Remember The Children Of Kisumo

EXTRACT:

I took a depraved break, still in a stupor, awoke from a hellacious dream. It was a July morning. October was looming with its bitter memories that made me feel this strange incredible force like a hand to the back of my head. Like a terrible phantasm. A dream? A fantasy? Was there anything good left? And did I care? I still was alive and limping along. Older now. Far more muscular. I rode a beat-up Raleigh bicycle with my good leg and my bad leg to Russia and my hands were callused, but my smile was still a boy's smile and my hair was still shaggy sunburnt Afro.

Like a Kisumuan of old, I have always hated Russia in October. Everything is full of bad memories, mangy things, death. You know which Russia this is, don’t you? The one in Kisumu.

Here in Kisumo. Kisumo ka.

This Kisumu is no longer a shy town. This Kisumu is now larger city hundreds of times bigger the post-Colonial town of the 1960s we cherished. To say the least, this Kisumu is like someone hiding his smile. Someone with a stone face, with no feelings. This Kisumu is different, the Kisumu I know in my mind makes remember Olwande. Now this Kisumu recently destroyed him. His last words. "Take care of Akech." And his saying that, illness killed him there dead as we stood by his carcass before the hospital bed in Russia. The nurses and the doctors, like psychiatrists and psychologists, like offal flies to a feast said things, all their cliches and their one liners echoing their judgmental superiority. Before he died, Olwande told me I had saved him from himself many times over the years our days of innocence in Pandpieri.

Our two years while he deteriorated were full of fond memories and struggle. He gave me my memories back, you see. He gave back two of the hardest years of my life taking care of him after his wife ran away. He took away the prison in my mind, stolen away by morons who always got everything wrong. And I remembered holding him while he coughed and giving him his medicine and sitting him up to watch Saturday morning cartoons on the black and-white television.

And (Lord help me) I asked him about Akech. It was the only one time, though he didn't want to answer. I asked him only once, and he said he had a surprise for me. And he bent down and wept. And his thin body wracked and shook and his bearded face bathed with tears told me there was sadness in the world. He was so far gone in old vices he could never sleep without soaking in alcohol, and I always sneaked in his local brew in a Fanta bottle. He told me how safe he felt with me then, and how he wished God could give him a second chance to do what he still had to do in this life. His life. Me in it, too. How very odd to hear that. How he felt complete without Akech for the first time. And he said how I was an oasis of prudence in a world terribly bad for him. And he said he never forgot how I let him marry my girlfriend; for I had never been one to be fond of, but somehow the days of our lives brought us to this point, and though that life is forever over, he extended his hand and put it on my shoulder and asked me to forgive him, and October warmth smiled with an air of electricity. And he said journeys don't end the way you think they will.

He gave me some things wrapped in a jwala bag. The weed? I smoked some, shared some, sold some. Not knowing for sure what to do with the 10kg lot and fearing that the cops will sniff me out, I burned them. The small caliber handgun? Wrapped it up in tinfoil. Its weight said what it was. Soldiers live by their weapons. Olwande lived by it. I tried it for size; I kept it. The money? No brainer; I saved…er, stashed most of that in my savings account, the rest went into buying computers, a laptop, a printer, a copier, and setting up my internet cafe business.

I cursed and slapped angrily at an irritating mosquito.

His last words? "Take care of that witch."

He died in October.

October has been a dreary month even as it now comes around sewn in its golden patch of memory today. Whenever October comes, the dreariness is tough to push back. October of 1969 was a troubled one fraught with upsets, turmoil, and the stirrings of yet another war involving the killing of a politician. Remember that bizarre event of the Russia massacre and killing of our spirits. In 1969, Oliech was shot in Russia, by the roadside. We were running. School children were killed in piles. I still remember the slaughter of children of Kisumo. There was the—sheer ugliness of everything. And the immensity in the sky that was flinging blood over the whole earth.

Russia started with a curse. That ugly shooting... But it never seemed real until the sky turned flame on the last moments of the day of damnation that had treated us like sinners in the eternal fire. Today I'm not fond of hospitals; they creep me out. Russia constantly reminds me of death. I don’t like the cold environment of the mortuary—supposedly the “cold” environment that is said to lessen viruses. Supposedly. A virus is still killing us, isn't it? I have been running away from October and Russia all my life without knowing it, and doing a futile exercise of stretching my shadow. Like any Kisumuan, I am stuck with it. Like any Kisumuan, I get sick.

Until that day…

 

Oh well…tomorrow was another day.

Meanwhile…

There are a few more cultured types who share my sadness. One of them is Akech, but Kisumu unites us. Kisumu is the place where the sky and the earth meet in a distance that is never quite to be reached over the wide expanse of Lake Victoria. There in the tumble of it. The fortuity of it. Away out the west of Kenya, this side of the continent. In East Africa.

That day, Akech came to Od Wadu Cyber inside the gates of Russia Hospital; to the internet and print bureau where I make a honest living making photocopies, scanning and printing documents using an Epson inkjet printer, selling sodas and mandazis and stationery, and offering internet services using my two beat-up PCs. I got the space in the government precints on the account of my disability. The sight of the woman and a web of contentious deviltry exploded in my mind. Her dusty mitumba shoes and sweaty face evoked in me a rush of disconcerting nostalgia: I thought of days of childhood innocence and real danger in the 1960s, the peril of hunger and Pandpieri, long days and borrowed pity and conjectured dreamscapes in the dense area of grazing cattle and a grove of woods, and adventure in the lakeland plains, chaos and Russia and the children of Kisumo.

Akech gave me a talking eye and touched my arm. I stumbled coming to rest against the plywoood panelling on the partition. The woman looked like a stranger; our eyes met and the eyes of the stranger froze me deep within. Pure unadulterated evil was behind those eyes.

“Idhi nade? How are you doing?!” she asked cheerlessly. Her hoarse voice tell me something. Depresses me.

“Ber. Fine,” I returned.

“I can explain this,” she said, pointing at her dusty sandals. "I walked all the way from Nyalenda.'

There was no need for explanation—and her eyes could not keep off of her dusty feet.

When I had known Akech way back when before I went to prison, we had been awkward friends who had been more than teen lovers once upon a time. We never became lovers again after we formed K1. There just hadn’t been time. Seeing her and the bizarre events of my arrest. I had been found in possession of my brother's gun. It took the police three days to hunt me. By then and the crazed Olwande was deep in the bushy Nanga mines. The local chief and his small herd of deputies, along with the police, village militia, CID, and an assorted lot of vigilantes were out scouring the landscape. They all wanted Olwande—badly. When they found me, I was hiding in a cave like a scum, my left leg half eaten by hyenas. ; the air was hot as blazes, it had been days since the fire and days since I had eaten. I wasn’t “dead” dead but I wasn’t well. That's my I am a disabled Kenyan.

Later on that day, on a golden evening, we walked to Kachok bypass to buy fresh fish, and we squeezed ourselves on a boda boda, her in the middle between me and the boda boda rider. And as she clung to rider with her arms around him, a pulse stirred between her legs and she pressed herself against him like she was holding a pee. Her face flushed hot.

At the crest of Kondele flyover, the boda boda took a turn, off the highway, the bike clunked to a stop next to a group of women selling fish by the roadside. I swung my feet to the tarmac and helped Akech off the bike, holding her arms. She straightened her dress and paid the boda boda man. She directed me into a cafe near Russian Quarters and Manyata, across from MTC, where I sometimes went in search of a little luxury with hot chocolate, and would go to the stand and buy a cup after I skated a little longer killing may day at Od Wadu Cyber. We walked together, my arm around her shoulders, to the tiny thing of a cafe, where we lived our middle-class dreams into the sunrise, both of us forgetting that we were "brother-and-sister-in-arms", and that we will be parting ways before evening, but even so, we would have spent a day together that was worth a thousand.

I didn’t normally sit much at the cafeteria because I hated the place. All I did was to go in and bring me out a refreshment. There’s a noisy bar with crappy ohangla music next to it, and next to it a storefront Pentecostal church, not a parking or nothing, just a broken tarmac road and a frontyard of sorry edifice made from the cement and steel and timber of Kondele in Kisumu town where jua kali graffiti painting of figures of man and his woman fight for space in the walls in the ending of this lovely delicate dust world. Man and his woman of toil having chocolate; then going back to their house empty for a kiss or a quarrel and some loving this time of day and night. And we’re sitting there in the late July afternoon, late enough for the sun to be going down, and no one round really, and Akech is sitting staring at me, with her pencil thin legs stalked out legs curled up under her skirt, all pale and wan. We are in, pardon the expression, love, and I hate it. I think Akech wouldn’t mind some company from me, but I’m scared to death.

Veronica Akech is a vivacious woman; young, pretty, sassy, with eyes like daybreak. She has a pretty face. She was always smart, she could do maths in her head, she would do anything for anybody any time. She thought of other people first before her troubles. Not a slut but over the years, she has had more Dicks around her than in her. Men. Soldiers. Not saying she’s a slut but that’s where Olwande got the hiccups and the fever. Not saying she’s a slut but she’s got more balls in her heart than Dunga beach hippos. Not saying she’s a slut but she’s been under more sheets than the Olwande. Not saying she’s a slut but she’s been screwed up more than Gonzaga Gonza's army known as K1. End. She calls out my name now, much to my chagrin. I hear it like I’m hearing it for the first time. “Rabala. Yuora. Shemeji. You're like my brother-in-law.” She sounds calm as someone reading a little child to sleep, but not condescending, a nice voice actually. I had gotten to like it. It had a kind of hypnotic sing-song appeal. She sighs like air being let out of a bicycle tyre. Slowly. Comfortingly. Soothingly. Who? I try to think of the last time she called my name in full, Luo way, and can’t. I know it; she wants to make a serious statement. I am Rabala when she wants to be serious; I am Rabby the rest of the time. Actually, most of the time, when she wants to be sweet.

So I face her, all ears, my eyes fastened on her wide mouth.

She speaks her voice, like boiled molasses pouring into a bottle, sweeter than a lullaby, soothing. “Will you stand and see Olwande's house crumble while you build yours?” She has a high pitched snooty voice. She irritates me—her life’s goal!

A poignant question. I clenched my claws into my knees. That's a whole new ballgame right there. For a long moment the question burrows its way into my roaring thoughts. I am taken aback by the question.

I decide to shift the conversation, talk about what matters. "Gonza pushed him into the ring of fire," I state. "He died a death that was not his."

Akech flutters her eyes—her eyes hold in them a distant look.This is getting more complicated. "Look, there are no absolutes in my life now, or in Kisumu politics. But you have to make a choice, to support somebody... I don't like Gonza either. At all. And like you, I probably want him dead. But I don't like what our world look like right now. You have to put your trust in something. He is all we have got now. In honour of K1."

The eye-bulging woman shrugs. Her voice is no longer honey but molasses. "In honour of Olwande. Well, he is dead. He was my husband. And he was a thief. Now his house is crumbling."

She has brought to conversation back to what matters for her.

"So? Thieves have been ruling Kisumu for a long time. The question is how to take it back? We can only do it through them. We can't win. Anyway, first things first. You know I'm a widow now. So... before we talk about K1, maybe we can talk about me."

K1. The army for the children of Kisumu. The Force. I hate the name now. Whatever it was—there was something amiss “in the Force.” I have a feeling, it is disturbing. I factored K1 in my mood, my way of life, my brother, Olwande. Wuod min, the son of my mother. The Replacements, the politics, the wars—everything. But there was nothing to supply me with “whatever” was disturbing me.

There probably were unforeseen problems but such is life. I was a little creeped out by the coincidence—Olwande lived just miles from Kisumu town, on the plateau, the hills. Wrinkling my nose, cocking my head, I lean back to stare up to the inky darkness that is the night sky of Manyata and Kondele. Olwande’s house crumbling? I know what Vero is getting at. A sickening feeling burbles in the pit of my stomach. My toes curls inside my Italian loafers.

My mother knew there was a problem in the (and with the) family and she sat me one night, a few weeks before she died, when Akech went off on the town with some money she was paid from Olwande’s insurance compensations; long ago. Mama was in a tiff and as a result her usual care in putting us together suffered.

She beseeched me. “She’s a widow now, and you must do the right things like a Luo and inherit her. Olwande and you were brothers.” You know, when I heard the phrase inherit, there was a pregnant pause. I now know exactly what it means. It was more like a two babies nine months apart pregnant pause.

"You must inherit her."

She said it again.

“Nyaka to itere.”

So quickly and nonchalantly spoken.

A knife on fire sailed into my heart.

When a Luo uses the word to, it is something to listen to. It’s emphasis. Nyaka to means You have to. I know. I am needed to inherit Akech and make her move back to Pandpieri because she can’t pay rent, but finds that Nyalenda is a never-never place and our crummy house in Pandpieri is a no-go place. She prefers her house in Manyata which Olwande rented, just her all day noshing and the Nigerian movies on her DVD player on and her just sitting there in the house on easy sofas, getting horsier and horsier. Anyways... this girl was an uptown girl brought up in Okore. Inherit her? Sorry Mama. My love for my family is endearing. But... to inherit Akech? That was horrid and impossible and ridiculous. I am guided mostly and overwhelmed by both my personal principles, decency and other mitigating factors including modernity, a shunning of useless traditions.

Another memory engram revealed my "brother" Olwande transforming into a hardcore gangster and descending into chaos due to frustrations and alcohol abuse and stupidity. When he lost control, he was at his wits trying to keep sanity. But only for a time before he lost control. He gave himself to slovenly habits and became dirty and never changed his jeans. We weren’t sure but it was an inevitable decent brought on by the excessive use of chang’aa. It was the same for all chang’aa drinkers of Nyalenda. The more a man drunk the illicit brew for their pleasure the more the chang’aa bane got its grip on the mind of the drinker!

Mama Sofi, the famous chang’aa brewer of Nyalenda was in charge, no doubt there, and men in suits and cops and church men and learned men and students and harlots and all types of men frequented her home. The more Olwande drunk, it was followed by addiction and abuse, his mind’s desires, and then his heart. Good sense, decency, common sense all took a backseat and were virtually non-existent.

He sloppy and rebellious and linked up with prostitutes and lazybones and muggers. From the time Olwande ceased the streets and paths of Nyalenda with his drinking buddies to his demise, a few years have passed, maybe four. Our house in Pandpieri remains the same, a modest home on the outskirts of town. My mother no longer lives here. Her grave is still fresh. Ten kilometres of paved road winds this way and that then coming along some villages before entering the first part of a trading centre before entering the wooded savanna area known as Thim Jope (the forest of the bufalloes). The land is as rugged as Sahara Desert sand dunes. Some parts of the paved road are quite narrow, steep, and hairpin turns. Many years before I was born, my father, Oyier Kachami son of No, had inherited this land from his father and built his own home. My father had migrated to this place after cholera wiped out his parents in South Nyanza. He didn’t like Pandpieri, he didn’t like heights and liked them less when the road was narrow with a rugged ragged hill on one side and a steep drop-off on the other. He was from Lambwe, the plains, the savanna grassland. As we explored the forest of Thim Jope with our father on the way back from cutting wood we could see down the ravine old-old trees jammed down into the rocks virtually obscure by the brush.

The climbing road went more than an hour going up-up-up the first hill and then a mile of flat top before heading down the other side. Elevation about two thousand feet. Kisumu was spread out below. Scrub brush, oak, live oak, boulders, and rutted road were all one could see. At the bottom of the first hill a half mile of flat before entering the second hill, you came to civilisation. The house among the tree. A creek ran across the road—actually, ran under. A cement bridge went across the creek—which was seldom ever very full. Both sides of the bank were inundated with rocks and small boulders. The whole area was serene.

It was a little creepy living in my parents' house after they had “gone.” And it came to the point whereas it creeped my mother out too much and so Olwande moved back to stay with her, and built his simba. He was sane enough to graze the cattle and the goats. When he lost control and descended into drink and disease before death, he was living not with his wife but with my mother.

I visited Akech at Manyata recently and as we sat there, she kept smiling. She had amazing eyes; she had an amazing smile, too. She asked me if I could do it; said this was something I must do. She said it as an aside or a by-the-way while we were watching a movie from a DVD in Olwande’s prized 30-inch Samsung telly. She said I could pay her rent. Since my girlfriend left me six months ago, I had never thought about having a Kisumu woman such as this Akech, let alone the respect for her as my sister-in-law, and I kind of brushed her off with my hand at my ear to let her know I was interested in the movie that was on, and she asked again, kind of a sweet girl, really.

“Kawa. En chik, yawa. Take me and make me your wife. It’s the law.”

And I smiled... stupid law as far as I was concerned... didn’t like the idea... didn’t hate her either... and she reminded me she was not old yet and I saw she could not have been more than a couple of years older than me, and should not be a widow, but she was and there was the situation of it. And I hated it. My mother had reckoned that it was the right thing to do; it was what I must do. Being a Luo, I knew that it was my duty to inherit Olwande’s widow. They say it’s choices now. It used to be traditions. It used to be up to you as a brother to do the right thing. Now there are responsibilities that you must take for your brother’s family. I pretend I believe these things. I don’t. It’s my duty though. To take care of Olwande’s family; to make sure Akech doesn’t slip into stupidity and prostitution and death in this Kisumu. It’s a dilemma. I don’t care to fill in the blanks.

So I looked at her at the other end of the broken spring sofa that was already an inch from the floor, that broken. And she reached over and put her hand on my shoulder and I looked at her and got this bumfuzzled thing inside me and she said we could have a good time, biting her lip, avoiding my eyes. And a bit later on Akech, oddly, a bit bolder now than she, asked me with timid trepidation.

My smile was a chasm where Akech’s lust stirred. She got on her feet, walked to the window, looked out at the moon in the sky. She spoke to him with enough serious tone. “Marry me, don’t inherit me, marry me. Like a woman. Kenda. Marry me.”

It was a decree and a statement, said surreptitiously.

What? She got to me. My eyes bulged with excessive blinking to follow.

So, the pregnant pause was in my court. I was quite stunned by these words. And the saying of them. But I was a mite nervous and I did move awkwardly, for me that is, toward her and she put her arms around me and she brought her face to mine. No. I pulled back, took her arm off, pushed her away and clicked my tongue loudly. She tsked, took a minute to compose herself. So did I. Our minds weren’t on having a conversation.

“Why did you leave him?” I venture to ask. To die alone

“He was a loose cannon. He ventured away from our cause into crime. But you still liked him.”

“You said he was a distraction?” Rabby drawled.

“And now you’re my distraction,” Akech stated.

I smiled. Akech smiled too, and thought about her dead husband. It was interesting how death united people. Olwande had the damnedest eyes! And that smile! He was rugged; diabolical, kind, sweet, and deadly. A little uncouth at times but he had some charm to him—a lot of charm. Killing didn’t come easy to him; it was a job, business. Most “contract hits” didn’t bother him—he believed hwas pushing the agenda of K1.

“Tears in your eyes. Faraway look. You miss him?”

Akech smiled big and was a little embarrassed. “Not really, not really, just memories.”

“Did you love him?”

Akech is silent. For the most part and Olwande enjoyed irritating her—his wife. They traded barbs and cut downs—Olwande cutting Marci about her barren womb and slim stature; Akech dissing Olwande about—everything.

Akech nostrils flare. “He was my husband. And he was my nightmare. I don't miss him.”

I am intrigued. “So what’s the distraction?”

Akech sighs. “I can't focus. You know me. You're the only man I can trust.”

“I - I don’t know if I can do this, Vero. Sorry.”

That was a statement of non-committal.

Akech needed something a little more solid and reliable. She was dejected and saddened. I got up, went to her, took her by the hand, led her back to the sofa.

“Stay here,” he said to her, “we’ll work something out.”

Her beautiful brown eyes stared into me—there was a feeling of hopelessness along with hopefulness. And I was stammering unsuredly, "You can't marry a person just because you want to continue your brother's life. Give the dead some space. We have things to do. In honour of Olwande and K1."

Akech bowed her head, her hopes of marriage obliterated. She took it all in (literally as well as figuratively) describing every nuance of how hard her life will be here in Kisumu without a man. It looked as though she was in some sort of turmoil. And we sat in silence. And she sighed and said, “Sounds like to me someone shirking their responsibilities!”

“Maybe so!”

Stop. This woman needed help. Did I care? The shenanigans Olwande was involved in had waned—drastically. He had been a survivor like all of us and he had lived with a weapon and terrorised people but when he came out of prison, he was no longer “in the mood” to be a K1 and didn't want to do anything with anyone. But I didn't have to treat him bad. Could I be that callous, audacious? What could it cost to show her I cared? So I copped a feeling and one feeling was worthy of another. Fleeting memories filled my head suddenly, images of people I couldn’t rightly put a name to proper. Angry ghosts in the shadows behind the Russia massacre of the children of Kisumo in 1969 when I was a little boy. More thoughts of something diabolical filled my mind. Ghosts safely hidden behind the hospital walls. Their wailing voices drowned by the happy music of Kondele nearby and the carefree laughter of Kondele harlots and the rejoicing sounds of benga bands and ohangla ensembles and street traders hawking their wares, and the screams and jeers of boda boda riders, the human sounds of struggle to just stay alive, and the general merriment of Kondele. It was moonlight and magic and a fairyland world it seemed.

The background for our evening of sadness saved the day. I looked at the night out there; the brown houses, the gusts of dust swirling mightily off the tyres of passing cars; the wind kicking cool against my angry face. I touched my tongue to the cool air and I put it back in my mouth tasted of October glazing. Akech looked at me as though I were the last passenger on Nyataya Bus as it had all but crashed, reconciled with always being like that; and I smiled at her. I genuinely smiled at her; for I had known embarrassment in her eyes and mind. I had known just a bit what horrors she was still going through; never to turn down the Government's secret job of helping the police dismantle K1. And, working with the police didn't save her husband; even now that she was freed by her husband's death, she was still married to him and she was still in bondage. Even when he lived, the terror of living together in secrecy with the most wanted "criminal" made her a marked person constantly harassed by the police. And now the destruction of her family caused by herself when she rebelled and walked out of the marriage to get freedom surrendered her to everything outside her. And now all of this supposition; everybody might be as happy and normal as hell that K1 is vanquished and politicians can rule again. I deeply hoped so, not Akech, though. I thought of all her trials and tribulations as a woman and a mother and a widow; for that was way too obvious. So when she said, "I did what I had to do," I smiled at her; and very warmly and genuinely meant too; as she smiled back sort of at me.

"I have to go," I said then, opening the door to the hallway, “See you later?” She turned her face away and managed an “ok,” and suddenly as I had fallen, it seemed by accident, into a night bus. I thought there might have been another passenger on the Nyataya that may have survived after all. I left, closing gently the door. Perhaps it was time for me to listen and to learn and be a shoulder to a grieving woman and this was so vital that marriage and false facades could not measure. I walked out into the quiet street; and I experienced something that felt suspiciously like happiness; and maybe Akech could help me assuage the massive guilt I had had all my life, that I had been totally unaware of. She wrapped a leso around her shoulders and escorted me in the manner of decent Kisumu women. The night shone darkly. July looked to be a nice month.

As we walked side by side, those infamous words only a bone-deep Kisumuan could say were spoken:

“Remember the children of Kisumo.”

“I'm a child of Kisumo. A woman.”

“Unusual woman. Educated. Government worker."

“A woman. Like any. A widow. In need of a new husband. A new life.”

Silence. No answer.

"You need me to pay you?"

"Maybe."

Akech gave a long haughting sigh like a very satisfying orgasm. "Freedom is good. I feel as if you have given me freedom, and I will act on it."

We were pretty sore and pissed as we drifted away, Akech disappearing in an alleyway in downtown Kondele to find freedom and start a new life for herself, and me heading back to my rented room to sleep. I felt sorry for Akech. If I could have done something to stop the future of her doomed life now our past as the doomed children of Kisumo I would. It was so helpless a feeling like those K1 aborted attempts of making love with the rulers of Kisumu City years later, and in our own solitary masturbation, loneliness was worse than frustration and poverty. I kept feeling like a thief, like I was the Government men who had stolen our freedom away; like I was always spouting this philosophy and had no idea what it meant; as if I had betrayed myself by forming this crazy political movement looking “out there” when the answer should have been in my heart. Oh, years roll by and Kisumu people are still struggling to heal. Stories of Russia massacre are still told, scars remain, people do not forget. I have a stack of memories and I am unable to get away from my lost childhood which haunts me. I grew up and went to schools and colleges and tried to fulfill Oliech's dream of becoming a doctor. But high school was the furthest I could go. Next thing on the road to nowhere? K1. I could have become a clerk or a thief. Or a politician. I was a man of the people. And I made enough friends; for I had acquired a seeming depth. When you have the weight of Kisumu upon your shoulders for years, you find it easy to do just betray your childhood friends, watch them get thrown in prison to die, and then mourn them and live with the guilt for the rest of your life; and the rest of them in past yesterdays and tomorrows to come; hide inside and pretend you know what you could have done; be your own 1960s and 1970s and 1980s too and take endless pictures of the sky with your very nerves and remember, remember. Remember.

 

Akech. This rabit woman. Tough. Enough.

1974, shock value. Akech was mourning Lumumba. She didn’t know what to do—it was unprecedented; a new situation she was not sure of. She knew that she was uncomfortable; she knew that she had let her guard down and that was a dangerous-dangerous thing. She and Rabala could not become lovers. That would be bad.

This woman grew with us in Pandpieri and she was a tough country girl who climbed trees killed bird with catapults and wrestled boys. Only I could wrestle her. When she had loved me, she challenged me. "I am a rabit," she said cryptically. "You have to kill me first." She was strong and muscular like a Kipsigis hunter girl. With mighty strength, I wrestled her to the ground, to the coarse grass and fought for my prize like a man fighting a rabit woman. You know rabit women in our society? Those weird women you have to "kill" first before you can have them. She fought me like a wild cat with her nails scratching me like claws and her teeth biting my hands; she tried to squirm away. I was on top of her instantly, with my heavy chest crushing her lithe body and flattening her little breasts. I could see death blazing in her eyes. Her legs were closed like a vice. I hit her hard on the temple to weaken her. Dazed, her thigh muscles forgot their use for one moment. I worked my knees between her thighs, forcing them open. When I pried her thighs apart, I knew the prize was earned. "Kill me!" she whispered urgently. I did what I had been told you do to a rabit woman: I gripped her throat and strangled, killing her. The warlike girl uttered a piercing scream and went totally rigid as I took her.

We formed K1 in 1978 to fight for the rights of the victims of Russia massacre, and she became one of the top lieutenants of the movement. She fought alongside us. One by one, we fell. K1 was doomed form the start. Our leader Magak had lived only twelve years. K1 was vanquished; we went underground and resorted to terror tactics, which transformed into deviant gang activities. Our cause fell on the wayside in favour of survival. We parted ways; many of us went to prison, many of us went to the grave, many of us went into hiding, many of us fell ill.

Her being a widow does not change much. Nothing can weigh her down. There are reservations, of course, about the pending solution to the Olwande problem. It is something I don’t particularly wish to engage in but it is necessary.

As the wife of K1's number two, Akech was a problem, a liability, a loose end that needed resolution. Her heart was gilded in mine, dangerously so. In that resolution was “solution.” The solution was the unfriendly gorge. It was Akech's desperation and fear, her broken heart that gave me the violence of gentleness. And that is what frightened me the most.

Let me tell you, I am charming in my own way, I am forthright, not a dumbass, not overly pompous like Olwande, and there is just some sort of chemistry that pulled the me and Akech together long before she threw herself at Olwande together. It was revenge, I had rejected her.

The nitty and the gritty of it.

The day Olwande died, I walked down to the KR train yards and listened to and watched the trains carrying night with them speed by in their bright sparks and the sound of their rattling bogies and their heavy wheels on the endless rails up ahead and never to return to back there. I pretended Olwande was on the train gusting past me. I pretended he was saying good bye to Akech. I hoped she would find a decent life and not be just another Kisumu sad case. I knew she would not be strong, but I pretended she would. But when it comes to pretending, with time, I can pretend it so. And even pretend I believe I am the man carrying the weight of Kisumu on my shoulders.

Like the psychologist I am in my private hell, I know how to know people. I’ve got the knack. The art.

My name is Rabala Ochogo son of Oyier, a fish a long way from the water, standing by the pier of Pandpieri at Dunga, with my long tough looking fingers, leathery seeming, as my flesh. A boy of the sun and the lake, I am full of myself. I am a Kisumu kid of the lake who loves watching the ladies remove their crude or fine cotton clothing and dip their skins in the water. I am one of the children of Kisumo. I am twenty-seven years old. In 1969, I was nine—as young and hopeful about the fruits of Independence as anyone.

Know this: I am a survivor of the 1969 Russia massacre. Since 1969, I have never been the same and for the most part that is okay (with it.) I am no longer a child now. My view of life is now different and not quite seen as it was in 1969. I mean, at nine, I was way too young. Today I have become somewhat cynical, a little critical (of the perpetrators of the massacre, the men who ordered the shooting of innocent children), but mostly kept to myself and swore never to hold the hand of somebody's daughter in marriage.

The Russia massacre is today neatly erased from history, forgotten. Covered up and maybe vaulted at Kenya National Archives. Which is probably good for some people.


Another time, another place. The woman comes back. She shrugs—it is a wait and see. Certainly not good for Akech.

In the meantime, I settle in my favorite chair contemplating the many mysteries that were “life.” I miss Kisumu boys. K1. I miss Oliech. I miss Olwande. I miss Lumumba. And she misses Gonza. I was sad. Akech said I needed another sidekick.

She pleads, her eyes full of unshed tears.

"Let's do this. I seriously need a man. A man I can trust."

Does she ever give up?

Maybe someone she knew I knew?

Gonza?

No, she has plans for Gonza. The guy knows too much.

Thinking of Gonzaga Gonza brings to mind another man who knew too much. I settle in my chair more as my mind picks the information from the mind files.
Lumumba.

It wasn’t too long ago, some twenty years or so, when another K1 militia man got snoopy (and subsequently got his ass in a whole heap o’ trouble.) They grew him in prison. he died there. In the end, there remained only four of us: Olwande, Gonza, Akech and I.

“Well,” she begins, “it’s a long story.”

Secrets, oh the irony. It is sure for some certainty that even after twenty years being whole in here Kisumu, I am a long way from being myself. This life has been an adventure—no doubt there. And even if I have some regrets, can I continue living this way? What future does tomorrow hold? Why don't I pack my bags get, a new umph and go to Nairobi like everyone else and rebuild my life?

Isn't my struggle for freedom nothing but an illusion?

That is the question.

I didn't see Akech for some days. In that time, I did my own digging. Turned out she was really working not for the government but for a politician, collecting facts. The politician, wanted to profile the victims of Russia massacre. For what? Compensation? For the Government, it had been elimination. Many of us had gone down. There was a conflict in my mind; a double standard—and it bothered me. A lot. Akech was, in essence, no better than the many fake government officers who had harassed me in the past, but then again, I (sigh) thought myself that her mission seemed important to her. It boiled down, though, to the simple fact that she was a woman, operating solo! It will make things easy, also, due to the fact that she was a Luo, born and bred in Kisumu. Women are scum and putty in my hands, so, in the dead of night, in Kondele or uptown or in some swanky night sport by the waterfront, Akech will meet her fate.

Akech says, "Take me to a bar and make me drunk."

We end up at a bar dancing, watching sports on screens, drinking beer, listening to burbling drunken conversations—KPU stuff. She has moved on. The face of poverty had crept up on her, so she moved to the brick house Olwande had built in his plot of our family land in the hills. She is rebuilding her life. At midnight, we decide to call it a day. She uses her Nokia phone to call a boda boda. As we wait, she tells me about her new place. She is still settling in but has decided that her husband's home would suffice. The boda boda comes and we squeezed ourselves, her sandwiched in the middle. Not a lot of traffic on the two-lane country road; there are “bad boys”; wild animals, dogs, and police patrol cars. Tall weeds, ragweed, scented weeds; wild roses, unseen depressions; rodent holes, and unmarked graves also plague the distance from the remote house to the nearest civilization. "So be warned," she says. "Hey, I need to use the toilet."

I smile and say, “If you don't fart with the wind outside, you’re going to shit inside!”

It was always a way with us. The only thing we two hadn’t done was engage sexually with one another. Exchanging dirty vibes, hugging and necking didn’t count. There didn’t seem to be any sexual tendencies towards one another and that seemed to be alright.

Once coming from the toilet, Akech offers me a beer and a brief tour of the brick house. There are trees in the backyard, a tall strong wooden plank fence, a vegetable garden, a dog, some chickens, and a goat. Inside the house is modestly furnished; a few paintings of worth on the walls, and “country” furnishings.

"Why did you move back?"

"Survival."

Really? What rhetoric. Aren't we all survivors? Oppressed and disempowered? There's a better word.

Empowerment.

The home. It is quaint and suiting and homey.

After a tour of the compound, Akech guides her esteemed guest to the sitting room. An old sofa, sofa chair, thick carpeting, large windows. I open the beer bottle, takes a deep slug, belches heartily, then puts it on the floor. We settle ourselves on the sofa and attack our predicament. The talk, of course, is perverted politics; badmouthing Oginga haters, specifically, and the money we were going to make from the politician.

The political talk discussion runs the entire field which slowly degrades to whimsically exposing our divergent views, both of us admitting our likes and dislikes (mostly likes.) On the sofa beside me, Akech lies herself on the cushion with her pretty head pushed up against back of the sofa. Although I can't see her do it, Akech gulps and struggles to maintain herself. She sits up straighter with her hands to her sides. She looks as if she is about to cry but somehow manages to curtail that emotion and sit ready. She holds out her hand, makes me stand and hold her. She shudders as I step up to her, caressing her ass before applying a swift smack. And for added measure of indulgence, I pull her to me. She gives me a soft and sly smile, turns around and asks me to zip down her dress.

"Are you serious?"

And Akech, to her everlasting credit, does not laugh, but looks at me steadily like she knows she has me, another huge step forward to her happiness, maybe achievement. She strips off her clothing without hesitation; she steps out of her clothes and feeds me with a sultry smile. My eyes see it: the beaded string around her waist, colourful beads. revealing the chains of colorful glass beads that snake around the black flesh of her waist.

Chola!

Again. "Are you serious?"

Akech shrugs and gives her best smile; twinkling eyes, her fingers tugging at the beaded string on her waist, all conveying, “Are you ready to break my chola?” and walks nakedly to her bedroom.

"Set me free," she says seriously.

I break out in cold sweat. In her bed, she gives me the look. She gulps and surreptitiously gouges the heel of her hand to her throat. "Kill me first." Her face is set, her eyes unblinking.

I know; not that I forgot. Rabit. Oh.

I ease myself on top of her and grip her throat with both hands. Her eyes widen in fear, and she starts whimpering, begging for her life. I slowly tighten my grip, and the pleas are reduced to a croak, a whisper, then just a gurgle. Her breath is completely stopped. She is in peril. She can’t thrash about, although she wants to; she can’t scream out, although she wants to. Her bulging eyes fix in a death stare. As she strains for air, she gives a gurgling scream and her vagina pops open.

"Kill me." A husk.

The sensation of penetration is out of the parameters of wordage. She hugs him, grits her teeth, grimaces, and endures being rammed. Her eyes bulge in agony and her tongue protrudes as her body convulses on the bed. She is weeping hysterically, she thrashes violently and she is as wild and insatiable as I imagined. She is sweating and so am I.

"Nega. Kill me. Nega."

She reaches her peak. Her breasts bounce and her hips buck as her eyes open wider and wider and her tongue protrudes from her mouth with saliva dripping from her mouth. It's ghastly.

Slowly, though, her senses come back to her—

She calms down. Worn, tortured, and hoarse. Sniffling, whimpering, clearing her throat.

To say the least—she in’t quite the same thereafter. She doesn’t think there is anything in comparison to what she has experienced. To some it would have been traumatic. Not to Akech.

She weeps finally, finally with the rage of a woman touching an earlobe for the feel of an heirloom earring and discovering it gone, not knowing when and where it fell, and powerless at this point to find it. The lifelong pain twists her into a fetal position on the floor until the sun will slip from the sky and leaves it black when morning comes. Worn, stripped, and hoarse, her cries taper, and something else emerges: A voice.

My voice. “You cry as if this is torture."

"Fate," she says with a sniffle.

"How is it fate if you have control over it?"

She lies in a sea of frothy joy. Her body is glistening and tingling. "Thank you, Rabby. I am a rabit. Few men can do to me what you have done. Olwande was always scared."

And I watched with terrified facsination as she untied the beaded string and removed it from her waist. She dropped it on the floor and cleared her throat, smiling. "Freedom. Chola, gone, gone, gone. Kabisa. Free woman."

While she sleeps, I decide to pry a bit, learn about her. From the desk left hand bottom drawer comes not a folder on monthly expenses; not a file on projected income; not a declaration of expected losses, but an extra-large ping pong paddle. On one side was a green dimpled plastic cover; the other side is bare wood. I ease open the cover, and come face to face with a gun. Something fell out. A plastic drugs bottle! Familiar.

Antiretroviral drugs!

I stand on nimbly legs wavering as I fight off the effects of my shock. I seethe terror, curse, and exhibit signs of an angry man on my breath.

Fucking bitch.

 

A week pass before we get together not for another wicked session that would end with once more talking into the wee hours. But this time at a more sublime (and comfortable) place—a restaurant. Of course, in the wee hours of the morn there aren’t a lot of patrons and the two warriors choose a booth “out of the way” and ear shot of anyone else, including staff.

Judgement time.

"Tell me the truth: what killed Olwande?"

Akech rolls her eyes. In her head, it feels like when she dove to the bottom of the lake to her demon world; the pressure was great—tremendous even. The confusion and panic (and sickness) had gone beyond their levels to a new level.

Akech clears her voice. "I think you know. I think the question is why I left him." Her voice was low, strained and whispery; a sore throat.

Her guiltless courage makes me guess. I remember how many K1 recruits got ill. The disease had killed us by breaking our spirits and making us weak, and then intoxicating us with the death gun or knives with booze and drugs and stupidity and giving up and in and pretending when there is nothing to pretend with anymore. One person passed it on to another; a husband to his wife, a wife to her husband, a man to his girlfriend, a woman to her boyfriend, a prostitute to her client, a vengeful man to a prostitute. It was cyclical.

I can feel her beginning to weep, inside. She is suddenly ashamed. "I tested. I was positive. That's why I left him. It was not easy."

My mind goes ballistic.

"If you have it...?"

"You have it too...

“Are you crazy? Are you going to fuck around to death and take me with you? It's selfish.”

There are tons of questions I want to ask; how much time does she have left, who gave it to her, shit like that. I forgo those pesky intrusive inquiries and go into panic—then got out and face Akech to drag her in, too… But the woman with a heart of stone does not answer my questons; does not flinch. I seethe. My breath quickens, my tears fall, I'm now speed-talking. My nose runs. I'm sniffling, teeth grinding, practically shooting hot air.

The intrusive question does not take the woman's breath away. She is overwhelmed and compelled to listen to my diatribes. When I run out of steam, Akech has some few simple questions. “Solder, comrade, are you afraid of death?” she almost shouts. “Didn't we all die and rise again in 1969 at Russia when we were shot? Didn't we declare No fear for death, when we started K1. Haven't we all nearly perishing? I mean, aren't we all supposed to be dead, mazee?

Silence.

My eyes flutter.

My throat is dry.

My heat beats.

The smell of my sweat fills the space.

She sucks her teeth, clears her throat. “Okay. I have it. So? Don't I live? Do I look sick? Look, Rabby, this is a family affair. We are family. I got it from your brother. And it nearly broke our marriage. I forgave him. Now, let me assure you that since you broke my chola, you inherited me. I'm your wife, even if not a proper one. Even if I'm your inherited danger. I was married once and my bride price was paid... the six cows my parents received from your parents. The marriage was sealed in the family and I am locked up in this family even if it's my private hell. Go and test. Then start taking medicine if you want to count your days. Like we all do. Otherwise, here's the truth of the world: No one is getting out of here alive."

“That's coldhearted and mean?”

“Good. Maybe. Possible.” Slight pause; then, “Who said I'm an angel. I'm just a victim and a survivor. Like you. Like I just said, we died a long- long time ago, bwana. We have been living on borrowed time ever since. That's why none—I mean—none of the five of us ever had a good life. Those who married like me never had kids. Yes; buddy. We are the children of Kisumo, cursed and damned to the grave. Our world was turned upside down in 1969. But while we live, we have to do what we have to do. Like you and me now. Together forever.”

I'm floored. Speechless. Confusion besiege me. I make a scowl but I am too confused to fuss.

So, it is thusly clarified.

I remember our night of love, her demanding love like a deep sucking hole. Her tears and her grip, wild and unrelenting.

I close my eyes.

Suddenly there is fire in me. I am furious. My face keeps calm. Don't scare the woman. Calm does it. See what's going on. But I am a jumping bean inside. I don’t really want to believe it; Olwande had not been murdered, he had not been eliminated, he was consumed by the disease of the century. Now there are three of us: Akech, Gonza and me. Gonza had ordered a retaliatory operation from prison: a kidnap for ransome. Akech hadn’t really wanted to carry the operation—it was a “forced” situation and that rubbed her. But under the circumstances—

I sigh and lean in licking my lips. Explaining much on the surface. Explaining nothing underneath. Akech had always been what she was: a woman dangerous to love. A killer of men. La femme fatale. A reincarnated Ajwang daughter of Kadem. I think at this point, I whimper. I pull back. I hold on. I am rooted. Since 1969, life had always been scary for me. People had always frightened me. I kept waiting for the other shoe to fall. The ax to drop. In this, I'm usually not too disappointed.

Akech's order is a double-edged sword. Join me or oppose me. Some choice. The right thing to do, of course, is to oppose the Government and try to escape; try to reform K1, or something. Akech had put in a condition. She was a sick and dying woman. She wanted to work for the Government for the remaining years of her life. Our war with the Government was a waste of time.

She smiles. It is not a friendly smile. "Let's go in and change things from the inside. But first—" She looks at me. Her eyes are no longer kind. They flame a little.

She takes out her cutex and starts to paint her nails.

"We are married."

It is a decree, more than betrayal. I stand there for a moment not responding. She has taken the breath out of me with the last few facts that hurt like barbs in my skin. I had resisted her for the longest time. I was resistant and knew that it was more than simple politics. Now. The relationship (sexual) between us is wrong and she knows it. But she her government work brought into a new world of political power and that is all there was to it.

No conditioning—pure acceptance.

"Gonza is out of prison now."

Akech's stomach tightens, she blinks her eyes and turns from staring at me. In her mind she is screaming “NO! NO! NOOOOO-oooo!”

"The better reason why we have to hurry things. He will be harder to convince, his militant nature allows no room for reasoning. Only you can convince him."

This is a forced life-altering moment. It is, but Congolese music is blaring and the lights are all flickering on and off with the other indicators going off-line, too. I am not afarid. Not afraid of anything. Not even frightened of dying. I am tired. Like a battle-hardened soldier, I often don’t get frightened; I often don’t feel remorse, feel sad, or have any emotions whatsoever. But for one of the few times in my life, there i something amiss with those staid emotions.

"I don't want you to either...," I start.

But I don't finish. I don't care. I am pretending. It is easy to see. Akech is pretending too. I am scared. I am worried too. Of the world outside those windows. It is an awfully scary predicament, to be in alliance with this confused woman, a danger that I have now inherited. Well, maybe not confused as such. Maybe a calculating woman who needs love and empowerment. Maybe a despised piece of vegetable that can actually help finish a plate of ugali on a meal table.

Maybe my saviour.

Akech comes into my arms. I hold her tight. We are each other's sun. We are each other's Icarus. We are each other's Daedalus, building each other and ourselves other bodies minds a. We are in a battle of Minotaurs and men and sun gods and endless wars. We are designing mazes inside our cheeks and penises and vaginas and words, pretending we are closer to the sky that way, and we are hobbits hiding in our brains hoping no one would ever find out what frauds we are, pretending the frauds who are too busy being frauds would ever bother to find out...

Fear?

Trepidation?

Concern?

Inherited danger?

All little of all the above plus.

Then the text message comes in—

Gonza has been captured and is badly injured. The untreated wound on his side most likely from the result of a GSW up close had festered and is infected. Treatment is being administered but that isn’t why he is on guarded condition—a notation in his clipboard up against his face concealing him suggests that he might be involved in criminal activities. There are no specifics and the situation is “under investigation.”

In the meantime, he is handcuffed to a bedpost at Russia.

Akech's face is unreadable.

On her cell she types in: Mission complete.

How many are left? a reply message asks.

Akech closes his eyes—“Only me.”

“You need a vacation!” states the reply message.

Akech considers it; there just isn’t time.

There's no guilt.

Complete mission.

End.

 


 

Novel, 650 pages
Soon to be published by Oba Kunta Octopus

COMING SOON