I. Déjà vu
Almost twenty-four hours before the dead man appeared, Kimani was afflicted with a sense of déjà vu so keen and deep, so detailed and distinct, that he did not just have the feeling that the events he was experiencing had already taken place, but he in fact saw himself performing or witnessing them in the past.
It started in the bathroom. He was reaching for the towel, he could just feel the wet tips of his fingers coming into contact with its velvety softness, ready to grasp it and pull it down from its holder, when, in a flash, he was overwhelmed with vivid memory of the action. Involuntarily, he jerked his hand back, as if the towel were too hot for him. Then he wiped his face in one quick, anxious motion of his hand, and stared at the towel with a confounded expression. But it was still just hanging there on the wall, impotent, quiet, not even shaking from the slight touch he had given it.
“Strange,” he said, blinking rapidly to clear water from his eyelashes.
He had seen an image of himself, with his dripping arms extended, seizing the towel; even the way it had felt against the tips of his fingers had been oddly familiar. He tried to recall if it was memory from the past, when he had showered in the same place and used the same towel. But no. The image could have been from the past, for all he cared; yet the feeling put it in the present, this very morning, this very moment. It shook him.
After nearly two minutes of fruitless reflection, he took the towel and dried himself.
From then on, it became a nightmare for him. His life was on a replay. It was as if that Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009, were happening for the second time with meticulous accuracy. The way he dressed, the clothes he chose, which leg got into the trouser first, which one into the shoes, what he said to his wife, his position at the breakfast table, his posture, the sight of the food, the arrangement, the taste, his daughter’s appearance, her fork, her plate, her Weetabix, the conversation they had, her voice, etc—everything was as though rigidly foreordained, and he’d been through each and every one of them this very day. It was eerie.
His daughter, silently studying him, asked, “Dad, what’s the matter with you?”
“Nothing,” he said, starting, meeting her brilliant eyes. He smiled at her. “I’m all right, Lin. Thank you for asking,” he added; but there was déjà vu in both the question and the response.
“For a moment there you looked weird,” Linda said, still studying him. “You looked disturbed.”
“I think I’m experiencing déjà vu,” he said.
“Is déjà vu a disease or something?” she asked.
“Or something,” he replied, and she laughed aloud. “Dad!” she exclaimed happily, her fork hovering about her mouth, her eyes luminous.
He got up, left the table. “I’ll just be outside,” he told her.
“You didn’t finish your breakfast,” she announced after him.
“It’s all yours,” he said.
“Over my full belly!” she exclaimed and laughed at her own joke.
He stood on the balcony. Standing there, too, seemed to have occurred beforehand. He saw his neighbour taking out garbage in a black plastic bag, felt that he had seen her do that before, although he hadn’t, for it was the owner of the house herself, not the maid, which was out of place because the maid always performed the task. If it was the maid, he would have concluded the sense of déjà vu associated with her was no more than a recurring image from an event actually witnessed before. It caused him to ponder over the causes of déjà vu. He remembered coming across a long time ago information to the effect that déjà vu could be a result of a screw-up in a person’s memory banks, when the long-term and short-term banks got their data interchanged. But that, he reasoned, explained a single instant of déjà vu. Not several hours of it, or the entire day. Wouldn’t he have to be utterly mad if his memory banks became so corrupted that the whole day appeared to be reoccurring, right up to the subtle nitty-gritty of it, like smells, sounds, gestures, greetings, and desultory thoughts? Was he becoming mad?
Or perhaps he was developing epilepsy. Did he have epilepsy? Déjà vu could also be a disorder of the central nervous system linked to epilepsy. It chilled him to contemplate the slightest possibility of that evil torment.
When he was in high school, there had been a boy with epilepsy in his class. Gony, his name; when he was attacked, he’d be convulsing and stiff at the same time, his mouth twisted and drivelling profusely, his eyes wide, unseeing, staring fixedly at something invisible on the roof, and strange, loud, revolting, gargling, strangling sounds would be coming from his throat.
Epilepsy, being a long-term disorder, could be the only explanation for the sort of déjà vu Kimani was experiencing.
He pictured himself in Gony’s place, prostrate, paralyzed, convulsing, seeing the Devil or maybe death itself on the roof, while his twisted mouth emitted oodles of vile spittle.
Epilepsy, he thought with sudden panic. “I have epilepsy!” he cried in a shrill terrified voice, and fled back into the house, tripping over the door rug and momentarily losing his balance in the process.
“Kim, what’s the matter?” asked his wife, who had joined Linda at the table and was polishing off Kimani’s left-over breakfast. She started to rise immediately.
“Dad?” shouted Linda with concern.
“I’m okay,” he lied, his voice shaking. “Just remembered something.”
He ran into the bedroom and locked the door behind him. Unconvinced, for they knew him, Grace and Linda were soon shouting outside, but he did not let them in. If he went to the hospital, he would be put through so many so expensive tests at the end of which he would be advised to return for more. The doctors in the current economic system did not compassionately care about their patients; money was their chief concern; and there were always stories that they were bribed by the pharmaceutical companies to prescribe drugs, so that they gave you drugs that would not treat you, would perhaps kill you, or just worsen your painful condition, but they did not give a damn.
So Kimani called Otis, his long-time buddy and business partner, with whom he had been in the University of Nairobi studying Physics and Mathematics. Otis knew things. His opinion would be reliable. Thirty-nine, same age as Kimani, yet a bachelor, he read for a hobby and he’d read one too many books. Kimani had advised him to enrol for a master’s at the campus but he’d said: “What’s the point, when I can make all my money by myself and still read every damn book I want, without some perverse, grumbling, underpaid lecturer telling me what to read, and what not, for an unnecessary piece of paper at the end?”
Suppressing his agitation, Kimani inquired, “Is déjà vu a symptom of epilepsy?”
“Are you sure?”
“But certainly I recollect seeing an article about the connection between some form of epilepsy and déjà vu,” asserted Kimani.
“No, that’s not true,” Otis said. “What you saw was most likely a conjecture. There is really no established cause for déjà vu, inasmuch as I can tell. Epilepsy is a broad term for neurological anomalies, Kim; now, if you view déjà vu in the same way, maybe as a disturbance in the memory circuit, audio, visual, or tactile, etc, then there you have your connection. But it’s all just an educated guess.”
“Okay,” Kimani said, and sighed loudly with relief.
“What’s wrong, Kim?” asked Otis, carefully, after hearing the relief in Kimani’s voice.
“I thought I had epilepsy.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m experiencing déjà vu,” Kimani explained.
“How can an experience of déjà vu lead you to such preposterous conclusions, Kim?” Otis asked. “An epileptic person manifests recurrent convulsive seizures, not déjà vu!”
“You don’t understand,” Kimani said. “Everything is re-happening. The whole day is reoccurring, as if I’ve been through it before. Even this conversation, the things you say, what I say; even when I scratch myself, it’s like I’m repeating it.”
“That’s interesting,” Otis remarked.
“Indeed, because it feels as if you’ve said that before, and today,” Kimani answered.
“I can give you an explanation, but it’s just mine,” Otis said.
“Go ahead. I’m listening intently.”
“Do you remember that course on Quantum Mechanics?”
“Professor Akumu,” Kimani said. “That old neglectful bastard; he didn’t seem to have an atom of idea what he was talking about!”
“Quantum Mechanics hypothesizes that there exists more than just one world . . .”
“Parallel universes, alternate realities,” Kimani interrupted. “I remember that one.”
“In those other worlds, or realities, or universes, our past, our future, our present have happened, are happening now, or will happen sometime in the future. Our history may be the same one or entirely different. What you did, or could’ve done, or was done to you in the past, say, in the year 2000, has been done already, is being done right now, or will be done in, say, 2014, or 15 elsewhere. Time is simultaneous across the universes. The year 2009 here can be concurrent with 2015 or 2030 elsewhere. Sometimes there is a glitch between two worlds, like a temporary short circuit, and particles known as tachyons cross back and forth carrying with them energy from wherever reality and whichever time they come. If such is the case, and your data particularly is transmitted, then you experience the sensation of what has happened to the version of you on the other side. That’s déjà vu.”
“I’ll be damned,” Kimani said and chuckled. “You’re saying that today, Wednesday, Dec 23rd, 2009, has already happened to me elsewhere, and I am simply re-experiencing it here!”
“Something of that sort, yes,” Otis said.
“Ha! I like that one,” Kimani said pleasantly. “It sure is more comforting than thinking I’ve got epilepsy.”
“You are fine,” Otis reassured. “Déjà vu only means that you’re still alive and kicking out there somewhere in a separate, disparate world. Enjoy your Christmas, Kim, and pass my sincere love to Grace and Linda.”
“Will do,” Kimani said. “And thanks, man.”
He felt much better afterwards, elated, cheerful, happy, although those feelings, too, were quite familiar. He did not care much any more. He spent time playing Scrabble with Linda, let her win three out of five games, much to her jubilant amusement and inspiration, before she left with her mother to go to shopping at Nakumatt Junction.
Alone, bored, unwilling to leave the house due to his déjà vu, despite not considering it a threat any more, Kimani went to the bedroom, lay down on the bed, and slept after half an hour or so.
II. Someone in Linda’s Room
The bedside clock was reading eleven minutes after six when he awoke. For some time, he thought it was in the morning, until he recognized that the orange rays pouring in through the window were from a setting sun. The general texture and tone of the day had changed; there was less noise without and the evening had acquired a velvety feel. Kimani struggled to reconcile himself with the fact that he’d slept for over eight hours.
He went to the toilet to urinate. As he was finishing, it occurred to him, abruptly, that he was no longer experiencing déjà vu. He paused in the process of zipping his trouser to scrutinize this revelation. He recounted his movement from waking to the toilet. It seemed true. To be absolutely certain, he concluded the zip, lowered the seat, rinsed his hands, face, dried them, washed his mouth, stepped back, opened the door, and exited slowly, all his senses sharply alert to any abnormal sensations. But there was none; no interfering memory; no déjà vu.
Glad, encouraged, a harsh burden lifted from his heart, he hurried smilingly towards the kitchen where he knew his family was now getting ready for a six-thirty dinner. His feet were light; his gait graceful; his mood evincing great exhilaration. He attempted to whistle yet in vain. The endless episode of déjà vu had taken its cruel toll of him; he realized the extent of strain it had caused him. It had been poignant, though no more.
As he was passing outside Linda’s room, suddenly, out of nowhere, he felt that there was somebody else other than her in there, and he was brought to a jolting, trembling halt. His skin prickled; his hair rose; his heart gave a forceful jerk, and then accelerated steadily. It was a powerful feeling, brutal, poignant, like a confirmation of bad news, as if he was convinced beyond doubt of the presence of the stranger. A stranger—he knew it was a stranger, and a man. He knew. Impulsively, he stepped forward, grasped the lock, but let go of it. He had a split second of reflection to realize that if he went in with such a frame of mind, he would frighten her badly. He needed to relax. He should relax. He must relax. He noticed that his hands had curled themselves into hard-knotted fists. He uncurled them. He shut his eyes. A few seconds elapsed. He took deep breaths.
She was twelve; an only child, her mother had suffered the ugliest, most excruciating, wickedest possible case of obstetric complications, what the doctors had called placenta percreta, in which Grace’s placenta had become completely lodged into the uterine wall. She’d had to lose her uterus in the operation; which meant that there would be no more children for Kimani; which meant that Linda was special, more than special; indeed, she was extraordinary.
“Lin?” Kimani called and knocked once. His heart was still thumping, though the deep breaths had calmed him a little.
“Come in, Dad,” she said. Her voice was sweet, pure; innocent.
He went in. She was sitting on the bed surrounded with plenty of books, a pen in her hand, and a calculator beside her.
“Hi,” he greeted.
“Hi, Dad,” she said happily. “Are you really okay?”
“Then why did you sleep for such a long time?”
“I don’t know. I meant to wake up when you and Mum returned.”
“But you didn’t,” she said, gesturing. “Today, you’ve been truly weird! Are you hiding something from us? Mum said you might be.”
“There is nothing to hide, Lin,” he said. “I had a curious case of déjà vu. I told you in the morning. But that’s all. I’m fine now. Are you alone in here?” he asked after a pause. His tone was conversational; yet he was subtly looking around.
“No,” she said.
His heart leaped. “I can’t see anybody else,” he remarked, hoping the excitement in his voice was unnoticeable.
She laughed. “Dad, you’re also here! Can’t you see yourself?”
“That’s funny!” he exclaimed, and they both laughed. His laughter was tense. “Do you talk to yourself, then?” he asked, thinking he should dispel any suspicions. He did not want her thinking later on that he had been convinced there was a man in her room. It would give her wrong ideas.
“How can I talk to myself?” she asked.
“I heard you,” he said.
“You’re just being weird again,” remarked she. “I was studying Maths. And you can’t do anything else when you’re studying Maths. You lose concentration.”
“You’re studying Maths on Christmas day?” he teased.
“Dad, it’s 23rd! Besides, Uncle Otis said there is no bad time for reading. Any time is fine.”
“Uncle Otis is a genius,” Kimani said.
“He also said that I should strive to discover things for myself and not always wait for the teacher to show me.”
“That’s an excellent advice.”
“And, guess what, I think today I discovered something that is not in our books!”
“It’s about number nine,” she said, looking up with radiant eyes. “Do you know that nine plus any other number can be reduced to that number?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” her father said.
“Like nine plus six can be reduced to six!”
“Nine plus six is fifteen.”
“Yes, but one plus five is six. Nine plus eight is seventeen; but one plus seven is eight. It works for every other number added to nine.”
“What about nine plus twenty?” Kimani challenged.
“It’s twenty-nine, which is like two plus nine equals eleven, and one plus one equals two.”
“Isn’t it supposed to be twenty?” Kimani asked.
“Twenty reduces to two plus zero, which is two! Same as twenty-nine!”
“Whoa! That’s amazing!” Kimani praised, genuinely delighted.
“You think it’s an important discovery, Dad?” she asked, seriously.
“It’s extraordinary,” he said. “Tell Uncle Otis all about it. He’ll be thrilled. It’ll be like a Christmas present to him. And he’ll tell you where the concept can be applied.”
“Can I tell him now?” asked she, her face lighting up with anticipation.
“Of course,” he agreed and gave her his cell phone. “Come for dinner when you are done,” he added, and left.
Feeling guilty, embarrassed, he questioned his motive for going into her room. How could he have been driven to think, let alone believe, that there was a man in with her? It was absurd. It was wrong. She was but a twelve-year old kid, innocent, genius, full of love, trust, freedom, honesty, virtue; an angel. Yet he had been powerless to resist the feeling about the stranger. He told Grace about it.
“Jesus, Kim, what’s wrong with you?” she admonished strongly. “You can’t do that to Linda. It’s awful. It’s immoral. Your imagination is farfetched. You’re paranoid. You’re overprotective.”
“I’m not,” he said weakly.
“Do you know what happens to overprotected girls?” she continued. “They grow up screwed up. You are not going to screw up our only daughter. All those strict religious rules and principles and bullshit my parents made for us! I will not allow you to put my only child through them.”
“But, Grace, she is a genius! She has just showed me a concept in Mathematics that I don’t remember meeting anywhere in Kenya’s curriculum. And she found it by herself. We have to protect her or some half-witted, opportunistic idiot will take advantage of her.”
“That’s quite irrational!” Grace exclaimed. “I am not discussing this any more!” added she in an astringent reproachful tone.
Kimani started to protest but then remembered how his hands had curled themselves into hard-knotted fists at Linda’s door. He stopped.
III. The Dead Man (1)
In the morning, there was a dead man in the living room.
Grace shook Kimani awake. She was terrified and in panic.
“What did you do?” she demanded.
“What?” he asked. Everything was misty. He rubbed his eyes.
“What did you do?” she shrieked, shaking him harder.
“I don’t know what—”
“There is a dead man in the house!” she cried. “There is a dead man in our house!”
He shot out of bed like a bullet. The sheets and the blanket flew after him, caught his legs, and he floundered, staggered, fell, got up and ran out in his underwear. His head was ringing, his heart rapidly gaining momentum.
“Oh, Kim,” Grace cried, following him.
The corpse was sprawled on its belly about three feet right of the main door, with its right hand clutching the edge of the sofa nearest to it and the corresponding leg folded and drawn up as if the owner had tried to get up in his last moments. The left hand had pinched a fistful of the carpet, apparently in distressing desperation, and there was a depression smeared with clotted blood and peeled skin on the wall where, evidently, the man had banged his head, which had continued to bleed on the carpet. His head lay on its cheek; the forehead was split, the nose crushed, lips and teeth shattered. The man had been no more than twenty years old.
“Who is this?” Grace asked.
Kimani, tongue-tied, thunderstruck, confounded, shocked, did not respond, could not respond.
“Who is this man?” Grace pressed agitatedly. “Who is he, Kim?”
“I don’t know this man,” Kimani said slowly, eventually. He had to be dreaming. He definitely had to be dreaming. His mind was whirling.
“Did you do this to him?” Grace asked. She was hysterical. “Did you kill him?”
“I don’t know this man,” Kimani repeated. It was all he could say.
“Oh, my God, Kim! Who is this? What happened? Who is he? What do we do?”
“I don’t know,” Kimani said. “I have never seen this man in my life.”
He was thinking about the déjà vu. He was thinking about the long sleep he’d had and how he had felt that there was a man in Linda’s room. What had happened? Had there, indeed, been a man? If so, who had killed him? What had his déjà vu to do with it?
“Grace, do you know him?” he asked, looking at his wife’s horrified countenance.
“No!” she said, shaking her head and spontaneously stepping back from the corpse. “I have never seen him before,” she added vigorously.
“Was the door open when you found him?”
“The door is still locked, Kim. Can’t you see?”
“Then how did this man get in here?”
“You’re asking me!” she exclaimed. “You tell me!”
“Can you go ask Linda?” he suggested; but Grace stiffened at once, as if paralyzed, wounded, gave him first a perplexed, questioning stare, then, remembering something, most likely their discussion the previous night, turned defiant, accusing.
“Don’t!” she warned, moving backwards, stern, her eyes hard as pebbles. “Don’t, Kim! Don’t! She’s out of this. Keep her off it.”
She went to Linda’s room and directed her not to come out.
“We have to go to the police,” she announced, coming back. “I’m going,” she declared. “Don’t touch it. Don’t touch anything, Kim,” she added.
He nodded, too confused and overwhelmed to comment.
She took in deep breaths, settled a bit, faced him, and said, “Kim, Linda is too young to have a man in her room. You know that yourself. You are a reasonable person. And she just can’t. Even if she could, she wouldn’t. She is a good child. I don’t know what’s going on here. But I do know that you didn’t kill this young man. You can’t kill anybody, Kim. I know you. You didn’t wake up at all till now. And there is no way he could have got in here. He doesn’t seem like a burglar to me. Moreover, to reach this house he’d have to pass through the rigorous security at the gate or climb the stone wall and fly over the electric fence at the top. And then, still, one of us had to let him inside. Whatever this is, it’s very strange. But we’ll solve it. We’ll be all right.”
But there was repressed hysteria in her voice and her chest was heaving too rapidly. She was fighting to take charge, though scared witless. She left for the police.
Kimani looked at his hands. The back of his right hand was bloody, the knuckles were swollen, and his arm was aching at the shoulder. He had punched something, someone.
IV. In Custody
A terrifying chill coursed through him. He felt insane, disoriented; sick. Once again, he thought it was all but a dream. He hoped it was all but a dream. He had no memory at all of the killing. Had he sleepwalked? He had never sleepwalked in his life. He never sleepwalked. Had he suffered memory loss? If so, then when, why, how? What had the déjà vu to do with the dead man? Why had he felt that there was somebody in Linda’s room, when there had, in fact, been none? There had been none.
Four policemen, armed, found him slouched wearily on a sofa, weeping, his darkened, distorted face in his hands, his elbows on his knees. He was still in his underwear.
“Kim?” Grace called at him, distraught, scared.
He looked up hopelessly, depressingly, and showed her the back of his right hand. She started to cry.
For the cops, the case was pretty much self-conclusive. There was a corpse in Kimani’s house whose owner had clearly been beaten to death and there was blood on Kimani’s hands. All they needed next was a confession in order to determine his motive. When they were finished with their petty investigations around the scene, they allowed him time to dress, and then took him with them to Kilimani Police Station.
The body was taken to the city mortuary where it vanished soon afterwards, without a trace.
There was no court session till Monday, Dec 28th. Kimani spent his Christmas and the following two days wasting away in a cold, squalid, lightless, vile prison cell, alongside lowlife criminals, some of whom must have been rapists and homicides, the lot amongst whom he had never thought he’d ever spend a single second of his dear life. Grace and Linda came to see him but all they did was cry, and cry some more, inconsolably. They felt like victims of a scheme impossible to comprehend. They felt wretched, hopeless; doomed.
On Monday, before a Kibera Court magistrate, after the mentioning of his case and his pleading not guilty, his lawyer requested bail but was denied. The prosecutor argued that since, according to police reports, the body of the victim had mysteriously vanished from the mortuary, and was suspected to have been stolen, allowing Kimani bail would be most inappropriate, for it was suspected that he had colluded with those who had stolen the corpse, and he’d, thenceforwards, interfere with investigations respecting its whereabouts. His lawyer started to object but instead began to stutter badly, shocking everybody, for he was not a stutterer. The magistrate, herself seeming distracted and somewhat lethargic, bored, announced that bail was denied and set pre-trial hearing for March 22nd of the following year, 2010.
Kimani saw his family in court, but it was a sight too melancholy and heart-wrenching to behold. He felt for Linda, especially Linda, wondering how she was coping with all of this, what she now thought of him, what she thought would happen to her, if she had grasped the magnitude of the events that were unfolding, like her not having a father to look up to, among other horrendous consequences. She was a clever pupil, talented, inspired, industrious, and she needed proper nurturing. In view of Kenya’s ineffectual academic system, Kimani had planned to send her out of the country as soon as she was done with high school. In Europe or America, she would be favourably cultivated and improved. Her outstanding talent would be nourished by greater talents. But he was now in prison, charged with murder. Found guilty, he would serve a sentence of at least fifteen years, by which time his daughter would be twenty-seven, maybe even married. And he could easily be found guilty. The system was sloppy, incompetent, dangerous, steered by thundering, overwhelming morons on the wheels of venality, prejudice, and perversity; sick, sickening men from the fiendish belly of hell itself; they were already speaking of murder yet nothing about the victim had so far been established, not even his name.
Overcome with the enormity of his imponderable fate, Kimani wept in his cell like a demented child.
Otis, who had gone to his rural home for the holiday, returned to Nairobi urgently when Grace told him what had befallen his friend. He came to see Kimani. He brought with him chips, chicken, and soda, which Kimani regarded with revulsive loathing and everlasting distaste, having lost his appetite a thousand years before.
“That’s quite complex, man,” remarked Otis, in his own puzzlement, after Kimani had narrated to him the events subsequent to the episode of déjà vu.
“You are the genius, figure it out,” Kimani said. “All that Quantum Mechanics stuff, what does it say about waking up to find a dead stranger in your very house and going to jail for it, huh?”
“I don’t know,” Otis said. “The concept of the multiverse, or multiple universes, is hypothetical. It can be used to explain some phenomena, like déjà vu, but . . . this, Kim, I don’t know what this is. Even if I knew, who’d understand it? Will the judge release you? I doubt it. This country is run by people who don’t even know why they shit, let alone why they wipe their asses backwards!”
“You have to try,” Kimani said. “It will at least give me a little peace of mind to know why I’m here, what kind of quantum mechanical devils I pissed off. And, man, I’d like to know why they say the corpse vanished. How could the corpse just vanish into thin air? If stolen, as they say, who did it? It’s so convenient! Everything fits so well but in a diabolical scheme intended to demolish me!”
“Don’t break down. It will be over. And soon,” Otis consoled.
“One last thing, watch out for Linda,” Kimani said. “She shouldn’t feel exceedingly traumatized by all this and despair. She might mess around with some unintelligent, opportunistic pests.”
Otis left a few minutes afterwards, promising to do everything he could to get Kimani out of his unfathomable quagmire.
V. Investigations and Eventual Discharge
Police did their investigations. They grilled Kimani endlessly, and with as much mercy as crocodiles have for their victims. They wanted him to confess. They wanted him to reveal the name of the young man, his association with him, and where his body had disappeared to. They believed Kimani was the key to all the answers they sought. Their methods of interrogation included, but were not limited to, deadly flogging, coercion, intimidation, dragooning, and hair-raising threats. Yet at the end, they had nothing, nil. Kimani stuck to his truth. He had nothing else to tell.
Next, they turned their unflinching attention to Grace. She told them the truth as she knew it. Kimani had been strange the day previous to the appearance of the dead man. How strange, they wanted to know. Disturbed about something, even looking sick, she answered. What thing? She didn’t know. He’d said it was some chronic form of déjà vu but she did not understand. In the evening, he’d felt there was somebody in Linda’s room but there had been nobody. What kind of ‘somebody’? A man, she said. Like a boyfriend? She didn’t know. He’d started to explain but she’d cut him off with a rebuke because she’d not liked what he’d been implying. Did he get such feelings often? No. He had an overprotective instinct—he loved Linda too much—but nothing like that had ever happened. Did she think that if there had been a man in Linda’s room, Kimani would have killed him? No, she said. “Linda is twelve. There was no man in her room. And Kimani cannot kill anybody.” Did he have any enemies? No. None that she knew of. But even if he had an enemy, she wondered, why would it be a child of twenty? Did he tell her everything? Yes. Mostly. Eventually. Yes, mostly, or eventually? Yes! Did she know the young man who’d been killed? No. She’d never seen him before. Ever? Ever. Was Kimani a violent man? He was docile, meek, amenable; he was generous, loving, a good husband, a perfect father. He had his moments of flaring rage, just like everybody else, but he hurt no one. As a matter of fact, she was the more belligerent one between them, controlling, inflexible. Was Kimani capable of killing? No. Not even a cockroach if he could help it. “What if he couldn’t help it?” one cop whispered coldly, grinning like a reptile, his eyes shining like polished steel. He could always help it, she replied.
They questioned Linda, too, until she broke down and cried for her mother.
“Dad, there was nobody in my room,” she told her father tearfully when she came to visit him. “Why did you think there was a man in my room?”
Kimani, ashamed, dejected, pained beyond rescue, apologized to her; but damage had been done. A sprinkle of distrust had been sown in her heart and he feared it would germinate and proliferate. He felt like taking his own life.
Otis, when questioned, tried to explain the many-worlds interpretation of Quantum Mechanics to the cops, who were no more than high school leavers and did not even understand how the heart functioned. “We ni professor kutoka university gani?” they demanded in pathetic Kiswahili. From which university are you a professor? Before he could answer, they decided he despised them and pounced on him with their fists and boots. Then they informed him, matter-of-factly and with genuine spite, that they could certainly find a way, if they so wished, to make him Kimani’s accomplice and lock him up forever. After all, he was his business partner.
However, by March 22nd, the cops still had nothing. No whereabouts of the deceased, no name, no relatives, no motive for his killing: in fact, the young man might not have existed at all in the first place. But there had been a murder, and justice had to be done. The magistrate had no qualms whatsoever setting the second hearing date for October 26, 2010, in order to allow ample time for investigation. Again she seemed distracted and apathetic, almost as if Kimani’s case was an imponderable burden she would rather die than contemplate.
Kimani’s lawyer understood the case no more than did the police, or anybody else, for that matter. He believed Kimani was telling the truth but thought that it was truth that felt like a lie. He started to stutter again before the magistrate, acquiesced quickly with her decision, and glibly informed Kimani that it was the best thing to do.
Hearing did not take place on the third date. More inquiries still needed to be done. It was as if something wanted Kimani in the custody of the police, something unknown, dark, diabolic, a monstrosity, contriving evil behind the curtains and manipulating all that was involved, blinding, stupefying, and rendering them intellectually debilitated and sluggish, thoughtless and mystified beyond words. It turned the magistrate against him, causing her to exhibit distraction, apathy, and stupid boredom whenever his case was presented before her. It made his lawyer to stutter and appear bewildered in court. Kimani was desolated.
The next date was promptly, hastily—as if musing on it for more than a few minutes was murderously burdensome and hurtful—shifted to July 18th, 2011; later to February 24th, 2012; further to August 29th of the same year; then to May 20th, 2013; eventually to December 23rd.
Four years! Four full years! On remand! Cursed, cursed the system! How wicked! How unjust, criminal, evil; the magistrate was stupid, cold-blooded, inhuman; the police, and rest of the authorities involved, were devils, demons, and ghouls. It was one of those instances when you became so furious, so frustrated and embittered that you wished to sell the entire soul of your country to the Devil for a single, damn shilling! Kimani felt broken inside. He no longer cared for what was taking place. Half of the time he was too dazed and detached from his surrounding to mind anything. Harassment from the implacable cops, vulgar, sadistic inmates, sordid existence, the constant postponement of his case, the fact that he knew almost nothing of what had got him into jail, that there could have been an all-powerful evil mastermind behind all this that none of them could handle, that his family was alone without him, that his daughter was growing up without him, that now she scarcely visited him, and when she did, she scarcely spoke, was reserved and aloof—these things haunted him and wiped out his dreams and hopes, and left him in a permanently exhausted, abject state of mind, too far-flung from the real world.
Otis and Grace, still hopeful, though fatigued, fired the first lawyer and hired a new one. A thirty-five-year old cocky, bold, intelligent Kenyan, with just more than a dash of arrogance, named George Olum. He had a meeting with the prosecutor and the magistrate in which he argued that Kimani had been unlawfully, and inhumanly, held in custody for four years for a crime that was never committed in the first place. No law had been infringed. No one had been killed. Period! No body, no victim, no name, no relatives seeking justice, no reports of missing person, nothing! If in truth Kimani had committed assault on a young man, then the victim had merely been unconscious when police found him. He had presently regained consciousness and walked away, failing to report the offence.
George argued that Kimani had never had a criminal record prior to his arrest, had been an upright, law-abiding, upwardly-mobile citizen and taxpayer, with a prosperous business of his own, and a family that he loved too much; yet all of which now faced disintegration and utter collapse due to the false, unverifiable charge brought against him and the painful, nightmarish years of his unsympathetic incarceration. As a matter of fact, he deserved to be compensated by the State, and George himself would see to it.
That day, for some intriguing, mysterious reason, the magistrate was alert, smart, and helpful. Shock registered subtly on her quinquagenarian face when George presented the details of Kimani’s suffering. It was as if she were hearing his case for the first time. Consequently, the charge against Kimani was dropped forthwith. And he became a free man.
It was December 23rd, 2013. Something, the thing, the monster, whatever, required him back at the house. Linda was sixteen years old.
VI. The Dead Man (2)
They drove from the court premises three minutes to one. Otis was driving. Kimani and Grace sat at the back.
“Why didn’t you come with Linda today when I am released?” Kimani asked. It had been quietly nagging at him.
“She didn’t know you’d be released. We didn’t know either,” Grace said. “I wonder we never thought to hire George Olum before,” she added wistfully.
“She doesn’t hate me?”
“She wouldn’t hate you, darling,” Grace replied. “Your absence took its toll of her. She loves you. Whatever happened, it was four years ago. She’s all grown up now.”
“She’s a teenager, Kim,” interjected Otis. “Unpredictable, delicate, troublesome. Going to Form Three, though, and top of her class as ever, only better. You know, in Form One she used to tell me that half the Mathematics syllabus was a repeat of Standard Eight. It disheartened her. ‘I’m not learning anything new in Maths, Uncle Otis. It doesn’t feel like high school,’ she said. So I told her to quickly finish the Form One book by herself and start on Form Two. Guess what now? She’s going to Form Three but she’s finished Form Four book!”
“That’s extraordinary,” Kimani remarked, pleased. “You’re quite the uncle!” he told Otis.
“She’s a singular student,” Otis said. “Now that you’re out, you have to work your ass extremely sore to get that genius out of this failed country. We’ll be at it together. If she goes to any of the universities around, it’ll be the ultimate demise of her genius.”
“I love that child,” Kimani ejaculated spontaneously, out of his heart. He felt a deep, profound, irrevocable love for his daughter. It wrung his heart, like anguish.
“We all do,” Grace said and took his hand into hers. She squeezed it.
“We all do,” Otis seconded enthusiastically. “She discovered digital mean by herself in Standard Six! That day before you were arrested, Kim,” he continued. “That’s what she called me about, and I was thrilled. The first time I came across that concept I was in the University of Nairobi and about to graduate!”
“You know, Otis, you never really got to tell me how my quantum mechanical déjà vu resulted in my spending four years in jail,” Kimani said.
“That one,” Otis said uncertainly. “I have but a hypothesis.”
“Well . . . tell it. I’m all ears, and all yours.”
“You remember I said that your déjà vu was the result of a glitch or a temporary short circuit between two parallel universes, one of which is this ours, and tachyons carrying your data were transmitted across to you?”
“I remember something of that sort,” Kimani agreed.
“Now, that boy didn’t die in your house here in Nairobi. He didn’t die in this universe, but the next one; and the glitch caused him to be transported here.”
“Stop right there, man! What are you saying?” Kimani asked, raising his tone. “You’re saying that I killed him in the other universe. Isn’t that what you’re saying? That he was transported here as part of my data?”
“That’s what I’m saying, Kim,” Otis said. “You killed him elsewhere.”
“I’ve never killed anybody,” Kimani lamented. “I can’t kill anybody.”
“The universes are not duplicates of personalities,” Otis explained. “You’re a different person in each and every one of them. In some of them you might even already be dead; and I may be a married man with a hundred children!”
“Oh, man,” Kimani moaned. He clutched his forehead. Grace squeezed his hand again. “In other words, that boy is probably still alive here in Kenya, enjoying his life, happy, while I was rotting in prison, and he doesn’t even know that he is already dead, killed by me, in another reality?”
“That’s it,” agreed Otis. “It’s heavy, man. Quite heavy. Oppressive. I explained it to the cops and they beat the shit out of me, for presuming upon their stupidity.”
“Damn! I would like to meet that unfortunate young man. If only to see him,” Kimani said.
“Me, too,” Grace said.
Two careless P.S.V. drivers caused Otis to slow down considerably on Kibera Drive near the intersection with Joseph Kang’ethe Road. Several others stopped him totally at the intersection of Mugo Kibiru and Ngong Roads. It took so long that Grace left the car after announcing she could use the time to do an impulsive welcome shopping for her husband. When the roads cleared, Otis drove to Nakumatt Prestige, parked, waited for her.
Eventually, they arrived at Kimani’s Kilimani house at three-oh-two in the afternoon.
It felt good to be home. The relief was profound and unequalled. The air smelled fresh, refreshing, lovely, and the house itself was expansive, cool, wholesome, and welcome, as opposed to the oppressive, muggy, sweaty, stinking, plebeian atmosphere of the jail cell.
Kimani took off his shirt and tossed it in the garbage container.
“So much for prison sweat and stink,” he announced. “Where is Linda?” he asked.
“In her room, of course,” Grace said. “She spends all the time in there with her books.”
“Lin?” Kimani called. “Lin? Lin?”
“Linda, Dad’s home!” her mother announced.
“Maybe she’s asleep,” Otis observed.
Kimani went to Linda’s door. He knocked twice successively. “Lin?” he said. “Lin, it is Dad! I’m back!”
He started to open the door but was violently interrupted. The door flung open at once and a man emerged from the room. He bumped Kimani violently, flew past him, and bolted towards the main door. Otis deftly stepped on his way and caught him by the shoulder. A dark, instinctive rage blinded Kimani and he charged.
“Kim!” Grace shouted in alarm but it was too late.
Kimani grabbed the nape of the man’s neck, spun him around, and punched him three times on the face, crushing his nose, and breaking his lips and teeth. Grace grabbed her husband while screaming something, but Kimani hurled the man on the wall, where he crashed his forehead and became still for a moment. The house shook. The man fell. He started to scramble up, gripped the edge of the sofa with his right hand, brought up his right leg, his left hand resolutely clenching the carpet, and collapsed, dead. There was a ghastly wound on his forehead. Blood spurted forth.
“Kim!” Grace cried in horror, looking down at the corpse.
Otis was speechless, astounded. It had happened too fast. Less than five seconds.
Kimani stared at the dead man without any comprehension at all. Then, very slowly, it began to dawn on him that he’d killed a man. And even more slowly, as his composure returned, he took in the dead man’s details.
Such mystifying horror filled his heart that he teetered as though he were standing at the very thin edge of a very tall skyscraper. He supported his legs against a sofa.
“What is this?” he demanded when he could speak. “Grace? Otis? What is this?”
“Linda’s boyfriend,” Grace answered.
“Boyfriend?” questioned Kimani, scowling with disbelief.
“He came around sometimes,” Grace said. “I thought he was a good boy.”
“But, Grace, don’t you see? It is him.”
“Who is it?” Otis asked curiously when Grace’s eyes started enlarging, her mouth agape, and her face cadaverously pale. She was transfixed.
“This is the man I went to jail for killing,” Kimani said. “In exactly the same way, even how he’s lying down there on the carpet. I remember his grey jumper and trendy jeans and those black Nikes. Everything. Every detail. What is this? What the hell is this?”
“And Grace didn’t recognize him?” Otis asked.
“He did look familiar the first time I saw him,” Grace said. “But he said he graduated from Riara in 2011, Form Four, while Linda was there in Class Eight. I decided I might have seen him on a parent’s day, perhaps. How could I know he was supposed to be dead in 2009?”
“What about Linda? Didn’t she recognize him?”
“Linda never saw him dead.”
Silence spread across the room. It was morbid. It was torturous. It was macabre.
“Otis, is this another of your glitches?” Kimani inquired. He had slumped dejectedly on a sofa. “Is he going to disappear again? Am I going back to jail?”
“You can’t be in jail twice for the killing of the same person,” Otis said. “It cannot just happen. Once suffices. And what I think took place four years ago is that December 23rd 2009 and December 23rd 2013, today, occurred simultaneously across the two universes. You just had the worst of it. It seems the boy’s fate and yours were entwined. I can say you were foreordained to kill him, or he was foreordained to be killed by you.”
“Who plans these things?” Kimani wept in anguish, his face in his hands. “How can they be so perfect? Are they random? How can random be so conscious? Of what use am I if I have no control over anything, if all I ever have is an illusion of control?”
At that time, Linda came out of her room, saw her dead boyfriend, and started to wail.
Kimani was promptly arrested. The detectives grilled him again; though it was, in truth, more of molestation than interrogation. Their cruelty was unchanged, their malevolence devoted and keen. They theorized that since he had been unlawfully incarcerated, when released, he’d, afterwards, sought vengeance and murdered, for good this time, Janis Orechi, the twenty-year old student of Daystar University, whose false death had cost Kimani four full years of his life. This theory made revenge Kimani’s principal motive. However, they blatantly disregarded the fact that Kimani had found Janis in his house, “and not just found him,” George Olum clarified, “but found him purely by accidental coincidence.” When apprised of this error, the cops first scoffed at that phrase accidental coincidence, and then went on to reason that Kimani must have had an accomplice who had known the whereabouts of Janis Orechi and had sought him out and brought him opportunely into Kimani’s residence on that fateful day. They suspected the accomplice to be either Otis or Grace, with Linda not to be entirely discounted.
Enraged by this flagrant lack of imagination, George asked them one last question: “If Kimani’s friends knew all along the whereabouts of Janis Orechi, why did they abandon him to decay in a putrid prison cell for four full years, especially in light of how they all were traumatised by his imprisonment?”
The detectives started talking about the fact that Janis Orechi had dated Linda. They dug backwards to find out if he had met Linda four years previously.
“These guys are so dumb their brains must comprise dust and soot!” Otis remarked.
Janis’s parents wanted justice for him. But they did not (and could not) appreciate that Kimani had already spent four full years in police custody for killing their son. It made no sense at all. Four years ago, they said, Janis had been sixteen years old and in Form Two at Riara. He had known neither Linda nor her father. However, on the night of December 23rd 2009, he had dreamt that he was dead and had woken up yelling like an eccentric man. He had woken up around 7.15am, which was about the time the corpse had inexplicably vanished from the mortuary. In the dream, he had been killed because of a girl he was dating. He had had no girlfriend then.
Otis, when testifying in court, presumed on the rare occasion to explain his Quantum Mechanics theories and hypotheses in public. Nobody really got a thing.
The truth was that everybody was tremendously befuddled by the case. Even George Olum, the bright, cocky, bold, arrogant lawyer, did not really know what was going on.
However, arguing that Kimani had already been in custody for four years for the same crime and that it was unthinkable and impossible to kill the same person twice exactly four years apart, he managed to have the case dismissed.