Archive for February, 2015

                                                                                                                                                                                      I.

My father was a violent man. He liked to beat people and destroy things. All the chairs in our house were broken, so were the tables and the glasses, all spoons bent. And when he had no one else near him but you, he could punch you so hard you’d forget that he was your dad and begin planning your revenge. He used to punch my brother like that. And my mother. He used to pound her as if she were a nonliving thing.

I remember one day meeting her coming out of the bedroom with her head all bloody and dripping, her clothes soaked, eyes punched shut, and deep cuts all over her face as if it were some steak to be roasted. I stared at her in confounded horror and just then recalled a story my brother had told me about a woman who had been beheaded by a flying windshield when two cars collided down on the main road. He said she just kept on walking to the market as if nothing had happened to her, although she did not have her head anymore and blood was spurting forth from her neck like fountains. I thought my mother was like that woman, dead but walking, and I ran out screaming in terror as loud as I could. She was saved by neighbours who rushed to investigate my screams. They took her to the hospital but she died the next day from those wounds.

My brother and I went to live with our grandmother. Some days my father would come for us in the evenings and he would flog my brother and punch him on the way for no reason. My brother would wail and moan like a dying cow and I would cry too because I didn’t want him hurt like that. My father never beat me like he used to beat him or other people. I don’t know whether it was because he reckoned I was still too young to withstand his mortal blows and had decided to save me for the future or whether he saw me as nothing but a cushion for pinching. He used to pinch all the living hell out of me whenever I was within his reach. He would grab me and pinch me in the buttocks and stomach and neck, in the arms, legs, and face. He would pinch me everywhere and leave me writhing in hot bubbling pain as if I had boils all over my body.

I fled from him one day but he pursued me with long strides and kicked me in the butt. I flew against the wall and saw darkness. When I awoke, the house was very dark and I was alone in it. I yelled for my brother to come for me but he didn’t and I began to cry. He had told me about some demons called Nyawawa that loved darkness. He said they comprised dead people and they beat drums at deserted funerals in the lonely hours of the night to waken the corpses and invite them to join the party. He said they scattered everywhere at nightfall in search of funerals and dead people, and sometimes they stole children to replace in the abandoned coffins.

I sprinted out of the house like a mechanical thing and headed for my grandmother’s. I was wailing so hard and running so fast that my lungs burned. Some tall weeds caught my foot and I fell almost as hard as I had hit the wall when my father kicked me. I did not pass out but I inhaled something from the weeds that gave me a lung disease that never quite healed. It made my lungs grate as if they were full of sand. I became sick for days and I hated my father for it. I never forgave him. And when he died, I was glad he did.

He died three months thereafter. He beat up a strange woman and she cursed him. He had been drinking with her husband who, drunk, told him that his head resembled that of a cow and his eyes were on the sides of his face. He became very furious, but instead of settling the matter there and then, he went to the man’s home and pounded his wife good and proper.

However, in his drunkenness, he forgot that the woman was from a region known as Kamenya, reputed for its voodoo. It was said that their voodoo was so potent it could kill a bird in midair, especially an eagle if it stole their goat or chicken. It could make it rot completely before it even reached the ground. And if a thief went to steal from them, they made him stick on the wall as if some invisible glue was holding him there and did not release him until he had starved to death. But if they particularly disliked you, they could turn you into a log and use you for cooking. It was said that the place was very bushy but most of the trees were people.

So the woman said to my father: “Son of Rombe, why do you invade my home and beat on me like this? Do you want to kill me like you killed your wife? Your arms are very strong, I admit. But tonight I will use your shadow to view the moon.”

I will use your shadow to view the moon. Those words ring in my head to date. She said it in Dholuo, my mother tongue, and it sounded awful, like something that could keep you awake at night in cold sweat for the rest of your days. Especially if you knew where she came from.

My father began to grow thin. He was not sick and he did not complain of any injuries either. He still drank like fish and beat up people. But day by day his weight vanished. He had been a colossal creature, towering too high and as wide as a bus. The first time I watched the King Kong movie—the 2005 one directed by Peter Jackson—I thought the gorilla was him. I was nonplussed. I don’t know whether he looked that huge because I was too little then to judge correctly or whether that was truly his size. I can see how he used to bend over me—he always had to bend too far down to reach me—his giant hands hovering over my skinny body like outsized mosquitoes looking for a vulnerable spot to bite; I can feel him pinching my stomach and bottom as if he meant to skin me alive with his bare hands, which were as rough as neglected heels. His face was hairy and wide, and circular, and it twitched crazily when he was pinching me, his inimical eyes misaligned on the diameter (they were on the diameter!). He had a forest of beards and moustache and sideburns and just about anything else that could grow on his face, so that he was very frightening in aspect without being vast and cruel. He used to grunt and swallow, and his Adam’s apple would creak like a tight rope. Some days, I thought he wanted to eat me.

hyde

He looked worse than this guy. I thought he would eat me.

He became so thin that by the time he was buried his coffin was like that of a ten-year old. He was just dry bones and skin. Even his eyes had withered and disappeared in their sockets, his tongue shrunken like a dead leaf. Yet he died within seven days of the curse.

                                                                                                                                                                                  II.

A different kind of hell began to brew soon after his death. I had thought I would be fine without him. I’d been wrong.

I was left with my brother, who everybody said took after my father. My grandmother said that Jumbe was a replica of my dad when my dad was young. Except that Jumbe was slender in built; he was tall and gangly and he ate too much. My grandmother said that when he sat down to eat, food travelled from his toes to his hair which was way too long a distance for one person. He was also more outgoing. My father had been moody and taciturn all the time, preferring to speak with his fists and legs instead of his mouth. But Jumbe was usually as glad as the Devil. He liked to laugh, but his laughter was a precursor of pain and as loud as the pain itself.

He used to sit under a tree and watch girls’ underwear when they climbed up to fetch fruits. We had plenty of fruits then and anyone who wanted could come and eat to their fill. Guavas, lemons, oranges, pawpaw fruit, pineapples, mangoes, avocados, bananas, loquats, passion fruit, and many more that I knew only in my mother tongue were all over the area. They grew by themselves from discarded seeds and parts and blossomed into some terribly healthy and mellow things.

But those girls were scared of the snakes and lizards and caterpillars and monkeys that also benefited from the trees. So they would come to our home and ask my brother to help them, much to his especial pleasure.

Instead of just singling out any of the rich trees and having them harvest it, he would escort them around from tree to tree and from bush to bush while charming them with stories. He had a great deal of stories to tell all of which were fiction. He told them, for instance, how he had seen a certain girl by the river whose face resembled a bad donut and how she had had buttocks so big that she did not need a chair to sit on, and when she sat on the ground she was still elevated high enough to be able to fold her knees as if she were on a real chair.

For some reason the girls liked his stories which, ironically, always consisted of disparaging of other girls. They would laugh and chatter and frolic like the monkeys of which they were afraid. They always flocked him when they came, and even when they passed some trees that were so laden that the fruits fell down to be squashed underfoot, they did not stop him and had to wait until he declared which one was the best for the day. By then they would have laughed so much and been so happy with him that they would not question his decision to remain on the ground looking up at them.

“This is it,” he’d declare while hugging the tree with his long arms. “I’ve been saving it for all of you. No snakes, no monkeys, no lizards, no caterpillars!”

I learned later—very much later indeed when I began to think of girls myself—that he did not choose the trees on that basis. He chose them because many of their branches were low enough for all the girls could climb up at once.

He would then sit down and enjoy the various views afforded him. He would pretend to direct them from branch to branch for better fruits while all he really wanted was for them to open their legs as they leaped across. Sometimes he would be enthralled.

I used to sit by him and watch them too. He told me that the best thing in the world to look at was a girl’s underwear when she was wearing it. He said it could make you very happy if you were very sad. He said God had put something wonderful there so that it was the only thing your eyes craved to see whether you liked it or not.

But when I looked I did not see anything special to captivate my attention. They were an array of dreary colours on restless thighs; you could look at the tree itself and attain a better level of happiness. Some days I would be so bored I’d sneak away to go shoot birds. The only peculiar thing about the strange adventure was how the girls reacted when they caught him staring. They would start and shut up in midsentence if they had been talking; some would clamp their legs together and stand still until he looked away while others would sit down on the branches and stuff their skirts between their legs. I did not know why they did that, and it was why I always returned to watch. If it could provoke them, then it had to be good.

One girl, particularly, came to pique my interest. Her name was Seri and she favoured yellow panties. I did not know whether she had many of them or just one pair but every time she came she had yellow ones on. I marked her because she was the first person to make me realize that those panties concealed abundant hair—which, at first, I thought was the wonderful thing Jumbe had said God had put there. She had a rank growth and it straggled out like stray grass.

There were seasons when caterpillars filled the trees and consumed all the leaves. One variety was dreadful. We called it Ombemo because when it made contact with your skin, it left a swollen track of searing pain similar to that caused by fire. The pain could last you even up to two days, the swelling much longer. It was six inches long and had a black head and a black underbelly. Its hair was black and thick like that of a human. It was also aggressive; when provoked it could climbed up a branch almost at the speed of a lizard, its long bristly body undulating in the most frightening manner. If you went too close to where it was feeding it would stop and brood as if scheming against you. We were too scared of it and some people set trees on fire to keep it away from children.

That girl, Seri—her underwear seemed packed with millions of that caterpillar. It was terrifying to meditate.

                                                                                                                                                                               III.

One evening on our way from school, I saw her alone ahead of us and ran after her. I do not know what drove me. I think by then I had acquired a certain degree of disrespect from my brother. She was much older than me, although I did not know how old. I did not know how old anybody was those days. Not even my brother.

When I had her attention, I shouted: “Seri Ombemo!”

She stopped and regarded me curiously. Then she asked me why I’d called her that.

“There is Ombemo in your panties!” I told her.

She flared with indignation and rage as if she understood at once what I was referring to. She picked a stick and chased me with it towards my brother, who took my hand and inquired concerning the matter.

“He insulted me!” she said. She was a short girl with a lot of curves, round buttocks and full breasts. She was heaving as she stood in front of us. Droplets of sweat had formed on the bridge of her nose. Her uniform was stained green at the armpits.

Jumbe asked me to explain myself and I told him what I had seen when she climbed up a guava tree on Saturday. He laughed when I said her pubic hair looked like abundant caterpillars. I knew by his laughter that he had himself deliberated about it.

“Is it true?” he asked her with a jeering grin.

“Is it true what?” returned she, all flushed and heaving harder.

“Is it true you have that much hair?”

She hesitated and looked away from us in no specific direction.

“Ah!” Jumbe pretended to sigh with displeasure. He still had his jeering grin. “Why do I even ask? I know the answer already. You are too young to have anything on you, and Dani here is just a little boy. What does he know about such matters? Girls your age are as smooth as chicken eggs!”

She said nothing. But her eyes had fixed on some two boys about to catch up with us. She became too nervous and she shifted her feet constantly.

“Go home,” he said with a caustic undertone. “I don’t want your father beleaguering me for ruining his little hairless baby. If you had any hair, I’d have let you come with us and I’d have given you some passion fruits that I hide for just Dani and myself. They are the sweetest in the hill. I keep the best for the two of us.”

She said nothing still, her alarmed eyes never leaving the two boys. They were Ochola and Opalo, my brother’s best friends. Together they were the most notorious students in school. A while back they had threatened to discipline a teacher who had punished them for reporting late. They found her alone on the road some three weeks later and fulfilled their threat. They whipped her with sugarcane until she ran like a little girl. On Sundays they gathered by the roadside and laughed at pregnant women who passed by to the market, asking them if the sex had been good and whether they had had it in the bush or in the house.

Seri saw those boys coming and I think she knew what would follow. Jumbe would tell them that she had no pubic hair and they would never leave her alone. They would pursue her and taunt her until she dropped out of school. They had done that to a girl named Akoth who had declined to dance with them at a funeral party. She had had to quit school and go live with her uncle very far away.

Opalo!” my brother shouted, seeing how frightened she’d become.

“I have hair!” she blurted.

“No, you don’t!” Jumbe said.

“I do!”

“You don’t!”

“I do!”

“You don’t!”

“I do!” she emphasized and they both broke out with laughter. She laughed with a tight face and a tight mouth, quite uneasy.

“If you did, you’d show me,” he said.

No!” she said.

“Opalo!” he shouted.

“Jumbe, please,” she begged him.

He laughed cheerfully. “I don’t mean all of it. Just pluck one and bring it to me. One is enough. Then we will all treat you like a grownup.”

She thought about it for a hasty moment and agreed that she would go pluck one and bring it to him. Meanwhile her eyes stayed with Ochola and Opalo who were now running towards us, too eager not to miss the opportunity.

“I will be waiting at home,” Jumbe told her and she ran off.

We tarried with Ochola and Opalo and arrived home an hour and a half afterwards. She was waiting for us. She was panting. Her armpits were wet and the drops of sweat on the bridge of her nose had multiplied.

“Here, see!” she said, handing it to him. I stepped closer so as to see for myself but saw by the way she flinched that she did not want me to do that. I looked nevertheless.

She had wrapped the strand in a torn piece of dry banana leaf. Jumbe removed it and stretched it between his fingers. It was a long thing, maybe five centimetres, and curled several times. He laughed.

“What?” she asked.

“You are lying!” he said.

“No,” she said, shaking her head with severity.

“This thing is from your head!”

“No!”

“Yes!”

“No!”

“Yes!”

No!” she yelled and they both laughed. She seemed to relax.

“What I mean is,” he began. “If it were truly from down there, you’d show me.”

She blenched as if he had struck her. “No . . .” She glanced at me and trailed off.

“Show me.”

“I will not show you anymore,” she said. She was greatly distressed. “Give me the fruits now. I have shown you what you wanted.”

“I don’t want to see all of it. Just a glimpse. One glimpse is enough. And don’t worry about the fruits. They are all yours.”

She started to say something, thought better of it and glanced at me again. My brother noted and asked me to go shoot birds.

I took my catapult and whistled uphill, although I really wanted to see what she would do when she discovered that the promised fruits did not exist.

He raped her that day. He dragged her into the sugarcane plantation and raped her till she became pregnant. She died eight months later due to a complication that caused the foetus to come out one hand first. The midwives attending her did not know what to do about it, so they kept yanking at the hand until they twisted it out of shape and broke it at the shoulder. It almost came all the way off. Seri went into shock and never woke up. She was buried with the foetus inside her, the hand dangling obscenely in her shaggy crotch, waving at the world, mocking it, mocking.

                                                                                                                                                                                IV.

I would have ended up like my brother. Everything pointed that I would (and should). My grandmother even said that the firstborn son usually takes after the father while the subsequent sons emulate the first. I had nobody else to emulate but Jumbe, with whom we hung out like the door and the lock. I sat with him and his friends down by the main road and jeered at the pregnant women who walked by to the market on their own, and I had acquired the sort of vocabulary that would scare the Devil back to hell if he ever came out of it. I could call the region between the anus and the genitals in my mother tongue. It was gruesome and almost no one ever used it. It could render any sensible person deaf by just the sound of it.

But there was a girl. Her name was Jacklyn and she saved me—although in a way that hurt a lot of people and resulted in several deaths. She was the lastborn daughter of a pastor over at the Ranen Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Her mother was a clerk there. She was very small and had a broody aspect; she had a way of looking at me so that I never told her any bad jokes or became too playful around her. When I had grown up, I understood that she had had deeply perceptive eyes; I felt that she saw something in me deeper than my lies—that she saw me, beyond the superficiality and hypocrisy, that she even knew what I had made my brother do to Seri—and it made me so nervous I gave up all levity and untruth around her.

She used to come for fruits too. But, unlike the other girls, who were much older than her, she came alone. She was always alone even at school. Before she came for the first time, she approached me on a Friday evening and said:

“Dani, can I come for fruits at your home?”

I said sure she could if she wanted.

“Will you help me?”

I said yes.

“I will come on Sunday.”

Sundays were the days we spent reclined by the roadside laughing at pregnant women. I did not want to miss any. So I fabricated a lie about how we would go to the hill with my brother to set a trap for a certain porcupine that was destroying my grandmother’s cassava. There was indeed a porcupine my grandmother had complained about but we weren’t going to trap it that Sunday, or any immediate Sundays thereafter.

I opened my mouth to tell this lie, as I had told many others before, but when I met Jacklyn’s eyes—the way she was looking at me, that piercing, knowing, contemplative look—I nodded and said yes she could come on Sunday.

And so she came. She wore a chequered wraparound skirt and a white Winnie the Pooh t-shirt. I did not take her around from tree to tree like my brother used to do to the other girls. Loquats were in season then and they were what she wanted. I led her straight to the richest tree. We never spoke until I began to climb.

“Can I climb too?” she asked.

I said yes she could.

But then I thought of her panties. My first instinct was to climb back down and let her go up by herself. I stared down at her preparing to climb, shaking off her slippers and skipping towards the tree. A frail thing! What a frail thing! She was so tiny you’d think she was a big insect. A housefly. At that instant, the prospect of looking up at her underwear filled me with revulsion. It was a strange feeling and I didn’t know where it came from, but it was there and it sat heavy on my heart like pain.

“Don’t climb,” I said.

She looked up. “Why?”

“There are caterpillars.”

“I can’t see any.”

“They are on the branches. They are brown like the tree and flat like the leaves. If you can’t see them, you’ll squish them with your hands.”

She uttered the equivalent of “Yuck!” and began to put her slippers back on. I continued up. I plucked the fruits and dropped them to her.

“Can I eat them here?” she asked, scrutinizing them.

I said yes she could.

“Aren’t they dirty?”

“We eat them like that.”

“We always have to wash fruits in our house.”

“It rains on them up here.”

“What about the caterpillars you said?”

“They don’t eat fruits.”

She looked at me for a few seconds and began to eat. I went on to pluck and drop some more, and she ate until she complained that her mouth was too sour and her teeth hurt from the acid. She packed the rest in a small woollen bag she had carried with her and went home. She told me thank you. My brother’s friends never told him thank you.

                                                                                                                                                                                   V.

She came back the following Sunday, and the next, and the next after that. She just kept coming and I obliged her every time. There was always one fruit or another in season and she came for it. Jumbe asked me where I went and I told him it was to shoot birds up in the hill. I didn’t want him to know that I was hanging out with a girl.

One day Jacklyn came with a rope. I’d have thought she was going to fetch firewood with it after she had gathered her fruits but she was not the kind of a girl who did such jobs. She had a soft constitution and was too clean. So I asked her what it was for and she said: “You’ll see.”

But after she had eaten two giant avocadoes and packed six others in her bag, she tied the rope around the tree and asked me to swing it for her. She wanted to jump.

I couldn’t do that. It was bad enough that I was hanging out with her; it would be awful if I began playing feminine games. Somebody might see me, specially the boys from the village, and they would go report in school how they had seen me skipping rope with a girl. It would be so shameful I may have to avoid school until they forgot all about it.

So I turned Jacklyn down. For the first time I did. And it didn’t matter whether she tore open my heart with her all-seeing eyes and read me like a book or not. I just couldn’t play with her. I shook my head and shrank back from the proffered rope. I did not look at her as I refused; I was looking at the sky, which happened to be a healthy deep blue with some white feathery clouds floating on it.

She said, “Okay” and untied the rope. She folded it back into the bag. She did not seem angry or disappointed and she still gave me a generous “thank you” before she left.

That incident stayed with me. It bugged me for the rest of the week. She kept returning to my head with the rope in her hand and I couldn’t shake off the memory of refusing her request. I was feeling guilty.

On Monday, I saw her at the school gate and went to her. I wanted to see if she would still talk to me. She did; she was jovial to see me and she even offered me some slices of bread she had carried to eat during her class break. It was as if she had no memory of my rejection. It was a big relief, and I became so carried away as I ate those slices that I suggested she should bring the rope the next Sunday.

She brought it and we went to the hill. I knew a place where trees were tall and massive and grass and other undergrowths were almost nonexistent. There were no puff adders or black mambas to bother you either. There we played. I tied the rope on one of the trees and swung it for her. She frolicked and laughed without a single care in the world. She jumped until she was too tired to continue and I was bored too since my arm had begun to hurt at the shoulder from swinging the rope for too long. She said I should jump as well but I declined, still thinking it was shameful for a boy to play girls’ games. She persuaded me, but when I did jump, I was clumsy and kept stepping on the rope and having it hit against my ankle. I did not have Jacklyn’s grace and alacrity, and although I wasn’t fat or flatfooted, I jumped as if I was both. Jacklyn taught me how to do it. She described it at first and then swung the rope slowly so I could pass.

“Now up, now down, now up, now down,” she iterated.

Afterwards, we left the forest and found a guava tree at the edge of the hill. I climbed up to get the fruits while she remained down to gather them into a heap under the tree. She was scampering about happily and my own heart was thumping with excitement, my head quite light. She waited until I’d come down before she could start eating. We then sat side by side and ate too much of those fruits to allow us contain ourselves. She broke wind, releasing such a foul stink you’d think it could cause cancer. But before she could be embarrassed, I answered with a deep incredible BOOOO and we both laughed aloud until we rolled on the grass. We talked about school as we ate, about teachers and students, the ones we liked and the ones we didn’t like.

“Are you going to grow up to be like your brother?” she asked.

I said I didn’t know. “Why?” I returned.

“I don’t like your brother,” she said.

“Why?”

“He is frightens people.”

“He frightened you?”

“No, but he looks so—”

“So what?” I interrupted and she trailed off.

I was quiet for so long she turned to me with concern. I did not like people saying bad things about my brother. I did not care whether he frightened them or not. He was my brother and nobody had the right to opine maliciously in regard to him.

As if to pacify me, Jacklyn changed the subject.

“Why are you called Dani and not Dan?”

I said I did not want to be called Dan.

“But your name is Daniel Rombe!” asserted she.

I said sure it was.

“Then you should be Dan!”

I shook my head.

“My mother calls me Jack,” she said.

I told her Jack was a boy’s name.

“I know. But my mother calls me so.”

“Tell her it is a boy’s name.”

“You should call me Jack too.”

“You want me to call you by a boy’s name?”

“My father does. And my sisters and my brother and my aunt. So should you. Then I will call you Dan, not Dani.”

I gave up trying to dissuade her from calling me so and said it was okay she could if she wanted. It took me several years to understand that she had put me in the category of the people she trusted and loved. I think it was why she never forgave me.

In view of what followed thenceforth, that Sunday remains the happiest day of my life to date. How we laughed and rolled on the grass, how we enjoyed those fresh fruits and played without reservations, resignations, or requirements. Jacklyn never hang out with me again, and I, in retaliation, became a bookworm to avoid people. I read too much. I devoured books. By the time I lifted my eyes from them and looked around, the world had become severe, so severe indeed that people sold jokes for a living. And the fruits were foul and not free anymore.

We paid to laugh. The fact which itself should have been funny. And when we bought the jokes we couldn’t laugh as we had laughed when we were children, as I’d laughed with Jacklyn up there in the hill under that guava tree. We couldn’t be truly happy; we had too many restrictions, too many worries, and too much guilt about the state of the world. We felt judged and accused all the time. We laughed as if only to account for our money, the kind of laughter that hurt the jaws and overstretched the lips while the eyes remained hard and glazed with mocking tears. Instead of health, we got sad wrinkles in return. We said we had fun, yet we laughed at absurdities and foolishness that should have instead made us cry. We laughed at ourselves.

                                                                                                                                                                                VI.

Monday was 1st June, Madaraka Day, when Kenya celebrates its first self-rule from the British. We didn’t go to school and I thought Jacklyn would come. So when my brother left to go hang out with Opalo and Ochola, I told him I’d go shoot birds.

I waited for Jacklyn in vain. Instead, it was one of her sisters that showed up. Alora. Her second eldest sister and the third child in her family. I should have known when I saw her that she was trouble. She brought an end to a lot of things, even herself.

“Are you alone?” I asked her, hoping she was with Jacklyn.

“With whom do you expect me to be?” was her cutting reply.

“I don’t know,” I shrugged.

“Can you show me which one of these trees has no snakes in it?” she asked.

I told her that the mangoes, the guavas, and the pawpaw tree were likely to have either black mambas or green mambas in them, since the mambas liked birds and birds loved those fruits. The oranges, the avocadoes, the pineapples and the lemons were safe while the loquats and the passion fruits were most likely to conceal small brown and green snakes that were rather harmless. But the most important thing to remember was that the black mamba was unpredictable. It was a vicious hunter and it could be anywhere.

“Are you afraid of snakes?” she asked. She was looking down on me in a patronizing way. I was nervous.

I said no, I was not afraid of snakes, though if they bit me I’d die just like anybody else.

“Then follow me,” she said and began hurrying away.

I followed her along the hedge where she ate some fruits we called awach, which were as small as millet grains and grew in tight clusters. They matured from green to purple and continued to darken until they were sweet like wicked things. Most of us, however, left them for birds because of their size and their thorny trees. But Alora took so much time there that I began to fidget. I was bored and I wanted to leave her by herself. She was unfriendly and I was just standing there like a bodyguard of some sort.

In the end, she moved to an avocado tree and my boredom took leave. When she had climbed up, I lay down to watch her underwear. She had red ones on and they were extremely neat, as neat as her thighs were smooth and pale. I chuckled and she looked down.

“What are you looking at?” she demanded.

“Your panties,” I said.

“Why?”

“I don’t know. They are very clean.”

“Do you want to see my vagina?”

That word. It made me start. It was my first time to hear a girl using it and I thought she was abusing me. Ever since I first heard it, it was used to abuse. Even when I’d become an adult, it was still used to insult people—who then took offence with bitterness. I did not get it. I thought the vagina was a singular phenomenon. Like gravity. Something that could move a planet with an unequalled force in a single direction all by itself. It moved the hearts of men like gravity moved earth. They lusted after it with a unique single-minded desire, yet, simultaneously, they used it to assault one another. It was ironic.

My brother had even taught me that the fastest speed in the world was the speed with which a man’s eyes followed a woman’s crotch. He said it couldn’t be measured by any devices.

But women were an ill-fated lot those days. They were the butt of all ill humour and the object of every conceivable indignity. They bore the brunt of all forms of male stupidity. Any moron with a joke had to spice it with something about girls in it in order to make people laugh harder. There were boys who could abuse your grandmother till you wept in horror and shame. They did not attack you personally even though you were the one who had offended them. They attacked your sisters, mother, grandmother, and any other woman related to you. They could say things you thought could never be said: taboos, abominations, and madness. One boy named Ogur Tindi had abused an elderly schoolteacher that her buttocks were shrunken like an old man’s mouth.

“Is it a good thing?” I asked Alora concerning her vagina.

“If you see it, you will go mad,” she said.

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Is that why all girls hide their panties?”

“Yes. And it is what drove Odengo mad. He saw it when he was too young. Like you.”

Odengo was a madman by the roadside. He used to have a dirty plastic cup that he pushed at people and asked them to spit into. If you passed without spitting, he would beg and implore you with all his heart. He would even cry. But after he had collected enough spit for himself, he drank it like water. He said it was medicine and it would cure him. He said it could cure all diseases in the world. Mostly it was children that gave him their saliva, even though a few malevolent adults did not mind hawking their own phlegm into his cup. We were warned to avoid him because if he found you alone he could make you drink it too.

“I don’t want to be mad!” I blurted out, thinking of Odengo and feeling mad already.

“Then don’t look at my panties!” Alora said.

So I closed my eyes the rest of the time she was in the tree. It was the last day I ever sat down to look at those girls’ underwear.

But before she came down, I said the worst thing under the circumstances.

“Your panties are cleaner than Jacklyn’s,” I said with my eyes still closed.

“Where did you see Jacklyn’s panties?”

“When she was jumping rope in the hill,” said I.

“Who took her to the hill?”

“Me!”

If I had opened my eyes then, I would have seen the furious blaze in Alora’s eyes.

                                                                                                                                                                            VII.

On Tuesday at class break, Jacklyn came to me in the field where I was the goalkeeper for my classmates playing football. She was incensed and her eyes were swollen and red. My first thought was that somebody had hurt her and she needed my help. I began to feel an uncontrollable burning in me and I think I would have attacked her offender regardless. I had a lung disease that did not require me to exert too much, but I also had a crazy brother who looked after me with a villainous eye.

“What did you tell my sister?” she asked, accusing me and taking me by a whole hell of a surprise. “What did you tell Alora?”

I did not know what she was referring to, so I said, “Nothing” and shook my head.

“You are lying to me!” she trilled suddenly and stamped her right foot. “You are lying to me!” she repeated and began to heave and cry.

I just watched her. I did not know what to do. I could not recall what I may have done to fill her with such a spirit of acrimony and belligerence. I became aware of some boys who had assembled around us and were sniggering at us. The burning thing in me was replaced with embarrassment.

Jacklyn heaved one last time and quieted. She swallowed and wiped her face with her hands. Then in a controlled, meaningful voice and said: “I didn’t know you were like that!

She then stood there and stared at me for a few more seconds before turning away.

I remember that stare vividly. It haunts me. I can see her standing there behind the goal while I am hugging the goal post with my left arm, dumbfounded and stiff with embarrassment. She looked betrayed. A child betrayed. It occurred to me much later that there had been a chance I could have made it up for her. The few tense seconds during which she stared at me in quiet had perhaps been her way of offering me that chance. I should have seized them and made amends. But then, I had never heard anyone saying sorry, least of all my brother. He never apologized for anything, never regretted. Besides, I did not know the cause of the conflict.

I determined to find out. I left the goalkeeping to another student and went to search for Alora. I did not find her. She was in Standard Seven and their break did not coincide with that of lower classes.

I found her at four during the last break before we departed for home. She was with a group of girls but that was no hindrance to me. I walked up to her and said,

“What did you tell Jacklyn?”

“Go away!” she said and pushed me. “You are a wicked boy. Wicked!

“What did you tell her?” I demanded.

“Wicked!” she said and pushed me again. “Wicked, wicked, wicked!”

She shoved me one last time and I fell on my back.

There were girls in school those days that could beat a boy like mad. They were tall and strong and extremely pissed off. They did not fight in any orderly manner; they did not ball their hands and calculate where to punch you. They flung their huge hands at you anyhow and rained blows on your head like hailstones. They screamed as they bashed you so that it seemed they were the ones in need of help. Sometimes they could lift you up and crash you down like a nasty load. Before you knew it, you’d be in the air and on the ground and being pulverised.

Alora was one of those girls. She stood over me and I stayed down. It was unacceptable to surrender to a girl; it was worse if she beat you. Some boys, after they were battered, tried to be save face among their peers by declaring that they had been only considerate of their attacker. “I could have tackled her!” they’d exclaim. “But she’s just a girl! Just a girl!” However, if you had witnessed the nature of pounding they had received and how defenceless they had been, you’d laugh yourself till you bled in the stomach.

So I stayed down in defeat. I did not want the situation to get any worse. I imagined Jacklyn somewhere nearby watching me engaged with her sister. I imagined my friends all looking at us and wished that Alora would leave and go back to her friends. But she was stupid. She could have saved herself an eternity of horror. Instead, she proved to be worse than a black mamba. I had seen the mambas fight back home. They did not fight like human beings or dogs. They were the most fearsome of all snakes in the area, yet, when they fought, they did it like civilized creatures, with decency and honour, without killing or injuring each other with impunity. The one whose head was the first to fall beneath the other crawled away with its head still down. I had seen it several times to be certain that it was their culture. Yet the clever human had to hurt you irreparably.

Now, although I was on the ground and crawling away from that tall girl with her long arms which she could swing like clubs, she advanced towards me and kicked my legs while calling me wicked. She kicked me again, and she was prepared to kick me a third time when my brother and his friends arrived and surrounded her. And at that instant, her fate was irreversibly sealed.

                                                                                                                                                                         VIII.

“Why are you beating my brother?” Jumbe asked her. Opalo and Ochola were with him and two others, Odek and Gonde, appeared shortly.

You should have seen Alora’s face when she saw them. She had been daring and tough, kicking me with impunity, but now she cowered like a beaten animal. I rose and moved back a few paces from them.

“Why?” Jumbe pressed. His voice was raised and he looked really deadly. I had noticed that his eyes were constantly red, his face darker, and his lips remained dry and peeling even after he had eaten and drunk a lot of water. The tips of his fingers were bulbous and burnt, nails yellowish and hard. Sometimes he smelled funny, of a mixture of vile, unnamed things. So putrid you’d think he was all decomposed inside. He smelled like my father used to.

“He did bad things to Jacklyn,” Alora said in a fluctuating voice.

“Who is Jacklyn?”

“She is our lastborn.”

“How old is your lastborn?”

“She is seven years old.”

“What did Dani do to her?”

“He took her to the hill and did bad things to her.”

What the hell? I could have asked as I goggled at her in brutal shock. That was what she had told Jacklyn that I’d said. Unbelievable! Preposterous! Maybe she had reported it to her parents as well. Ah, what a confounded liar!

“You are lying!” I yelled at her. “She’s lying! Liar! Liar! Wicked liar!”

She glanced at me only once. She did not attempt to defend herself.

“What did he do?” Jumbe demanded as if he had not heard what she’d said. “This little boy, what can he do? Does he look old enough to you? Do you want to see his penis?”

Alora shook her head.

“Does your lastborn even have a vagina for any penis in the world to penetrate? Does she?”

Alora shook her head.

“Then why do you beat my brother?”

Jumbe was becoming increasingly incensed as he spoke. He had an evil air about him that he wore like a suit. I recalled Jacklyn saying that he frightened people and agreed with her without a doubt. Those red eyes were excessively intense and diabolical. They burned. You could see that something was missing in them. Something that was in most people’s eyes: recognition. They lacked recognition. They were empty, like holes, and when he focused them on you, you doubted if he could really see you. My father’s eyes had been like that.

“Do you know that this boy is an orphan? Why do you bully orphans?” Opalo said. He was as tall as Jumbe and equally menacing both in outlook and appearance.

“Dani is like my son,” Jumbe said with emphasis. “I am the only one he has for a father-figure. And no father should witness his son bullied like that. Do you understand how I feel? Do you?

Alora nodded. She was an embodiment of terror. I could tell the palpitation of her heart by how her breasts surged and throbbed like boiling water.

“Since she is a witch that hurts orphaned children, why don’t we rip off her clothes and send her home naked?” Opalo suggested.

“She is a witch! We should rip off her clothes and whip her naked skin until she bleeds like the sky,” Ochola chipped in.

“Or burn her,” my brother said. He produced a matchbox. “Let’s burn her hair!”

“Yes, yes, yes, yes!” was the chorus from the rest of the devils.

“Opalo, grab her head!” Jumbe ordered, and Opalo reached forward to obey.

Alora jerked back but could not escape their tenacity. She began to whimper. Opalo got her neck in a chokehold. “Burn her!” he ordered.

But Jumbe, instead of lighting a matchstick, burst out with laughter, startling even his friends. He laughed aloud as if he had just witnessed something particularly humorous and uncommon. His neck tightened, bulged, his face a picture of distortion, and violent ripples shook him. After a moment, his friends followed suit although they had no clue whatsoever as to the cause of his hilarity. Together, their laughter was a chorus of the deranged. Hollow, inane, violent and dead; it was also discordant, raucous and hellish.

Alora became confused. She stopped whimpering. She was flushed and she wiped her face.

Heeeey, I am a benevolent guy!” Jumbe announced, still laughing. “Don’t cry like that! I can forgive you. Do you want me to forgive you?”

She nodded.

“Then I forgive you,” he proclaimed.

Opalo let go of her neck. She did not relax, though. She knew something worse was to follow and viewed her enemies with dreadful anticipation.

“However,” Jumbe began, “you have to reward us for our kindness.” He surveyed her up and down and added: “You are very pretty today. Do you know that?”

She said nothing.

“As a matter of fact, so pretty that I think you are bleeding or about to bleed—are you?”

She looked at him as if to say “What?

“You know,” explained he with a slight hesitation, “the way girls bleed. Our science teacher said that if a girl is suddenly very pretty, it means she is bleeding or about to bleed. Are you?”

“No,” Alora said.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t believe you. Convince me.”

“Yes. Convince us!” Opalo stressed.

Show us!” Jumbe said.

“Yes. Show us!” Opalo reinforced.

She stared at them in confoundment, as if she did not believe what they were asking of her. I did not know what kind of thoughts went through her mind then, but I saw how stiff she became, how helpless. Once, my brother and I had set a trap for a gazelle that used to destroy my grandmother’s groundnuts. We found it caught the following day and its eyes, when it saw us, were completely abject and without even a shimmer of hope burning in them. Alora’s eyes now resembled those of that animal. Despair had vanquished her.

There was nothing she could do to save herself. She was the most miserable thing you could ever see. Those were men that ambushed teachers on the road and battered them. They were not school bullies. They were hardcore criminals.

Jumbe grasped her hand and towed her towards the classes. She followed like a cow to a slaughterhouse.

“You just have to show us,” he said. “Don’t make a big deal of it.”

They raped her. They raped her repeatedly in turns. All the five of them. But she never talked about it. A lot of girls got raped those days and they never talked about it. You heard of it from the men themselves when they boasted of their adventures with such and such a girl or so-and-so’s daughter. They spoke with such vigour and heroism that they won admiration in the eyes of the younger generation, who then emulated them. The cops were just as useless as your own neighbour in such matters. They could beat you to death if you insulted the president but they could not save your daughter from a rapist. A certain man named Agai whose lastborn daughter, Ruth, had been raped by three men in a sugarcane plantation went to the police in Rongo and Kisii but followed the case for ten years in vain. He eventually gave up and died of severe ulcers.

Alora became pregnant and dashed to a local abortionist before her parents could find out. But it backfired on her and she lost her uterus in the process. She hanged herself in the forest the next day. Her body was picked up all bloated and green, her eyes eaten by birds, and maggots swarming her sockets like humans in a city.

                                                                                                                                                                                IX.

It turned out that she had had a secret boyfriend in the village. Relationships among the youth were well-concealed matters then, revealed only at a time of crisis by those in the know. Teachers did not tolerate them and parents liked them even less. They could earn you indefinite suspension from school and a deadly beating from your folks. Moreover, the villagers were snoopy; they would not shut up if they thought you were engaged in the slightest sexual misconduct. Especially if you were a girl. But people like my brother went unreported because their retribution was worse than the excitement of spreading the rumours. They could set your house on fire, for instance, or rape your daughter and torture your son to death.

Alora’s boyfriend was a man named Atoti. He had finished Standard Eight but declined to proceed to secondary school for reasons of which I was not aware. He worked in the farm with his father who owned a small factory for grinding sugarcane and heating the juice into solid blocks of sugar meant for brewing local drinks.

He was also Seri’s brother.

Until we found him hiding behind a thicket by a lemon tree waiting to ambush us, I had never thought him a menace. He used to be a mild-mannered person, taciturn, almost mute, with an unremarkable face and sheepish eyes. He was muscular from exerting too hard at work, though his left shoulder was tilted much lower than the right, making him noticeably ungainly.

He came out of the bush so suddenly that we could not take off. We were petrified. My brother had been telling me a crazy story about an ancient monster that used to come to the village and eat old women. He halted in midsentence as if his brain had been switched off like a bulb.

Atoti had a hippo-hide whip with him.

“What do you want from me?” he asked Jumbe. He was charged with rage and his face twitched as he spoke, his hands shaking. I remembered a teaching I had heard about the quiet ones being the worst to offend and knew that we were in serious trouble.

“Jumbe, what do you want from me?” he repeated. “First, you make my sister pregnant so that she has to leave school.” (Seri was still pregnant then.) “And then you take Alora by force to make her kill herself. You killed her! You killed her! And I want you to tell me why! Tell me why you hate me so much as to scheme my ruin! Tell me what I did to you!”

My brother was still in shock, his heart belabouring him. He was breathing so hard he could not speak. He had never reckoned with Atoti when he injured Seri and Alora. He had never considered the consequences of his actions on other people than himself. Yet there he was beside me, face-to-face with his last mortal enemy, motionless, speechless. And to make it worse, Atoti had made everything personal, making it impossible to placate him; he was not asking why Jumbe had hurt Seri and Alora; he wanted to know why the harm had been done to him, and he wasn’t allowing for any chance that Jumbe might have had nothing against him.

Jumbe turned and regarded me thoughtfully. I thought it was because he felt the need to protect me, but now I know what I saw in his eyes:  he did not want me to think him a coward. Maybe he had been thinking of fleeing. He was silent for a few more seconds, and when he could speak, he said:

“What do you want to do about it?”

Atoti launched himself at him with the whip and began flogging him. They struggled. My brother fought back the best he could, but Atoti was older and stronger and more muscular. He was also quicker and the more furious. He lambasted Jumbe the way my father used to, with zero remorse and absolute wrath. The whip was narrow and heavy and it cut the flesh like a razor. At last, Jumbe bolted towards the main road. Atoti gave chase and whipped him on the back. Every lash was like lightning.

I did not like him beating my brother like that. He was not a policeman, nor was he our father. Nobody had ever beaten us since my father died, and I still hated my father deep in my heart. I still hate him even as I tell this story. Some people had sympathized with me for being an orphan. Teachers were especially tender with me because I was also something of a genius in class. But if my father were to return I’d have wished him back to hell without a mote of hesitation.

I ran after Jumbe and Atoti. I saw that if they reached the main road, people would see my brother’s humiliation, my humiliation, and they would talk about it for the rest of their living days. They would not fear him anymore. They would be pointing fingers at me when I passed by, saying “It was his brother that was beaten like a thieving dog” and the boys at school who did not mess with me because I had a bigger brother they all feared would now take advantage, thinking that their own brothers could handle mine. I was incited by these thoughts and I screamed Atoti’s name. I had a shrill voice, sharp as a whistle, and I kept screaming his name until he stopped whipping my brother. He turned and regarded me with hostile eyes and I thought he would come for me too. But he did not. He proceeded towards the main road.

We went home.

                                                                                                                                                                                   X.

We did not talk on the way. Jumbe was brooding. He was bleeding all over his back and arms and his uniform was shredded in several places. My own lungs were grating like sand from screaming too much. I was in my own terrible hell.

Grandmother took care of us. She knew all sorts of roots and leaves that cured all sorts of wounds and diseases. My lungs, however, worried her; she didn’t know what kind of poisons I had inhaled in the night to make me so mortally sick, and she could only suppress the infection. We had been to the hospital at Ranen Mission but the doctor had referred us to a bigger hospital in Nairobi. Nairobi felt like an entirely different planet then, unreachable, unthinkable. So we relied on her concoctions for the time being.

She was actually my great-grandmother; she had raised my father’s father.

I had noticed that whenever Jumbe was in trouble she did not ask him how he had got into it. She knew in her heart that he was the cause. I was the one she usually chided and it was because of the good reports teachers gave her on parents’ days. They told her that I was very clever and could one day have a great future if I had proper guidance. I was also still too young to be just abandoned to the demoniacal madness in the family. Sometimes she talked to me with bitterness and anger, saying that she had already buried way too many people and if there were God, he would spare her just one. “Just one!” she’d stress with tears. “I’m not asking him for two or more! Just one!” She said that between Jumbe and I there should have been four children, making us six in total, but my mother used to get pregnant and my father would punch them out of her.

She was heartbroken whenever I stood by Jumbe, and in those instances she felt the cruelty of the vanity of her endeavours and she went to her bedroom and prayed for hours on end. She had resigned to the madness in the family and had seen enough of it to know that nothing could take it away. It was passed on regardless like a genetic anomaly, dominant in firstborns and recessive in the rest. She had told me that my father had been like my grandfather who had been like my great-grandfather who had been like my great-great-grandfather, and so on. She said that marriage in our family was a beacon for death. We murdered our wives. She herself would have been dead if it had not been for a black mamba that had killed her husband when he was pursuing her with a knife in order to cut off her head like a chicken. In his blind fury, he stepped on the tail of a particularly pissed off fourteen-foot long black mamba that had been crossing the path. It coiled on his leg like a python and raised itself to stare him in the face like an equal. Then it bit him four times on the forehead, cheek, neck, and mouth. He died in twenty seconds.

Jumbe never went back to school. I stayed home for two weeks then resumed when the grating in my lungs had subsided. I told his friends that he had gone to Sigiria to visit an aunt who lived there. He had made me promise him never to tell anyone what Atoti had done. Not that I would have told if there had been no promises.

When he had recovered, he brooded a lot and did not speak his mind. He was different and I thought it was because he was afraid. He had realized there were tougher people than him who would not spare him if he crossed their lines. I was soon proven wrong.

It happened on Sunday 13th December 1992, the last day I spent in his keep. I was eight going on nine. We had closed school and a violent furore had spread across the villages due to an oncoming general election. People were exalting FORD-Kenya while shouting the equivalent of “Fuck KANU!” My grandmother had gone to the Catholic Church at Ranen Market and I was home with my brother. Ever since Atoti punished him, he did not go out as frequently as he used to. He went in the evenings to hang out with Opalo and Ochola who had also quit school on his account. We were planning to go to the hill to set the trap for the porcupine that was ravaging my grandmother’s cassava. We had never got around to doing it and the damage had become quite extensive.

Suddenly, out of the blue, as if the Devil was guiding his footsteps and Death tugging him with a noose, Atoti appeared. He was headed for the hill with his two dogs. He was carrying a sickle and a sisal rope and I knew he was going to harvest grass. He saw me and waved at me but I did not reciprocate the gesture. I could not tell whether he intended to make peace with us because he was crossing our land or whether he would still have greeted me if I had gone to his home.

To my bewilderment, my brother, who was standing beside me, urged me to wave back at him. I did but stiffly. Jumbe did too and they began inquiring apropos of each other and chatting like old friends. Jumbe even laughed aloud at some joke Atoti made about his dogs being frightened of birds. He told Atoti that we were about to leave for the hill ourselves and we’d find him there. Atoti said it was fine and continued uphill. We let him lead by fifteen minutes then followed.

                                                                                                                                                                                XI.

It felt wrong. It was wrong. My brother did not have the heart to forgive. He was cruel. I remember him once telling Opalo and Ochola that if anybody ever messed with him, he would go to Nyamenya—the woman who had cursed my father—and obtain a voodoo doll of that person. He would then wait until the person was walking around unawares, maybe playing football in school or buying something from a shop, or even sleeping—he would wait till then and pull off his limbs one by one.

He was very excited as we climbed uphill. The vein on his forehead was pulsating and there was an odd sheen in his dead eyes, his strides too long. He told me a story about how the hare once duped the python to swallow his own tail, and when the python had done so and could not retract fast enough to save himself, the hare called the hyena to come and eat him.

Now, to catch a porcupine with a rope is a tricky business. If it is caught, it just cuts the rope with its teeth and continues to destroy your crops. You can use wires but the wires are chancy; it takes forever to catch anything in them. I used to think that the animals in our area were intelligent enough to interpret the wires as traps but too foolish to see the same about ropes. However, if you had to use a rope, you had to find a tough pole—so tough that you couldn’t bend it by yourself without some help and just flexible enough to bend only to a certain level. That way, if anything had the misfortune of being caught in the trap, the pole would spring back up with such a mighty force that the poor victim might die in midair before it ever even knew what had hit it.

We had set one like that before for a certain antelope that used to damage our potatoes. It had been male and it used to jump over the fence we had put around the farm to keep it off. It could have been three hundred kilograms, with big winding horns and a nasty smell. When we found it in the morning, it was hanging high up on the pole, which had sprang back to an erect position, with its leg so broken and wrung that it dangled only by its skin. The animal had passed out from the pain.

We found the open spot where the porcupine used to enter the farm. Several quills had fallen off there and small footprints in the shape of a baby’s hands were all over the place. Jumbe dug two holes and then left to fetch a suitable pole. I remained playing darts with the quills against a tree trunk. It was quiet in the hill except for some birds and Atoti’s dogs which were barking at them. I could see the main road from up there. It was swarming with loud campaigners who wore FORD-Kenya t-shirts and paper hats and carried Oginga Odinga placards. They were singing about President Moi being a chronic land thief and a dickless freak.

Jumbe returned with a twelve-foot long pole. He sank the bottom end of it into a four-foot deep hole and buried it with skill and dedication. It stood up erect and stable and you’d think it could never bend. It was then that he called Atoti who was cutting grass nearby.

“I need to bend this thing,” he said.

Atoti agreed without demur. I discovered afterwards, when nothing could be reversed, that he had been a good person. My brother had provoked him exceedingly to have him turn violent, but, all in all, he had been one of the kindest men in the area.

He went behind the pole and started pushing it forwards while Jumbe pulled it down with the rope which he had tied thirty centimetres from the very top. The rope had been made by my grandmother who performed her tasks the old African way. So strong was it that ten grown men could hang on it simultaneously and it would still hold. The two men applied all their might and bent that monstrous pole. Their muscles stuck out like roots, and where they stood, you could see the soles of their shoes digging the ground for purchase. As the pole became lower and lower, Atoti moved forward gradually to increase his effort distance and make his work a little easier. He was straddling the pole and using his weight to press it down.

On Jumbe’s end, there was a hole two feet long, a foot wide and a foot deep into which he had sunk two hooked pegs to hold down the pole via a smaller round peg on a string extending from the middle of the main rope. A looped end of the rope with a slipknot would be spread over some vulnerable sticks laid above the hole. The loop would then be hidden with grass and debris. If an animal stepped over the hole, the sticks would give in and disengage the smaller round peg, thereby releasing the pole. The slipknot would tighten as the pole kicked up, sending the animal straight to hell.

However, my brother did not reach for the hole. I had become bored of the quills and came to sit down near him. I saw in his eyes what he intended to do. But it was too late. He had a knowing grin on his face and his eyes shone brilliant with mischief. He waited until Atoti had come to the end of the pole and was springing on it, waiting for him to engage the pegs and keep the pole down for good. Instead, he released the rope . . .

I gasped.

There followed the sound of the pole returning to its original position. It was sharp and fast and loud; you would think the air was a fabric and the pole was tearing through it. It was almost like the sound of the military jets which usually saluted President Moi on public holidays.

I saw Atoti in the air. Up, up, up, and up he went. Until he started becoming very small and I thought he would never come down. That pole could have hurled away a three-hundred-kilogram antelope as if it weighed nothing at all. Atoti was not even a sixth of that and he was hurled like a little rock. I thought he’d keep going until he vanished in the clouds. But then, he stopped and came back. He came back as if the sky itself hated him and had flung him down. He fell on a rock and the back of his head exploded like pawpaw, his brain scattering about like the insides of the fruit. His eyes popped out and dangled on bloody tendrils where his cheeks had been. He broke his spine and ribs and hips and shoulders and just about every other bone in his body. He fell like a wet thing. He did not bounce, did not roll. He stuck to the rock like a magnet. He became part of the rock. When they came to collect his remains, they had to use their machetes to scrape off his flesh from the surface. The pole had shattered his scrotum and crashed his testicles and penis to bloody pastes.

I do not know for how long I was frozen in shock. When I came to, I let out the loudest scream my lungs could endure, such as I had done when I met my mother bleeding like hell out of the bedroom. I screamed for my grandmother, for anybody. I could not stop even after my lungs began to grate like sand.

Nobody came, though. They thought I was campaigning.

                                                                                                                                                                            XII.

My brother disappeared in the bush and I never saw him again.

Unlike most people who gave up on such kind of injuries, Atoti’s father pursued it with a vengeance. He had a lot of money from his business and he used it to bribe every cop he could find so as to have Jumbe arrested. But the police had too much on their hands at the time due to the inevitable violent eruptions concomitant to the campaign. It was not until late January that they came to talk to my grandmother. She told them that she did not know where Jumbe was but he consumed too much food to live with anyone who was not his close relative. So they could go look for him at any of our relatives out there. She gave up their names and the places where they lived.

We heard that he was arrested in Sigiria and later transferred to Awendo Police Station, then to Migori where he stayed for years on end. In those days, the government could keep you in remand for even a hundred years if it wanted to and you could do nothing about it. Most institutions were as the British had left them and the government was too busy plundering resources and murdering opponents to improve anything. The leaders made laws only to protect the president and then spent the rest of their greedy days digging deep into his rectum with their sharp unashamed tongues, calling him “Baba, Baba!” and making  his asshole sparkle like strange glass.

So they locked up Jumbe and forgot all about him. He had to kill another man in prison to prompt the magistrate to hand him a life sentence. Apparently the man had been one of the hardened inmates known to torture others. He thought he could terrorize Jumbe too. He wanted Jumbe to pay him rent for sharing the same cell with him. Jumbe said he had no money and was assigned the duty of emptying the bucket of shit that they used as a toilet for the rest of his remand days. He refused the job.

“Do you know why I am locked up in here?” he asked the inmate.

“I don’t care! I don’t care! We are all locked up in here and you happen to be locked up with me!” were the man’s final words.

He attacked Jumbe who got the better of him and sank his head in the bucket of shit, thereby drowning him to death.

“I am locked up in here because I killed a man, and I will not hesitate to kill the next!” my brother announced to the goggling inmates as he stood over the twitching body.

He died in 2007 at Kodiaga in Kisumu. By then I was in the third year of my course at the University of Nairobi. I had become so different from the child he’d left behind that sometimes I wondered if I even knew myself. I shunned his funeral because I didn’t want to remember.

Atoti’s death shook many people. It was then that I discovered how much he had been liked, respected, and loved. He had been good to a lot of people, even my grandmother. She said how she had met him on the road one night after a downpour detained her at the market and he had walked her home just to ensure she reached well. When Jumbe could not be found, I was the one people looked at to identify him. I’d been afraid they would point their fingers at me and say, “It was his brother that was beaten like a thieving dog”; now they were pointing fingers at me and saying, “It was his brother that murdered Atoti.” I felt worse.

I did my best to shun people. At school I was scared of the bullies who would now take advantage of my brother’s absence. I was also worried about the people my brother had assaulted who might want to avenge themselves on me. Several girls had finally found courage to report the abuse Jumbe had inflicted on them at night parties, and now that he was nowhere to be found, every one of his enemies expressed a horrid desire to get hold of him and shred him to pieces. A story began to spread of a boy named Sedi who had vanished without a trace sometime in 1988 but whose remains were later unearthed by a ploughing tractor from South Nyanza Sugar Company in mid 1992. It was said that Jumbe and his friends had chopped him up and buried his remains in the plantation. It was a true story, for as soon as it was revealed, Opalo and Ochola took off and never came back.

However, my brother’s enemies never did anything to me. I was hard to find. I reported to school the first and left the last. I ignored those who attempted to talk to me about him. When grandmother needed me to help her with a task after school, I’d be the first to leave, running all the way home. At class breaks, I remained in class and read.

Yes. I read. Of all the things that saved me, reading was the best. There was a small library that the government had begun to stock but quit when it realized that education of the people was its number one adversary and that a country dominated by ignorance and illiteracy was the politician’s paradise. It had very old books some of which could sometimes be too difficult to read. I borrowed every single one of them nonetheless and read and reread them all. The teachers made me the librarian and the timekeeper due to my adamant punctuality. It was as though they had given me carte blanche to cut out all social contact. I hid in that library whenever I had no class in session. I cleaned it and repaired the books and the shelves and rearranged them. I even asked the headmaster to buy more books to which he replied that he would consider it although he never did.

I saw Jacklyn last on Monday 10th August 1998 at about 1pm when we were called to an impromptu assembly to be told of the Al Qaeda bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi which had occurred the previous Friday. It was the day we were first introduced to Osama bin Laden, the name that would haunt us for the next thirteen years. We were quiet and tense and several gasps could be heard when the headmaster said that over two hundred people had been killed. I noticed someone staring at me from behind and when I turned I saw that it was Jacklyn. I looked away immediately to avoid her but she continued to stare at me for the rest of the meeting. She had become bigger and her breasts were showing. She was very pretty, a wispy thing with pristine grace and large absorbing eyes. I imagine now what we could have had if my brother hadn’t taught me to look at women’s panties and my heart fills with poignant regret. I’d never even had the chance to call her ‘Jack’ as she had wanted me to. I knew she was still angry with me and would never forgive me. She had blamed me for what my brother had done to her sister and for days I had wished to explain to her that her sister had lied. But then, I told myself that the fact that Alora had lied could not justify what Jumbe and his friends had done to her.

My social skills deteriorated. People talked about themselves and expected me to do the same. Whenever I looked back at my childhood, I saw my brother’s face. I saw a malign spirit, a dark thing in a dark place. I saw the devil that had been behind it all. I heard his diabolical laughter when he was about to commit an atrocity. He was everywhere and I remembered that I had been his accomplice. I was the reason he had hurt Seri and Alora and Atoti, and even the inmate. I was the reason for his death. I wanted to scream and hang myself. I wanted to set myself on fire and burn to ashes. Some nights I lay awake and tossed about like a terminally ill person, with only the awful night and the empty room for company. I saw my father bending over me, pinching my buttocks with his monstrous paws while his noisome breath washed over my face. That gigantic horror, that abortion of humanity, that grotesque mockery of God’s work! I remembered that I was carrying his genes and I was suffused with darkness and rage, I was transported with hate and loathing and I howled till my lungs grated like sand and my throat was full of blood, cursing that he had begot me, cursing that even something like him could desire children, cursing, cursing . . .

                                                                                                                                                                         XIII.

But I lived. And recently I met a girl. Her name is Subira and I’m in love. She is one of those girls that if you let go, then you shall be a colossal fool for the rest of your life. She said she had been watching me for a long time and wondering why a young man with a great job, an intelligent face and a rather handsome physique prefers to walk alone like the Devil in Paradise Lost. She said I was always so withdrawn I did not seem to notice anything else. She thought I did not exist on earth at all. We had a date—my first date in thirty years!—and she talked about herself while I tried to keep the conversation on Paradise Lost, a book we both liked. At length, I told her some things about myself which instigated the bad memories. I went back to my house and for the first time pondered over what else to do about them other than shutting them away. I decided that I should write them down. I had heard that writing heals the mind and I had read enough books to delude myself that I could write. I hope it does.

I have also learnt that genes are a function of the environment, so that I no longer have to be afraid of my children taking after my father or of my marriage becoming a beacon for death. Children are as they are raised, where they are raised. All energy comes from the environment—the fact which proves everything on earth is linked to one another, so that I still haven’t figured out how killers like my brother can live to kill again, knowing what they have taken. I think life is a sanctity. If you consider the biology, the chemistry, the physics, the mathematics and everything else that makes it possible—the magic of how a single microscopic cell can begin to communicate its neighbour and continue to do so until, out of the union, a seemingly impossible, almost otherworldly phenomenon is achieved, one that has never been formed before and can never be duplicated again—it is so complex, so mysterious, so awe-inspiring and so beautiful that to destroy it is unspeakable.

My grandmother died in 2009 at a hundred and twelve years old. She was happy that I had outlived her. She said God had answered her prayer. She was also glad that school had transformed me, although she said I’d never live to be as old as she was. She said to be that old I had to know the old African ways, which did not exist anymore. I had my lungs treated in 2003 and when I told her about it she was beside herself with joy. She just kept on singing some old songs even after the night had settled and the village was quiet. She told me that since I could now exert I must use my strength wisely, that I must never lift my finger against the mother of my children, unless I thought it desirable for my children to have no mother. I told her that I hated my father so much I’d never do anything he used to do. I wanted to be the irreconcilable contrast of everything he had been. I will keep my word and I know she will be proud of me wherever she is.

The End.

                                                                                                                                                                                      I.

At a midnight in October 2014, a twenty-four-year old girl named Grace Kimani made the worst mistake of her life when she alighted from a bus at Adams Arcade in Nairobi. She was from her friend’s wedding in Ngong. The ceremony had begun too late in the day and extended deep into the night. When Grace left, about eleven-fifteen, the cake had just been cut and the party was beginning. She should have spent the night, but she had to be at the University of Nairobi by six in the morning. Ngong Road was popular for its traffic jam, which could surely drive a person to insanity and suicide, especially if that person had a crisis. And what would be taking Grace to the university so early in the day was indeed a crisis. She had therefore decided to sleep near the institution. Her boyfriend, Denis, lived with his brother on Elgeyo Road opposite the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses Headquarters. He was waiting for her at the bus stop.

However, when she got down at Adams Arcade, everything went to hell. First, the bus vanished. As soon as her feet touched the pavement, the bus evaporated. The road was a straight serpentine stretch of blacktop and it should have taken the vehicle at least five minutes to disappear after the next intersection. Yet it was gone in a blink. No taillights. No sound. Not even the smell of its petrol.

Second, the night became unusually quiet. Adams Arcade seemed deserted. Not a soul, not a shadow, moved. Overhead, alone moon coursed a bleak starless sky. Pathless, it seemed itself lost. A single streetlamp, its head broken, blinked gloomily as if overcome with loneliness. It went off.

Third, there were no buildings. Instead, a dense growth of tall trees, thickets and grass straggled on either side of the road and beyond. She thought she was in a foreign place and panic began to take over her, but she recognized the roundabout and the sign at the corner that said ELGEYO MARAKWET ROAD. Across from the bus stop, there should have been a vast shopping mall called The Green Mall. It was missing. So was the Total Petrol Station adjacent to it, Tuskys Supermarket, and the old mall with its arched roof which gave the place its name.

Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong.

Grace’s stomach was rolling, her heart triphammering. She fetched her cell phone from her handbag in order to call Denis but saw that it was dead. And it would not come on despite holding down the power button for several seconds. It couldn’t be the battery; she had never let the bars fall below three, and she had spoken to Denis in the bus.

She hastened along Elgeyo Road. Her heels tapped on the tarmac and made the loudest sound she had ever heard. She looked back often, hoping to see something, somebody, wishing for a movement, but each time she became more and more unsettled by the brooding quietness and the odd vegetation. She saw that Kilimani Road was a narrow footpath overgrown with weeds and terminating at its intersection with Elgeyo Road; it used be a rough road until 2010 when it was repaired into a two-lane road to ease traffic on Ngong Road. It also stretched to become Riara Road about a kilometre westwards.

Dark Road

Elgeyo Road

A colonial bungalow with red tiles and stone walls loomed creepily by the footpath, as if intentionally hiding in the trees, waiting to ambush. It wasn’t supposed to be there.

Grace, overcome, broke into a run. She ran for a half a kilometre nonstop. She saw that Muringa Road was missing as well, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses place, which bordered it to the north, was a jungle. Across Elgeyo Road, where Denis’ estate was supposed to be, another jungle had spread over it, so immense and dreadful that Grace found herself retreating from it before she could consciously come to the decision.

Something cried like a baby and two animals sprinted across the road, one pursuing the other. An even bigger one dropped from one of the trees, shaking the branches as if it were King Kong and grunting like an old man.

She ran back the way she had come. She ran faster than before. She was almost reaching the roundabout when she caught a flash of light. She braked, thinking there may yet be a flicker of hope after all. At the same time, she recollected that there was a place called Tumaini Centre around there which provided women’s hostels, bed and breakfast, and conference rooms. She did not think she would find it. To her surprise, she saw the gate and precipitated to bang on it. She banged frantically.

A tall dark man with an eccentric bearing came out almost instantly. He had a flashlight with him, though it was too dim and glowing red instead. He wore blue coveralls and a yellow helmet, but the strange thing about him was that he made Grace want to take off and never stop or look back. He was enormous, nine or ten feet tall, and was broad accordingly. The flashlight handle was consumed entirely by his hands.

Grace stepped away from him, her hair standing on end, her heart pounding harder. He was wrong too, and she felt that he was not supposed to be there.

                                                                                                                                                                                  II.

“How can I help you, young lady?” he said in a strong voice with lucid articulation.

“Can I get a room?” Grace asked.

He surveyed her up and down. It made her uneasy and she shifted her feet. She could not see his eyes but she could feel them burning through her like two revolting blades ripping her soul apart. Again, she unconsciously stepped back.

“Where are you from at this hour?”

“Ngong,” she said timidly and then proceeded to explain why she had come to Adams.

“Are you a student?”

“Yes.”

“Why didn’t you go directly to the university? It is only three kilometres from here.”

“I do not have a room yet,” she said. “We are opening tomorrow. If I go later than six, I will not find a room.”

“Why is that?”

“The rooms are too few, the students too many; we have to fight for them.”

“That is lamentable,” remarked he.

“Can I get accommodation here tonight?” she asked again, wondering why she was being interrogated, not liking it, but not knowing what to do about it.

“No,” he said. “This place burned down two months ago. We’re renovating.”

Her heart sank. She looked back the way she had come. It was desolate there, emptiness like no other. ‘Tumaini’ was Kiswahili for hope. It didn’t have any hope tonight.

“What is wrong with this place?” she inquired and motioned around her.

“Is anything wrong with it?” asked he.

“It doesn’t look like Adams Arcade.”

“What does Adams Arcade look like?” he asked and the gravity of his voice surprised her. He either truly did not know Adams Arcade or felt that it was normal for a town to just disappear. He maintained his feral gaze on her.

“It is a town,” she said, “an uptown residential place. Not this bushy and quiet. Not this wilderness.”

“What have you against the trees and the quiet?” He was patronizing her.

“I don’t understand what is going on.”

“Have you considered that you may not be able to understand?”

He knows what’s happening, she thought, and took another step back.

“The bus that I came in vanished,” she said.

“Do you want it back?” he asked. “Is it a necessity for your life?”

She was quiet. She did not know how to reply. He was stern.

“If you were to choose between this ‘wilderness’—as you call it—and The Green Mall over there, which one would you take?”

He said ‘The Green Mall over there’ as if he could see it. Grace turned and looked in the direction.

“Where is The Green Mall?” she asked and unwittingly condemned herself for ever.

The man was silent for almost a minute. It was an eternal minute, the longest she had ever spent under the sky. Meanwhile his gaze never shifted from her.

“Would you like more structures like The Green Mall all over earth?” asked he. “How do you fill a planet with pavements and shopping malls like this? I think they are one too many and they are wasting my planet.”

She didn’t know what he was talking about.

“Did everything burn down?” she asked uneasily. She wanted to look past him but was too scared to try.

“Everything has burned down,” he said. “I will fix it. I am here to fix it.”

Grace did not understand the change in his tense. He was using ‘has’ to refer to what he had said happened two months before. It was as if they were not talking about the same thing.

“I have to go then,” she said, timid. She turned and hurried back towards the bus stop. “Thank you,” she said over her shoulder and quickened her pace.

He said nothing.

She looked back once but did not see him. He had dematerialized. Just like the bus and the entire Adams Arcade. “Good riddance,” thought she. She did not like him at all and the farther away she got from him, the more relieved she felt. There was something very repulsive about him. It wasn’t anything she saw or knew; she felt it.

                                                                                                                                                                               III.

She was reaching the bus stop when suddenly a man laughed somewhere in the forlorn night. He laughed like a lunatic. HAHAHII! HAIYAHOHO!

It was a lonely sound, hollow and mirthless, and it shattered the disquieting silence like glass. The laugher was several kilometres away, the sound diminishing as it reached Grace, who, though disturbed by it, decided that she was not alone after all. Lunatic or not, drunk or sober, the man was in the same night as her. She found some solace in this thought.

She passed the bus stop, kept walking. At the next intersection, she would leave Ngong Road for Ring Road Kilimani, then Lenana Road, after which Dennis-Pritt Road would lead her to Processional Way and Nyerere Road. She would be in the university in no time, and this nightmare would be gone forever. She would be safe within the precincts of the campus, with or without a room.

The man laughed again. HAHAHII! HAIYAHOHO!

He was still too far away. Grace determined that he was in the direction of downtown, maybe around Kenyatta National Hospital area. She pushed on.

When next he laughed, he was beside her. So close that she felt his rotting breath on her cheek, that hollow, mirthless reedy sound blasting her eardrum.

HAHAHII! HAIYAHOHO!

She jumped like a crazy thing, let out an insane ear-splitting shriek, looked about with wild terrified eyes, failed to see anyone, turned and fled. She ran like she had never run before. She flew.

The thing chased her. It couldn’t really be a person; it was making cruel inhuman cries and moving with the sound of a dust devil, disturbing litter and debris along the road. Grace could not hear its footsteps either, although it was coming at her at full speed and momentum, fierce, deadly. She was losing.

It grabbed her shoulder. A hand, no, a paw—it felt like a paw, like a cat’s paw, though hairier, huger, deadlier—it clutched her, twisted, curled, the claws lacerating her flesh. She was jerked back with so mighty a force that her feet went up and her buttocks came down hard on the pavement. The impact jarred her spine. She rolled, spun, rolled again. But still she saw no one, nothing. She was alone.

She screamed. A shrill hopeless, earth-shattering scream that rived the night in two. She screamed again.

Something else galloped towards her like a horse, hooves clip-clopping on the tarmac. She couldn’t see it either. She tried rising in vain, her legs unable to sustain her, and she was gasping for a third scream when it turned out to be the man from Tumaini Centre. He materialized like a spook. He was smaller than he had been at the gate. He was now six feet tall. She now saw that the flashlight in his hand was a rock. She didn’t get it.

“Are you wounded?” he asked.

But she could not speak. Her heart pounded too hard, her breath short. He grasped her arm and helped her up. She felt his strength and, in spite of her consternation and horror, found herself trying to wrench free of him. He lifted up like a piece of paper.

“It is a strange night tonight,” he said, speaking with such patience and composure that she thought him absolutely unfeeling. “It looks like I shall take you with me.”

She wanted to protest but her lungs were still on fire. Then again, even if she protested, what next would she do? Where would she go?

Somewhere too far away, the laughing thing laughed again. HAHAHII! HAIYAHOHO!

“How can it be both so far away and so near at the same time?” she wondered.

“You are bleeding copiously,” the man said. “What is it that did this to your shoulder?”

She shook her head. A little consolation that he wasn’t the laughing thing inspired some confidence in him.

“Well,” said he, “I will treat your wound and give you a place in which to lodge for the night. In the morning, you can go to the university and fight for accommodation.”

He took her with him. His touch was very creepy.

                                                                                                                                                                                IV.

They walked in the direction of the Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters. He was tugging her along and walking much faster than she could keep up so that more than once she stumbled and hung on his arm like a child in order to keep from being dragged on the ground. He did not speak. Three times in the course of the short journey, she felt that there was someone or something else following them and sometimes moving beside her; that they were three on the road instead of two. But, besides herself, she could see only him. She was not relieved. After about two hundred metres, he left the main road for a smaller one which led into an estate and was unpaved and rather rocky and dusty.

The estate should have been Elgeyo Square, and the road was usually paved. However, tonight, even the gate was missing and the whole place was concealed within a grove of tall trees and bush. There was just a single block marked ‘Block A’ over the entrance. It had three floors and twelve houses. They were as dark and soundless as the night itself. He took her to the first floor, House No. 5A.

“Do you work at Tumaini Centre?” she asked as he opened the door. She had recovered enough to speak. The silence was too much and she thought speaking with him might alleviate her anxiety.

“What sort of work would I do at Tumaini Centre?” returned he.

“You said you were there to fix it.”

“What I intend to fix is not Tumaini Centre,” he said. “What I intend to fix is this planet.”

He pushed the door open and bid her enter first. He held it ajar for a few more seconds while looking outside in the manner suggestive that he was waiting for someone else to come in. Grace felt something sweep past her. There was a change in the air current and she gasped and leapt back. The man turned to her with a look of stern reproof and she put her hand across her mouth to shut herself up. He entered and locked the door after him. The click of the lock was like a seal of fate.

They’re going to kill me, she thought dismally and then conjured up stories and images of murdered women, raped and murdered and buried in garbage dumps or chopped into pieces and discarded one by one across the city.

“Take a seat,” he said. “I shall go arrange how to address your wound.”

She sat by the door, still as the chair itself. After he was gone, she saw that he had taken the key with him. It drained her further, all hope gone. Something rolled in her stomach and her eyes watered. She was trapped.

The house was cold. It was lonely. Like a place where no one lived. There was a single table in the centre and the three old chairs around it seemed to have been that way since time out of mind. The curtains too had the impression that they had never been opened. The air was stale, as if motionless for too long, and the rug was as coarse and sticky as the cushions themselves. No pictures or posters decorated the walls, which were rather bland and tasteless in colour, no wall clock either, except for an ancient 1980 calendar with a picture of a young President Moi on it. She had a feeling that the rightful owners of this house had been murdered so long ago and discarded in the forest, or eaten even. Maybe the man was a cannibal. He was going to eat Grace.

He came back with an egg-shaped rock the size of a small water melon, a ball of cotton wool, and a powdered substance in an unmarked translucent glass bottle. The rock was almost transparent with a red vein within it. He put them in front of her, stood over her.

“You have to take off your jumper,” he said.

She did, with trembling hands and a hammering heart. There was a scream in her throat pressing to be let out. She was choking on it.

“You have to take off your brassiere,” he said.

She didn’t.

He started pushing the bra strap over her shoulder and she withdrew, got up and leapt away from him.

“What are you doing?” demanded he. There was something awful in his voice. It was very frightening.

He had taken off the helmet and his face, exposed, was very intense, with pronounced jaws, high cheekbones, and awfully deep sockets in which two malignant orbs burned with a vengeance. There was a sense of dark purpose about him and just looking at him chilled her to the marrow. He was perhaps thirty-five years old.

“What do you want?” she asked, though weakly, and drew back again.

“What do I want?” he returned with a derisive sneer. His eyebrows were very thick and gave him an extremely sinister look. “How will this situation improve if I reveal to you what I want? What can you do about what I want?”

He paused for an answer. When she gave him none, he continued: “Whatever is going to happen to you is inevitable. You have not the slightest chance on earth of altering its outcome.”

“Please, don’t hurt me,” she pleaded.

“Ah!” he sighed, his face distorted with hate and disgust, his hands clenched. “You are beginning to touch me in a very dark place. Sit down!

She sat. She slumped on the chair like something thrown there.

He slid the bra strap over her shoulder and poured the powder on the wound. It stung like hell and she had the pulsing sensation of fluids being drawn from the wound. He worked fast and efficiently, mopping up the fluids with a piece of cotton wool and then applying the rock over the wound. He rolled it there slowly, deliberately, and she could feel its low throbbing. It beat like a heart. It grew hotter and hotter with each rolling and hurt her so much that it brought tears to her eyes. But she did not move, too afraid to attempt it. Finally, he covered the wound with the cotton wools and held them in place with her bra strap. He let go of her.

“What hurt you is not a fancy creature,” he said. “It is a thing of the night, all faded and invisible. If I didn’t treat your wound, you’d have rotted all over in ninety minutes.”

She put on her jumper. “Thank you,” she said. Except for some dull itching, she did not feel any more pain on her shoulder.

“I shall go prepare for you a place in which to sleep.”

He took the rock and the bottle, turned to go, stopped. “I have no food to offer you, in case you thought I would,” he said.

“I don’t want food,” she blurted, realized, belatedly, what she had done, looked up and met his inflamed eyes. She flinched and said “I’m okay, thank you” in a placating tone. How could he think she would want food in these circumstances?

“I’m glad you don’t,” he said. “It disgusts me to watch humans eat. Moving their jaws thoughtlessly, turning all those animals and plants into faeces. You consume this planet until you become sick with the weight, and then gallop around the city like absurdities, dancing gymnastics in order to lose the energy that you are supposed to naturally give back to the plants and animals that gave it to you! Instead, you expend it into the atmosphere where it is redundant and eventually escapes into the illimitable wastes of the universe.

“I wonder,” he went on. “How can you see an animal and not be overcome with confoundment at the mysterious wonder of its existence, the unparalleled beauty, the indefinite grace? How can you see another life and crave only to turn it into faeces, the sight of which, yourself, fills you with abhorrent loathing?”

“Don’t you eat?” Grace asked. He sounded crazy and obsessed with the planet.

“I do not,” he replied. “I was alive when there was only water. I learned to separate the hydrogen atoms in it from that of oxygen, and then fuse the released hydrogen nuclei into helium, and utilize the energy released thereof. Do you know how strong it makes me? Just like the sun. I breathe out helium.”

“You breathe out helium?” Grace wondered.

“But your wretched lot, curse you!” he swore. “You learned to consume the planet and extirpate all life in it. How fateful for you! You will pay. I bring you the price.”

“Are you not human?” Grace asked.

“To be human, I have keenly observed, is to be the worst possible thing in the whole of Enki’s universe. I thought I’d seen worse. I hadn’t.”

“What are you, then?”

“You don’t listen,” he said. “Have I not just told you what I am? You should not bother with comprehending me. You cannot. I am unnamed, unnameable.”

“I don’t know what you say you are,” Grace said. “You look like a human being to me. But if you say those things so that you can hurt me and feel good about it, I understand. Just go ahead and get it over with. There is nothing to stop you.” Her voice shook and with each word terror seized her more and more firmly. “Why didn’t you just leave me out in the dark instead of pretending to rescue me so that you can terrify me yourself?”

He stared at her in silence for some time and then said: “You don’t listen. Yet you think you know.” He left the room.

                                                                                                                                                                                   V.

He came back and told her that her bed was ready. She followed him into a cold room in which no one had ever slept. It was staler than the living room. The air was dry and stifling, reminiscent of that of a cave. The bed stood uninvitingly at the centre, the sheet drawn too tight over it. A pendant bulb bathed it in yellow light. The room seemed to have been so for a thousand years. The mattress was too firm.

“Sleep deep,” he said. “It will be your last good sleep.”

She couldn’t be expected to sleep after that statement. She never slept that night. Terror robbed her of her capacity to sleep. It was the worst night ever.

There was a key in the lock and she swiftly locked the door after him. She was surprised that he had left it there. She did not take it out. It might not keep him out for long but at least she would know when he attempted to come in and scream for the neighbours. Assuming he had neighbours, she corrected. So far not a sound had come from outside. Indeed, there was not a single piece of evidence that anyone else lived in this estate.

Before she did anything else thereafter, she decided to ask God for protection and knelt down by the bed. Eyes closed, head lowered, fingers entwined in pious humility, she had barely said “Our Father” when something moved in the room. That same drift of air she had felt in the living room, cold, calculated—there was something with her!

She sprung up, the room suddenly upside-down, everywhere dangerous. She bolted for the door, turned the key, and remembered he was out there. She stopped and bit down on a deranged frenzied shriek. She had never been so helpless.

She waited for another movement, not knowing where to look, where it would come from. Not knowing what was in the room with her. She began to cry. “Please,” she whimpered and then let out the torrent of emotions. She went to the bed and slumped down on it. She wept bitterly for the rest of the night.

She thought it was him that had been out there laughing like a lunatic. It was him that had chased her and hurt her shoulder. He had wanted her alone with him in this house. And he wasn’t a human being. He wasn’t a human being!

The thing in the room with her did not move again. But she knew it was there.

After one million hours of weeping in her veritable hell, she thought to tune her ears to the sounds outside. She suppressed the sobs, though tears continued to flood her face. It took another one million hours for the first sound to reach her. It was a bird.

She decided to leave. She had to risk it. She took off her shoes and put them in her bag. She then paused by the door for several minutes, waiting for the thing in the room to hinder her, but when it didn’t, she, with utmost caution, unlocked the door and tiptoed out. She looked back to see if it would follow. She saw nothing.

To her dismay, the living room light was on. She froze in mid-step, a low gasp escaping her throat. It meant her captor was awake. How cursed was she to scheme so foolishly. She withdrew towards her cell. She was almost entering when the door banged shut and the key turned in the lock. The thing did not want her back there. It was its room.

A moment of utter darkness passed when she felt cornered between the Devil and the deep blue sea. After an eternity of surging whirlpools of thoughts, she resolved to keep going. If she found him, she would tell him that she had to go. He would not let her but that was the only thing left to do. She could not just sit in the room with the invisible laughing thing and wait to be eaten or done in whatever way they fancied.

There was nobody in the living room! And the key was in the lock! Unthinkable! She dashed across the room and seized it with might, as if afraid that it might vanish at once without a trace. As she gripped it, a fleeting instant passed when she wondered if this may not be another trap. It couldn’t be so easy. But a piece of paper attached to the key aided in the utter dismissal of the thought. In meticulous calligraphy, it said:

Dear Grace,

I had to rush back out. If you should leave before my return, kindly take my key with you. I will find you when I need it. And, please, do take care of it well, because, if you lose it, my house will disappear.

Your Host.

“To hell!” she exhaled, relieved, excited, wanting nothing more than to get out of there. “To hell with your key!” she said aloud, opened the door, and took off.

Grace ran. She ran barefoot and she ran without care. She tore along Elgeyo Road past the hideous jungles that had supplanted The Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the estate in which Denis lived. When she reached Argwings Kodhek Road on the other side, she bent towards Yaya Centre from which she took Ring Road Kilimani to Lenana.

She remembered that she had not told him her name, yet he knew it, and she ran faster, harder. Her feet hurt like hell but she did not relent. She noted that from Yaya Centre onwards the rest of Kilimani was unchanged and it relieved her a little.

Somewhere farther off behind her, the thing laughed—HAHAHII! HAIYAHOHO!—and she careered like mad.

When she reached outside the Department of Defence in Hurlingham, she slowed down and stopped altogether to put on her shoes. She took a few seconds to catch her breath and cool her inflamed lungs. She then continued down past the Russian Embassy at a much slower pace. She was limping from her swollen feet.

She heard messages reach her cell phone and was nonplussed to discover that it was working. She called Denis, who was deep asleep and took too long to pick up. He asked her where she was and why she had not turned up at Adams Arcade. He said he had waited for her until 2am.

“I think I’m ok now,” she said. “I will tell you everything.”

Some minutes later, a car drove out of the embassy and two more whisked by her at the intersection of Lenana and Ralph Bunche Roads. She would be safe now. The world was waking. Her hope shot up infinitely.

                                                                                                                                                                                VI.

She acquired a room as soon as the Student Welfare Authority offices began to allocate them. She had been the first in the line though not the first to get one, some students having bribed the authorities beforehand to preserve rooms for them. Reporting early also meant that you could have your favourite room while it was still vacant. She chose room 319 in Hall 13 where female Architects and Engineers were housed. Grace was studying Electrical Engineering—the most jinxed course in the University of Nairobi.

By eleven, she had finished setting the room, and exhausted from the previous night’s horrors, decided to lie in bed for a few hours. Her rest, however, was soon interrupted by a certain detestable girl whose first name was Susan-Moses, who entered without knocking. She was a small girl, hobbit-like, with an oversized wig and a mousy face. But, quite unlike hobbits, she had a vile heart and a nosy demeanour which made her gossip as if it was her life’s ambition. She often made people fight; wherever she went rancour blossomed like cancer. She was a jinx.

“Susan-Moses, go away!” Grace told her.

“Grace, there is a watchman looking for you!” she said.

How pertinent! Later, she would pervert the story completely and say that Grace was dating the watchman. That she had seen the watchman taking off his clothes in Grace’s room.

“I don’t want to talk you,” Grace said without stirring from her position. “Go away!”

“He’s a new watchman, I think,” Susan-Moses insisted. “He said you have his key.”

“What key?” Grace asked.

As if to answer the question, her mind rang with the words: I will find you when I need it.

Things skittered up Grace’s spine towards her neck, icy, nasty, carnivorous things. She bolted upright, eyes at once full of panic, heart belabouring.

“Where is he?” she demanded. “Where is he?

But Susan laughed. She laughed like a witch. A trilling cry of pure wickedness. Her face deformed into an unsightly mask, her hobbit-ears twitching, red tongue peeking between numerous rat-teeth. There was perverse pleasure in her laughter. It bubbled in her chest like boiling fat.

Grace got up and thrust her out.

“Who is he, Grace?” she inquired, cutting off her hateful joy. Once beyond the door, she refused to go any farther. “Who is he?” she repeated, as inquisitive as a true gossiper. “Why does he make you look like you just saw the Devil?”

“Where is he?” Grace reiterated, with more urgency.

“I will not tell you unless you first tell me who he is.”

Susan!

“Who is he?”

Grace bumped her against the wall.

“Ouch!” she cried and misshaped her face. “You hur—”

Grace made to bump her again. She said, “Okay! I left him at the reception. I think he’s coming this way. He really means business.”

“Did he say he is a watchman?”

“No. But he is dressed like one. I just presumed.”

Grace locked the door and sprinted for the fire-escape stairs at the back of the building.

“How did he find me?” she worried aloud. “How does he know my name?”

Denis had been unhappy with her. According to him, Adams Arcade had been fine. She had just not shown up as she had promised. The only thing he had understood from her story was that she had spent the night in another man’s house. It had riled him.

“How can I make up such a story?” she’d complained to him.

“I don’t know,” he’d said. “Adams is a place, in case you forgot. It cannot go anywhere. It cannot become a forest overnight. But that man . . .” he’d trailed off, jaundiced by jealousy.

As a result, Grace now had her relationship to rankle her. She had been replaying the events of the previous night in her mind in a bid to understand them. They didn’t make sense yet they had happened and the wound was on her shoulder. It confused her and she had resolved to forget all about it. Now this!

She finished descending the stairs and started fleeing. But she had scarcely made three steps when, suddenly, he appeared out of the blue and clasped her arm. He broke her momentum and she lurched about, staggering. She could swear to God he had not been there. She let out such a violent a scream that the entire campus shook.

“Where is my key?” demanded he, giving her such a flinty gaze that her blood turned to ice. He rocked her and she flew about like a bird on a string, arms thrashing and feet unable to touch down. Her struggles were fruitless; his strength was immeasurable.

“I didn’t take it!” she shrieked. “I didn’t take it, please! I left it at your door!”

“Didn’t you see my note?”

“Yes. I did.”

“What did it say?”

Loath to miss such a rich source of gossip, Susan had followed Grace through the back stairs and outside Hall 13. She was standing nearby, smiling excitedly, and before Grace could answer the question, she said, “Grace, did you sleep in this man’s house?”

Grace ignored her and pleaded with her captor: “I didn’t take your key! I didn’t! Please! I swear to God I—”

“Do not swear a lie in my presence!” the man swore and flung her about like a sling. He slapped her face so hard she went blind.

Susan laughed at this. She laughed in her typical high-pitched diabolical way. “Where did she get your key?” she asked the stranger as if they were friends. “Did you give it to her? Did she sleep in your house? Did you sleep with her? Have you been sleeping with her? Do you know that she has a boyfriend here in campus?” she pestered and touched his arm for attention.

She started when she touched him and drew back her hand as if she had touched fire. A look of mingled perplexity and fear replaced her gleeful expression.

The man shoved Grace away and she collapsed on her side and rolled. He turned to Susan who was stupefied from touching him. She was puny in his presence; he towered over her such as a cat would tower over a gecko. He was increasingly rankled and his face was demonic. He had become bigger, taller than he had been in his house. He was about seven feet. It was easy to assume that he could not see her with those dark cloudy eyes. He was seeing something worth killing.

“Why do you interrupt me?” he asked her. “What presumptions have you made about me so that you can meddle into my business with unchecked impunity?”

Before she could speak, he gripped her head with both his hands and carried her up so high that she hung in them like a person committing suicide. Her feet thrashed about in vain. He shook her up and down vigorously like a wet cloth that is meant to be dried in that manner. Her neck snapped many times and her body pivoted about it, as limp as a noodle. As if that was not enough, he dropped her down and climbed on her frail chest with his right leg. He wore hard shoes shaped like hexagons and made from a material that resembled granite, with soles that were as jagged and sharp as stray teeth. Susan’s chest flattened and caved inwards. Her lungs, liver, and heart ruptured.

He gripped her head once again and pulled it off. It came out with part of the spinal cord attached to it like a tail, a red thing of unimaginable ugliness.

Some girls had stood around and they took off with dire screams and ululations. One daredevil Victoria fetched a piece of wood and attacked him with it while yelling at the top of her lungs. “Hey! Hey! Hey!” She hit him three times in succession, but he warded off the next blow and broke her arm at the elbow and shoulder. He also shattered all her left ribs with a single squeeze. He then used Susan’s head to pound her to death.

Three boys, who had been helping their girlfriends with luggage, were cast into fits of passionate rage by what they had witnessed and they pounced on him without thought. They threw several punches and kicks, which did not move him at all. But he, grabbing two of them by the backs of their heads, crashed their foreheads together till their heads exploded and their brains spilled all over his hands. He shook his hands to clear away the stuff, a cloud of bitter disgust and antipathy obscuring his features. However, the stuff failed to come off and he seized the remaining student, who was dazed beyond speech, and wiped it on his face and hair. He then punched him in the chest so hard and with such feral fury that the student’s back swelled and curved like that of a hunchback. The man’s fist almost came out the other side.

                                                                                                                                                                            VII.

Grace broke free while he was engaged with the last student. After the blow to her face, she had been too paralysed and bewildered to move a limb. She flew down St. Andrews Road, shot across State House Road and Uhuru Highway, darted along University Way, and in about two minutes, she had reached Central Police Station on Moi Avenue, a distance of about a thousand metres.

One policeman was standing out in the open, seeming lazy and abstracted in the sun. She ran to him but could not brake fast enough. She knocked him over. The act incensed him exceedingly and he struck her face with a fist.

“Mjinga!” he swore. Stupid! He rose quickly and kicked her in the belly.

But she could not breathe, let alone talk or cry. He prepared to kick her again and she pointed back towards the road. It was then that it struck him that somebody may have been pursuing her. He surveyed that way for some time before turning to ask her:

“Unakimbizwa?”Are you being pursued?

She nodded.

“Na nani?”By whom?

She shook her head.

“Humjui?” he frowned. You don’t know him?

She shook her head.

“Sasa we unasema nini?” he asked irritably. “Ingia huko ndani uwaelezee,” he added and motioned her towards their office. Now what are you saying? Get in there and explain it to them.

She made to get up and slumped back down. He cast towards her a contemptuous look and did not bother with her again. She lay there until she had rested enough to move.

A female officer came out just as Grace was rising.

“Nini mbaya na wewe?” she asked in the typical Kenya Police’s brutal Kiswahili accent. What is the matter with you?

She hastened to explain, her mouth a waterfall of panted words.

“Amewauwa wanafunzi wangapi?” the woman asked. How many students did he kill?

“Five. Two girls, three boys,” Grace said.

The cop turned to her colleague within the office and said, “Olau, chukua statement ya huyu msichana. Anasema wanafunzi wameuwawa huko campo. Tutaenda kuangalia.” Olau, take this girl’s statement. She says students have been killed at the campus. We’ll go look. She then followed the surly cop, who was standing by the canteen. They tarried there, as if they owned time and had never heard of the word ‘emergency’.

Grace went into the office and was offered a seat by a cop whose eyes were so red and swollen that they seemed about burst out of his forehead, which was also bulging out like something artificially stuck there with glue.

“State your name for the record,” he said when he was ready to take down notes.

“Grace Wangari Kimani,” she answered.

After he had taken other necessary details, she narrated the sequence of events starting from the previous day when she left the wedding until she met the killer at Tumaini Centre. She omitted the part about Adams Arcade looking abandoned and out of place. She thought it would add abstruse complications to her statement.

“He said he was alive when there was only water on earth?” the officer interrupted.

“Yes.”

“Was he joking with you?”

“No. I do not know him.”

“You don’t have to know him for him to joke with you.”

“He was not joking.”

The officer named Olau leaned back in his chair and announced proudly that he was a staunch member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

“That means I read my Bible,” he said. “We are not like the Catholics who read bits of paper full of lies jotted down by their padres.” He paused and peered at Grace as if to discover the effect of his wisdom on her. He was grinning gaily. She just stared at him. She had heard only too well how the SDAs condemned the Catholics. It didn’t matter. “Now,” continued he, “if I remember correctly the Bible does not say specifically when God created water. But before God said, ‘Let there be light’, His spirit was moving upon the face of the waters.”

“It has been scientifically proved that water is older than the sun,” Grace told him.

“Good!” he ejaculated. He then leaned forward with a deliberative look on his face. “So this man you met at night told you that he is older than the sun?”

“Yes.”

“He breathes out helium.”

“Yes.”

“And he is as strong as the sun.”

“Yes,” Grace nodded. “He said he is as strong as the sun.”

“Did he strike you as mentally unstable?” he asked.

“No. He didn’t look mentally unstable,” Grace said.

“You are not psychologist,” the cop concluded. “I think he is mentally unstable. He is crazy. Are you sure you don’t know him?”

“No. I do not know him.”

“And you are sure you do not have his key?”

“I don’t have his key. I left it in the lock where I found it.”

“Sawa basi,” he said and leaned back again. Okay, then. “We will—”

At this point, an outburst of gunfire filled the station. Grace squealed and leapt towards the cop, who himself fell on his knees and hid under the desk. She squatted beside him. They watched the door with wide eyes and quivering limbs. Firing went on for over ten seconds.

“Tumempata!” the female cop exclaimed triumphantly. We got him!

“Nimempa tatu kwa kichwa!” the surly cop said with pride. I gave him three in the head. He then added: “Wapi yule msichana amtambue?” Where is that girl to identify him?

“Aha! Nimempasua kifua!” the female cop rhymed pleasantly. I have split his chest!

Grace raised her head in anticipation. “They got him?” asked she.

“I think they killed him,” the officer named Olau said. They both came out.

But, to her complete shock and confusion, it was Denis they had killed. To exacerbate a situation that was already too stretched, the cops had gunned down the man she loved. The top of his head was open like the bottom of a shattered pot. His chest was blown up like a volcano.

Grace became incapacitated. Things began to go topsy-turvy. Darkness devoured her.

“Ni yeye?” the female cop asked cautiously, observing what was happening. Is it him?

Grace was jolted her back to consciousness.

Not him! Not him!” she screeched, startling the officers and turning their triumph into horror. “This is not him!” she wailed dejectedly and collapsed down by the corpse. Her anguish was unequalled.

Denis had followed her after hearing about the killings at Hall 13. He had panicked and came careering to the station at full speed, making the officers mistake him for the killer pursuing Grace. He had wanted to apologize for not believing her. He knew she could not make up a twisted otherworldly story like the one she had told him. He had known her for four years and had never seen her so distressed.

“Sasa tungejuaje si yeye?” the surly cop complained in defence of their action. How were we to know it wasn’t him?

“And how did you know it was him?” Grace wanted to retort, but it would be a waste of time. They were a trigger-happy bone lazy lot. People said that the Kenya Police shot first and asked questions later. This was an apodeictic proof.

It occurred to Grace that the police could not help her. They loved to shoot more than to investigate, yet when they shot, they shot the wrong people. What she was experiencing needed a keen following up. They lacked the capacity to deal with the nature of enemy after her. It was useless reporting to them. It was useless reporting to anybody. She was on her own, alone and powerless, pursued by a singular phenomenon, an inexplicable, unknowable entity, both invincible and invisible. There was no hope.

                                                                                                                                                                         VIII.

Even as these thoughts flitted through her mind, the man materialized in front of her. He came with a force almost like that of a hurricane. A strong wind and billows of dust marked his arrival so that it was impossible to tell from which direction he had come. The earth shook, and nearby a car windscreen shattered and the alarm went off. One of the tires exploded. A red Vitz that had been crushed in an accident was tilted up on its side before it fell back down again. Grace was knocked on her ass and she was unable to rise.

“Where is my key?” bellowed he, inclining to glower at her terrified countenance.

He was taller than she remembered him to be, and broader, and darker, his cheekbones higher, forehead arched more prominently, brows thicker and more knotted. His eyes were infinite holes of madness, black vortices in which hell itself spiralled. He still wore the stained blue coveralls and the yellow helmet.

The two cops wavered only for a moment before opening fire. They opened fire without caring if they might shoot Grace, who was too close to their target.

They hit him. They hit him but it was pointless. They might as well have been throwing small useless darts at him. He did not shake. He did not bleed. No wounds opened on his body.

Suddenly, he leapt forward at an incalculable speed and kicked the female officer in the stomach, catching her squarely with the tip of his shoe. The result was catastrophic. She was broken into four pieces, which scattered about haphazardly, her gut spilling out everywhere. She was cut at the waist and her chest split into two parts. Her head flew up like football and arced over the city towards Lillian Tower across University Way. It crashed through a window and scared one janitor to death.

The other officer, the grumpy one, ceased firing and attempted to flee. He was sent off with a diabolic kick in his butt that made him go up like a rocket. He disappeared in the clouds.

The officer named Olau ran back into the office and hid under the desk. It was the most judicious thing to do under the circumstances and it saved him.

                                                                                                                                                                                IX.

The man walked back to Grace, who saw him coming and wished that she were dead. He picked her up and put her on her feet. She was feeble and she tottered. He was hot; steam issued from his palms, and where he touched her, she felt blisters forming. She could feel the heat radiated from his body. It was akin to standing near a fireplace.

“Grace Kimani,” he said and paused to search her eyes with his pitiless ones. His pupils were pinpoints, his breath fiery. He was a massive presence, as terrible as nothing else she had ever encountered. “I. Need. My. Key.” He spoke as if counting the words and jounced her with each syllable so that she lurched about this way and that.

“I don’t have your key,” she pleaded, despondent, and he smacked her left cheek. Heat flooded that side of her face and something shuttered her eye. She teetered and fell. He picked her up.

“If you lie to me on more time, I will pull out your spinal cord,” he said. “Give me my key!” He bumped her again and she fell on her ass, rolled. He made to pick her up but halted and looked towards the road.

Officer Olau had called backup and the world was abruptly rife with sirens, millions of them, and cops on foot, from Harry Thuku Road, University Way, Moi Avenue, Muindi Mbingu Street and Koinange Street. The station was surrounded.

The man raised his hands with palms open, as if surrendering. Grace thought the move suspicious and began creeping away on all fours. Six policemen advanced on him and began delivering deadly blows with their legs, fists and the butts of their guns. Usually, they were vicious without provocation. Now that they were provoked, they sent all the rules and laws to hell.

However, he did not budge. They belaboured him in vain. They tried yanking his arms down and twisting them behind him but failed. They beat his legs and stomach in order to make him fall but he remained on his feet. They struck the back of his head with the butts of their rifles but that too did not yield. At one time, they looked like children trying to pull down a tree too sturdy for them. They were hanging on him.

At last, one of them shot him. He was shot in the chest at a point-blank range with a Glock 30 chambered in .45 ACP, the reputed man-stopper. It did not even shake him. He was shot again. And again. And again. Needless to say, it was a shocking day for everyone involved.

All the while he had been grinning at them an ugly grin, his mouth open like a sadistic wound, mocking their futility. Now passion disfigured his face; hate and disdain build empires on his countenance. He fetched his person and took out a small shiny rock with a hole in it. He swung it in the air like a child playing with a toy plane and then touched their heads one by one with it. Over fifteen cops now thronged him. His hands moved over their heads like those of an expert prestidigitator, sometimes merely flicking.

When he was finished, two or three seconds elapsed during which the officers looked thoroughly stunned and abstracted, as if hearing something from afar, waiting. Then, at once, their heads burst into flames. Blue flames like those of the cooking gas, devouring their heads like grass. Only their heads.

They dropped their weapons and skittered about blindly, madly, staggering, jostling, squirming, screaming, crying, dancing, waving, falling, all wearing crowns of fire. Their brains cooked and their eyes sizzled. The stink was abominable. Eventually, their heads became ashes and were blown away by the wind.

                                                                                                                                                                                   X.

Grace rushed downtown and took a bus to Kiambu where her parents lived and farmed coffee. She was rugged and miserable in aspect; her clothes, arms, and legs were soiled from falling and crawling on the ground too many times; her face was inflamed where she had been hit, her left eye shut, and the right one was blood red and aching from crying. She resembled a person who had managed to piss off one particularly villainous wasp. She was also limping; her feet and thighs were painful from running too much within a short period of time.

She regretted leaving her friend’s wedding at so late an hour. She regretted alighting at Adams Arcade. She regretted even more that the University of Nairobi was too poorly run. If only they built more hostels than they planted flowers and painted old buildings! If only they were not so greedy for cash that they took in more students than they could accommodate!

Her mother was waiting for her when she got home. They had talked on the way and Grace had learned that the news had already been on TV. A strange man, it said, had killed 11 university students and 23 police officers.  Grace’s name had been mentioned by Officer Olau—that irrefutable proof of the old saying that cowards live longer. Her mother had been frantic and fearful on the phone, asking how she, Grace, could have met such a devil. It drove her mad to think that something like him was hunting down her only daughter.

Her mother ran to meet her, arms open in a fond welcome. Grace hugged her back with everything she had, with abandonment, desperation, and fear. She clung to that gentle love as she had years before in the womb. And there, against the bosom that had nursed her, that refuge of all refuges, that fortress of unfaltering love and care, the haven, the sanctuary, the best place in the world—leaning against it in such a state, the horrors, the bitterness, and the agony of the last twelve hours returned to her and she wept as she had never before done in her adult life. She convulsed and moaned and sobbed till her tears were like rain water on her mother’s bosom.

“They killed Denis,” she said. “They killed Denis.”

Her father, who was standing nearby waiting for his turn to be hugged, walked away when he heard of Denis’ death. He was thereafter heard sniffling and blowing his nose behind the house. He had been good friends with Denis, something of which Grace had been very proud.

When she had calmed down, she began telling her mother about the previous night but found her voice to be too hoarse and painful. She asked instead for painkillers and some sleeping pills. She swallowed them and lay on the sofa to sleep.

She was woken up three hours later by the Criminal Investigation Division officers who had traced her home. She woke up screaming, thinking it was her pursuer bending over her. She had been dreaming that he was going to kill her mother with a giant ugly thing that resembled a gun but wasn’t quite one.

The cops had read her statement and wanted to interrogate her afresh. They didn’t care that she was ill and groggy and could hardly speak. They had come with reporters and needed to prove to the public that they were doing their job.

They took Grace with them regardless of her mother’s protests. They took her to their headquarters in Nairobi where they were distraught and impatient to know about the murderer. Perhaps for the first time in ages they had a criminal they did not know. It was always said that they knew all the criminals in the city, and if they did not yet catch them, it was because they were in cahoots. Grace told them everything she could recall, except that Adams Arcade had been a deserted wilderness on Sunday night. She still could not grasp the idea of a vanishing town and it hurt to contemplate. After nearly two hours of questioning, during which she kept repeating herself since her voice was too low, they told her to take them to the man’s house. She was surprised that they had not yet been there, although the location had been in her statement.

“I don’t want to return to his house,” she protested.

“It is a matter of national security and we are not asking if you’ll accept to go,” she was told by one of her interrogators whose name was Inspector Ogwal. He was overbearing and pompous.

“I have given you the location,” she said. “Why don’t you just go?”

“Amka twende!” she was ordered. Get up we go!

“You can’t arrest him or kill him even if you find him,” she said, still seated. She was alluding to what had transpired at the Central Police Station.

“Wewe! Chunga huo mdomo!” the inspector cautioned. You! Watch that mouth!

She wanted to ask him why he thought the man was stupid enough to wait around for them in his house, but gave up when he grabbed her and threw her out of the office.

They left for Adams Arcade in numerous police vehicles. She really did not want to go. She knew what she would find.

                                                                                                                                                                                XI.

Adams Arcade looked all right. Just as it had been when Grace passed it on Sunday morning on her way to the wedding. The Green Mall was there, as vast as ever, so were the Total Petrol Station, the Tuskys Supermarket, Shell, and the old mall with its arched roof. Grace recalled one time taking cappuccino at the Java Coffeehouse down there with her friends. One of those friends had been Victoria who had been battered to death with Susan-Moses’ head. The other had been Denis, dead too, her lover. She wondered where they had taken the body and gasped aloud at the memory.

Further on, the car-sales place near the bus stop was back and it was packed as if with new arrivals. The lonely streetlight was gone; several lamps now lined both sides of the road. A city clock stood at the centre of the roundabout beside a tall tree; neither had been there. The colonial bungalow with the red tiles and stone walls was gone as well; in its place was a Muslim radio station called IQRA FM. Kilimani Road was there, and, she knew, so was Muringa Road ahead, the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the estate in which Denis had lived.

Trees were few, limited to the sides of the road and occasionally in certain compounds.

But the worst of it all was that Tumaini Centre was operational. Two cars drove in and a group of girls exited, chatting loudly, laughing. There were no signs that it had burned down. Grace now noticed that the gate was also different. It was pale green while the one she had banged last night had been pitch black.

Three vehicles carrying a total of twenty cops branched that way. Belated, mused Grace, they will never find him. She thought also that they would not find him in Elgeyo Square. A terrible mystery had happened and none of them could solve it.

Grace prayed that they would not find him. There were about thirty police officers with her and she knew that, if they found him, they would all be killed, horribly killed. They had come for their deaths. She also could not run. If the worst came to worst, she would ask him to kill her and be done with it. She had not taken his key and he knew it. She was tired, sick. And there was nowhere to run anymore.

The road to the estate was paved and the estate looked as different from its previous version as it could be. There were three blocks instead of one, marked Block A, Block B and Block C over the entrances. They were painted dark brown on the obverse walls, white on the sills and the columns, and black on the railings; except for the railings, there had been no paint whatsoever on the outside. Moreover, there were far too many cars for a single estate, as if the residents were competing with one another for them, with some parked in a disused basketball court whose rotting posts leaned awkwardly in opposite directions. A single post with two lamps on top of it stood ten metres from the gate; one lamp faced the direction of the gate to illuminate the driveway while the other pointed at the compound. The post had not been present the day before, and not a single vehicle had been in the estate, whose compound had been marked by untamed tall creeping grass and lonely pavements. There had been no basketball court either.

Grace ceased surveying the area. The memory of her escape was too poignant, yet the dissimilarity made her shiver. She felt disconnected with herself. One part of her relived her incarceration and eventual escape; the other part did not recognize her prison and the memory of her being in it was a faint dream. She had been there, yet she hadn’t.

                                                                                                                                                                            XII.

She led the officers to House A5. There was an external steel door painted black, but the inner door was cream-coloured and wooden. She recalled only the wooden one which had been white.

The cops rapped on the steel door as if it had offended them. Meanwhile they cocked their guns and trained them at the closed entrance. Grace moved towards the back. The sensible ones helped her. Some cops had spread around the compound and warned the residents to return indoors and remain there. They then readied themselves to shoot, each taking a vantage point. It was ridiculous how they believed that they could catch the killer in his house six hours after the massacre at the university.

A stout woman with an excessively dark complexion and brusque manners opened the doors. She flung the inner door carelessly and it slammed the adjacent wall. The latches on the outer door were moved with swift irate hands and the hunk of metal swung back as if it weighed nothing. However, when she saw the guns pointed at her, her grimness dissolved and became replaced with panic.

The police offers poured into her house like water. She was thrust aside as though she were an inanimate barrier. Her panic spurred on the invaders.

The interior of the house was different from the one in which Grace had been taken. The chairs were cleaner and more cheerful, the cushions covered in golden flowers. On one wall hung a picture of a young girl with blond hair and blue eyes, an innocent face, and a sweet smile. She was offering a red rose to the viewer. The legend said: Love is the key. The next wall had a huge picture of a quetzal and another one of two cute puppies with the caption: Let’s Be Friends. The floor was carpeted and the lighting was fluorescent (it had been all bulbs and there had been no carpet). The dining table was bigger and set at one corner of the room (not the centre as previously). A 42-inch Samsung LED TV was on a stand beneath the quetzal’s photo, a DVD player under it. The woman had been watching a Nigerian movie, now paused.

This was not the house. Yet it was.

Grace started explaining these observations to Inspector Ogwal but despaired. He was too anxious and eager to spare her any attention.

“Ako wapi?” he asked the woman, his voice hard as steel, cold as an icicle. Where is he?

“Please, forgive him,” the woman implored, confounding Grace who had thought they were in the wrong house and did not understand how the woman could dare plead for something that had already killed thirty-four people.

“Where is he?” repeated the inspector.

“Please, I beg you,” she said. “Spare him. Spare my son.”

“Wewe mwanamke!” he swore at her. You woman! He transferred his gun to his left hand and whacked her face with the right. He whacked her twice more and she began bleeding from the nose and mouth.

Grace felt the blows in her own bones. They were fiendish.

“Where is he?” Ogwal demanded again.

“I don’t know,” the woman said, prevaricating, and was given another resonant blow.

Some of the officers attempted to go past the living room into the other sections of the house, but the woman jumped suddenly and caught one of them by the tail of his jacket, while pleading: “Spare him, please, I beg you! Spare him! He doesn’t sell them! He—”

What followed was atrocious. It was as if, by touching the cop, she had signed her own death warrant. They knocked her down with kicks and punches on her head, stomach, ribs and back. They went on until she could not to rise and was writhing and groaning in a sickening tone. They had broken her spine and dislocated her hips.

The officer whose jacket she had grabbed struck her forehead with his pistol and left an ugly crack there. He climbed on her face with both feet and pressed down on it with all his might. He weighed about ninety kilograms.

Even worse things followed. One of the bedroom doors opened and a well-built young man in early twenties emerged. He was bare-chested and in Manchester United shorts. He bore the signs of one who had been asleep, and from the close resemblance between him and the woman, it was inferable that he was her son. One glance at what they were doing to his mother sent him charging like a bull. He could not have known that they were cops because the ones in the house wore plain clothes. However, before he could reach them, they opened fire at him and shot him a hundred and fifty-one times at that range. He was shredded.

The cop who had climbed on the woman’s face stamped her head to death.

                                                                                                                                                                         XIII.

They were feverish after killing the woman and her son. They ransacked the house for a half an hour, turning everything upside-down, scattering, smashing. Yet all they found in the son’s room were five sticks of bhang, one partially smoked. What his mother had been afraid the police were looking for.

The officers that had gone to investigate Tumaini Centre returned, and Grace overheard them reporting that the last time the place had burned down was in 1980 shortly after its completion. This news struck something in Grace’s mind but she was not sure what.

Later, when she had returned home, she heard on the radio that the man who had killed students and police in Nairobi had himself that very day been gunned down in Adams Arcade by the CID officers.

Liars, reflected she. “Liars!” she screamed as loud as she could, which wasn’t loud at all. They could afford to propagate such severe untruth after foolishly taking innocent lives. She swore never to seek their help again.

Despite having been awake for over thirty hours, it took her longer than usual to fall asleep. She listened to the sounds outside with ears attuned to the slightest commotion, and whenever she detected a movement, her heart palpitated furiously and she sat up in suspense. She waited, knowing he would come, praying he wouldn’t. Only now did she realize that she had led him home to her parents and that doing so may be the most fatal error she had so far made.

Eventually she fell into a wakeless sleep.

When she came to, he was standing by her bed. Shortly before sleep took her, she had pictured his face in her mind and mused that she might get used to seeing him. But just finding him there by her bed made her experience something that she thought was a heart attack. Her chest was stabbed by an invisible blade and she curled and clutched at the pain, eyes shut, teeth clamped, face buried in the blanket. She remained that way, disabled.

“Grace Kimani,” said he, “let me clarify a significant point to you. This conflict will not end by your keeping away from me? You cannot escape me. I would find you if you ran to the Antarctica. I would find you if you were dead.”

He paused and Grace’s heartbeat gradually returned; the stabbing pain abated and she stirred, opened her eyes.

Blades of sunlight were filtering in through the spaces between the curtains.

He was looking fixedly at her. He was colossal. He had become taller and wider than he had been at the police station, which had been much, much more than when she first met him. So tall was he that he had to bend to keep his head from touching the ceiling; and so broad that his shoulders seemed to be over three feet apart. In fact, he couldn’t fit through the door, yet he was in the room with her. What’s more—and this was truly odd—he was wearing the same coveralls and helmet. Grace now thought that they were made from an efficiently elastic material.

He was carrying something in his right hand. Several metals stuck together into a single unit, five feet long, weighing about half a tonne. There was a centre bar, which was, in all probability, a section of a railway, around which others of shorter lengths were piled and bound in a parallel direction. What bound them was impossible to tell, though, for they were all too many to be welded there and no wires were visible either. A much shorter bar of the same width as the centre one extended at a right angle from the rear end and curved slightly forwards along its length; in front of it, about one foot away, a yet smaller, narrower bar jutted out straight, giving the whole thing a certain ludicrous shape of a gun. At the very back was a semicircular chamber two feet in diameter and one foot high. It was open on the side facing the pile of hollow metals and closed at the top. It was bound on the centre bar and directly above the bar that curved forwards.

He saw Grace looking at it and raised it, pointed it at her. God, it was monstrous, and exceedingly repulsive! Grace winced. She did not wish to look at that snout for longer than a second, so she averted her face, although she did see that all those hundreds of metals were hollow.

“This is my gun,” he announced, shaking it. “It shoots screwdrivers. It shoots them at the speed of a bullet. I made it after the battle with the police. They shot me and I will repay. I repay.”

He wants to shoot people with screwdrivers, thought Grace. She imagined a person running around screaming with screwdrivers sticking on his back like candles on a birthday cake and she shook her head to get the image out.

“Do you have my key?” he asked.

She shook her head. “I didn’t take it,” she said.

“Too bad for you,” he replied. “You should have taken it. I asked you to. I asked very nicely. But, with utter disregard, you abandoned it. It is now lost—on account of you!—and my house has disappeared. I need my key, Grace Kimani! I need to find my house!”

“But surely a house cannot disappear!” Grace exclaimed.

“Then why didn’t you find it when you went looking for it with the police?” he asked, scowling and leaning down towards her, his immense face hovering over her tiny one. She cringed, thinking he was going to shoot her with the screwdrivers from the ugly thing. “What do you know?” he went on. “What do you know about my house so that you quicken to draw such a conclusion? You are twenty-four years old. The amount of time you have been alive is negligible compared to the age of the universe, the earth, me! Your knowledge is negligible. You are negligible.”

“If I am negligible, why do you torture me?” she said. “I didn’t take your key and you know it! Leave me alone! Leave me alone!”

He drew back, studied her cogitatingly, and said: “You don’t listen. But I guess if I kill your father, you’ll have a clearer understanding of this situation.”

                                                                                                                                                                          XIV.

He bent down and picked something from the floor. It was a khaki bag twice as big as the mad gun he was carrying. It was packed with screwdrivers. They were clicking.

He walked towards the door, which was open, and Grace had an instant to wonder how he was going to pass through it. She was dumbstruck when he shrank down till he was five feet tall. He maintained that size throughout the corridor, but when he reached the living room, he enlarged like crazy, exceeding what he had been in her room.

A moment passed before she could recall what he had just said. He was going to kill her father.

Baba!” she screamed. She sprung out of the room and followed him.

Baba! Baba!

Her father had been eating breakfast and reading Daily Nation. He had planned to go to Nairobi to condole with Denis’ parents. He looked up when Grace called, but what he saw standing before him made him choke on the stuff in his mouth and knock the cup off the table, spilling hot tea on his crotch and stomach. The cup shattered on the floor and he jerked up with a violent gasp, which made his choking worse. Grace found him retching and staggering and also trying to cool the burning in his crotch with his hands.

Baba!” she yelled and ran to him. He removed his hands from his crotch.

“Please don’t kill my father,” she besought in a most pitiful voice. “Don’t kill him, I beg you. He is not part of it. He has done nothing wrong to you. He is innocent. Shoot me instead! Kill me! But spare him, please! I will find your key! I will find your key!”

“Where will you find it?” the man asked. He was aiming the thing at her father. “Have you not been declaring that you do not have my key? You admit now that you do have it. Then give it to me. Go on and bring it. Or else, I will shoot your father.”

She did not move. She did not have his key.

He shot her father.

It happened in this manner. He opened the lid of the semicircular chamber and it hang on a hinge. Inside the chamber was a complex arrangement of gearwheels and springs of different sizes, some of which were on top of others. Three cone-shaped rocks, which were hollow and had dark brown glassy translucent textures, were placed strategically along the semicircular wall, with their pointed ends forward. A small fan-shaped object with blades the size of those meant for shaving was at the centre of the rocks. Next, he took out eight screwdrivers from the bag and loaded them into the chamber, placing them with care some six inches from the fan-shaped thing, at which point there was a series of specific slots into which the screwdrivers fit with astounding precision. The slots were close-spaced and the distance between any two of them corresponded to a Fibonacci number. The screwdrivers were each at least eight inches long. He then blew a gust of air at the fan-shaped object which began to rotate. At the same time the three rocks began making a high-pitched whistle sound, so high that the note ripped through Grace’s nerves like a blade and she thought her ears would bleed. She covered them with both hands and moved about in great affliction, flabbergasted that rocks could make such a harsh noise. The sound also caused the fan-shaped object to gain more speed and momentum which were applied as feedback to increase the frequency of the rocks. Lastly, the gearwheels too began to rotate, extending the springs, and making the gun-thing whirr like some enormous engine. It started growing hot. As the frequency of the note rose and wheels gained momentum, the springs stretched further and further, and the gun-thing became red all over. At a certain point, which was reached after ten seconds, the whistling stopped, so did the gearwheels, and the springs retracted.

What followed was a singular spectacle, as horrifying as it was otherworldly. The screwdrivers were projected from those numerous hollow metals in the form of fire. They were so hot that they were melting as they flew towards their helpless target, leaving trails of liquid fire behind them and spraying numerous others about the room. Grace noticed them only because of the fire trails, which looked like sparks, otherwise they made a streak of lighting seem a thousand times slower.

And it shook him. That ugly gun-thing had enough force to shake him. He couldn’t be shaken by over fifteen men or by a .45 Automatic Colt Pistol, but the thing that fired the screwdrivers shook him. It was hellish.

Grace’s father had attempted to run out when the gun-thing began to whirr. He had hardly crossed the threshold when he was hit squarely in the back. He fell over fifty metres away, having been propelled there like a crazed projectile. The fire consumed him and left only his arms, his feet, and the very top of his head. The rest was smoke and ash.

                                                                                                                                                                             XV.

Baba!” Grace squealed and ran towards the remains. The man followed her, shrinking through the door once again and expanding thereafter. Grace wailed.

Her mother, who had all this time been engrossed in applying fertilizer in the vegetable garden behind the house, heard her and came running. So did the farm boys and girls employed in the coffee plantation, the maids, and the neighbours. However, one glance at the gargantuan creature was enough for them. They all hared back the way they had come, pell-mell, screaming. Grace’s mother blacked out.

Grace sprinted towards her, stopped halfway, looked at the distressful remains of her father, glanced again at her unconscious mother, remembered Denis, and felt such overwhelming sense of desperation that she howled like an injured animal. She hopped about in a circle, holding her head, threshing her arms, her hair dishevelled and wild. The world spun and shook and crumbled.

“Why me?” she cried at the creature. “Why me? Why did you choose me? I didn’t take your key and you know that! I don’t have your key! I don’t have your key! I don’t have your key . . .”

“Why you?” asked he. “Who would you want it to be? Do you have anyone in mind? Go on, then! Give up someone. Choose by yourself.”

He snorted laughter at her plight, knowing she could not let anyone be in her place.

“Perhaps I should help you choose,” continued he. He took more screwdrivers from the bag and loaded them into the chamber. He blew at the fan-shaped object and the rocks began whistling again, the wheels going round and round, the gun-thing whirring and glowing. He raised it and aimed towards the gate where Grace now saw that one of the maids had lingered.

“Perhaps it should be her,” he said

“Please, don’t!” she implored, but too late.

He fired and the maid vaporized. There was a flash of light and then she was all smoke and ash.

“Come with me,” the creature told Grace. “We will look for someone to replace you. Someone has to go through this to the end.”

“Why?” cried Grace.

Why? Because you ruined my planet, you degradable horrors!” he answered with so much bitterness that Grace stepped back from him. “You took pride in annihilating my planet. I will take pride in annihilating you.”

“I don’t know your planet! We didn’t do anything to your planet!”

“This is my planet!” he said. “The earth is mine and I will reclaim it.”

“The earth belongs to God!” she screeched. “He gave it to us!”

God?” said he, quizzical. “You mean Enki? He’s dead. I am in charge now!”

“You are crazy!” she barked. “You are crazy! You are a terrorist!”

“Come with me,” he said and walked towards the gate.

“I’m not coming with you! You are going to shoot everyone!”

“Aha! Then we have an accord!” exclaimed he, studying her. “Next time you ask ‘why me?’ ensure you have identified someone to take your place, whose suffering will thrill you.

“I’m still going to kill everyone,” said he. “You do not deserve earth. You deserve death and I will give it to you aplenty. You are going to pay for what you have done to my planet. I bring you the price.”

“You are killing us because of a key?” Grace asked. “Just a key? Kill me, instead! Why don’t you kill me if I lost your precious key?”

He pointed the gun-thing at her. It looked really monstrous. It was red hot all over but it wasn’t burning him.

“Do you want this?”

“Go ahead! Shoot me! I’m tired! I’m tired!”

“Turn around,” he said. “This gun shoots best when it shoots in the back.”

She turned. She turned very slowly. But then, she had a terrible vision of those hellish screwdrivers flying towards her unguarded back and she realized that being shot in the back, even when you anticipated it, especially when you anticipated it, was worse than when you were face-to-face with your enemy. An icy thing happened to your spine and it utterly unsettled your senses.

Grace wheeled around. She couldn’t stand waiting to be shot in the back.

“Just kill me,” she said.

But he didn’t shoot her. Instead, he said:

“If I went to any of your cities and began shooting people with screwdrivers, they will not understand why, and, as usual, they will believe that they are all innocent victims, and pule and mewl and wish for sympathy. So I decided that from every city on earth, I will pick an individual and make him or her owe me. I will use the debt to avenge my planet. You are the first. On your account, I am going to wipe out Nairobi. None of you is innocent of the charges which I bring against you. None of you will live . . .

                                                                                                                                                                          XVI.

“Did you really think you were saving yourself or anybody else when you ran from my house? Did you? Because, since the beginning, the whole degraded mass of mankind has been convinced that it is saving itself. Yet all that it has achieved is to cause more and more harm to itself. What kind of a creature wreaks this degree of devastation on its own and only abode and still claims that it is saving itself? What are you saving?

“When you view the universe you see only yourself, and believe that you are the sole variable in an indefinite field.  For you, Y = MX + C, where Y is life, X is you, and M is a constant determined by your endeavours, fantasies, desires, while C is everything else, which is also constant! So that without you everything is constant! Life stops!

“Things are more complex than you can comprehend. There is no such equation as Y = MX + C. You build your civilization with straight lines and believe that is all there is to everything. Enki did not create earth with straight lines. Yet it was a paradise when he finished it, an unparalleled paradise.

“I remember it vividly as if it were just now. Enki’s little fantasy. He dreamed of a place where anything could fit and find joy. Anything at all, animals, plants, rocks, each with its place, its manners, its kind. A place where the simplest form is like the greatest and each form is like the other, yet simultaneously very different. It began like a joke, then a puzzle; they laughed about it, laughed it off, and some even called it Enki’s Paradox.

“Their home was no haven itself. Too much energy circulating about uncontrolled. Too much disturbance, instability, chaos. Little could be predicted or planned. Chaos was master and king. It brought forth all sorts of monstrosities, some very ferocious. There was constant war with some creature or other. But Enki believed he could tame chaos and subdue it, even turn it into a sort of beauty. He said there had to be a way in which it could be done and he brooded over it for an equivalent of billions of years. He finally came up with numbers which, when applied in certain combinations, could bind chaos within specific form and structure. Foremost among the combinations is what you call the golden ratio, which gave shape to everything he brought forth on earth. I called it Enki’s Number. Others called it his signature. The other combination is what you call pi. There are others, more intricate and unknowable to you.

“Thereafter, they scoured the universe for the most stable place for the experiment. He had to adjust the previous settings, alter equations, and convert energies. He did well, for soon afterwards there was earth spinning on its own and around the sun. With all forms of life and things in it! Itself alive, itself a whole with countless wholes in it, yet part of the whole in which there were countless other wholes containing countless other wholes containing countless other wholes, and so on and so forth, each whole unique yet similar, the last one, the smallest of all, being nothing but Enki’s will in visible form.

“We heard that there followed great rejoicing in Enki’s world. Puzzlement, admiration, praise, reverence and love were the immediate virtues of their lot. Such a perfect system had never before existed. A system with no wastage and no excess, everything is turned into a benefit, no matter. Enki’s Glory was complete. What he had created could not be duplicated elsewhere. He visited earth often and took delight in his work. He wanted to come and live here, away from the chaos of his world.

“I was formed from water. There were many others like me. I was the first. When Enki was gone, we regulated the frequencies that enabled the spread and proliferation of life. He had by then not completely stabilized the set up. Some frequencies were harder to control and all sorts of things sprung up from water and land. We had to supervise each species and eliminate those that did not obey Enki’s Number and whose frequencies interfered with others. You could say we were culling and weeding. He said we did an excellent job and promised us eternal life. He called us the Watchers of Paradise. No honour thenceforwards could surpass that which he bestowed upon us.

“However, after some billions of years, chaos brought forth something dark back home. So dark it annihilated everything in its path. It was utterly without restraint. Enki went to deal with it. He came back after millions of years with bad news. They were losing. And while here he detected that he was being pursued. The enemy had heard of Enki’s Paradise and wanted to take it for himself. He sent scouts to locate it but Enki destroyed them before they could be any close to earth. Seeing that his race was facing eventual extermination, Enki resolved to design an earthly race of men that would take after him. He gave this race his own form, spirit and intelligence. Though smaller in stature and unable to assume nonphysical forms due to the constraints of Enki’s Number, this new race would be improved until they themselves became gods. He was to improve them himself, but the adversary was getting closer and he had to defend earth. He therefore delegated the role to us, instructing us to guide mankind and improve it gradually until his return whereupon he would make them gods.

“He never came back. We waited. We waited for tens of thousands of years. In the end, it was decided that I, being the first, should go inquire concerning his whereabouts. On my way I noticed that he had bound earth with magnetic beams at frequencies that his adversary could not locate. He had also modified the atmosphere so that the enemy could not survive here, in case they found it. When I arrived at my destination, I found that he’d been captured and cast into a demagnetizing vortex too powerful for anything in the universe. He was spiralling in there in the form of particles whose dipoles had been obliterated. He could never reassemble. He was dead.

                                                                                                                                                                      XVII.

“I came back in 2007. I didn’t know I’d been gone for that long. Time is no constraint out there and I just flash across that much expanse of space. Yet it took me hundreds of thousands of years to go and even longer to return, since by then I was weighed down by my own sorrow over Enki’s defeat and demise. I didn’t know how I would proceed without him. We could improve you only to a limit. We could not make such eminences as he had wanted.

“However, I was soon to discover that my worry was needless. My shock, horror, when I landed here, is untold. Neither can my pain be given description! I found this,” he said and waved around with his gun. This,” he repeated. “This travesty. This pollution. This disease. I said to myself: ‘What is this that stands where my home should be?’ I thought I was lost; I thought I had landed in a foreign planet. The sounds had changed; the earth rings differently. The magnetic beams are weaker and worsening by the minute. The frequencies are too low and jumbled by signals from your machinery which are not designed in accordance with Enki’s Number. The air is foul, the waters diseased, the animals extinct, the trees gone, the deserts countless and vast. Enki’s Paradise is dying.

“I said to myself: ‘What adversary could do this? Did Enki’s enemy find earth after all?’ A quick survey across the planet, however, revealed the answer: you, mankind. It was hard to believe, a horror to deliberate. You were to be elevated above everything, above us! You were precious beings! You were to replace Enki’s race! You were to be not just gods but even better beings since he had mastered Chaos and subdued it!

“Instead, I found that you have become lower than the least creature imaginable. You are vile at heart and shorter in stature than you used to be, than you should be, and you are specifically revolting to behold. You have vitiated yourselves to be so deformed and foul. You destroyed the circumstance for Enki’s Number and opened doors for cancers, ills, and all manner of deformities. Even worse, your malignity spread to the animals and plants in your care. You should know that it is your fault animals are violent and perpetually set against one another. Your magnetic fields control theirs. The nature of their relationships is determined by that of yours. You have failed everything. You have failed in every possible way. There is no meaning for you here. Enki is dead and you can’t be gods.” He paused.

“I saw what you had done and said to myself: ‘What happened to them? Where are the guardians that I left behind?’ I could not find a single one of them, yet we had been 144 in total. I was perturbed. I decided to return to the very day that I left earth in search of Enki. More than three hundred thousand years ago. I went, and thenceforth, traced your history decade by decade up to the present.

“My bitterness was not allayed in the smallest bit by what I witnessed. You defied your guardians and threatened them. You pursued them relentlessly until they abandoned earth for you and became scattered in space, lost. You also forgot your own origin and created legions of religions to explain it, thereby turning yourselves into worshipful and servile creatures confounded with abject delusions of afterlife! You were never made to worship anything. And you have waged so much war, slaughtered so many of your own kind, and eliminated so much life that Enki’s dreaded enemy—that undefeatable intergalactic terror merchant—is like but a child with a matchstick in comparison. Your wars have made you lose all the important knowledge, yet you never stop, never listen. Now you are but shells and carcases, lost, poisonous things. You juggle theories about your origin like the confounded fools you are. Enki’s rush to make you while tormented with war must have allowed some violent streak to leak from him into you, something that only he could have amended.

“I was appalled and I promised to be rid of you. This is my planet and it does not need you. The earth does not need you! You were not even in the original design! You were made as an afterthought. You are an afterthought!

“You have ravaged this planet like a savage fire. Yet, what have you given in return? What have you given back to the animals, to the trees, to the water? What has the bee received as a reward for its honey? What have you given to yourselves, to your children even? What have you given but dearth, death, and disease?

“You have robbed grass of the space to grow, deprived birds of trees in which to nest and raise their young, taken the flower from the bee and water from the fish. You have despoiled the wilderness and made it a desert. You have debased the very air that your own children breathe.

“I have no sympathy for you,” he finished.

                                                                                                                                                                   XVIII.

“The bible does not say those things,” Grace pointed out. She was confused by this new story of the origin of life. Being a Christian, she would have dismissed it outright if he had been a real person. But he was an unknown thing, an alien, and the way he was bemused and bitter when he told the story, he looked like a person recalling a nostalgic truth. She remembered that before the European Missionaries came to Africa with their concept of the omnipotent God of Israel, some communities like the Maasai and the Kalenjin in the Great Rift Valley referred to the creator as Enkai, while the Kikuyu used the name Ngai, and the Luo called him Nyasaye, which were all the same, barring tribal accents. She also could see that his story at least explained the big significant ‘why’—why human beings had been put on earth, their purpose, something that no one else had yet explained. Not even the bible!

But now, thought she, why is he telling me the truth when he is going to kill us?

“The bible was written to appeal to you to love one another,” he said. “I am not here for that.”

“You can’t just kill everybody,” she expostulated.

“I will.”

“There are over seven billion people on earth! If you killed a thousand people per day, it would take you over seven million days to finish. That’s equal to . . .” she calculated quickly, her engineering mind churning. “Almost twenty thousand years!” exclaimed she.

“I am not time-bound like you,” he said. “Besides, I have an equation. I could finish you off in three weeks by applying a geometric summation of a variable X raised by a power N such that N moves from one to infinity and X is the number of people killed while N represents the number of days. I will make X=1000 and cause the equation to reset itself after every three days. If I couldn’t do it myself, I would go back and call Enki’s greatest foe. He has heard excellent things about earth and he still longs to see it and take it for himself. His fury is unequalled, and if he found the earth like this—this chaotic disunity contaminated to its very core!—he’d be so overwhelmed with disappointment that he’d hurl it into the sun’s core without a thought to spare. But I intend to live here. When I’m done with you, I will go find the rest of the Watchers of Paradise and bring them back. Together we will repair this planet, whatever is left of it.”

“Killing us will not make you any better than us,” Grace said. “It will indeed make you worse. We are still learning. There are good things about us too. There are good people. It is true we are capable of horrible things, but we can be better. If we were all bad you’d never have found us here when you came back. We’d have decimated ourselves to extinction. People have achieved some very tremendous feats and someday there will be peace on earth.”

“Stop talking to me,” he said. “You cannot claim credit for solving a problem of which you are the cause. And do not tell me about better! You ruined my planet because you hate one another and constantly want to prove who is better! I will show you hate, and I will show you better! Three hundred thousand years! And this is where you are! What are you learning? You will never learn to love one another—which is the most essential thing. Therefore, do not expostulate with me. This is not one of your stories where you emerge the heroes regardless. You don’t win in this. There is no version where you win. This is my story, my planet. I win.”

Grace did not know what else to tell him. So, after a short silence, she said, “What did you do to Adams Arcade on Sunday night?”

“It was a time trap,” replied he. “I set the trap for 1980 and waited for one of you to be caught in it from 2014. You were the unlucky one. It took you just one step out of the bus. Anyhow, I’m sending you back there. I spared you for a specific goal.”

“No,” said Grace, stepping back, full of horror and despair.

He reached into the bag and produced three sets of nine ring-shaped rocks of the same dark brown glassy translucent material as the ones in the gun-thing. They had different radii, which Grace saw that were increasing in a Fibonacci sequence, the first two being equal and the subsequent ones obtained from the sum of the previous two. He began to arrange them methodically on the ground, using each set at a time and starting with the smallest piece in the set. Grace saw that he was forming Fibonacci spirals, each starting at a single origin, which was a free space enough to accommodate a standing person.

“If you had but listened to your guardians instead of menacing them,” he said as he worked, “you’d never have had to depredate my planet in search of materials to build your civilization. All you would have needed are the frequency stones and the right combinations of Enki’s numbers. If I fancied, I could be rid of you by setting time traps at particularly evil and calamitous periods in your history, so that one day you all wake up scattered and lost in different times, unable to find one another, stuck there forever. It is an option I should consider if killing you proves more taxing than I anticipate.”

He stood up. He had one of the three largest rocks unused.

“Step here,” he directed, pointing at the free space.

“No,” Grace said and sprang back.

“You don’t listen,” he said and picked up the gun-thing. He shot her mother, who had regained consciousness and risen to her knees. She was hurled over a hundred metres away into the plantation, her charred remains dispersed like seeds.

“Don’t kill my mother!” Grace cried and, in her rashness, grabbed the gun-thing. It was intensely hot. Her hands evaporated, then her arms, and they would have melted up to her shoulders if he hadn’t rushed to put out the fire himself with one of his frequency stones. Her elbows were gone. She saw those ugly stumps sticking out of her shoulders and went crazy. She blacked out—it had been a long time coming.

He picked her up and stepped into the free space of the circuit he had created on the ground. He then completed the other end of the circuit with the rock he had spared. At once, a powerful whirlwind formed around them and they were whisked away.

When she awoke, she was in the room in Adams Arcade. The laughing thing’s room. It was 1980—ten years before her birth. She attempted to climb out of bed but fell since she had no arms to use for support. It was a struggle sitting up using her back and legs. Her stumps had somehow been healed and were itching like evil things. She could not scratch.

The creature was in the room with her. He had shrunken to six feet. He was standing by the door, the gun-thing in his hand, the bag at his feet. He said:

“There was a man who found favour in the guardians back then. He was upright and, above all, quested after Enki’s knowledge and design. As a noble reward, he was given a frequency stone to elongate his life. He is alive to date. But, after two thousand years he became insane, and after ten, began fading. By the end of the first one hundred millenniums, he had become completely invisible. Even myself, with all my superior designs, I can detect him only by his energy signature. Otherwise he moves in the wind, as the wind itself. Gradually, he was overcome with melancholy and despair and he hankered only for death. So in 1980, he disposed of the stone in Indian Ocean where it could never be retrieved. Still, he could not die. He realized that eternity is really too long. But then, without the stone and lacking in physical form, time stopped for him. He became stuck in 1980.

“That is what happens to your species when you finally find immortality. It makes you go mad and fade into invisibility. One day you look at your legs and you can’t see them, then your hands, your face. Eternity is not for the faint-hearted. You are a weak species and time is your master and lord. A heartless one at that!

“The man dwells here and you will be his companion henceforth. You will be stuck with him here. He is lonely. He is the reason I chose this year and this place. He will feed you. Be nice to him. If you irritate him in the slightest way, he will make you rot all over right where you stand. In the meantime, I have to go back and reclaim my planet while there is still something to reclaim of it.”

He took his bag and exited the room.

Outside, the laughing thing laughed: HAHAHII! HAIYAHOHO!

***

She pondered over how to kill herself and realized how difficult it would be since she had no hands. Then, hours later, it occurred to her that she could do it by banging her head on the wall until her forehead split. She rose and surveyed the wall. It was worth a try.

The end.