Her handkerchief was so wet from all the weeping she had been doing I felt guilty that I didn’t have an extra one.
“My brother didn’t deserve kuuliwa, ata kama alikuwa amefanya nini…” she continued, rubbing her nose again. I knew our conversation would be a hard one to have but even then, I couldn’t have predicted how hard.
“Acha tuachie hapo leo tutaendelea kesho,” I said, hoping her pain would subside after I halted everything. The grey clouds outside looked angry as they gathered. We were deep in the countryside, where rains welcome themselves almost on a daily basis. I was hoping to get a guest room before dark however basic it may be because sleeping at her place just felt a little too awkward.
“Hapa kuna katown karibu naeza enda kulala?” I asked after she had calm down.
“huku kwetu bado hawajaeka hizo malodging… lakini mbona ulale kwa lodging na huku kuna simba?”
A Simba is what a teenager would build in his father’s compound after a rite of passage, which is usually circumcision. Wilberforce, her deceased stepbrother, had built himself a thatched hut that sat close to the edge of their compound. The simba seemed to know its owner was no more because it just sat there defeated, abandoned to the melancholic presence that sat in this homestead.
Nelima led me to her outdoor kitchen, lit a kerosene lamp and gave me a stool that was the height of a spoon. Her kitchen looked like it knew secrets I didn’t, the strands of soot hanging from its roof evidence that it has been around for a couple of generations. In no time, a small pot of pre-boiled githeri was on the fireplace. The crackling firewood dispelled silence from the tiny room, and I just sat there staring, glad that Nelima had finally recovered from the initial tormenting conversation but also lost in my own cloud of thoughts.
Why would a man as young as Wilberforce jeopardize everything by murdering his own father?
Why does his sister think he didn’t deserve it despite having lost a father too?
The questions outnumbered the answers by a mile, but good thing I had the whole of the next day to ask questions no one else had asked. It was a few minutes past seven but it already looked like midnight outside. Nights in villages are like nothing I’ve seen before; so dark that pedestrians passing by sound like voices floating around. But the sky compensated in full, the pool of stars resembling cities and civilizations that ruled the space above us. Of course I was the only one in awe, this to Nelima was but another night at home, only that a stranger sat with her in her kitchen.
“Na si uliniambia uko na mtoto mmoja?”
“Gracie ako kwa macousin wake huko ng’ambo, ataletwa kesho na wenzake wakikuja kulala huku…”
Haha, classic sleepovers. At least that’s one thing she gets to enjoy.
“Uko njaa sana ama nikuekee kiasi tu?”She asked as she checked on her now ready githeri.
“Eka serving spoon mbili tu”
“Wanaume wa Nairobi mnakula kama ndege, hii si ni chakula ya kuku!”
Yea, she hit the bull’s eye with that one. My bad though, I just didn’t want to leave half of the food on my plate.
I slept like a newly born baby that night. Only that I didn’t have a mother around to cradle me every 30 minutes I woke up. My thoughts kept racing and also, it’s a little weird sleeping in a house whose owner was murdered in cold blood. My detective side wanted me to look for clues in this simba of his, but my superstitious side slapped some sense into me. You don’t go rummaging through a dead man’s belongings unless he came to you in your dreams and permitted you to do so. Fortunately, no deceased person visited in my dreams. The sun was up and its rays peered through the door’s crevices, allowing me to observe things I was involuntarily blind to. Beside the bed was a makeshift wooden box. You know those drawers at home where anything and everything goes? Something close to that.
Curiosity got the better of me, and I felt like I had to take a look inside. Just this one time. Wilberforce seemed to have been quite the handyman from all the spanners and rubber bands I found. But below all that was a washed-up, old exercise book. Must’ve been from his high school days because it had “Misikhu SEC” written in bold ink over the cover. Inside were cutouts of celebrities and lyrics of songs that must have driven him bonkers back then. He bobbed his head to Bob Marley, bent his back to gully creeper and binged on Mariah Carey during his sad nigga hours. I didn’t really know what to expect but I’ve always felt like Mariah Carey fans are as gentle as whales, all they’ve ever wanted is some good loving.
A gentle knock on the door startled me back to reality, forcing me to quickly scramble to my feet.
“Habari ya asubuhi? Ndio nimeandaa chai unaweza kuja jikoni,” Nelima’s voice echoed from outside. Who still says ‘nimeandaa’? Nelima, apparently. I shouted a quick ‘sawa!’ and closed the box at my feet. My eyes hurt as they struggled to adjust to the brightness outside. Nelima had placed a small table and two chairs outside her kitchen, allowing me to marinate in the soothing warmth that comes with the morning sun. From where we sat, I could see the charred skeleton of what used to be Wilberforce’s motorbike. A wave of unease hit me as I imagined what transpired on that fateful day.
“Uliniambia ile ndio ilikuwa bike ya Wilberfocre?” I asked.
“Eeh, waliichoma venye alitoroka,”
“Alikuwa anatoroka nini?”
“Unajua…” she sighed audibly, stared into space for a second then continued.
“Niliongea na Gracie hio jioni ndio nikaelewa mbona Wilberforce alifanya kenye alifanya.”
Grace(or Gracie) is her 6-year old daughter that was present when the mob attacked Wilberforce.
“Nikimwosha nilipata amegwarwa gwarwa huku kwa mapaja, na mimi sijaiona kitu kama hio. Na unajua simwoshangi kila wakati kwa sababu yeye ni mtoto mkubwa sai”
“Na alikuambia aligwarwa na nini?”
She looked away again, then sipped her tea.
“Aliniambia ati ni babu yake alimfanya ivo wakicheza,”
I wasn’t ready for that statement. It hit me like a loaded truck. Sadly, I finally had an idea of what had actually happened, but I didn’t want to make any assumptions yet.
“Hii kucheza alikuambia, ni kitu ushai ona?”
“Hapana, ata mimi nlishtuka venye aliniambia”
Wilberforce must have walked in on his father molesting his niece. That’s the only reason that explains the bitter altercation that ensued between the two. Grace, the little girl, didn’t really see everything. She was probably too traumatised already. They disappeared inside the house and the next thing she saw was the grandfather bolting out with a bloodied shirt. Things escalated quickly. The grandfather passed out by the road due to severe blood loss. No one took him to the hospital. Instead, onlookers and idle neighbours chased down Wilberforce and delivered what they thought was justice. They beat him to a pulp and torched his motorbike. Both men lost their lives while receiving treatment at a local dispensary.
As a nurse, she’d probably seen everything. Broken bones, 3rd-degree burns, you name it. But never in her wildest nightmare had she imagined that she’d lose her stepfather and brother this way. She was on duty that day when they were brought in, mangled and bloodied beyond what words can describe. She tries not to think of that day specifically, but how can she ignore the very thing that has turned her simple life upside down? But my heart bled for her little girl. I hoped that this experience wouldn’t hover over her head for the rest of her life. I hope that she’ll look back one day and understand that her uncle was a victim of the sins of his father.