Mosquito larvae shared gutter space with floating cadavers. Chopped hairy thighs. Grass had grown wild and roads were trashed. Overturned dustbins — mushrooms on the spiky hides of one year old pineapples, fractured Jack Daniel’s bottles and smashed Fanta. The snapped earthworms of electric cables curly and wavy on the road edges. Houses around stood silent, like dumb fucks, gang-raped, their dignities stripped off everything inside. Cars were abandoned like corpses. Breeze blew scattered newspaper to and fro. Flies were buzzing and maggots moved with their inch-crawl, expanding and contracting along their lengths, climbing over skin and flesh.

Dog was prowling the landscape – nosing into a ripped torso, investigating an uncoiled mass of guts, nosing in further, to lick hidden, rotten fluids.

Otherwise, everything was as it should be. I could say there was the smell of death but the smell had been around so long it meant nothing and was no longer a smell but an invisible.

What was different was the far sound.

***

Nobody went to work.

Dad took a folding ladder, set it underneath the entrance-of-the-house tubelight, opened his tool box, put a screwdriver in his pocket and climbed up.

Mother and I watched TV – a man on Oginga Odinga Street carrying away a fridge taller than himself. Scenes cut to tin rooftops of Kibera where something oozed out of someone up there and trickled down to the shadowy spaces in between. We watched up and down valleys of the Rift shimmering under a fantastic noon sun, carpets of molten, flowing green grass pockmarked with men roaming the undulations, playing with bows and arrows like savage australopithecine gangs.

Dad poked the timing dial with the screwdriver; he wanted to be sure the light switched on automatically when later in the day the dusk started collapsing against the coming night.

Dad packed up the toolbox and brought the ladder back in. He grabbed keys and went back outside. He took the Toyota Carib and went away.

Now they showed empty Westlands streets. They cut to entrances and exits of the big malls, Sarit and Westgate. We watched sun sparkle on the shiny roof of a Toyota Carib which slowly squeezed into the stuffed acres of the Sarit parking lot.

Dad came back with things inside we needed and did not: cheese, Farmer’s Choice Viennas, Naivasha red wine, Gillette shaving foam, KCC 3.3% fat Milk, Tuzo vanilla yoghurt, Made in China Aihao ballpens, a 25 litre Keringet jerry can for which Dad found the extra strength to lift.

Safaricom was still on our cellphones.

Mother talked to Kirit uncle over at General Mathenge Drive, told him about the four kilos ofmung dal she had just poured into steel ndebes in the store, Dad messaged Vipul, come over, bring your White Caps, I have the nachos and melted cheese and salsa dip.

After the shopping, cars did not roam the roads. The usual doppler effect of engine sounds growing along with car winds and then dying into the distance was not heard.

The panic set in when KPLC went off the grid and the electronic sounds died.

Cellphones could not be charged. Friends and extended families went off the SMS. The half-roar and bass lick of generators took over. The first clean shots of machine gun popped off. The doppler effects suddenly came back as people ran with their Nissans and Volkswagens but ran to where? The crunching acoustics of car crash and extended squeaks of tyre burn very fast killed them. Sense of TV was lost – bows and arrows walked outside our windows like deadly tourists, space folded and distance became liquid, Rift Valley came to our doorstep and tested the strength of our door-grills and burglar bars.

The geography we could operate in became smaller, it became only the area of our house. We emptied the living rooms, pulled down the curtains, tore sofas and made the sponge stick out between their velvet and placed them in careless positions outside our gate, created an inner sanctum where we could huddle and we kept off the windows so that we could not be seen. Our human dialogue dropped to a whisper. We wanted our house to look devastated. We overturned bookshelves and unfurled toilet paper into long ribbons. This was our prophylaxis and we did it within one afternoon because earlier in the morning we had heard screams and laughs in the neighbourhood, those of a woman with men she did not want fucking her, they laughed, she screamed like a deranged soprano begging and begging jesus christ for help. Exactly now, the generators ran out of fuel. Her screams were now clean and sharp. Then some clean shots and there remained twittering birds, trees and wind.

Leaves breeze-whispering in the trees.

After a few days, a Rajasthani accent echoed through the house. A polite voice. I came out of our secret room and spied outside. He wore a four piece suit. Combed hair. Trimmed moustache. I went to meet him.

“Sir, namaste, I am from the Indian High Commission, we have twenty three Boeing 747’s,” He said.

He gave me a folder.

Mota bhai, the dates are inside. Vat you have to do when it’s time is get in your car, get to the airport and get out. Mumbai, London, Delhi, Ahemdebad, Dubai and Toronto. Valid passports only,” He went away.

It was a hopeless drive. The 747’s flew away whilst we were still in the middle of the great traffic that seized Uhuru Highway. We saw those birds flying away one by one and counted until twenty three.

When we came back home, Dad went to the abandoned malls, scavenging for some more last things: wooden-handled pangas, somali styled simis, crowbars and kitchen knives. Ideas to protect us in the time of Kivuitu.

Another day he went out to look for food. Hawkers had taken over from the empty malls and he went to find one. It was supposed to be nothing but a loaf of bread for us all to have together with our black morning tea. The cooking gas was on and the water was boiling. Mother had timed the pouring into the cups to coincide with Dad’s return.

Clean shots were heard. After a while, Mother turned off the gas and the two of us had the tea without the bread.

Mother liked to talk a lot and this forced me to break out of my introverted shell. She was beginning to crack and this was dangerous. Our house had a mabati roof. Tall trees shaded the roof. Around August 2008 the avocado season arrived and the fruit fell from the high tree with the sound of bombs and everytime they hit the mabati roof Mother packed the history of her fear into her lungs and let it out because she thought her turn to call out for jesus christ had come. It killed me to listen to that. It was something deeply animal, a wound from pre-history.

I had to fill in for Dad, take her head into my chest and hold it there, cast away my aloofness and ask her how she mixed the spices into the mung dal such that the taste came out like a trademark, ask her to sing to me in soft voice the lullabies her mother sang to her. I would read to her books from the overturned bookshelves, translate for her into Gujrati the Delany, Dambudzo and Delillo. I told her stories about how Dad was stuck at a friend’s house on the other street.

The year moved along and a new one came in. The hawkers disappeared from the Westlands streets and food had to be found elsewhere.

It started coming from over the walls, from the behind them, through them and sometimes food was inside the walls. Nobody used the roads in Westlands anymore. Everybody used the walls.

I would climb over them, move into other compounds, climb over next walls, move through gulleys and shimmy across narrow lanes, and climb over walls again, and some had holes, and through them I went and in this way I became like a rat.

The Parking Boys from the city-centre came with fresh fruits and vegetables, flour and stashes of imported consumables. And sometimes they came along with the rumours.

They would meet us at the walls, this one or that, a different one always and barter the food for what we gave in return. It could be money, clothes, pairs of socks, household items, anything. I would go to the gutters and from dead people’s pockets I picked the wallets, I took off their trousers and jeans, any watches, anything. One day I found Dad in the gutters. That’s how I discovered the maggots.

Sometimes the clean shots of machine guns lurked and it became impossible to go into the gutters. This made things desperate and one day I did the walls and went to meet the Parking Boys for free food. Negotiate credit terms. Because I had nothing to give in return. The clothes I had on me were the only ones and I wore them yesterday, the day before, the month before, last year and during the avocado season, they may have been embedded with lice and fleas, I did not know and I did not care. I had my bass weejuns on my feet but nobody noticed them, their time had not yet come. I wanted food.

Parking Boy pointed to my hands. It was the slim copy of The Body Artist.

The rumour was people in the city-centre ate books and they were not Kenyan. Nor were they from the touristic hot spots of Oginga Odinga Street or Rift Valley. They were from the overseas and they were building something. The overturned bookshelves kept Mother and I fed.

Monotony creept in: every two or three days the walls, the books, the gutters sometimes. The rumours became stale. The quiet out there remained the same, twittering birds, trees, wind. The clean shots were now rare.

Then I heard it.

***

I opened the door and stepped out. The morning air was cold and the daylight bled with the colour of grey skies. It was the 25th of June, 2009.

Dog walked to me. His stained muzzle, his four skinny legs. I patted him on the head. Something about this small act, my fingers caressing his fur, destroyed for a moment the history of the last eighteen months.

Mother stepped out too and I told her to go back in. Go in and hide yourself and never come out. She did not want to be left alone. But I guess she was tired of staying inside forever. Still, I shouted at her. There were animals in this city and they would eat her. Everything of her. Animals. I shouted at her and she lost her composure and she did not care that I was shouting and she did not want me to leave her alone. I told her I would be ok. I showed her the far ends of the streets where people could be seen in isolated numbers. I would be back soon but she should go inside and hide herself and never come out.

Dog and I walked to where the music came from. The King was dead.

 ***

INTERROGATOR A: It’s rolling. You can speak now.

TOI CLIENT A/14: The villages were arranged around slopes which were like small and maybe tiny hills and as you walked from one village to the other you would go up a slope and down and sometimes even your neighbour’s house was hidden behind a slope and you could look down on some people and they would be looking up at you but the dark gulleys were all of the same darkness such that different places were copycat and you made out where you were by what language people talked and sometimes by the smells of foods coming out from the jikos of smoke because some villages cooked differently from the others…[stopped]

INTERROGATOR B: Tell us about the wall.

TOI CLIENT A/14: [Nil Response]

INTERROGATION ACTION: [Classified]

INTERROGATOR A: It’s rolling. You can speak now.

TOI CLIENT A/14: Around March it started to get really bad and they told us and I think they finally found a way to get the Kiuks out of Gatwakera because no village was safe anymore like it was before because the gangs had new machetes and some had supermarket stickers on them and staying at home lost all meaning because any machete could start going anywhere since the villages were now as open as the river…[stopped]

INTERROGATOR B: Do you mean March 2008?

TOI CLIENT A/14: Yes in March but things had started happening in January and in February and I remember going to Toi and they had already put in place plans to evacuate all the Kiuks…[stopped]

INTERROGATOR B: Who are they?

TOI CLIENT A/14: The Americans they came in large numbers and other white guys who did not speak english and they liked smiling and making photographs with us like we were good looking wildlife animals and not all of them wore military because some of them wore only t-shirts and jeans and of course many were the NGO and they had big papers with drawings which were straight lines and the paper were sometimes of blue colour and many many trucks came in that day and for 3 whole days they moved up and down without a break even at night and did not stop and they emptied the whole of Gatwekera and all the Kiuks were brought to Toi around the marketside and to the other side of Kibera Road and tents were made but afterwards they gave them the residential houses nearby and I don’t know how the people who lived in them were emptied because we never saw anybody come out of those houses but we did see the kiuks go in and until the upstairs of Nakumatt and I heard half of them were taken to Karen because they were evacuated from the other side but I don’t know anything about that group but I know the Kibera road group still felt unsafe and the white men also felt the same especially after Nyanza became its own country and that’s how the wall went up and after it was up they called the free and good areas Headquarters…[end of response]

INTERROGATOR B: Tell us about the room.

***

The Mahindra was parked at the roundabout where the west mouth of Westlands opened to the Highway which was Waiyaki to one side, Chiromo to the other and Uhuru further down. The Highway was the spine which cut Nairobi into two.

It was an open air jeep. Military. It sang the songs, loud and tight, and the backseat had a strange modification, a small upraised platform, jutting out, on which sat a TV and next to it a tall thin man, a Paul Kagame clone, bespectacled and oval headed, whose style was deliberate, right down to the slow hunch and monastic gestures. He was called Tendai.

Around the Mahindra were half a dozen men who wore jungle fatigue, M60’s slung over their chests with disintegrating belts of M13 links stuffed with NATO cartridges, they spat into each other’s faces. They were called Tendai Juniors.

They did not care to notice the people coming out from the insides of the suburb some of whom were now at the next corner, or Dog and I at the edge of horizon, yet others in front. It was a small crowd gravitating towards the singing Mahindra. Perhaps this was all the suburb had to offer or almost.

Tendai Juniors continued spitting.

As we approached, Dog ran away, as if to escape the music.

They were arguing about who was to go. Who was to take the Mahindra and voyage to the other-side.

I got closer and so did the ones from the next corner and the ones in the front. We were now a small crowd. I became aware of our smells: sets of rotting teeth, the hint of Bata shoe polish that smudged by mistake last year onto the ends of our jeans, trousers, unwashed menstruations of last month, unwashed asses and stinks of unflushable twyfords, the fruity tones of expired eau de toilette, we were the ammonia stained underwears. Because these smells were alive on us, we smelled them, and they were visible, and were not the gutters, the invisible.

Tendai Juniors smelled of Yves Saint Laurent. Their uniforms were starch stiff, faces clean shaven and haircuts well done.

None of them could decide who was to go. Parking Boys in the city-center wanted to slice off their earlobes with their sharpest machetes, and the car with its stash of the 92 remixes, the Dangerous album, the Bad and History, Bucharest and the back-slide at Apollo was wanted at Headquarters. And they had to go through the city-center to get to Headquarters.

They spat.

When the video of the uncaged human-animal trapping the bigger crowds at the Motown 25th came on, the spitting stopped.

Everyone watched, the military men and us. Some started to bop their heads to the power of the bass line, some remained dead still, and some put out whimpers of a lip-sync. Tendai did not mind and our small crowd got braver. Just as the uncaged human-animal slightly hunched up his loafers, got into lock-step, and moved backwards like he didn’t move at all, in an echo-effect I suddenly spun and came like shock onto my tiptoes and froze like that.

That did it.

The music stopped.

“They look just like his,” Tendai pointed at my shoes. Its black colour was lost under layers of caked dust and my ankles with not a single layer of fat pointed out where the sparkly white socks should have been. But the shape was unmistakable.

“Yes, they are Bass Weejuns.”

“What?”

“B-ASS W-EE-JUN-S”

“What’s that?”

“It’s the name of this kind of shoe.”

That did it. He sent me.

I was given the keys to the Mahindra and one of the reluctant Tendai Juniors. And I was told to go. Dog came back and jumped in.

***

I was simply hungry, that is why I agreed and did not protest though they gave me no biscuit or apple or dish of roast goat with gravy and mashed potato because in obeying I forgot to ask.

I did not know if I was going to get back home and I did not want to go back, not immediately, because I did not want these animals to trace the pattern of my walk back.

Still it was the hunger. I had forgotten to eat that morning. After going over and under and through and into the walls, and then bartering a cache of Jane Austen for loaves, buns, prickly pineapples, steel boxes of House of Manji crackers, I forgot to eat.

I felt the blood in my veins, thick and syrupy, moving like a slugy electric current. A headache.

By strange effort I spun and tiptoed and stopped, froze and stood up and felt the exhaustion and this is exactly when they asked, requested, commanded. I obeyed and got into the Mahindra.

***

TOI CLIENT A/14: My daily work is to go to the river and roll out the drums and mix the magic water in them with paste of half rotten vegetables which are sometimes the cassava I get from the back strip at the foot of the soccer field hill and the only others who do it like me are Susan and Wangeci and Abur and another old woman who is not dying yet so when the magic water and paste come together there is the Nubian gin and this I sell and this is why I went to see my son get good grades in a good school out there where the big people stay and this is why I have rooms and my Nubian gin bought them and I give them out and make more money but after the elections nobody came to stay in my rooms because it became deadly by the time it was March…[end of response]

INTERROGATOR B: Before we go back to the room we would like you to clarify certain issues. What day did you say it was when you met him and what time?

TOI CLIENT A/14: It was the 25th of June 2009 and late in the evening after the big event and when everybody was starting to go back home when for the first time in many days everything was peaceful…[stopped]

INTERROGATOR B: OK, are you sure it was the 25th of June 2009?

TOI CLIENT A/14: Yes it was the day when everything was nice…[stopped]

INTERROGATION ACTION: [private notetaking]

INTERROGATOR B: I don’t get this fucking baloney. The death was confirmed around 2:30pm Western Seaboard time, LA Time for christ’s sake and all this fucking people are saying they heard of his death even before the guy was dead.

INTERROGATOR A: I can pull out the LAPD file and Tom Sneddon Report.

INTERROGATOR B: Who’s been keeping the calendar in this place? It has to be the 26th. With no TV, no radio, the whole godforsaken place civil war’d back to the Mau Mau age they would have to get the news only the following day and not the same night. Hell, these guys are saying they heard it on the morning of the 25th!

INTERROGATOR A: Should we ask about the hyenas?

INTERROGATOR B: Goddamit, how much more loony can it get? Let’s ask about the hyenas.

INTERROGATION ACTION: [end private notetaking]

INTERROGATOR B: Tell us about the Hyenas.

TOI CLIENT A/14: On that day and on some days before wild animals would come in from the national park and into the villages and some of them were hyenas because the other wild animals did not mean anything but everyone knew the hyenas changed into people that they looked at you and laughed and then like magic their furs changed into a squatting man who stood up and became one of us especially on that day and some hyenas went into the city and changed into other animals and some said the hyenas were all him…[stopped]

INTERROGATOR B: You said he was always with a hyena.

TOI CLIENT A/14: The hyena was always licking him on the face and he liked messing with the fur of the hyena and they were friends…[stopped]

***

I have seen chips being deep fried – It is bubbles of oil swimming wildly in the hot gooey, caressing and destroying the rawness of sliced potatoes, turning them into crisp. This is how my mind was when hunger came. The furnace inside would burn “let me feel hungrier before I eat these biscuits” and fry “What’s happening to Mother, why is she not talking today?”

Our method of food rationing became this – waiting and killing time until the hunger was more developed. If we ate the biscuits immediately the wait till the next meal would be longer.

Mother was plump, spongy and round. This is how she was before the vote. Then she lost the kilos of fat, her skin sagged and her punjabi dresses started folding on her.

When I left her alone in the house, there were adequate provisions for a few days: 4 1000ml packets of Ultra Heat treated milk, 2 loaves of bread, 3 packets of 275gm Digestive Biscuits, 7 fingers of banana, 3 plastic bottles of 500ml Evian Water and 3 apples.

This gave me a confidence and it rested at the back of my mind. It disappeared when I realized Mother would have to eat all alone. I would not be there to tell her to have only so much and keep the rest for tomorrow and the day after.

***

We moved onto Uhuru after coming through Chiromo. Assorted debris carpeted the highway and we manoeuvered around this detritus of inner-city war. At points we got off and removed scraps of burnt vehicle shells from the way. This is when I noticed white pages of newspaper sticking out from between the remains of the metallic aftermath.

I picked up the headlines

26th March 2008: KIBAKI DECLARES STATE OF WAR.

7th APRIL 2008: USS BARRACK OBAMA ARRIVES AT KILINDINI.

“Still nobody knows what’s happening inside those buildings or who’s there,” Tendai Junior Said.

“They have people who read books. Mzungu obviously. Kenyans don’t read those kind of books,” I said.

“What kind?”

“Clever kind of books.”

3rd June 2008: TENDAI SEALS RIFT VALLEY

11th March 2008: NYANZA DECLARES INDEPENDENCE, RAILA SWORN IN.

5th June 2008: AMERICANS BEGIN CONSTRUCTION.

“I said nobody knows what happens in there. You can’t go into city-center these days.”

“Maybe nobody cares today.”

“Today is a freak day.”

“Who’s in there?”

“I said nobody knows.”

“Parking Boys said Americans.”

“That’s what the rumours said. Nobody knows, I’m telling you.”

“They work for them, they know.”

25th February 2008: ASIANS MUST GO

Sixteen months ago I was on this same highway together with my family. We were on our way to catch one of the “twenty three Boeing 747’s”. The Indian High Commision and Ismaili Jamat had sent out the message: be ready and when the day comes “get into your car, get to the airport and get out – Mumbai, London, Islamabad and Perth…”- piping hot Sukh Sagar pau bhaji along the Marine Lines thoroughfares, job spaces in the cake shops at Wembley, the boo and doo sounds of techno-didgeridoo at DV8 in Northbridge – “these wait for you”.

“A massive traffic jam stretched from the innards of Parklands and Westlands to JKIA.”

Not everyone in the traffic was of Indian or Pakistani origin. This was the surprise. Munyasi from Kilimani was there, Mukabi from South B too, Magana of Kasarani was cuddling little Isabella close to his chest, Langat had put up all the car windows, locked all the doors, Shiko smelled of perfume, she was all made up and pretty with a clean and nice face, she must have had access to a tub of bathwater.

“That was incredible, the access to that kind of resource.”

Taboso in the car at the back needed a haircut.

“We got to the rise next to the railways sprawl and that’s when everyone came out.”

The Boeings crackled with the whoosh-thunder of take-off. The twenty first went up, got eaten by the grey clouds.

“It was over.”

We stood on the highway and watched the last two go.

Parking Boy in the fresh blue jeans and Olodum T-shirt opened a car door and took out a suitcase. Then another one. And Mayuri’s handbag. Asked for Nguku’s wallet. Took the pen clipped on the shirt. Parking Boy at Haile Selassei junction took the jacket off Magana. Took off the small shoes on little Isabella. Langat found Parking Boy in the black shorts and clean Kenya Army T-shirt fist punch through his driver’s side window then call out to Parking Boy in the blue jeans and Che Guevara T-Shirt to help carry sixty kilos of his baggage.

“We couldn’t run with our cars. There was nowhere to turn in the gridlock.”

“We knew everyone was not going to make it to the planes.”

“The rumours said some were already at the airport when the rest of us got into our cars.”

“It was easier to have all of you on the road. Less time consuming. You did all the packing and delivered it to us.”

Car doors closed, goodbye Toyota. James McNiel came from Scotland eight years ago and invested his grandfather’s vintage whiskies into a flower farm at Athi, bought a house in the Karen Cowboys neighbourhood, Black Magic roses flew off to Amsterdam, James applied for a Kenyan passport, got it, but now he carried his Hemingway suitcase on his head and Parking Boy came and took it from him.

The way between cars got stuffed so Rohit climbed onto a bonnet, climbed onto a car roof, came down on a booth and jumped onto the next bonnet and again climbed onto a car roof, Arvind saw this and did the same.

Manoj did not like the lonliness of the cold air outside, hated the suffocating humanity of the reverse exodus, got back into his car to smell the faux dashboard leather and leaned against the warmth of Mayuri’s shoulder, footsteps above syncopated like deranged tablas.

“Some mathematician in the army calculated the number of cars on the highway. Eighty two thousand. It looks ridiculous but this highway held those many cars. You wonder, four cars along the width of the road, how many along the length? Each car about 3 meters long, how many along the length? The number looks too big but eighty two thousand times four or five came out of their cars and started to walk back.”

“Some remained in their cars.”

“They made a mistake.”

Kamljeet had his grandfather’s kirpan snatched by Parking Boy. The muffle steps of barefoot, Parking Boy took his shoes, peeled off his socks as well, and the tarmac was cold and prickly. Then he told Munyasi the planes were meant only for them, for Mayuri over there and Saif here. Who the hell was Shiko to bring out her car? Those were our planes.

This made Langat lock his knuckles against the cheek of Saif, blood and teeth. Kamaljeet then forced Munyasi’s head underwater at the roundabout fountain, Nguku came running, grabbed Kamaljeet’s long hair and dragged him across to the Kenol where he smashed the nozzle of the pump into the kalasingha’s mouth and let the petrol come gushing in, Parking Boy looked on with a cigarette in his mouth.

Back on the highway, the walk of the return exodus turned into a kick stampede: McNiel’s potbelly could not keep pace with the sprints of panic, he dived into the tarmac and the thunder of hard soles rained on his skull, he stayed down, forever Inside Volkswagen, Jagdish felt the fear sweat on his skin, the torrent of the human avalanche rushed past, his hand moved automatically and he put on his seatbelt.

A head inside a near car slumped to the chest.

“You know about the legend of the Great Shot?”

“I saw it.”

Two cars in front another head slumped to the chest.

“Tendai stood about here and fired from a Made in America.”

“The bullet went 3 kilometers straight through the brains of the people in the cars.”

“In a straight line.”

The clap of the Great Shot ricocheted through the atmosphere. Everyone calmed down. Slowed down.

“The other half of the rumour says the bodies rotted in their seats and supposedly the rats and cockroaches came out along with other bigger scavengers, apparently big birds from the national park.”

***

The skies bled from a darker vein.

The Mahindra reached the University Way roundabout and we saw the awesome thing. The cars abandoned sixteen months ago were all there. Intact. Nobody had moved them away and they stretched on till the end of our sight.

“Stop and kill the engine.”

A drizzle began to pour.

“We wait. The Parking Boy will come.”

“We wait?”

“We wait. Parking Boy has already seen us.”

I could make out the skeletons in the driver’s seats of those cars. A blurred figure in the distance seemed to be talking to one of them.

“My father died in the rain you know.”

“So?”

Tendai Junior was fighting with his seat, adjusting the position of his marbles inside his tight military pants, taking his hand up to his head and digging fingers into his scalp, forcing his neck into jerk twists, trying to look for something that seemed to move fast.

“He went out on a surprisingly dark and rainy March day in 2008 to buy bread from the only hawker who operated the Westlands streets. He never returned.”

“What happened?”

Tendai Junior was groping the buttons of his military jacket, the muscles of his palms were stretched, and he looked like he wanted to rip the buttons off.

“He bought the bread and started walking back home. It began to rain so he started to run. The armed guys thought he was running from something. They shot him. He died.”

The drizzle evolved into a downpour. I turned my head up, opened my mouth and drank the rain.

Dog barked and figures appeared from the corner of the roundabout. Tendai Junior jumped out and ran way and I didn’t even shout at him. There was no point.

Parking Boy came closer. The downpour energized into a torrent. The skies were almost dark like night.

Parking boy caressed the bundle of 92 remixes.

“Is he really dead?” he asked.

“Yes, he’s really dead.”

“When did he die?”

“Today morning.”

“You can play something? We have nothing of his with us.”

I pressed play. Dog jumped out of the Mahindra and ran away and faded into the blurred landscape of the rained on city. Glass shattered. One. Two. Three. Jam. The song ended in a thunderstorm.

“You have his shoes.”

Goodbye and handshakes. Parking Boy let me through. Dog came back and jumped in.

***

I put my hands into the skirt-pocket and there were a few shillings. I unzipped the skirt because the cloth of it looked clean, took it off. I pushed her away to get to the man underneath. His fingers still clutched the bread which swarmed with blue-pink mold.

Maggot came out of the bullet hole on the top of the right shoulder and strolled slow over the chest-expanse of his plain blue shirt. Maggot was half in his nostril and half stretched toward his upper lip. Maggot was there with other maggots on his neck and every one or two seconds Maggot shimmied into a millimeter twitch which expressed the possibilities of after-life in him.

I picked him up and put him down on the road, separate from the others who lived dead in the gutter clog. I folded my legs and sat beside him. Maggot crawled onto my hand and I squished him and the sluggy mush spread over my palm. A few minutes later I got up, slung the skirt over my shoulder and went home.

I sat on the floor and Mother came in with the morning tea and sat down next to me. She breathed in the rottenness I had been touching. I wanted her to.

“Here.”

“Thanks.”

“I have boiled some hot water. A piece of soap still remains.”

***

INTERROGATOR B: Let us go back again to the room.

TOI CLIENT 14/A: I brought him into my room because I found him alone behind the wall where we all live and I am telling you again I don’t know how he got over the wall or across the wall because no one ever did and all the villages and all the people in it have been living within the wall boundaries so I took him to my room and he was lonely and he wanted to go back home and he was telling me things about his mother and I made love to him because he also wanted to even though we didn’t know each other but just because at that moment we felt we needed to have something and I am not saying I found him after the wall came down but I found him before…[stopped]

INTERROGATOR B: Tell us about the wall once again.

TOI CLIENT 14/A: We started to hear the songs and very quickly everyone was out of their house because since morning we had been hearing the rumours and we wondered why that rumour was important and everyone went as close to the wall as possible so that they could hear the music and feel it and live it and I think all the people of all the villages came to the wall and all the hyenas from the national park came in and they all turned into people and everyone danced because the music was loud and fat and sounded good and then the earth started vibrating with our dance and shaking and making us fall to the ground and when we fell we brought everything down with us and we saw the full moon coming out of the clouds…[stopped]

***

“They built a fucking wall?” I asked.

“Oh yah, it’s like they imported it from Berlin,” Headquarters Chief said.

I could not believe it. I walked and I ran and I sprinted and Dog did the same. The whole of Kibera Road was nothing but a wall and it was high.

“How did they build it so fast?”

“With Americans anything is possible.”

Headquarters Chief had ninety kilos of roast chicken in his muscles, behind him were arrayed human patterns, Soldier with four apples in his red cheeks did some kung-fu fight stuff with Soldier who smiled with the power of chocolate doughnuts, and they were in a formation where Soldier who had ten pizzas in his biceps was directing fifty or a hundred other Soldiers with an excellent history of lunch in dances of attack and defence.

I swallowed my hot dog alive, took a chip of freedom fries, brought it to my lips and sucked the oil out of it and then put the chip itself into my mouth.

“They recorded 92 mixes of Billie Jean?”

“Yes. In the end they picked mix number two.”

“He imagined 92 different ways to make the song?”

“That’s why number two was picked.”

Dog lapped up soup from my bowl. I put a spoon into it and joined him. I did not mind Dog’s saliva and tongue in my soup.

Headquarters chief looked at my feet.

“Tendai says you can do the spin.”

“Maybe I can.”

I saw The Body Artist jutting out of Headquarter’s Chief’s pocket.

“You read him?”

“Yeah.”

The burger slipped from my hands and fell to my plate, I leaned back, away from the table and looked into the sky, the compound, at Dog. My tastebuds evaporated. Mother did not know how to do the walls. I had never read to her The Body Artist in Gujurati.

They built a small stage. There was a vibration in the ground where I sat together with Dog who rested his muzzle on my lap. It came from the other side of the wall. This made me ask Soldier to move the speakers higher. I told him the boogie spread out better over the crowd that way. I wanted the boogie to be high enough so that it climbed over the wall and onto the other side.

And it blasted forth. First they prayed to God, then to Buddha, then they sang a Talmud song. I thought I saw Dog jump over the wall. A sea of soldiers created waves which washed onto the edges of the stage, the roar when I went into lockstep, but when I did the tiptoe and got knocked off balance I knew the earthquake came from the other side.

***

INTERROGATOR B: Tell us about the room again.

TOI CLIENT 14/A: He was putting on his clothes though I asked him to stay with me till the sun came out but he felt because his mother had came out of the house in the morning they had seen her and now they knew their house and he had promised her he would be back and he was scared of how she would live in the hiding place all by herself and he thought she would come looking for him on the streets and get out of the house because she wanted to come help him because she thought he would be in pain or trouble and she would not care for herself but only him and he said he was dying because he was thinking these things because they felt so real…[end of response]

INTERROGATION ACTION: [Close file]

Originally published in Kwani?06 

© Mehul Gohil [Facebook, Twitter, Blog]

PHOTO CREDIT : Wired

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1 Comment

  1. This is an astonishing short story. It should be better known. All Kenyans should read this one. Thanks for sharing.

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