Friday 18th March, 1988. 14:09h.
Kirubi Restaurant & Lodge. River Road, Downtown Nairobi
Khoti, 21, is having lunch with his mother.
Mom: You know your brother’s wedding is coming up after the elections, right?
Khoti: My only sibling is getting married in a fortnight. Not exactly the kind of thing that would escape my attention.
Mom: I want you to be there.
Khoti: Yeah. How do you want this conversation to end mother? With me smiling and lying to you that I’ll make it?
Mom: Damn it Khoti. He is the only sibling you have. He’s your family.
Khoti: (Cuts off a large chunk of ugali in his plate, makes a ball out of it, makes a hole in the middle and fetches some greens and beef which he stuffs into his mouth. As he chews, he looks at his mother directly in the eye as if defying a direct order from her. Once he has swallowed) He is my family. That doesn’t mean we’re friends, does it?
Mom: (Gravely) I want you at that wedding Khoti. I mean it!
Khoti: Hey, did I ever tell you about that time when my brother broke my nose?
Khoti: (Chuckles and puts his ugali starched hand up to stop her) December 1978. It is Christmas morning. I am eleven years old and we’re preparing to go to church. I accidentally step on my dear elder brother’s shoes and he comes down upon me with the rage of Hades. Smoke clears and there I stand, with my broken nose and fresh blood trickling down my Sunday best white shirt. Do you remember that mother?
Mom: That was a long time ago.
Khoti: I know, right? Well, here’s another one. April 1983. I am sixteen years old. We’re upcountry. My brother needs to get a heavy load over his shoulder and I’m supposed to help him get it there. But look at me mom. I am not exactly Hercules, am I? So I can’t help him lift it, can I? And not for lack of trying either. You remember what happened next, right?
Mom: Yeah. You almost killed my son.
Khoti: (Nodding affirmatively) Yes I did. I hauled that panga at him and I still regret missing him. I should have sliced him up in bits. But that came after he landed his fists on me again. You know; that bit that you are trying to ignore. He really handed my ass to me that day. Just because I wasn’t as heavily built as he was.
Mom: Why do you hate him so much?
Khoti: Hate him? (Gives her that, “Don’t you get it” look.) Hate him? Mother, I hate Nyayo. I hate Saddam Hussein and what he is trying to do to Kuwait. My brother; I don’t hate him.
Mom: Then what is it?
Khoti: I don’t feel a thing for him. He can get married, he can pop babies, he can die and I’d still feel nothing. Because you know what? We ain’t friends. We have no relationship whatsoever.
Mom: (Desperate sigh) I don’t want to talk about this anymore. This kind of talk is detrimental to a mother’s appetite. Actually the reason why I requested for this lunch was to talk to you about your political affiliations.
Khoti: Political affiliations?
Mom: Your poetry. If it can even be called that.
Khoti: What about my poetry mother?
Mom: Some might argue that it is treasonous
Khoti: Some might argue it is a way of exercising freedom of expression.
Mom: People have been taken to Nyayo House for less.
Khoti: You work for this government, right? You are eating right along with…
Mom: (Firmly) This is me forbidding you to perform that kind of poetry again.
Khoti: Yeah. (Pushes away his plate) Well, I am twenty-one now mother. You do all the forbidding you need to do. And I’ll do all the ignoring I need to do. (As he pushes his seat back, licks his fingers clean and steps away from his mother) Let’s see who gets tired first.
Mom: They’ll kill you son.
Khoti: (Shrugs helplessly) Wouldn’t be much of a living without my poetry anyway.
Friday 18th March, 1988. 15:09h
University of Nairobi School of Law. Parklands. Nairobi
He is facing his class of Constitution Law students. It is pretty packed in there. There must be about two hundred and sixty students and this is his biggest class thus far. He is also certain that not everyone in this class is a law student at the university.
Some are political science students. Some are civil engineering students. Some are cops. People from other universities and departments throng into his class to listen to him. Some think he is brave. Most think he is stupid. But everyone agrees that he is interesting.
Out of the 260 plus students in class, most of who are standing along the walls and at the back, he knows that only a few are law students. Almost ten percent.
Dr. Nono: …and you might even find that great states like the United States of America have some of the most well intentioned Constitutions in the world, but without proper implementation of the provisions therein to the letter and especially to the spirit, well then even the best of the Constitutions are worth less than the piece of paper you use to wipe your ass with.
Just then, a hand shoots up. It is question time. The student is a youngish boy, one of the few law students he recognizes, but one who he secretly fears to be associated with. One of the radicals. Dr. Nono points at him and takes a deep breath. Waiting. What will the boy ask now?
Dr. Nono: Yes you.
Khoti: Well sir, what you have said is very interesting. But I am afraid I find it a little too impractical for my tastes.
Dr. Nono: Really? How so? (He knows exactly ‘how so’)
Khoti: Well for starters, you mentioned the United States Constitution. This was a document coined by men who owned slaves and mistreated them, yet sought to declare that every man was equal. But that was then and thanks to Lincoln, that was remedied accordingly. But now the U.S is a state where wire taps are used illegally in blatant abuse of the Right to Privacy. You’re talking about a country where racism is pretty much systemic over two centuries after they passed a constitution that cited (a) The political rights of minorities must be protected; and (b) All citizens must be equal before the law. Look at the United States today. It is 1988 and there might be an awesome Constitution there, but Constitutionalism, the very observation of the spirit of the Constitution, is still pretty messy over two hundred years after the thing was ratified. (There are a few chuckles around. Which law student calls a Constitution ‘the thing’?)
Dr. Nono: I am still waiting for the question.
Khoti: It’s coming. Let’s forget about the United States forever if that’s possible, and focus on this beloved land the Brits named Kenya. It is currently the hub of peace in Africa. It is right up there with Ghana as far as peace goes. And we are doing great economically. Tourism is serving the country well, agriculture is good, Kenyans are pretty much rich. 1988 is a great year for this country economically. But is it really? The human rights abuse in this country is shameful. If a guy like me says anything negative in a class like this against President Moi, I might find myself enjoying Mr. Opiyo’s company at Nyayo House for a couple of weeks. Next thing my girlfriend hears is that I am serving ten years at Kamiti for treason. Apparently, I confessed. Clearly, we have a Constitution here, but absolutely zero Constitutionalism. I would even go so far as to state unequivocally in this class, that the very idea of Kenya having a Constitution and having the phrase ‘rule of law’ being flung around courts and law classes, is the very epitome of bullshit. If I may speak freely. (Murmurs arise in the class and scattered claps go around.) And here comes my question sir. If you’re still ready for it.
Dr. Nono: (Lowers his spectacles for a better glimpse at the boy) There is nothing you can hurl my way that I wouldn’t be ready for.
Khoti: Well, you stand there and tell us about the Concept of Constitutionalism. You create us a Constitutional Garden of Eden where, if only the provisions of our now pretty dilapidated Constitution from all the impromptu amendments were adhered to by both government and citizen, everything would be OK. The US has had her Constitution for over two hundred years. And they haven’t even figured out the very concept of democracy. Not really. Kenya has had her Constitution for what? Twenty five years? Just how practical is this whole Constitutionalism thing you’re telling us about? How do we go about achieving this in a country where the president stands by the road and makes law? All by himself? Sir, I don’t mean to sound bitter, but we are the scholars of law in this country. We get to decide the future of this country. How do we do that if our lecturers come to class to preach fairy tales without a clear way of how they may be achieved? What’s the point?
Dr. Nono: Where would you rather live? In Afghanistan where your daughters will be shot if they go to school, or in Kenya where if you speak ill of the government you’ll go to prison?
Khoti: So is this a case of getting to choose the lesser evil?
Dr. Nono: Funny how you paint the United States with that brush of racism yet when Ngugi wa Thiong’o felt threatened in Kenya, he hightailed it to the ‘land of the free and home of the brave’. Constitutionalism there feels more mature than it feels here, but in time, we’ll get there.
Khoti: How? By voting wisely? Oh wait. We’re supposed to queue this time round. Right? If we can’t even hold secret ballot elections, seriously, what the hell are we doing? I don’t get it. I really don’t.
Dr. Nono: Well, maybe this is a discussion we could finish up later in my office.
Friday 18th March, 1988. 18:09h
Basement Bar. Upper Hill. Nairobi.
Basement Bar looks a lot like it sounds. It is a temporary bar in the basement of a building where university students, young artistes, and anyone who’d be so inclined, meets up and performs anti-government poetry or music.
It is crowded, it is smoky as kids smoke weed and cigarettes and there is cheap liquor going round for everyone. This is the dungeon of rebels. The lighting is pretty dim but everyone is facing the stage, focusing on the performances. Khoti is currently the man with the mic.
Khoti: So I have prepared a little something here. It’s still cooking so if something sounds off, try not to laugh at me too loud. (There are catcalls and hollering from around the basement. Khoti is well liked. He firms up his grasp on the microphone, clears his throat and gets to performing) This piece is called “Big Men With Big Guns”. Alright. Here goes.
Mama said they’ll send big men with big guns.
Knock down my door; take me away as they do with this country’s sons.
Look around, look around, here the Devil comes.
Pow Pow! Pow Pow! Hear the sound of them guns?
Shibishau! Shibishibishau! The day long dawned when the Devil spoke in tongues.
Mama says “Lay low son. It’ll all pass.”
“Go to school son. Focus on class.”
En route to class I see the best leaving the country en masse.
Writers, doctors, lawyers, poets, boarding planes for greener grass.
So I ask, why be afraid to live in Kenya, when God already gave us all free gas?
Do you hear the fear in my voice?
I bet you don’t coz; I long ago made a choice.
Yes in our pockets we’ve all got coins,
But what the fuck for if we don’t have a voice?
Last night I talked to my little sister Joyce,
She said they took her best friend away for calling Nyayo and Biwott “Corrupt Boys”.
So send ‘em my way, these boys with ‘em big guns. I’m ready.
If it comes to between staying silent and speaking out, I’m yelling out already.
Big boys with big guns scare me plenty.
But staying silent forces food out of my belly.
They’ll come for me mama, but me and my words we’ll always be steady.
Shh! Shh! Is torture meant to make us shut up?
Well President Moi and Mr. Opiyo, that’s fucked up!
If I could I would put you and your Mlolongo elections in a house and blow it up.
Watch you burn up.
But that wouldn’t make me any better than you. I’m a grown up.
So mama, they’ll send the big men with the big guns. I ain’t scared.
You’d be standing beside me on this stage if you cared.
This country is broken and I can’t stop until it’s repaired.
The only worse people in Kenya than the government are the visually impaired,
Who wouldn’t see the mess if they were dared.
Let them send their big boys with their big guns. I’m prepared.
I won’t ask you to join me. That’d be unfair.
But call on me and I’ll be there.
Shut me up and I’ll scream till I’m out of air.
Shoot me up or strip me bare, but words will always flair.
I’m just a poet with words to share.
Words of love for this country, because I care.
Friday 18th March, 1988. 20:09h
Rolls Loins Nightclub. Grogan – Kirinyaga Road. Downtown Nairobi.
He is in a nightclub with a fellow law student called Maridadi. She is one of those innocent looking twenty-somethings with a heart of gold, color of olives and eyes that make one think of an Egyptian Goddess. Or Cleopatra rolling out of that carpet.
There is slow Gregory Isaacs music streaming from the boom-players and the clientele here is seated on wooden stools and chairs as they sip their Tuskers straight from the bottles. Men and women. The place is so dingy here that your beer doesn’t come with a glass. You ask for a beer, an overweight, snobbish waitress practically dumps it on your lap and says, “Utashika chupa nikufungulie ama unataka kuikunywa ivo na kifuniko?” (Will you hold the bottle so I can take the cap off or do you want to just take it with bottle-top on?”)
On stage there is a pole. Walking lazily around that pole is a large woman dressed in what appears to be a nightgown. She throws one leg up in the air and someone catches a glimpse of her panties. That someone hollers at her and claps. Nobody else seems impressed. That someone must be very drunk. Or just hasn’t gotten laid in fourteen years.
Khoti: Hi Adi, I was just wondering… (He calls Maridadi “Adi”) you know that dude in the Bible who had to wait fourteen years to marry the love of his life? What was his name again?
Maridadi: I don’t know. Joseph?
Khoti: Yeah! Joseph! (Folds his brow questioning that answer) No! Not Joseph. Joseph was the kid who got screwed by his brothers and became a slave and then a king or something. Totally weird dude. I’m talking about the other one.
Maridadi: The Bible if full of weirdos if you ask me. Like this dude who wrestled with God. (Chuckles) So how do you tell God or an Angel or whatever, (Pretends to fold her shirt as if preparing for a fight) “Alright dude. I have taken your shit for a long time now and I am done. Come on. Let’s do this!” Totally weird, right? And then they wrestled for the whole night? You’d think a deity has superhuman strength, right? Oh and here is the best part. God only won because He cheated. He totally fucked up the dude’s waist or something. Man! I haven’t read the Bible in like fourteen years. I should start cracking those pages again. There is so much entertainment in there to just let it gather dust under my table.
Khoti: (Disinterested) So you’re not going to tell me which weirdo I’m talking about?
Maridadi: Must be Jacob. The dude who wrestled with God.
Khoti: Yeah. Let’s just call him Jacob. So, he had to work for seven years to marry the love of his life, right? And then he got fucked by the love of his life’s father who totally pushed the ugly woman his way saying, “Screw this one for a while. Another seven years. Then we’ll see about me giving you the other one.” Right?
Maridadi: (As she takes her Tusker straight from the bottle.) Uh huh
They are talking as they watch the large woman on stage dance around lazily and occasionally let the horny drunk catch a glimpse of her panties. Which have a hole on her ass. They are seated on a wooden bench facing the dance floor. The lighting is so dim that one would think they are using candles or lanterns instead of electricity. And this dim light is dimmed even further by the smoke in the place. It is almost as if everyone in here is smoking a cigarette.
Khoti: Do you think he was getting laid for those first seven years?
Maridadi: What? Why would you even think of something like that?
Khoti: I don’t know! Hard not to think about it. I mean, the dude is around the woman he loves for seven years. He sees her every day. He must think about her all the time. He must even fantasize about her. Like, she is right there. But she is not. Know what I mean?
Maridadi: Please stop.
Khoti: I am guessing he sees her when he closes his eyes every night. He must be totally obsessed with her. And his sac must be growing heavy with each passing day.
Maridadi: Alright, alright. So what did you want the Bible to say? “And Jacob went home every night and touched himself”?
Khoti: Yes! Yes! That is exactly what I want the Bible to say. Because the Bible has us believing that people like Joseph and Jacob and Elijah and all those other guys were perfect. Like they were these people who NEVER sinned. They are heroes. They never erred. The only people whose conflicts we got to see were David, Moses and this awesome dude called Samson. I can identify with Samson. He fell in love with a beautiful woman and got fucked. No pun intended. Look at David. He fell in love with some poor fucker’s wife and he had the poor fucker murdered. Look at Moses. He wasn’t into the whole “Go get my people from Egypt” thing and even when he went on this mission, he was constantly conflicted. I do understand that. I get it. I identify with that because even I today, have my own conflicts. That is proper character development. But you want to tell me that Jacob never had his little weaknesses? I like that he wrestled with God, but what the fuck am I supposed to do with that information today? It is 1988 and I can’t even have a conversation with God. Let alone fight Him. So how am I supposed to believe that whole “Jacob fought God” narrative? By having Faith? Tell me about Samson and Delilah and I’ll proudly buy that. I could make the same mistakes he made. But tell me about Daniel and how he was so good that God rescued him from that den of lions and I’ll be like, “Psh! What! My daddy was so good, but that didn’t stop God from not rescuing him from that drunk driver, now did it?”
Maridadi: Can we just drink our beers in silence now?
The heavy woman dancing on stage leaves and a younger one with the shape of an hourglass takes her place at the pole. This time, Whitney Houston’s “Dance with Somebody” is playing. Khoti watches the stripper with this look of hope and dissatisfaction in his eyes. Like “There is something there, but it could be better.”
The young stripper, who couldn’t possibly be a day older than twenty, has a bra on, panties and torn leggings. That has Khoti disappointed. He watches as she does her obligatory walk around the pole, throw a leg up, and grind her ass against the pole. Wanting more, Khoti gets up, walks over to the dance floor and beckons at the stripper to get closer to him.
Khoti: What’s your name?
Khoti: Alright Candy. Now what’s your name?
Stripper: Candy! I told you.
Khoti: Look lady, I like you. You’ve got a figure that goes to my head. You and I will have a lot of fun tonight. You really want to commence that with a lie?
Stripper: (With a twinkle in her eye) How much fun?
Khoti: Fifties of fun. Maybe hundreds if you’re crazy.
Stripper: Take a seat. Tonight, you’re the love of my life. (Nods towards Maridadi) Hope your girlfriend isn’t the jealous type.
Khoti: (Slight smile) Yeah. Me too.
And so Khoti takes a seat real close to the stage and Maridadi joins him. They both watch as Candy hits the stage with new energy and seductively tears off the torn leggings. As she slides them slowly off her long smooth legs, she looks Khoti right in the eye with a slight smile on her face. He sits up and returns her smile.
Maridadi: Do you guys know each other?
Khoti: I am just tired Adi. Tired of people who hedge. When I go to class, I want to learn. When I hold a conversation with someone, I want a good conversation. Something with a sense of depth that I can walk away with. I want to leave that conversation better than I was when I got into it. When I venture into a business, I want to put everything I’ve got into it. When I love, I want to love till love is all my heart knows. When I laugh, I want to laugh till my ribs hurt and my face is drenched and drowning in tears. And when I come to a strip club, I want a great strip act, or what the fuck am I doing here? Right? I’m tired of people who hedge and engage in half measures. Quitters who try something then drop out in the middle just because it got a little difficult.
Maridadi: (Taking her beer from the bottle. There isn’t much left in there. She finishes it up with a large swig, belches and summons another waitress who asks if she wants another. She nods affirmatively) You think too much.
Khoti: Yes I do. When thinking is necessary. (He summons Candy with a careless wave of his hand and when she catwalks to him, he stashes a ten shillings note into her panty and waves her back to the pole) I think about this country and what I can do to make it better. I think of my poetry and how I can use it to effect change. (He squints suddenly and turns to her like he has just had an epiphany) Do you know why I don’t respect my mother? Because she is a hedger. Because she is that one person who is a coward. She got married, not for love but because all her friends and family were pressuring her into a marriage with this really great guy she was seeing. She didn’t feel butterflies and warmth for him, but because he was nice to her and all her friends were getting husbands and babies and her parents were growing impatient, she decided “Fuck it. This whole ‘love’ thing is a fairy tale anyway”. So she married my dad and spent her life with him away from him. She applied for transfers, ventured in businesses away from home and dove head on into businesses just to stay away from him. One day he was run over by a drunk and she said, “I feel like I never really knew the man.” Then there is this thing with this country; mama works for the government, she knows it is a terrible government but she still won’t do anything to change it. Only thing she seems to be concerned with is her own safety cushion. That comfort zone that makes her complicit. It pisses me the fuck off! I’m like, “Mama do something! Make a decision already!” She whines about the government but then silently complies with all the orders she gets from it. What the hell kind of a way is that to live?
Maridadi: So you spend your life running away from her?
Khoti: Yeah. Because she is an anchor. I will never forge my way forward because she’s always pulling me back.
Maridadi: She just wants you to be safe.
Khoti: She just wants me to be like her and my elder brother who is getting married to a woman he feels nothing for just because she is beautiful. You know, one day I asked him, “Why the fuck are you doing this?” And he said, “You have to marry some time. And I have met many women I didn’t like. Might as well marry the prettiest of them all, right?” And I was like, “No! No!” Because I would never marry for beauty, or money, or convenience, or a political post, or respect or whatever the fuck it is that makes people want to imprison each other. I would marry for love, and even then, I wouldn’t do the whole big church wedding thing that everyone has a boner for.
Maridadi: Why do you hate marriage so much?
Candy on the floor is slowly slipping out of her bra. She turns to Khoti, flashes a nipple his way, winks at him, then catwalks to another side of the floor where she flashes her boobs to some drunks.
Khoti: You ever heard of this big-shot Nigerian singer called Fela Kuti? So he marries like a dozen or two dozen women, right? Then he divorces them all in installments. There is this time he leaves prison or something and he divorces his last twelve wives in a one go, right? And just like that, Fela Kuti is single again. And when asked why he divorced them all, he says that marriage has a way of changing you. It wriggles into every fiber of your existence and turns you into something, someone you never thought you’d ever be. It confines you to its institution and if you are a free spirit like me, it makes you feel imprisoned. You can’t make decisions without consulting with your partner. Honey, can I invest in this business? Baby, can I take out a mortgage on the house I bought in Malindi? Hey baby, so I was thinking I should write another poem bashing Nyayo. What do you think? My name is Khoti and I say fuck that!
Maridadi: That is just selfish.
Khoti: Is it? Check this out. People stay in a relationship for five or even six years. Then they change that very comfortable situation into a marriage. The very definition of who they are, changes. Three or four years down the line, they divorce. What’s up with that?
Maridadi: You know, sometimes I even wonder why I like you. You’re a bit of an asshole.
Khoti: Remember back when we started hanging out?
Maridadi: Don’t bring that up now Khoti.
Khoti: Do you or do you not remember that?
Maridadi: I do.
Khoti: What did we agree?
Maridadi: That we shouldn’t fall for each other. But that wasn’t an agreement. You said, “no matter what happens Maridadi, you are not to fall for me.”
Khoti: And what did you say?
Maridadi: I said, “Boy please! I wouldn’t fall for you if you were the last man on earth with a penis.” In my defence, I thought… (Sigh) You’re right. I fell. It was stupid of me.
She slides away from him as she starts on another beer straight from the bottle. On the stage, Candy is halfway up the pole. She is hanging in the air supporting herself with her legs. She hangs upside down and slowly unhooks her bra. Her breasts spring to freedom and Khoti watches them longingly. They make eye contact and she throws the bra at him before she spirals down the pole like a professional stripper. Khoti smiles. He’s impressed. Once she is on the floor again, he beckons her again condescendingly with a wave of his hand. She obliges him.
Candy: I’m Candice.
Khoti: I know.
Candy: How do you know?
Khoti: I don’t. I only said that because I didn’t want to engage in a lengthy conversation regarding your name.
Candy: I am a pretty girl with my boobs in your face. One would think they’d persuade you to be kinder to me. Unless you’re a faggot.
Khoti: (He looks her in the eye with a challenging smile then fishes another ten shilling notes from his pocket) Have you noticed how I’m the only one tipping you in this shitty joint you dance for?
Candy: What do you want?
Khoti: (As he sticks the note in her panty. And pushes it a little too towards her nether area) You’re a stripper, yes?
Candy: I’m the only girl in the club with my titties out. What do you think?
Khoti: Then strip. Completely. For me. Then grind on my lap.
Maridadi: If she does that, I’m afraid you’ll have to burn those pants.
Khoti: (To Candy) It’s my girlfriend. She’s jealous.
Candy: She can join us.
Khoti: (Eyes on Maridadi but addressing Candy) Nah. I like her jealous.
And so she strips for him. Completely. And grinds on him. And Maridadi watches keenly. Silently. She doesn’t take her eyes off them. She just sits there and sips her Tusker from the bottle. At some point, she fishes a cigarette from her clutch bag, lights up and watches them as she blows lazy clouds of smoke in the air around her.
The smoke leaves her lips in a thick whitish cloud which quickly disintegrates into a thinner hazy wavy smoke which merges with the rest of the smoke in the club. Candy is seated on Khoti’s laps facing him. Her legs are on either side of his waist and she is grinding her vagina against his pants. Slowly. The music playing is Gregory Isaac’s “Number One” and it makes for one slow dance.
Candy: (Hoarsely) I can let you have me now.
Khoti: Why don’t you keep doing what you’re doing and we’ll see about that later?
Candy: (Her arms are resting on his shoulders. She pulls him closer to her breasts) We don’t even have to use rubber. I’m clean.
Khoti: I’m not.
Candy: You don’t look like a fag to me. You wouldn’t have that faggot disease, would you?
Khoti: I think they call it AIDS. And no. I don’t have it. And I’m too poor and too black to be a faggot.
She throws her head back laughing flirtatiously and that is when she catches Maridadi watching her.
Candy: I can get off him if you want.
Maridadi: No sweetheart. He’s all yours. I could let you share my cigarettes too if you wish.
Candy: Yeah sure. That’s no problem. (The law student fetches the stripper a cigarette, places it on her lips and lights it up for her.)
Maridadi: (As she passes the cigarette to Candy) You know AIDS isn’t limited to faggots, right?
Candy: I think it is. God hates faggots. Or he would have created Adam and Joseph.
Khoti: Guys, can we not talk about God and faggots while I have a hot woman on my laps please?
Candy puts the cigarette on her lips, takes in a huge draw and blows out a long thin line of smoke in the air around her. She sighs deeply when Khoti’s finger caresses her nipple. That was sudden. Unexpected.
Khoti: There is something about winning a woman over that I find thrilling. Challenging. Winning a woman’s heart and getting her to love you, that still means something to me. That thrill of winning her pants off, that is also great. Have you ever watched a “Catch the flag” game Candy?
Khoti: Well, a shitload of people are dumped on some geographically challenging ground, right? Then atop a hill or a tree, a flag is planted. All these people have to fight and trick and claw and do whatever it takes to get to that flag first. Whoever grabs the flag first is the winner. After going through hell for about thirty minutes or even an hour, someone finally grabs the flag. Can you imagine the joy that flows inside the winner knowing that they grabbed that flag because they deserved it? Because they worked hard for it? That’s the same thing with a woman’s affections. There is that amazing thing that comes with the work that goes into winning her heart. And when she finally melts in your arms, you feel you can enjoy what she is giving wholeheartedly because you didn’t cheat. That’s why I can’t have you tonight Candy. Because I haven’t earned your affection and what you’ll be giving me isn’t affection. It is something I have paid for with my HELB money. Is that what you want me to do? Buy you?
Candy: You’re so sweet.
Maridadi: (Rolling her eyes) Don’t let the sweet words and the pretty face fool you darling. He is a poet. He always has the right words on his tongue. But he doesn’t do love. Or emotions for that matter. He fucks. That’s what he does. He grabs you by the throat and fucks you good. It is good. It is in fact amazing. But it is dangerous. He is addicted to his own thirst for conquest and the ability to walk around feeling mighty and invincible because he is incapable of feeling. (To Khoti) Must be a good thing; to walk around invulnerable to feelings.
Khoti: I have feelings Adi. Just not for you. So stop pushing it.
Candy: I wish you would just stop fighting. Either love each other or leave each other.
Khoti: Words from the wise.
Maridadi: Words from the whore. (She crashes her cigarette out on the sole of her shoe, finishes up her beer, grabs her bag and gets up.) Remember to burn the pants darling. (Pecks him on the cheek) I wonder what I feel more for you. Love or pity?
Khoti: If it is love, kill it. If it is pity, fan it. Maybe one day it will grow into feelings of disgust for me. Those I’ll welcome with hugs and kisses. I’ll see you after the elections Adi.
Maridadi: (To Candy) I wonder who will burn who first between the both of you.
Candy smiles at her and keeps smiling even long after she has walked out the door. Then she turns to Khoti.
Candy: I like your girlfriend. She is real. She is the most unpretentious woman I have ever met. She doesn’t pretend like she doesn’t love you with all she’s got even if you’re a total dick to her. And you can always trust a woman who smokes and drinks her beer straight from the bottle. If I was a female faggot, I would totally let her do me.
Khoti: I am pretty certain those are called lesbians. And this faggot word is beginning to get on my nerves. Someone should invent another word for them. Something that doesn’t taste so bitter in my mouth. Get off me.
Friday 18th March, 1988. 23:09h
Grogan – Kirinyaga Road. Downtown Nairobi
Khoti is staggering towards Globe Cinema to catch a midnight movie on the big screen. Tonight they are showing Fatal Attraction starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close and he has wanted to catch that movie since its release last year.
On his way there, he spots a telephone booth at the end of the street and pats his pockets. He has a few coins left. He enters the booth, puts some coins in and calls his mother.
Mom: (Sleepily) Maurice, is that you?
Khoti: No mom. It is your other son. The one who isn’t getting married.
Mom: Khoti. (She sounds disappointed) What is wrong?
Khoti: I don’t know mother. I just wondered, have you ever wanted to do something with your whole heart? Have you ever felt like what you’re doing is exactly what you want to be doing without a shred of doubt in your heart?
Mom: Khoti, it is midnight. Can we talk about this tomorrow?
Khoti: No. We’re talking now. I’m your son too. If this were Maurice calling, you would talk to him.
Mom: Fine. Fine. What is it?
Khoti: Look, I just want to know. What have you ever loved? Really loved without holding back?
Mom: You. Maurice. Your father.
Khoti: You’re lying.
Mom: Look, you called, you asked, I answered. What do you want from me?
Khoti: I don’t know. A little crack in your wall maybe?
Mom: What crack? What wall? What’re you talking about? Are you drunk?
Khoti: Yes mother. Yes I am drunk. With exhaustion that comes after an eternity of trying to figure you out. Trying to wonder if you really are that much of a coward as to not wholeheartedly care about anything or if you truly cared about something that you couldn’t have but you lost it and are now afraid to commit to anything else lest it leaves you lost too.
Mom: Ah would you stop being a poet for just a second?
Khoti: Look at us. Fighting in the middle of the night because my own mother won’t …
Mom: No! I have never cared for anything or anyone unreservedly. Not your father, not your brother, not you and definitely, not me. Look kid, what do you want from me? You want to know something? You and Maurice, you’re your fathers’ kids. You always were. All I did was pop you out and run off. I kept hoping I’d get this whole maternal feeling thing that women get when they pop babies out, but I never got it. I just wanted a life of my own. A life where I could smoke a cigarette without a man calling me headstrong. A life where I could argue without men calling me a woman; and not meaning it as an identification of my gender but as a tool to use to quell me. As a yoke around my throat used to silence me and enslave me. I just wanted a life where I could be free to do whatever the hell I wanted. And I didn’t outgrow that. A marriage, two kids, two decades and a half and millions of shillings later, I still just want to be that girl who gets to be totally independent. But what do I have? A job I hate, a dead husband I never really loved, one kid who does everything I say like he doesn’t have a brain of his own and another who does whatever the fuck he wants – that’s you by the way – and a big house I wish I could sell and move to Sao Paulo.
Khoti: Then do that!
Mom: Do what?
Khoti: Sell the house and move to Sao Paulo. I don’t need you. Maurice doesn’t need you. He’ll be too busy pretending to be a husband to give two shits and a rat’s ass about you. I’m sure your job hates you right back and your dead husband won’t mind. There is nothing keeping you here but your own fear.
Mom: And you think it is that simple?
Khoti: Probably not. You’ll be uprooting yourself from your familiarity and moving away to start from scratch. But if you don’t go, you’ll never find out mother.
Mom: You think because you have your poetry you have all the answers?
Khoti: I don’t think. I know. I know that because I have my poetry, I have the only thing that matters to me. Mother, I am happy. And you can take this or leave it, but I want you to be happy too. You have never been happy your whole life so you don’t know what happiness means, but give it a shot. I would hate to have to bury a mother who spent her whole life sad. Because that’s the thing about happiness and sadness. If you’re unhappy and dissatisfied your entire life, when you die, it’ll feel like you have been put out of your misery. Even your funeral won’t feel sad because you never really lived. It is like you were born, spent seventy years on earth being a sad sack of shit, then died leaving behind nothing. When you are sad all your life, you won’t have any good impact on anybody’s life. Not even your own children’s. You’ll be too busy sucking the joy out of everything you do and everyone you meet and you’ll lose friends pretty fast. And when you die, people will come to bury you out of a sense of obligation. Not because they loved you or will miss you or even want to be there, but because you are a dead person they know and work with or are neighbors to. And dead people get buried. It is just how it is. But when you are a happy soul, your happiness will have a great impact on other people’s lives. People will miss you when you’re gone. Everything you touch will mean something to you – or you won’t be touching it in the first place – and you will be a light bulb in a dark room. And everything gets attracted to the light. And when you die, people will want to come to your funeral and talk about you and tell stories of you and the mark you left in the world. I wouldn’t want you to die today mother. Because nobody would show up at your funeral out of love.
Mom: Wow. I don’t know whether to hug you or kill you. Or both. But thanks. You finally admitted you don’t love me.
Khoti: Not like I should. Not like I could. And it is not like you have given me a chance to love you. You have just been the control freak that brought me up. And you have cramped my progress for as long as I can remember. And if you think Maurice loves you, think again. He is just a zombie you control. He doesn’t love you because he wants to. He’s just attached to you the way an addict is attached to cocaine. You’re doing him no good mother. And no. I won’t attend that wedding of his because it’s a sham.
Mom: Why did you call? To show everyone that you’ve got things figured out and the rest of us are lost?
Khoti: I called to make you understand that poetry is everything to me. I know that without a shred of doubt. I wouldn’t stop if stopping was the only option presented to me.
Mom: Then write about love. Or music. Or life. Stay away from politics. Kids like you have been tortured at Nyayo House and killed for less.
Khoti: The way I love, the freedom with which I listen to music, the life I live, it is all controlled by politics. By the government of the land that I call home. And the politics of this country is just wrong. And I can’t do anything right until that is corrected. And you can’t either.
Mom: I have done it thus far.
Khoti: And what do you have to show for it mother? I have to go now. If you keep choking me in this fashion, I will leave you. And you will never see me or hear from me again. You know that, right?
Mom: I lost you long before we both knew I’d lost you.
Khoti: Is this goodbye then?
Mom: If your phone rings and it’s me calling from Sao Paolo, then no. This isn’t goodbye. But one of us needs to change. Obviously, that person needs to be me. And until that happens, yeah I guess this is goodbye.
Khoti: It’ll be very sad if you don’t call me from Sao Paolo. Goodbye mother.
Mom: Goodbye Khoti.
He takes the receiver off his ear and wants to put it down but he doesn’t. He lets it linger in hand for a few seconds then slowly putting it back on his ear. He can hear his mother’s breathing on the other side of the line. And he guesses she is listening to him breathe. After about a minute in silence, she speaks softly;
Mom: Are you there?
Mom: Sometimes I envy you.
Khoti: How’s that?
Mom: Because you approach life with a degree of certainty. Like you know exactly what it is that you want out of life and how to get it.
Khoti: I don’t. I just follow what I feel is right.
Mom: So did your father. He just wanted a family. Me, you and Maurice; he just wanted us together and happy. And I took that away from him. And the harder I pulled away, the stronger he got. When he died, I missed his conviction. And wished I hadn’t spent so much time pushing him away. You remind me so much of him.
Khoti: You will love the Butanta Institute.
Mom: You’re the only person who never found my love for snakes creepy.
Khoti: You’ll feel right at home in Sao Paulo.
Mom: Will you come visit?
Khoti: Only if you invite me.
Mom: I’ll call from Sao Paulo.
Khoti: I’ll wait mom.
Mom: (Slight chuckle) You haven’t called me mom in years.
Khoti: I’ll wait for that call, OK?
Mom: OK. So this isn’t goodbye?
Khoti: This isn’t goodbye.
Saturday. 19th March, 1988. 00:09h
Kariokor. Pumwani Estate. Nairobi
The night is illuminated by the bright moon and security lights from the estate. Khoti is walking home, occasionally looking over his shoulder to see if he’s being followed. He also keeps glancing at his own shadow sprawling out in front of him. The idea is to use it to see if there is anyone walking behind him. So far, he’s all alone.
Until he is not. From a far he hears dogs growling and running and when he looks over his shoulder, he sees three large estate mutts heading for him fast. Soon enough, they are joined by three more. Khoti has lived in this estate for two years now and never has he heard of these dogs attacking anyone. They are just estate dogs that roam around, eat at the local dumpsters, play with each other, make each other pregnant and give birth to little estate doggies…but today they appear to have an appetite for his flesh.
His first instinct is to run but he strikes that thought out fast enough. He can’t outrun them. They are coming on too fast. His reasoning freezes at this juncture and his instincts take over. He runs towards the closest one and kicks it hard in the ribs. It yelps and takes a couple of steps back.
They have all formed a circle around him. Growling and barking. Barking so loudly and growling so ferociously that Khoti sees his flesh in their teeth already.
He kicks out and misses. One of the dogs makes as if to bite him in the leg but he pulls back and tries to run as he yells like a warrior in battle.
One of the braver ones makes a jump for his throat but he grabs both its fore legs. It makes as if to bite his nose but he pulls his face aside just enough to hear the brute’s teeth click right next to his ear. He pushes it away, kicks out and looks around for something; anything to use.
He finds a rock. Barking. Growling. They’re all really hot for him right now. He picks the rock and hurls it vigorously at the nearest brute. The rock hits the dog on the head so hard that the animal yelps, staggers and falls.
That only seems to infuriate the rest. They are barking real close to his feet now. As he kicks out the ones in front of him, one bites his calf and he yells out with agony.
Before this, he was fighting to get them to run off. Now he fights for blood. The next dog that makes a jump for his face finds itself grabbed, lifted into the air, spun in a circle and hurled off into night. He kicks, yells, kicks, punches and fights until all the mutts run off.
And he runs in the other direction to his house.
With shaking hands, he unlocks the gate, gets into the compound fast before the mutts can change their minds and decide to come back for him, locks the gate after him, leans against it and for the first time since the attack, breathes.
He takes in large gulps of air, trying to relax his racing heart. Then he looks down at the nasty bite on his leg. Great. Now he’ll need a rabies shot.
With his knees weak and his hands still shaking, he heads to his house and as he makes as if to unlock the door, he sees that there is light in his house.
Khoti: Fucking Maurice.
He thinks that his elder brother, who has a bad habit of dropping by unannounced, has come to convince him to attend his wedding. He opens the door saying;
Khoti: Maurice, I would rather die than attend your preciously pretentious wedding so…
There is someone on his bed pointing a gun at him. A snub-nose revolver. She is in her mid thirties, absolutely pretty – so pretty that he notices even though she is pointing a gun at him – and has a tiny smile playing on her lips. Her name is Munira Hussein.
Munira: Hello Khoti. I guess you could smile and say “Honey I’m home” but the gun is a bit of a turn off, isn’t it? (Khoti makes as if to turn around and run away but Munira corks the revolver loudly and gets on her feet still pointing it at him.) Ah ah ah ah… You don’t want me to shoot you in the back, now do you?
Khoti: (He chuckles and bites his lower lip as he lifts his hands up in mock surrender.) Who the hell are you?
Munira: Munira Hussein. I’m with the Special Branch of the Police Force. I would offer to shake your hand but again; the gun thing. (Helpless shrug) You know.
Khoti: You know, I always thought they would send huge men with huge guns to take me away when my day finally came.
Munira: Instead they sent a tiny woman with a tiny gun. What’s life without a few disappointments? (And she is pretty short and slim. He is taller so she has to look up to see his face.)
Khoti: (Drops his hands by his side helplessly) What now?
Munira: Well, you have been accused of treason.
Khoti: Oh yeah? What else? Genocide too? How about everything that’s wrong with the world? You could accuse me of that too. You know; prepare one lengthy charge sheet for the Devil himself.
Munira: You are going to be Mr. Opiyo’s guest until you confess to charges of treason. And believe me kid, tougher men have walked in all thinking they’d never confess. And in three days, we take them to court and they confess to raping their mothers. Just because we asked them ‘nicely’ to. Let’s go.
Munira pushes him gently out the door prodding his back with the gun. Then she switches off the lights and gets him to lock the house.
He feels the gun on his back as she prods him with it. There is dull pain in the leg from the dog bite earlier but he ignores that. He figures he’s got bigger fish to fry.
She prods him to a waiting Police Land-Cruiser whose presence he didn’t notice on his way in. He had been in a mad rush away from the dogs to notice much about his surroundings. Plus it past midnight. If you aren’t looking for something in the darkness, chances are you won’t see it.
In the Land-Cruiser and around it are men. Six men. Plain clothes police officers like Munira. All armed with AK47’s.
They fall on Khoti the way a pride of lions falls on prey. They are hungry and they feed on him accordingly. They hit him. Punch him. Kick him. Beat him with the butts of their rifles. He can feel the violence sinking in. That punch on his nose. That kick on his mouth that tears his lips wide open. That slap to the side of his head that sends his ears ringing.
He is on the dusty ground now shielding his head as much as possible from the blows raining down on him from a dozen feet.
After what feels like a decade to him, they bundle him into the Cruiser, climb in, somebody slaps the body of the vehicle and they drive off.
He is lying on the floor of the Cruiser surrounded by boots and rifle butts. There is dull pain engulfing his entire body. The Cruiser hits a pothole. His body on the floor tosses from one side of the Cruiser floor to the other.
He tries to lift his head to maybe catch a glimpse outside that might inform him of where he is being taken, but one officer spots him, hits him in the stomach with the butt of his gun, steps on the side of his face gluing him to the floor roughly and yells at him to stay down. Or they’ll gouge his eyes out. So he stays down.
Saturday. March 19th, 1988. 01:39h
Nyayo House. Nairobi Central Business District
The Cruiser drives into a basement and tires screech as it comes to a halt. The sound of the screeching tires echoes around the basement. Boots jump off the vehicle, guns are slung across shoulders and two men grab Khoti’s feet and pull him roughly off the Cruiser’s floor.
He lands with a thud on the concrete and dust flies all around him. Someone yanks him to his feet, lands a thudding jab on his stomach and lets him go. He crashes heavily on his knees before a boot is driven into his face sending him crashing back on the concrete.
On the floor, he is beaten again for a couple of minutes. The raining violence would have continued hadn’t Munira intervened. She squats beside the groaning Khoti who has blood all over his face, nose and mouth and says;
Munira: I’m sorry kid. You’ll have to forgive the boys. They are a little overzealous is all. What can I say; they are patriots. And they don’t like how you piss on their country. A country that they (touches her chest passionately) oh so love so much.
Khoti wants to talk but there is something blocking his throat. He coughs and a jet of blood streams from his mouth.
On Munira’s orders, he is carried up a flight of dimly lit stairs, along an equally dimly lit corridor and into a dimly lit waterlogged cell.
They dump him carelessly on the floor. The water reaches their ankles. They step out before their boots can start leaking.
Munira: (From the doorway) I’m going to need your clothes.
Khoti: (Weakly) I am kinky, but don’t you think this is a tad too much?
Munira: Do I have to start issuing threats?
He drags himself on his elbows and knees across the flooded floor to a corner in his cell and squats against it grimacing with pain.
Khoti: You want my clothes darling, you’ll have to come get them yourself.
Munira: Suit yourself.
She sends two men in the cells armed with batons. He sees them coming, stands up and tries to put up a fight. Operative word being, ‘tries’. He kicks out and misses. A baton lands on his leg and another on his shoulder. He screams. He yells. Hands grab him and hurl him against the wall. Something smashes the wind off his stomach and he is on his knees again taking a Devil’s beating to his back.
Shortly thereafter, he lies on his back limp and in pain. Somebody produces a Swiss Army Knife and they cut his clothes off of him. They leave him lying on the water naked in fetal position.
There is a bright bulb shining down on him from the ceiling that appears to be thirty feet above him. It makes it difficult for him to sleep. That and the fact that he is lying naked in a pool of water.
The room is painted red but the paint is now peeling. Water will do that to the paint on the wall. There is an overhead vent and a heavy steel door guarded with rubber at the bottom to keep the water from flowing out.
There are many things engraved on the wall. One that stands out to him at the moment is “Stay Strong. You are not alone.”
Many people have passed through this cell. He wonders how many caved and how many stayed strong.
There is a tiny opening on the steel door. Munira stands outside a few hours later and says to him;
Munira: The deal is simple Khoti. You confess to charges of treason, go to court, plead guilty and go to prison for a few years. How old are you? Twenty? Twenty two? You’ll be out in no time.
Khoti: I already said no. What else is on the table?
Munira: Torture. Death maybe.
Khoti: That scares me Munira Hussein. That scares me a whole lot. But it doesn’t scare me enough to want to confess to a bunch of corrupt criminals about a crime I didn’t commit.
Munira: You didn’t ask your fellow students at the University of Nairobi to boycott the elections?
Khoti: If by elections you mean this upcoming joke where we all get to line up and vote for Moi and his fat, blood sucking, money eating zombies, then yeah; I called for such boycott.
Munira: But you don’t think you committed treason?
Khoti: Do you think I committed treason? Or are you just following Mr. Opiyo’s orders blindly?
Munira: Just confess now. Or you will confess later after going through a world of hurt.
Khoti: You know what I did when you left?
Munira: Please don’t say you touched yourself.
Khoti: The cold wouldn’t let me. So I did the next best thing. I created a poem in my head. You want to hear it?
Munira: How did you manage that?
Khoti: Never underestimate a creative’s itch to create. You may like it or hate it. I don’t much care.
He doesn’t know this but Munira seats outside his cell and listens. She leans against the steel door with her ears corked.
Khoti: (Reciting in a freestyle fashion) It is called “Heart of You”
Whisper sweet and soft in my ear dear lover,
Let the sound of your voice cover,
The terror of whiplashes on my back.
Crack! Crack! Do you hear it crack?
They say they’ll let me go if I confess.
My confession will be the end of my distress.
May I swim in your warm caress? Please say yes.
Let me hover around you. Watch you undress.
Clasp my cheeks in your warm palms.
Wipe my tears. Calm my heart as it drums.
Rub your nose against mine as we do,
And say that you love me too.
I’ve been accused of treason my love.
They’ll send me to prison but the only thing I am guilty of,
Is shielding this land from oppression,
And exercising my God given freedom of expression.
I think of you when the whip cracks,
I feel your warmth against me when the boot lands,
I’ll sing songs for you when the pliers come out,
When my testicles go, I’ll scream out for you. No doubt.
My heart will be with you when they drive me out to the valley.
I’ll think of my fingers in your hair in my life’s finale.
I’ll smile when they drag me out of the car,
And when they shoot, I’ll be looking up at you my star.
Munira; Quick question.
Munira: Why did you call it “Heart of You”?
Khoti: (Chuckles) I don’t know. Felt right.
Munira: Well, I don’t have much of an opinion about poetry. Or art for that matter.
Khoti: Such a terrible way to live.
Munira: Is it though? You are the one in jail.
Khoti: I’m in jail. The reason for that is because this government has tried to imprison my mind and failed. So it resorted to imprisoning my physical form.
Munira: Kid, don’t be a hero. You think you’ll be remembered for your suffering? You think in twenty or thirty years anybody will remember Khoti Babu and his fight for democracy? You just need to look at history to know that heroes go home poor, if they survive, and the smart people survive and go home wealthy.
Khoti: I don’t want wealth. I just want to tell the truth without finding people in my house pointing guns at me.
Munira: What truth Khoti? What truth? That this country will kick ass at the upcoming Olympics AGAIN, thanks to good governance? That we are one of the biggest coffee and tea exporters in the world thanks to the peace and stability brought about by President Moi’s and KANU leadership? That this is a peaceful nation no thanks to people like you who just want to bring about chaos and disruption?
Khoti: Is that what you believe? Just because there is peace doesn’t mean there is no war. People are getting executed extra judicially right left and center. The other day the president didn’t like a judgment read at the High court, so what did he do? He called the Attorney General and told him to fire the judge. And the AG did exactly that. In a country where the Judiciary is supposed to be independent, that happens. I would hate to raise my kids in such a nation. A nation where university students and lecturers share prison cells because they dared speak out against the oppressors…
Munira: Oppressors? How’s this for oppression? I have the authority to offer you a job in the government that pays over seventy thousand shillings starting salary, allowances, you’ll be chauffer driven and there will be trips abroad every now and then. With the most impressive per diem you’ll ever dream of.
Khoti: I don’t know. I can dream of a pretty impressive per diem. What does the Devil want in exchange for this deal? A part of my soul, or all of it?
Munira: Just a part.
Khoti: What part?
Munira: The part that gets you to sign a paper claiming that your Constitution Law lecturer Dr. Nono has been spreading Marxist propaganda on campus and inciting confused children like yourself to speak ill of Kenya’s gracious government.
Khoti: That’s a pretty amazing deal for such a small task. Where do I sign?
Munira: I knew you’d be smart about this.
Khoti: No I was just going to use the paper to wipe my ass. I think I have just taken a shit in here and I don’t want to wash my ass with my hands.
Munira: You will die Khoti. Screaming I’m afraid.
Khoti: Death is coming for us all Madam Officer. Sooner for some than others. But it is coming for everyone.
Munira walks off and Khoti listens to the fading footfalls of her boots against concrete. A while later, the overhead air vents come alive filling his cell with a strong gust of very cold air. Air so cold that it’s got him squeezing himself up in a tiny ball against the wall. His teeth are clattering in his mouth so furiously he’s afraid he might bite his tongue off.
A naked boy. A tiny ball of sympathy. Squatting in water. Thinking of poetry. What feels like hours later, Munira’s voice floats into the cell from outside the door.
Munira: You are twenty one years old. That means you were born in 1966? ’67 maybe?
Khoti: (Still shivering from the cold) Why? You want to get me a birthday cake?
Munira: Confess and I’ll get you more than just a cake. Do you know what a single party democracy is doing for this republic?
Khoti: (Chuckles despite his pain) Single party democracy? Do you even listen to yourself when you talk or did that oxymoron just tumble helplessly out of your mouth?
Munira: Since the death of multi party politics in Kenya, there hasn’t been cases of citizens being divided along tribal lines. For the first time, this country is forging its way forward united. Isn’t that the spirit of the Constitution you like defending?
Khoti: What Constitution? The one that says Kenya will be a single party state? Fuck that Constitution.
Munira: No Khoti fuck you! This Constitution is doing this country more good than evil. Erase Section 2A as you want and it will be 1966 all over again. We’ll have Kikuyus in arms against Luos, Kisiis against Kalenjins and we’ll focus so much on putting “our people” in office so that we can eat, and next thing we know, it’ll be goodbye peace. Goodbye development. Goodbye great tourism. Goodbye agriculture. Is that what you want?
Khoti: I want a chance to find out. I want freewill. I want a democracy not a dictatorship.
Munira: No son you want chaos. You want elections marred with tribal violence. You want Kenya to be branded with shame by the west.
Khoti: What West? The United States? Britain? In case you haven’t noticed, they too have started noticing the rampant human rights abuses in this country. I’m sure they won’t agree with the high price Kenyans are paying for what you’re calling peace. And do you even want me to get started on the status of corruption in this country?
Munira: You know what your problem is? You’re a dreamer. A theorist.
Khoti: And you know what your problem is? You are naïve. You think KANU will never fall. It will. Everything and everyone falls in time. The Romans fell. Alexander the Great fell. Mongolia fell. Persia fell. Britain fell. Germany fell. Richard Nixon fell. And KANU will fall. It’s just a matter of time.
Munira: Too bad you’ll be long dead by then.
Khoti: Too bad you’ll still be alive by then. Because the Special Branch will be to Kenyan history, what Hitler and the SS is to German history.
Munira: Did you just equate your government to Nazis?
Khoti: Did I stutter?
The footfalls fade away again. This time when the vents open up, hot air and dust particles come raining in on Khoti. Bruising and scalding every part of his body. Even when he shields his face, they tear open his arms, ribs, back, thighs… his loud screams join those of other people in the cells being interrogated.
A while later, his door opens up and a man with a hose stands outside his cell. The hose opens up and a blast of water comes oozing out. It collects Khoti off the floor like he is made of feathers, smashes him against the wall and squeezes him there, drawing his air out and drowning him.
The hose goes dead after a while and two men enter the cell, drag him out and up a staircase to an interrogation room.
There are six men with batons and they work on him as soon as he gets into the room. They hit his legs, arms, back and when he falls on his stomach, kicks, batons and punches land on his back with the fury of the gods.
After a while, the beatings stop and Munira enters the room followed by two men. These two men are dragging another heavyset middle aged man between them. They drag him into the room and dump him down on the floor.
There is a large polyethylene sheet on the floor. That is where they place this other man. He is badly beaten, stark naked and there are ghastly wounds where his testicles used to be. Khoti wonders what they did to the poor man’s balls. They look smashed, burned and chewed at the same time.
His eyes are swollen shut; his lips tattered, his teeth badly broken and his jaw swinging freely. It would take surgeries and months to put that jaw back together. It is almost as if they hit him with a sledge hammer.
Khoti is lying on the ground a few feet from the man they just brought in.
Munira: Can you get up? (Khoti stays mum. He is staring at this man. Something about him seems a bit familiar. Munira addresses the other officers) Get him up please.
Hands grab him by his armpits and pull him up. His eyes don’t leave the man lying half conscious on the polyethylene sheet on the floor. The man groans and another thick drool of blood oozes from his half open mouth. He is lying on his stomach.
Munira: Do you recognize this man Khoti?
Khoti: (Afraid) Should I?
Munira: You should. He teaches you.
And that’s when it all dawns on him. The lips. The cheeks. The body.
Khoti: Dr. Nono.
Munira: Ah yes. Dr. Nono. I hate that we had to do a little reconstructive surgery on him. But he wouldn’t talk and you wouldn’t set him up. He is educated and he is a lawyer so we can’t exactly let him go unless we want the wrath of the world on us. We can’t send him to jail because you won’t testify against him, so I have no choice but to kill him.
Khoti: What? No.
Munira: Unless of course you want to confess that he has been inciting you against the government. Are you interested in doing him that favor?
Khoti: I send him to prison or you kill him?
He looks at his lecturer groaning naked on the floor. He turns to Munira waiting patiently for his answer. He faces the six men around him ready to beat him to death at a moment’s notice. Then he turns to Munira bitterly.
Khoti: What is wrong with you people?
Munira: Have you ever seen an execution Khoti? It’s pretty horrendous. (Chuckles) And beautiful. Reaaalllly beautiful. A gun is corked, a trigger is squeezed, a bullet flies into a man’s brain and he just… (Dramatic Pause. Which she follows up with an act like she is blowing out a candle) Poof! Goes off like a light. One second a man is alive, the next he is dead. Makes you realize the very fragility of your entire life, doesn’t it? (She stands over Dr. Nono on the bag and points the gun to the back of his head.) Do you need a demonstration, or do you have a confession to make?
Munira corks her snub nose revolver. It might be a tiny gun, but in the silence of the room, the corking of it sounds a lot like the breaking of a large twig. Dr. Nono hears that sound. Knows what it means. He lifts his head up weakly and tries to open his eyes. But they are too swollen to open. Not even a crack.
His jaw hangs loosely under his face; swaying side to side freely. His mouth hangs open like a crocodile’s and he can’t even control the drool of saliva and thick blood flowing freely from his mouth. But he is trying to talk. Trying to say something.
But all that leaves his throat is a guttural choke and more blood flows from his mouth.
Khoti hates seeing him like this. His face crashes and he looks away but two men force him to watch the man. Watch his suffering. See where he is headed if he doesn’t confess.
Munira: Will you confess or do I put Dr. Nono here out of his misery?
Munira’s eyes are on his. She is not blinking. She seems hell bent on driving her point home. But there she stands with her gun pointed to the back of a man’s head. She looks so beautiful. Pretty eyes that don’t appear to hold any malice, long smooth hair that falls flawlessly on her back, smooth light skinned face that reminds Khoti of a Bollywood actress…
Khoti: I’m just a poet…
…and the gun goes off. With a loud bark. BANG! One second, Dr. Nono’s head is up from the floor. The next, the back of his head is opening up in a tiny hole through which the bullet drills into his skull, through his brain and out through his left eye leaving behind a huge hole on his face.
A thick splash of red coupled with dozens of reds balls splash on the polyethylene bag and Dr. Nono’s half blown off head crashes hard and lifelessly on the floor.
Munira’s unblinking eyes don’t even leave Khoti’s face. There is a ringing sound in Khoti’s ears as he stares with disbelief at what’s left of his lecturer.
Khoti: No… No… Nooo… Noooo! What did you do? What did you do? WHAT DID YOU DO?!!!
She clasps the gun in her tiny hands, approaches Khoti quickly and smashes the gun barrel against his skull rendering him unconscious.
Saturday. March 19th, 1988. 06:39h
Harambee Avenue. Nairobi Central Business District
She heads over to a telephone booth, slips some coins in and dials a number. After a couple of rings, a male voice answers on the other side.
Male Voice: Hello?
Munira: Hey you…
Male voice: Oh. Hi baby. You know, every time this phone rings, I want to answer “Hi Baby” but then I can’t because it might be your bosses calling or something.
Munira: Don’t worry about it. I love how you answer the phone. Did I wake you?
Male Voice: Of course not. I had to wake up early for my Fajr prayer.
Munira: You’re still one of the good ones, aren’t you? Always up in time for Fajr.
Male Voice: Well, some of us have to pray enough for ourselves and our wives.
Munira: (Laughs) Thanks baby. I love you for that. How is he? Is he up yet?
Male Voice: Yes. He has been joining me for Fajr these last few days. I wonder how long that’ll last.
Munira: If he’s as committed as his father, I’m certain it’ll last a long time.
Male Voice: You want to say hello?
Munira: Yeah. Yeah. Definitely. Put him on for me. (She holds and listens as her husband yells on the other side of the line)
Male Voice: Abdi! Abdi! (Abdi yells back) Your mother is on the line for you… Don’t run so fast! You’ll trip. (To Munira) I wonder if he runs so fast in the house when you tell him that his father is on the line for him.
Munira: No he doesn’t. Are you jealous?
Male Voice: I don’t know. Are you trying to make me jealous?
Munira: You know I am. Is it working? (They both laugh then a young boy’s voice comes on the line)
Abdi: Hello mom. Where are you?
Munira: Abdi! Hi! I’m still in town. I am working on something but I should be home in time for Zuhr.
Abdi: Will you pray with us then?
Munira: You know I can’t…
Abdi: (A bit disappointed. More in himself than his mom. For asking a question whose answer he knows already) Yeah. Yeah. I understand. I worry about you sometimes you know.
Munira: You do? And why’s that?
Abdi: Well, you are a police officer and sometimes I am afraid bad people will hurt you.
Munira: But I have you and I have your father praying to Allah consistently for my safety. No harm would come to me.
Abdi: Can I tell you something?
Munira: You know you can tell me anything.
Abdi: Sometimes I hate waking up in the morning for Fajr. But then I think of you at work so early in the morning and I just have to force myself up for your sake.
Munira: And thanks to you, I make it through every night safe and sound.
Abdi: I’ll see you when you get home.
Munira: Pass the phone to your father. (He hears him say “There you go dad”)
Male Voice: How’s work?
Munira: It’s work. I’ll tell you about it when I get home, yeah?
Male Voice: I worry about you sometimes. When I think it might all start getting to you.
Munira: Don’t worry about me, OK? Look, I have to get back. I’ll see you when I get home, yeah?
Male Voice: Alright. I’ll see you later. (She makes as if to hang up but then he says quickly) Oh, by the way my mother called. She said she’ll swing by to visit Abdi.
Munira: Oh shit!
Male Voice: Munira!
Munira: I’m sorry, OK? Shit! Shit! You know how I get when she comes around.
Male Voice: I know, I know. But she is conservative.
Munira: Try overbearing. Now I have to walk around in my burka in this heat. And pray five obligatory times a day.
Male Voice: Look, she’ll only be around for a couple of days, OK?
Munira: (Sighs loudly then chuckles.) OK baby. I’m sorry. I don’t hate your mother. You know that, right?
Male Voice: You’re just a little more open minded than she is. And I love you for it.
Munira: You know I love you too, yeah?
Male Voice: Never doubted it.
Munira: I’ll see you when I get home.
Male Voice: Bye
Slowly, reluctantly, she replaces the receiver and leans her head against it as if lost in thought. She drops another loud sigh, holds her long hair to the back of her head with a rubber band and steps out of the booth. She smiles at a man waiting outside and heads back to Nyayo House.
Saturday. March 19th, 1988. 07:39h
Nyayo House. Nairobi Central Business District
In his waterlogged cell with nothing but peeling paint on the red walls; with no window – just an overhead bulb that won’t let you know whether it is day or night, Khoti is seated in the water, leaning against the wall facing the door.
He starts to nod off but the overhead vents come alive and dust is sprayed in the room. People here won’t let him sleep. He is coughing. Trying to breathe. Shielding his nose and mouth from the dust but he can only do that for so long. He starts coughing loudly.
Then as suddenly as the vents came alive, they shut down. For a while. The dust settles. He is tired. His body is shutting down. He hasn’t slept since he was brought in, how long ago? And he hadn’t slept for almost twenty four hours before that.
The dog bite wound on his leg hurts now. It is a dull ache that is just a tributary that joins all other tributaries of pain from all the wounds on his body and those inside – there is a bruise on his ribs that makes him think he is bleeding internally – and all these tributaries join up in one huge river of dull pain that comes and goes in strong thuds.
His head falls on his chest for a few seconds. Or minutes. Or hours. He has no way of knowing. When he comes to, there is a man standing in front of him with his penis out urinating on him. He puts his hand up to keep the urine from his lips but it is too late. It is everywhere. On his face, in his eyes, mouth, nose… the man seems to have an endless stream of piss.
Once he is done, he puts the hose back in his pants and walks out of the cell. Standing outside is Munira, watching with a tiny smile on her beautiful face.
Munira: All you have to do is confess.
Khoti: Or what? You’ll torture me? Oh wait. You’re doing that already.
Munira: You will break. Everyone breaks some time.
Khoti: Someone will make a habeas corpus application before I can break.
Munira: (Releases an involuntary chuckle that graduates to innocent laughter) Habeas Corpus, huh? (Hides her face with her palms and peeps at Khoti through her fingers) Oh your innocence makes me want to blush. You do know that the A.G’s office is the only one that can make that application, right? And right now, the Attorney General is buddies with the President. I hate to break it to you kid, but nobody is applying for habeas corpus any time soon. You better make yourself comfortable.
There is an occupant in the next cell who keeps screaming and singing. Now he breaks in the National Anthem and his voice is carried around the dark corridors with weakening conviction.
Voice: O God of all creation
Bless this our land and nation.
Justice be our shield and defender
May we dwell in unity
Peace and liberty
Plenty be found within our borders.
There is a rebellious smile on Khoti’s lips that sends a chill down Munira’s spine.
Munira: Whatever you’re thinking, stop it.
Khoti: (More reciting than singing)
Let one and all arise
With hearts both strong and true.
Service be our earnest endeavour,
And our Homeland of Kenya
Heritage of splendour,
Firm may we stand to defend.
Munira: Shut up.
Voices rise together, inmates in prison, all singing together for the first time against the tyrant.
Munira: I said shut up! EVERYBODY! (She clasps the radio on her shoulder and hurls orders in it) I need everyone down here NOW!
Someone starts banging on the door and Munira bang’s Khoti’s door shut. From the staircase, boots are heard running down. Men fill up the corridors and the inmates’ voices seem invigorated by this one simple act of rebellion.
Voices: Let all with one accord
In common bond united,
Build this our nation together
And the glory of Kenya
The fruit of our labour
Fill every heart with thanksgiving
Men with batons and shields open the cells’ doors as the voices hit crescendo and soon, the singing turns into something else. Something dreadful. Cries of terror as wood makes vicious contact with bone.
Munira stands in the hallway outside Khoti’s neighbor’s cell. The occupant is another university student. The one who started the singing. Three men enter his cell and he charges at them screaming. He comes out kicking but they grab him by both armpits, hurl him back into his cell as he kicks out and screams.
They hit, punch and kick him and someone lands a serious shot with a baton across his face. The blow is so vicious that his right eye springs completely off his head, flies in the air and lands at Munira’s feet at the hallway.
The student’s yells escalate and so does the beating. He is on his hands and knees now. A football kick is delivered on his chin. It collects him clean off the ground and lands him on his ass in the water. Hands grab him and shove him head first against the wall.
They pull him back and smash his skull against the wall again. His screams subside. This technique appears to be working. So they smash him again and again until he stops fighting. Until he stops screaming. Then they smash his head against the wall some more. Something breaks. There is blood. They don’t stop. Formerly, there was a thud against the wall every time his skull made contact. Now there is just a squishing sound. They smash it again and this time, there is something slimy; some thick grayish reddish fluid that remains stuck on the wall like glue.
They release him and he collapses lifelessly in the water on the floor. One of the men watches the body with disgust, unholsters his weapon and shoots it through the ear. The water under him turns red pretty fast.
The gunshot silences everyone and freezes everything in time. Men stand outside the cells with AK47s. The prisoners are ordered to stand at their cells’ doors and watch as the body gets dragged from one side of the hallway, across the corridor, to the very other end.
Two men grab the student’s body by one leg each and as they drag him across the floor, it leaves behind a thick line of red. Munira is saying;
Munira: Don’t you all wish you were back home cozying up to your wives and girlfriends? But look at yourselves. Standing naked, bleeding from every orifice in front of men who hate you and for a country that neither knows of your existence, nor gives a shit about you.
Later, Khoti is escorted up the stairs by four armed men into the interrogation room where Dr. Nono was executed. Munira is there waiting for him. She is saying;
Munira: Is this scenario something you’d consider war?
Khoti: It’s crossed my mind.
Munira: That’d make you what, a soldier?
Khoti: I can’t confess. I say that with respect. I can’t.
Munira: In any war, nobody remembers the soldiers. The men who die in battle for a cause. They don’t even make it to history books. In 2020, nobody will know or even care about Khoti Babu. We all remember Dedan Kimathi and some of the other high ranking poor bastards who died for the freedom of this country. But nobody gives a shit about them. Nobody ever visits his widow and her children with food and clothes and money. But everyone knows and admires Jomo Kenyatta. Who also fought for freedom same as Kimathi. Do you know what the difference between these two men is?
Khoti: Are you going to shoot me or are you going to bore me to death?
Munira: I’ll shoot you. Eventually. But for now, I’ll stand here and tell you that the difference between Kenyatta and the likes of him and Kimathi and the likes of him, is that the Kenyattas got away from the struggle rich. The Kimathis were so busy dying for the cause to realize that without money in this world, even a good name is only admired in theory. Practically, we’d all give a bigger shit about the fly swimming in our milk than Dedan Fucking Kimathi. I bet he is turning in his grave right now. But that’s all the poor bastard can do. Turn in his grave. And regret sacrificing himself for this country. That’s his fate. And you, you don’t even have a tenth of Kimathi’s name. Kid, you’ll be forgotten even before the worms can get to your body. Why? Seriously? Why do you want to die?
Khoti: I don’t want to die. But I just can’t live in a country where you are the government. One of us has to go.
Munira: I was afraid you were going to say that. (She nods at one of her officers and they place clothes on the table in front of Khoti) Put them on.
Munira: I need you to meet somebody.
Khoti: These aren’t my clothes.
Munira: No they are not. We had to cut yours away with a knife, remember?
Khoti: Whose are these?
Munira: Just put them on or I will get six men to force them onto you. Is that what you want?
After he puts them on, they lead him to an elevator that takes them up to thirteenth floor. Khoti is too busy shielding his eyes from the light to see the sign on the door. A sign that would have interested him. Munira knocks on the door, pops her head in and says to the office’s occupant;
Munira: Madam Commissioner, I have been instructed by Commissioner Opiyo to bring someone to your office.
The office’s occupant was standing at the huge window in her office overlooking Nairobi City. She was staring at the traffic below.
Office’s Occupant: (Without turning) Have you ever watched this city’s life unfold in front of you from an aerial view Inspector?
Munira: I’m sorry madam?
Office’s Occupant: You heard me. (Turns around. She looks intimidating in her police uniform) Now answer my question Inspector.
Munira: I can’t say I have had the pleasure madam. You are the creative. The poet. I’m just the woman who cleans up the streets.
Office’s Occupant: Uh, yes. The streets. They are always in need of a good cleanup every now and then, aren’t they?
Munira: I’m afraid so madam. (She is now standing at attention at the door)
Office’s Occupant: I asked Mr. Opiyo not to be involving me in the affairs of the Special Branch.
Munira: He is convinced that this particular character will prove pretty interesting to you.
Office’s Occupant: Hmm. (Occupies the large swivel leather seat behind her large mahogany and asks as her eyes lands on a file) Will he now?
Munira: (Fearfully) Yes madam.
Office’s Occupant: (With a casually lazy wave of the hand) Very well then, show him in.
She opens a file, picks up a pen and gets to signing documents. The prisoner is directed into the office by two men. He has bruises all over him, wounds and is swollen on various parts of his face and arms.
His eyes and hers meet simultaneously.
Office’s Occupant: (Shocked. A mother seeing her tortured son so wounded) Khoti?!
Khoti: (Shocked.) Mother!
Munira: (Shocked. Realizing that she doesn’t have all the information) Mother?
Office’s Occupant: (Swivels out of her seat and approaches Munira intimidating) You better start talking Inspector or I swear to God I am throwing you out the window right now!
Munira: Madam Commissioner I didn’t know. Commissioner Opiyo said… (The back of Khoti’s Mother’s hand finds Munira’s cheek with a slap that sends her staggering.)
Office’s Occupant: GET OUT OF MY OFFICE! GO!
Munira: (Caressing her cheek) Commissioner Opiyo said…
Office’s Occupant: (Leaning real close to her) Say one more word. I dare you.
Munira salutes and marches out of the office followed closely by her junior officers.
Mom: (To Khoti as soon as Munira and her group are gone) They will be back. I have to get you out of here now.
Khoti: I thought you said your work is homicide.
Mom: I do.
Khoti: Then why are torture victims being brought to your office?
Mom: (Crosses over to her desk, opens a drawer, pulls out a gun, checks to see if it is loaded and clasps it in her hand) Look, I know you have a million questions, but I can’t answer them right now.
Khoti: (On the verge of tears) Do, do, dddddd,… do you torture people mother?
Mom: No! But I work for the Kenya Police Force which tortures people, OK? You knew that!
Khoti: Then how do you and Mr. Opiyo know each other?
Mom: We don’t have time for this! (She grabs his hand and pulls him to the back of her office. There is an exit door there.)
Khoti: Where are we going?
Mom: Away from here.
Mom: I don’t know! OK? Shut up! Let me think!
She opens the door. It leads up to a private elevator. She presses the down button urgently and turns to face her son. She touches as much of his body as she can in the limited time they have.
Mom: Oh my God, what did they do to you? How long were you held for? Oh my God! Oh my God! (Sees a large cut on his ribs) Oh my God! I’m going to kill that Opiyo motherfucker!
The elevator doors slide open and she grabs his hand again and pulls him inside. He seems numb. Unthinking.
Mom: You’re limping. (The elevator doors are sliding shut. She presses “B”)
Khoti: A dog bit me.
Mom: They fed you to dogs?
Khoti: Maurice. He’ll miss you.
Mom: What do you mean?
Khoti: When you go to Sao Paulo. He’ll miss you.
Mom: I can’t think of that right now. I have to get you out of the country. We could go to Brazil right now!
Khoti: And daddy… he loved you.
Mom: Are you even listening to me? (Peers into his eyes) You must have a concussion.
Khoti: Dogs. When they bite you, do you think they develop a taste for human flesh?
Mom: Oh my God.
Khoti: We never lie to each other mother.
Mom: So it’s back to ‘mother’ now?
Khoti: What’s your relationship with Mr. Opiyo?
Mom: None! OK? None. He keeps asking me to transfer to the Special Branch. I keep refusing.
Khoti: You say no to Mr. Opiyo and he lets you live? You’re lying.
Mom: I’m not!
The elevator doors open and spit them out in the basement where she runs to her car pulling Khoti behind her.
Khoti: If you are with Homicide under Criminal Investigations Department, how come your office is at Nyayo House?
Mom: You think too much.
Khoti: This job that you keep saying you hate, is it because you work for the Special Branch?
Mom: (She lets go of his hand, shakes him by both shoulders and screams in his face) Khoti! Shut up!
A gun goes off, her head explodes and blood covers Khoti’s face. Her eyes remain transfixed on him and her head falls on his chest. Her body leans against his and he has to steady himself as it slides heavily and lifelessly on the floor. It leaves behind smear of blood on his clothes.
Even after she is a lifeless bundle around his feet, he just stands there, his eyes seeing the man who shot his mother but not really seeing him and his lower lip quivering. His sight turns to a blur as his eyes get wet. Huge teardrops run down his cheeks but he dares not move.
He is fixed on the ground chattering –
Khoti: Mother… Mother… Mother… Mother…
Men dressed completely in black. Three men all armed with Glocks. Two of them peel Khoti’s mother away from his feet and into a waiting Land Cruiser. The third man grabs Khoti by the throat and points his gun to his head.
But the boy pays him no heed. He starts following his mother’s body with his arms stretched out as if trying to hug her.
Khoti: Mother, Mother, Mother! MOTHER! MOTHER PLEASE!
Someone shouts “Make him shut up” and a hard object smashes the back of his skull rendering him unconscious.
When he wakes up, he finds himself cuffed to a chair in a large office, quite similar to his mother’s, with a ubiquitous sense of patriotism hanging thickly around it like smoke. There is the portrait of H.E. President Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi hanging authoritatively on the wall. Several portraits of police officers in uniform. In one portrait, there is Khoti’s mother with a bunch of other police officers shaking President Moi’s hand. A huge Kenyan flag is pinned to a mast at the corner…
Then seated next to the huge window is a MAN IN A SUIT. Now all anyone can see of this man is a silhouette. He isn’t really visible. He is just a huge blur in a suit, holding a large cigar.
Facing him are Munira, Khoti and two officers armed with Glocks. These officers seem more tactical. They are the very ones who shot Khoti’s mother.
This man is Deputy Police Commissioner Opiyo, or Mr. Opiyo to many, and he is the head of the Special Branch. When the silhouette seated by the light speaks its voice is deep. The booming kind of voice that one would imagine God uses.
Mr. Opiyo: It’s unfortunate what has befallen you young man.
Khoti: Mr. Opiyo.
Mr. Opiyo: It’s always an honor to meet a man fighting for a cause.
Khoti: Is it really?
Mr. Opiyo: (Guttural Laughter) Not really. I was just trying to be nice. I’m sorry about your mother. She got soft.
Khoti: You killed her.
Mr. Opiyo: I killed her. And I’m going to have to kill you too.
Khoti: Then why am I here?
Mr. Opiyo: Because, I have never killed a man without letting them know why they are going to die.
Khoti: I know why I’ll die.
Mr. Opiyo: And why’s that?
Khoti: So that people like you can keep eating.
Mr. Opiyo: (Large sigh that reminds Khoti of the sound of breathing hippos. A suck on the cigar and a large smoke out blow) Well, I won’t engage you in a conversation about the morality of your rebellion and my position on the same. I simply lack the time. And honestly, so do you. You are dying for political reasons yes. But not in the way that you think.
Khoti: Enlighten me.
Mr. Opiyo: The Special Branch was always coming for you. But it is your mother we were really interested in. See, someone planted a guilty conscience in her. She was going to leave the country. For Sao Paulo of all places. And she was going to take evidence of our little Nyayo House operation here with her. That would have been counterproductive. Couldn’t let that happen.
Khoti: So you used me to trap her.
Mr. Opiyo: Her file will say that she was killed trying to aid with a fugitive’s escape and also she was in the process of smuggling state secrets to foreign agencies. Enemies of the state. That is an offence punishable by death.
Khoti: I would clap for you, but I’m a little tied up.
Mr. Opiyo: That’s OK. I clap for myself just fine.
Khoti: What happens now?
Mr. Opiyo: There is a field. Out in Ol Donyo Sabuk. People like you are taken out there. Six men line up behind them with AK47s, and they are asked to run.
Khoti: (Disillusioned chuckle) I bet they don’t get too far.
Mr. Opiyo: Your guess is as good as mine. We’ve got a good government going here son. It’s a shame you and your mother had to try and foil it.
Khoti: Well, Mlolongo elections can only be held for so long. Hey, have you ever heard that Jimmy Riley song; “The Bigger They Come”?
Mr. Opiyo: Rest assured I’m under no illusions Mr. Khoti. I can’t live forever. One day someone bigger than me will sit in my chair. I’m no rock. Till then, I’m just a man with a job to do.
Khoti: Yeah. So said every SS officer.
Mr. Opiyo: Mr. Khoti?
Mr. Opiyo: Good luck with your run.
Saturday. March 19th, 1988. 23:39h
Tom Mboya Street. Nairobi Central Business District
There is a telephone booth close to the spot where Tom Mboya was assassinated. Munira is in there making a call in hurry. Her colleagues in the Land Cruiser outside are asking her to hurry up.
Munira: I am just making a quick call to my son, OK? (The phone is ringing and she taps her fingers and stamps her feet impatiently) Come on Come on Come on… pick up the phone. Pick up the phone. (Finally, a lady’s voice answers)
Lady’s Voice: Hello?
Munira: Hello. This is Munira speaking.
Lady’s Voice: Your husband and your son are reading the Quran at the moment. You should be with them. But instead you are out there at night with men doing God knows what. (From a distance Munira hears a male voice asking…)
Male Voice: Who’s on the phone mother?
Lady’s Voice: Nobody.
Male Voice: Is that my wife? That’s my wife, isn’t it?
Lady’s Voice: There are so many other nice Muslim girls you could have married. You just had to marry the only one with horns on her head.
Male Voice: Give me that phone. Hello? Hi baby, is everything OK?
Munira: Yeah. Yeah. Everything is good. I am just washing it all down with your mother’s love.
Male Voice: I am so sorry about that.
Munira: I like her. In my own way.
Male Voice: Uh Oh
Munira: What? (Chuckles) I do. I like how we don’t have to pretend like we like each other, you know? I hate bullshit.
Male Voice: Are you OK? You said you’d be home ages ago.
Munira: Something came up at the office.
Male Voice: There is something in your voice. Are you in trouble?
Munira: No. No. I’m fine. (She looks around her to see if anyone is eavesdropping. Nobody is. But she still lowers her voice.) Hey, do you know that Bob Marley song that we both love so much?
The Male Voice on the other side sighs. Munira can sense her husband stiffen.
Male Voice: (Forced enthusiasm) Iron Lion Zion?
Munira: Iron Lion Zion… (Singing)
I’m on the rock and then I check a stock,
I have to run like a fugitive to save the life I live,
I’m gonna be Iron, like a Lion, in Zion…
Male Voice: (Singing but with a hint of fear)
I’m on the run, but I ain’t got no gun,
See they want to be the star,
So they fighting tribal war…
Munira: You’ll always be my lion.
Male Voice: And you’ll always be my iron.
Munira: See you in Zion?
Male Voice: All of me?
Munira: (Fighting tears) Even the worst bits of you.
Male Voice: See you in Zion.
This time, she hangs up in a hurry and leans against the receiver. Hot tears shoot off her eyes but she can’t afford to let them flow. Not now. So she wipes them off hurriedly with the back of her hand and steps out of the booth with a smile she hopes looks genuine to the tactical officers in the car.
Munira: (Cheerfully) Alright boys, let’s go!
Back at Munira’s house, her husband is collecting Abdi and asking his mother to pack only the most basic things. He rushes to a safe in the closet in the bedroom, a safe concealed under the wooden floorboards. He opens it and finds stacks and stacks of cash of all currencies. Dollars, Sterling Pounds, the Euro, Kenyan Currency; Fake passports for Munira, himself, Abdi and their parents.
There are also two unregistered pistols and boxes of 9mm bullets. He puts all these in a bag which he hurls on his back and strides across the room to Abdi’s bedroom. His mother is asking;
Mother: What’s going on?
Him: I don’t know yet. But we agreed that if she ever called and reminded me of that song which we don’t like, it would be a signal to run. Because something bad had just happened or is about to happen.
Mother: I told you that woman would be the death of you.
Him: Well, that woman is a better mother to our son than you ever were to me. So shut up mother and help me pack.
Ol-Donyo Sabuk. Outskirts of Thika Town
Sunday. March 20th, 1988. 00:39h.
Khoti is lying on the floor of the Cruiser with his hands and legs bound with rope. His body bumps to and fro as it hit potholes. It drives into the open field. It is a bright night. One can see clearly out into the open. His mouth is gagged and he is blindfolded.
There are five armed men dressed in black in the car. All armed with AK47s. The driver is also an officer. He has his rifle upfront with him. One of the men at the back is stepping on Khoti’s head. Munira is at the back of the Cruiser with them. She too is armed with an AK47. It looks a little big in her arms, but everyone in the car seems to appreciate the fact that she has it. Obviously she can handle it. This is not her first rodeo. It won’t be her last. She is the senior most officer in the car.
When they get close to their destination, Khoti hears them cork their guns loudly. The road under him seems rough. He is bruised all over.
The Cruiser stops and the Police Officers jump out. Two of them grab Khoti’s feet and drag him roughly out of the car. His bound body crashes heavily on the dusty ground and dust rises all around him.
Someone asks Munira why she seems nervous and she smiles saying she’s OK.
A knife comes out. The ropes binding Khoti are cut off. The blindfold is pulled away and so is the mouth gag. Someone kicks him in the ribs and orders him to stand up. Another kick in the ribs. Another order to get up. They don’t have all night. So Khoti struggles to his feet. They march him to the front of the Cruiser such that they are all caught in the headlights.
He looks out at the plain in front of him. There is a tree line about a hundred meters from where he stands. He looks at the seven trained shooters whose only job tonight is to ensure he doesn’t reach the tree line. He looks at the tree line again. It feels now like it is a hundred miles away. He’ll never get there in time.
Munira kicks him in the butt and pushes him to the front of everyone.
Munira: Alright kid. I’m going to need you to run.
He knows it. This is it. This is the end. And he is embarrassed that he is not facing it bravely. His emotions betray him. He has thought about the end for some time. And he always thought he would face it with dignity and honor and bravery.
But now here he stands in the dark with seven people aiming to kill him. He is still dressed in the clothes his mother bled on. His mother. She didn’t make it to Sao Paulo. He wishes his brother Maurice would marry for love and not for convenience like his mother.
He thinks of Maridadi and feels terrible for being such a jerk to her. She was just a woman in love.
There he stands, at the very edge, and in place of bravery and dignity is tears. Big tears flowing shamelessly down his cheeks. A part of him tells him to beg for his life but the words won’t come out. He looks at the field one last time, then at the men pointing their rifles at him.
He takes in a large breath, says a short prayer asking God not to refuse him entry through the Gates of Heaven, even though he has spent his entire adult life blaspheming and questioning God’s very existence, and faces Munira.
Khoti: No. If you’re going to shoot me, look me in the eye and do it.
Someone chuckles. This is embarrassing.
Munira: You’ve watched too many movies kid.
Khoti: Good. I’d hate to be the guy dodging bullets on that field. Do it. Right here, right now.
Damn it. This isn’t what Munira had in mind. She raises her rifle and points it at him. The six men at the scene lower their weapons. Some of them grunt with disappointment. They were really looking forward to a thrilling shooting.
At the very last moment, one second before she pulls the trigger, she looks at Khoti right in the eye. Khoti sees softness in there and is momentarily confused. She appears to smile with her eyes. Then she says really slowly; really calmly,
Munira: Kid, run. Please.
Quickly, she gets on one knee, positions her AK47’s in her hands properly such that the rifle butt is pressing against her shoulder and she has a clean line of shot at whoever she aims at. She turns the gun on her colleagues. She fires, with short controlled bursts. Squeeze the trigger, shoot a man in the body in a second, turn the gun to another man, squeeze the trigger… short bursts.
It takes a few seconds for Khoti to realize that Munira has turned against her colleagues.
And he runs. Or rather limps. Cursing the dog for biting his leg.
It takes Munira’s colleagues a few seconds to react to her betrayal. And by the time they start shooting back, two of them are down dead. And the rest are more concerned with taking cover and firing wildly than relaxing and fighting back.
Khoti runs and runs. The bullets whizzing behind him do nothing to stop him.
Munira hides against the Cruiser’s tire and watches as the boy runs. She feels betrayed by the Special Branch. By how they used a son to get to a mother and then executed her right in front of him. That wasn’t political. That was personal. That was downright criminal.
And so she shoots at her colleagues. And they shoot back. The body count rises but it doesn’t take long for something hot to penetrate her. And when she crashes on the ground with blood sipping from under her, she wishes she would have spent one more day with Abdi.
The shootout stops. There are two officers left alive. Munira is lying on the ground with her rifle beside her. She seems lifeless. Her eyes are fixing unblinking on a spot in the night sky. Her mouth is open.
Khoti stops running and falls on the ground. Listening.
The two officers approach her body with caution. She is bleeding and that gets them comfortable. One prods her with his boot. Her body is pushed lifelessly. They lower their weapons and that is when Munira quickly grabs her snub nose revolver points it at them.
Her first bullet catches one officer on the head; right under his chin and his brains shoot off from the roof of his head.
The second officer reacts quickly. He shoots and she shoots. Both guns go off simultaneously. His bullet catches her on the chest. Hers catches him right on his heart. He looks surprised as he drops to his knees. Then crashes on his face.
Munira coughs. There is blood in her mouth. That second bullet must have pierced her lung.
Khoti waits for a minute after the last shots go off, and then raises his head up. He is listening out for sound. It is all silent. No men issuing orders that he should be followed.
So he starts crawling on his stomach back towards where the officers are. He hears someone coughing. It is a small voice. Feminine. Munira. She is also groaning in pain and that prompts him to crawl faster.
She can feel the ground getting damp under her. It is getting cold and she is having trouble breathing. There is a painful wheeze in her chest whenever she tries to breathe. Something chokes her. She coughs again. A bubble of blood forms from her lips and it pops in the night wind. A line of blood drops from her mouth, down the side of her cheek and onto her thick hair.
She is lying there gazing up at the moon. It seems so big, so immaculate, so pure… a gentle giant staring down at her with so much brightness that she finds herself smiling.
There are quick footfalls approaching her. Her hands clasp her snub nose revolver with as much strength as she can master. She tries lifting it up but her hands are too weak. She squeezes the trigger without aiming at anything in particular and hears a distant male voice yelling;
Khoti: Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!
She faces the direction from which the voice floats to her ears. There are a pair of legs limping towards her. She looks up at the moon again. Khoti’s face blocks her view and she feels him lift her head up. She can’t breathe. Not so well.
Munira: (Struggling to speak) You came back. You idiot.
Khoti: Yeah. Or there wouldn’t be a difference between me and you. We need to get you to a hospital.
Munira: My left lung is collapsing. I won’t make it to a hospital. There is a first aid kit in the Cruiser. Above the driver’s seat. Get it.
Khoti rushes to the Cruiser, opens the door and grabs the kit. He is working in a trance, trying as much as possible to ignore the dead bodies lying around. He rushes back to her and kneels beside her.
Khoti: What now?
Munira: Open it.
Khoti: (Mumbling to himself) Think! Think Khoti! Think! Relax. It’ll be OK. (He opens the kit)
Munira: There is a syringe and a needle. See them?
Khoti: (Grabbing them) Uh huh.
Munira: I need you to push that needle near my left lung, right here (Points at the affected area) and pull the air out.
Khoti: What? How will I know where your lung is? I could hurt you!
Munira: (Her lips are very dry now. She is growing blue and her nostrils appear to flare whenever she breathes.) I will lose consciousness shortly. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m pretty hurt already.
He tears off her top just in time to see her eyes roll back. He jabs the needle close to where she instructed and suctions the air out.
He then puts his lips on hers, cups hers with his palms and pushes air in her. Softly, paying heed to the lung, conducts CPR. At the twelfth count of pumping her chest, she comes to.
Munira: (Weakly) You did it.
Khoti: Yeah. We’ve got to get out of here.
Munira: Place a cloth on my wounds. Both of them. I know a quack that can fix me.
He carries her to the Cruiser, ensuring that her wounds are well covered and pressure is being applied accordingly.
Munira: What’s going to happen to you? You know they won’t stop looking for you, right? And when they find you, they will kill you slowly.
Khoti: (Driving carelessly away from the fields and leaving behind a high cloud of dust) Funny. You are the one who got me in this mess in the first place.
Munira: You got yourself in this mess kid. I’m just the idiot Opiyo used to get you. And for that I am sorry. I have some money. My family and I could look after you till you can get back on your feet.
Khoti: You’re the one who’s dying. And they’ll come looking for you too.
Munira: There is a phone booth at Blue Post near Chania Falls in Thika. I’ll give you a number to call. My husband will answer. Tell him “The Iron isn’t hot as it should be.”
Khoti: The iron isn’t as hot as it should be?
Munira: He’ll know what I mean. He’ll come find us.
Khoti: Is he a cop too?
Munira: He’s a man who can take care of us all. (Khoti drives fast and in silence. Ostensibly deep in thought.) Hey kid…
Munira: You did good tonight. (She coughs weakly. Fighting to stay conscious) We’re going to be OK. Eventually.
He drives onto the tarmac now and hears the tires screech. He is driving too fast. That’s OK. He’s going to be OK. Eventually. He hopes eventually doesn’t take forever.