Kimani woke up at 4.01am. He scrambled to the bathroom and threw up over the toilet seat before he could lift it up. He retched again, tried to lift the seat, failed, and sprayed the yellow spew on his hands. His stomach was wrenching, his head splitting, and there was a ringing in his ears. He swayed, slumped on his knees.
At the same time, a woman screamed.
He looked up, tried to listen. But the room spun and he was lifted off his feet and thrust towards the door. He screamed. Nothing! His voice was dry and taut and soundless. He raised his hands to deflect the onrushing door but it was too late. He floated through it. His hands went through the wood of the door as if wasn’t there. Then his feet. Then his face. He glimpsed the corridor, glimpsed the dark frame of the red rose Lili had hung there.
Then his hands began to disappear. His feet too. They were disintegrating. He could see the dusty, smoky things flowing away from them in a dark, winding Fibonacci stream. Hot surges of pain tore through him. He was burning.
His face disintegrated. Then he was blind. Stone blind.
Something yanked him back into the room before he could completely reach the other side. He was crashed headlong onto the floor.
The woman screamed again.
Darkness swallowed him.
His wife was shaking him.
“Kim! Kim, wake up! Wake up! Kim!” She was in panic.
He sat up. His eyes were throbbing, his head too. He was still nauseous. He blinked several times, started rubbing his eyes, discovered his hands stinking and retched. He examined his hands, recalling what had happened to him. How long had he been out?
“What time is it?” he asked.
“Almost seven. What did you do?” she asked.
“I blacked out,” he said and rose from the floor. Pain shot through his skull like a bullet. He grasped the wall, face distorted, teeth clenched.
“Are you all right?” Ana asked him.
A moment passed.
He looked at the toilet seat and then back at her. “I’m sorry about that. I’ll clean it.”
“Who broke the window?” she pressed, pointing at the bathroom window.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you fight with anyone?”
“Because there is a dead man in the living room!” she said.
“What dead man?” he asked. He was foggy. He was dizzy. He squeezed his eyes with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. His ears rang and his head hammered.
Ana was searching his face. “A man is dead in our living room!” she repeated.
“What man?” he asked again.
“I don’t know!” she screamed. She jumped as she did and his head hammered harder.
She led the way. She walked briskly. He lagged behind her. She had to look back twice to be sure he was following.
Something had awakened him. Not the sickness. Not the screaming woman. Something else had snapped him awake.
Did I float through the door? Did I float? And what happened to my face?
He saw the dead man and stopped.
The corpse was of a young man no more than twenty.
He had died sprawled near the door. His head was resting on a pool of blood which had since been absorbed by the carpet. His right hand was clutching the edge of the sofa while his left hand had grasped a fistful of the carpet. His left leg was drawn up as if he had tried to get up in his last moments. His forehead was split, nose crushed, teeth broken, and lips split.
A small bloody patch on the wall marked where he had crashed his head.
“No!” Kim muttered. “Impossible!”
He went to the kitchen and splashed cold water on his face. He washed his hands and rubbed his eyes. He drank two glasses of water.
“There is no dead man,” he muttered again. “No dead man.”
He placed his head under the tap and let the water run all over his head. His wife hated that but she might as well shoot him. When he stood up, the water ran into his clothes and he was suffused with the cold. He felt better.
“Kim!” Ana called him. She was on the verge of hysteria. “Kim!”
“If there is a dead man,” he muttered. “Ana should know about it. Not me. Not me.”
He returned to the living room.
The corpse was still there.
The kid had been wearing a white Lil Wayne t-shirt, navy blue jeans and classy Opel sneakers. He didn’t seem like a thief.
Kim bent down over the body. He put two fingers gently beside the trachea and felt the carotid. No pulse. He checked the eyelids too. They were stiff. Which meant the kid had died sometime in the night.
“Who was he?” he asked Ana.
“Are you asking me? You are the one who was fighting!” she shrieked. She was glaring at him as if about to punch him.
“I was not fighting!” he yelled back even as he suddenly became aware of his sore nose and lips.
“I didn’t fight with anyone,” he said, his voice moderated. “I don’t know this kid. I have never seen this kid in my life.”
“Then who brought him here if not you?” she accused. “Who beat your face? Why did you touch him?”
“Ana!” he yelled again. “How can you even suggest . . . ?”
She burst into tears. “Then explain it,” she sobbed. “Please explain it.”
“But he is dead in our house!” she heaved. “How did he get in? Who could have let him in here? Who else is in this house?”
“You explain it!” he shouted. “You also live here. If I don’t know, you should know.”
“Kim!” she shrieked and heaved with tears. She cried louder and he regretted yelling at her.
“Don’t cry,” he said and squeezed her shoulder. “I’m sure it will be okay.”
He didn’t mean that. He didn’t know what was going on.
“No, it won’t,” she screeched, as if reading his mind. She pulled away from him. “How will it be okay when this man is dead in our house?”
He opened his mouth to retort but checked himself in time. She was accusing him of murder while playing victim. She was supposed to know him better than that. She was supposed to be with him in this situation.
“I don’t know how he got in here,” he said. “I really don’t know. I wouldn’t lie to you about something as grave as this. I thought something woke me up. I don’t know what it was. But the instant I was awake, I fell sick. Too sick. I don’t remember ever being that sick. I thought I was going to die. I became blind and fell and didn’t leave the toilet until you found me.”
He left out the part about floating and disintegrating. It made no sense.
She quietened down and wiped her face.
“Maybe they broke the window and sprayed you with something that made you blind and unconscious,” she contemplated. “Then they sneaked in through the window and dumped the body in our house.”
He reflected on that. “Who are ‘they’?” he asked.
“I don’t know!” she screeched and shook her hands in anger.
“What you are saying is impossible.”
“The hell it is.”
“We live on third floor,” he reminded her. “To reach the master bedroom through the back, you’ll need over twenty metres of rope because you’ll be standing on basement level two. And then, after obtaining the rope, you’ll have nowhere to tie it. And if there were a place to tie it, you’d still need to hoist yourself and this seventy kilogram corpse all the way up here. After getting to the window, you’ll need to hang there and wait for me to wake up sick so that you can spray me with a blinding chemical. Not to mention the tight se—”
“Stop!” she snapped. “I was just trying to consider alternatives. Which you can’t do because your whole focus is in negating mine!”
He was quiet. His head was throbbing again.
“I’ll call the cops,” he reported.
“How will you explain it to them?” she countered. “Thinking they will understand is like thinking you can fly to Mars with your own arms outstretched!”
“I have to call them.”
“You will go to jail. And I’m not ready to be the wife of a man behind bars.”
“The cops will eventually be involved,” he reminded her.
“Eventually,” she stressed. “For now, go call the security people at the gate to come here and identify the body. Only they can tell us who the kid was, where he came from and how he broke into this house.”
“He doesn’t look like the breaking-in type,” Kim pointed at the smartly dressed corpse.
“But he got in here and you didn’t let him in,” Ana stressed.
“Breaking in doesn’t explain who or what killed him,” he said.
“Go now,” Ana said. She was resolute.
He started for the door but she grabbed his arm. “I’m coming with you. You can’t leave me here with it,” she pointed at the corpse.
“Okay,” he said.
He opened the door but did not go any further. His neighbours were gathered down in the courtyard. Over thirty of them. Looking despondent, whispering to one another.
He shut the door.
“Something is going on outside,” he whispered as if he could be heard by anyone else other than his wife.
“A meeting, maybe.”
Ana started to open the door but changed her mind. She pushed aside the curtains and peeked out through the window.
“It’s weird,” remarked she. “They look so sad. Why would they be so sad on a Saturday morning?”
“I don’t know.”
“You think they know?” she asked, her panicked eyes searching his.
“That we have a dead body in here.”
“How would they know that?”
“Maybe the boy is from the neighbours and he went missing.”
Kim contemplated that. He saw the possibility of her suggestion and a cold thing seized his bones. If a neighbour’s son was found dead in his house . . .
“But they can’t know he’s dead in here, right?” he asked.
“You still have to go get the security people,” she said without looking at him. “I’ll just stand at the door and wait.”
“Of course,” he agreed but did not move. “I have to go take off my pyjamas.”
He was stalling.
She assessed him, started to say something, checked herself and mouthed, “Okay.”
He was pulling on a pair of jeans when Ana screamed in the living room. She let out a deranged, bone-chilling scream that sent him reeling in the bedroom like a drunkard. He hit the bedpost with his knee, flailed for balance, lost, and thudded on the floor. He scrambled up immediately, but the trouser had sunk around his ankles and he fell again on his stomach.
“Ana!” he shouted. “Ana!”
Cursing, he crossed the room on all fours towards his screaming wife, kicking away the trouser in the process. He started to get up at the door but halfway up, she bumped into him and the impact caused them both to land on the floor with a terrible force.
Kim’s swollen nose met with the back of Ana’s head and pain exploded on his face like a fire cracker, drawing tears and making him yelp like a dog.
“What is it?” he asked. “Ana, what is it?”
But Ana was uncontrollable. She beat at him and twisted and kicked while screaming like a maniac.
He seized her with might and turned her over on her back. He pinned her arms down and held both her legs between his knees.
“Ana, what is it?” he asked again even as his own tears trickled down and fell on her.
“It’s gone!” she cried. “It’s gone!”
“What is gone?”
“The dead one! It is gone!”
He let go of her and stood up. “Gone where?”
“I don’t know!” she screamed and convulsed in terror. “I don’t know!”
“That is impossible.”
He started for the living room.
“Don’t leave me!” she cried and leaped after him. “Don’t leave me!”
She gripped his arm like a vice and looked about her nervously. He put his arm around her and they both went back to the living room.
The corpse was gone.
“Where did it go?” Kimani asked after a moment of confounded horror.
“I don’t know.”
“Did you see it go?”
“No!” she shuddered. “I was looking out the window. When I turned, it was gone.”
“Did you hear the door open?”
“No!” she shuddered again. “Stop asking me as if it became alive!”
He was speechless. He was supposed to be relieved, instead he was more troubled.
Both the blood on the carpet and the bloody smear on the wall had disappeared too. So had the wrinkles on the carpet where the corpse’s hand had been clenched. There was no indication that anything had lain there.
“What kind of day is this?” he moaned in despair.
“What do we do?” Ana was asking.
“I don’t know, Ana. Perhaps we should wait and see if it returns.”
“Aren’t you going to search the house?”
“Why?” he snapped. “Why should I search it? The corpse was not supposed to be here in the first place. It is gone now. Gone back to wherever in hell it came from. Why aren’t you relieved?”
“Kim, if you don’t search this house, I’m not going to live here. I can’t spend one more night in this house knowing that a corpse appeared and disappeared in it. Disappeared in it, Kim,” she emphasized. “That is worse than appearing in it.”
As he listened to her, his head throbbing and his sanity deteriorating, an old song called The Boss of My Life by a certain Jamaican came back to him.
they say she ain’t powerful but see how we livin
see who’s callin em shots
see who’s firin em like bullets
she grows on me like weed
she grows on me like em cobwebs on the wall
“Okay,” he agreed.
They searched the house. Ana stayed with him all the time, clenching his arm so tight he could feel her nails eating into his flesh. She was still shuddering and panting in his ear, making him more distressed.
“How can a dead man just vanish?” she was asking. “I mean, it was truly dead, wasn’t it? You confirmed so yourself.”
“It was dead,” he said. “The funny thing is,” he added after a moment. “You were alone when it appeared and you were alone when it disappeared.”
She stopped abruptly, jerking him to a halt as well. “What are you implying?”
“You tell me.”
“For clarity, I was not there when it appeared. I found it. I chanced on it. I was looking for you.”
Her eyes were stern. He decided to make light of the conversation.
“Perhaps the kid liked you,” he chuckled dryly. “Perhaps he was your secret admirer and he promised himself he had to see your underwear even in death.”
“Kim!” she exclaimed and tugged at his arm. “Why are you jealous of a dead man?”
“That is not what I meant.”
“You were speaking as if it’s alive. Now I have to fear that it is going to launch itself at us from a corner. With its bloody face, busted head, and smashed nose—it is going to emerge from a dark place in the house, maybe from Lili’s room, grinning at me, its teeth broken, coming to kiss me. Ugh!” she shuddered.
“Why Lili’s room?” he asked.
She pinched him. “That is not the point. The point is, dumbass, you are scaring my panties off.”
“Is that a bad thing?”
She pinched him again and they both laughed. His voice creaked painfully and his face was strained but he managed to relax somehow. He felt her relax too. She hugged him, kissed his cheek.
They were still searching when they heard a low scratch on the main door. It clicked once and opened very slowly.
They were in Lili’s room. Ana let go of Kim and, in a split second, was at the door. She pushed it shut and locked it both in one move. Her eyes were wide and her face twisted as if a scream had frozen there. She leapt back to her husband.
He took her and squeezed her against him. She was shaking violently. He could feel her heart hammering on his chest. His own heart was going to explode.
“It’s alive!” she gasped but there was no sound.
The thing in the living room moved. Kimani heard its footsteps. It picked up something and dropped it on the table. It picked up another one and dropped it again. It fumbled about for some time. Then it made a sound, a strange sound, like when you open your mouth wide and force out air with your lungs. It was loud enough to be heard throughout the house.
“What is it doing?” Ana’s lips moved without sound.
“Maybe cursing,” Kim replied in the same manner.
The thing went into the kitchen but did not linger there. It came out and went into the master bedroom, and there it lingered. After almost two minutes, it made that cursing sound again. This time longer and deeper and angrier. It slammed the door.
From the master bedroom, it pitapatted along the corridor and entered the next room. It took about fifteen seconds in there. Then it came out and paused at the door for a few more seconds.
“Ana!” it shouted.
Ana jumped and opened her mouth but Kim was quick to clamp his hand over it before the sound came out. She had been hugging him but now she was clawing his back.
“It knows my name,” she mouthed soundlessly when he removed his hand. “It wants me. It wants me!” Her eyes were wild, her face contorted. Her tears washed over his hand.
“Ana!” the thing called again and Ana started convulsing.
“Listen,” Kim said, gripping her. “It’s a woman’s voice.”
“It sounds like Njeri’s voice,” Kim said, shaking her. “She’s your friend.”
“Ana!” The thing was coming towards Lili’s room. It sounded even more upset.
“Susan!” Kim shrieked. His voice was dry, the muscles twitching emptily.
“Njeri!” he tried again.
Silence. Eternity of silence. Then: “Kim?”
“Susan! Susan!” he kept calling, sounding more and more like a man saved from dying.
“Kim? Are you in there? Are you alive? Are you okay? Where is Ana?”
“We’re in here and we’re alive and we’re okay,” he rapped. “Ana is here.”
Susan tried the door.
“We’re coming out,” Kim said.
Ana stopped convulsing. She looked at her husband blankly as if she didn’t know him. She went stiff for a moment, then relaxed gradually. She looked at the door.
“Is it really Susan?” she asked. “Su?” she called out in a hoarse, trembling voice.
“Ann?” Susan answered. She sounded relieved.
Ana got up and wobbled to the door.
“Get my jeans,” Kimani whispered. He was still in his underwear.
Ana flung her arms around Susan. Susan was tall and roly-poly while Ana was petite. She held Ana like a child.
“I thought you were dead,” she said. “I didn’t see you outside. I thought you were both dead.”
“We were terrified and we hid in Lili’s room,” Ana explained. She disengaged from her friend.
“Everybody is terrified,” Susan said.
“Why did you think we were dead?” Kim asked her from behind the door.
“People are dead,” she said. “People are dead everywhere.” She paused. “Ann, Chege is dead.”
Kim was astounded. “What do you mean people are dead everywhere?” he wanted to ask but he had to think of Chege. He hadn’t known Chege well enough to mourn him effusively but the little that he had known had been all good. Chege had been reserved, hard to know; some days they had only waved at each other in the parking lot.
“How?” he asked Susan. He started coming out, remembered his jeans. “Ana, please,” he implored. “Please.”
Ana went for his jeans. On her way back, she smiled dryly at Susan, who was looking from the jeans to Lili’s room and wondering why they had both been naked in their daughter’s room. Ana was still in her nightgown, her underwear visible. She did not explain herself.
She pushed the door ajar and passed the trouser to her husband.
Kim pulled on the jeans and left the room. “How did Chege die?” he asked again.
“I don’t know,” Susan said. “I woke up around four and he wasn’t there. His side was vacant. I thought he had gone to read in the living room, but then he appeared. He just appeared, you know. Out of nowhere. He just materialized on the bed next to me. Like a ghost. And he was dead. He was dead and limp. I was scared and I screamed in shock and shook him but at the same time I threw up before I could help it. My stomach was churning and regurgitating stuff and I had no control at all. And my head, oh, my head! I thought my head was going to burst. My house was also moving. My house was going round and round in a terrible circle. It was moving so fast I thought I was flying around in the bedroom. Then I couldn’t feel my hands, my face. I couldn’t feel myself. The next thing I knew, I was waking up from the floor, still sick but alive.
“And my husband was still dead,” she added after a long pause. Her eyes were full of tears.
Ana hugged her, started crying as well. “I’m so sorry, Su,” she sobbed. “I’m so sorry.”
“I heard you screaming,” Kimani said, recalling his own floating sensation. Sensation? It had been real.
“You were awake?” Susan asked. She wiped her eyes with the heels of her hands.
“Yes. But sick to death. I blacked out in the bathroom.”
“Did you hear the earthquake?”
“Was there an earthquake?”
“Some people said there was an earthquake. That it shook the houses and broke some windows.”
“Our window broke,” Ana said. Then, to her husband, “Maybe the earthquake woke you.”
“It did,” Susan agreed. “I felt shaken by something. Then I became distracted and didn’t think about it again.”
“Which other people are dead?” Kimani inquired.
“In the whole estate, there is mourning,” Susan said. “Otis said that he thinks everyone who was awake at four o’clock this morning is dead.”
“Everyone?” questioned Ana. Her eyes were giant circles.
“What kind of earthquake kills only people who are awake?” Kimani wondered.
“Go talk to Otis,” Susan told him.
“But first, we have to see Chege’s body,” Ana cut in, recovering.
She hurried away to change her clothes and clean her face. Kim went for his shirt. When they returned, Susan led them downstairs.
“Have you called other people?” Kim asked.
“Cell phones are dead,” Susan said.
“No signal,” Susan said. “The TVs too. They were completely dead two hours ago. Now they power up minus the signal. I found yours unplugged and plugged them. Then I turned them on. But there was no signal.”
“You turned on our TV?” wondered Ana. She looked at her husband.
“Both of them,” Susan agreed. “Otis said it was likely that the TVs that were unplugged when the earthquake happened would work.”
Kim met Ana’s eyes and almost burst out with laughter. They laughed about it later on, with Kim always saying how he had thought the dead man had made the sound with its wide open mouth.
They bumped into Otis on the second floor landing. He was with a group of neighbours going from house to house condoling with the bereaved. Kimani let Ana and Susan continue to Susan’s house. Then he pulled Otis aside.
“Engineer Otis,” he greeted.
“Kim, I’m glad to see that you are alive,” Otis said. “I was disturbed when I didn’t see you at the assembly.”
“I’m glad to see you too.”
“Is Lili well?”
Kim hesitated. Why hadn’t he worried about his daughter? If the cell phones had been dead as Susan had said, then maybe the school had tried to contact him and failed.
“I’ll go see her in school as soon as I’m done helping out with Chege’s body,” he said.
“You should,” Otis said. “Today, the dead are more than the living.”
“What really happened?” Kimani asked. “I heard you may know.”
“I don’t know. I just pieced together some things that may or may not be true.”
“I talked to the bereaved families,” Otis said. “It seems that those who are dead were all early risers. Three o’clock, four o’clock people. Susan told me Chege used to wake up at four and read Christian books till six.”
“First, those people disappeared alive and then reappeared dead,” Otis went on. “Then, those who woke up near four o’clock fell very sick. Finally, those who were asleep were unaffected.”
“I was sick to death,” Kim said.
“Now, imagine how many people are dead all over the world,” Otis said.
“What do you mean?”
“Something shook earth. I don’t think it was an earthquake like people are saying here. And I don’t think it only shook this estate, or this city, or this country. I think it shook the entire planet and killed everyone it found awake. It made them disappear first then brought them back dead.”
“You are describing . . . Jesus! You think so?” he questioned.
“At least here in Kenya most of us were asleep. Imagine what happened in a country like China which is eight hours ahead of the Coordinated Universal Time. 4am here is 9am in Beijing. And it is 10am in Tokyo, 4pm in Alaska, 6pm in Los Angeles, 12pm in Melbourne . . . The list is too long. Almost everybody was awake in those places when the earth shook. They all died.”
Kim pictured a city swarming with corpses. He saw hundreds, thousands, gazillions of corpses, corpses upon corpses, corpses sprawled in all manner of positions along the roads, streets and alleys; all over the highways, parks, homes, schools, beaches, airports, markets, kitchens, parking lots, gyms, clubs, hotels, shops, and restaurants.
He saw dead people in the lifts and on escalators, on stairways and in the corridors, in cars, in libraries, in swimming pools, on rooftops, in tunnels. He saw planes exploding out of the sky like the Devil’s fireworks and plummeting to earth in flaming pieces. He saw multitudes of dead children strewn on playgrounds and in classrooms.
He saw dead animals. Countless dead animals.
“You think so?” he pressed. “You really think so?”
“I have considered it,” Otis said.
“What caused it?”
“The question is ‘who caused it?’”Otis said. “The answer is cliché. Scientists did.”
“What did they do?”
“They have been conducting experiments in the ionosphere. Blasting the ionosphere with high frequency energy, heating it up, and injecting energy into the magnetosphere as well. They have also been attempting to generate gravitational waves artificially . . .”
“Gravitational waves?” Kim interrupted. “I thought those ones could only come from exploding neutron stars, colliding black holes and supernova events?”
“Not anymore. Ideas have been mooted about generating them artificially. Why invest so much in complex and expensive equipment like the advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory detectors and then wait around a long time for signals from black holes that collided several billion light years ago, only to find that the signals are so small they can go almost entirely undetected? It took twelve years to detect the first G waves. And the detected signals moved the measuring equipment by just one-ten-thousandth the diameter of a proton. That is just unimaginably tiny.
“Also, the information provided by the G waves is mostly history,” continued Otis. “By the time they can be measured here, they have travelled millions, billions of light years. Which should make you curious: if humanity can generate those waves at much higher frequencies than they are now and in large, measurable quantities, then we will be sending information into the future. Imagine manmade gravitational waves. Earth’s signature. Imagine everyone on earth sending messages into the future. Your voice is as unique as your fingerprint. If you send a verbal message, it will be your signature that you once lived in this universe. Machines wear out, civilizations crumble, and regimes change; but billions of light years from now, your voice will still be out there, travelling across the universe, to be detected by a future civilization on another planet. It is the ultimate eternal life, something humanity has craved since the very beginning.”
“I see,” Kim said.
“So that is why scientists have been trying to generate the G waves. For communication with the future,” Otis said.
“I see,” Kim repeated.
But he was wondering if all that was so necessary that billions of lives had to be wiped out for it. Who was going to send the damn messages now that even the scientists were dead? Some corporation must have been behind the idea, already counting the billions of dollars to be raked in when the whole world began sending messages to the future.
“They have been building a machine. An excessively massive and dense machine,” Otis said. “They were going to put it in the magnetosphere and make it spin at the speed of light.”
“Speed of light?”
“When beaming large quantities of energy into the ionosphere and magnetosphere, the scientists discovered a way to harness the high energy protons in the Van Allen belt. They were going used them to power the machine. And I think the machine worked. It generated the G waves but they were too powerful. It may have exploded. The G waves rippled through the earth’s space-time curvature . . . and ripped it.”
“Ripped it?” Kim wondered. “They destroyed time?”
A depiction of colliding black holes producing ripples of gravitational waves. Credit: NASA
“They did,” Otis said. “The manmade gravitational waves caused glitches in the space-time curvature.”
“Okay,” Kim said.
“All this is about time,” Otis motioned. “It is what caused so much death. The glitches disappeared almost as soon as they formed but the toll on life is unspeakable.”
“Oh,” Kim said.
“People were dislocated. Animals too. Both in time and space. Imagine where you’d be, say, nine years from now. Then suddenly you’re there. Having lived through the nine years in a fraction of a second. You would die. Your body would be too shocked to endure. If you were asleep, the dislocation might pass like a dream. If you woke up in the middle of it, you might become too sick and die. Or you might disintegrate. Or you might be transmitted through objects— walls, doors, etc—as if they did not exist.”
“Oh,” Kim uttered again, remembering his ordeal. He did not know what else to say.
He didn’t tell Otis about the dead man. He tried to figure it out for himself. Now that he had an estimate of what had transpired, he knew he could solve the mystery of the dead kid. He had been an avid student of Physics and Mathematics back in his younger days when he believed that showing intelligence in such fields could grant you a great job in Kenya. He now owned furniture shops on Ngong Road and Mombasa Road but he still believed in his understanding of the two subjects.
“I think I know about the dead man,” he told Ana at night.
“What do you know?” she asked.
“He’s going to die in this house.”
“Going to die?” she puzzled.
“But he’s dead.”
“He is dead,” she emphasized. “Don’t startle me with the living dead idiocy.”
He related to her the conversation he had with Otis.
“For communication with the future?” she laughed. “That is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“This space-time curvature. Is it physical? Is it made of matter?” she asked.
“No,” he said.
“Then how can it have glitches? How can it be physically affected?”
He mulled it over. “The earth bends it and it forms gravity,” he said. “The deformation of the curvature is what we call gravity. Gravity is real.” He shrugged. “But . . . I don’t know. You will have to ask Otis that question,” he added.
A depiction of spacetime curvature. Credit: NASA
She was quiet. “So you think the boy is going to be killed in our house?” she asked.
“That I do not know.”
“Figure it out,” she said. “Because either you kill him or I do. I can’t kill anybody. I am small-bodied and easily overpowered in a combat. These arms can’t even kill a chicken if I punch with all my might.” She smiled at him. She looked pretty.
“For the record,” she continued. “You are the only man I ever afford to openly oppose and criticize. But that is because I love you. You are my husband, and you are Lili’s dad. And you are a good man by my standards. Also, I have weighed you and evaluated you and studied you and found that you can take my nagging,” she added and laughed.
He laughed too, remembering how some days he wished she would just shut up for a day or two.
“I always love you,” he told her.
“But I have to ask,” she said astutely. “If we already know that the man is going to die in here, can’t we prevent it?”
He reflected on that. “If we could prevent it, the corpse wouldn’t have appeared here,” he said. “Time doesn’t lie. Time is the boss of the universe.”
“Still, we have to do something about it,” she insisted. “We can search for him. We can sketch his face and give it to the security people at the gate. We can ask the neighbours if they know anybody looking like that. We can inform the police.”
“Sure,” he said.
They did all that. But they never saw the young man or met anyone who knew him.
Three years passed. The matter was forgotten.
One Friday in April when schools were closed, Kimani and his wife arrived home late in the evening from an extended family meeting. He was exhausted, and so was Ana. The meeting had dragged on for hours and there had been disagreements. Ana said that she was going to the shower and then straight to bed. She said there were leftovers in the refrigerator. He could microwave them for his supper. She didn’t want food.
She undid her hair and took off her blouse and unzipped her skirt as she went. Instead of heading in the direction of the bathroom, she detoured and went to look in on Lili. She reached the door and knocked.
“Lili,” she called and pushed the door. “Sweetie, how—”
The door swung back on her face and she was hurled across the corridor to the opposite wall. A man emerged from Lili’s room. Ana screamed.
Kim was slouched in the sofa pulling off his socks. He was on his feet at once, running towards his wife. At the entrance from the living room into the corridor, the man jolted him off balance. He recovered fast and lunged forward to grab the intruder.
The man dodged him adroitly and dashed for the door. He kicked the coffee table on his way, lost balance, and flew over it at an incredible speed. He stepped down once but his momentum propelled him forward and he collided with the wall face first.
The house shook from the impact.
The man teetered around slowly, seemed to want to say something, collapsed. He tried to get up, one hand clenching the carpet, the other on the sofa where Kim had just risen. He plunged down again, quivered, became still.
Kimani walked towards the body. He recognized it instantly.
“Oh,” he sighed. “Oh.”
He saw the dented place on the wall where the young man had ploughed his face into.
“Oh,” he sighed again. He faltered back and slumped on the table.
Ana was shivering. “It is him, isn’t it?” she asked. “I knew as soon as I saw him. Lili!” she called.
Lili crept along the corridor and stopped at the living room entrance.
“Who is this?” Ana asked her seventeen-year old daughter.
“Jeff,” Lili said. “My . . . friend,” she added timidly. “You stayed out for so long I called him to keep me company.”
“In your bedroom?” Ana asked resignedly, feeling overwhelmed. She never would have seen it coming.
Lili looked down, said nothing.
Kim opened his mouth to speak, choked. He tried again and croaked unintelligibly. It was a while before a word could climb past his throat.
Police did not come for the body until seven in the morning.