting expletives at him but not necessarily telling him to back off. Obadia didn’t wait for the order to form in words, so he turned on heels to walk backward, disappointed. Barely half a second after he started his turn, he felt a mighty hand slap against the back of his neck and tumbled down to the tarred road, landing on all fours. He watched the shadow of his attaker retrieve the baton at his side and begin a long motion with his hand to bring the baton crushing down on Obadia’s back.

He closed his eyes and braced himself. He heard a thump but did not feel any impact. He opened his eyes and saw on the tarmac ahead of him a second shadow engaging the first in a dance without any discernible synchrony. There was a second thump and then another one and then a young European lady fell next to Obadia. She looked well-dressed and composed, the mop of short blonde hair bouncing on her head as she twisted and turned to deflect the relentless blows that landed on her. Obadia rushed instinctively to his feet to push away the policeman just as a second one rushed to his possessed colleague, shouting “Press, press” and dragged him away. Only then did the feral brute notice that the unwilling recipient of his show of affection for his commanders had been a defenseless lady and, perhaps just as importantly, evidenced by the necklace card holder and the ID card it was holding, a member of the press corps that were documenting the day’s battles. His head boiled a few hundred degrees hotter as he realized his mistake and his awkward attempt at apology was foiled by his colleague who dragged him away from the scene.

“Are you okay, sir?” The lady repeatedly asked, wincing as she rose from the tarmac.

Stunned by the lady’s concerns for him even though she had clearly fared worse from the incident, Obadia tried to process a response, then he mumbled, “I…I uh…yes…I really am younger than the stupid birth certificate says…stupid certificate…”, realised he made no sense at all, shut up, and nodded thankfully before continuing through the now freed alley. The young lady tailed him, insisting that he follow her to the ambulance behind the line of the anti-riot police where the rest of press corps furiously snapped away with their cameras, but he thanked her again, actually uttering his gratitude this time and told her he was okay.

The old man walked away, eager to get back home, hoping, praying that the altercation he had just been part of would not inflame the violence. He knew that photos and videos of the incident would soon be plastered on tv screens across the country, but he still held out hope that he would not be appointed the symbolic poster boy of another ‘revolution’, even as the riled crowd that had witnessed an old man and a lady of the press stand up to a bully, lost all trace of fear and charged the policemen, overpowering them, even as they didn’t stop there and took over a police station hours later, even as the world watched in horror a week later when an even bigger, more organized crowd stormed the state house, dying by the hundreds under the fire of an army that minded orders, not politics and even as the crowd then threw the dictator out and installed a newer, younger one in his place. He just hoped the violence would end.

He felt a sharp pain creeping at the back of his head, and grit his teeth as if hoping to smother the headache by sheer will. Avoid too much excitement, the warning echoed in his mind. He sat down on the pavement, feeling drowsy and a dark shadow eclipsing his left eye. He breathed slowly, waiting.

He thought of the selfless lady who’d stood up for him and the doctor who always wanted his patients to feel comfortable and he concluded that good people come from anywhere, religion or race notwithstanding. He thought of his eldest son, living a world away, tried to remember what they had fought over, and failed to. He forgave him and hoped that his son would forgive him too. He thought of his youngest son and all other fifteen-year-olds around the country, reading big books with big words and big ideas and smiled wanly at the yet uncertain but brighter prospect of the future. He thought of jogging and wrestling and all those other things he yearned to do again.

A breeze blew through the alley, soft as silk and in no apparent haste, a passive ever-present witness of a day in the life of a stubborn old man who would not let a piece of paper and a doctor tell him that he was not young anymore.

The Lion Loses His Mane

Part One

Obadia was older than he could really remember, or was willing to admit. His birth certificate, brown and frail bore the coat of arms belonging to a colonial government from a time as extinct as most of his peers and yet still fresh in his mind. The modern birth certificates bore a ‘bolder’ and more ‘evocative’ coat of arms which replaced the two lions with a falcon whose wings stretched wide to encompass a crest and a native man and woman standing either side of the crest. The man carried a spear and the woman a multi-colored shield. The designers proclaimed that it reflected ‘a national pride in the self-sufficiency of an enlightened African people as diverse as the different colors of the country’s soil. Obadia’s birth certificate however still bore the marks from a different time and even had the words, “British Colony and Protectorate of Mbogoti” emboldened across the top. It indicated that he was born in 1947, even though he insisted the document to be inaccurate as it was issued to him long after he stopped relying on his mother to wipe the stool off his bottom. To his credit, he did look younger than the certificate implied. He always walked with his back straight and his eyes had that wide look people have when they have just faced a life-haunting horror, or when they’re hungry.

He woke up that morning feeling a fresh sense of optimism. Something about the way the morning breeze blew, soft and unhurried, made his bones feel pleasant. His youngest son Badi was already dressed for school and sat at the dining room table reading a book that was almost a quarter his height and very likely equal his weight. Whatever it contained seemed to hold his attention acutely as he did not seem to notice when his father walked into the room. He muttered softly to himself as he thumbed through the pages of the book.

“Di,” Obadia finally called, “How did you sleep?”

The boy’s face immediately jerked towards his father, surprise and delight dominating his expression equally.

“I slept well Pa, how are you feeling today.” The boy asked as he rose to kiss his father’s palm and lead him to one of the chairs at the table.

“I feel twenty again my boy.” He replied with particularly exaggerated emphasis. “I could probably pass off as your older brother.”

His son chuckled, “Nice try papa. Doctor Hamud was very insistent that we pay him a visit today and that’s exactly what we are doing.”

The old man grumbled and said in a less cheery tone, “As far as am concerned, you and the doctor are in cahoots in a scheme to steal my money.”

His son’s face lit up with mischief as he replied, “Of course we want your money, but we’re also deeply worried about your health. Considering you keep challenging that hardy porter boy down the street to a boxing match, maybe you should be too.” He went about setting the table for breakfast and serving his father tea and bread before settling into a chair to chow down.

They ate in silence for a moment before the father finally asked, “What’s that book you’re reading?”

“It’s an autobiography by Salilou Jackson.” The son answered, “I think he was a president of someplace or maybe worked for the UN. It doesn’t say on the book but he must be important, everyone at school is reading his book.”

He could have been president of the world and Obadia wouldn’t have known better. Having spent most of his youth in the dark damp forests of Kilangwe with the Langi Langi Rebels, causing the colonial government all kinds of problems, he felt he had contributed enough to the power games politicians loved to play and therefore stopped trying to keep up. Back then it had seemed so simple: free my countrymen from the noose of tyranny and let the people govern themselves. Now, in retrospect, he wondered if that had been the wrong time to do so. Maybe we weren’t ready yet.

“Read some of it to me.” His interest was piqued.

Badi leafed through the earlier pages with his thumb pinned on the current page, like a bookmark. He stopped somewhere closer to the center before he began reciting, “Look, here he says: ‘African politics, like most things about our continent, have taken on an ugly and painfully unassailable face that seems to veer further and further from the vision that spurred on the freedom fighters of the African nations…’”

The old man considered that point for a moment, his son’s narrating voice a backdrop against the conversation inside his mind. When the colonial government officials had tucked their tails between their legs and hightailed it, they had left the locals a problem as novel as it was daunting. A real headache. A nation that had never been a nation before but a smattering of independent city states governed by the highest authority within each tribe, before the royalty of Europe had chopped up the entire continent into pieces like cake to be shared among them and introduced borders that were never there before, a nation with over thirty different tribes, each with their own varying values and moral perceptions, that nation had been asked to produce a leader to represent them all, an ‘archetypal of the entire nation’s traditional leadership values’, a leader typifying the identity of an entire nation. A nation that had never been a nation before.

Under the immense pressure of it all, a leader had emerged and tentatively taken up the mantle of responsibility and everybody had rallied behind him. Until that leader had decided to make his reign a bit more permanent than had been originally planned. Now, forty years later, that nation that had never been a nation before, had reverted to being a smattering of tiny nations each one eager to see its own leader have a turn at the “big seat.” No, Obadia concluded, this was not what they had been fighting for. His interest in Salilou Whoever’s book grew further.

“…all that, however, may be about to change.” His son continued gushing out the wisdom of Salilou. “Should the predictions of sociologists hold true, African politicians should brace themselves for the biggest shakeup since the fight for independence that raged continent-wide a lifetime ago.

“As the world prepares to bid goodbye to the era of Millennials, their successors, the so-called Generation Z, may be the last (or simply the latest) hope for the common citizen. Born into an age of technology, where everyone is connected to everyone and everything has become easier to access and obtain, these individuals have been predicted to be the kind of leaders who want nothing to stand in their way of getting what they want. They are the type of individuals we can expect to see build their own companies, to make them successful, tenacious in their fight for equal rights for everyone and who will soon be the new face  of altruism. Such individuals will stand no authority, government or otherwise, needlessly hampering their mission.

“Politicians will find it hard to sway them with their words. Tribal lines along which politicians and most citizens identify themselves may soon dissolve away, even as it remains controversial whether or not they should, in the wake of this generation bursting onto the scene.

“In as much as sociologists can be blamed for their tendencies to group people and label them collectively, and let it not be said that Salilou is an advocate for such behavior, and in as much as predictions made by beings with limited perceptions like humans rarely come true (else we wouldn’t have half as many weatherman jokes), the thought of a bee-hive-mind generation focused on making a positive impact on society thrills me to the very bones. Change is coming and it’s an ideological change, the kind that can’t be suppressed by force or swayed by fruitless politics.”

The boy looked up from the book as if to measure his father’s reaction. His father just nodded back and smiled , seemingly in approval. Obadia made a mental note to himself to read the book himself later. The morning session then lapsed into silence as the two finished their breakfast, mulling over the words from Salilou’s book. It was the kind of silence that had come to define the two-bedroom bungalow father and son called home. A deep reflective silence that echoed off the poorly-decorated crumbling concrete wall and pocked-tile floor far more than any loud and meaningless conversation ever could.


Outside, the breeze persisted, soft and unhurried. The small clay-laced compound housed a Toyota car so massive it almost dwarfed the bungalow. It had been a gift, for lack of a better word, from his other son, the eldest. An offering, would be a more fitting word. Unused from the day it was delivered there. Obadia had decreed it would remain so for as long as the prodigal son continued to snub his father’s attempts at resolution after they fell out more than ten years ago.

Badi eyed it longingly as they left for the hospital. He tried to imagine, for the hundred thousandth time how the girls would have reacted had he rolled into school with that beauty. The first ever student to drive to Kalimoni High. No, the only member of the school besides the principal to drive their own car to school, ever. It would have been a moment worthy of inclusion in the history books.


“Simba wa Kilangwe!” The porter boy down the street called, waving furiously at them. Lion of Kilangwe!

Father and son turned to face him and waved back.

“Kunazizima leo!” The young man shouted again. It’s freezing today!

“Kunazizima kweli,” Obadia called back. It truly is.

“Dikteta atatusikia tukinguruma leo!” The boy added and barked an awkward war cry. The tyrant will hear us roar today!

Tyrants have a terrible knack of not listening to criticism, unless their hands wrapped around the throat of whoever was doing the talking, Obadia thought grimly as the porter waved goodbye and dissapeared around the corner. For all your sakes, I hope he’s not in that kind of mood today.


They arrived at Doctor Hamud’s a quarter of an hour before he did. The day was still in its youthful stage, the sun barely having imposed itself. Even that early, a crowd thronged the main waiting area of the hospital, all of them having risen early to beat the queue, only to end up bolstering it.

The doctor was a lively light-skinned Muslim man in his middle ages, who always seemed to be in the mood to smile. He had a couch in his office for his patients. Having worked at the hospital for twenty years, he was the only doctor there with enough pull to convince the administration into giving him one, and letting him keep it. He always wanted his patients to feel comfortable, in a manner you would expect a shrink to. He even offered father and son a cup of tea. They politely refused but secretly wished they hadn’t stuffed themselves earlier that morning. The sweet scent of vanilla and cloves rose from the doctor’s cup and floated around the room like a mute ghost. Moments later, the father yielded and poured himself a cup. The son eagerly followed suit.

“Pa says you and I are scheming to steal his money.” Badi said to the doctor, then added with a wink, “All these suspicious visits to the hospital in the past few weeks and so on. I think he’s on to us.”

The doctor looked puzzled for a moment as he tried to decipher the gesture, and then a childish smile played on his face. He pulled on his best improv face as he replied, “Well, you didn’t tell him how much we’ve siphoned from his offshore accounts did you? The last thing this country needs is another multi-million shillings scandal, endless court prosecutions and…”

Badi clapped his hands on his mouth when the doctor said multi-million and feigned shock and disappointment, carrying along the doctor’s playact, a telepathic link synchronizing the two’s performances.

“Oh dear. Now he knows.” The doctor enacted with a fake panic-stricken face.

The father almost choked on his tea as he laughed at the two Hollywood graduates’ enactment. “Alright, alright. You’ve made your point you two.” He waved dismissively. They shared a hearty laugh.

“Ideally, I too would have preferred if we had finished your checkup the first time you came in.” The doctor said, his face back to normal, “Maybe that would have been possible if medical equipment and drugs always arrived in time, and maybe if we weren’t so criminally understaffed too but…”  He shrugged his shoulders.

Then the doctor’s face turned serious as he looked at the results of the tests he had had the nurses perform on Obadia. On to the business then.

“Mr Obadia,” he said, “Before I begin, I need to plead with you to remain as calm as you possibly can.”

The world might have responded better had the doctor pleaded with it to stop spinning.


Thank you all as always for reading. I welcome all opinions, corrections and additions.

Click here to read part two!