Precious Solitude.

Over the brightly colored flower
The graceful bee hovers seemingly motionless
Beneath the slow swaying dance of tree branches in the wind
Take in the heady aroma of recently rained on soil
As the disjointed symphony of birds chirping rent the air
Savor the soft caress of the breeze on your face
And the velvety feel of grass on your back
While you gaze at the ever changing art
Upon the canvas that is the endless sky
With a receding golden sunset in the blue horizon
Revel in the tranquil serenity
In the precious solitude with nature
A magical moment suspended in time
To be safely tucked into the deepest recesses of your soul
And to be relived when the need arises.

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My Moon.

Stars glitter brightly – others lacklustre
In the vast night sky
Rendering a degree of beauty to an otherwise dark void
Millions and millions of them, night in, night out
Some nights we don’t even awe at their presence
Seems they are always there
But then there is the moon
In all her majestic magnificence
She bathes the night in her shimmering beauty
Even at her lowest
The darkest of nights she turns into a soft mellow affair
Her appealing presence is unrivalled
Her absence so profound
For there is only but one moon
In the whole of this wide and at times cold world
And in the night that is my life
You are the moon
You illuminate my life
Your presence radiates with beauty
Shining and glowing with love
Chasing away all the darkness
Making it all bearable
My moon in wonderland
I need you always.

Negro Moment.

If you watched Boondocks then you probably know about a nigga moment. If clueless, remember Google is your friend or Bing or just ask that person you always turn to when faced with life questions of epic proportions like this one. Anyway, back when I was quick on the draw, most of my above mentioned moments involved matatu (PSV) touts and conflicts revolving around girls.

Like that time me and my boy Chris bounced deep into the middle of our enemies hood and bought some girls ‘chips mwitu’ (cheap fries prepared by the roadside) and sodas right in the presence of their broke hood boys. Then swaggered back to our hood with a couple of them chics on our arms, heads held high, skinny chests and all. Spent the afternoon chewing herbs and sipping things before the cunning little ratchet queens bailed on us after extorting several hundred shillings from us. Later some boys from their neighbourhood cross our path and say some really disrespectful things to our faces. Like saying that the meagre cash we were flossing with will run out and we will join them at sitting on stones at the base and beg for hand outs. Can you believe these idiots? As it is ritual, we smash them real good and chase them away for good measure. We were G’s like that. Chris and me. Unknown to us, one of them bled. A nosebleed.

Nothing drives an African more crazy than seeing his blood during a fight. He gets crazier than Bruce Lee licking his blood and unleashing a scary karate move- if you watched those karate movies you understand. Woe unto you if he is high. He will first scream, a scary grown ass man scream. His wails will get you doubting his sanity and you know nobody wants to fight a mad man. He will swear with a list of relatives’ names both living and dead. Usually his mother, grandmothers and a random grandfather who apparently was a medicine man. Right there and then you realise it would be in your best interests if you surrendered. Put offers on the peace table, even libations to appease his ancestors whose warrior spirits seem to be possessing him. If that fails, appeal to any spectators to hold you back before you do any more damage but by then everyone can see the fear in your eyes. When all fails, run. Run and don’t turn back. You will live to experience another fight. But not this one.

Anyway, back to Chris and me. We were having an epic day. Sipping and chewing- and the occasional puff puff pass -into the dark and jamming to them sweet reggae vibes. Like all good things, it came to an end when we had to eat. It wasn’t that late.. around ten in the pm. Only one problem. The only fast food joint open at that hour was deep inside enemy territory. But you know when you are young, wild and buzzed up with substances, you can take a walk through hell if your mind is convinced you need something there.

So we get there without any incident. We even think it wise to partake our meal there. G’s we were. Evidently we had underestimated the level of our rivals’ intelligence network. Halfway through the meal and I sense the joint crowding up. You know Kenyan fast food joints with mirrors all over. I nearly choke on a greasy chicken bite upon spying on the mirror one of the guys we messed up earlier. He seemed to be accompanied by a number of mean looking buddies. They looked very pissed. I think it was a Thursday and it was really starting to feel like the last supper. I slid on my hoodie over my head. Still with a mouthful of chips and chicken and without moving my mouth I calmly informed Chris it’s been an honour having him as a friend. I told him it had ‘smelled’. Chris was always higher than me so I knew it would take him maybe two minutes to process that information. We didn’t have two minutes. By then our victim had spotted Chris and was pointing him out. I bent down as if to adjust my shoes and walk at the same time. I asked God to deliver me just this once and I will be a good person. Unfortunately my gully creepa walk attracted more attention from the wrong crowd than I wished. The victim screamed that I actually was responsible for bleeding his nose. Everything now was moving too fast for my high state. I could hear war cries that strangely made me think of Shaka Zulu. And native Americans. I have never encountered gunpowder but I could swear there was the smell of gunpowder in the air. This was war.

Now the hunt party split into two battalions and the one headed by the meanest looking one of them headed towards me. The ‘nosebleeder’ was by then swearing with his late grandmother and tearing off his shirt. To get to the door I had to go through them. I heard Chris let out a scream like a little girl and I knew we shall meet on the other side. Chris yelled my name as if he was giving up the ghost.

The words of Pac came to mind, “In times of danger don’t freeze, it’s time to be a G.”

I wasn’t going down without a fight. I was going to run. The first guy gave me a round kick that connected with my not so ready chest. I thought of an angry Jet Li. I staggered back as the ‘nosebleeder’ came at me with an uppercut. I had beaten him once. He was my best prospect at landing at least one blow. I evaded his blow and hugged him and pulled him down with me. Another yelp from Chris- what were they doing to homeboy? As we tussled with my victim on the floor, I saw a Timberland boot heading for a collision with my head in what I believed must be supersonic speed. There was no escaping this. All my sins flashed before my eyes as the worn out boot connected with my jaw. I don’t really know if I was screaming but I was sure my homeboy was being skinned alive judging by his howls. I always heard about adrenaline but that moment mine kicked in like it was on steroids. I bulldozed my way crawling on all fours through a rain of kicks from all kinds of shoes. I was like a tank going through an exploding minefield. I made it to the open door. I sprung to my feet and run. Like I had never ran before. Usain Bolt kind of run. I bet if he were beside me, I would have smashed his record. It was that serious.

To this day I am still haunted by Chris’ screams as I ran off into the darkness. I hoped once in heaven he will forgive me for abandoning him. Luckily Chris was rescued by the boys in blue who happened to be on patrol. We didn’t see each other for a week. Every inch of my body ached. Neither of us could leave the house for a week. My face looked like it had survived a train wreck in the middle of a storm and I had to wear some really big sunglasses for a month, not withstanding the fact that it was the rainy season. For two weeks I could only feed on liquids -read porridge. Through a straw. I never asked Chris why he was screaming like that. We never talk about that day. Of course a revenge posse would be dispatched later. A classic negro moment.

Go Tell Her.

I went outside looking for the moon.

For her beauty reminds me of you.

But alas, she was hidden from sight by unrelenting dark clouds.

But all around me in the darkness, the wind was blowing ever so softly.

Rustling the branches gently in the quiet of the night.

So I whispered to the wind,

“Go, go tell her how I miss her deeply, tell her how I see her in every beauty of nature, how she resides in my mind and heart, tell her how I can’t wait to hold her in my arms, go tell her of my love for her, a love so deep, so exciting.”

And so my lady, should you feel the wind caress your soft smooth skin.

Listen carefully and you shall hear it whispering to you.

Words of love.

My love for you.

My queen in wonderland.

Swallowed by karwīgī.

There was this time I was fortunate enough to be swallowed – as my county people say – by a karwīgī. With me and many other strangers of all shades and colours in its belly, it hopped to the county of the sultan, he of the D grade and a manicured beard fame. It swallowed some more strangers there and proceeded to hop again all the way to the rainy and hilly land of the Nyarwanda where it vomited us. But that wasn’t the end of our journey. We were then swallowed by a much larger karwīgī which was to take us to our final destination. Unlike Jonah, he who was swallowed by a whale as he tried to run away from God’s will, myself and many of the strangers with me in this karwīgī’s belly had actually prayed for many days and many nights to be swallowed. We had prayed for this to be God’s will. I am pretty sure some had even fasted for it. I am certain many of us would not have minded even if it had taken a real whale to get us to our destination. A whale would have been fine provided we didn’t cross the path of a Japanese fishing vessel, I hear those Japanese got a thing for whales, and no, Japan wasn’t our destination. In the language of my noble parents and our kinsmen, karwīgī is a predatory bird that preys on our beloved chicken. I think it’s a hawk. It is also the codeword for the other mechanical bird that has always awed my people since they first sighted it around the era of the white people’s first world war. There is infact a cultural age given to folks who underwent their adulthood rite of circumcision around those years when these mechanical karwīgīs were first sighted by our great grandparents and their children. My grandfather was of that age.

It’s always an interesting time inside a karwīgī. They have made numerous movies on the subject, ranging from reptiles on a karwīgī to love brewed on tūrwīgī. Thats the plural form. And other disturbing experiences on planes that don’t end so well unless you are the lead character in the story. It was my first experience of many or so I hoped. It had to count. This was material that would form part of the tales I would tell my grandchildren and their children. I was seated pretty much at the front. Window seat. No, not business class. But not so far from there. Yet so far. Why do they have to make the common folks pass through the first class though? It reminds you that even though you’ve managed to join the club of people who have been swallowed by a karwīgī, there’s still another level still out of reach. You haven’t made it until you have joined the premier class club. But back in the village, that doesn’t matter. All they know is that you have made it to the flying club. So there I was seated at the front, scrutinizing my fellow travelers as they boarded. I like studying people and trying to create their profiles. So if you ever come across me and I am staring at you kind of weird before we are formally acquainted, you know what’s up. But in all honesty, I was trying to spot possible hijackers. I had waited for many days and sleepless nights for this journey and I was very wary of the devil and all his evil plans. After a while, I gave up on trying to identify any possible hijackers, it wasn’t as easy as they make it look in the movies. My seatmates were two gentlemen from the bananaful land of Kaguta, he who doesn’t like wine, especially Bobi Wine. What if Bobi had called himself Bobi Waragi though? Would that have made a difference? But I digress. My seatmates were father and son. The son looked like my agemate. He told me he was Elijah or was it Elisha? Either way, it was a prophet’s name. It was their first time on a karwīgī too. They were on a business trip or that’s what the prophet told me. They looked and sounded more excited than I was. You would not expect that from a guy bearing the name of a man who took to the skies on a chariot of fire, right?

 Finally we were air bound. The in-flight meal served by some pretty Nyarwanda ladies wasn’t that appealing but my neighbours seemed to relish it, and they requested for second and third pairs of cans of those tiny sodas they serve on planes. They were definitely using up their fare to the last cent. That is what the prophet explained to me. He told me the ticket  costed a lot. You got to make it count. He made me guiltily feel wasteful. I was tempted to request for wine or whiskey but those bottles looked so tiny, almost insulting. They should just serve water, coffee or tea instead of being so mean with their alcohol while smiling at you. It is not African. In any case, I prefer coffee to a tiny bottle of alcohol any day. I tried some small talk with the younger man whose accent kept reminding me of Kansiime but his dad kept interjecting in Luganda or something and I had to give up on a meaningful chat. I took out a book and immersed myself in it. I had bought it for this auspicious occasion from those book hawkers on the streets of Nairobi for fifty shillings. I wasn’t so wasteful afterall. But it was hard to focus on the book. My eyes kept drifting to a screen displaying our trip’s proceedings. Current location, covered distance, distance to go, remaining time of flight and other details. I couldn’t help but notice that we were flying over the sea, at a very high altitude, at a very high speed. It was dark outside. It wasn’t so comforting. I am not very good with heights and sometimes my imagination doesn’t do me favours. It didn’t help matters when we hit some bumps at very high speed. I have seen enough movies to know that’s how things always start. Too much movies aren’t so good afterall. You see the problem with air bumps is that the pilots can’t see them and if in any case they saw them, the speed is always too high to brake in time. Or maybe swerve like we swerve to avoid potholes on our great roads. That is the villager in me analyzing turbulence. Thinking back now, it was probably some minor turbulence, but that’s not how it felt to me then. I remembered the instructions some lady had given us before take off in case of emergency. Something about oxygen masks, an emergency door and lifesaver inflated jackets somewhere below my seat and being calm in all that – fat chance of staying calm and orderly during such an emergency. I wondered why not parachutes. It gave me some consolation to see my neighbours were at at the edge of their seats too, all nervous and mute. We got over the turbulence after what felt like a nail biting eternity. Finally I surrendered to the comfort of an uneasy slumber. I dreamt of my daughter and I think it made it better. My first time to sleep on a plane. It was a day of firsts. I did a lot of firsts on a plane that day. An hour or so to dawn, the plane started the descent to our destination. It was still dark. The view of the lighted city below was breathtaking. It was unlike a sight I had ever beheld. I fancy myself as a person who has seen a lot and not easily moved but I have to confess, the sight, especially the first sight of Dubai in the night from the air is bound to awe anyone. Some things are hard to explain with words. It looked out of this world in a very beautiful way to put it simply.

 So there I was finally landing in the land of oil, sun, sand dunes, camels and architectural marvels in the desert. The land where dreams are made, and many also broken. The land where they say you can be whatever you want to be. Of course there’s a limit to what you can choose to be. It doesn’t mean you can get there and choose to be a doctor while the closest you have ever been to medicine is as a patient at your local dispensary. But you can be lots of things there without needing any connections. Your beer loving uncle’s wife’s second cousin’s high school deskmate’s girlfriend’s neighbour need not work in a company for you to get a chance there. You just need an updated CV, embellished and all, confidence, impress the interviewer and with luck on your side, you land your first job maybe as a sales representative. Even though your résumé claims you have had four years experience in that field, deep in your heart you know that you have never even sold candy at your highschool’s canteen. More interesting is the fact that you have in your possession three or more résumés stating your experience in three or more different career fields. You can be anything. We said our goodbyes with my neighbours from the land of waragi. Hoped we would meet again. We disembarked and boarded a shuttle that took us to the heart of the biggest airport my humbled soul had ever seen or set foot in. It was bewildering.

With the scent of shisha wafting in the air, we went through immigration processing in the hands of immaculately dressed Emiratis. All sparkling in their meticulous white robes. They tended to make loud conversation in Arabic amongst themselves as they processed tired looking travelers. Just another bunch of immigrants and business people to them. Just another shift for them. To me and possibly many others, it was the start of a dream experience in the land of dirhams. We made our way to the lounge. The Dubai international airport is one massive and very busy place. It was easy to point out my fellow first timers to this land. We looked lost in a way. It was still very early in the morning. There were folks catching up on their sleep on the lounge seats. I looked around and figured out where the washrooms were. I needed to wash my face. After taking a leak, I proceeded to the sinks. It was my first encounter with motion sensor taps. I was dumbfounded for some long several seconds as I tried to figure out how to get running water off the damned taps. Then this Asian came and just put his hands under the tap and voilà! He gave me that look you give your kid when they try to guess the unlock pattern of your smartphone. I replied with my nobody was born knowing look. 

I had a friend I was to contact upon arrival but obviously my sim card was foreign. So my first task was to approach a counter of one of the leading telcos over there. After registering and purchasing a Du line, I was informed it would take around an hour or so to be activated. I figured that an hour was too long and being used to my country’s way of doing things, to me that could also mean a couple of hours. I needed to inform my host of my arrival asap. I scanned the crowd for someone who looked at home in this place and seemed friendly at the same time. I settled on a middle aged African with a bulging belly. Turned out that he was Cameroonian. His English was elementary. And he was in the same predicament as mine and so I directed him to the telco counter. He came back some minutes later shrugging and mumbling something to the effect that it was too expensive. He definitely needed more help than I did. I tried with another man who looked straight out of a nollywood movie with an accent to match. After a very lengthy and humble explanation of my situation, he gave me some excuse as to why he couldn’t help but I have lived enough years to recognise an ill disguised blatant refusal. I felt like those tired looking sales people who approach you and proceed to introduce themselves by their full names, then try to convince you that they have a once in a lifetime offer on a set of kitchen knives or some kitchenware. You let them talk their mouths dry and just when they are feeling so hopeful that they are about to make a sale, you inform them that things are hard. That if only they had found you the day before, you would have bought whatever it is they are selling. Then you suggest to them that they try the following week. Even after their having spent five minutes saying the offer was only for that particular day.  That is what that oga did to me. And with that, my not so trusting relationship with the natives of Naija deteriorated further.

 I went back to sitting and waiting for my sim card to be activated. Some fifty or so minutes later, I was able to put a call through. And so my host informed me that he was already off to work. He would send me another contact who could pick me up. The other contact informed me that he was just finalizing his shift and would call me shortly. I woke up my loved ones back home and informed them of my safe arrival. By now I was terribly missing my unfinished meal during my flight. There were all these enticing international franchise restaurants around the place but I was alive to the fact that I wasn’t a tourist swimming in cash. I had been swallowed by a karwīgī to come here in search of money, not waste the little I had. I was of the opinion that they were definitely beyond my financial ability. Like my people say, I had to struggle like a man. Afterall, I wasn’t known to be a regular in such establishments back home. So I ignored the rumblings in my tummy and hoped for a quick reprieve once my new contact arrived. Almost an hour later with daylight all over, my contact called. He informed me that being Friday, the holy day, the public transport system wouldn’t be operating until hours later in the day. Things were getting hard now. So the easiest thing was for him to give me the name of his residence and then I take a cab. That he did. The cabs operating at that hour on a holy day were not the official cabs but rather owned by some enterprising and streetwise characters who I would later learn are Pakistanis. Upon stepping out of the lounge area, I was approached by one who even offered to help me with my suitcase. All I could make out from his very bad english was the word taxi. I repeated to him the location my contact had told me. Either he was hard of hearing or I was saying something unintelligible to him. He didn’t seem to understand me and so I once again called my contact and asked him to explain to this shifty looking character where I was going. After what seemed like ages, that involved him enlisting the help of another shiftier looking character friend of his whose english was just as bad, they finally got it. I asked how much and through his friend he told me seventy dirhams. That sounded fair if not cheap to me. I expected the cab to be within a few metres, but how wrong I was. I followed him as he crossed the road tugging my suitcase, then we got into this tunnel that led us to another side of another road where we took a bridge that led us to another building. Then we went down some couple of basement levels to an underground parking. By then I was completely disoriented. I wasn’t even sure anymore if this man wasn’t about to kidnap me and go sell me somewhere where they would harvest my body organs. I couldn’t even tell in which direction was the airport anymore. I was on high alert just incase he tried something funny. I would have found the airport in a flash. I would have overtaken planes on the runway. We finally got to his car which clearly had seen better days. Probably that’s why he had to hide it so far away. It reminded me of a certain taxi that had carried me one rainy night some years back, the driver was an old man, it had reeked of petrol and I almost had a heart attack when the old man stopped somewhere along the road and  lifted his seat to reveal some pipes through which he added petrol to the jalopy. He had assured me not to worry, that it was perfectly safe. I had prayed for the rest of the journey. At least this one was clean enough and there was no smell of petrol anywhere. We set off and he turned on the radio which was playing some catchy sounding Arabic music. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel in rhythm with the tune and generally seemed to be in high spirits. He didn’t feel like a human trafficker anymore and so I relaxed and turned my eyes to all the awe inspiring buildings flashing by. This was going to be a beautiful experience. After negotiating what seemed like some complex road system and a considerable distance, I finally arrived at my destination. Tired, sleepy, stuffy and hungry but thankful to the Almighty for journey mercies. I found some hot coffee and some funny looking bread waiting for me and I gratefully gave them my whole and undivided attention.

Hours later after a hot shower, a long nap and my first encounter with a bedbug, I was informed that the airport was not more than ten minutes away from the residence and that I had actually paid a very high amount for that ride. The old Pakistani had surely looked shifty to me and I wasn’t wrong. No wonder the old geezer had seemed in such high spirits during the ride. We had a good laugh about it with my new friends as we exchanged stories of their first day experiences. Some had far worse debuts than mine. They got into advising me on what to expect in this land and generally how to make it. It was a great and warm welcome after my eventful journey. We sat at the rooftop of the building in the cool evening. Everything felt at peace. I looked up to the skies and silently prayed that the journey ahead be blessed and favourable. Up in the sky, another plane was making its descent towards the airport. I wondered how many souls aboard were like me, dreaming of a beautiful future in that land.

The love letters chronicles.

Back when we rolled up blunts using pieces of old newspaper- yes, I did that – and Catherine Kasavuli was every man’s crush on Kenyan television, those lucky enough to access a TV,  reportedly the president of the republic included, things were not so complicated. The post office box and the public phone booth were the closest thing to social media around then. Due to the logistics involved in connecting through two public phone booths, although we had folks who gave out public phone booth numbers but with strict instructions as to the only time one should call, letters were the preferred mode of communication. 

Thus said, letter writing was an art. Especially romantic letter writing. It earned one respect. Especially if you were in high school. It also earned you goodies. I was usually high in high school and excelled in the said skill of letter writing, far way better than I excelled in ionic and covalent bonds and other related topics. In hindsight, I should have paid more attention to those bonds, maybe then I would have had a slice in the infamous eurobonds. Needless to say, my services were in high demand. Yes, a lot of love struck lasses probably swooned to my words in the belief that those were words straight from their heart-throbs. 

The art called for mastery in the written word but most of all, a vast knowledge of the love ballads of the day and before. Music being my love, it was easy to arm myself with the most heart melting lines from some of the best song writers of all time. I also had a massive library of songs’ lyrics cut out from the ‘Young Nation’ magazine inside the Sunday Nation. And when at home I never missed The Saturday Night Show by one John Karani on KBC english sevice radio. He would read out lyrics of trending songs- and many happened to be love songs- and I would be there with pen and paper dutifully taking notes. Now the skill was in blending lines from multiple sources and turning them into something new and beautiful. No copy pasting. Though guys did that. They would lift an entire song by Mariah Carey and pretend they were their words. Of course somewhere along the way it would not make sense, but what mattered was that it sounded romantic. But me, I would hit them with a line from KC and JoJo then follow up with some mellow smooth stuff from Babyface and then floor them with Gerald Levert. Sprinkle that with a dash of my own magic. And boom. Meltdown. Or so I hoped.

Anyway, my services didn’t come for free. Payment was accepted in all manner and forms. It would be pegged depending on the client’s ability and my most pressing needs at that moment. Anything from a day’s supply of ‘quonje’ (quarter loaf) during tea times, mostly at times when my pocket money would be careening towards an amount more at home in a street beggar’s bowl. And that was more often than not. At other times payment would be valued as equivalent to several sheets of those fancy and flowery writing pads which were the Instagram of letter writing. It was like they had filters. You could write absolute rubbish but it would still look all fancy and flashy. Using them certified you cool. That coupled with a spray of perfume on the letter was a game killer. It didn’t matter if your english was straight out of one of those Chinese karate flicks, you were certified cool.

 There were times the client would be a member of the prefects’ body. In that case, a plate of the special diet from the ‘high table’ during meal time was usually the price. Special diet meant that the meal tasted as if it had been fried with cooking fat and not paraffin and it contained a lot more of cabbage and potatoes than a few weevil infested beans floating in a sea of soup and hard maize which was the common fixture on the commoners menu. When a client was a high end customer, you know the kind who were visited every other weekend by flashy car driving parents and usually owned a large box made of hard metal. With three latches for locking and spray painted with their initials at the top. These were in contrast to the run of the mill flimsy boxes owned by the majority. The kind that could be ripped open using a blunt nail cutter. Or suffer the infamous ‘butterfly’, a stomp on the middle and the lid would open up at the ends like a butterfly in flight. Usually this happened within the first two weeks of form one. And after numerous repeat butterflies, you just resigned to fate and let it be. So back to my high end clients whose boxes could never be turned into butterflies. With such a client, the possibilities were limitless. First it would mean that on any given visitation, I was eligible for getting a chicken drumstick wrapped in aluminium foil no less. This was stuff out of television and cookery magazines. It wasn’t every day you feasted on crunchy chicken off aluminium foil wrapping. Those were expensive moments. To be savoured in the dark. Probably after lights out and under the blankets for good measure. That is if no one saw it, which was very rare. And if they didn’t see it, they would still sniff it out. It was a struggle. Other forms of payment from a high end client could be a few spoons of milk powder, digestives biscuits, canned pineapple rings or generally anything which I could never dream of putting down on my shopping list. Of course I didn’t always provide my services for food items as you are possibly thinking. At times I would do it for postage stamps, although as much as I excelled in letter writing, personally I rarely had people – read girls – to write to. Yes, the irony. Sometimes I did it for a blunt, or a couple of cigarettes, all of which I quit by the way, and at times I also did it for the love.

Then there was this time while in form two that I did it for this boy who owned one of those palm sized transistor radios. That was like owning an iPhone X back then. After a haggled negotiation, we agreed that for my services, I will get to use the services of the said device for two consecutive days. So upon crafting my masterpiece, I was handed the device complete with the earphones during the supper time, just before the evening preps and so I hurriedly lapped up my meal, weevils and all, then conviniently disappeared to my dormitory before they were locked up during preps. I planned to enjoy the device in peace with no distractions. In the darkness of the dorm.

 After every one had gone off for the evening preps, I went to the ablution block and hit a blunt. Then went back to the dormitory to lay back and kick it. But just before I settled in, some banging noise startled me. It happened a couple more times. My imagination kicked in when I suddenly remembered that there had been rumours and cautions about a stray lion in the neighborhood. Definitely the blunt wasn’t helping matters. The noise was definitely windows banging open and shut, probably due to wind but my influenced mind didn’t see it that way. I figured it was probably a lion trying to gain access into the dorm. This was not how I had planned to enjoy my payment. And being mauled by a hungry lion while stoned was definitely not how I intended to exit the scene. I resolved that my purpose in this life was yet unfulfilled. So I jumped out through the windows at the opposite side from where the lion was trying to gain entry and snack on me. I wasn’t even afraid of being caught by a member of the administration at the dorms area at the wrong time. I was sure I could handle any human being better than I could a lion any day. 

So a minute later I burst into class ten minutes late for preps. I settled down and with my device in the pocket, I wired myself up like an undercover agent, with the earphones passing up under my sweater up the sleeves into my palms. Then with my elbows on the rocker, I supported my head between my palms seemingly deep in study. I don’t think I was even aware which book was infront of me had I been asked. I wasn’t going to waste a day with the device. Afterall, I only had a couple of days and the terms couldn’t be renegotiated. And so I tuned into Capital fm- the with it station then- and let the music take me away. It was a countdown chart and the hottest hits of the day were playing one after the other. Apparently I was getting carried away by the music judging from glances and grins directed at me by some classmates. Things came to a head when the top song played. Ting badi malo by Gidigidi and Majimaji was an anthem right then. And naturally when the chorus came on, I couldn’t hold myself back and ended up chanting out loudly and throwing my hands up in the air. Talk of a stonehead. I swiftly came back to my senses when most of classmates laughed out loud and shrunk back to my seat. I didn’t notice Kahungu slinking off into the darkness. Now, Kahungu was a classmate who had this terrible chronic case of snitchness. That boy could snitch on himself. His snitch level was so high that he reported directly to the principal. He was the snitch of snitches. And then he slithers away into the darkness after my ting badi malo stunt. That meant only one thing. The igwe of the school must hear about it. It was brought to my attention when the king of snitches tried to nonchalantly walk back into class but couldn’t keep his snitchy eyes off me. The snitch in him always sold him out. 

By the time Shuguch our darker than soot principal was trying to play camouflage in the darkness and peep through a window in an effort to nab me, the device was safely tucked under a ton of books in my locker and I was deeply engrossed in my Deutsch textbook. After several minutes, he gave up and sauntered into the class straight for me. Of course he knew what he was looking for. Kahungu had adequately briefed him down to the earphones under the sleeves system. So after searching me and ransacking my locker, he gave me a date in his office the following day after the morning assembly. I asked him if he could let me spend the night with the device seeing that he had already summoned me the following day. I had to duck his slap really quick and had to give up on that one.  What happened next between me, the snitch and the principal on the following day is a story for another day. One thing is for sure though, it didn’t end well. But boy, could I write a letter!

A dream drowned.

Once upon a time a couple of decades and some ago, somewhere on the slopes in Central Kenya, a young boy set out down the valley towards the meandering river that rushed by at places violently and noisily and at other places so silently and tranquil. The big day was here. The boy was finally going to take the first dive into the big river and hopefully make the first strokes towards becoming a champion swimmer. He could not have been more than eight or nine years old. At that tender age, the river was a massive challenge. Mysterious and mostly scary. But the boy had a dream. A big dream. He was going to join the swimming dream team of the village one day. This elite clique of swimmers was a preserve of a few champion boys – way older of course. These boys had skills of dolphins when they got into the water. 

He envied how they would dive and disappear underwater only to re-emerge many metres away downstream. He fantasized how he would one day ride the current downstream all the way to the big ocean at that place called Mobatha. At least that’s where the big boys said the river ended at. The big boys who swam upstream against the current. The aqua kings. They dived even in the forbidden places where the river was most still. Places where it was said – albeit in hushed tones – that many a people had plunged to the end of their lives. Some intentionally, others under witchcraft spells. 

Like the  story about some young men who had stolen cattle from a certain farmer. The farmer had put up a notice giving a seven days amnesty for the thieves to return his cows or else face the consequences. He made it clear that he would bewitch to death anyone involved in the crime. The young men had fled to the big city after the crime and apparently didn’t heed to the warning.  One month later, three young men alighted the evening – and the only – bus from the city. They wore smart brand new clothes and shoes. Without a word to anyone, not even as much as greetings, they made their way down to the river as the sunset cast a reddish and golden hue over the hills in distant west. At the river bank at the spot where it was said the river was deepest, they disrobed and folded their clothes neatly as well as the shoes. And one by one they plunged into the river. Their bodies would be recovered days later and several miles downstream. The voo doo spell had driven them to their drowning doom. In the imposing river. These stories about the river were as scary and confusing to the boy and his agemates as the ogre stories unleashed by their grandmothers in the evenings, often around the fireplace. Where the flames danced and cast eerie and unnerving shadows on the cow dung and ash smoothened mud walls. And grandmother always seemed to have a gleam in her eyes as she breathed valiant heros and menacing ogres to life with a breathtaking skill.

Back to the boy and his big day. It was a sunday. He had been restless throughout the mass and had felt the sermon was taking longer than necessary. He knew some of his friends who didn’t attend church were already down at the river. They probably had already wiped out the guavas on the trees along the river bank. But today the guavas’ allure was the last thing on his mind. Sure he wouldn’t mind binging on the ripe yellow fruits as it was the norm every other weekend at the river. The fruits were a welcome consolation for him and his peers who didn’t know how to swim yet. Some days if you were not careful you would end up eating over-ripened guavas infested with some kind of tiny worms. It wasn’t easy being careful. And there always was also the other risk of serious constipation as a result of over-indulgence. But boys being boys, the consequences would be suffered painfully but gallantly week after week. Not today though. He also had another reason to be excited. You see, his father worked in the big city and came home every other weekend. This weekend he had come bearing gifts. The boy was now the owner of several new pairs of underpants. He couldn’t wait to make his peers jealous at the sight of his brand new blue underpants. They were the cool and trendy kind back then with a designed opening at the front for easy access. Underpants were a luxury reserved for a few of his agemates back then. He smiled as he mused on what a glorious day it would be. After church, he made a brisk affair of his lunch meal and set off running to the river.

He made a majestic entrance at the river bank. He ceremoniously undressed to reveal his spanking new blue underwear. He felt like he was The Phantom, his favourite comic strip hero from the pull-out magazine inside the ‘Sunday Nation’. He could see the envy in his peers’ eyes. He was going to be the topic in his class in the coming week. He looked up and down the river bank until he traced his cousin. He was one of the champion swimmers, and was the one who was going to train him. He told his cousin that he was ready for the big leap. The older boy murmured something under his breath about new underwears and show offs but the young boy was so caught up in the exhilaration of the moment he didn’t hear it. In his mind there was only space for one thought. How he would dive and glide like a fish in the river.

Looking back on the day later on, his cousin was rather unceremonious in his handling of this auspicious event. He shoved a five litres plastic container into the young boy’s hands. No, it wasn’t for fetching water. This was going to act as his life jacket. A floater. The container had seen better days. It was a dark shade of brown in colour but probably had originally been white. It had no fastening cap at its opening. But his cousin was innovative. He had secured the opening with a tightly tied polythene paper. The instructions were stern and brief. Tuck the container under one armpit. Jump. No matter what, don’t let go of the container. And with that, his cousin lept into the river and swam upstream. So much for a personal trainer. The boy took a look at his ‘life jacket’, then looked at the river and smithereens of doubtful fear crept through his hitherto adrenaline filled brain. Then he glanced at the gallery of his agemates looking on in earnest as they awaited his big moment. He cast his fears and doubts aside and opted for glory. It was time.

With the dirty brown plastic container tucked under his left armpit, a dream in his heart and the wind rushing in his ears, the young boy dived into the river.  This was going to be the beginning of a glorious future filled with swimming escapades for him. He could hear his friends cheer for him as he hit the water. The cold water jolted him back to the reality of the matter. But his cousin’s instructions were clear – don’t let go. The current swept him downstream as he thrashed his legs like he had seen sea divers do in a movie once. A minute or two into it, he realized that it wasn’t going according to the script. His floating device wasn’t working. Upon hitting the water, the polythene wrapper around its opening had somehow been undone. His cousin’s knot tying skills were evidently not as good as his swimming skills. Now the vessel was taking in water and it was going under. Together with him. And this was happening fast. His first shout for help was muffled by a gulp of water. By then he had abandoned the doomed vessel and was thrashing in the water in panic. Up ahead there were some rapids in the river and the current would take him there in no time. His head came up above water and he let out a scream. Then he went under and everything was mute and dark. He was gulping mouthfuls of water in his panic and was drowning. The scary stories of people dying in the river seized his terrified mind. The dream was turning into a nightmare. He was drowning. Underwater, something grabbed him by the armpits. He had watched a movie called ‘Jaws’. It was chilling. But in his mind, he figured that this was a crocodile. Not only was he drowning, he was also turning into a crocodile’s lunch. He struggled wildly. He wasn’t going to go down that easily. But this was one strong reptile. The crocodile lifted him up above water and he took in a lungful of air. He was still screaming, thrashing around and fighting in the air when it dawned on him that crocodiles were unheard of in those parts of the country. That the vice like grip on his armpits wasn’t from the jaws of a crocodile, but one of the big boys who had fished him out from the river. The panic was real. He yelled at him to stop struggling or he would throw him back into the water. He was deposited on the river bank a considerable distance from where he had launched himself into the river. He lay in the mud breathless and with water spluttering from his mouth and nostrils. In his blue new underpants. All wet and muddy. A couple of his friends rushed over with his shirt and trousers. He felt weak. He was terrified. He knew that during the dark moment under the water, the river had him at its mercy. The river had shown him its might. For a fleeting moment he had thought he would die. His friends had a lot of questions but he couldn’t talk. He stood and slipped on his trousers over the wet muddy underwear. No time to get dry. He would dry up as he went. He put on his shirt. With his shoes in his hands and without a word to his friends, he started the long journey uphill towards home. On arrival home, he sneaked into the house and went straight to the bedroom and tried to sleep. He knew he could not utter a word of this to his siblings. He couldn’t risk having his mother know. That would invite a beating of the year. One thing was certain though, his dream of being a champion swimmer was gone. It had been drowned together with that plastic container he had put his trust on. He wasn’t sure if he would ever dip his feet in the river again. He figured there were other fields he could excel in without the risk of drowning and being snacked on by crocodiles and sharks. He didn’t even need the river to go to Mobatha. There were trains. 

Many years later, the young boy is now a man. But that young boy is still inside. The man doesn’t trust rivers. He has ventured into the beaches along oceans, but not beyond anywhere where the water is above his waist. The memories of that terrifying moment in that river are still fresh and raw in his mind. Brief but haunting. The young boy’s swimming dream stayed just as that. A dream.