Mikki always had a feeling that her husband was always going to go. Although he regularly came home from work, she always had that feeling that he would soon go. It was a feeling that brushes past her like the wind sometimes; making the back of her neck get goose bumps. It was the feeling that came and went like the PEV. And although Mikki was always a good wife, making him happy and giving him good sex when he wanted or when she thought he needed it, Kantai always seemed detached. Kantai, her husband, was a driver for an international Chinese company that made all sorts of chemicals and detergents. It was Kantai’s work to drive trailers from the port to the factory, which was in Industrial area. That was almost a whole day’s work. So Mikki couldn’t really blame Kantai for missing dinner. But rather, she was glad that Kantai was working his ass off to provide. Mikki would stay at home and cook. Clean. Take the kids to school. And pick them up from school.
Mikki didn’t like everything in her life, especially the house. It wasn’t even a house. It was a collection of wood and iron sheets all jumbled up in an unartistic manner. They lived in a place called Kibra. Where life was all but simple. Shanties were as close to one another as if they were somehow attracted to one another. From above, in the skies, the hundreds of iron sheet roofs had surrendered to the all incumbent and unforgiving rain to turn into a mosaic of brown, rusty metal. At night, all Mikki prayed for was that it would never rain because if it did, they would wake up soaking wet. The congestion in the slum made the place all sticky, smelly and filthy. She had dreamt of more. She had dreamt of a big house when she was young. She had thought of a better life when she was young. As all the young girls of her age in high school, they all dreamt of marrying off some rich or well off guy in order to have a better life. Mikki had even planned her wedding with all the pomp and grandeur. But Kantai happened. She couldn’t blame Kantai or herself but rather got herself together each time she broke down in tears- alone: while the kids were in school and while Kantai was away, working. Because she didn’t have a perfect house, or a perfect husband, or a perfect life. Because Kantai couldn’t afford to take the kids out on holiday or even have the simple luxury of valentine’s day.
She wouldn’t tell him about the moments when she would cuddle herself in the corner of the bedroom and she would feel her heavy chest, and the tears in her eyes would make her clothes wet. She was wistful. But she took hope from these moments that she could live and love.
Okumu and Sheila were two lovely kids. Both in primary and showing promise. Okumu, who was two years older that Sheila, was a lively boy. Mikki always laughed at his silly questions that he would ask his father each time he was home. Okumu made the home lively. Sheila on the other hand was an artist, drawing on whatever she could-the floor, the walls, earth. And Mikki loved that they could find peace in their tiny world, naïve and oblivious to reality. And soon, she could herald another newborn into this wretched world.
Those long rides had given Kantai time to think. Since Kantai had made Mikki pregnant again, he knew he had to work twice as harder in order to sustain the life they were living, which was already dreadful. However, it was during the long hours that he got, driving trailers, that he got bored of the repeated music of his CDs that he turned to the radios. It was then that he all changed. He had heard of Kenyan stories, and the poor Kenyan economy but he hadn’t really listened to before. He hadn’t listened to how the dwindling value of his bank savings was related to the dollar, and the yen, and the pound. He hadn’t listened to the reality that Kenya, his beloved country, was just merely a puppet under the mastery of foreign powers who simply controlled the politics and rational of his nation. He hadn’t listened to how his nation was being depleted of its potential by hungry so called ‘investors’. He had become bitter. He had grown angry. Kantai began questioning himself. He began doubting his work. He began to search for some answers. But what could he do, he asked himself. For months this bitterness grew and began to consume him, turning into fears and nightmares. Even when he got home, he couldn’t seem to find some sleep. Even though Mikki did the best that she could, Kantai was burning inside. Of rage. Slowly by slowly, he drifted away from what he really had- a good wife and a family.
When he needed something to get his mind off things, he decided to turn to his little gang of trailer drivers. After all work was finished for the day on that Friday evening, He asked Kihara if there was anything that could help.
“I have just the thing my man.” Kihara withdrew from his pocket a pack of cigarettes. He gave him one. “You have to try these things sometimes.” He said as he lit it for him, took a puff and handed Kantai the lit cigarette. He took it gingerly. He was never a smoker, or a heavy drinker. Kantai had loved his simple life before. But his life was no longer simple. He coughed a little, beating his chest while staggering two steps behind. He had felt the smoke snake down his throat, threatening to choke him. In reality, he still had his fears in his head.
“I need something stronger.” He muttered.
“Seriously Kan!! Seriously!! I can’t help you then.”
“Please Kihara! PLEASE!”
Kihara looked at him. He gazed deeply into his eyes. He couldn’t understand what Kantai had needed. Yet, he saw in his eyes, in his soul, a desperate man.
“Okay, okay. But this is completely off the record. If word get out that I was part of the deal, I’ll come for you.”
“First, you have to pay me, this isn’t a favour.” Kantai paused for a sec then grabbed his wallet. The little exchange was rather quick since Kihara didn’t want any unintended persons to find them out. Kihara gave him four rolls of weed.
“Smoke only a little at a time. I gave you four so that you do not disturb me again. These things are not easy to come around.” Kantai dragged off home. While the night was still young and growing into pure darkness, and the only thing guiding Kantai’s way was the brilliant golden lighting of the Sulphur lamps, Kantai withdrew from his pocket the first weed roll. Slowly lighting it, and breathing it.
He at first didn’t feel any effect. Thinking he was conned by Kihara, he took a second puff, the a third and a fourth.
“Freaking Kikuyus!!@@## All they think about is money.” Kantai could have been given a roll of leaves of Sukuma wiki or grass for all he knew. He cursed to himself. And smiled. He continued to smile. But when he realized that he couldn’t stop smiling, he knew that Kihara didn’t side step him. The giant house flies that he ‘saw’ circling around him were a testament to that. The drug had now snaked its way to his cerebrum and all he could do was to wave his arms in the air. He felt right at that moment. He felt weightless at that instant. He was suddenly free. His mind spiraled out of consciousness into limbo.
Kantai almost didn’t realise that he had bumped into the door of his house when Mikki opened the door for him only to touch her face as if he were blind and trying to identify what was in front of him.
Mikki doubted herself for once. Who was really outside that door. It couldn’t be him.
“Mikki, please oo…oo…pen th…the do…or.!” It is him.
“What the fuck have you been doing Kan! This isn’t you!…” Mikki had just began to bitchplode in front of him. All this time Kantai was smiling sheepishly at the little firefly on top of her head. He mumbled to himself a little more. She slapped him.
“Listen to me!” Kantai stared back at her blankly, like a zombie. He forced his way into the house only to be met by the fearful gazes of Okumu and Sheila. That night, Mikki slept with the kids, leaving Kantai all alone. For the next few weeks, he would come home like that- lifeless, senseless, thoughtless. And Mikki would let him in, but she didn’t feed him. She didn’t ask questions. She would just lock herself outside in the middle of the night and cut her hair with scissors as tears formed scars in her heart. She would keep on doing this hopping he will stop- she convinced herself. Until finally, her hair was short like his. She didn’t know what had happened to him. She felt as if her life was imploding and a black hole was sucking her into despair. She couldn’t let him do this to her and the unborn baby. She tried to remain happy. She tried to force a smile to Okumu and Sheila who also forced a smile back. At these times, Kantai would just leave without so much as seeing them, in the witchy hours of the morning.
“Ma, where’s daddy?” Sheila would ask each morning.
“He’s gone to work.” Her mother would answer her, never looking at her face because maybe Sheila would detect her mother’s worry. In truth, she never knew where he was going that early in the morning
Mikki thought he was possessed. She didn’t know what he had become. He didn’t even come to see her deliver the baby. He had become careless and she had hated him for that. She still had her feeling that Kantai was never really there for her and that he was going to leave.
When Okumu would come home a bit later than expected, Mikki would try to talk to him. But Okumu had now turned into this lifeless form, like her father. Okumu would sometimes forget to take off his bag and he wore it all over the house. He just wouldn’t put it down. His mother began to worry because all the time it felt as though Okumu would run off somewhere at any time. He looked like he didn’t really belong in the house. And his mother threatened him once. Okumu just ran out of the house, leaving his mother and sister in disbelief.
Mikki felt her world tumbling down piece by piece.
When Okumu showed up the morning the next day, all muddy and dead beat, his mother just hugged him. For what else could she do. She had scared him away once before and she wouldn’t do it again. She promised herself.
The night was still, cold and sinister. Kantai was on the wheels. For the first time he was behind the wheels of the trailer alone. Usually, he would have a partner seated beside him to ensure the load was delivered safely even if one of them was temporarily ‘incapacitated’. He was alone this time. The wind breeze blew past his window and swept past his face. The sky twinkled above him. The trailer engine roared each time, coughing a little after some time. He was a master in his driving craft. Sometimes, he felt as if he was in love, while driving the vehicles. The beauty and mystery of a chain of gears and buttons made him ecstatic. They worked with him in such perfect harmony that he dreaded ever ending a job. This time, he was carrying behind him, a tanker of liquid nitrogen. The chemistry in action meant that the whole vehicle was freezing and Kantai had to cover himself up as if he were in the cold, teeth-shattering, sub-zero temperatures of a Russian winter.
Kantai wanted some relief from his world but the fact that he was still worried about the current state of his country had taken a toll on him. Weed, he needed again. With one hand on the wheel, he dipped his hand into his pocket, looking for more of it. He scoured his pockets. Nothing. He began to feel a bit light headed. He had become addicted. He badly desired some of the drug. It hadn’t occurred to him that he was now depending on it to get him into euphoria, into a place where he could free his mind from the worries around him. He hadn’t realized how selfish his choices had been. He had forgotten all about the kids. He had forgotten all about the new baby. He didn’t even know its name. How could he do that. How could he forget? He no longer knew Mikki. He no longer felt anything for her. What was happening to him. He continued to search in the vehicle. In the cabinets and under the seats. Finally, he got hold of something. It was a small fragment of an already smokes weed stick. But what the heck! Kan quickly lit it up and literally ate the damn thing. Ahhhh! He could see the smoke from this sinuses rising against the cloudless sky, and vanishing into nothingness. He could from afar, listen to the whispers of the night in the back of his ears.
He could visualize himself drifting away from his body. He was now out of his body. He was observing this figure of a man driving this mammoth of a vehicle. He wondered how the life of this man would be had he chosen right, had he done right. He saw forms of people forming in the mist on the road side. To Kantai, they seemed happy. They seemed okay. Maybe he was looking at his ghosts. The ones that haunted him at night. The ones that made him afraid. The ones that fucked him up.
If he could stab them to death, he could, and he would.
This state of trance seemed to go on and on. A bit longer than usual for that particular amount of weed. He didn’t seem to be in control. In truth, Kantai had stopped being in control. He was no longer in limbo. He had lost touch.
He didn’t know it but he had veered, taking the load with him to the steep valley along the road. Rolling and rolling a little before hitting some trees and leaking. While Kantai was still in the vehicle, the liquid nitrogen creeped over and above him, slowly but surely. The whole accident was all too well orchestrated as it turned out to be a sparkling spectacle of Kantai’s frozen fall into a deadly abyss.
When Kantai didn’t come back home in a week, Mikki began to worry. He had never been away from home after a week. Never. Even in his little drug stunts that he pulled, he made it home always. Mikki convinced his children both Okumu and Sheila, that daddy was away for some time. In her heart, she knew that something was very, very wrong. It was not in Kantai’s nature to just go away. At least he would tell her. She had refused. That Kantai was gone. Although she knew that it was the case. She still convinced herself that with their short food supply, Kantai would be back. He couldn’t have gone.
Sheila began coughing. Okumu was turning pale. It was evident that they were malnutritioned. Mikki, however, had no way of getting them more food. Kantai had kept his account personal and so Mikki had no way of knowing how much money he had. That he could not access them until he was declared dead and a death certificate presented to the bank. Was he?
Mikki started to ration food beyond the little they were eating.
“Daddy will be back soon.” She kept telling herself and her children. Okumu and Sheila were getting thinner day by day. The neighbours started to worry. One day, a neighbour angrily banged her door only to see him with Okumu, holding him like the thief he was for he had sneaked into his shop and stolen a mango. The neighbour warned her that the only reason that Okumu was not burned to death in mob justice was that her mother was known. Her mother took her in but didn’t even look at him. She was the one who was responsible for him. She was the one who was supposed to feed him.
When she decided to look for him, she asked around for where he worked. Before then, she didn’t even care where Kantai worked, only that he provided for her family.
“Get out of my way, you good-for-nothing! I want to see the person in charge!!” The guard had not allowed her in. He wouldn’t let her into the building. “Where is my husband? Eh?
Where have you taken him?”
“I’m sorry ma’am, you cannot see the person in charge. He doesn’t see beggars.” The guard promptly replied. And Mikki answered him with two lightning slaps. Before she caused any commotion, the other guards quickly helped take her away from the sight.
“Where is my husband you foolish dogs? Where is he?” As the guards overpowered her, the sound of a woman in pain cried throughout the day. She knelt there, outside the building. She would not go. If he was dead, she would mourn.
When Mikki returned home, she found only Sheila with little Amina. When Mikki asked her where Okumu was, she remained silent. Her mother begged Sheila to tell her, she just looked at her. Her children had now become devoid of life. Okumu never came back. Their mother began to have nightmares. She became disturbed. She shouted in the middle of the night. While the baby cried, she continued to sleep. All the while, Sheila teared up in her sheets. Their lives had overturned in a matter of months.
When Mikki woke up in the morning, Sheila was gone. They had all gone. They had all left her. The had all decided to leave her. She took Amina with her, and would look for them, even if it would kill her. She would ask anyone, everyone. Like an imperfection in the Nairobi pedestrian traffic, she begged, she cried, she pulled and tugged everyone, anyone who seemed like they knew something. How hope had consumed her. How life had let her live to this point of despair. When she got home, she held little Amina, tight in her arms. She was such an innocent soul to witness all that had happened.
Mikki watched as madness and foolishness took the lives of the people around her and her neighbourhood. Like an angel of death One man, who was a motorcycle mechanic, had just come from dealing with fixing a leaking petrol tank of a motorcycle when he felt the craving and lust for the feel of smoke roll down his already blackened lungs. Mr. Kalele strolled down the murky Kibra streets. He felt the night breeze carry with it the stinging stench of rot, the smell of dead and decayed micro and macro organisms in the hidden shadowy corners outside most of the houses. Most people couldn’t even tell if they themselves smelt good. Rubbish filled and heaped garbage culminated in years upon years of lawless societal disarray.
He slowly weaved his way through the mess. His arms and shirt stained with oil from the local black market petrol-which was way cheaper than what the government inflated in the petrol stations. Kalele felt soothing on his neck. The slow pain. A little pinch that felt small at first. But now grew into a torrent of gushing nervous painful injection. Fucking mosquitoes. He slapped the life out of the little manner less creature. Couldn’t it even ask before biting him? Here in Kibra, even the mosquitoes were becoming mutant-Developing resistance even to whatever kind of insecticide man had developed. They couldn’t simply die. These thing were simply tiny monstrous petulant puny brats.
They had evolved.
Kalele watched himself, making sure he didn’t stumble and hold himself against one of the rusted iron sheet houses that coloured the place- for he knew they had received torrents of acid rain pounding recently and any disturbance could cause them to simply topple over and flatten themselves and the contents inside. -naked women, babies and the like. For the outside world, it was hard for anyone to find anything let alone houses in this delicately disarranged conceptualisation of a village. He smacked open the loosely fitted door, almost bringing it down with that action. His little compact abode left little room to hide anything so he quickly reached for the last remaining cigarette stick under the mattress. He withdrew the cigarette lighter from his drawer. Placing the stick in his mouth, he lit up the cigarette. As he stood there, he drew in his breath, sucking in the air from the outside as if he hadn’t breathed for months, making the cigarette butt burst with red fury hotness. Then with its vicious characteristic, the shirt on him caught fire. He himself caught fire and turned into a fiery fierce piece of human fireball. He screamed so loud as to wake even the ghosts that were known to fall asleep
“Aki saidia!” Kalele fell down on his back. He rolled around like a decapitated lizard setting ablaze the whole room. Then the entire shanty. It lit up like fireworks, sparkling and rising consuming what Kalele had taken, well –only two days to put up. All his ‘careful effort over the years was being razed down in seconds.
The other neighbours were quickly out, not to help put out the fire but first of all make sure that there was no way that fire could reach their homes. After that they grabbed buckets of water and tried to contain the fire so that it wouldn’t be big enough for the media t even care to report. The water simply wasn’t making the situation any better. One of the neighbours carried his blankets with him as he was known to do so at night. When he felt that the evening breeze was stronger is when he realised that his blanket was the next target in an aim to put out the fire. He saw as the bellow flames fed from his blanket and grew into a colossal monster. All they knew is that the next morning the place would be swarming with the police coupled with the fourth estate. The fire seemed to laugh at them as the shanty feel down into ashes. They watched. Some with a tear in their eyes as the yet another life within their little world was taken from the realm of existence. Some stayed to see the burning embers.
Sometimes, Mikki wished that death would take her as it had done Mr. Kalele. Then she would be peaceful. Little Amina was hungry now. She was still breast feeding. Mikki gave her child her breast to feed, before realizing that she could not produce any more milk. Still, she let little Amina suckle. At least she thought she was feeding.
The little elements in her life that made it complete had been deleted- Kantai, Okumu, Sheila. And now she feared for Amina. As if someone was deliberately and intently pressing backspace in her life.
Waking up every morning is to come to one’s senses that throughout the night the cold – ice cold unforgiving evening breeze has been crippling the skin; reducing it to a paler darker more lifeless-like version of the skin. The goose bumps have become permanent. Sheila sits up against the hard cold wall. One hand supports her from the back while the other hand strokes her hair. Or is it her dreadlocks. It’s hard to tell. Ages of little consideration to what keeps on growing in her head have left her hair into a wreck less spiral of bushy overgrowth that linger and glitter with the little specks of dust and the bright drops of morning dew. Despite the obvious inability to get her hands onto a handsome meal, she still maintains one of the most beautiful faces around. She stares. She stares at nothing.
She lets her mind roll and spin staring at the infinity.
The world has ceased to make any sense for her. The world has lost meaning to her. For her, she simply allows the days to move past her and overtake her, leaving her in her own little pickle jar, where she can figure for herself why she doesn’t need to exist.
She begs from time to time, she gets from time to time. She thinks of her brother Okumu sometimes, whether he is still alive, whether he ever eats, whether he went back home.
Okumu, now a little bit older, now a little bit harder in the world, had become a sojourner. He had travelled. He had dared to find some way out of his former life. At times he would be lucky to get some food in the rubbish bins. At times he would beg. At times he would get. But most of the time, he was just brushed off by people. He wondered why it was so hard for people to give- That ten shillings that would rather have been too tiny an amount to feel the pinch. People were cruel. People were heartless. Okumu found himself at times cozy on a card board box at night.
When he became delirious, and starving, and hungry, he looked at the ground beneath him, all green and full of life. He fell down on his knees and smelt the vegetation. He touches the little blades of grass that were sparkling against the midday sun. Hu looked up to the heavens for a second and then down to earth. He bends his head further down, his face now on the grass. He closes his eyes. He takes a bite on the grass underneath him. Chewing, hmm.
He never knew grass would be so tasty