Police and Robbers

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There is a scene in my memory that comes out on specific dates only – March 12th and February 25th. I sort of automatically compartmentalize it; put it in a box inside my head and only replay it when those dates approach. In this scene I am sitting next to my brother, Deogratias, in a minivan that has slowed down to a mere walking pace. Outside, the Siaya sun is doing what it was born to do – burn. There are people running towards our direction, but not really towards our van. They are carrying leafy branches and wailing. Loose dust rises up to see off the departed soul. These people are mostly young people, shouting in Dholuo. They are women lifting their hands in the air, throwing themselves on the murram road and pouring dust on their hair. They are children – most of them half dressed with dusty buttocks bouncing in the scorching afternoon. These people scare me. I am not used to being around such madness. I want to cry. I am 14 –just one foot into adolescence. Deogratias holds my hand. I look up to him and see that his eyes are reddening and swollen. I look back, past the rest of the passengers in the minivan and to the vehicles behind me. That is when I see my mom inside that black Nissan that is written Hearse. She is in a black dress and she is crying, wailing like a wounded animal. There are other cars ahead and behind us. It is an entourage and as if by some prior arrangement, all the drivers are hooting. Komenya Rabar market is alive with the scent of death. These people have come to receive mourning. From where I am I hear my mother apologizing to nobody in particular. She is saying, “I am sorry my people. I have lost him. Please forgive me. I tried…I tried as a woman, but I failed. Wena uru yawa. Asayo u. Wooooi mama.” And then the hearse stops and she jumps out and starts running ahead of us. In her hand is the portrait of my father – the one that used to hang on our wall next to my mother’s graduation portrait. The old women join her. Our van follows.

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.

“Do what?”

“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;

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.


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  1. I feel your pain. Take heart it is well. I wish your brother and all other injured casualties a quick recovery.

  2. Wow. All the pain this has brought to you and your family. It clearly was not a drill.
    Taking you back to a place that holds nothing but pain and sadness. I am truly sorry and wish Dee a quick recovery.

  3. It shall be well. I pray your brother fully recovers.

    ION: I have never lost a parent but by reading your post I’ve felt as if I was there on Feb 25th and lost a parent too. Great piece keep up.

  4. Very very sad. Someone put it so well…’That was not a drill, twas a terror attack at #Strathmore. A terror attack carried out by Strathmore University upon it’s students.’
    Wishing him a quick recovery!

  5. Your writing is stellar as usual and your heart’s on your sleeve for this one. I hope Jaber passed on our message that we will keep praying and hoping for a quick recovery. There’s really nothing else to be said.

  6. Trully sad. My faith in the little humanity in is needs to be restored.
    All shall be well. I do not like this as a statement that people say to “moments like these”. But I do believe that things will get better. Take heart.

  7. Take heart bro, your brother will make it through this one.
    Am glad I had just finished my semester coz am sure I too would have jumped from 5th floor or worse.

  8. violet njoroge on

    This is one tearful read,very emotional,couldnt hold my tears back as i read..What happened at Strath Uni was very unfortunate, a terrorism act in itself.Quick recovery to your brother.

  9. Phanis Obwaya on

    Ooh my, it makes me swallow painful lumps, close my eyes and whisper a prayer for Deo and the rest of the affected people. So sorry.

  10. I’m sorry that you had to go through that. I wish your brother a quick recovery
    . It was completely sick what they did.

  11. I’m so so sorry Gee.”Money talks and bullshit walks away”.Very true.Stay strong because there is always a way out

  12. Dee I know you will read this, Man take heart and hug those your pillars of strength. Magunga, Mos owadwa. That’s a shock we don’t want to live with

  13. Your bro, or rather our bro will get better. We have loved him through your writing. Take heart than even strangers are praying for him.

  14. Dee is truly strong, he will make it. Together in prayers. All will be well. Wishing him quick healing. Magunga, Dee will be well, our strength, prayers, will and desire to see him again will pull him through.
    To all affected, wishing them speedy recovery. It was an incident never wished to be experienced by anyone ever.

  15. Magunga,
    I am sorry for the grief and pain you and your family has gone through earlier this week. I pray that Dee and other injured persons recover as soon as possible.

  16. Your Comment
    You are right. Murenjekha sounds like a warthogs fart. His attitute stinks!! Quick recovery to your bro. Strathmore its time to show your human side. Or are you all bricks and sand…..an institution?

  17. very sad my brother, very sad for you. A drill of such kind shouldnt happen and whats with using live bullets kwani paint guns hazikua? nkt #pundaamechokanaStrathmore

  18. So sorry. I feel your pain bro and I wish Dee a quick recovery. It shall be well. When I heard what had happened at Strath, I said it and I’m gonna say it again; It was bullshit. You don’t just wake up and decide to gamble with people’s lives then give the lame excuse of ‘it was a security drill’ Security drills follow a certain procedure where safety takes precedence. Once again, sorry about everything bro, take heart and Dee will surely make it, he’s out of the woods. Our thoughts and prayers go to him and to all others who were injured and to Esther, it hurts to have lost her in that way, may she rest in eternal peace.

  19. Drills i thought such happens only behind millitary walls… Am sorry about your brother, things are thick now.. Money not the solution

  20. Your bro will be well in Christ Jesus..you are great writer that drill was really unfair using live bullets on peoples children

  21. First of all the choice of day for this drill was wrong George. A monday morning when people are having week end excussions to deal with. Two Kenya has been traumatized enough in the past three years with runaway insecurity and terror attack. And finally we as a country has not done enough to prepare the masses on what to do should such an incident occur. To go into a learning institution in the name of testing how they are prepared to handle a terror attack incident is in total bad taste.

    The best such institutions can do is to carry out fire drill, because fire everyone expects fire can break out at some point. But to go and do a terror attack preparedness is in total bad taste and should not be condoned at any cost. These are innocent people who woke up monday morning expecting college to run normally only to end up in a hospital bed of worse still morgue. The safety manager and the entire management of this institution should be held fully responsible for the loss of life and injuries sustained on monday.

    Having said that, I wish Deogratias a quick recovery. Sorry George there will be no one to accompany you fr morning road work out for some time. I hope you will adjust accordingly.

  22. Read this today……so sorry.Hows he doing?
    It is a shame…..the Country may forget but the victims and their families will never forget

    • I hope your brother is fully recovered,and I just saw a familiar name Mabiria my high school and college mate .so proud of him .

  23. Wow… This is quite the piece. I’m sorry you had to go through that. I hope your brother is all better now.

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