Archive for the ‘Sci-fi’ Category

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.

Glass shattered.

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?”

“No. Why?”

“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.”

 “I can’t.”

“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.

“What?”

“A meeting, maybe.”

“Now?”

“It seems.”

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.

“Know what?”

“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.”

Ana!

“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.

“Dead?”

“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.”

“Okay.”

“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.”

“That’s right.”

“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?”

gravitational-waves-1024x576

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.

“Yes.”

“But he’s dead.”

“Not yet.”

“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.”

“It is.”

“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.

Gravity.5

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.

“Yes.”

“By whom?”

“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.

                                                                                                                                                                                      I.

The night was as loud as it could get. It was like the final blast to the end of the world. Shouts, shrieks, thrills and cries of passion accentuated the music, which was so fucking loud you could feel your gut vibrating as if the speakers were inside you. It was a big party. One of those pandemonic ones that could make you feel as if your intestines were about to fall out of your ass. The song was Bad Romance by Lady Gaga, and it was apt because the dancers wanted to fuck one another despite the party being for a two-year old kid’s birthday. In one of the most bizarre incidents ever recorded in The Whoever’s Book of Modern Parenting, Soni’s sister had rented a three-floor office block to celebrate her son’s birthday. What a giant plus!

Soni was on the roof, having attempted to escape the din to no avail. She wanted to be alone but could not leave because her sister would be upset. So she stood there like a lost creature, with a hurt face, looking at nothing in particular, everything dismal and irritating. The sky was black and vast and gloomy like a variant of hell where you were tortured with darkness and depression and not fire and whipping. Even the music was ugly. Instead of Bad Romance she wished they would play a song called I Shot the Cheating Bastard by a woman named Gas.

I caught him. I shot him. I gunned the fucker down. I burned the sucker down. I struck him and cut him and stuck his gut on the roof. Birds came and picked his eyeballs. I shot them too. Others came for his meatballs. I shot them too. I shot the motherfucker. I shot the cheating bastard with no mercy to spare.”

The album was called Fifty Shades of Balls and Soni loved it. Especially now when she was grinding her teeth and swallowing whatever peeled off them. She imagined she could taste her own teeth. They tasted like metal, like when you licked iron or tried to chew a roofing nail. There was a taste it left in your mouth that tickled your glands so that you wanted to keep licking and biting even if the iron cut your tongue and the nail broke your teeth.

There was a story she’d read about a serial killer who used to eat teeth. He kidnapped people he thought had excellent teeth and “detoothed them”—his words. He ground the teeth into a fine powder and used it to spice his foods, even licking some like sugar. He said it was extremely rich in calcium, and that, although he was fifty years old, he felt sixteen all the time.

“He eats teeth!” Soni had told Dama with a big grin.

“Jeez! Are you insane?” Dama had frowned.

“He eats teeth!” Soni had repeated and then twisted her face and snarled her mouth to look scary. “Grrrrrr . . . !” she’d growled, mimicking an attack.

They had been in their room at the University of Nairobi and Dama had been reading a Nicholas Sparks romance, her favourite. She closed the book and examined Soni.

“I think you are insane. How do you read a crazy book like that and become so happy about it?”

“What’s not to like about it?”

“That book is making you mad!”

Soni had rolled her eyes. Whatever!

She should have eaten Dama’s teeth. Dama had very fine teeth and Soni should have chewed them like nuts, even ground them and dissolved them in quencher and slurped it all down in one sitting. Then belched happily afterwards: BEEEEEH! She should have eaten Dama’s teeth. Dama and that cheating son of a bitch bastard who was now riding her cockpit. That bag of balls, the bastard of all bastards! F—

“Soni?”

She turned, startled. It was Shiro, whose son was the reason for the party.

“What are you doing alone up here?”

“Excogitating,” Soni said.

“Ex . . . what?

“Thinking.”

“That doctor is looking for you. The Chinese,” Shiro said.

“Where is he?”

“Outside.”

They started downstairs in silence. Shiro was sorry for her, which made Soni’s situation worse. Shiro was younger than her by three years. Three whole effing years!

“Dama and Oloo were here briefly,” Shiro said.

Soni didn’t reply. She pretended not to have heard. She was looking at the dancers on the first floor and wondering at them. They were really shaking and twisting, glistening and stinking with sweat and confusion. She saw a man named Ori flinging his ass this way and that as if he wanted it to fall off. She thought he would look very funny if he was stripped of the giant flesh on his ass and left to dance as a skeleton. She pictured the room full of skeletons, gawky, graceless, repulsive things, swinging their bony ass-less frames to the music, and she burst out with laughter.

It meant that these people could not really dance; they were just pretending, because if you looked deep down into a person where the essence could be found, if you searched thoroughly for the soul there, it was the skeleton that you encountered—that sketchy, empty thing! You found emptiness. Like tin cans—you found tin cans. And yet it was the skeleton that lasted forever to be dug up later on by those fancy modern-day grave robbers. It was the skeleton that seduced you at a party, coming towards you with that trademark toothy empty perpetual grin: “Hello, mellow! I love you!” And you thought you loved him too. Only to end up screwing some ass-less fleshless corpse that grinned behind your back every time.

Skeleton.2.

“Hello, mellow! I love you!”

Soni!

She had drifted off again. “What?” she shouted, coming to and searching for Shiro, who was right there beside her.

“I asked you what you are laughing at,” Shiro said.

“Oh, just had a happy thought,” Soni said.

“What happy thought?”

“Did you watch Pirates of the Caribbean?”

“Yes.”

“Imagine if all these people were from Captain Barbossa’s crew—those skeletons. How do you think they would be dancing?”

Soni!” Shiro exclaimed and laughed until she jolted the man named Ori, who did not hesitate to grab her by the waist and make her dance with him.

Soni proceeded to ground floor and outside the building.

                                                                                                                                                                                  II.

The doctor was leaning on a column by the main entrance. He seemed abstracted.

“Hey,” Soni said.

Soni!” he breathed, and before she knew it, he had hugged her. She hugged him back, though with reluctance, thinking of it as an eye for an eye. Do me how I do you.

“I missed you, Soni,” he said.

“That is not entirely a good idea,” she told him.

He let go of her and they stood face to face. She was slightly taller than him but that was neither here nor there. He was a pleasant guy, all in all. He had a lot of heart and a lot of warmth and a lot of friendship. He had a lot of things. There were just two problems: a) He didn’t have a name like Jackie Chan or Jet Li or Andy Lau. His name was Xihuangxi and Soni didn’t have the right accent to pronounce it. It sounded nice when he said it; it sounded like shit when she did. So she just called him Dr. Xi instead of ‘the Chinese man’ as most people did. He spoke both Mandarin and Cantonese but his English was good which was a plus. She could differentiate between Mandarin and Cantonese and that too was a plus. b) He was in love with her and that was not nice, not nice at all.

Once you saw the skeleton, the essence of man, the soul, what the philosophers called the quiddity, the haecceity—once you saw it, you could never get it out of your head. And there was no way to dress it up. You knew it was there and grinning insidiously from beneath that pleasant face, pointing at you and whispering, “I’m watching you!” It was only a matter of time before it tore the face apart and leaped out, glaring at you with its hollow nasty sockets, screaming: “Tell me, you fucking bitch! What do you see? Do you like what you see? Because I’ve been locked up in this wretched flesh for decades like a genie in a bottle, but now I’m out! Now I’m out! And I’m going to fuck you till your ass breaks like a pot!

“What’s the matter?” the doctor was asking.

“Why?”

“You sighed.”

“Oh.” She didn’t remember sighing. Lately she had been unable to hold her thoughts together, or even account for her presence at a specific place. Sometimes she couldn’t remember that she had been anywhere.

“I brought your favourite cookies,” he said and handed her a rainbow-coloured glass jar with alternating diamond and octagonal patterns on it. She studied it slowly, turning it over in her hands like a precious thing. She thought of kissing him thank you, changed her mind, leaned over and pecked his cheek nevertheless.

“Thank you!” she said cheerfully but there was no cheer in her eyes. She took one of the cookies and bit it, chewed. It was great. He made the tastiest cookies she had ever eaten. If it went on this way she was afraid he might just win her ass after all. It was funny how the ass always came before the heart, wasn’t it? Why were things so upside-down, anyway? If you asked the intelligent guys, the doctors and the physicists, they’d say the heart was even more important than the brain, that it had a greater magnetic field and it controlled the brain, not vice versa. But in reality, the society wanted your ass before it cared a shit what was in your heart.

Dr. Xi had agreed to show her the secret of his cookies if she went to his place—which was another way of saying that it was time he stuffed things up her ass.

Do you want a dick or a cookie?” he might ask her. “Because that cookie is going to be shit in a sec while this dick is built to last! Just like the Great Wall!

“I thought you said your nephew is two years old?” he was asking.

“He is,” she said.

“Why all this noise, then?”

“It’s called modern parenting,” she said and swallowed a tad too hard. “Give the kid a blast or blast the kid!” She took a second cookie and bit it.

“You sound unhappy.”

Unhappy?” she frowned. “Doctor, I am weeping blood and pus inside. That’s my little sister celebrating her son’s second birthday, and I just got dumped! Dumped! How is that for a thrilling unputdownable cloak-and-dagger whatever-the-shit-whodunit?”

“Take it easy,” he said and put his hand on her shoulder. She stiffened for a moment, even paused chewing. Next he would be touching her ass and feeling all cosy about it. Now that she was single he would really try to get his score. As if she owed him. Nice or not, cookies or no cookies, in love or out of it, he was just like the rest of his species. The rest of them people with penises. The PWPs. The specious species. Concerned chiefly with her ass. They were a queer lot. They didn’t care about your humanity because they had given up on it. They cared about your ass because they had things to stuff in it.

I’m so pretty they all wanna plug me like a socket, and then kick me out like a rocket,” Gas had sung.

They wanna plug me in every hole in my body. Hell, they would plug my sockets if my eyeballs didn’t fill them.”

If you were beheaded but somehow kept alive in a highly advanced laboratory, maybe wired from the neck upwards to a supercomputer for a brain, the PWPs would still screw you as long as your ass was intact.

There was, for instance, the story of the man who had planted an artificial vagina on a mannequin so that he could fuck it. Or the nurse at Kenyatta National Hospital who used to raped unconscious patients.

“How do I look, sweetie?” the woman asked her boyfriend.

“Phenomenal!” he answered, but what he saw was a big phenomenal vagina with arms and legs sticking on it.

You are the whole of my life,” he said and she laughed sweetly, although what he had really said was: “You are the hole of my life.

Once upon a time, an alien and a PWP met on Ganymede.

Said the alien, “I hear you guys fuck each other up like hell on that shitty little planet of yours. You want to fuck me too?”

The cheating bastard grinned like the Devil and clapped his hands. “Got any pussy on you?” he asked the alien.

Aha!

There was a song by Gas called My Vagina Is a Planet in which she sang about the men she had slept with. “I have taken enough beatings and enough sperm to make a planet, but I’m not yet halfway to go.” She said she had been used, abused, and cheated, and her hope of finding true love grew dimmer and dimmer with each passing day. She used to think that she had dated many men but realized one day that it was the same guy in parallel universes. She said she had reached a point when she thought she needed a man like she needed a vagina on her forehead. So she tried to be a lesbian, thinking that lesbians had it easy since some of them, if not most, had escaped the PWPs. Instead, she ended up paired with a hardcore natural-born lesbian named Lessi who used to fuck her with a strap-on dildo and sometimes with a prosthetic penis. Lessi was so rough and so cruel it was like sleeping with a sadistic man, even worse. When Gas complained, the fucking stopped but Lessi demanded blowjobs almost every hour.

She turned my tongue into a mop for her vagina,” Gas sung. “There is no escaping this shit unless I shoot myself and quit.

Soni sighed despondently and the doctor frowned at her.

“Did you hear about that French guy Michel Lotito who used to eat metal?” she asked before he could ask what she had sighed about.

“Yes,” he said after a moment. “Why?”

“He ate nine tonnes of metal. Nine tonnes! He even ate a plane!”

“Yes, I remember,” said Xi, who was still nonplussed.

“What kind of teeth did he have?”

“What do you mean?”

“His teeth must have been stronger than metal so that he could chew so much of it.”

“I suppose so.”

“That means he could eat teeth!”

“What?”

“He could eat teeth,” she repeated. She motioned at her own teeth, tapped one with her index finger. “Oh, man! What a plus! He could chew them like nuts. I wonder if he ever did. Especially human teeth! Do you think he ever ate human teeth?”

“What are you talking about, Soni?”

But at this point they were interrupted by Shiro.

“You guys are the loveliest pair!” she announced and put her arm around Soni.

Soni took out two more cookies from the jar and gave her the rest.

“The jar is mine,” she said.

“My sister is the loveliest woman in the world,” Shiro told Xi and Soni thought she was saying that because of the devastating breakup. “She is also the craziest, and I think it is the best combination ever!”

Soni thought “How sweeeeell!” and ran her palms over the swell of her ass.

                                                                                                                                                                               III.

Shiro left to go share the cookies with her husband and Soni told the doctor that if they were to date, he would have to buy her an original copy of Fifty Shades of Balls.

“Fifty Shades of Balls?” he asked and stifled his own laughter. “I’ve never heard of any album by that name. I’ve never even heard of Gas.”

“You have now,” she said. “There has to be a precondition in this relationship.”

“So we have a relationship?”

“I didn’t say that!” She shook her head and stepped away as if about to take off.

“I don’t understand you sometimes,” he said in a rather melancholy tone.

“That is because you are trying to understand me when I have just been cheated on and dumped. That sort of stuff screws up people like a whirlwind of shit. You know that better than me. You’re the doctor.”

He nodded. “I understand.”

“Then just get the album and you will take me to Fiji or Tasmania or Ganymede even. Anywhere,” she said and then remembered that he had never really said that he wanted to take her anywhere. In fact, he had never categorically stated what he wanted from her. Which was one of those things about the PWPs that could annoy you until you pissed fire: how they were modest and even shy, searching for proper words to address you, preferring euphemisms and circumambulations, yet later on—aha! Later on, after they pumped your womb full of semen like one pumping a tire full of gas, all the modesty and shyness and euphemisms and circumambulations faded like a fart in the wind, and he gave you a piece of his mind point-blank like a bullet, telling you how you were no longer the significant hole of his dear life, how he and his new glob of goo had decided you were a nuisance.

I’ve been sleeping with her and we decided you are a nuisance.”

Maybe it would be a little more helpful if the whole hitting-on business was reduced to a couple of lines.

Woman: State your business, Mister, and don’t beat about the bush!

PWP: Yes, ma’am. My business is with your ass and I just want to beat about its bush.

So that when you were approached by some quivering PWP saying things like “I was just wondering if”, you shut him down forthright.

Back off! You’re giving me déjà vu!

I’ve fallen for that before and it didn’t work. It sure ain’t gonna to work now,” Gas had sung in a song called Déjà vu.

“I’ll get it,” the doctor was saying about the album.

“We have a deal,” Soni told him.

She thought she should tell him outright that she didn’t want to hop from relationship to relationship like a kid playing hopscotch. But it didn’t matter. What the hell? Let him go get her Gas—if he could.

She saw him off and thanked him for the cookies and for seeing her at 11.30PM. She then kissed Shiro and her husband farewell and drove to her place in Jamuhuri. She lived with a cat named Q.O. in a two bedroom apartment which was rather too big and hollow for both of them, every room echoing with emptiness and heartbreak. Once, she had been convinced that if she went into the extra bedroom, she would find her old self hanging on the ceiling with a twisted neck-tie, her eyes open and rotting, tongue lolling out like a bad sausage. For many days she had avoided the room.

She had rented the place after Oloo left her for her best friend. “I’m in love with Dama,” he’d announced one morning while adjusting his tie. “I’ve been sleeping with her and we decided you are a nuisance.”

He then smoothed down his tie as if to give her the metaphorical side of his speech. She was a crease in the fabric of their lives.

They had been discussing her behind her back and they’d decided she was a nuisance.

“Soni, you’re no longer the hole of my life. You are the block,” he might as well have said.

She had transitioned from being the hole of his life to being the stumbling block. From a hole to a block in five seconds! Wow! What a plus!

But the thing was: how did you tell the world that your man had left you for your best friend when you were thirty-one years old?

Granted, the whole my-best-friend-stole-my-boyfriend story was the oldest in the book. But it should have at least been relegated (and restricted) to teenagers and adolescents and people in college. Not when you were over thirty and thinking: I have finally found a place where my ass fits perfectly, and here I will last till time chews me into a wrinkled rugged shitbag!

Not when you were a diligent intelligent girl with an outstanding upstanding broad spectrum of thoughts in your head and a goodly amount of humanity to pass around, a woman with her shit together like a hen with eggs, an electrical engineer with a shitload of cash from Geothermal Development Company of Kenya. No. Not then. You couldn’t explain it. You shut up and ate your humiliation for breakfast, your pain for lunch. You felt lowered, vitiated. How could they make you stoop so low? How could you love so absolutely, trust so abysmally, how could you hand your soul to the Devil and feel glad about it? How could you think that you were in love, that you were loved, only to find out that you were jetsam to be discarded during the slightest storm? Why didn’t you see it coming? Were you stupid?

“Why me, you goddamned Fate?” she’d cried in the lonely room. “I don’t deserve this! I have never cheated on anyone!”

She had been thinking of the Greek Sisters of Fate, the three Moirai, who governed all lives by manipulating the threads of existence: Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos.

“How is my thread doing, y’all fancy babes?” she’d thought of asking them.

“Whose ass didn’t I kiss, you fucking diabolical bitches?” she’d cried.

But Fate, God and Gravity were the best friends to ever meet under the sun. They hung out in a mean joint of three down on the dingy wormy shit-hung corridors of River Road, smoking bitter pot and drinking and pissing where they stood, holding hands and singing: “Vug yo all vugging whomans! Vug yo all vugging whomans!

                                                                                                                                                                                IV.

Soni scrambled two eggs for the cat and let the meal cool before serving it to him. He ate on the dinner table like a real person, except he stood on it. She took a beer for herself and went to watch a movie called Shaolin, starring Andy Lau, Nicholas Tse, Wu Jing, and Jackie Chan. Soon afterwards, Q.O. came and sat by her and they both enjoyed some really classy display of kung-fu. He was a clever cat. He could stare at you until you knew he understood something about you. His attention was always glued to the screen more than hers which was distracted by troubles, heartaches, and sadness.

He had been an unequalled companion ever since she got dumped like an excess load. There was a book she had read about living with animals. It said that living with animals helped you to discover your humanity. But that was bullshit. You were already a human. You couldn’t discover what you were intrinsically, for even the process of that discovery was characteristic of your humanity. What she had learnt from living with Q.O. was that being an animal wasn’t bad at all. It was great. People thought animals were bad because people were bad. Being an animal was perhaps the best thing that could happen to you, especially if you could keep off the clever know-it-all humans, who were perpetually on fire even if they thought they were under water. Being a human meant that you were surrounded by assholes and elbows for the rest of your life, ruled (and overruled) by them. And your heart was breakfast for the goblins.

By 4.00AM she was still sitting on the floor watching Invisible Target, again starring Wu Jing and Nicholas Tse, their roles now reversed. She slept less and less day by day. The big breakup had cursed her with insomnia, though she thought it was more from self-infliction than anything else. It didn’t do any good to go to bed and discover how alone you were, especially when you used to bump the other person way too often and you got used to his warmth and discordant breathing and you could fling your arm around him and draw him so close that your belly rested on the crack of his bare ass. And he couldn’t fart because if he did the jet of gas would send you against the wall like a rocket. Sometimes your hand strayed too far down from his chest and stroked his pilot (He had a pilot. I had a cockpit. Hell, we were perfect for each other, Gas had sung) until the beast began to growl and spit fire. It didn’t help to lie awake in bed remembering those things, remembering the vanity of invested heart and emotions. You started to go mad. So a night of kung-fu was transcendent compared to that cold scary bed.

She even got up to practise some Wushu when the movie was done, copying Wu Jing’s graceful movies. She imagined tackling her opponent, that lousy cheating bastard, the way Wu Jing would have, breaking him and hurling him up like a rock. She became more and more passionate when she realized she was fighting a real person, one who had hurt her unprovoked and in a way she had never been hurt before. She took a wrong step, though, and landed hard on her ass until she shrieked aloud. “Ouch-Ouchy-Oucha!

Afterwards, Soni did yoga, counted push-ups, sit-ups, and somersaults, having moved the furniture to one corner. She was fitter than Dama. Dama was heavy around the ass, thighs and boobs. She had what could sometimes be called liquid asset—an ass that shook like a plastic bag full of water. One of her university boyfriends had told her that fucking her was like fucking pawpaw. And she had cried like a child with only Soni to console and protect her. Soni had solved the situation by turning the abuse on the man himself.

Do you fuck pawpaw? You fucking pervert! Fucking fruit abuser! I will tell the world what you do when you’re alone!

That guy had cheated on Dama with a classmate. When she found out and asked him, he sent her a text message on her cell phone:

I didn’t mean to cheat on you, sweetie. I swear. But gravity pulled down my underwear.”

Dama had replied that his stupid head looked like a giant testicle, and that was when he told her that fucking her was like fucking pawpaw.

The same man had at one time messed up Dama’s plumbing so that Soni had to take her to the hospital six times to get it fixed. Soni had had to be there as well whenever Dama had to dash to the Ladies which she did almost every thirty minutes. She had been afraid everyone would know her piping had been wrecked. Soni had shielded her from that shame.

Soni, who was now the greatest enemy of all time, who was now the nuisance.

She was too tired by 5.30, too tired in fact to care about people who should have been there but weren’t, who should have been stillborn or aborted in the womb, people who would grow up to break the same hearts that cared deeply for them.

Soni showered, brushed, and went to bed.

                                                                                                                                                                                   V.

She woke up at 7.46AM. Q.O. wanted to relieve himself but couldn’t open the door to go outside. So he was tugging at the hanging edges of the sheets in order to wake her, something he had learned to do by himself. She let him out through the backdoor. She lived on the ground floor, which was a big plus because if she had been any higher than that, he would have been shitting on the balcony. That would be awful. His shit wasn’t flavoured. After she had disposed of his mess and cleaned up her hands, she mixed his breakfast and gave it to him.

Then she had a whole day to ponder over what to do, where to go. Things had become dull and dry; the things she used to enjoy had suddenly taken on a horrible aspect. She didn’t know whether the breakup had opened her eyes or shut them. She didn’t know whether she was living or dead. There was no Dama to hang out with, no Oloo to pinch in the back. She used to pinch his ass in public and he would jump and scratch and turn to her. She would laugh and run from him and he would chase and hug her. She would laugh with (and from) her heart. He was a big man with a big butt, tall, stalwart, strong as a column. He was also a genius, a geek, a computer scientist working for the IBM branch in Nairobi. How do you lose a man like that? What hadn’t she done?

That was what she had thought when he just woke up one day and told her it was over between them: “What didn’t I do?” She didn’t know what she hadn’t done for him. She didn’t think there had been anything left to do.

“Oloo, what is wrong?” she’d besought, panic proliferating inside her, her world slowly tilting, turning upside-down, her on the edge, supportless. “What is wrong? If anything is wrong, please tell me. I can fix it. I can fix it!

“You can’t fix it,” he said. “I’m in love with Dama. I’ve been sleeping with her and we decided you are a nuisance.”

She would rather he had shot her dead.

She had lived with his sister when his sister had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer. IBM had been moving Oloo around from Kenya to South Africa to Egypt to the United States and back again. So Soni took care of his sister. Soni doing this, Soni doing that, Soni paying all the bills and signing papers, Soni making phone calls to report progress, Soni shouting “I love you” at the end of every call, Soni thinking how lucky she was, counting her wonderful blessings, Soni praying for Yuni to recover, Soni the generous one, the greatest lover of all time, Soni in love, smiling with everybody and thinking “You’re all great, people. You’re all just great.” When Yuni died, Soni had been devastated, having known the woman and made friends with her. Oloo had been in the States and Soni had had to take care of everything concerning the funeral.

Soni the nuisance.

Aha!

Take a break to choke a prick,” Gas had sung in a song called How to Kill a Motherfucker.

I loved him deeply, from the heart of my broken bottom. It made no fucking difference.

It turned out Dama had been seducing him. She had worked hard at it, desperately, eventually winning him by inviting him over to her house for dinner and taking off her clothes to show him her shapely body. Dama was curvy, voluptuous even—a beautiful girl with a jealous heart—while Soni—she of the ex—was too slim and had no ass to tell mom about. If it was told, it’d be a comedy.

Son: Hey, Mom. Have you seen my girlfriend’s ass?

Mom: No, Son.

Son: It’s like two fists. Like this. (He makes two fists with his hands and sticks them together side by side.)

 Mom (reproving): Son! That is so rude!

Son (laughing): It’s the truth, Mom. Her ass is so skinny when she bends over her vagina sticks out the back like that of a goat.

(Mom laughs till she dies. Curtains.)

“My ass is expanding like the universe,” Dama had said one day.

“And mine is shrunken like a singularity,” Soni had replied and they both had burst out with laugher.

Some good friends. Some good old days.

                                                                                                                                                                                VI.

Soni scrambled an egg for herself and ate it with lemon juice. She then brushed and showered, thinking she really should go somewhere, that Sundays were the best days to visit anywhere in Nairobi and she couldn’t just lack a place to go. Even downtown was sparsely populated. And there was no traffic.

But then, she remembered that almost everyone she knew was in a relationship, in love, or married. And the rest were what should be called Broadband Bitches. The ones that knew everything about everyone and never shut up. Like radios. They could have made excellent careers in sales, research, or writing fiction since they had countless stories to tell and countless characters to create. Instead they spent time gossiping on Facebook and Twitter about who broke up with who, who cheated on who, who fucked who, who wants to screw who, who stole who’s man, who wore which dress, who bought what, who said what where how, who, who, who. Fucking airwaves. The Broadband Broads. The BBBs. The Triple Bs. The Triple BS. The Three Bullshitters. Aha!

Soni laughed until there were tears in her eyes. She thought she sounded like a lonely witch laughing in the forest and she laughed harder. Then she realized she wasn’t really laughing and the tears weren’t those of laughter. She was crying. Her face hurt. So she stopped.

I will eat your teeth! she wrote to Dama on Whatsapp.

You’re crazy! Dama wrote back immediately.

I will detooth you and chew your teeth like groundnuts! Like groundnuts! You hear? I’ll roast them and chew them for breakfast with tea. With tea!

Mad bitch, Dama wrote. You are absolutely mad!

How dare you call me a bitch, Dama? You wobbly-ass Belgian blue! You dense matter! Man-thief! Human trafficker! You trafficked away my boyfriend into your ass! You know you should fix that liquid asset before it falls off in public and leaves your coccyx sticking out like an absurd tail. Do you even know the coccyx, you broadband bitch? Fucking airwave! Do you? For your info—and this is truly from my magnanimous heart—it is the vestigial dick in your ass!!

You always grudge my ass! Dama wrote and went offline. She always couldn’t take a fight.

“Grudge my ass,” Soni jeered. Bullshit! Who wanted a massive shitbank hanging behind them like a misplaced hump?

Belgian blue

Belgian blue

A moment later Oloo called her.

“What do you want?” she demanded.

“Why do you insult my wife?”

My wife! How deliberate!

“Can’t she fight for herself or is her jealous mouth wrapped around your tiny dick?”

Oloo didn’t reply for a moment. Then he said, “Tiny dick, huh?”

Puny!” Soni shouted, glad that she’d hit him right where his ego dwelt. “Puny penis,” she stressed. “Very poetic. It’s called alliteration. Puny penis pumping plump putrid pussy! Microscopic cock collapsed in a colossal cockpit!” she sang and burst out with a manic shriek.

“That’s very funny,” he said with a chuckle. “Because you are the only woman I’ve ever fucked who has complained that my dick is tiny.”

“I’m not complaining! Why should I? And nobody else has mentioned it to you because you date fat morons who cannot distinguish their own asses from an anthill.”

He chuckled again. “I dated you, Soni. What does that make you?”

He caught her off-guard with that and she experienced a powerful impulse to terminate the call. She didn’t like the exchange, not with him, not like this.

“I’m not fat downstairs. And you used to say I am a genius.”

“Have you considered that it may be your vagina that is way bigger than those of the other girls I have dated, way bigger than my penis?” he went on, encouraged by her hesitation. “Like a wormhole. Do you know a wormhole? It is a hole through spacetime and that means it’s awfully vast. Like a tunnel made by gods to ferry them across the universe or to alternate universes altogether. That’s what you’ve got between your legs, Soni! A spacetime wormhole!” he added and laughed aloud.

“I know what a wormhole is!” she interrupted.

“Ha! Then I have made my point!”

“A wormhole is imaginary, you jelly-headed alien!”

He laughed again. “What difference does it make?”

“It makes a fucking difference because I found out from my daily readings that a tiny dick is medically called a peacock. Do you understand? A pea-cock! Like the grain of pea. Or a pea-nis! And your balls are pea-nuts!”

“Wormhole!” he swore. She had got him again.

“Peacock-peanis-peanuts!” she sang.

“Wormhole!”

“Peacock-peanis-peanuts!”

He was quiet. Just as he used to do when he was incensed. Then, very condescendingly, he said: “Listen, Soni. Damaris is expecting our first child. You shouldn’t distress her again like this. I take it for granted that you are able to understand what it means to us. Thank you.” He hung up.

“Expecting?” Soni screamed into the silent phone. “Expecting?

A violent surge of unpleasant emotions engulfed her. Jealousy, envy, rage, indignation, shock. She began to cry. He hadn’t wanted children until he had bought land and put up a home in which to raise them. They had already bought the land and construction had begun. That had been the plan and Soni had been for it. He had said that raising children in an apartment was unhealthy; children needed a real home where they could make all the noise they wanted without the next door neighbour reporting a complaint, where they could run along the fence and dogs could bark with absolute freedom. She had thought it was a great idea.

He had changed all that for her. For Damaris. That endomorphic bitch! They were still living in an apartment in Valley Arcade. And she was expecting!

Soni took a deep breath, closed her eyes. She was on fire. She was going to explode.

“That was fucked up,” she choked in despair, wiping her eyes and thinking she should never have provoked them, thinking about things that were better left unknown. “That was totally awful,” she swallowed bitterly, snuffling.

She took three sleeping pills and went back to bed. The prescription said she should take one.

“Fuck the prescription!”

She drew up her legs and buried her face in the pillow, pulled the blanket and the sheet over her. She hoped Atropos would cut her thread.

                                                                                                                                                                            VII.

But the pills didn’t work and she climbed down to take three more. They didn’t work either and she took six others. When those too failed to have any effect, she emptied the bottle into her mouth and drank water.

Needless to say, she was still awake. As awake as day.

“Why?” cried she. “Why doesn’t anything work? What did I do to anyone? Whose ass didn’t I kiss? Why me? Why doesn’t anything work for me? Why?

“Because of entropy,” a husky male voice said and she jumped.

“Who is that?”

But it was Q.O. coming towards her.

“Just me,” he said. “My goodness, look at your face! It’s like you have seen the Devil or something.”

“Q.O.?” she said and drew back. “You’re talking? You are talking!

“Yes,” he said. “Why are you shocked? You always talk to me.”

“But you are a cat!”

“You always talk to me nevertheless.” He climbed onto the bed and sat down.

“You are a cat. You are not supposed to talk back—”

“I know. I didn’t come here to confirm that I am a cat. Or whether cats talk or not. Do you talk to me only because you think I cannot talk back? Well, I can. I just happen to prefer listening to you. Talking drains away my spirit. That day when I pooped on the sofa and you whipped my ass, screaming “Never! Never! Never!” I heard you. I wanted to say ‘Okay, Soni, I get it. I’ll never do it again.’ But I didn’t because you were shouting so hard I could hear your heartbeat in my head.”

The way he said “you whipped my ass”—it made her smile despite her bitterness. As if he had an ass to whip.

But why was she talking to a cat? Why was the cat talking to her? “How can I hear what the cat says?” worried she. She felt tired; weariness clamped her bones, muscles. She felt sick. Her head was aching. She put her face in her hands and squeezed her eyes. This was the ultimate breakdown. From a breakup to a breakdown. How wonderful! The natural destiny of a diseased existence.

“This is what Dama always meant when she said that I am mad,” she moaned. “I am truly mad.”

The whole thing with Dama and Oloo had exposed her most genuine vulnerability—a tendency to madness. She had always been madness waiting to happen. A ticking time-bomb of insanity. Reduced now to holding a conversation with a cat.

She opened her eyes and Q.O. was still there. They stared at each other, his gaze steady, as if they were equals. He was an Abyssinian, and so proud and confident you’d think he owned the house and she was his tenant. She did not say anything and waited to see if he would. Maybe she had imagined him speaking.

Q.O.

Q.O.

“I don’t like what is going on here,” he said.

“What is going on here?” she asked.

“You are getting rid of me.”

She shook her head. “I’m not getting rid of you, Q.O.”

“You are,” he stressed. “Those pills are dangerous. What does that mean?”

She was quiet, her heart sinking in shame. She had not looked at her actions in regard to him. She broke eye contact and surveyed the room without really seeing anything.

“Who will take care of me when you’re gone, Soni?”

“I am not going anywhere,” she said. “The pills are not working.”

“Ha!” he snorted.

“Because, I do not want to be a homeless cat,” he went on. “I saw a homeless cat out through the kitchen window. He was very stout and brutal. He was stinking too and his fur was unkempt; he doesn’t groom. He was crouching after a lizard but he didn’t catch it. He caught me looking at him and a deep shadow of embarrassment beclouded his features. He said: ‘What are you looking at?’ I said I was looking at the trees but he was intruding on my panorama. He stopped and surveyed me with his bloodcurdling eyes. He was crouching again as if thinking of jumping at me. ‘You have a very pretty mouth, Pet, and I would like to eat it for lunch,’ he said in a raucous voice. ‘I can break into that cosy little house of yours right now and chew your pretty mouth off your face. Pet!’ he added with contempt. He was very frightening but I didn’t like his tone, so I said: ‘This house is not little and I’m not your pet.’ He made as if to jump at me and I jerked back in terror. ‘I didn’t ask for your opinion,’ he returned. ‘But you can shove it up where the sun doesn’t shine.’ He then walked away to sniff Mr. Kamencu’s dustbin. I tell you, Soni: that guy gave me the heebie-jeebies of the century!”

Intruding on my panorama, Soni was thinking. Shove it where the sun doesn’t shine. Shove it up your ass. She laughed. Her voice was hoarse and empty.

“Is that a true story?” asked she.

“Why wouldn’t it be true?” Q.O. returned.

She laughed again and wiped her eyes. It was becoming very hard to tell whether she was laughing or crying.

“This situation is really personal for me,” Q.O. picked up. “I’m going to be like that cat. And if he finds me some day, he will eat my mouth, and—who knows?—he might love the taste of my flesh and consume the whole of me. He was serious about the cannibal business.”

“You will not be like him,” Soni promised. “You have been a great friend and I will always be here for you.” She wanted to hug him but she could not reach him.

He ignored her outstretched hands and said:

“I know you are heartbroken. I hate what Oloo did to you. I’ve been cogitating about it. I decided I should jump onto his face and tear out his eyeballs the next time I see him. He made me wish that I was a dog and I hate him for it. Can you believe that? A cat wishing to be a dog! Awful! Awful! It means I was driven beyond rescue. Dogs can protect their human friends better than cats. They are huge and they have fierce teeth which they can use to tear off an enemy’s throat like hell if they know how to do it. I give them credit for that. Otherwise they are just noisy and overly emotional animals. They panic too fast. Like maniacs. They are not cool like cats. Cats are the coolest. Cats hardly get scared. Cats eat dogs. Cats ruled the Savannah for centuries before those dog-loving people arrived with guns and invented the inglorious hunting expeditions in order to kill cats.”

He paused again and scrutinized her face as if to confirm she was with him. He seemed satisfied, so he went on:

“Anyway, as I was saying, I hate what Oloo did. I despise him. He has threatened my existence. He used to come home smelling of Dama and I would—”

“You knew he was cheating on me?” Soni interrupted.

“No,” Q.O. said. “He just used to smell strongly of Dama’s deep essence. I could hear his heartbeat when he you let him in. He was scared. I knew something was the matter with him. I just didn’t know what it was.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You were too drunk with love and you’d have kicked me out. Who wants a talking cat in the house of love? Besides, I thought you knew as well. You were always kissing and hugging him. How could you know not know?”

“I didn’t know.”

“That is because you do not use your heart,” Q.O. said, studying her face. “You prefer your brain. You should have kept your brain for analysis and your heart to tell you things neither your eyes nor your ears can sense. It is how animals work.”

“Okay,” she said, her face contracting, tears bursting forth. She wiped her eyes with the bed sheet.

“You said something about entropy. What has entropy to do with any of it?” she asked.

                                                                                                                                                                         VIII.

“Entropy has to do with everything,” Q.O. explained. “Entropy is the reason everything breaks apart. It is the reason hot water cools down, ice melts, and rivers flow downhill and not in reverse. Entropy is probably the reason big bang happened so that the earth, the universe, exists in the first place.

“In thermodynamics, entropy is defined for an isolated system and it is the amount of energy unavailable to do work. An isolated system is a system that does not interact with its surroundings at all in terms of its energy. It is ideally contained and its energy is well conserved. Yet therein the entropy must increase as energy distributes about and less and less of it is made available for useful work.

“In a practical life situation, entropy is a measure of disorder. The greater the amount of disorder the higher the entropy. It goes that the entropy of the universe never decreases. Which means that all the chaos in the world: wars, dangers, murders, heartbreaks, hate, poverty, etc—all those nasty things must always increase. If one happens to decrease in any case, one or all the remaining others must increase to account for the decrease. For instance, the world is experiencing better healthcare, better equality in terms of gender, race, child rights, etc; less wars, more equitable distribution of resources than in the past, yet love is gone, friendship is gone, freedom, unity, dead . . . even humanity itself is extinct; heartbreaks galore, dissatisfaction, hate, meanness, greed, pollution.

“Entropy is Nature’s method of organizing herself. She does so by choosing the most likely ways of arranging things. When water is ice, its molecules are bound to one another and you can say that they are ordered. Nature hates that because there are fewer ways to arrange those molecules than if they were in liquid form. Ice, therefore, melts, so that the molecules are disordered and they can be arranged anyhow. In a cold metal, the atoms have little kinetic energy and their movement is restricted. If you put the cold metal in contact with a hot one, heat flows into it from the hot one so that its atoms can have more freedom of arranging themselves as they want, thereby increasing entropy.

“Entropy is the reason the world is always run by fools. Fools have greater chances of increasing entropy than intelligent people, and there are far too many ways to be stupid than there are to be intelligent. There are more ways for a river to flow downhill than uphill; more ways to be poor than to be rich, to spill milk, break an egg, lose something, hurt people, etc. There are more ways to be heartbroken than to be in love.”

Q.O. paused and inhaled deeply. “Nature has a baby, Soni. His name is Entropy and he feeds on disorder,” he added.

“So, you are saying that we are all here to increase entropy? That’s it for us?” Soni asked after a moment of melancholy meditation.

“Yes.”

“What about how we feel?”

“How you feel also increases entropy.”

“But that is cruel.”

“It is Nature’s way and you can’t do anything about it. I think we are all like water molecules in a glass that is being shaken. Do you care whether those molecules have consciousness and feel pain when you shake them like that and make collide against the glass and one another? Do you care that rocks feel pain when you cut them to put up a house? Or don’t you care only that at the end you have a house to live in? That is how it works. It doesn’t matter how you feel. Entropy must increase.”

“Why? Why must it increase?”

“I don’t know. Ask Nature. Or your gods, if they exist. But I think that energy needs to be dispersed. Vast sections of the universe are dead cold and dark. When you are at war or are inspired by some venomous emotions and you scream and bawl and fight and wail like a maniac, you emit a lot of energy. The earth is not an isolated system, and so the frequencies can escape into Space and excite the molecules in those cold regions to vibrate and generate heat. With time, perhaps after some millions of years, heat will spread throughout the universe until the universe reaches thermal equilibrium, where everything has the same temperature. Once that point is reached, everything will die. Equal temperature means equal pressure, which further means that you will not be able to breathe. There will be no wind to stir up the air. Therefore, death of all.”

“Q.O., you are scaring me!” Soni lamented, feeling worse than ever.

“It doesn’t matter. Fear is Nature’s number one tool for increasing entropy. Nature does not like her choices to be limited. She likes them vast and diverse. Entropy is the reason there is (or was—I’m not sure about the present) so much diversity on earth. But you humans—you want to limit Nature’s choices to just a handful. You wish there was just one race of mankind on earth, one tribe, one clan, one family, one person. You cannot stand differences, even the slightest. You even wish that all animals were dogs or like dogs. But it doesn’t matter, anyway, because all those wishes make you do things that increase entropy.

“You wish to be in love forever, forgetting that love makes your other diverse emotions unavailable for Nature to work with. Forgetting, in fact, that love, being the principal emotion for finding peace, satisfaction, happiness—love decreases entropy. It minimises chaos. Therefore, it cannot be allowed.”

“Q.O., you are very cruel,” Soni snivelled and wiped her eyes, which were now red and swollen.

“It doesn’t matter,” Q.O. said. “All things serve to increase entropy. Crying is good for entropy,” he added.

“Are we just puppets then?” she asked.

“Yes. That’s what you have always been. Will always be. Puppets. Even abused puppets. You are not in charge of anything. None of you is. But you are too scared to admit it. So you labour to build a heaven, yet your heaven is populated with chaos and destruction. I tell you, Soni. There is not a single human being who is working for his own benefit. You are all labouring towards your own indefinite death.”

“But, Q.O.—there is order in the world,” Soni said after a moment.

“What order?”

“Look at you, me. Those eyes, tongue, legs, etc. Each designed for a specific purpose, all working hand-in-hand to achieve you. Look at the trees. Photosynthesis, carbon cycles, the stomata, the phloem—how is that a disorder?”

“I already told you. Nature makes her decisions based on the probability of increasing entropy. The higher the probability—well, you know. And high entropy is achieved by plenty of disorder. It therefore goes without saying that even what looks ordered to you is the most disordered of its lot. It was chosen because it had the highest probability of increasing entropy. You are a disorder, Soni, so am I. We are disorders within disorders, and there are plenty of disorders in us.

“It is how we work, Q.O. The coordination,” Soni said.

He paused, glared at her. “Are you listening to me, Soni? There is no calm here, sweetie. No order. Just pick up your gun and kill a motherfucker.”

It was a line from How to Kill a Motherfucker and in her merry days, she’d have laughed explosively at it. Instead, she sighed like one giving up to death.

“Is there hope?” she asked.

“Hope is in knowing,” he said. “Knowing that entropy is a bitch.”

“Aha!” she snorted. “What sort of hope is that?”

“Entropy is what is wrong with the world. Not people. Not animals. Not trees. I think it hurts much less to accept that entropy and time both point towards a drastic, dystopian, horrifying future where everything dies. Everything. And you are all headed there.”

“There is nothing hopeful in that either.”

“What do you want me to say? Cats don’t lie. We are not built to please. We don’t toady humans. We don’t grovel, drivel, or curry favours. Like dogs do. If you want the truth, ask a cat. So take my word, Soni. Everybody is just a disaster waiting to happen, so is everything else, and they are going to happen to you as long as you live. The person you love so much is the best disorder Nature could allow to serve her diabolic purpose. He is a puppet. So are you. And both are made of chemical mixtures that cause chaos.”

                                                                                                                                                                                IX.

“Well, enough of that entropy shit,” Soni said and got down from the bed. She did so slowly, tiredly, yawning and stretching. But to her shock, her body remained sleeping.

“Holy shit, Q.O.! What is that?” she pointed and jumped back.

“You are dead,” Q.O. said. He was so cool.

“I’m not dead!” she shrieked, gawking at the languid dead thing curled on the bed like a foetus. Some sort of foam was flowing from its mouth. “I’m not dead!” she cried.

“You OD’d, and you are as dead as dead. Those pills are as effective as electricity. You have been dead for about an hour. Don’t you feel it?”

“I feel alive.”

“Then there is nothing to worry about.”

She examined the dead thing. “I don’t want to be dead,” she moaned. “I want to live!”

“You have been dead ever since Oloo left you,” Q.O. said. “You took it too hard. This is just the last death, the climax, the end. But I think you should be happy. Why do you wish to continue living in this pollution? Life is a disease. Death is the cure. Death is the eternal hero, the uncompromising liberator.”

“Death is the cure?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” agreed Q.O.

“I believe you,” she said with a wise nod. “But how can you see me and talk to me if I’m dead?”

“I am a cat,” he shrugged. “Cats have their virtues. We can see two worlds at a go.”

“Yeah, I think I have heard such a thing.”

“I just proved it.”

“Why did you teach me all that stuff about entropy if I am dead?”

“Don’t worry about it. The most important lessons are always learned belatedly. If you learn them in due time, you might act on them and decrease entropy. Nature hates any interference with that horrible pampered baby.”

“Okay.”

“The only regrettable thing is that Dr. Xi is going to be shattered. He truly loves you. He is a great man, smelling of honesty, truth. He was going to ask you to marry him.”

“Oh, man!” Soni cried.

“Don’t worry about it. His nature decreases entropy. He has too much love in his heart. So he deserves to be shattered with heartbreak.”

“Don’t say that.”

“It is nothing personal. It is just entropy.”

She buried her face in her hands, squeezed her eyes, sighed.

“What do I do now?”

“You can vanish like other dead people. Now is the time to adventure outside earth and wander across the universe. Find a planet and haunt it. Perhaps you can start with Mars or Ganymede. They say life may be possible on those ones.”

He paused, added: “Alternatively, you can just stick around. Increase some entropy and make Mother happy.”

“What do you mean by ‘increase some entropy’?” Soni asked.

He shrugged. “You can deal absolute terror on those two fuckers who did this to you, to us. Oloo and Damaris. You have the advantage. You are like a ghost now. They can’t see you. You can grip them like gravity and hit them with the force of a wrecking ball.”

Her eyes blazed. “Yes! Wonderful! Marvellous! Sublime!” she cried and frolicked about like a kid. “Yes! I’m going to show them what it means to be a nuisance!

“That’s the spirit, baby,” Q.O. said.

“And I’m not leaving this house. It is my house!” declared she. “My house whether I am dead or alive, a ghost or whatever!”

Our house,” Q.O. said.

“Yes. Our house,” she amended. “And nobody will take it from us!”

Q.O. yawned and stretched. “I think you should get me some food now. I like the eggs. Scrambled as they come. That ‘cat-food’ stuff from the supermarket tastes like dog shit. Every time you serve me some I can’t help looking at you and asking myself: who tastes this shit and decides that it is good for me?”

Soni laughed. “Got it!”

They walked out of the bedroom side by side. Like good old eternal buddies.

“One more thing I’ve been asking myself: what does Q.O. stand for?”

“It stands for Quintessential Organism.”

“Ah! That’s a relief. I thought it stood for Quick Offer.”

“Why would you think so?”

“I don’t know. I guess I’m just a negative cat.”

                                                                                                                                                                                      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.

I.

A Range Rover flew past him like a whizz-bang and he had to swerve dangerously in panic. He called the driver a fucking bean soup.

“I hope you choke to death!” he cried in the cruellest, most vehement voice he could muster. “I hope you choke to death!”

His voice vibrated shrilly like the stridulation of a cricket.

After the vexatious Range Rover had vanished into the estate, and Ochise’s heart was once again calm, he pondered over whether he had cursed correctly or had blundered like a man drunk on bean soup. What if it was interpreted that he loved bean soup so much that he daydreamed about it? Ah, fuck it! But that wasn’t what he had meant—no, ma’am, sir, it wasn’t!—and any misinterpretations could be shoved up the shit duct!

“Shove it up the shit duct!” he squealed, and then grinned like death.

As a matter of fact, he hated bean soup, loathed it. When he was in high school, it had been a speciality. Can you believe that? Those M-fuckers had made that shit a speciality! Boil the beans for teachers and save the red, thin, watery diarrhoea for students. They poured a mugful of it on your vegetables as if it were ketchup. But it tasted like poison, and it could make you shit your intestines out in shreds. Or fart something flammable.

One student had eaten it and caught fire. During a power blackout, while making his bed in candlelight, he had accidentally farted in the direction of the flame, which had at once expanded like a demonic thing and engulfed him in a ravenous, unforgiving blaze, melting his fat farting ass like plastic and climbing up his rectum and into his intestines, boiling them like water. Thirsty tongues of blue flame had come out of his mouth and nose, licking them, frying his tongue, lips, and cheeks like beef. Witnesses had spoken of sizzling sounds issuing from his ears and eyes. Ironically, his death had been ruled suicide by the school, and Ochise had laughed himself almost to death, comparing the poor boy with those weird monks of Tibet who protested against the government by setting themselves on fire. Somebody should tell them the job was much easier with a mug of bean soup and a half-burnt stick of candle. All they needed was drink the soup, light the candle, and point their assholes in the right direction. Then PEEEEW! BOOM! Suicide, ha, ha!

But that was neither here nor there today. That was past. What was here and now was that fucking bean-soup neighbour driving at over a hundred kilometres per hour on an estate driveway. Somebody should teach her a lifelong lesson.

Ochise parked the Nissan Sunny in his designated space. It groaned and shook like a debilitated old man dying of asthma or T.B., such a hunk of junk for a thirty-year old Mr. Handsome Right.

“Molly, I think today is your lucky day, baby. You have met the famed Mr. Handsome Right. And he is going to make all things handsome and right. He is a righteous man.”

That was what he had told her when they first met. And she had laughed musically, her voice a titillating frequency, mellifluous, pure. He had drowned in it.

Later, when the drowning hadn’t killed him, he had questioned how it could have been that he’d fallen in love with a voice. What happened to falling in love with the person? Where did it go? Had it ever even been there in the first place? Maybe no! It hadn’t. As far back as Ochise could recall, it had always been the eyes, the face, the hair, the voice, the boobs, the ass, the legs, etc—never the person!—which was truly strange because none of those parts meant shit without the person. A human being chopped into pieces for everyone to pick their favourite parts! Who could love, even barely like, detached eyeballs floating around the house like a genie, or a headless face that resembled a mask with live chattery teeth, or boobs that dangled on their own like magic fruits, or ass—just ass—bare, disconnected ass? Ah, fuck the world for all the bullshit! Fuck the world!

But he had loved Molly. She had been a sweet soul.

“Molly, I love you wholly,” he’d been used to saying, making her laugh in that pristine, melodic way of hers.

On the second floor landing, Ochise found a little girl, five or six years old, playing with a brown cat. He recognized her as the bean-soup neighbour’s daughter, and he thought that he might just have his revenge for the contempt showed him on the driveway. Her mother drove a brand new Range Rover Vogue while his was a retiring, asthmatic not-so-sunny Nissan Sunny, the ride in which was more like a piggyback on a sick old man than anything else. Some days when he felt generous, he wanted to carry it home instead of having it carry him.

“Give me that cat!” he barked at the girl and grabbed the animal from her hands. Being a family cat, it did not fight and instead snuggled up to him. He put it down and kicked its butt so hard it flew over the railing and landed in front of an oncoming Volkswagen which went on to squish it on the pavement. It cried once and Ochise could swear he heard its bones crack like sticks.

“Holy Lordy!” exclaimed he in wonder. “How unlucky dat fat cat!” he chuckled. To the girl, he said, “Squishy-squashy-squiggly-squeegee! Holalalulaah! Must’ve been a jinxed day for your kitty-catty, no?”

But the girl began to cry.

“Shut up or I will eat your tongue!” he barked, and she quieted for a second, gazed at him with scared uncertain eyes, but started crying again. She let out a shrieking scream.

Ayee!” exclaimed he in surprise but quickened to add: “If I see your tongue one more time I will bite it and eat it like chocolate! Chocolate! You get that?”

He bent down to her level and bared his teeth, running his tongue over them like a sinister carnivore. He licked them, clicked them, ground them, as if chomping down on bones, and swallowed hungrily. He grunted, snapped.

The girl took off like a bird, screaming her lungs sick, and Ochise laughed all the way to his house.

“Little Marybeth Bay, where is thy Aunt May? Tell her the bogeyman cometh thy way!” he sang and laughed harder, louder.

II.

The house smelled of Molly. And that was the second worst thing about being in it. The first worst thing was that Molly was dead. She had been dead for two months. Yet it felt like yesterday. It was driving him mad.

Her head had shattered like a coconut.

Ochise hurled himself onto the bed and wept afresh. The bed smelled of Molly; she was all over the bed: her warmth, her love, her lovemaking, her breath, her sweat, her tears, and even her sounds. He was haunted by these, hounded even.

“Ah, love is hard!” thought he.

He got down and changed into her clothes, complete with panties and a bra. That way his mourning was complete. He remembered everything about her. He relived them.

He sank his head on her pillow, where her hair had been, that black mass of love, soft lustrous, mossy, not to mention its lemony—oniony—orangey—chocolaty—garlicky–flowery rapturous fragrance. So good it was a waste of words to attempt to describe it.

He had dried for her that hair, straightened it, plaited it, and when they made love, he’d ruined it.

“You ruined my hair,” she’d complained once while working to put it back in order.

“It looks like Calypso’s–you know, the bug-goddess and Davy Jones’ girlfriend from Pirates of the Caribbean,” he’d said, and she’d charged him and pinned him on the bed, and straddled him, and pretended to bite him but kissed him instead, and they had ended up making love a second time.

Afterwards, they’d both laughed and kissed and touched some more, and he’d ad-libbed a silly rhyme for her that went like: “Mellow Molly likes it wholly in her holy hole!” and she’d laughed harder and called him stupid.

He was still submerged in memories and filled with everlasting bitterness when there came about a series of knocks from the living room. It came slowly and distantly like a revelation and he wondered how long it had been going on. Before he could get down from the bed the knocks had become violent bangs.

“This is a private property!” he yelled as he dashed to answer. He flung the door open, and there before him, defying his imagination, defying everything, was the bean-soup woman.

“Holy Lordy! Look at this beastie!” he cried in shock and withdrew back into the house.

She was staring at him wide-mouthed and popeyed, as speechless as the dead.

He was about to swear at her for interrupting his daily private session only for her to end up freezing at his door like a misplaced ugly mannequin when he remembered that he was wearing Molly’s transparent nightgown complete with panties and a bra.

“Ah, fuck it!” he swore to himself. “What do you want?” he asked her, making his voice flinty and intolerable.

He had never been this close to her. In this estate, neighbours did their best to hide from one another. You knew they were there because their expensive cars drove in and out of the compound, and on occasional weekends you met them with their kids and maids on the stairs headed for church. They were cold, suspicious; they were scared of you. There were some foolish ones, though, that peeped at you through their windows when you walked from the parking lot to your house. Curtains opened and closed with the skilled secrecy and speed of witches.

When Molly died, none of them had bothered to condole with him. Only the watchmen had offered a few words of consolation. In the old Africa, entire villages would have come to mourn with him and offer comfort. But this was not Africa anymore; this was Europe. You had to live in a civilized world in order to feel empty and abandoned, all alone in a threatening place. It made you want to strangle those Hollywood filmmakers who portrayed Africa in their movies as a deserted desert, a barbaric wilderness, or an overpopulated pandemonium. They made European civilization appear so vain, yet its rewards were plenty, including alienation from all life, detachment from self and from everything else. You just wanted to shoot somebody, kick something, thrash and crash.

“You killed my cat!” the woman accused. She had recovered enough to speak. She was as dark as something that should be poisonous. She was huge, a giant, and she walked like a load. Her arms were as firm and thick as his own legs; and her ass was a solid and compact construction block. It could be used to balance a crane.

“Do I look like a car to you?” he asked her.

“Why did you kill my cat?”

“Are you naturally stupid or do you just need somebody on whom to discharge your filth? If so, you’ve picked on the wrong person. You are standing at my door and if you get hurt, it will be a case of self-defence. Go to the police!”

“Mr. Morocco said you threw the cat down in front of his car and he crashed it before he could stop!”

“Mr. Morocco? Aha! Holy motherfucker! Isn’t Morocco a country in West Africa? A man named so must be a consummate moron. Moronic Morocco, ha, ha!”

“And you beat my daughter!” she accused. “You hurt little Lily!”

“Your daughter is mad,” he said. “How can you raise a mad girl? And has it occurred to you that I could have kicked your daughter and not the cat? Have you thought about that, huh? That I had enough good sense in me to kick the cat and spare your daughter, especially after what you did to me on the driveway, because you have a Range Rover and I have an antiquated Nissan Sunny? Why are you so thoughtlessly ungrateful?”

She was fuming. She was literally swelling with rage. Puffing like a puff adder.

“You make haste to haul your Brobdingnagian ass over here because your cat is dead?” he went on. “Did you see its brain? What did you think when you saw its brain? What do you know about loss? When your girlfriend’s head explodes like a coconut shell and you see her brain splattered on the road, and you shriek and howl and jump about like a lunatic, and at the same time you are struck by a strange wonder that the ugly mess of blood and brain tissues and intestines and smashed liver at your feet is what had made her beautiful and lovely and wonderful and the best in the world! And you become confused and bewildered and you want to throw up and run away from it all, yet you choose to stay and mourn at the unfairness of everything. That it never mattered that you loved her; that to God or Nature or Satan, or to fellow humans even, it never made a fucking difference that you so loved her you’d have offered to die in her place! That you don’t matter! You don’t matter! Your love, your heart, your mind: all that you have, all that you do, does not matter. It doesn’t matter whether you do good or bad, whether you love or hate. Everything can be taken away in a blink, without warning, without so much as a psychic premonition, and you remain blighted and inconsolable for the rest of your life. Questioning things, questioning life, questioning the fucking gods and their righteous diabolism! What do you know about that, you fat barrel of shit?”

He was crying again.

“You beat my daughter,” the woman said stolidly.

“Jeez! Why are you so obtuse?” he shrieked at her. “Fucking bean soup! Fucking dirty water! Fucking universe! I hope you choke to death next time you swallow! You make me want to punch something. You make me want to punch something so badly . . .”

And he punched her thick face. It was like punching a chunk of wet steak.

Kthup!

That was the sound it made. It was an impotent sound.

III.

The cat came back.

But it was glowing, a flaming reddish brown coat, and the fire was coming from within it, as if it had swallowed a 200-watt bulb. Its eyes, which had been blue, were now bluer and fiercer, spotlights in the dark. It seemed phantasmagorical, as if it could not exist in real life.

“You are dead!” Ochise shouted at it, starting. He was in the bedroom but what he was doing there was somewhat vague. The cat was in the doorway.

“You bet,” the cat said, and Ochise jumped with the celerity of a trap.

“You can’t talk!” screeched he.

“What difference does it make?” the animal said.

“You are a fucking cat!”

“He said you killed her.”

What?”

“He said you killed her.”

“What are you talking about? Who said I killed who?”

“You killed Molly. He said you pushed her in front of that speeding Range Rover. Yet now you mourn hopelessly and fuck with other people’s lives as if you are the victim and deserve to be avenged.”

Ochise opened his mouth and let out a vociferous curse.

“I don’t know what you think you are,” he said menacingly, approaching the animal. “I don’t know if you are dead or alive, talking or not, I don’t know who sent you, but you cannot accuse me of such heinousness, you bastard! I will kill you again!” he screamed, grabbed a shoe and hurled it at the cat.

The cat dodged smoothly and took off. He picked up another shoe and charged it.

“I will kill you again!” yelled he. “I will kill you!”

Instead of coming out through the main door, the bedroom spat him forth into strange woods. He was still running. Tall trees stood around him, majestic and solemn. Dead leaves crunched beneath him. And overhead, canopies like clouds were as abundant as pain.

“What the fuck?” he swore and stopped. “What the fuck is this?”

The path ran infinitely in both directions. A straight narrow stretch of lonely gloom, as frightening as it was inexplicably there.

“What the hell?” he screamed again, and this time he shut up and recoiled. He realized that only his voice was perceptible. The forest was still; it was dead still. No echoes, no wind, no movement; the trees, though august and rich, stood as motionless as posts.

He could not feel his breath leaving his nose or even the heaving of his chest. Was he breathing? He pinched his nostrils with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. He held it that way for eternity. But nothing! He wasn’t breathing. Why? How could he talk if he wasn’t breathing?

He fanned his face with his hand, hoping to stir a current of air. None. There was no air here.

In Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, the robot conclusively sniffs a substance after one of the scientists has earlier remarked that it cannot breathe. It was a defect in the movie, but Ochise now grasped a handful of dead leaves and soil from the forest floor and sniffed them. But no! He could not breathe. His lungs were as still as everything else around him. Was he dead? He couldn’t be dead. Dreaming perhaps. All this must be a dream. Else, dead cats would never return to speak to humans. And your bedroom could not just expel into a foreign forest.

He saw the cat ahead of him, and for lack of anything else to do besides worrying and bowing to the flabbergasting horror of the moment, he decided to continue chasing. He flung the shoe at it, which it again dodged with graceful alacrity and sped on.

He did not know for how long he ran. It seemed to be forever. And the cat never tired. He never caught up with it. However, as unexpectedly as it had appeared, the forest vanished. It just vanished. It was neither behind him nor ahead of him. He stopped to wonder at this, gaping about in anxious suspense and horror, and he discovered that he was in a cemetery.

Before him was a grave with a statue of the Angel of Death reclined in a retiring, pensive sprawl over it, the famous scythe firmly gripped in its right hand, the curved blade extending on the ground in front of it.

The cat ran and stood by the statue. It said, “I have brought him,” and the statue lifted up its stony head and stared at Ochise with clear human-like eyes.

The scythe moved.

Death

IV.

Ochise ran back the way he had come or the way he thought he had come. He ran for one million kilometres in different and winding directions but ended up at the same spot where the grim reaper awaited him with the hideous scythe.

“What are you?” he panted, unable to run anymore. He was shaking so badly he would have collapsed if he had but taken one more step.

“Me?” the grim reaper said, as if taken aback by the question. It stood up and towered over Ochise by at least three feet. Ochise was five-ten. Standing, the thing seemed to be taller than when seated. It was as bald as a rock by the riverside, and its beard was like the fibrous roots of a greedy plant, only longer, thicker, nastier.

“I think the question should be about who I am,” it said. “If you say what, you make me inanimate, yet I am talking to you right now, kid.”

Its voice was a sexless jumble of frequencies; also too hoarse. Its body was human in form. But it had huge wings. It had no clothes on except the scanty piece with which it draped its loins. Ochise had a moment to wonder what kind of sex it had.

“You are a statue, and don’t call me kid,” Ochise barked. “I am thirty years old.”

“Aha! Human!” it sighed. “You still think time is important on this side of things?”

“What is this side of things?”

“The answer to that question is in who I am.”

“Who are you?”

“I am Death,” it said and paused to regard Ochise reflectively, maybe to witness the effect of the revelation on him.

Ochise saw now that its eyes were colourless, transparent pools of water, without irises, pinpoint pupils floating in them.

Ochise considered him (let it be him, thought he, because it would imply inanimateness, yet it could talk and walk and laugh, and God knew what else it could do. After all, the cat had referred to it as he.) Ochise considered him for some time and pointed out that he was indeed a statue of the Angel of Death.

“I have never heard of such an angel,” Grim said. “If you mean that the angel is mine, then it should satisfy you to learn that I am, and can be, in no possible possession of an angel. But if you mean that I am the angel, you are wrong by a universe.”

“Surely you were a statue when I first came here,” asserted Ochise.

“And where is here?” Death demanded. He scowled and the pools of water in his eyes darkened, the pupils burning dark red. “Do you want to keep calling me a statue or do you want to discuss more vital things pertaining to your presence on this side of things? The pettiness of man certainly is staggering!” he sighed.

“Okay, so you’re death! Are you going to kill me Mr. Death?” Ochise asked, but it was more of a jeer than a question.

“It is not my duty to kill,” Death said, matter-of-factly. His eyes cleared.

“How then can you be Death?”

“I’m not a killer. I am a soul collector. Dying is an energy conversion process. When you die, a change is effected in your energy signature. I just read the signature and collect the severed soul. With this,” he added and raised the scythe.

Ochise stepped back with a gasp. He imagined that horrible blade tearing into his soul, somewhere between his shoulder blades or through his abdomen.

“Am I dead?” asked he, his voice now quieter, trembling, heartbeat climbing, and a cold thing sitting in his stomach.

“Don’t you know?” Death said, leering.

“How can I know?”

“But you have spoken of Molly as if she knows that she’s dead! Isn’t it your culture as a human to honour the dead and speak of them with more love and respect than you do of the living?”

“Where is she?” Ochise asked quickly. “Where is Molly?”

The Grim Reaper picked up the cat and put it on his shoulder. He began walking in the direction from which Ochise had come, or thought he had come.

“Follow me, child,” Death said without looking back, “and I will show you a lifetime in a handful of dust.”

V.

Ochise, without any choice in the matter, followed.

“Did you send that cat to accuse me of killing Molly?” he asked, hastening to catch up with Death.

“How did she die?” Grim asked.

“Don’t you know?” Ochise threw back after a short consideration.

“Aha!” Death laughed and looked at him. “I don’t see everyone. Besides, I’ve been very busy across the globe. My schedule is airtight.”

“Well, we were from the supermarket, Nakumatt Prestige, the one at the intersection of Ngong Road and Mugo Kabiru Road,” Ochise said. “Molly had bought some condoms we had never tried, and we were rushing home to make love. She kept saying that she was horny. ‘I’m so hot I could melt your dick right now,’ she said. And I was as excited as an ant with a grain of sugar. ‘What makes women hot?’ I joked, referring to the new-age commonplace fashion of branding women as hot. She said, ‘Hot means sexy,’ but I laughed and said, ‘No. I think they are called hot because they have the burning bush.’ And she laughed until she staggered about like a drunk, saying that I was out of my mind. I told her that I was going to pump her uterus with a prosthetic penis, and she said that if I did that, she’d stick a cob of maize up my rectum, the grains and all. And I began to laugh and hug her and kiss her cheek, and I told her how much I loved her then, how nothing else could be better in the whole world. But at the pavement, just as we were about to cross the road, Ngong Road, her left heel caught at a raised part, and she lurched forward. The Range Rover blasted her head.”

“Wow!” Death said with amazement. “That was quick! Nonetheless, I perceive that you had a hand in her demise.”

“How can you say that?”

“You distracted her.”

“You don’t seem to understand,” Ochise lamented. “It was a happy moment for both of us. We were going to make love. She was still laughing. I can still hear her. And I was holding her hand. The driver never stopped, was never caught.”

“I like the part where you wanted to pump her uterus with a prosthetic penis,” Death said and guffawed crazily, startling Ochise, who was immersed in memory. “Prosthetic penis,” Death repeated and continued with the cachinnation.

Ochise sighed. He hated Grim’s hollow, sexless, pitiless laughter. But there was nothing he could do about it.

“Life became meaningless after that,” he said. “Existence became unbearable. I wished to die.”

“But has life ever been meaningful?” Death asked, but the way he looked at Ochise with an oblique grin showed that the question was a tease. He knew the answer.

“What do you know about us?” Ochise shot back, resenting the tease. “What do you know about pain and loss?”

“Oh, I know plenty,” Death said. “The meaning you crave or wish for is unattainable. It is impossible. You think ideally. Humans perceive only straight lines. There is neither love nor freedom in a straight line.”

“There is love! There is freedom!”

“What freedom? The one for which you constantly wage war and decimate yourselves all year round only to return to the same condition after the war as before the war, huh? There is nothing like freedom. Not for your lot. And if there is no freedom, then there is no love.”

He paused and regarded Ochise thoughtfully, went on:

“How can there be freedom when the universe is governed mathematically? You are all trapped in a rigid energy system. Those who designed you, your gods, goddesses, they did so because they needed a source of self-sustaining infinite energy. Humans are the source. The earth is the engine that drives the universe.”

“What are you saying? It is a lie! How can you claim that we are like . . . batteries?” Ochise asked with hesitation, the concept imponderable to him.

“You are batteries,” Death affirmed. “Fuel cells. The sounds you make—the screams, the laughter, the wars, the machines—keep the universe in motion. The frequencies are far-reaching and are more powerful than any weapons your scientists can devise. You are practically perpetual motion machines. Anything you do is advantageous to the system, facilitates energy circulation. Whether you are happy or sad, living or dying, at war or at peace, sane or insane, your makers get along prolifically. Why do you think they told you that they can always hear you? They need you to keep talking, keep up the noise; they need sound. They gave you different languages and put you in different parts of the world so that they could get variable frequencies for maximum output. And in the beginning, when there were only a few of you, they built temples and made you sing and pray and scream in them. The temples were efficient energy conductors.”

“What do they need all that much energy for?”

“It keeps them alive. They get to be immortal and have all the fun.”

“What about when we are dead?”

“When you are dead?” Death asked and seemed to contemplate his reply. “When you are dead, I collect what is left of you, which is truly pure energy freed from the physical. It goes to sustain the sun.”

“What are you telling me?” Ochise asked after a short period of perplexed silence. “The sun is made up of dead people?”

“You can say that. Energy constantly undergoes conversion. When you are alive you create so much noise and general disturbance that entire new planets and galaxies are formed from them. And your makers are beside themselves with glee. When you are dead, you enrich the sun, which then inspires more life on earth, and the system is contained. On a larger scale, your interactions and behaviour are as essential to the structure and continuity of the universe as are those of electrons to the properties and functions of materials,” Death paused again, regarded Ochise, and then proceeded to say, “So then, tell me: what meaning do you see for your life?”

“It’s a horror story,” lamented Ochise, his heart sunk. “It is the worst horror story.”

“It is a win-win for the designers,” Death said. “They win.”

“What about you?” Ochise asked. “Are you affected?”

“I do my job. There is no cause for complaint.”

“What about dead animals?” Ochise asked, looking at the cat now balanced on Death’s wing.

“No energy is wasted. In the end all energy is accounted for. Every organism gives back what it owes.”

Ochise was speechless. He was trying to conclude on these revelations but they seemed disproportionately ugly. There was no way out of the system. It was a trap. It was jail. He had questioned once why getting out of earth alive was so difficult. First, you came via a one-way path; then there was gravity and the atmosphere to hold you down, but if you climbed higher it became intolerably cold and the level of oxygen progressively diminished to zero. If you could go beyond that, solar radiations and magnetic fields in the ionosphere and magnetosphere would fry your ass to cardboard. But if you had the means to continue further chances were that you would end up in an orbit and circulate forever, or find yourself drifting purposelessly in a limitless expanse of emptiness.

“Aha! Oh, yeah, life has meaning!” He was tired, dizzy, and there tears in his eyes.

“Don’t cry,” Death said. “It is utterly pointless. There is something you must see.”

“What?”

“A depot.”

VI.

Suddenly, they were at the pinnacle of what appeared to be a very high mountain, and before them, like the sea, were thousands of human forms. They had rather smoky-cloudy-foggy aspects, nothing physical, and they were glowing so radiantly they appeared aflame. They were in motion, all at once, and upon studious scrutiny, it became clear that they were flowing in a complex never-ending self-regenerating Fibonacci circuit. The motion was uniform but so slow that there was an initial illusion that they were stationary.

“What is this?” Ochise wondered.

“It is what a layman would call a depot,” Death explained. “Someone else might call it a capacitor. It is a store of energy. Millions of humans die annually, hundreds, thousands a day. I put them here before eventual release into the sun’s core.”

“How long do they last here?”

“How long?” Death mimicked and his liquid eyes darkened. Ochise cringed. “I do not measure time.”

“Is Molly here?” Ochise inquired, but the forms were all alike. Apparitions, he thought, and was struck by a certain fatiguing poignant feeling that these people had lived, had fallen in love, made love, played, laughed, fought, learned, philosophized, and believed there was meaning to all of it. Yet here they were, merely forms of energy in circulation, floating spectres, as unaware as nothing else could be, everything lost for them, to them, gone. It was ugly.

“She is certainly here,” Death said. “But myself I cannot see her. Their energy signatures are the same. Even if I could see her, it would have made no difference. None of them can leave the circuit or alter its momentum without severe and profound disturbance in the system.”

“Why are we aware?” Ochise moaned. “If we are mere batteries, fuel cells, why are we aware?”

“Your awareness accelerates your activity, hence more emissions of energy. Humans single-handedly power the universe.”

Ochise sighed, groaned. “Am I dead right now?” He wished to know no more.

“No,” Death said, looking down at him. “The woman you punched, Mrs. Kombo, she overpowered you and threw you down from second floor. You became unconscious from severe head injuries. Your body is in the Nairobi Hospital now. The doctor thinks you won’t make it.”

“She threw me down? That woman threw me down?”

“Listen, kid. I am not usually interested in live humans. I deal with the dead. I noticed you because I like the cat. A curiosity I’m unaccustomed to came over me and impelled to me to investigate the cause of its transfer from the physical. I’ll keep it. I do keep pets, mostly cats, in another place. Dead cats, you can call them. I cannot keep you, though. If you choose to remain here, I will have to insert you into the circuit. You can, however, go back to earth and live freely. By freely I mean without the self-made constraints that plague your existence, the socio-politico-economic and religious bullshit. You can live without fear or regret, without bias, hate; with fervour, passion, exuberance, and even joy. Not that it will change the aftermath for you, which is fixed mathematically, but it sure beats eternal mourning for the dead, for Molly or anybody else, who do not even know that they are dead, do not even know that they once were human. It beats pretending to own the earth and getting unduly distressed over it when you do not even own yourself.”

“But how can I go back to earth with this knowledge?” Ochise moaned. “How can I live knowing this?”

“You wanted to know,” Death countered. “Nobody said knowing would be a solution. The more you contemplate life, earth, the universe, the more they are pointless. Unless you are the makers, then it is all profitable.”

“Where is hope for us?” Ochise begged.

“There is always tomorrow,” Death answered, “That is all the hope there is. However, knowledge awakens. So then, awake forthwith! You can choose to live positively, avoid the hurt. It is a painful existence. If you want pain you can drink it like water the rest of your life. But there is no pleasure in overabundance.”

VII.

At the Nairobi Hospital, Ochise came to. Something was beeping and a woman was screaming, “He’s back! He’s alive! He’s alive!” yet another one was giving orders, “Call Dr. Maina! Call the doctor! Now!

There was something over his nose.

The ceiling sparkled resplendently white.

I.            Déjà vu

Almost twenty-four hours before the dead man appeared, Kimani was afflicted with a sense of déjà vu so keen and deep, so detailed and distinct, that he did not just have the feeling that the events he was experiencing had already taken place, but he in fact saw himself performing or witnessing them in the past.

It started in the bathroom. He was reaching for the towel, he could just feel the wet tips of his fingers coming into contact with its velvety softness, ready to grasp it and pull it down from its holder, when, in a flash, he was overwhelmed with vivid memory of the action. Involuntarily, he jerked his hand back, as if the towel were too hot for him. Then he wiped his face in one quick, anxious motion of his hand, and stared at the towel with a confounded expression. But it was still just hanging there on the wall, impotent, quiet, not even shaking from the slight touch he had given it.

“Strange,” he said, blinking rapidly to clear water from his eyelashes.

He had seen an image of himself, with his dripping arms extended, seizing the towel; even the way it had felt against the tips of his fingers had been oddly familiar. He tried to recall if it was memory from the past, when he had showered in the same place and used the same towel. But no. The image could have been from the past, for all he cared; yet the feeling put it in the present, this very morning, this very moment. It shook him.

After nearly two minutes of fruitless reflection, he took the towel and dried himself.

From then on, it became a nightmare for him. His life was on a replay. It was as if that Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009, were happening for the second time with meticulous accuracy. The way he dressed, the clothes he chose, which leg got into the trouser first, which one into the shoes, what he said to his wife, his position at the breakfast table, his posture, the sight of the food, the arrangement, the taste, his daughter’s appearance, her fork, her plate, her Weetabix, the conversation they had, her voice, etc—everything was as though rigidly foreordained, and he’d been through each and every one of them this very day. It was eerie.

His daughter, silently studying him, asked, “Dad, what’s the matter with you?”

“Nothing,” he said, starting, meeting her brilliant eyes. He smiled at her. “I’m all right, Lin. Thank you for asking,” he added; but there was déjà vu in both the question and the response.

“For a moment there you looked weird,” Linda said, still studying him. “You looked disturbed.”

“I think I’m experiencing déjà vu,” he said.

“Is déjà vu a disease or something?” she asked.

“Or something,” he replied, and she laughed aloud. “Dad!” she exclaimed happily, her fork hovering about her mouth, her eyes luminous.

He got up, left the table. “I’ll just be outside,” he told her.

“You didn’t finish your breakfast,” she announced after him.

“It’s all yours,” he said.

“Over my full belly!” she exclaimed and laughed at her own joke.

He stood on the balcony. Standing there, too, seemed to have occurred beforehand. He saw his neighbour taking out garbage in a black plastic bag, felt that he had seen her do that before, although he hadn’t, for it was the owner of the house herself, not the maid, which was out of place because the maid always performed the task. If it was the maid, he would have concluded the sense of déjà vu associated with her was no more than a recurring image from an event actually witnessed before. It caused him to ponder over the causes of déjà vu. He remembered coming across a long time ago information to the effect that déjà vu could be a result of a screw-up in a person’s memory banks, when the long-term and short-term banks got their data interchanged. But that, he reasoned, explained a single instant of déjà vu. Not several hours of it, or the entire day. Wouldn’t he have to be utterly mad if his memory banks became so corrupted that the whole day appeared to be reoccurring, right up to the subtle nitty-gritty of it, like smells, sounds, gestures, greetings, and desultory thoughts? Was he becoming mad?

Or perhaps he was developing epilepsy. Did he have epilepsy? Déjà vu could also be a disorder of the central nervous system linked to epilepsy. It chilled him to contemplate the slightest possibility of that evil torment.

When he was in high school, there had been a boy with epilepsy in his class. Gony, his name; when he was attacked, he’d be convulsing and stiff at the same time, his mouth twisted and drivelling profusely, his eyes wide, unseeing, staring fixedly at something invisible on the roof, and strange, loud, revolting, gargling, strangling sounds would be coming from his throat.

Epilepsy, being a long-term disorder, could be the only explanation for the sort of déjà vu Kimani was experiencing.

He pictured himself in Gony’s place, prostrate, paralyzed, convulsing, seeing the Devil or maybe death itself on the roof, while his twisted mouth emitted oodles of vile spittle.

Epilepsy, he thought with sudden panic. “I have epilepsy!” he cried in a shrill terrified voice, and fled back into the house, tripping over the door rug and momentarily losing his balance in the process.

“Kim, what’s the matter?” asked his wife, who had joined Linda at the table and was polishing off Kimani’s left-over breakfast. She started to rise immediately.

“Dad?” shouted Linda with concern.

“I’m okay,” he lied, his voice shaking. “Just remembered something.”

He ran into the bedroom and locked the door behind him. Unconvinced, for they knew him, Grace and Linda were soon shouting outside, but he did not let them in. If he went to the hospital, he would be put through so many so expensive tests at the end of which he would be advised to return for more. The doctors in the current economic system did not compassionately care about their patients; money was their chief concern; and there were always stories that they were bribed by the pharmaceutical companies to prescribe drugs, so that they gave you drugs that would not treat you, would perhaps kill you, or just worsen your painful condition, but they did not give a damn.

So Kimani called Otis, his long-time buddy and business partner, with whom he had been in the University of Nairobi studying Physics and Mathematics. Otis knew things. His opinion would be reliable. Thirty-nine, same age as Kimani, yet a bachelor, he read for a hobby and he’d read one too many books. Kimani had advised him to enrol for a master’s at the campus but he’d said: “What’s the point, when I can make all my money by myself and still read every damn book I want, without some perverse, grumbling, underpaid lecturer telling me what to read, and what not, for an unnecessary piece of paper at the end?”

Suppressing his agitation, Kimani inquired, “Is déjà vu a symptom of epilepsy?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.”

“But certainly I recollect seeing an article about the connection between some form of epilepsy and déjà vu,” asserted Kimani.

“No, that’s not true,” Otis said. “What you saw was most likely a conjecture. There is really no established cause for déjà vu, inasmuch as I can tell. Epilepsy is a broad term for neurological anomalies, Kim; now, if you view déjà vu in the same way, maybe as a disturbance in the memory circuit, audio, visual, or tactile, etc, then there you have your connection. But it’s all just an educated guess.”

“Okay,” Kimani said, and sighed loudly with relief.

“What’s wrong, Kim?” asked Otis, carefully, after hearing the relief in Kimani’s voice.

“I thought I had epilepsy.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m experiencing déjà vu,” Kimani explained.

“How can an experience of déjà vu lead you to such preposterous conclusions, Kim?” Otis asked. “An epileptic person manifests recurrent convulsive seizures, not déjà vu!”

“You don’t understand,” Kimani said. “Everything is re-happening. The whole day is reoccurring, as if I’ve been through it before. Even this conversation, the things you say, what I say; even when I scratch myself, it’s like I’m repeating it.”

“That’s interesting,” Otis remarked.

“Indeed, because it feels as if you’ve said that before, and today,” Kimani answered.

“I can give you an explanation, but it’s just mine,” Otis said.

“Go ahead. I’m listening intently.”

“Do you remember that course on Quantum Mechanics?”

“Professor Akumu,” Kimani said. “That old neglectful bastard; he didn’t seem to have an atom of idea what he was talking about!”

“Quantum Mechanics hypothesizes that there exists more than just one world . . .”

“Parallel universes, alternate realities,” Kimani interrupted. “I remember that one.”

“In those other worlds, or realities, or universes, our past, our future, our present have happened, are happening now, or will happen sometime in the future. Our history may be the same one or entirely different. What you did, or could’ve done, or was done to you in the past, say, in the year 2000, has been done already, is being done right now, or will be done in, say, 2014, or 15 elsewhere. Time is simultaneous across the universes. The year 2009 here can be concurrent with 2015 or 2030 elsewhere. Sometimes there is a glitch between two worlds, like a temporary short circuit, and particles known as tachyons cross back and forth carrying with them energy from wherever reality and whichever time they come. If such is the case, and your data particularly is transmitted, then you experience the sensation of what has happened to the version of you on the other side. That’s déjà vu.”

“I’ll be damned,” Kimani said and chuckled. “You’re saying that today, Wednesday, Dec 23rd, 2009, has already happened to me elsewhere, and I am simply re-experiencing it here!”

“Something of that sort, yes,” Otis said.

“Ha! I like that one,” Kimani said pleasantly. “It sure is more comforting than thinking I’ve got epilepsy.”

“You are fine,” Otis reassured. “Déjà vu only means that you’re still alive and kicking out there somewhere in a separate, disparate world. Enjoy your Christmas, Kim, and pass my sincere love to Grace and Linda.”

“Will do,” Kimani said. “And thanks, man.”

“No problem.”

He felt much better afterwards, elated, cheerful, happy, although those feelings, too, were quite familiar. He did not care much any more. He spent time playing Scrabble with Linda, let her win three out of five games, much to her jubilant amusement and inspiration, before she left with her mother to go to shopping at Nakumatt Junction.

Alone, bored, unwilling to leave the house due to his déjà vu, despite not considering it a threat any more, Kimani went to the bedroom, lay down on the bed, and slept after half an hour or so.

II.            Someone in Linda’s Room

The bedside clock was reading eleven minutes after six when he awoke. For some time, he thought it was in the morning, until he recognized that the orange rays pouring in through the window were from a setting sun. The general texture and tone of the day had changed; there was less noise without and the evening had acquired a velvety feel. Kimani struggled to reconcile himself with the fact that he’d slept for over eight hours.

He went to the toilet to urinate. As he was finishing, it occurred to him, abruptly, that he was no longer experiencing déjà vu. He paused in the process of zipping his trouser to scrutinize this revelation. He recounted his movement from waking to the toilet. It seemed true. To be absolutely certain, he concluded the zip, lowered the seat, rinsed his hands, face, dried them, washed his mouth, stepped back, opened the door, and exited slowly, all his senses sharply alert to any abnormal sensations. But there was none; no interfering memory; no déjà vu.

Glad, encouraged, a harsh burden lifted from his heart, he hurried smilingly towards the kitchen where he knew his family was now getting ready for a six-thirty dinner. His feet were light; his gait graceful; his mood evincing great exhilaration. He attempted to whistle yet in vain. The endless episode of déjà vu had taken its cruel toll of him; he realized the extent of strain it had caused him. It had been poignant, though no more.

As he was passing outside Linda’s room, suddenly, out of nowhere, he felt that there was somebody else other than her in there, and he was brought to a jolting, trembling halt. His skin prickled; his hair rose; his heart gave a forceful jerk, and then accelerated steadily. It was a powerful feeling, brutal, poignant, like a confirmation of bad news, as if he was convinced beyond doubt of the presence of the stranger. A stranger—he knew it was a stranger, and a man. He knew. Impulsively, he stepped forward, grasped the lock, but let go of it. He had a split second of reflection to realize that if he went in with such a frame of mind, he would frighten her badly. He needed to relax. He should relax. He must relax. He noticed that his hands had curled themselves into hard-knotted fists. He uncurled them. He shut his eyes. A few seconds elapsed. He took deep breaths.

She was twelve; an only child, her mother had suffered the ugliest, most excruciating, wickedest possible case of obstetric complications, what the doctors had called placenta percreta, in which Grace’s placenta had become completely lodged into the uterine wall. She’d had to lose her uterus in the operation; which meant that there would be no more children for Kimani; which meant that Linda was special, more than special; indeed, she was extraordinary.

“Lin?” Kimani called and knocked once. His heart was still thumping, though the deep breaths had calmed him a little.

“Come in, Dad,” she said. Her voice was sweet, pure; innocent.

He went in. She was sitting on the bed surrounded with plenty of books, a pen in her hand, and a calculator beside her.

“Hi,” he greeted.

“Hi, Dad,” she said happily. “Are you really okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Then why did you sleep for such a long time?”

“I don’t know. I meant to wake up when you and Mum returned.”

“But you didn’t,” she said, gesturing. “Today, you’ve been truly weird! Are you hiding something from us? Mum said you might be.”

“There is nothing to hide, Lin,” he said. “I had a curious case of déjà vu. I told you in the morning. But that’s all. I’m fine now. Are you alone in here?” he asked after a pause. His tone was conversational; yet he was subtly looking around.

“No,” she said.

His heart leaped. “I can’t see anybody else,” he remarked, hoping the excitement in his voice was unnoticeable.

She laughed. “Dad, you’re also here! Can’t you see yourself?”

“That’s funny!” he exclaimed, and they both laughed. His laughter was tense. “Do you talk to yourself, then?” he asked, thinking he should dispel any suspicions. He did not want her thinking later on that he had been convinced there was a man in her room. It would give her wrong ideas.

“How can I talk to myself?” she asked.

“I heard you,” he said.

“You’re just being weird again,” remarked she. “I was studying Maths. And you can’t do anything else when you’re studying Maths. You lose concentration.”

“You’re studying Maths on Christmas day?” he teased.

“Dad, it’s 23rd! Besides, Uncle Otis said there is no bad time for reading. Any time is fine.”

“Uncle Otis is a genius,” Kimani said.

“He also said that I should strive to discover things for myself and not always wait for the teacher to show me.”

“That’s an excellent advice.”

“And, guess what, I think today I discovered something that is not in our books!”

“What’s that?”

“It’s about number nine,” she said, looking up with radiant eyes. “Do you know that nine plus any other number can be reduced to that number?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” her father said.

“Like nine plus six can be reduced to six!”

“Nine plus six is fifteen.”

“Yes, but one plus five is six. Nine plus eight is seventeen; but one plus seven is eight. It works for every other number added to nine.”

“What about nine plus twenty?” Kimani challenged.

“It’s twenty-nine, which is like two plus nine equals eleven, and one plus one equals two.”

“Isn’t it supposed to be twenty?” Kimani asked.

“Twenty reduces to two plus zero, which is two! Same as twenty-nine!”

“Whoa! That’s amazing!” Kimani praised, genuinely delighted.

“You think it’s an important discovery, Dad?” she asked, seriously.

“It’s extraordinary,” he said. “Tell Uncle Otis all about it. He’ll be thrilled. It’ll be like a Christmas present to him. And he’ll tell you where the concept can be applied.”

“Can I tell him now?” asked she, her face lighting up with anticipation.

“Of course,” he agreed and gave her his cell phone. “Come for dinner when you are done,” he added, and left.

Feeling guilty, embarrassed, he questioned his motive for going into her room. How could he have been driven to think, let alone believe, that there was a man in with her? It was absurd. It was wrong. She was but a twelve-year old kid, innocent, genius, full of love, trust, freedom, honesty, virtue; an angel. Yet he had been powerless to resist the feeling about the stranger. He told Grace about it.

“Jesus, Kim, what’s wrong with you?” she admonished strongly. “You can’t do that to Linda. It’s awful. It’s immoral. Your imagination is farfetched. You’re paranoid. You’re overprotective.”

“I’m not,” he said weakly.

“Do you know what happens to overprotected girls?” she continued. “They grow up screwed up. You are not going to screw up our only daughter. All those strict religious rules and principles and bullshit my parents made for us! I will not allow you to put my only child through them.”

“But, Grace, she is a genius! She has just showed me a concept in Mathematics that I don’t remember meeting anywhere in Kenya’s curriculum. And she found it by herself. We have to protect her or some half-witted, opportunistic idiot will take advantage of her.”

“That’s quite irrational!” Grace exclaimed. “I am not discussing this any more!” added she in an astringent reproachful tone.

Kimani started to protest but then remembered how his hands had curled themselves into hard-knotted fists at Linda’s door. He stopped.

III.            The Dead Man (1)

In the morning, there was a dead man in the living room.

Grace shook Kimani awake. She was terrified and in panic.

“What did you do?” she demanded.

“What?” he asked. Everything was misty. He rubbed his eyes.

“What did you do?” she shrieked, shaking him harder.

“I don’t know what—”

“There is a dead man in the house!” she cried. “There is a dead man in our house!”

He shot out of bed like a bullet. The sheets and the blanket flew after him, caught his legs, and he floundered, staggered, fell, got up and ran out in his underwear. His head was ringing, his heart rapidly gaining momentum.

“Oh, Kim,” Grace cried, following him.

The corpse was sprawled on its belly about three feet right of the main door, with its right hand clutching the edge of the sofa nearest to it and the corresponding leg folded and drawn up as if the owner had tried to get up in his last moments. The left hand had pinched a fistful of the carpet, apparently in distressing desperation, and there was a depression smeared with clotted blood and peeled skin on the wall where, evidently, the man had banged his head, which had continued to bleed on the carpet. His head lay on its cheek; the forehead was split, the nose crushed, lips and teeth shattered. The man had been no more than twenty years old.

“Who is this?” Grace asked.

Kimani, tongue-tied, thunderstruck, confounded, shocked, did not respond, could not respond.

“Who is this man?” Grace pressed agitatedly. “Who is he, Kim?”

“I don’t know this man,” Kimani said slowly, eventually. He had to be dreaming. He definitely had to be dreaming. His mind was whirling.

“Did you do this to him?” Grace asked. She was hysterical. “Did you kill him?”

“I don’t know this man,” Kimani repeated. It was all he could say.

“Oh, my God, Kim! Who is this? What happened? Who is he? What do we do?”

“I don’t know,” Kimani said. “I have never seen this man in my life.”

He was thinking about the déjà vu. He was thinking about the long sleep he’d had and how he had felt that there was a man in Linda’s room. What had happened? Had there, indeed, been a man? If so, who had killed him? What had his déjà vu to do with it?

“Grace, do you know him?” he asked, looking at his wife’s horrified countenance.

“No!” she said, shaking her head and spontaneously stepping back from the corpse. “I have never seen him before,” she added vigorously.

“Was the door open when you found him?”

“The door is still locked, Kim. Can’t you see?”

“Then how did this man get in here?”

“You’re asking me!” she exclaimed. “You tell me!”

“Can you go ask Linda?” he suggested; but Grace stiffened at once, as if paralyzed, wounded, gave him first a perplexed, questioning stare, then, remembering something, most likely their discussion the previous night, turned defiant, accusing.

“Don’t!” she warned, moving backwards, stern, her eyes hard as pebbles. “Don’t, Kim! Don’t! She’s out of this. Keep her off it.”

She went to Linda’s room and directed her not to come out.

“We have to go to the police,” she announced, coming back. “I’m going,” she declared. “Don’t touch it. Don’t touch anything, Kim,” she added.

He nodded, too confused and overwhelmed to comment.

She took in deep breaths, settled a bit, faced him, and said, “Kim, Linda is too young to have a man in her room. You know that yourself. You are a reasonable person. And she just can’t. Even if she could, she wouldn’t. She is a good child. I don’t know what’s going on here. But I do know that you didn’t kill this young man. You can’t kill anybody, Kim. I know you. You didn’t wake up at all till now. And there is no way he could have got in here. He doesn’t seem like a burglar to me. Moreover, to reach this house he’d have to pass through the rigorous security at the gate or climb the stone wall and fly over the electric fence at the top. And then, still, one of us had to let him inside. Whatever this is, it’s very strange. But we’ll solve it. We’ll be all right.”

But there was repressed hysteria in her voice and her chest was heaving too rapidly. She was fighting to take charge, though scared witless. She left for the police.

Kimani looked at his hands. The back of his right hand was bloody, the knuckles were swollen, and his arm was aching at the shoulder. He had punched something, someone.

IV.            In Custody

A terrifying chill coursed through him. He felt insane, disoriented; sick. Once again, he thought it was all but a dream. He hoped it was all but a dream. He had no memory at all of the killing. Had he sleepwalked? He had never sleepwalked in his life. He never sleepwalked. Had he suffered memory loss? If so, then when, why, how? What had the déjà vu to do with the dead man? Why had he felt that there was somebody in Linda’s room, when there had, in fact, been none? There had been none.

Four policemen, armed, found him slouched wearily on a sofa, weeping, his darkened, distorted face in his hands, his elbows on his knees. He was still in his underwear.

“Kim?” Grace called at him, distraught, scared.

He looked up hopelessly, depressingly, and showed her the back of his right hand. She started to cry.

For the cops, the case was pretty much self-conclusive. There was a corpse in Kimani’s house whose owner had clearly been beaten to death and there was blood on Kimani’s hands. All they needed next was a confession in order to determine his motive. When they were finished with their petty investigations around the scene, they allowed him time to dress, and then took him with them to Kilimani Police Station.

The body was taken to the city mortuary where it vanished soon afterwards, without a trace.

There was no court session till Monday, Dec 28th. Kimani spent his Christmas and the following two days wasting away in a cold, squalid, lightless, vile prison cell, alongside lowlife criminals, some of whom must have been rapists and homicides, the lot amongst whom he had never thought he’d ever spend a single second of his dear life. Grace and Linda came to see him but all they did was cry, and cry some more, inconsolably. They felt like victims of a scheme impossible to comprehend. They felt wretched, hopeless; doomed.

On Monday, before a Kibera Court magistrate, after the mentioning of his case and his pleading not guilty, his lawyer requested bail but was denied. The prosecutor argued that since, according to police reports, the body of the victim had mysteriously vanished from the mortuary, and was suspected to have been stolen, allowing Kimani bail would be most inappropriate, for it was suspected that he had colluded with those who had stolen the corpse, and he’d, thenceforwards, interfere with investigations respecting its whereabouts. His lawyer started to object but instead began to stutter badly, shocking everybody, for he was not a stutterer. The magistrate, herself seeming distracted and somewhat lethargic, bored, announced that bail was denied and set pre-trial hearing for March 22nd of the following year, 2010.

Kimani saw his family in court, but it was a sight too melancholy and heart-wrenching to behold. He felt for Linda, especially Linda, wondering how she was coping with all of this, what she now thought of him, what she thought would happen to her, if she had grasped the magnitude of the events that were unfolding, like her not having a father to look up to, among other horrendous consequences. She was a clever pupil, talented, inspired, industrious, and she needed proper nurturing. In view of Kenya’s ineffectual academic system, Kimani had planned to send her out of the country as soon as she was done with high school. In Europe or America, she would be favourably cultivated and improved. Her outstanding talent would be nourished by greater talents. But he was now in prison, charged with murder. Found guilty, he would serve a sentence of at least fifteen years, by which time his daughter would be twenty-seven, maybe even married. And he could easily be found guilty. The system was sloppy, incompetent, dangerous, steered by thundering, overwhelming morons on the wheels of venality, prejudice, and perversity; sick, sickening men from the fiendish belly of hell itself; they were already speaking of murder yet nothing about the victim had so far been established, not even his name.

Overcome with the enormity of his imponderable fate, Kimani wept in his cell like a demented child.

Otis, who had gone to his rural home for the holiday, returned to Nairobi urgently when Grace told him what had befallen his friend. He came to see Kimani. He brought with him chips, chicken, and soda, which Kimani regarded with revulsive loathing and everlasting distaste, having lost his appetite a thousand years before.

“That’s quite complex, man,” remarked Otis, in his own puzzlement, after Kimani had narrated to him the events subsequent to the episode of déjà vu.

“You are the genius, figure it out,” Kimani said. “All that Quantum Mechanics stuff, what does it say about waking up to find a dead stranger in your very house and going to jail for it, huh?”

“I don’t know,” Otis said. “The concept of the multiverse, or multiple universes, is hypothetical. It can be used to explain some phenomena, like déjà vu, but . . . this, Kim, I don’t know what this is. Even if I knew, who’d understand it? Will the judge release you? I doubt it. This country is run by people who don’t even know why they shit, let alone why they wipe their asses backwards!”

“You have to try,” Kimani said. “It will at least give me a little peace of mind to know why I’m here, what kind of quantum mechanical devils I pissed off. And, man, I’d like to know why they say the corpse vanished. How could the corpse just vanish into thin air? If stolen, as they say, who did it? It’s so convenient! Everything fits so well but in a diabolical scheme intended to demolish me!”

“Don’t break down. It will be over. And soon,” Otis consoled.

“One last thing, watch out for Linda,” Kimani said. “She shouldn’t feel exceedingly traumatized by all this and despair. She might mess around with some unintelligent, opportunistic pests.”

Otis left a few minutes afterwards, promising to do everything he could to get Kimani out of his unfathomable quagmire.

V.            Investigations and Eventual Discharge

Police did their investigations. They grilled Kimani endlessly, and with as much mercy as crocodiles have for their victims. They wanted him to confess. They wanted him to reveal the name of the young man, his association with him, and where his body had disappeared to. They believed Kimani was the key to all the answers they sought. Their methods of interrogation included, but were not limited to, deadly flogging, coercion, intimidation, dragooning, and hair-raising threats. Yet at the end, they had nothing, nil. Kimani stuck to his truth. He had nothing else to tell.

Next, they turned their unflinching attention to Grace. She told them the truth as she knew it. Kimani had been strange the day previous to the appearance of the dead man. How strange, they wanted to know. Disturbed about something, even looking sick, she answered. What thing? She didn’t know. He’d said it was some chronic form of déjà vu but she did not understand. In the evening, he’d felt there was somebody in Linda’s room but there had been nobody. What kind of ‘somebody’? A man, she said. Like a boyfriend? She didn’t know. He’d started to explain but she’d cut him off with a rebuke because she’d not liked what he’d been implying. Did he get such feelings often? No. He had an overprotective instinct—he loved Linda too much—but nothing like that had ever happened. Did she think that if there had been a man in Linda’s room, Kimani would have killed him? No, she said. “Linda is twelve. There was no man in her room. And Kimani cannot kill anybody.” Did he have any enemies? No. None that she knew of. But even if he had an enemy, she wondered, why would it be a child of twenty? Did he tell her everything? Yes. Mostly. Eventually. Yes, mostly, or eventually? Yes! Did she know the young man who’d been killed? No. She’d never seen him before. Ever? Ever. Was Kimani a violent man? He was docile, meek, amenable; he was generous, loving, a good husband, a perfect father. He had his moments of flaring rage, just like everybody else, but he hurt no one. As a matter of fact, she was the more belligerent one between them, controlling, inflexible. Was Kimani capable of killing? No. Not even a cockroach if he could help it. “What if he couldn’t help it?” one cop whispered coldly, grinning like a reptile, his eyes shining like polished steel. He could always help it, she replied.

They questioned Linda, too, until she broke down and cried for her mother.

“Dad, there was nobody in my room,” she told her father tearfully when she came to visit him. “Why did you think there was a man in my room?”

Kimani, ashamed, dejected, pained beyond rescue, apologized to her; but damage had been done. A sprinkle of distrust had been sown in her heart and he feared it would germinate and proliferate. He felt like taking his own life.

Otis, when questioned, tried to explain the many-worlds interpretation of Quantum Mechanics to the cops, who were no more than high school leavers and did not even understand how the heart functioned. “We ni professor kutoka university gani?” they demanded in pathetic Kiswahili. From which university are you a professor? Before he could answer, they decided he despised them and pounced on him with their fists and boots. Then they informed him, matter-of-factly and with genuine spite, that they could certainly find a way, if they so wished, to make him Kimani’s accomplice and lock him up forever. After all, he was his business partner.

However, by March 22nd, the cops still had nothing. No whereabouts of the deceased, no name, no relatives, no motive for his killing: in fact, the young man might not have existed at all in the first place. But there had been a murder, and justice had to be done. The magistrate had no qualms whatsoever setting the second hearing date for October 26, 2010, in order to allow ample time for investigation. Again she seemed distracted and apathetic, almost as if Kimani’s case was an imponderable burden she would rather die than contemplate.

Kimani’s lawyer understood the case no more than did the police, or anybody else, for that matter. He believed Kimani was telling the truth but thought that it was truth that felt like a lie. He started to stutter again before the magistrate, acquiesced quickly with her decision, and glibly informed Kimani that it was the best thing to do.

Hearing did not take place on the third date. More inquiries still needed to be done. It was as if something wanted Kimani in the custody of the police, something unknown, dark, diabolic, a monstrosity, contriving evil behind the curtains and manipulating all that was involved, blinding, stupefying, and rendering them intellectually debilitated and sluggish, thoughtless and mystified beyond words. It turned the magistrate against him, causing her to exhibit distraction, apathy, and stupid boredom whenever his case was presented before her. It made his lawyer to stutter and appear bewildered in court. Kimani was desolated.

The next date was promptly, hastily—as if musing on it for more than a few minutes was murderously burdensome and hurtful—shifted to July 18th, 2011; later to February 24th, 2012; further to August 29th of the same year; then to May 20th, 2013; eventually to December 23rd.

Four years! Four full years! On remand! Cursed, cursed the system! How wicked! How unjust, criminal, evil; the magistrate was stupid, cold-blooded, inhuman; the police, and rest of the authorities involved, were devils, demons, and ghouls. It was one of those instances when you became so furious, so frustrated and embittered that you wished to sell the entire soul of your country to the Devil for a single, damn shilling! Kimani felt broken inside. He no longer cared for what was taking place. Half of the time he was too dazed and detached from his surrounding to mind anything. Harassment from the implacable cops, vulgar, sadistic inmates, sordid existence, the constant postponement of his case, the fact that he knew almost nothing of what had got him into jail, that there could have been an all-powerful evil mastermind behind all this that none of them could handle, that his family was alone without him, that his daughter was growing up without him, that now she scarcely visited him, and when she did, she scarcely spoke, was reserved and aloof—these things haunted him and wiped out his dreams and hopes, and left him in a permanently exhausted, abject state of mind, too far-flung from the real world.

Otis and Grace, still hopeful, though fatigued, fired the first lawyer and hired a new one. A thirty-five-year old cocky, bold, intelligent Kenyan, with just more than a dash of arrogance, named George Olum. He had a meeting with the prosecutor and the magistrate in which he argued that Kimani had been unlawfully, and inhumanly, held in custody for four years for a crime that was never committed in the first place. No law had been infringed. No one had been killed. Period! No body, no victim, no name, no relatives seeking justice, no reports of missing person, nothing! If in truth Kimani had committed assault on a young man, then the victim had merely been unconscious when police found him. He had presently regained consciousness and walked away, failing to report the offence.

George argued that Kimani had never had a criminal record prior to his arrest, had been an upright, law-abiding, upwardly-mobile citizen and taxpayer, with a prosperous business of his own, and a family that he loved too much; yet all of which now faced disintegration and utter collapse due to the false, unverifiable charge brought against him and the painful, nightmarish years of his unsympathetic incarceration. As a matter of fact, he deserved to be compensated by the State, and George himself would see to it.

That day, for some intriguing, mysterious reason, the magistrate was alert, smart, and helpful. Shock registered subtly on her quinquagenarian face when George presented the details of Kimani’s suffering. It was as if she were hearing his case for the first time. Consequently, the charge against Kimani was dropped forthwith. And he became a free man.

It was December 23rd, 2013. Something, the thing, the monster, whatever, required him back at the house. Linda was sixteen years old.

VI.            The Dead Man (2)

They drove from the court premises three minutes to one. Otis was driving. Kimani and Grace sat at the back.

“Why didn’t you come with Linda today when I am released?” Kimani asked. It had been quietly nagging at him.

“She didn’t know you’d be released. We didn’t know either,” Grace said. “I wonder we never thought to hire George Olum before,” she added wistfully.

“She doesn’t hate me?”

“She wouldn’t hate you, darling,” Grace replied. “Your absence took its toll of her. She loves you. Whatever happened, it was four years ago. She’s all grown up now.”

“She’s a teenager, Kim,” interjected Otis. “Unpredictable, delicate, troublesome. Going to Form Three, though, and top of her class as ever, only better. You know, in Form One she used to tell me that half the Mathematics syllabus was a repeat of Standard Eight. It disheartened her. ‘I’m not learning anything new in Maths, Uncle Otis. It doesn’t feel like high school,’ she said. So I told her to quickly finish the Form One book by herself and start on Form Two. Guess what now? She’s going to Form Three but she’s finished Form Four book!”

“That’s extraordinary,” Kimani remarked, pleased. “You’re quite the uncle!” he told Otis.

“She’s a singular student,” Otis said. “Now that you’re out, you have to work your ass extremely sore to get that genius out of this failed country. We’ll be at it together. If she goes to any of the universities around, it’ll be the ultimate demise of her genius.”

“I love that child,” Kimani ejaculated spontaneously, out of his heart. He felt a deep, profound, irrevocable love for his daughter. It wrung his heart, like anguish.

“We all do,” Grace said and took his hand into hers. She squeezed it.

“We all do,” Otis seconded enthusiastically. “She discovered digital mean by herself in Standard Six! That day before you were arrested, Kim,” he continued. “That’s what she called me about, and I was thrilled. The first time I came across that concept I was in the University of Nairobi and about to graduate!”

“You know, Otis, you never really got to tell me how my quantum mechanical déjà vu resulted in my spending four years in jail,” Kimani said.

“That one,” Otis said uncertainly. “I have but a hypothesis.”

“Well . . . tell it. I’m all ears, and all yours.”

“You remember I said that your déjà vu was the result of a glitch or a temporary short circuit between two parallel universes, one of which is this ours, and tachyons carrying your data were transmitted across to you?”

“I remember something of that sort,” Kimani agreed.

“Now, that boy didn’t die in your house here in Nairobi. He didn’t die in this universe, but the next one; and the glitch caused him to be transported here.”

“Stop right there, man! What are you saying?” Kimani asked, raising his tone. “You’re saying that I killed him in the other universe. Isn’t that what you’re saying? That he was transported here as part of my data?”

“That’s what I’m saying, Kim,” Otis said. “You killed him elsewhere.”

“I’ve never killed anybody,” Kimani lamented. “I can’t kill anybody.”

“The universes are not duplicates of personalities,” Otis explained. “You’re a different person in each and every one of them. In some of them you might even already be dead; and I may be a married man with a hundred children!”

“Oh, man,” Kimani moaned. He clutched his forehead. Grace squeezed his hand again. “In other words, that boy is probably still alive here in Kenya, enjoying his life, happy, while I was rotting in prison, and he doesn’t even know that he is already dead, killed by me, in another reality?”

“That’s it,” agreed Otis. “It’s heavy, man. Quite heavy. Oppressive. I explained it to the cops and they beat the shit out of me, for presuming upon their stupidity.”

“Damn! I would like to meet that unfortunate young man. If only to see him,” Kimani said.

“Me, too,” Grace said.

Two careless P.S.V. drivers caused Otis to slow down considerably on Kibera Drive near the intersection with Joseph Kang’ethe Road. Several others stopped him totally at the intersection of Mugo Kibiru and Ngong Roads. It took so long that Grace left the car after announcing she could use the time to do an impulsive welcome shopping for her husband. When the roads cleared, Otis drove to Nakumatt Prestige, parked, waited for her.

Eventually, they arrived at Kimani’s Kilimani house at three-oh-two in the afternoon.

It felt good to be home. The relief was profound and unequalled. The air smelled fresh, refreshing, lovely, and the house itself was expansive, cool, wholesome, and welcome, as opposed to the oppressive, muggy, sweaty, stinking, plebeian atmosphere of the jail cell.

Kimani took off his shirt and tossed it in the garbage container.

“So much for prison sweat and stink,” he announced. “Where is Linda?” he asked.

“In her room, of course,” Grace said. “She spends all the time in there with her books.”

“Lin?” Kimani called. “Lin? Lin?”

“Linda, Dad’s home!” her mother announced.

“Maybe she’s asleep,” Otis observed.

Kimani went to Linda’s door. He knocked twice successively. “Lin?” he said. “Lin, it is Dad! I’m back!”

He started to open the door but was violently interrupted. The door flung open at once and a man emerged from the room. He bumped Kimani violently, flew past him, and bolted towards the main door. Otis deftly stepped on his way and caught him by the shoulder. A dark, instinctive rage blinded Kimani and he charged.

Kim!” Grace shouted in alarm but it was too late.

Kimani grabbed the nape of the man’s neck, spun him around, and punched him three times on the face, crushing his nose, and breaking his lips and teeth. Grace grabbed her husband while screaming something, but Kimani hurled the man on the wall, where he crashed his forehead and became still for a moment. The house shook. The man fell. He started to scramble up, gripped the edge of the sofa with his right hand, brought up his right leg, his left hand resolutely clenching the carpet, and collapsed, dead. There was a ghastly wound on his forehead. Blood spurted forth.

“Kim!” Grace cried in horror, looking down at the corpse.

Otis was speechless, astounded. It had happened too fast. Less than five seconds.

Kimani stared at the dead man without any comprehension at all. Then, very slowly, it began to dawn on him that he’d killed a man. And even more slowly, as his composure returned, he took in the dead man’s details.

Such mystifying horror filled his heart that he teetered as though he were standing at the very thin edge of a very tall skyscraper. He supported his legs against a sofa.

“What is this?” he demanded when he could speak. “Grace? Otis? What is this?”

“Linda’s boyfriend,” Grace answered.

“Boyfriend?” questioned Kimani, scowling with disbelief.

“He came around sometimes,” Grace said. “I thought he was a good boy.”

“But, Grace, don’t you see? It is him.”

“Who is it?” Otis asked curiously when Grace’s eyes started enlarging, her mouth agape, and her face cadaverously pale. She was transfixed.

“This is the man I went to jail for killing,” Kimani said. “In exactly the same way, even how he’s lying down there on the carpet. I remember his grey jumper and trendy jeans and those black Nikes. Everything. Every detail. What is this? What the hell is this?”

“And Grace didn’t recognize him?” Otis asked.

“He did look familiar the first time I saw him,” Grace said. “But he said he graduated from Riara in 2011, Form Four, while Linda was there in Class Eight. I decided I might have seen him on a parent’s day, perhaps. How could I know he was supposed to be dead in 2009?”

“What about Linda? Didn’t she recognize him?”

“Linda never saw him dead.”

Silence spread across the room. It was morbid. It was torturous. It was macabre.

“Otis, is this another of your glitches?” Kimani inquired. He had slumped dejectedly on a sofa. “Is he going to disappear again? Am I going back to jail?”

“You can’t be in jail twice for the killing of the same person,” Otis said. “It cannot just happen. Once suffices. And what I think took place four years ago is that December 23rd 2009 and December 23rd 2013, today, occurred simultaneously across the two universes. You just had the worst of it. It seems the boy’s fate and yours were entwined. I can say you were foreordained to kill him, or he was foreordained to be killed by you.”

“Who plans these things?” Kimani wept in anguish, his face in his hands. “How can they be so perfect? Are they random? How can random be so conscious? Of what use am I if I have no control over anything, if all I ever have is an illusion of control?”

At that time, Linda came out of her room, saw her dead boyfriend, and started to wail.

VII.            Thereafter

Kimani was promptly arrested. The detectives grilled him again; though it was, in truth, more of molestation than interrogation. Their cruelty was unchanged, their malevolence devoted and keen. They theorized that since he had been unlawfully incarcerated, when released, he’d, afterwards, sought vengeance and murdered, for good this time, Janis Orechi, the twenty-year old student of Daystar University, whose false death had cost Kimani four full years of his life. This theory made revenge Kimani’s principal motive. However, they blatantly disregarded the fact that Kimani had found Janis in his house, “and not just found him,” George Olum clarified, “but found him purely by accidental coincidence.” When apprised of this error, the cops first scoffed at that phrase accidental coincidence, and then went on to reason that Kimani must have had an accomplice who had known the whereabouts of Janis Orechi and had sought him out and brought him opportunely into Kimani’s residence on that fateful day. They suspected the accomplice to be either Otis or Grace, with Linda not to be entirely discounted.

Enraged by this flagrant lack of imagination, George asked them one last question: “If Kimani’s friends knew all along the whereabouts of Janis Orechi, why did they abandon him to decay in a putrid prison cell for four full years, especially in light of how they all were traumatised by his imprisonment?”

The detectives started talking about the fact that Janis Orechi had dated Linda. They dug backwards to find out if he had met Linda four years previously.

“These guys are so dumb their brains must comprise dust and soot!” Otis remarked.

Janis’s parents wanted justice for him. But they did not (and could not) appreciate that Kimani had already spent four full years in police custody for killing their son. It made no sense at all. Four years ago, they said, Janis had been sixteen years old and in Form Two at Riara. He had known neither Linda nor her father. However, on the night of December 23rd 2009, he had dreamt that he was dead and had woken up yelling like an eccentric man. He had woken up around 7.15am, which was about the time the corpse had inexplicably vanished from the mortuary. In the dream, he had been killed because of a girl he was dating. He had had no girlfriend then.

Otis, when testifying in court, presumed on the rare occasion to explain his Quantum Mechanics theories and hypotheses in public. Nobody really got a thing.

The truth was that everybody was tremendously befuddled by the case. Even George Olum, the bright, cocky, bold, arrogant lawyer, did not really know what was going on.

However, arguing that Kimani had already been in custody for four years for the same crime and that it was unthinkable and impossible to kill the same person twice exactly four years apart, he managed to have the case dismissed.