It is at least four months to February 25th. I am not supposed to be having this scene in my head. But something, someone, has just triggered it. I am in Othaya talking to David Mabiria; the chap who takes care of the technical side of my website. He runs a lifestyle website for campus students called Magazine Reel, but unlike me who works from anywhere with a computer and internet connection, he works at an office. Most of the time you will find him at the 5th floor of Strathmore University Students Center writing code for websites. A few steps next to him is Deogratias’ desk. They share an office. The 5th floor of this center is iBiz – an incubation center for business start ups like my brother’s Rabbit Farm and Mabiria’s IT hustle.
“I just spoke to one of the admin ladies at iBiz and she said that Dee is one of those guys who jumped,” Mabiria says.
“Ati what? He jumped from where you guys sit up there?”
“Yeah. That is what I have been told….” Then he continues to speak. I am hearing what he is saying, but I am not listening. I am trying to imagine how high up five floors are. I am remembering when we were young and stupid how we used to go to a construction site, and then jump off the roofs of unfinished gh]orofas. How I would take a few steps back, run to the edge of an unfinished balcony, launch myself into the air, do a front flip and then land on the pile of construction sand underneath. Dee never used to do such things, and when I did, he would cover for me. Whenever I was caught by my mother and he was sent to fetch canes for my whipping, he would bring something thin.
“…so can you do it? Mabiria asks.
“Are you able to call your mom and tell her about what happened?”
I do not answer. He says “Hallo?” so many times until the line goes silent. I am left, standing at the edge of the home I was in in Nyeri, with my phone still held on my left ear. That is when that scene up there plays in my head.
Dee is dead. He cannot have made it from five floors. Dee is gone. If he is not gone yet, then he will be gone soon. He is probably in a hospital bed somewhere living his last moments with bones crushed to bristles in his body. How did he even fall? Did he fall on his feet? Dee died, Gee. And you are the only one in your family who knows. Call your mother. You guys have not spoken in months, but just call her.
At that moment, the colourful greenery of Nyeri is refracted by the salty waters in my eyes, and everything around me turns to a dull sepia. How will I tell this to my mother? How will she take it? Is she standing or sitting down in her office? Or perhaps I should call Nimrod instead. But then I had called him when I first heard of what happened and he had said that Dee is probably alright. Of course he said that just to calm me down, but when it comes to my family, I can’t just calm down. So I had go on Twitter and ask if everyone has been accounted for by Strathmore University admin. Classic mistake. You never ask such things like those on social media, because a faceless imperial asshole with a surname that sounds like a sick warthog’s morning fart will reply with something like this;
Wacha kelele!! So there's a high chance your bro is an idiot who can't follow set evacuation drills. Not our problem https://t.co/pXSLJzk7nu
— Eugene Murenjekha (@genesfut) November 30, 2015
Long before you knew what death was you were wishing it on someone else.
– The Illustrated Man, Ray Bradbury
I call Nimrod. He does not answer. I call him again. He does not answer. I want to tell him that everything is not okay like he had said. But I cannot get him. I call Bertha; she has also been looking for Deo but can’t find him. She answers.
“Hey, Bertha. Dee is one of the guys who jumped.” I say.
“He is in the hospital, I think, but I do not know which one. Someone on Twitter said that the injured ones were taken to Kenyatta National Hospital.”
“No I think he must be at Nairobi West Hospital.”
“Okay. Please. Just go check and tell me.”
“Sawa. I will start with Nairobi West Hospital – it is nearer to Madaraka. If he is not there, then I will go to Kenyatta.”
The moment I hang up, I receive a message from Mother Karua. Before Mabiria’s call I had told her about the incident at Strathmore University. I had told her about what I was getting from tweets and Facebook posts. That in order to examine their level of disaster preparedness, Strathmore University admin had decided to stage a mock terrorist attack, in which masked gunmen stormed into the university, firing live bullets. However, the students and staff thought it was a real attack by the Al Shabaab; that whatever happened during the Garissa University terror attack had been reincarnated in their campus. So some students had jumped into the slimy Nairobi River that cuts across Madaraka Estate, Strathmore University, Tuskys-TMall, Nairobi West and then further down to wherever rivers that are full of shit flow to. Other people, who had been trapped in the buildings, thought they would rather try their luck with a free fall than face sure death of terrorists. So they jumped. And one of them was my brother, Deogratias. They had no idea it was a drill.
I had told her to try and get a hold of Dee and check whether he was okay.
I swipe my phone to read my mom’s message. It reads; He is not responding to my calls. He was not at his rabbit farm in Tassia as well. Were there any casualties?
For a moment, I deliberate on whether it would be easier to just text her the news of her son’s jump. I convince myself that I do not know how to break the news to her. There are tears in my eyes when I tap the ‘Reply’ button, only to realize a fraction of a mini-second too late that it was not the ‘Reply’ button that I tapped, but ‘Call’. Karua picks up almost immediately.
“Hallo? Wachie. Have you heard from Dee?”
I try to calm myself. I take a deep breath before answering. But when the words come out, they bring along with them an avalanche of guilt, suspense and tears. They come out in spasms. They are shaky. They are wet with grief. I cry.
“I have…I have bee…been…told…tthh….thaat Dee jumped.*Sniff* He…”
“No. No. Do not cry. See, I am not going to cry.” I have always been hard-headed, that is why when she tells me not to cry, that is when I cry very well. Her plea trips me. They bring down all the walls of manhood, and I am a child all over again. I want my mummy. “Listen, George. Just tell me where you are and I will come get you.”
“I am in Nyeri. I did not know this would happen, mummy. I wouldn’t have left him. I didn’t know. I am sorry.”
I wipe my eyes with the back of my other empty hand.
“Okay. It is fine. Just come home. Where is he now.”
“I think he is in KNH.”
“I am sure he will be fine. Sawa?” She lies, and I can taste her words from 400kilometers away. They taste of deceit. Dee had jumped from five floors. There is no coming out of that alive.
She hangs up.
We were in Nyeri with the Y DoWeDoIt web show crew to celebrate one of the cast’s birthday. She took us to her ocha to initiate her into her new year. The idea was to do an #OthayaMassive series and even shoot the final episode of the season there. Until Mabiria called and all those plans went to shit. I couldn’t stay. I said I had to leave and the rest of the crew said it is all for one and one for all.
I am quiet all the way back to the city. Along the way, it is confirmed that Dee is at Nairobi West Hospital. Bertha says that he broke his ribs but he will be fine. I sleep most of the way and cry the rest of the time. Jaber makes sure that the needle does not go anywhere below 100kph.
By the time we get to Nairobi West Hospital five hours later, family members are in the entrance of the ICU. They are congregated together, whispering. I insist on seeing him until they allow me, even though it is past visiting hours. I find Dee sleeping in the ward, tubes running from his nose and hands. One of them dips into a transparent container. Apparently one of the broken ribs punctured his lungs so they had to drain them. Around him, machines beep. The monitor has numbers that do not make sense to me. Dee’s mouth is dry and red. He looks terrible. He looks like, well, someone who fell off a building but is lucky to be just alive. I cannot hear him breathe. He has issues with his sinuses so normally when he breathes, you can hear it even from the afterlife. But now, I can barely hear anything. It is like he is slipping away on that bed. His breathing isn’t anything more than a faint sigh.
The doctor says that Dee is out of the woods, that he will be better. My mother talks to him about the drill. Daktari says, “That was not a drill mama. That was a sick practical joke. Those guys were playing Police and Robbers with people’s children. So unfortunate.”
Then they start speaking of the other patients who were not so lucky. Like the pregnant woman who lost her baby. Like the university lecturer who broke his spine and legs. As they speak, I see Dee waking up. He smiles at me and I try so hard not to bite my lip and cry. I just blink severally. He interrupts them and asks, “What happened?” and I cannot be there when that story is retold, so I walk out.
That night sleep does not come. That night I read the tweets from @StrathU. It is as if they do not recognize their carelessness. That night one person succumbs to head injuries and dies. Thirty others are still nursing their wounds. That night, @StrathU does not apologize to the people who were injured, neither does it say the university grieves with the family of the deceased. All they say is that they will take care of the medical expenses – the same way they did the other time when they poisoned over 150 students at a school dinner function. It is their money they care about, because, what the hell, money solves everything. These people will shoot you in the leg, but so long as they can patch you up, it is okay. I wonder what amount of money can wash away the thought of losing my brother. I wonder what price tag they put on bringing back the memories of my father’s burial. Who even gave them the right to open that old box? I wonder if they can patch up broken hearts too. Strathmore University is nothing more than sand, cement and bricks; there is no humanity in them. It shines from outside, but deep down in the poetry of it’s soul, it is an old graveyard. And it sickens me to know that money is this butler Strathmore sends to clean up its mess every time they fuck up.
I guess money talks and bullshit walks. And when money talks, it speaks rather clearly.
That night, I do not catch the news, but Zukiswa Wanner sends me a WhatsApp message; University Chancellor was on the news saying, “We shall decide whether the drill was successful or not…”
Sorry seems to be the hardest word.
That night there are many security experts on my timelines. That night there are many phone calls. That night there are lemons in my eyes, and strings of fear running down my face.
That night I do not want to fall asleep. I can’t. I am scared of what is waiting for me on the other side.