short stories

The Tarmac

road

Kimeu withdrew his gaze from the newly Tarmacked road winding down the slope like a stripped black snake. The whole village was awe struck by the most recent development project from their member of parliament who was best known for his empty promises. Once again, they’d fooled into voting him back into office. Just for this little effort clearly meant to boost his image and earn him votes.

His friends were talking and chatting lazily. They had been on the same spot since morning, gawping at the tarmac which was more of a tourist attraction than another piece of infrastructure. The hunger pangs were now quickly catching up with him. Kimeu had dreaded it for long but knew well that it would finally catch up with him.

In his pocket was a crumbled fifty-shilling note. A treasure; the only meaningful thing in his life. He had earned it after helping push the MP’s car after it was stuck at mud last week while he was attending his first Harambee in four years. He had avoided spending it at all possible costs. Kimeu therefore perfected the art of showing up at neighbors’ houses just when meals were being served. Being African, sharing was among top values in their culture. Now, he had thoroughly exhausted all ‘visit able’ homes and had nowhere to call on anymore.

He braved the hunger in silence. The intense afternoon sun forced him to squint. The scarce eyebrows bowed almost touching. The wrinkles on his brow looked like deep sweet potato furrows. Sweat glimmered from deep these charcoal dark skin folds.
The others were conversing with great effort. Pauses were as rampant as their days without food. They beat down a subject almost the very moment it was put up. With their little knowledge, they could barely hold a conversion that would last their narrow hunger distracted spans. Kimeu joined in occasionally to dispute a comment. Normally, a heated debate would ensue. The basemen, as they referred to themselves, would then split into two. The exchanges had to end up in sulks, and even insults.

“Now that we have a tarmacked road, I am a worried man.” Kibe said faintly.

“Ata mimi. Especially during such dark months.” Mukwas supported him.

“Mukwas acha ushenzi. This is a month like any other.” Kimeu chipped in.

“I too don’t like August that much. Do you remember Sach Angwan tragedy? In what month did it occur?” Rotich had been silent.

“That was just a coincidence.” Kimeu was almost shouting.

“I thought you people go to universities to rid yourselves of such stupidity. What a disgrace.” Mukwas shouted.

Kimeu looked up the slope, his liquid eyes trained on the dark road. The gaze met something like a pool of water right in the middle of the road. He hated to be reminded of his useless education. The veins on his temple pulsed. In the brokenness, he peered farther until the road sunk away at the edge in between tall trees along it.

The basemen stared at each other like strangers. They all knew they would come to this. Rot pulled a blade of grass and chewed it. His oval face darker than his neck. His lips were a shade darker and swollen. His hands trembled heavily while he held the blade to his mouth.

A soft engine hum dragged Kimeu’s eyes onto the road once again. A white car emerged from the sunken road, between tree canopies, proudly. The road was good. The engine was good. It was a Toyota saloon. As it raced by, Kimeu scrutinized its rear windscreen for the ‘wash me’ writing previously common with most vehicles when the road was dusty. It was conspicuously absent.

“Rich people have it easy nowadays uh?” Mukwas remarked.

No one said a word.

As if it had waited for the car to clear off the stretch of the road, a heavy engine roar was heard. It was a lorry. The way it moved towards the onlookers, it seemed to be rising up off the road lifted by unseen forces. Kimeu knew right away that it was one of those that ferry petroleum from the newly opened oil refining plant in the next county whose governor dealt with so much backlash thanks to his visible development stunts.

Everyone else looked on but Rotich.

Suddenly, the lorry swiveled uncontrollably from lane to lane. That was odd. Kimeu thought the driver was having fun on the smooth deserted road. His lips curled into a smiley expression only to be cut short when the lorry suddenly veered off the road and rolled into a ditch. Definitely that could not be part of the fun.

They gasped in unison.

“That’s petrol right there basemen.” Mukwas broke the silence.

“No. It’s an accident. What do we do?” Rotich said.

“It means only one thing. We are rich.” Kimeu was excited.

Kimeu thought of the hunger haunting him daily like a ghost. He thought of the misery of joblessness and poverty that had befallen him. After graduating, he had planned to get a job and start a business from the savings only to meet a harsh reality out of the university comforts. He ‘tarmacked’ for three years after which his shoes gave up, and then he did. Bit by bit, all the battering from master life reduced him into a timid, useless human who couldn’t be set apart from uneducated lot.

In his quest for any kind of job, he had met the basemen. Men who had lost clear picture of the future if indeed they had any. He dived into the world of casual jobs simply to stay alive. Their main motivation became to survive until the day comes and they would go to their creator where they’d be clothed in white robes and set to pluck fruits and drink honey. For them, their treasures were in heaven. But then, they had no hope in that so much hyped Promised Land.

“Yes, it means we are rich.” Mukwas was nodding his bushy head.

With the ambitious thought, Kimeu, Kibe and Mukwas sprang into action. Rotich shook his head in disbelief and remained stationery.

Minutes later, Kimeu returned carrying six twenty-liter capacity containers all tied together by their handles using a climbing plant’s stem and hoisted to his shoulders. Looking lively once again, he grinned at Rotich. Then Mukwas arrived ceremoniously with a blue plastic drum stuck to his shoulder and a jerrycan dangling on his other hand.

Under the hot sun suspended on a blameless deep blue sky, Neti center burst into action. People trickled in with the hope of scooping just enough Petroleum from the accident site. The driver and whoever aboard were dragged into oblivion. Even God himself would understand that under the tough economic times, no single drop of the black gold deserved to be lost. The petrol had to be saved first.

The wind blew gently. Most petroleum hopefuls picked a strange whiff. Someone exclaimed that the air was becoming foully. Two lousy drunkards looked at each other suspiciously and rushed off towards the fortune.

As the immediate witnesses, the basemen less Rotich were the first people headed for the windfall. They were the head of a gigantic procession unique with its baggage. From a distance, it looked like the tribe of Israel leaving Egypt in search for honey and milk.

The closer they drew, the more intense the strange smell grew. Excitement nullified any urge to mind it. Kimeu could tell that the smell was familiar. He wondered if he could remember where it belonged. His memory was refreshed when he approached the half-wreck. At the side of the lorry’s container he met a whole different inscription from what he expected. He shoved his large dirty fingers up the holes of his nose and read out loud to the benefit of the basemen; HONEY SUCKER.

#thewordbrewer

The Knock Part 2

knock

Josephine rises and flings the door open. My chest rises with anticipation. I sit ready to rush to him and wail until he carries me to our bed and lulls me into sleep. The knocker is hesitant. Maybe Brent is careful now that he has heard the news doing rounds. Then Richard pokes his purple face in then the whole of his body. Relief like loose soil in the heavy rain erodes away. He quickly reads it on my face and apologizes as if that would transform him into my Brent.

He parts me on the shoulder from behind the sofa. The posture he carries around signals misfortune. Perhaps he is shriveled by the news of the accident. He gives Josephine a wink. I sit silently. Unable to speak. My throat is dry, my lips are dry and my eyes are dry.

His trousers rips as he squats before me to speak. I don’t ooze empathy just now, I want my Brent. I want his presence. Nothing else. And I tell him so without hesitation. With grief. He stares at me for long, his lips trembling, his eyes are watery and blinking fast. There is a strange hollowness in his stare. His old face is well battered and dark.

When he finally speaks, the world comes to a cringing stop. He gives me the opposite of what I wanted.

“I am so sorry. The doctors say they did all they could.”

I stare at him long after he spoken but do not quite see him. All I see are blurred memories. Something tells me to walk away into that room that has the smell of his presence. It is a lie that they are all saying. Brent is not dead. No he isn’t at all.

The rain water splash softly against the window. Beyond the thin strands of rain water I behold two lovebirds dashing about in the rain.Laughing loudly. The weaver birds are perched on trees watching as the rain falls incessantly. They are all in pairs. Feeling each others’ warmth and savoring the romance ridden moment. Far yonder housetops are covered in mist. They are all stern and defiant. I envy them. They know not of seasons nor times.

birds

The prospect of losing him just now is impossible. It cannot be. Weakness is coming to swallow me whole and I don’t know how to fight. He never taught me that. He only taught me to love and to enjoy the sweetness of protection. He taught me not to fear but I am now horrified. Where are you Brent? Why do you leave now?

Tears roll into my mouth and give me a sour taste that is going to reign in my heart for a very long time. The lemon and lemonade adage is all but a pure lie. How can I live now with the smell of horror haunting my being?

I will weep again when I see his gentle face deep asleep in death. It is in my senses that the long procession of years to come that will be spent without him will be filled with agony. I cross my arms across my chest to cordon them off. For the hate in my heart matches the deep love that I have for him. No man will ever put together these pieces that I can’t gather. In my sleep I will weep again and again until we are both joined in death.

I loved him all times. The beat of my heart whispers of him and his big heart dedicated to loving me. Not the strongest of sparks will ever melt out this coldness in my heart. The heat is frozen with him in death.

Josephine and Richards are standing at the door behind me. They are trying to feel my pain, as they think they should, but all is now lost. It is beyond them to rekindle the candle that lit my way. Josephine is begging me not to whip myself but I am not. His departure is. I will not get over him. I will rock the boat to the shore but the wave will forever keep me away.

Even in the tight embrace, I still feel cold and alone. My sister can no longer give me what I want for she has not. Richards knows well he is well out of question. All he can do is stand at the door, blocking the orange hallway light from pouring into the room with his gigantic frame, and look like he is that shoulder they all talk about. Will he have it for me for the rest of his life? Will he bathe in these tears I can’t hold back?

I am led back to the living room. At least it is warm out there, they say. I sit staring at space as if it holds answers to my questions. Then that knock that has dismembered me over and over today comes on again. My shudder is now confused. My hopes rise hesitantly. Expectations again haunt me. They could have been wrong for that knock resonates with his.

Once that door opens, Brent will walk in and we will all weep out of joy. He will inquire why anyone would want to kill him before his time comes. I will tell him to take me to the bedroom and make love to me. He will do what he does best and tear me apart like a tiger. He always does.

The door flies open and it’s not Brent.

It’s not a friend either. Could it be any worse anyway? It is my brother who had been proclaimed dead a year ago just like Brent now. I am confused. Am I to jump in excitement? Will I be able to lift the weight of grief that is upon me?

#thewordbrewer

The Knock Part 1

knock

I can smell the sweet aroma of earth anticipating for a downpour. The cool breeze is numbing my skin. I am with the earth in this. May the rain pour to fulfill my desire. To whet my loneliness. May its water fill up all the empty pores in my heart. May it bring to life pure memories of his tender cuddle. May it re-member the hollow parts of his warm presence and purge the emptiness.

There is a knock at the door; so gentle a knock like his touch. A hesitant knock of pure longing. There is a sweet shudder in me. What if it isn’t him? I do not want to hold back this yearning anymore. In his arms is where I belong and where I’d rather be now.

It is my desire to eradicate the wear on his face. I know that after all the toil he would use a little bit of homeliness. I want to give him that. Behind that wooden door I hope stands him who I miss badly. I walk stealthily. Hesitating from the possibility that it might be someone else.

I’d love to hate this face staring back at me blankly as if she knows it is her I did not expect. The emptiness beneath it is worrying. When I see the paleness on Josephine’s face I know that the rain is about to beat me. The kind of rain I’d not want to think about. The shameless one that pours in the middle of a drought just to wither away few surviving greens with false hope.

Josephine is hesitant to come through but she drags herself in. The shudder in my heart changes color to black. Bad shudder it is. She is as restless as a cow that is about to calf down. I loathe that calf. She paces around the living room behind my brown sofa, sits and stands and strays into the kitchen. Josephine puts her hand on her brow like Brent does when he his shielding himself from the sun.

Finally, she gulps down a glass of water and settles. Her lost gaze befalls me. And I stand over her fondling my fingers and stealing glances at her. The suspense puts me on an awkward position. But if I drive her into speaking I know my whole being will come stumbling. I don’t want that to happen just now. I want to revisit my old sweet moments with my Brent. I want the nostalgia to sweep over me and toss me away like the ocean waves does the sea shells. Would anyone pick me? And whom would it be?

I am entitled to happiness. It seems that I am the most unlucky person in the world. There’s not even a chance for me to build castles in the air. I don’t even have that. Having only two closest people in the world and one sitting agitated right before you and one so far away could never be a blessing even in the simplest of terms. There’s no way that I can even try to console myself that whatever is to come out of that mouth is about anyone other than the love of my life. I shudder again and sigh. Deeply.

Josephine asks me to sit beside her. And she holds both my hands.

“I don’t know how to say this sister.”

“Is he dead?”

“God no! Why do you say that? But he is badly injured. Am sorry.”

The world rushes by for a moment and then slows down to normal. Why does it have to be me losing them all one after the other?

“How bad?”

“Really bad. He is in ICU. Got a broken spine.”

I don’t know what to say. My head goes back a little to the relief full knock. Back to the moment of the sweet smell of the rain and the sweet memories of him. Back to the moment that the knock woke me from a sweet reverie and towed me into a white shudder. Back to the instant when I held the door handle anticipating to see that face that I dream about every night. Back until the whole world became dark.

Then I am woken again by a damn gentle knock. One that much gentler, much hesitant as if it is a pupil knocking at the headmaster’s office. My whole body is shaken, could it be that I was in a dream when Josephine said that he had been hospitalized? Or could it be that she received the wrong message? That knock hitting my head like the music of the thud of his heart is so much like him. That knuckle is the one I have slipped against my cheek every night; hard and old.

…to be continued
#thewordbrewer

The Word Hunter

the-hut

The read suffused all the sinuses of longing in him. Its elusive end left a rueful smirk on his face. Everyone who adored literature like he did had challenged him to dig his teeth into the yarn. He despised much hyped stories. In his heart was the quest for the less appreciated stories. According to him, these harbored untouched goldmines. How he loved to be among the few to have savored the toothsome edges of a read long before the mainstream readers knew of its existence. So when they had told him of this one, he was reluctant. Donning a studious affectation especially when he heard of the crispy and snappy sentences he so much relished.

After dismissing the voracious readers openly, he drifted behind them just to have a peak of these sentences. They had known were the middle of his fault lines lay. He searched for it and found it. The opening left him gob smacked. It was the one to die for. Like those tantalizing movie previews that film maker use as bait to lure cinema lovers to troop to cinemas on Saturday afternoons ready to be rocked away.

Satisfied by the opening abetting sentences, he sat to enjoy his repast although writhing from guilt. The words were simple in their complex dignified diction. The rain pattered against the thatch outside thus enhancing the sweetness of the tale. The writer right off the snap kept him on tow. The juicy parts of the narration were drawn out professionally by this man of means in the world of words. Every picture was accorded its rightful description. He could see the rivulets of sweat run down the protagonist’s brow when he was wallowing in acute temperament.

Even when the wind blew from under the gap between the wooden door and the mud floor, he did not feel it gnaw on his toes. The man was evidently lost in the eccentric plot that proved to be his pot of tea. Save Best for Last floated off his gramophone but that only served as a backdrop to the delicacy he was enjoying. After all the woman struggled to be heard in the soft hum of the rain.

Neighbors talked. They openly displayed their inadequacy to understand what he had become. Some said he had been bewitched for being too brilliant. Others, whispering from one person to another, indicted that he had crossed the path of a Kamba woman. Feeling betrayed, the girl had sneaked a Kamutee on those coffee drinks he relished. How else could anyone spent so much in useless pieces of paper?

Temporarily withdrawn from the intriguing tale, he threw a quick glance at the much adored part of the house. Just to be sure that there was no water dripping into his treasures. The wooden shelves stared back. The intricate patterns of the books made his chest rise with bubbles of pride. Those words in their millions spoke to him so much about gratification than all the posh villas and sleek modes of transport they all endeavored to achieve.

the-drop

Someone once suggested to him that he needed to find a beautiful woman and settle. The man was offended. He fidgeted. Trembled from anger. Walked out without saying a word into a bush to read his books. And emerged hours later gleaming with pleasure. The only voice of a woman he could listen to was those of the well picked characters in the books speaking meaningful things devoid of much overrated affection.

He was not ready to sacrifice his limited time wooing a fellow human being into letting him poke between her thighs. Everything denuding love or anything edging towards the same seemed ridiculous. Apparently, he just could not wrap his head around these mysterious behavior. It was beneath him to accord special treatment to someone just because of…love. He knew they would vociferously fault him for this yet it was clear it all melted down to coitus. Why then would anyone kill the creature he claimed to so much love once he unraveled that he fucked someone who wasn’t him?

Sometimes the snow comes down in June, sometimes the sun goes round the moon, just when I thought our chance had past, you’re going to save the best for last. The song came to a cringing stop and so was his story. Contended, he stared at the strands of soot hanging from the traces and its blackness. Listened to the rain hum on. And then his heart pounding peacefully. The hunt was not going to end. Not in his lifetime.
#thewordbrewer

These Bugs

sunset

He lost his job just when he needed one badly. What would he amount to? After all those fruitless years at the force? What would he say back at home, how’d everyone look at him? It then occurred to him how he had been boastful of his little job in the city, of his big ghost plans. He was staring at a possibility of being used as an excellent analogy to the mantra that you should be good to others while rising for you might need them when falling.

The thrill of arriving home like a prince was no more. How he had loved how they nearly worshipped him after he bought them cheap vodka. He loved to see them squirm at the burning drink in their chest and pretend not to be anything much while he sipped away his ice cold beer patting him on the chest like a comforting sponge. He enjoyed their drunken scuffles.

Suddenly his heart shuddered. Without a job he would soon end up being one of them. He hated to envision himself begging for twenty shillings from people who have jobs.

“Can I have mine?”

He tried to spell out their way of demanding and almost fainted. He said it so well as if he was seasoned. He loathed the reality so much that he was on the verge of breaking. The unity in hunger for cheap liquor that had killed many and rendered others permanently blind beckoned.

The city enticed him to stay on longer, just to look around for something to stick out. He chose to spend his last monies in the quest for another source of shield from the shame of his vulnerability. If he played his cards really well, no one would discover his new little secret.

With every sunset he trudged back into his rented apartment a little more disappointed. No job in sight. The harsh reality he had been wondering over was no more a mystery. The few connections he had made over the working years had disintegrated into nothingness. They were all too occupied. They had a life to live and an economy to live up to.

Since he left, all back doors had been sealed off. No one had the balls to risk jail terms and even worse execution. His boss, after they were caught, was arraigned in court and sentenced to death. Was he in a better bus, he would have rejoiced. Perhaps make a toast with a few friends.

The little savings eroded away like top soil on a farm with crops planted along the slope. The prices of commodities were unbelievable. He had never felt the strain of the economic belt when he had continuous stream of dirty money. Every time he boarded a matatu it felt like they were grinding the thin rope he was holding on to. And so he chose to walk like Jonny whom he had known to walk across the label of the bottle of his favorite drink all his drunken life.

Soon, house rent was due, then followed a string of exorbitant bills; water, electricity, food and trash collection. No matter how much he tried, the ends won’t just meet.

The reality of ending up in the lush aura of the village dawned. Shame was lying in wait to hop onto his shoulders like a monkey so he could carry it wherever he went. The wrath of hard hustle and abject poverty beckoned and then the landlord put a bigger lock on his door. Over his smaller one.

That evening he strolled across streets. Past desperate looking people huddled at the city square trying to bear the hunger cries of their young ones. He walked past shops with sale tags slung on the door. Past youth walking about, looking tired and in their hands holding brown envelops. And finally, with the money he had received from the sale of his phone, he entered an agro vet shop reeking of kinds of drugs.

He announced, with a smirk on his face, that he couldn’t sleep in the dead of the night for in his bed were bugs. They won’t let him sleep a tad. Only that he didn’t say which bugs. He parted with 200 shillings in exchange for the sachet. He would lick it in into his system, board a matatu heading home and wake up dead in the arms of his loving mother.
#thewordbrewer

Shudder in the Shuttle

matatu

Martin stood by the roadside, waiting, and his luggage lay by his feet. It was a large grey suitcase that bulged from a plethora of content. Its zippers threatened to rip apart if the stretching became unbearable. Martin gazed up and down the road restlessly. He kept glanced at his smartphone that couldn’t stop purring from all the streams of Whatsapp messages beseeching for his attention.

The sun was high and sky luminous. Casting a look on to the road, Martin could see air dancing in the heat of the black tarmac. The cologne from his white t-shirt jumped off into his nostrils. At the grassy sides of the road, tethered sheep clasped under trees while panting so hard their bodies rocked back and forth like a bunch of leaves in a breeze.

Finally, a shuttle flashed the headlights at him and he waved. The matatu was already crammed but he boarded it anyway. He did not want to lose his cologne to the hot air. The girls too were getting restless. They kept pestering him to hurry. And he did, not because he was in love but because they were. He had shown them an imitation of love and they bought it. Since he coined the art, he always pretended to like so he could have the liberty to pull down the loose pants whenever he felt like it. Once satisfied he would take off like a rabbit rattled out of its hiding.

Despite his willingness to constrict himself into the rumbling vehicle, the conductor took the trouble to convince him that there was one more space. He nodded and was squeezed in the back among two men and a pregnant woman. He sat between a roughly dressed guy and the window.

Martin’s bare hands touched the man’s big ones and he could feel the sweat on his skin. It reminded him of the Dettol advert. The whole vehicle smelled of sweat, unwashed mouths and faint cologne. The window won’t open. It was stuck. And it made Martin feel stuck in a death trap.

His phone vibrated briefly in his pocket. He let out a grunt of disgust and struggled to retrieve it. The notification bar suggested that he takes back the grunt. It was Brian. The bastard was in the same vehicle with Martin, seated in the front by the driver.

From the miniature space in the corner, Martin struggled to keep up a chat with Brian who replied more swiftly. Every time Martin looked into the screen of his phone, the big man next to him peeped to read the messages. Martin hated him for it. He felt that the man was making his life impossible. What with all the sweat and squeezing and foully mouth and now this?

He wrote to Brian about it and looked out the window with disgust.

Brian replied with smiley faces and wrote that those are the kind of guys who never wash their underwear just like the one seated next to him in front. Martin smiled and stole a glance at the man before typing a reply. It occurred to him that all this while the man had been reading the messages!

Marred with shock, Martin looked up at the man and met feud beetroot eyes with white substances on their corners, a wrinkled face with a wait-and-see threat written all over it and saggy dark lips almost completely lost in a bush of unshaved beard. The bald in his head seemed to pulse like that of an infant.

Terrified, Martin pushed the phone into the pocket of his black jeans. And sat pretending not to have noticed the blunder. The breath of the man hit him hard and he could barely afford to hold his breath. He simply looked out the window at trees and people racing by in the opposite direction and wished he was one of them.

The shuttle made an entrance into a bustling matatu stage. Hawkers were shouting, callers were shouting, a pastor was shouting; all comfortably as if the world was at peace.

At his side, Martin could feel the solid frame of the man press him hard against the window. He wanted to alight swiftly once the shuttle stopped. Unfortunately, he had to wait for the conductor who had jumped off the matatu and melted into the crowd looking for change to come back and get his luggage for him from the boot. The heat became unbearable, both from outside and within. Sweat beads collected on his brow and he dared not wipe it away.

Martin alighted before the man. He walked behind the shuttle hoping a scene would erupt so he could escape his attention. Just as he was about to make a curve, he heard a husky voice calling out, commanding.

He froze. The thud on his chest could be heard a mile away. If he was to leave with all the bones of his body intact, he had to ignore the call. Perhaps pretend not to have heard anything but the bustle of the town. He walked on. Just then, the man’s grip was on his elbow. Martin envisioned himself sprawled on the dusty floor of the stage. He had recently read an article on Facebook about a growing trend of people becoming violent over the slightest of provocation. It had something to do with the ever tightening economy or joblessness.

The man dipped his big hand into his pocket and retrieved a mobile phone. Martin looked on engulfed in terror.

“Please, read for me this text. It’s from my wife.”

#thewordbrewer

Hotel Florence

pulse

…. continuation

His big round nose twitched. The gigantic dark lips pursed as if he wanted to speak or rather command. You avoided the red shot eyes and did not want to imagine the beefy round face with bushy beard.

“Talk to me sweetie.”

“I am not your swee-.”

You could not contain your anger. Your voice burst up amid the tranquil air of the room. Folks looked at your table briefly. The last words choked in the rage curbing your throat.

“Don’t you raise your voice on me boy. Here’s the deal, go think it over and meet me here tomorrow. You know what I expect eh? Now leave my table.”

The metamorphosis of his gentleness into harshness was concrete. You could feel its sharp edges from his cold voice.

You stood and walked. You felt his stare upon your back. A feeling compelled you to turn and say ‘yes’ but you receded. Each step you made was heavier than its precedent. Possibilities matched up and down your head. Your vision was clouded and you could not notice smile. You were now a slave to dilemma.

Turmoil took over you as you stepped out of Hotel Florence. The chill that greeted you reminded you of your woes, of the importance your job to your existence. The awry smell and the gloomy light spoke of an ugly future. You wanted no more tarmacing, no more unproductive interviews, no more lies of being made to work with only promise of pay in a month to come, no more issues with landlords who lock your door with their padlock when you fail to pay rent in time. You were done with suffering. Instantly, you made an about turn and walked back to meet your devil.

That night happened.

More tears well up in your eyes and soon it is going to rain. You are a lost man; lost in your own suffering. Are you even a man anymore? After Hotel Florence? Your future is as bleak as that of the white Rhino. Its control is no longer in your hands. You are bound to bondage.

Your heart is no longer beating to a rhythm you know. Your body long transformed into a pleasure instrument where the owner plays to a tune they please. Your feelings are a ruin where hope is simply a wish. You have been robbed of every little thing you could ever own.

Ndereba Khamali is your owner now. He decides when you breathe and when you hold your breath. He has strapped a collar around your neck and he now wants you to marry him. You want to laugh to this utterly ridiculous idea but you do not even own your mirth. His desire is to show the world where your fears have led you; that you are neither a man nor a woman or is it that you are another man’s woman? That you lie on a fellow man’s chest at night and stroke his beard.

He wants you to defy your customs, religion and orientation. He wants you to be the good example of bad influence of a foreign culture you do not even subscribe to. He wants you cast out of your society and community.

The hammer has fallen and your fate sealed. That morning after the night in Hotel Florence he had shown you something horrible, a thing that has since then haunted your nights and flawed your days.

Now you look at the bottle on the table with contempt. You do not even have a heart to pray. Tears are trickling down your cheeks uncontrollably. You have no eternity in your list anymore. All you have is darkness. Pitch darkness. And you are only counting.

By the time the hour clock moves, you will be no more. People will remember you as a coward who could not face life as it is. Not even one will dare see you as a victim. They will not mourn, they will not cry. But your mother will. The rest will unanimously bury you and their memories of you. Perhaps, Ndereba Khamali will have to bury the video too.

owl

Hotel Florence

owl

You stare at the wall clock. And hot tears well up in your eyes. The hour hand is short and thick. Its movement is a mystery you can’t uncover. It is gentle, sly and elusive. The minute hand is long and sharp as if made to pierce your fears. You can comprehend its movement but can you relate with it?

Then the second hand drifts by. Its clicks echoing in your head like it is an empty hall making you dizzy. You can’t stand it but at the same time you want it to move faster than it has always done. It has become your nightmare. A brutal reminder of how fast time is running out. Unable to contain its taunting movement, you shift your gaze to the frame of the clock; dark and round.

Your primary teacher once taught you about eternity. You were in standard three back then and she’d used a ring to demonstrate the tricky concept. The point was to use anything round to explain how eternity works, how it starts anywhere and ends nowhere. The clock frame now with its dark edges is taking you back into that classroom. It is forcing you to consider what you would rather avoid. Something you had forgotten. Something clearly out of your reach.

The couch is fast giving up its comfort. It is becoming hard and uncomfortably hot. You do not know how to shift your position. Your memory can neither remind you the same. It is busy taking you places you never wish to be.

The clock gradually drifts away until you lose its clear focus. It becomes a part of some fog. Or rather the fog swallows it. Your surrounding suddenly melts into nothingness. As if you only exist in a dream.

The high end hotel is where it all started. You had been invited for dinner. Lowly as you were, you could not refuse such a rare offer. You knew well how easy for a youth to become president than a man to be invited for free dinner. Excitement took the better of you. As you entered, you were thankful for not having turned down the invitation.

You were awed by the strange elegance of the interior of the hotel. You were only familiar with reflections of the city on the huge windows outside. It had never occurred to you that such a place ever existed. The red carpet running along the lounge and spreading in the restaurant, the white walls decorated with black and white photographs of people you did not recognize, the chandeliers flooding the room with neon light, the attendants dressed better than you and the potted plants.

You walked cautiously behind the pretty attendant who had introduced herself as Helen. Her gleaming hair was superstitiously dark and long. Her high stilettos elevated her a few inches high. She had thoroughly confused you in the way she spoke tenderly as if she knew you and wanted to be your girlfriend.

People sunk deep into their leather chairs. They conversed in low tones and jointly produced a fine hum. None of them shouted at the waiters. You saw a man with a potbelly snap his fingers and the waiter materialized to his service. Tall bottles stood on low round glass tables.

At the balcony, some other people dressed in suits and ties stood around tall tables covered with pure white cloth while they held their glasses. Most men inserted one hand in their trouser pocket. They did not laugh, they chuckled.

Then time came for you to join in the feast of classical music, wine, hushed talks and chuckles. You were intimidated by the environment. You felt out of place like a sheep amidst the wolves. You quickly sunk into your chair and fumbled around. It was hope that you were not going to embarrass yourself but most importantly, your guest.

A gentleman brought you a booklet written on the maroon cover ‘Hotel Florence’. You were confused. Nervously, you opened it and realized that it was a menu. You could not recognize a single thing in it. For the first time, you realized that there were so many types of tea. Even coffee. Your heart pounded. A time for embarrassment had come and you almost froze with fear.

Your partner read the trouble written on your face and offered to help. You were thankful for his kindness. You almost embraced him but then you had exposed you shortcomings to the person you always struggled to impress. Words departed from your lips. You conversed in ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses.

“Stefan, do you know why you are here?”

“NO”.

“God! You damn hot.”

You went dumb. There was no response to that remark. To you, it did not even qualify to be a complement. You did not fancy the way he was looking at you.

“You are hot Stefan. I like you.”

You had to notice the emphasis placed on ‘I’ and ‘you’. You stared blankly, unable to comprehend the words. You did not want to believe what you thought the boss meant. You just could not.

“Stefan, do you like me?”

“No.”

The answer was firm. When you had left your house, you had not expected such a wayward twist in events. You felt conned. Your gaze swept across the room, the intricate tables, the whispering people and your gaze fell on a man leaning onto a fellow man for a kiss. You withdrew immediately in disbelief.

“Answer me Stefan. I know you do but I would love to hear it from your sweet lips.”

“Why are you doing this?”

Your voice was crispy. It was hollow and empty. It portrayed your fears and aired your dilemma.

You mumbled a prayer in your heart. The possibility of you losing your job was becoming as clear as the windows of Hotel Florence; so clear that it practically vanished. The blackmail as well was as real. You were clearly on the losing end. Each and every card you had did not matter. You threw it and you lost, you kept it and you would still lose.

The boss looked at you and you looked down like a girl. His gaze was heavy on you. You felt that he could see through you. Cold beads of perspiration collected on your brow and you prayed that he did not notice them.

pulse

… to be continued.

The Story

DEATH IN THE NIGHT (Part 1)

death

Charity woke up with a start. She was panting and wet with sweat. Pitch darkness wrapped her room and she couldn’t look. She tried to recount the dream in her head unsuccessfully. All she could see was a struggle. And darkness. She dismissed these as a mere dream but deep down she was shaken.

After turning the lights on, she checked on her roommate, Faith, lying innocently on the lower deck of the bed unperturbed by the events in the room. Not even the bright glow from the florescent tube hanging from the ceiling. Charity turned to grab the Bible which was resting amply on the table next to her notebook.

She opened the bible diligently. It was as clear to her as the writings in the holy book that she had no particular section to read in mind. Her pastor had always insisted on the revelations brought about by random verses. God conveys His messages that way.

Psalm 34:4; I pray to the Lord, and He answered me. He freed me from all my fears.

And so Charity prayed and went back to sleep feeling much at ease.

Charity understood the power of faith. She believed without questions and trusted on the lord to guide her ways. She devoted her life to worshiping; believing strongly in her heart that all the mercy she had thus came from God. Even when everyone else was claiming to have fun drinking and fornicating without compromise, charity prayed hard that she may be delivered from temptation.

The next time she woke up, it was to the incessant churn of her alarm. It was 5.00 o’clock; time to go pray. Charity had known the divine power of prayer and devotion. Her life in college was a wretch without purpose. And she purposed to lead a pleasing life in the eye of the almighty God.

Darkness outside merged with her form and she vanished. While she strode silently, she hummed distinct worship songs; songs that melted her heart. This way, she had learnt from her pastor, she would not have to stray into evil thoughts. Those that threatened to loosen grip onto salvation. She could even quote from the holy bible but the exact verse escaped her memory.

Charity came to an end of the last song she could remember that morning. Not even a chorus could come to her mind for the remaining few meters to the church. Suddenly she hesitated. Her heart gradually entered a pounding phase. Fear landed on her and refused to leave.

Something was lurking behind her in the shadows of the darkness, probably the same thing that had robbed her of the hymns. She wanted to take a bolt but from what? Everything fell so silent that she could hear her own blood gush in their vessels. Charity rushed into the church.

Leaning against the shut double doors inside the church, Charity let out a long sigh of relief. Her chest eased down slowly as if she had been holding her breath. She opened her eyes to intricate pews and a narrow aisle leading a raised podium with a stand in the middle and a large purple and white curtain covering the whole of the wall behind the stand.

“Oh lord, lead me your poor child. Guide me when it is dark and let my heart not cow. In the name of Jesus Christ. Light up my paths, direct my feet so I may walk in your grace. Father….”

Her dry, husky voice echoed down the empty hall.

Outside, the leaves rustled. Tree branches roared in their fight against the strong wind. The iron sheet roofing hummed and creaked as if negotiating with an unknown force. A calendar hanging on the wall of the chipped wall swayed back and forth and dropped.

(Part 2 still brewing) Enjoy!

the story

         The Photograph

I stared at the passport size photograph engrossed in my palm and looked at the full length dressing mirror for the fifth time. The striking resemblance tinkled within me. The small bulbous nose, the thick succulent lips, the dark cold eyes and the ox- bow bushy eyebrows mutilated my heart. It was almost like what I saw on the photograph and in the reflection was one.

Something churned in me. I felt my heart sink deeper into my chest. My head spun uncontrollably. Hot lonely drops raced down my cheeks. They hit my chest in immature successions. I counted silently. One, two, three, four… I lost track. It graduated into a gush; uncountable but measurable. I wanted the drops so I could count until it stopped.

I wiped it off unconsciously and peered keenly into the mirror. The white baggy T- shirt revealed an impression of two little bumps on my chest. Formerly, I had rejected these out of uncertainty. It was her who explained everything in detail. A woman needs them for beauty, she had said while plaiting my hair. I could not call myself a beauty. Not after constant disapproval. From the confines of the T- shirt, they reminded me of the oranges in the basket above the fridge that I was not supposed to touch unless asked to.

Down farther was a slim waist harmonizing two parallel stick- like legs emerging from emaciated shins and prominent knees. I wondered how she who was just staring in the photograph looked when she was fourteen. I could have asked her. I could… More tears welled up in my eyes. Before they were hardly a drop, I wiped them off.

The past resurfaced and took over my vision. I remembered Uncle Ben, his pretty wife and their sons; Tony and Tom. How they talked gently. Uncle Ben bought me new gorgeous dresses every time he got Tony and Tom new shirts and shorts. The new school uniform lying idly in a carton box in my room next to the garage was a prize from his lovely wife. During meal time, we all sat round the circular dining tables. No one was sternly instructed to eat in the kitchen and after everyone else.

“I want you to study hard and be a nurse. Or what do you want to be?” Uncle Ben had asked.

“Air hostess, I would like to become an air hostess.” I had answered.

“That’s nice. You will become an air hostess, Aisha. Okay?”

Cold tears withdrew me from my reverie. My dreams were a distant treasure box I had to cross a lake of fire to get. I was sure Tom and Tony were defining theirs under the loving watch of Uncle Ben.

While young, Tony was so mischievous. He would run up and down the housing singing and mostly singing. He would run into the kitchen and leave behind a broken plate or cup. He would throw his ball on the television breaking the screen in the process. A new one would be bought only to undergo the same treatment barely a month later. I wondered how TV sets ad been bought and broken by Tony.

Despite his rowdiness, all kinds of enviable treatment from Uncle Ben and his wife fell on him. Uncle Ben said little men were experimental. His son was curious; quite a healthy thing. I recalled how a plate had slipped off my grab from the sink in my new environment. The incident had turned into a major scene. Screams, insults and rebukes had been thrown my way. A palm had also landed on my face forcefully.

Pain crept in my heart, pain of profound loneliness. I wanted someone to talk to. I craved for laughter or a smile even if silhouetted in hatred. My life was a yearning for things hidden somewhere away from my reach. The cold all around me froze all my efforts. Only the photograph handed me something to dream about.

With the few hours to my disposal, I siphoned a hopeful existence from imaginations, dreams and the treasured photograph in my hand. Everything else was a luxury. I could write no more. I doubted I could in the first place. My beliefs too had been reduced to nothing. All that was left of me was hunger, thirst and craving.

The main door creaked and a familiar strong scent of stinking perfume poured into the master bedroom. I had to go. I briskly wiped my tear- washed face with the edges of my T- shirt and breathed deeply. I stole a last glance at the image of my mother in the photo and back at the mirror. I tried to smile but in vain.

The boss was back.

– The WordBrewer