Archive for the ‘Thriller’ Category

                                                                                                                         I.

On a Wednesday evening in December, I went to my client’s home in Karen to pick up a cheque for the work I had done for him in the course of two years. Earlier, he had called me to arrange the meeting. But I did not find him and I was disappointed. It was not the first time he had lied to me.

The electrical consultants had approved my accounts eleven months before when the work had been completed, which meant that it now was up to the client to acknowledge them and pay my dues, and up to me to chase him like a dog in heat. I had done so, and I was beginning to hate Mr. Malek with a passion.

He had been constructing his home—this very home—and I had been the electrical and telecommunications contractor. The money he owed me was due to variations in the cost of electrical installations. Most of the power and lighting fittings recommended by the electrical engineer had been ignored by the interior designer who had wanted more class and style befitting Mr. Malek’s social and financial position. (He owned an airline operating between Kenya and Ethiopia.) So a new list had been made, and it had been my duty to purchase and install those fittings. When, however, Mr. Malek saw the amount of variation in cost from the original, he had repudiated my claim, arguing that the interior designer had not consulted him in person and had instead worked with his wife.

Such rubbish! She had been very active in choosing the windows and the doors and the tiles and the bathroom and kitchen stuff. Yet I had not heard of any complaints from the contractors involved in those areas. But I knew why Mr. Malek was frustrating me. I did not have enough money to fight him in court. He could buy his way out with only a quarter of what he owed me. Also, when we began the project he had remarked that I was too young—I had been twenty-nine—to be paid so much money, and that I would most likely squander it all on drinking and whoremongery. He had actually said “whoremongery”, which had sort of surprised me since he had not known me well enough to describe me so. I had laughed him off, though, knowing how wrong he was. The job had been the first big break for my company, which had been three years old then. After this, I would be able to tender for even bigger projects.

When I went to his home that Wednesday evening, I found his wife. She was a pleasant person, and so pretty and beautiful you could stare at her until your eyes popped out of your skull and fell at your feet—if you were into staring at people, that was. She knew my situation and so she bid me sit down and wait for her husband, promising me that he would soon be home with the cheque. Meanwhile she engaged me in a conversation.

She was an Ethiopian, light-skinned and with lavish jet-black hair and deep intense eyes that could bore into the most genuine place in a man and render him weak, awakening perhaps the most powerful form of energy in the universe. My university lecturer who had taught Introduction to Philosophy to first-year students including electrical engineers used to advice us not to be carried away by the light-skinned girls in class because they were only deprived of some quantity of melanin and that given enough of the chemical, would eventually darken and become just as black as everyone else.

But some mystery about light-skinned women always had me enslaved. So I ended up chatting away my hours with Mr. Malek’s wife until her maids served us dinner and we were both very animated. Soon afterwards, however, it began to rain. It was a hard rain, relentless and full of thunder and flashes of lightning, and by eleven o’clock it had not shown any signs of abating. Mr. Malek had not returned by then.

When the woman was tired, she asked the maids to arrange the guestroom for my use. My first impulse was to decline her offer, but I saw no logic in it. The storm was getting worse, and with Nairobi roads so poorly drained, it might sweep my car into a ditch and drown me. Besides, the jam was now impenetrable all over the city. I might sleep on the road. So I accepted to sleep in the house that was becoming my enemy’s.

                                                                                                                      II.

I woke up suddenly, thinking that the sun was up already. But it was only 2.37am. I had been dreaming that Mr. Malek and his wife were fighting over my stay.

I did not go back to sleep. The dream had resolved me and I wished to leave. It was one thing to pursue your hard-earned cheque deep into the night, but a totally different one to get all cosy with your client’s wife—especially if the said client despised you—till she could ask you to spend the night in his house with him gone. Mr. Malek might murder me and it would be ruled in court as a crime of passion, for which he would certainly be pardoned, being wealthy, powerful and all. The woman was good-hearted, but good-hearted people almost always ended up with devils for partners.

There was another way to get my money from Mr. Malek, but one which I had been loath to consider. I could bribe the architect, who had also been the project manager, to persuade him. Most clients trusted the architect but not the engineers, especially the electrical engineers who were rather too abstract in their specifications and designs. The contractors, however, were believed to be crooked.

I looked out the window and saw that the storm had reduced to a manageable drizzle. I dressed and left.

The front and back doors had security sensors installed, but the one to the back of the kitchen, which opened into the store and laundry rooms and the servant quarters’ yard, did not. I used it, and as I exited into the yard, I saw someone disappearing around the garage. I saw him very well. A tall dark man with a sort of disconcerting aspect—he seemed to be creeping along from the perimeter wall, hunched somewhat.

I realized after some seconds that I had stopped and was trembling. I looked up at the sky and took in three long, deep breaths until I was calm again. I had intended to enter the servant quarters and awaken the garden boy who also doubled as the gatekeeper at night. I needed him to open the garage and the gate for me. But I decided to see what the tall dark man was up to at three in the morning. It was against my every instinct.

The moon was overhead, though paler than usual, its pathless course obscured with scudding rain clouds. The drizzle was too light to drench me.

As I neared the garage, I heard a movement, as of a hand brushing against the door and hastened my pace. But when I reached the garage, I found nobody there. I was taken aback and even had a moment to wonder if perhaps Mr. Malek had been out for fresh air; but that was unlikely since all the lights were out in the main house. Also, the tall dark man could not have been Mr. Malek.

Something—that quiet voice in the head which knows the truth beforehand and always tries to save us from danger—told me to give it up and get out of there. I began to turn and head back to the servant quarters. But at that very instant, I was struck by a novel idea which motivated me. I thought that if the man was an intruder and if I chanced to catch him myself, Mr. Malek would be happy with me and would write my cheque at once. I realized later on how stupid that idea really was . . . but, as they say, regrets abound in the aftermath.

So I searched around. The whole compound was well lit, so that there was nowhere to hide. The man had to be somewhere. I went round the house once in the clockwise direction, and again in the anticlockwise. He was nowhere. But on coming back to the garage, I found him there. He was just standing there, as if waiting for me. A strange-looking thing, indeed; he was tall and vast; he was enormous. I thought he was taller than he had been when I saw him creeping from the perimeter wall. He dwarfed me by at least five feet, which made him over eleven feet tall. He could look over the perimeter wall like someone looking over a balcony. Yet he was not thin; this man was built for his height, his shoulders, arms, waist, and thighs all proportionate and sturdy. He did not seem to be wearing anything.

                                                                                                                   III.

I stopped abruptly upon coming face to face with him. We were so close he could reach out with his long arms and grab me. But I could not move. Something happened to my stomach which weakened me; my heart moved to my stomach and thudded there like an evil thing, and my knees were not mine.

The man had not been there. He had not been there when I came to the garage the first time. He had not been there when I went round the house twice. As a matter of fact, he had not been there just moments before I reached the garage for the second time. I had been keen, but I had not seen him.

He had just materialized in front of me, resolved himself like a ghost. Yet he was too vast, too tremendous, to just come out of nowhere.

He reached out for me and placed his hand on my head. At the same time, all the lights went out. The switchboard for all the external lights was in the gatehouse. I wanted to turn around to see if there was someone else at the gate but was too paralyzed to do so.

The world turned black. The moon had been devoured by the scudding clouds, the cold gaze of the stars blinded. The man vanished from my view, but his hand remained on my head. It was too rough and too hot and too huge to be a human’s. I jerked back. But his grip was like that of a steel vice and I thought he would squeeze my head till it burst like an egg.

He lifted me. He did so as if I did not weigh anything at all. Then he shook me thoroughly till I thought my neck would snap and pulled me to him. He was hot. The closer I got to him, the more I felt like I was myself afire.

His eyes were ablaze beneath nest-like brows. They shone like deadly evil things; lurid and ghastly, hardened with fury and wrath, and even death; my will broke when I met them and I shut my eyes in great fear and agony. His giant face was all muscle, taut as ropes, hard and jagged like a mountain rock.

In a low, throaty voice, though contemptuous and hateful as well, he said: “Were you looking for me? Here I am, then. Do as you wish.”

He paused. But when I only moaned and kicked feebly and whimpered and wet myself, he added: “Vanish!

Then he cast me down and I fell very hard on my back. The lights came back on just then, and as I scrambled away from him, he turned and opened the garage door. He rolled it up, then doubled up himself—though I thought he shrunk!—and went in. He had what looked like black scales and hair all over his back.

I opened my mouth to scream and awake everyone but stopped when my head caught fire.

                                                                                                                    IV.

When I came to, the garden boy was shaking me on the shoulder. I jumped to my feet at once and spun round and round in a disoriented way. I did not know where I was. So I gaped about, and when I could tell that I was still at Mr. Malek’s, I saw that it was 6am and the sun was on its way up. I had still been lying on the same spot on the pavement outside the garage where I had fallen. I was drenched and dishevelled. I could not tell when I had become unconscious and lost three hours.

Mr. Malek, his wife, and all their servants were standing around me, looking at me with a mixture of curiosity and pity. When I turned to them, something about me made them move back with a cringe.

“Jeru,” Mr. Malek was saying. “What is the matter with you?”

“A man,” I said and pointed at the garage. I could not finish. My head . . . Oh, my head! I grabbed my head with both hands and shut my eyes and clenched my teeth. I was that way for some time. My head was exploding and splitting and burning all at once. My body was burning and itching uncontrollably.

“What?” Mr. Malek was asking.

“A man entered the garage,” I shouted. “I caught him and . . . ah!” I stopped to scratch my face, my neck, my stomach. I was drenched, but I was burning.

“You caught a man entering my garage?” Mr. Malek asked.

“Yes! A huge man. Tall, evil-looking. He beat me. He did this to me!”

Mr. Malek sighed. “You caught him?” he repeated with disbelief, and I looked at him.

“Jeru, are you okay?” his wife asked me.

I met her eyes and a pang of embarrassment shot through me. I remembered that I had urinated on myself and stepped farther back from her. I reduced the scratching and the shaking, an almost impossible feat.

“I’m sick,” I told her. “I need to go home.”

“Yes. You need to go home,” her husband said. “You look sick, choosing to remain in the rain all night like this. What were you thinking?”

“The man did something to me,” I told him.

“There was no man,” he said. “I think you hallucinated. If there was anyone, the dogs would have got him. In fact, I don’t understand how they let you lie here for this long. Unless you’re acquainted with them, are you?”

I shook my head. I had forgotten about the dogs. Mr. Malek had the five meanest dogs I had ever seen. Trained murderers, they killed anything that crossed into the compound, even lizards. One contractor had remarked that he thought they could sniff out the Devil himself and scare him back to hell if one day he decided to show up here, and we had all laughed at that. I had not seen them at night. They had been part of the reason I had wanted the garden boy with me. Alone, they could have mauled me to death. How had I forgotten them and followed the man? And why hadn’t they attacked me? Where had they been? I had not heard even a single bark.

“I know all you really want is your cheque,” Mr. Malek was saying. “You didn’t have to be so weird about it. I had it with me. I was delayed by the storm.”

He pulled out a brown A4 envelop from his pocket and handed it to me. I took it with trembling, burning-itching hands.

“There,” he said. “Case closed! Now you’re a rich man!” he added and laughed.

“There was a man,” I told him. “I saw him and he touched me. He was hot!”

“A hot man?” he mocked and they all laughed. I thought there was a tightening in his throat and a hard glitter in his eyes when he laughed. He was forcing.

He was an Ethiopian, too, six-two, robust, healthy, with a lot of curly hair and dulled, sunken, but stern eyes, and a sharp nose. His cheekbones were so high his eyes appeared to have grown where his forehead was supposed to be. As he pretended to laugh, his thick brows bridged over his nose and his eyes seemed somewhat crossed. When I first met him, I had thought that he had a curious air about him, an inexplicable shadow, something forbidding and unsavoury. It made him formidable, the way a rock python is, and because he was excessively wealthy, he was indeed formidable. I feared him.

“Can you drive?” he was asking.

“No, he cannot,” his wife answered. “He is burning. Do you see that? Jeru, what is that smoke coming out of you, my dear?”

I loved to hear her calling me “my dear” and I almost smiled, but I was checked by the subdued hysteria in her voice. I saw that my skin was producing twisting smoky-foggy things. They were not evaporating skywards, though, like smoke or fog is supposed to do; they were blanketing my skin, engulfing me.

“Then Silas will take you home,” Mr. Malek said.

“Silas is planting my flowers. He has to do it now before the sun catches.”

“Well, then. Robi will drive him. Robi, he’s all yours! This burning, smoking delusional man is all yours!”

                                                                                                                      V.

Robi was the eldest of the maids. She was thirty, two years my junior, plump and with a genial disposition. She had been looking at me with more concern and pity in her eyes than had the others, which must be why Mr. Malek had chosen her. She backed out of the garage and reversed, then stopped and opened the passenger door for me. I entered and we started towards the gate where Silas was already standing by to open it.

Neither of us spoke until we had reached my estate. I lived in Racecourse along Ngong Road. Traffic was thin on the Karen side, and so we were there in no time. I thanked Robi and as I made to open the door, she stopped me and I looked at her.

She uttered a sigh and her bosom fell, shoulders slumped.

“You scare me,” she said. “If I didn’t know you, Jeru, I would not have driven you.”

She was squinting. “Why are you squinting at me?” I demanded.

“What is really wrong with you?” she shot back.

“I am sick.”

“What kind of sickness makes people look like that?”

“Like what?”

She squinted some more and made another emotional sigh. The gesture scared me and I sat up.

She was studying me. I became aware that I had scratched my neck, thighs, arms, and stomach till the skin came off. I also became aware that I may be stinking of urine.

“That thing,” she said and paused. “That smoke issuing from your body is increasing. You are beginning to look vague. Like a person in a fog. It is surrounding you. I have to squint to make you out clearly, although you’re just an arm’s length from me. Then it is like I’m seeing two of you. But that maybe because I’m squinting too much.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” I replied morosely. But even as I did, I recalled how Mr. Malek, his wife and the servants had been looking at me—not symmetrically. It had been as if our faces were not aligned, as if my head had moved to my right shoulder and they were trying to look at me straight in the eyes!

“That man you saw . . .” Robi said.

“What about him?” I riposted before she could finish.

She squinted at me again. “I have to tell you something. You must promise not to repeat it to anyone.”

“Is it something that will endanger my life?” I asked.

“No,” she shook her head. “But I may lose my job.”

“Okay, then. I won’t tell.”

“I have seen that man,” she whispered, leaning towards me. I gaped at her, nonplussed.

“I have seen him twice,” she went on. “The day we moved into the house. Last year. We were all very excited. Mr. Malek threw a house-blessing party and invited his friends. But around three o’clock, when everyone had gone, I lingered in the kitchen soaking things, arranging stuff. Then I came out. I did not want to sleep yet; so sat in the yard and took out my phone to see who was online. But something fell into the compound from outside the fence just then. It fell very hard and startled me.”

“What did you do?” I prompted when she stopped.

“It fell from the wall behind our quarters, you know, the north side. I jumped up and saw a gigantic man crossing towards the main house. I started screaming, but just then I saw that dog called Nubi. It was just lying down by my chair with its head raised but doing nothing about the intruder. So I ran into my room and shut myself inside.”

“Who is he? What is he?” I asked.

“I don’t know. The next time I saw him was almost seven months later. I don’t know if he had returned in between. I don’t care. I just vanished into my room and forgot about him. That first time I almost made the same mistake you made.”

“What mistake?”

“You didn’t follow the dogs,” she said. “That’s what I do. If I think there has been an intrusion, if anything odd is happening at all, I look at what the dogs are doing about it first. The dogs are always right. On those two occasions I was there, they acted as if they couldn’t do anything about the man. I could see they had sensed him but chosen to let him do whatever had brought him. So I thought he might not be dangerous after all.”

“He did this to me,” I reminded her. “You never told anyone about him?”

“No. At first I wanted to, I really wanted to; I woke up thinking only about it. But when neither the boss nor his wife reported anything odd, I just let it go.”

“But how can you be so cautious, Robi?” I wondered.

She chuckled. “I am superstitious,” she said and leered at me, laughed nervously. “It means I’m always watching out for weird stuff: things moving by themselves, invisible people passing by, calling out for help.”

It was my time to laugh. “Calling out for help, huh?” I jeered.

“I’ve seen things, Jeru,” she picked up with a more sombre tone. “Things are not always what we think they are. Nothing is ever so simple. One instant you see something and you think you know what it is, what is going on; the next instant you have no clue. You are flabbergasted, lost. I was born and raised in Mombasa. Sometimes you see a person who is not actually there. You pass them standing somewhere, or you see them walking in front of you or behind you. One blink of your eyes, one bend of the road, one corner of a building, one turn of your neck and they are gone. Like shadows when the clouds cover the sun. The next instant they are back. You can see them so many times when you meet a real person you wonder the difference. When I was twelve, our neighbour’s daughter and my best friend died mysteriously after talking to an unknown man on the road. After she was buried, she sent a dream to her mother that a man had tied her hands and taken off her clothes. She sent the dream every night for three days. On the fourth day her mother called for her body to be exhumed. They found her hands tied behind her with a cord made from her hair. And she was naked. The clothes were never found.”

She stopped and I goggled at her in suspense.

“That’s what I mean, Jeru,” she went on. “There is a side of things, of this life, that I do not see and cannot explain. But I expect it to be there. I know it’s there. I have resigned to the notion. You can jeer at me for being superstitious. I won’t care a whit. My parents were and they are better parents than some which I have come across. And if it saves my skin, well, like hell I’m proud!” She laughed nervously again.

“Ah, but believe me, Robi! At the moment, the least of my worries is whether you are superstitious or not. But do you have any idea how can I stop this burning and itching? It is killing me!” I said and shifted on the seat. I wanted to scratch the crack of my ass. It hurt like a boil.

Robi considered her answer, shook her head, and said: “You can’t.”

                                                                                                                    VI.

I told her she could go back with the car and I would send one of my employees later on to get it. Then I climbed out.

At the parking lot and on the ground floor stairway, I met with neighbours leaving for work. They paused suddenly to stare at me. All of them, simultaneously fascinated and dumbfounded, alarmed even. Some were frowning, others squinting, and still others goggling and gawking. I waved at them and said hi and good morning, but they did not respond accordingly. It was unlike them. I must look very shocking indeed.

On the third floor landing, I met with the neighbour’s cat, and it swelled suddenly and made a savage sound, and then jumped at me—more like hurled itself, really—with its teeth and claws all exposed. It got hold my cheeks and forehead, and tore and bit me, before I could pull it off and cast it down, whereupon it cried savagely again and raced away as if the Devil himself was after it.

I stood there with my heart pounding, my hands and legs shaking so badly that I had to hold on to the railing to stabilize myself.

Did cats attack people? I wondered. I had never heard of an incident such as that which I had just experienced. A cat launching itself unprovoked at a person! Cats were less friendly than dogs; but dogs attacked people. Cats did not.

“What is wrong with me?” I said to myself, and felt a miserable sinking in my heart.

I careered into the house and started scratching myself openly. And once I was at it, I could not bring myself to stop. The more I scratched the hotter my body became and the worse the itching. I jumped up and down as though I had lost my mind, and I stamped my feet repeatedly to shake off the itching. I took off my clothes and rolled and rubbed myself on the wall and the floor. But it was fruitless.

I flew into the bathroom for the scrubbing brush and applied it single-mindedly in curing the problem. While there, I turned on the cold tap of shower, thinking it would cool me. The first assault of the water was usually exceedingly and repulsively icy. But I did not feel it that day. There was no change in temperature. I just let the water run for a while. The itching and the burning did not go away.

When I looked down on the floor I was staggered by the amount of blood coming out of me. I was bleeding too much and from almost everywhere. I had been hurting myself. I had grazed my skin in some places and cut it deeply in others. I could not distinguish between the pain inflicted by me and that from the touch of the unknown man.

I restrained myself from scratching, although my hands seemed, by instincts, to crave it. I noticed that my body was heating the water to steam. There was so much steam you’d think I was showering with hot water. I nevertheless remained in there until the water flowing out was clear, and then wrapped the towel around me and stepped out.

As I exited, I glanced at the mirror and saw something in it that made me freeze.

I was not in the mirror.

Instead of my image, there was a blurry thing, foggy, obscure, a nebulous smoky form without arms or legs or head on it. There was also what appeared to be a second image near it, as if there was someone with me, although whether behind, beside, or within the smoky form was difficult to tell. It made the entire image much bigger.

I panicked and started crying. I could not take the horror anymore.

Then I thought that perhaps I was seeing the foggy image because of the steam issuing from my body. So I dried myself thoroughly with the towel and looked in the mirror one more time. Still, my image was unrecognizable. A shapeless mass, an amorphous thing, an indistinct cloud. I had been engulfed.

Terror overcame me and I broke down and cried like a child. I sat on the bathroom floor and wailed and moaned and heaved.

“What is happening to me?” I blubbered and heaved harder.

Vanishing pic.6

                                                                                                                 VII.

I was still that way when my phone rang in the living room where I had abandoned it when I came in. I teetered along the wall towards the sound.

“Yes, Robi,” I said.

“You sound like hell, bwana. Have you been crying?” she asked and chuckled.

“Sleeping,” I said.

“How is the burning and the itching, bwana?”

“I don’t know if it is too funny, Robi!” I replied morosely, and the gravity of my voice shook her.

“Are you okay, man?”

“I’m burning to death! Something is happening to me, Robi. It’s bad. Bad!

She fetched a long solicitous sigh. “What are you doing about it?”

“What is there to do about it when I don’t even know what started it?” I yelled. “I think I’m disappearing. I think this smoke is digesting me, Robi. It must be why I’m burning and itching like this. I also feel stretched.”

Stretched?” she wondered.

“Yes. Sort of. Like I am spreading out, you know. Enlarging. Pulled. Thin.”

“Oh,” she said and was quiet for a moment. Then she fetched another sigh. “Look, Jeru! Maybe this is not the right time to tell you but two men are looking for you.”

“What two men?”

“They said they’re cops. Detectives. Plain-clothed. Armed.”

“Wow! But I don’t have any business with cops.”

“I’m telling you because I don’t think they are cops,” Robi said. “When I came back here I found Mr. Malek with them. He said that four brand new tires he brought with him at night are missing from the garage. So the cops want to ask you about the man you saw.”

“Oh, but he said there was no man!” I cried. “What is this?”

“Now you know he knows there was a man. Go somewhere.”

Go where? I asked myself. Armed killers masquerading as police, looking for me! This day was rapidly turning out to be efficiently jinxed.

But why would they want to kill me? What was Mr. Malek afraid of? Who could I tell about the tremendous man who would believe me? An almost twelve feet tall man with scales and hair on his back! Ha! So far, only Robi had, and that was because she herself had seen him too, though with a better sense of judgment than I had shown.

I was tired. I was wretched. Let them come and get me. I would not hide. I was already dying, anyway; I was smouldering to death, cursed to evanesce and vanish completely like smoke. I remembered very well the man’s last exclamation. “Vanish!” he had said.

Jeru!” Robi shouted.

“I’m here,” I said.

“Man! For a moment there, I thought you’d dropped dead.”

“Sorry to disappoint you.”

She chuckled. “I was saying . . . If you want to know what is wrong with you, you will have to go to Mombasa. To Mwembe Tayari. Do you know where that is?”

“What did you tell those men?” I inquired, thinking perhaps they were at this instant on their way to my apartment. Oh, it was so hard, so distressing, to just sit by and wait for death. The very thought of dying sickened my heart. I knew I would die someday, but getting murdered over sinister secrets was not my favourite way to go.

“I told them I dropped you off at the Nairobi Hospital,” Robi was saying.

“Thank you, Robi,” I said.

“I was saying . . .”

“I have heard of Mwembe Tayari,” I interrupted her.

“Then I’m sending you a number to call when you get there. An old-looking man will come to meet you. You go with him and he’ll help you.”

“Is he a witchdoctor?”

“He is not a witchdoctor! He does not do juju or voodoo. He just knows things. He uses water. And he is my uncle.”

“Okay. Thank you again, Robi.”

“Take care, man.”

She sent the number after we had hung up along with a message that she had called my host and he was expecting me.

 

                                                                                                              VIII.

Despite my resolution to sit and wait for the killers, I hastened my preparations and left the house. I did not want them to get me. I had a new hope to pursue, and though small and uncertain, a glimmer nevertheless in vast morbid world.

It was 7.33am and I was not sure I could still catch a bus to Mombasa. I thought they would all be gone by the time I reached the station and bought myself a ticket. And if indeed there would be a late one, it might already have been booked to the very last seat. If I went to the airport, I feared they would not let me through their rigid security, given my condition and considering their morbid paranoia. If I sent for my car from Mr. Malek’s, then the killers would certainly follow it. Furthermore, I could not drive with all the pain I was feeling. I would surely cause an accident. So I had to travel downtown to buy a bus ticket.

I locked my door and started for Racecourse bus-stop. I had no sooner reached the stairs than bumped into my neighbour’s maid. She took one look at me and jerked back as if to flee, arms flailing madly, and her breath dying with an unfinished shriek. Instead, she stopped and staggered about as if her legs had become suddenly too heavy for her; then she grasped the nearest rail with one hand and sank down on her buttocks, her mouth open in a horrible, wretched rictus of terror, face distorted, and her eyes as wide and blank as if she had gone stone blind. Her left hand was clutching her abdomen, and I paused by just long enough to see a gush of dark red blood rush down her thighs and spill over the stairs. She had miscarried!

I shouted for help and when I heard footsteps approaching from upstairs, I departed before the next person could see me and go through a similar ordeal.

The main road was ten minutes away from the estate. I did not meet anyone to scare or to terrify, and it relieved me. I did, however, meet a stray dog which seemed to lose its mind at once and howl with abject abandon.

There was a crowd at the bus-stop. I hid behind an electric post and waited for it to thin down. But when it seemed only to grow in spite of the many buses coming and going, and I thought I was getting too late for my journey, I waded through it with the intent to scare. The first person I made contact with was a man of about fifty; he screamed like a little boy and fell and crawled away on the ground. The crowd then dispersed without much ado, albeit with ululations, and I was alone at the bust-stop.

I felt eyes on me. Hundreds, thousands of staring eyes! They were goggling, squinting, and popeyed, speechless and in the grip of strange mystery and utter dread. They dared not come near me.

Presently, a bus arrived that had few passengers aboard. When the conductor alighted to let in more passengers, I slipped past him before he could take a good look at me and rushed into the vehicle. I took the very last seat at the rear; the one on the right and near a window. He noticed me only when he came to collect my fare, whereupon he blinked at me several times and then returned to his seat without taking the money. He didn’t seem scared, just curious. Nobody sat with me.

A little relieved, for I had feared a commotion would erupt inside the bus and impede me from reaching downtown in time to buy my ticket, I leaned in my seat and rubbed my wounded body with my palms. But even my palms were burning and itching and in need of rubbing and scratching.

At Dagoretti Corner, more passengers got in and a middle-aged woman sat next to me. She did not take her eyes off me. As soon as saw me, she seemed unable to stop staring. She was curious, her brows knitted, and her lips pulled apart in a dead smile. She made me uneasy and I wanted her to stop. So I raised my left hand and said:

“Is there a problem?”

Vanishing pic.2

“Is there a problem?”

She shrieked and lurched forward from her seat like something propelled by a missile. Then she clutched her chest and wrung her face in agony. She was experiencing a heart attack. Being the closest to her, I grabbed her shoulders and shouted for the conductor to tell the driver to stop the bus.

Instead, the conductor looked back directly at me, and, for an instant, I was face to face with the finest, most distilled form of grotesque terror I had ever seen. He leaped out of the moving bus without pausing to think twice about it. I had been wrong in thinking that he had not been scared; he had only contained his terror, perhaps because he had a job to do.

Panic built up rapidly and the bus plunged into chaos. The rest of the passengers began to scream as well. They got up from their seats and banged their fists against the roof and the windows, shouting for the driver to stop. Five or so did not wait and followed after the conductor. The driver swerved and crashed diagonally against an oncoming bus, hitting three or four other vehicles in the process. The passengers pitched in different directions, crashing into one another, wailing and flailing, while tires squealed outside and glass broke in abundance.

We had hardly stopped when a stampede broke out. Too many people were struggling to simultaneously squeeze through a door that could barely accommodate one. I had an instant to wonder if the acclaimed human intelligence was not but another great illusion of things. They were intelligent only if things went as per some laid out plan, which was no different from animals, even ants.

The woman died and I had scarcely let go of her body when someone trampled it. I did not want to get out last lest it should be determined that they were running from me. So I joined in the flight and made some people faint. There was a profusion of blood on the steps when I flew over them. A child that looked dead was lying just below those steps and a middle-aged man was choking on his own blood and lying on his shattered arm.

                                                                                                                    IX.

I sprinted unnoticed and hid behind a building. I realized there was no way I was going to make it to Mombasa in my present state. How was I ever going to buy a ticket when nobody could glance at me without being seized by a frenzy of madness?

This realization made me bitter and sorrowful. I had become a monster, the cause of panic and death.

Still, I had to go to Mombasa and meet with the man that Robi had said. It was my only chance of knowing what had been done to me, and by whom, and if Mr. Malek knew about him. Thereafter, I could search for a cure. If a cure there was.

After a few minutes of cerebration, a queer idea came to me. It felt outstandingly foolish and risky, but I could not see any other choice. My bank’s ATM was not in the vicinity; but, I had seen a PesaPoint one in front of the building. It was universal. I slunk to it and withdrew a lot of cash. I saw that almost everyone had rushed to the accident scene and crowded around it; those who hadn’t were yet drawn to it like flies to a carcass. I was therefore safe to move about without causing any more deaths.

Next, I searched around for a cab. I saw one parked at the Total Station and dashed to it. Despite the tearing and searing pain in my bones and muscles, I ran as fast as I could. I thought I was lighter than usual but I had no time to reflect about it.

I did not give anyone a chance for a good look at me. I saw a Le Pic schoolboy gape and then frown suddenly when I flitted past him, but I was gone before he could utter his surprise. A station attendant looked up just as I was approaching. We were on the same course and he started and accidentally pulled the nozzle out of the tank he was filling, swaying in the process and spilling petrol on the face of the driver, who happened to be sticking his head out of the window. The driver jumped in his seat and coughed and spat and sneezed and rubbed his face all at the same time. He thrust the door open and made to leap out, but the safety belt jerked him back with a mighty force. He swore.

The cab was a private one, an undistinguished blue Toyota saloon with a fading yellow line around it. The driver was reading a newspaper.

I yanked open the door and leapt into the passenger seat. He looked up at once but did not move. He studied me. He seemed unable to decide what I was and convince himself of my presence. He did not look scared, though; if indeed he was scared, then he shared a trait with the bus conductor.

I did not move, either. I sat stiff, quiet, calculating; I wanted him to make the first move. He seemed to be waiting for the same from me. He still held the newspaper in his hand and I saw now that he had been working on Sudoku. The pen was stuck between his teeth, frozen there. He had held his breath.

After about fifteen seconds—although it could have been an hour, for all I cared—I said: “Take me to Mombasa.”

He kicked the door and before I could add “Please”, half his body was already hurled outside, his hands fumbling on the ground for purchase, legs kicking inside the car for the same.

I grabbed his left ankle and tugged him back with great might. When he fought me with feral instinct, I shouted at him:

Mister, I will kill you!

I must have been very grim. For he stopped.

I presumed on the moment and tugged him again, applying enough force to bring his whole body back into the car.

“You sit still, or else!” I bellowed.

He did not move. He seemed dead.

“Listen to me, Mister!” I said. “I must go to Mombasa to find a man and kill him. He killed me first three weeks ago. He run me over on Ngong Road and did not stop. So right now I am dead, but he is free. I hate that. I hate that so poisonously that I intend to find him and set him on fire. You must therefore drive me to Mombasa to find him.”

I paused to see if he had understood. His face was a mixture of bewilderment and terror. I did not think he had understood me, and so I shook him.

“Do you follow?” I asked, shaking him. “You must take me to Mombasa. I will pay you. I will fill your tank and pay you ten thousand shillings to take me there, and another ten thousand plus a full tank to bring me back to Nairobi. It is a good deal. If, however, you choose to refuse it, I will forgive the man and instead take my vengeance upon you. I will destroy you. You can run as much as you fancy. But I will find you and destroy you. I am a ghost. I will haunt your children, and burn them when they are most happy. Do you follow?”

I gave him time for my threat to sink into his confounded head. It took sometime. When he breathed aloud, I asked him again if he had understood me. He nodded. So I counted the money and pressed it into his sweaty shivering hand. Then we left for Mombasa.

                                                                                                                       X.

We travelled uneventfully. We stopped only once to fill the tank, after which not a single word was exchanged between us for the next nine hours.

I have hijacked this car, I thought with a lonely bitter pang. This was a severe crime and I could be jailed for it. But to jail only if I could be cured of this thing that had engulfed me and was digesting my flesh!

I was feeling more and more stretched. Like an elastic. Thinner and thinner. I was being pulled apart.

I was still rubbing my palms over my itching body; rubbing everywhere I could reach without convincing the driver that I was a fake ghost. I was burning inside and outside. Maybe my soul was smouldering away too. I hoped Robi’s uncle would help me.

We reached Mwembe Tayari at five going on six. The sun was sinking. I told the driver to find a parking. When he had done so, I got out and freed him to go find himself food and rest. I told him I would be away for as long as it took to set my adversary on fire and watch him burn to death. I did not remind him of the threats I had made back in Nairobi. I had a feeling he might begin to doubt me.

The settling darkness covered me. No one could make out my strange, shapeless foggy appearance with ease. I remembered also what Robi had said about invisible people in Mombasa and felt free. If anybody saw me they should imagine that I was just another ghostly thing in the neighbourhood.

I called the number Robi had sent me and, after giving my location, was told to wait for a few minutes. But I had no sooner finished talking than the old man appeared by my side. I was startled and I thought he was dead, a ghost perhaps, or one of the invisible people Robi had mentioned.

Jeru!” he called, but it was more of a sigh.

I did not talk to him at first. I scrutinized him warily, thinking that if he was indeed a real living person, then he should not countenance my appearance and should instead be terrified out of his wits. By his constitution he could have been perhaps sixty, though he looked eighty—sweaty bald head ringed with sparse, unhealthy yellow-grey hair, overly wrinkled face worn by care, beaten by the world, and trampled by life; a decrepit hoary creature with faded, drooping eyes. It explained why his niece had preferred to describe him as an “old-looking man” instead of just an old man.

He squinted at me. “Si wewe ni Jeru?” he asked. Aren’t you Jeru?

I said that I was. And then I asked him how he had reached me so quickly but he only cackled at the question and I decided to pursue it no further.

We spoke in Kiswahili, with me maintaining my adulterated upcountry accent while he poured forth his smooth, musical coast one. We started walking towards his house and he told me that his name was Mzee Makazi. He also told me that I was splitting.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“It means you are dying,” he said.

I stopped, hesitated. “What is killing me?”

He kept on walking. “Unaungua kutoka ndani,” he said. You’re burning from inside.

“Is that why I’m all burning and itching?”

“Yes.”

“But you said I’m splitting, not dying!”

He stopped, turned to me. “Your physical body is burning to death. But something else is coming out of you.”

“What is that?” I demanded. “What is coming out of me?”

“I don’t know.” He started walking again and I ran after him.

“What do you mean you don’t know? How do you know all that you’ve yet told me?”

He cackled again. “Utajionea,” he said. You’ll see for yourself.

“Can you help me?” I asked but he did not answer.

I followed him in quiet the rest of the way. I was worried with a feeling of defeat and hopelessness. There was not going to be any fruition in my coming here. This man could not help me. He had a pleasant countenance and a good heart, but he could not stop me from splitting. I was splitting. That was a fact. It was why I felt stretched, thin. My physical body was dying—smouldering to death—but something else was coming forth, something of unknown consequences. That was why I looked like two people in the foggy, malformed, deformed, and horrifying nebulosity that was now my image. I was being separated into two parts.

                                                                                                                    XI.

We did not enter Mzee Makazi’s house. He had set up two stools and a small basin of water under a large tree by the house. He motioned me to sit and then asked me to dip my hands into the water. I did, and after I had removed them, he put his hands on top of the water, without touching it. The water began bubbling. Soon it was whirling and swirling as if due to some great physical agitation. The man’s eyes were tightly shut.

As I looked on, he withdrew his hands and bent over the basin. He opened his eyes and peered into the water, which was now eddying and bubbling so violently that the basin shook. He was that way for about a minute.

Then, suddenly, he cried out. “Ameniona! Ameniona!” He has seen me! He has seen me!

As he did so, he jumped back and knocked over his stool and the basin of water. The water scattered in the air and I thought I saw a terrible red glow, as of fire, in the drops. I sprung back with a shriek, and before I could regain my balance and ask Makazi who it was that had seen him, he burst into flames and was consumed in an instant.

I stared speechlessly, my heart beating in my stomach. He was gone. The old man was gone. One instant he had been there, screaming; the next he had vanished. Consumed. Devoured. Gone.

For a split second, I had felt the heat of those flames. They had reached for me, tried to grab me. The terrible, merciless, unappeasable tongues of those wicked flames!

I took off from there like the wind. I never looked back till I had reached the car.

I saw that I had become completely invisible. I felt my hands but could not see them. Nor could I see my legs, waist, etc. I had become invisible even to myself! The burning, the itching and the stretching had stopped, the foggy smoky things gone, but the flames had licked away the rest of my physical self, thereby completing my splitting.

Vanishing pic0

“What am I?” I asked.What have I become? Who burnt the poor old man?”

I did not know the answers to any of these questions. My quest here had failed. I had not found the cure or any answers for my condition. I had instead become worse.

I got into the car. The driver was leaning his head on the steering wheel, weeping and convulsing wretchedly. He stopped when I entered.

“Why do you cry?” I asked him. I was impatient. I had failed to find help and this man was weeping as if I meant him no harm.

“You have done as I requested and I will not harm you,” I said. “I have also paid you fully as agreed. What upsets you, then?”

He was quiet, wiping his eyes, sniffling. So I added: “Consider me only as one of your clients. It should alleviate your terror. Meanwhile we need to return to Nairobi.”

He reversed and we started back. I told him to choose his own speed; I was in no hurry. So he kept it at sixty kilometres per hour. But after six hours, I saw that he was very tired and asked him to let me drive. He did not say anything. He just stopped the car and went to the backseat. He must have been wondering what had happened to me where I had gone, for I had left looking all blurred and cloudy but came back totally invisible.

                                                                                                                 XII.

Again we travelled without incident. I dropped off at Racecourse bus-stop where only the previous morning I had caused severe panic. I thanked the driver profusely and saw him speed away as if being chased. He was a good man and he had stirred my pity. To see a forty-year old man—certainly some boy or girl’s esteemed father—reduced to such lowly cringing fear! It shook me and I wished I could take back the abominable threats I had made to him.

I reached my apartment to find the lock broken. I hesitated only for a second, pushed and entered. There was an adult man prostrate on my sofa. Another one was snoring on my bed. The lights were on, so was the TV. The dinner table was cluttered with plates and leftovers, and the coffee table had six dirty cups and a thermos on it.

What was this? Who were these outrageous people? They had cooked my food, drank my coffee, watched my TV, dirtied my living room, and were now deep asleep on my furniture!

I wanted to shout at them and bang the door for them to wake up. But then something caught my eye. There was a gun on the coffee table, a pistol. I picked it up, weighed it.

Ah, so they were my would-be murderers Robi had called to warn me about. I had forgotten all about them. They had come here in the night looking for me, and finding the house empty, had decided to have fun as they awaited my return. The gun’s safety was off, meaning that they had intended to shoot me as soon as I entered my house. Well, here I was, and see who’d been caught off-guard!

I aimed at the sleeping man and fired two shots in succession. I missed both times. The third shot graced his shoulder. It would have missed as well but he had wakened and was turning to face me. The fourth shot blasted his murderous head, and his brain splattered my sofa.

Once I had seen a dead man on the road. A bus had run over him and burst his head. It was the first time I was seeing a human brain, and I had great difficulty trying to figure out how that vomitus-like substance could make a person so wicked and ruinous.

Just like the brain splattered on my sofa, red and whitish and fatty—mucous even—like some awful stinking gummy porridge brewed by a witch. Yet, a second ago, it would have triggered the man to kill me! How absurd this life was when you thought about it. How useless. The man seemed to have vomited through the back of his head.

Having seen the damage it could do, I appraised the gun again, turned it over and over in my hands. It was a big revolver, a .45 maybe. Deadly. I had never held a gun before, and it made me wonder.

Why were such weapons made for us? What were we that we needed such weapons to keep our society running? What would we be, where would we be, without them? But, indeed, what were we? If you were an alien from a different planet and you chanced to land on earth, and all the governments of the world brought before you all the weapons ever made to destroy the human being, what would you think of the human being? Would you want to meet one alone in the dark? If all the governments collapsed, and all the laws were eradicated, what would we be, how?

So that this whole thing called human civilization felt like a lie. It was not in the heart. It had sense of being forced, sustained with threats and intimidation, subjugation and fear. It was a war against nature and all that was natural, leaving us always with a sense of pending disaster. If it were to collapse, the society would degenerate much faster and to a much worse state than that of the days we thought primeval and savage. Even worse was that we would have nothing to go back to: no land for agriculture, no drinkable water, no breathable air. A toxic world. We would eat one another, just as the stories said the sailors had done when stranded in the sea. All the efforts ever made to save the children, empower women and built better, stronger economies would disappear as if they had never happened.

But perhaps the worst thing of all is that everything manmade collapses and vanishes into the ruins and ravages of time and history, into tales and telltales of dust.

The governments which built this civilization never said: “Change your hearts, people, and be kind to one another. We are building something better here!” Instead they made kindness appear like a mortal sin. They divided us and sowed more cruelty and hate amidst us. They showed us that you could own the whole planet by yourself and force everybody to pay you for living in it. They murdered the human being and replaced him with the human having. You could not be, if you did not have. So we fought to have. By all means, any means. Finally, they made guns and showed us where to point them.

And woe unto the poor! For all the guns point at the poor and away from the rich! I had noticed how in this country the rich sometimes exercised extreme violence in order to maintain their status; yet when poor Kenyans embarked on violence in order to uplift themselves from their seedy existence, they were gunned down as thugs and thieves, sent to jail as criminals and terrorists, until the jails were overfull. Yes. The jails were overfull.

I wondered. If the jails were overfull, so that a space built for six carried over twenty people, why weren’t we safe out here? Why weren’t we walking out in the dark till late and sleeping with our doors and windows open, unwary and reckless, safe and free? The society was breaking apart. No one trusted their neighbours anymore. Even in the villages where they still did not have fences around their homes, they were wary of one another, no longer trusting as they once had. In towns and cities people were fenced in their homes as if hiding from the Devil, with tall walls topped with electricity and sharp things. The rate at which rich Kenyans were buying guns for self protection was at its most high, and so was the number of illegal guns in the country. We were increasingly unsafe, frightened, isolated, alone, lonely, heartbroken and sad. Mothers separated from their children, husbands from their wives, brothers who never saw eye to eye, sisters calling each other bitches—broken families, broken world. Then there was always an imminent global threat of one kind or another. Terrorism, global warming, financial meltdown, pollution, toxicity, war, you name it. We lived in a state of perpetual fear. Yet our prisons were overfull!

So who are those people in prison? I had asked myself. Do we really ever lock up the right people? The masterminds of this deplorable agony of never-ending fear? If not, then who are we kidding?

The second would-be murderer, who had been snoring in my bedroom, burst through the door and I made a hole in his heart large enough for my fist to go through. I saw pieces of his heart on the floor and wondered how such a tiny bloody mess of muscles could completely poison a planet and desolate it. Such as we had done to earth!

                                                                                                               XIII.

I left immediately to go to Karen. I had to find Mr. Malek and make him explain to me what had happened to me in his home on Thursday morning and why he had sent killers after me. I took the gun with me.

I walked. Mr. Malek’s home was buried deep into the tall leafy woods of Karen, nearly ten kilometres from Racecourse, but I was not tired when I got there. I remembered that I had neither eaten nor slept since Wednesday night and wondered how I could still be so strong. I wanted neither food nor sleep.

Mr. Malek had already left when I reached his home. It was shortly after nine-thirty and the compound was abuzz with activity. Robi was cleaning the front windows. I did not talk to her as I passed, but she looked around unconsciously as if somehow sensing my presence. I wished I could tell her that her uncle was dead. I knew she would be called from home, anyway.

The dogs went delirious as soon as I entered the compound. They barked and bayed, howled and bawled ceaselessly for the rest of the day.

The garage was open and I went in. My car was parked but I did not need it. I occupied the closest corner to the door. When Mr. Malek returned, he would drive in here and I would ambush him violently and belabour him until he had answered all my questions. If anyone interfered, I would shoot them with the gun.

He did not return for seven hours. During that time, I reflected on the new progress of my condition. I was lighter than I had been when I murdered those killers in my house, by which time I had already become lighter than when I left Mombasa. I was becoming increasingly lighter and my breath was coming out in shorter and shorter gasps. While on my way to Karen, I had noticed how my feet lifted up a notch higher than usual, and with more ease, and how, on stepping down, I experienced slight air resistance against my soles. It had been as if the air was trying to carry me away.

My physical self had already vanished; so now, what was left of me, my invisible self, was beginning to vanish as well. Oh, Lord!

Mr. Malek returned at half past four. He did not enter the garage. His driver did. I had forgotten about the driver.

The driver parked the car and got out with two other men. I got out too, but caused an accident. I lifted my foot but it rose too high, thrust up by the air, so that I miscalculated my step and kicked a box full of empty wine and beer bottles. The bottles scattered on the floor, and some of them broke. When my foot landed down, it crashed the broken pieces with considerable force, and my presence could therefore not be mistaken.

The three men bolted out. I heard them calling Mr. Malek and explaining what had just happened. Mr. Malek, suddenly agitated, began screaming at them to get lost.

“To your quarters!” barked he. “Everyone! To your quarters! I said now!” screamed he.

When the compound had fallen silent except for the yowling dogs, Mr. Malek came into the garage and secured the door with a lock. He pocketed the keys and also turned out the lights. Then he seemed to search for something in the dark and listen keenly at the same time. He was very jittery and restless. He was breathing fast.

I was flabbergasted. What was he searching for after turning the lights out? What did he want to hear that filled him with so much suspense? I was, however, transported with anger and my desire to harm him was great. I gripped the gun and took another step forward, but again I kicked the bottles on my way and crashed the shattered pieces.

Mr. Malek turned at once in my direction and knelt down with his face lowered, like one in the grips of deferential fear. He proceeded to prostrate himself before me. Then, in a tremulous, subjugated voice, he said:

“Forgive me, my lord! Forgive my soul and my will, and my heart and my desires. I did not know that you had arrived. Had I known I would have had your offering with me. Please, forgive me!”

I did not understand all this very curious theatrics. But I lifted my foot and struck his submissive forehead with a stern might. He was hurled towards the door and he rolled over on his back. A deep gash marked where the tip of my shoe had met his forehead. He was bleeding copiously over his face.

To my puzzlement, however, he, without any complaint, without so much as a grunt or a gasp, returned to the same servile and solemn prostrate position. He said:

“Forgive me, my lord! My soul is yours. My will is yours. My heart is yours. My desires are yours. Only to you do I commit my home and all that is mine, to be yours to use as yourself you desire. I shall have your offering tonight. And you shall be glutted as out of these wretched, hateful hands of mine, out of the terrible and dreadful desires of my heart, you have before been glutted. I will not fail you, my lord.”

He rose with his bleeding head still bowed and scurried through the kitchen door. I let him go. I was curious about his pious blether about offerings and glutted lords.

                                                                                                               XIV.

When he returned, he had cleaned himself and bandaged his forehead. He was wearing a hat. He opened the garage and drove out by himself.

I went into his house. Silence reverberated in every room. At Mr. Malek’s command, all servants had abandoned their stations. I wondered if they ever asked why.

The only sound was that coming from the master bedroom wing upstairs. I picked it up as a rustle of fabric, a low thump on the floor as of something dropped. I picked up a waft of perfume as well, a sweet-smelling, agonizing promise that brought tears to my eyes.

Ever since the fire in Mombasa, my senses had become more acute, inputs heightened, and my earshot made longer.

I followed the smell. When I reached the master bedroom, the door was wide open and I halted completely upon looking inside. My heart dropped from a very high place into an abysmal pit of fiendish desire. For therein was Mr. Malek’s wife. Naked as a naked thing can be, a wicked thing.

She was a positive force in his life. She was wild. She was otherworldly. She was like those women you could sometimes see in town and wonder who was dating them, who could be so blessed in this deranged dying world. An Ethiopian goddess. The Queen of Sheba. She mocked the world with her beauty. She was like something sent to earth to mock people: that out of this rot and filth which we called home, out of this festering defilement of a world, something that looked like her could still be born. She was like a rose blooming in a heap of dung.

The first time I saw her I had told myself that if she touched me I might explode. She was a year older than me, but she looked younger, which made her almost twenty years younger than her husband. They had been married for three years. Mr. Malek’s first wife had died nine months pregnant. She had tipped over the railing on the second floor landing of their old house and flew all the way to the ground, which had been very confounding given that those steel rails had been four feet high. But it had been a hush-hush kind of thing. Rich people stuff. No cops, no autopsies, no foreign mourners, only family. His children were all abroad, which left this entire prodigious abode just for him and his dear naked angel in there.

I entered the room and would have continued advancing if she had not done something that checked me just beyond the door. She turned to me and smiled. She turned to me, fully naked, with her sublime body, her small teenage-girl breasts, her perfect eyes . . . and she smiled. She smiled at me, and she smiled invitingly.

She had a small sward of hair on her pubis. It was deadly. It was good. Almost all the girls I had dated preferred to be clean-shaven down there. So that I had forgotten how it felt to run my hands through it, to rub my cheek on it in the agonizing thrill and misery of a moment’s love. I was aroused like hell and I advanced towards her without a mote of care. She walked backwards slowly, heading for the bed, her eyes on me, that smile beckoning to me, craving me, those celestial eyes shining on me, teasing me, magic hips swaying sweetly, sylphlike, delicate, lovely . . .

I stopped dead. She couldn’t see me. I was invisible. So what was she doing?

Then it hit me. She had undressed expecting something to come through the door and sleep with her, something she couldn’t see, to burst in and fuck her. Oh, Lord!

Slowly, I crept out of her vision and stood by the wall. To confirm my horror, her eyes did not follow me. She continued looking towards the door, smiling that beckoning smile of hers, teasing with her eyes and hips. What was this?

As if in answer, she turned around and faced the bed. Then she bent over it and spread her legs behind her. I gasped aloud and she jumped.

Her anus looked like the top of a volcano. Like a crater. Exploded. It had been beaten and mangled, torn and burnt; it had been ripped and turned inside-out; whitish and red, meaty and grey, it looked like an awful yawning deep throat on the wrong side of the body.

I bolted out the door.

                                                                                                                  XV.

I went to the balcony on the second floor overlooking the gate and waited for Mr. Malek to return. Now he had even more to explain. I was very disturbed and greatly rankled by the events I had witnessed. First, Mr. Malek bowing down with religious terror and reverence to something that he could not see but with which he was familiar, then his wife expecting the same thing to violate her in the master bedroom.

Who were these people? Who had I done business with? And the woman  . . .  was she really his wife or just somebody he kept for appeasing his invisible lords? Was she the offering he had mentioned? Because, certainly, when he bolted into the house from the garage, he must have gone to her and informed her to prepare to be ravaged in her blasted, hollow anus. Which made him a sort of pimp, didn’t it? Ha! But whose pimp?

But she had smiled in her own knowing, gratifying way. Those eyes of hers, terrorizing the male desire. She hadn’t seemed discomfited until I gasped—her ravager must surely never gasp!—which could only mean that whatever was happening in this house had engulfed her. She was part of it.

Was it the Devil? What else could terrify a man of Mr. Malek’s calibre as he had been in the garage? Who else could have sent the alien fire to consume the poor old man?

But the Devil? Ha! And to be worshipped! I could not help jeering at that. I had never in my life met anyone who worshipped the Devil. And I had thought that such an act was impossible. Those who claimed to worship God were often just as evil as those who did not. So that the Devil did not need worshipers; he already had the whole world in his hands and the soul of everyone at his finger tips. People have been murdered everyday in the name of God or Allah or Satan or Science. At any one time in history, humans have always sacrificed other lives to promote something they thought was superior to them and had their wellbeing foremost at its core. There was a chronic tendency among people to come up with ideas and then devalue themselves so much, stoop so low, that the ideas seized them, imprisoned them and reigned over them with absolute power. Making them slaves. Always slaves of one thing or another. Proud masters of slaves, though themselves slaves. The hands of men imprison everything.

The ancient thinkers had put forward seven basic weaknesses from which all human conflicts arise: pride, envy, anger, lust, covetousness, greed, and sloth. By the time a person saw the need to worship they were already in the grip of one or more of these weaknesses, which meant that they did not need the inspiration of a supreme being in order to be outright evil.

Any thinker could see that humans were evil by themselves and did not need a constant urge from the Devil to destroy one another. There was darkness and there was light in everyone; but the darkness was defended with more darkness, denied so much that people even blamed nonliving things for their actions and the actions of others. So we decayed. And the world decayed around us. But everybody was innocent. “Blame it on religion,” they said. “Blame it on technology, on skin colour, on oil and stock markets and money. Blame it on guns and witchcraft.” Blame, blame, blame! Rape a woman and blame it on her dress! Ha! Ridiculous!

As if those things could be arraigned in court and charged with disrupting our peaceful society!

Sometime in 2006, the government of Kenya formed a commission to investigate the cause of rising cases of exam fraud in the schools countrywide. The professor in charge announced the results on TV. He said cell phones were to blame.

“How do you save a planet when everybody in it is but an innocent victim of their own ideas?” I had asked myself and then guffawed at all the attempts ever made to save the planet.

                                                                                                               XVI.

In my second year in high school, we had a topic in Mathematics called Similarity and Congruence. It involved comparing similar shapes of varying sizes and determining how their angles, lengths, areas, and volumes corresponded. The Maths teacher used it to explain different things which I did not understand then, but did later on. He said that the universe works on scales. Not a linear scale like y = 3x, but a more convoluted one which he called the scale of natural things.

The atom, for instance, is the smallest known universe so far, although even within the atom itself, the nucleus binds electrons within their orbits and regulates any interactions between one atom and another. Within our own body cells, there is also a seat of power, the nucleus, which keeps all organelles in check, regulates the flow of matter into and out of the cell and determines how one cell interacts with another. On a much larger scale, our brains perform the same functions on our bodies and environment, even as we, as individuals, fight to be the nucleus governing everything around us. The earth’s gravity holds everything prisoner on its surface and keeps the moon in place, and the sun is the master of the solar system which affects even the atom and the cell. So that there is, without doubt, another body, existing on a much larger scale than that of our sun and the solar system, which in turn holds our sun in place within the galaxy. And still another even bigger one which controls the whole galaxy.

He said that the pattern either continues infinitely as more and more bodies compete for control of others or it tapers to a point as all the energy coalesce into a single source, forming a sort of a pyramid with the whole scheme, at the top of which is the most powerful and the most unstable point.

Energy, he said, flows in definite patterns which can be determined with equations. Too much energy causes instability. As matter increases in size, its energy also increases and it becomes more and more unstable. As organisms become more and more advanced, their interactions with the environment also become more and more intricate and very large quantities of energy are involved. These organisms are, consequently, the most unstable.

So that humans, whose growth and interactions are more advanced and more complex than that of any other organism on earth, are in fact the most unstable. Humans pride themselves on being the most civilized life form on earth but they are only walking time bombs, explosive things. Add entropy to the picture—the natural affinity of things to disaster—and you do not need hell.

Humans feel more intense love due to the high amount of energy involved in their level of existence. But animals love better because they are more stable. Even amongst the same species, the more advanced the worse.

Atoms collide all the time and are robbed of electrons by stronger forces or the electrons are traded for the sake of binding stability. Every organism engages in conflict; even insects wage their wars and slaughter one another with shocking brutality—such as the Asian giant hornet, V. mandarinia, which reigns absolute terror on honey bees; or the safari ants which, on their scale of existence, are in fact much worse than humans in wreaking havoc. The ant species, M. ravouxi, has been observed to capture, subdue, and enslave another species T. unifasciatus, which are then forced to perform every function associated with slavery even amongst humans, including feeding, cleaning, grooming, and carrying their masters along. The slaves get their revenge by killing the pupae of their masters.

Still, inside our bodies viruses and bacteria wage their own wars to destroy one another or reach a state of compromise that benefits both.

These wars are, however, short-lived and their scale of destruction is low. But when humans engage in all-out war, it is hell let loose on earth, and the level of destruction and death is beyond words. The consequences are dire, complicated, and never, never quite come to an end.

So that if there are organisms in the universe more advanced and more complex than humans, then they are even more unstable, capable of more unprovoked madness and horror than we could ever create, more cruelty and evil and everlasting hate, and more intense but even more lamentably transient love and compassion and pity.

On this scale perhaps there exists God and the Devil, or Enki, his Annunaki people and his Nibiru place, waging their eternal pernicious wars, depleting planets and desolating galaxies, and regarding us with no more love and esteem than we that with which we ourselves regard lower life forms on earth: hating us, loving us, piqued by us, pestered by us, destroying us, imprisoning us, and keeping us alive all at the same time.

I believed it.

There was a verse in the book of Revelation that once made me wonder. The one that talks about second death, where those who had died sinful are resurrected, judged, and expunged. I thought: “Really? After being born on earth—of all places!—which is itself hell to its very core, and enduring the terrors and agonies herein: its sicknesses, wars, lies, never-ending hate and enmity, tortures, evil rulers, bad governments, false hopes, ruined hopes, illusions, delusions, disillusions, cancers, etc, etc—after witnessing all this and dying before your time—murdered—or enduring it to the very last breath of your long life and dying of old age, till the living bid you rest in peace and kissed you sweet tearful goodbyes, regarding you as a source of hope that we can yet endure our own madness for several decades—yet after all this you would still be resurrected from your grave and judged. And if your name was not found in the book of life, then the judges would murder you again, cast you into the lake of fire and brimstone along with the Devil and all.

Surely! It wasn’t as if you had spent your previous life in paradise!

The ancient prophets wrote about God and spoke of his multitudes of mercies and his infinite love. But at the same time they recounted in detail how by his power and decree they had gone to war and committed some very atrocious deeds on the innocent. Then we said, “What sort of God is this! All-loving at one point and all-murdering at another! Why does he also resort to extreme violence in order to solve our problems? Doesn’t he have better options ours, being the Creator of everything? Surely, these prophets must have been lying. They made up this God of theirs.”

But they were right.

For that is exactly how it would be if a dog spoke of human compassion and love to a chicken or to a fish imprisoned in a glass tank, a bird in a cage, a lizard captured for laboratory experiment, or to an elephant in the savannah hunted down for its teeth so that humans can wear shirts with ivory buttons and play beautiful pianos!

                                                                                                            XVII.

Mr. Malek returned at midnight. He parked the car and left again with a large canvas bag which he hung over his shoulder. He seemed anxious and in a great hurry, as when he shouted harshly at the wailing dogs to stop following him. He did not use the main gate but instead went through a small door on the northern side of the compound. That door was never used and it opened into the woods.

My curiosity was piqued and I followed him. There was nothing where he was going except the woods, which extended further north for five acres. It was a ripe place, with verdant tall trees bearing thick foliage and a vast undergrowth, lush and various. Many buyers had come to him with good money for it, but he had turned them all down. He had told one buyer that he loved those trees too much to sell the place and watch them murdered in cold blood so that some people could have swimming pools and lawns. He said the world needed more trees than swimming pools and lawns. I had liked him for saying that and thought him a very thoughtful and judicious man.

After about one hundred and fifty metres northeast, the woods began to thin gradually, becoming less and less dense until an open space was created, averaging a quarter of an acre, with short shrubs, intermittent thickets and stunted brown grass diffused over it. Few tall trees were strewn randomly about. The plants had a rather unhealthy yellowed look which contrasted sharply with the rank growth behind us.

Here, Mr. Malek stopped and put the bag down. He must have been straining, for he stretched his right arm and squeezed his shoulder with his left hand. He also exercised his back for a few seconds. Then, standing roughly at the centre of the place, he took off his hat and discarded it in the grass. And as I watched, spellbound, he proceeded to discard all his clothes until he was stark naked.

The pale moon had again been obscured by clouds and the sky was lit with some rather shy stars. But Mr. Malek’s brown skin gleamed faintly with the sweat he had produced by hurrying in the woods. He had a very long penis; it reached his mid-thigh without erection, making me wonder if it wasn’t him who had blown that appalling crater in his wife’s anus. But I knew better. His buttocks were as tight as rocks, shrunken too, so that the crack looked like an old mouth that had been shut with superglue.

He knelt down and bowed his head and covered his face with his hands. He was that way for an hour. He did not whisper or murmur anything that I could make out. Next, he went down on his belly and spread-eagled himself on the grass and the shrubs. He spent another sixty minutes in that position. The shrubs felt to me like they might have thorns and crawling things on them and the brown blades of the grass were stiff and prickly. Nevertheless, Mr. Malek did not cringe.

When he rose, he unzipped the bag and took out a child, perhaps one-year old. It was limp as though unconscious. He undressed it quickly and then reached into the bag and removed a huge knife with a hair-raising blade curved like a tooth. He took the child by the back of its neck and raised it to his level till they were face to face. Then he placed the crooked tapering point of the blade just beneath the child’s sternum and looked up with hard, wild, blood-curdling eyes. His penis had become stiff and fully erect so that it looked like a third misplaced leg, an abomination pointing at the heavens.

He drew in a deep breath and screamed in powerful voice:

“I offer her to you, My Lord. I offer her to you with my left hand. Proudly accept with abounding glory her reeking flesh and debased soul!”

                                                                                                          XVIII.

“Hey!” I shouted at him. “Hey!”

I was sprinting towards him before he could finish those evil words. I fired at him but missed. When I fired again, the gun clicked emptily and I disposed of it.

I screamed at him to stop what he was about to do. He looked up startled, nonplussed and disorientated. He staggered, stepped back, and used the dangling body of the child for balance. He was staring towards me with both his eyes and mouth. But he could not see me. I was not his invisible lord, I sounded human to him, yet he could only hear me approaching. In that instant, I completely paralyzed him.

I wanted to kill him. I wanted to grab that huge ugly knife and split him up with it all the way to his throat. I was transported with fury, seized by demons, I was on fire, and I wanted nothing except to dive upon him and break him and murder him.

And I got so close to him, so close, within strangling distance. I was reaching out with my vengeful hands to grab his devoted devilish neck and snap it . . . when, suddenly, a house appeared around us and the man I had seen in the night burst through a wall.

It was my turn to be nonplussed and disorientated. The shock was so bad I thought I had been shot in the heart. It was worse than the panic and terror roused by the near-sacrifice of the unconscious child. I fell and scrambled up, and fell again.

It was a real house. An ancient stone house with red bricks on the roof, such as the houses the British government had first built in Nairobi a long time ago. The windows were shattered and the ceiling was gone but the walls and the floor were still stable. Whether it had come from the ground or the sky, or whether it had been there all along and invisible and immaterial at the same time, I did not know. It was there and I was in it, trapped with and by the Devil. It was the Devil. The man I had seen was the Devil.

He was shorter now, but wider—he had a girth like that of a hippo, though not smooth: hard, rugged, severe, a corrupt, profane, depraved thing—than he had been the night I saw him at Mr. Malek’s. There were cracks in his skin and they were spilling molten fire onto the floor. What I had thought were scales on him were instead random clod-like, burl-like patches of warty lumpy things I had never seen before but which gathered on themselves a dense bristle of burnt, taut hair. Blue flames were streaming out of his ears and nose, and his eyes—those atrocious, hate-filled, blasphemous orbs—were aflame.

Devil0.1

He focused on Mr. Malek, who was prostrate again, shuddering, moaning, mumbling strange things and drivelling like a confounded fool.

“Why do you disturb me before it is my time out of these walls?” the Devil demanded.

“My lord,” Mr. Malek quivered. “I thought you were at my house this past evening.”

“It was not me!” the Devil bellowed.

His voice had changed and was like the sound of someone skipping rapidly in muddy water. A squelching vibration, a fat, thick bubbling of horrors—so repulsive for a moment I was unaware of the dangerous heat radiating from him. It was as if the fires of his body were boiling some awfully viscous liquid in his throat.

“It was him!” and he pointed at me. Mr. Malek raised his weeping head in my direction but could not see me. He glanced back at the Devil with a blank expression and then lowered his head again. He was shuddering too hard and could not speak. It seemed to infuriate the Devil even worse.

“Did you intend to honour him with my sacrifice?” demanded he.

Then he reached out with one hellish, gigantic hand and took Mr. Malek’s head into it. Mr. Malek’s head fitted into that hand the way an egg does into a human hand. The Devil lifted him up the way he had lifted me up that night. Then, with one split-second motion, he yanked off Mr. Malek’s head and squeezed it in his hand until the blood and the brain and the gooey stuff from the eyes and nose and mouth oozed out between his fingers and dripped onto the floor. The head sizzled in his hand like pork, and when he cast it down, it was a small jagged revolting hairless thing the size of a baseball. It burst into flames like a matchstick and was gone in a second. The rest of his body convulsed on the floor, rolled and kicked and turned, trying to live again in horrifying vain.

Then it was just me and the Devil . . . although somewhere in the faraway distance I thought the child had awoken and was wailing sick. What would the Devil do with her?

He glowered at me. “You did this?” he said. “You cost me a soul?” Then, with undue stress, repeated the horrid curse of that fateful night: “Vanish!” He then blew his breath at me. His hell-hot, boiling breath! He did it the way a person might do to a small cloud of dust, and I was at once wrapped in flames and propelled through a shattered wall into the sky. I disintegrated.

And I thought I was dying. I wished to. But I did not. I still felt myself. I was stretching again. Stretching, stretching. This time so much quicker and with so much more pain. I was aflame and afloat through a vast emptiness. I could feel my fingers, my toes, my teeth, and even my beating heart; I could feel every part of me. But they were too far away from one another and drifting farther and farther apart. The flames were ripping me to pieces, scattering me over the atmosphere like a cloud. Ripples of unforgiving pain shot through my every organ. I felt every atom of it, every ounce of pure, vast, and eternal nightmare. I felt everything. I stretched, stretched  . . . stretched.

It never stopped.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      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 waited.

I waited patiently.

I heard clothes falling in the grass. I heard the click of a belt buckle and the buzzing of a zip being pulled open. I heard a scuffle in the grass and a cold current of air swept by me as a cloth was spread on the ground. I heard the whispered complaints of grass and weeds as a big body was laid down on them, breaking them, crumpling, crippling. Then there were impatient grunts and fluttery sighs. The woman cried wordlessly; and the man replied with a mournful quiver as though he was freezing. Then there followed a curious, sucking sound that was particularly wet and tremulous. And disgusting. A squelching sound; it was like that of feet stomping in mud; or of the tongue hammering against the inner wall of the lower lip; or of a finger when plunged repeatedly inside an overripe pawpaw. They were very close to me, these shameless adulterers, these cold-blooded murderers, and I heard everything.

I was as patient as God; still as a dead thing.

I had heard a lot of things said about people having sex. I had heard of the smells and the sounds and the screams and the spasms and the desperate thrusts and groans. I had heard of the intenseness of the orgasm—the point at which a man was forced by forces beyond his control to disembogue his seed inside a woman. In my school these things were discussed freely and openly by boys and girls of various ages. Even my age. Mostly they insulted one another by such references. A girl would, for instance, be told that she talked like a person experiencing an orgasm, or that she walked as though there was a penis perpetually stuck in her crotch, or that when she had an orgasm she cried like a cricket; and a boy would be told that his penis was so puny that when he slept with a girl he had to put in his testes as well, or that he had been born with an erect penis and it had grazed his mother’s vagina and given her an orgasm, whereupon she had farted him out like diarrhoea, or that his saliva looked like semen, that he spat semen from his mouth. Once, a long time ago, a grown man with a wife and children had been told that his penis was nonexistent and that his semen came out of his anus, so that when he had sex with his wife he had to turn around the other way and shitted the sperms into her, like what a cock did to a hen, except he didn’t climb on her back and bite her hair. That man had split his abuser’s head into two with an axe.

The stories of sex and sexual matters were picked from rivers like Ochido and Otuodo where adults and children shared bathing points, but especially where men and boys bathed together. The men always discussed women and sex and penises and vaginas; they discussed them dishonourably; and the little boys learned the same from them. But most, if not all, of the knowledge so imparted was despicably wrong and misleading: for example, they said that sperms were manufactured in the buttocks and stored in the spinal cord; that women urinated from the same orifice where men dipped their organs; that a woman’s vagina led straight into her stomach where food went—and that was where babies were made; that when a woman was sexually excited and there were no men about or she was afraid of sex, she drank a lot of water in order to cool herself off, since the water passed right through her vagina; etcetera, etcetera. I did not know what the women discussed on their side of the river, but judging from the intensity of vulgarity of which the girls in school were capable, I could tell that the nature of the education by the riverside was just about the same.

Here, children were spared nothing. They experienced, as did the adults, the full blast and impetus of life, unhindered and uncensored and smutty such as it was; unprotected from all the vulgarism and violence and seediness and pornography of an uncultivated and outrageous existence.

For these reasons I thought this place would never change. In any society, children were the future; when they rotted as they did here, the future rotted along with them. It was a future too untoward to look forward to. It was often said that after the rain came sunshine; but here it always rained. It had always rained. And the rain consisted of woe and folly. It was a downpour, accompanied by thunder and tempest.

I sprung to action when Ogutu’s groans and grunts started to become more and more frenzied. The woman, Sela’s wife, was agitated too, but the sounds she made were not as urgent and violent as those of the man on top of her. I knew they were approaching a climax and I intended to catch them at it. I had heard that people were most vulnerable during orgasm; that the brain almost shut down in that time. I was about to find out for myself.
I had planned to use my sword on them. But I saw the machete. The machete was there! It was an evil thing even by the look of it. It looked like something that may be used by the Devil to behead people in hell, or to cut off their testicles. Its sharpness and the way it shone and gleamed even in a place with feeble sunlight as this made it a singular and particularly hair-raising weapon in the entire village. It reminded you of the fangs of a black mamba, not by its shape—it was broad and slightly curved backwards towards the tip—but by its purpose—you saw it and knew it would kill you. It was something meant to kill.

I tiptoed and picked it up. Ogutu, in a frantic hurry to quench his fleshly yearnings, had dropped his precious possession slapdash on the ground. It was not very heavy for me, and just by holding it in my hands I felt small vibrations travel along my arm and I was inspired with confidence. I was energized and my heart kicked with anticipation. I had discovered that I was attracted to sharp things: to knives and machetes and swords and spears and arrows. I was attracted to weapons. It was a behaviour I had inherited from my father. He had been like that. Often did I regret it (I did not want at all to be like my father); but if it did help me to defend my mother then at times I had to work with it.

Ogutu heard me when I shuffled close to him. (The grass was too high and the weeds too long to allow for a perfectly soundless tiptoeing.) The confusion he felt, the shock, the terror, combined with the pain and the pleasure of his orgasm, turned his face into a hideous and distorted mask of wrinkled flesh, his bloodless eyes gawking, goggling, his thoughts wild and uncontrollable, a section of his brain shut down, and his mouth open like horrible wound. But worst of all his woes at that moment was the horror of seeing me there, me, his archenemy, his murderer, me with his dreadful machete in my hand, and he unarmed and utterly helpless. What always killed them fast, before I even lifted my arm to strike, was the horror of seeing me there, there where I was not expected; for up to then they had not known who their true enemy was. They terrorized my mother and ignored me, having judged both of us defenceless and prone to their ruthlessness, thinking that they were safe and untouchable and we were not, then they found out the truth just a split second before they died in my capable hands, when it was too late to do anything about it. The horror, the astonishment, the incomprehension, the sudden madness and alarm on their faces was always the same. I found it overly rewarding.

I swung the machete and beheaded him. I swung it with both hands and with all my might, and I imagined I could hear it tearing through the air as if the air were a fabric, making a definite arc. I could hear its premonitory whistle as it arced downwards towards the target. It passed through the neck as if his neck were made of nothing—I did not feel the impact—and continued down until it sliced the top half of the woman’s head, exposing her brain and freezing her scream. The machete stopped when it hit the ground, and that was when I felt its impact. Ogutu’s head jumped and kicked about in the grass. Blood spurted forth from his jugular and carotid like two waterfalls; his body jerked spasmodically; and a roaring sound was escaping his severed throat.

I kicked the body aside to expose the woman. I kicked it very hard in the ribs. Then I discarded the machete and took up my sword. I sank down on my knees for efficiency. And I started stabbing her on the chest. I was powered by a strange force, great and unequalled, and once I began stabbing I could not stop myself. I was helpless to halt. Images of my dying mother displayed before my eyes: images of Sela beating her; of him pinning her on the ground and punching her face as if she were a man like him; of this woman shouting and shrieking for my mother to die; of Nyadoo inciting her son to kill my mother; of Ogutu chasing my mother down towards the road with his hellish machete; wanting to cut off her lips, wanting to eat them, telling her he would cut them off and eat them; of Oulo, the man they had brought to finish her off; of those children yelling at me, calling me the son of Oulo; of my father carving off my mother’s face, wanting to remove her eyes; of him wanting to remove her breasts; of a certain tall man named Abud colluding with Nyadoo and Sela to plan my mother’s death . . .

I was transported with rage; with fury was I electrified; and vengeance stood by me. I could not stop; even after the woman was dead and limp I could not stop. I stabbed her thoroughly. Tremors of impact shook my arm; warm blood splattered my face; and my heartbeat was thunderous. Where her left breast had been, there were now jagged ribbons and scraps of flesh and a large hole fit to conceal both my hands. I saw her heart through the hole. It was shredded. Pieces of it were floating in a dark red pool of blood. Her lungs and liver had also been reduced to ragged tatters of flesh. But, I continued to stab and stab her, to puncture and pierce and lacerate, glutting myself, soaring with the bloodthirsty gory glory of the moment. Vengeance was mine. It was sweet, bittersweet; it was pungent and savoury, hot and cold, like I imagined an orgasm would be. I stabbed, stabbed, stabbed . . .

I died for three seconds and went straight to Hell. Upon my arrival, the Devil came and took me before that infamous immensity of molten fire, the limitless, unquenchable expanse of mucilaginous horror, which cracked and crackled to reveal its seething white-hot underbelly. The Devil asked me to choose whether to be cast into the squirming hostility immediately or to wait as I watched my fellow humans boil and broil and scream in eternal agony and implacable doom. He said that he often liked new arrivals to just stay and watch on their first day because, then, the horror and affliction of Hell was total and complete and immensely rewarding to him. He added that he was a fair being, for he still allowed us some choices, even when we were utterly in no practical situation to make any.

“I do not want to be here,” said I, whining and quivering in unspoken terror, to which his reply was “That’s not a decision you can make now,” by which he meant that it was too late for me. My life of choices was spent. He proceeded to add, “However, I can return you to earth, but you must choose, from the two ways which I shall offer you, how to spend your worthless time on the worthless pit that you so thoughtlessly love.”

I quickly agreed, thinking I would do anything to return to earth, and escape the hideous, unflinching terror of the inglorious molten sea.

“A short life of three seconds during which you shall be the most intelligent of your species, a genius of a singular kind,” continued he. “Your fame will be unsurpassable, your glory intense and unmatched; three seconds during which all your dreams and whims shall come true. Or a long life of a hundred years spent in savage servitude, of brutal labour and undying humiliation. My demons shall minister to you and shall be your supervisor, and they shall expose you to anguish so great and insupportable it will make what they did to Job of Uz a travesty.”

While I was still pondering over the disparity between three seconds of a minute and a century of years, and increasingly becoming appalled by the wicked irony of this offer, the Devil turned to face me . . . and lo! what a mocking smile on his unfeeling countenance, what a cunning gaze in his deep, bone-chilling eyes! Perceiving fully what fate awaited me, I broke down in desperate yells from the desolate pits of my accursed soul, yells so deranged and inconsolable they startled Hell itself. For an instant there, I thought the everlastingly burning and smouldering souls had forgotten their unequalled anguish and stopped their inhuman screams in order to listen to me.

Enraged that I had failed to take either of his choices, the Devil lifted me by my neck and hurled me, like a tiny rock, into the molten, white-hot vastitude of fire . . .

And I woke up in my bedroom, choking and screaming, red smoke hissing furiously out of all the pores of my skin and the orifices of my body. My hair was all burnt, my night-clothes melted and stuck on my skin, my throat parched as if on fire. My head felt as though it were splitting along several jagged lines, and my eyeballs throbbed endlessly, rife with agony and immortal pain. I was hotter than a cupola; the heat of my body alone set the blanket and sheets ablaze, and soon the entire bedroom was engulfed in unforgiving flames.

I bolted to the door coughing and crying for help, but stopped at once when I heard a man laughing just outside it, a baleful, deep-throated guffaw like the rumbling of the foundations of the earth. Ho, ho, ho . . .

The Devil laughing

lo! what a mocking smile on his unfeeling countenance, what a cunning gaze in his deep, bone-chilling eyes!

I. The Albino Twins

On the nights when neither moon nor stars rode across the sky, when the heavens were black and endless, and you couldn’t see your own hand in front of your face, the people of a small Kenyan town called Toi believed that something inhabited the tunnel under the highway. Nobody had ever seen this thing, although it was generally agreed that when you crossed the tunnel on such bleak and dismal nights, a dense feeling of being stalked tightened around you like a noose, and all the hairs on your body stood on end, and, suddenly, you took to your heels and sped like the wind. Sometimes the shadows shifted in front of you just as you reached the middle or the opposite end of the tunnel so that you had an indubitable feeling that something had been waiting for you there. Those who told the stories claimed that it had begun with the electric storm that had wrecked Morris’ old shop.

Even so, nobody had ever seen it. That was the most important thing. It was why what befell the albino twins, and later the university students, was inevitable. People found all manner of ways of refuting these claims: they mentioned superstition and discussed the notorious black spot on the highway just thirty metres from the tunnel. They talked about the perpetual darkness in the tunnel, and, still, some clever ones pointed out the innate nature of human minds to harbour fear of the unknown and to be prominently evoked by stories of horror.

However, these swift-talking, smooth-tongued, fear-evading sceptics could not explain what had made the seventy-year old Kariuki to scream his lungs dry and run a hundred metres in less than twenty seconds before his heart exploded right where he fell; or why a fifteen-year old girl named Njoki had become deaf-mute and pregnant after taking the route alone in the night. (She had become pregnant with something that did not want to be born. It squirmed in the confines of her belly, and she cried horrible, heartrending cries unfit for a child. She was picked up dead one day with her uterus and vagina all chewed up, a nasty hole gaping there, strange teeth marks on her buttocks and legs.) Or why all stray animals had vanished from Toi. Or why the accidents over the tunnel remained gruesome and there had never been a survivor even after the government had hired Chinese contractors to renovate the road and built better rails.

Or what had happened to the albino twins.

Theirs was the most recent incident, and quite memorable indeed it was. It started with an accident. A bus called Modern Highway Express collided with a minibus which was for some unknown reason called The Omnibus Nightshift. They had such a collision that the minibus was first cast skywards before it crashed down with a thunderous force and rolled several times. One of its front tires detached and beheaded a cyclist ten metres away. It also killed the cyclist’s wife who had been riding with him, crushing her chest to pulp, almost breaking her in half.

The bus, on the other hand, burst into unforgiving flames that gutted it like paper. Not a single soul escaped its ruin. It took two days for the police to clear the scene and haul away the wreckages.

However, on the third day, rumours began to spread across the town that a body had been left behind. It had been thrown over the rails and beyond the bush that crept and crawled on that side of the highway. Police had not located it, even after their diligent search. Those in the know explained that it was the body of the cyclist’s wife.

Now, Muguna and Miguna felt that they were very unfortunate kids. They were eleven years old—“eleven years all!” Miguna yelled in the privacy of their shared room—and had never seen a dead person. Because they were albinos, their mother did not allow them to mix freely with the townsfolk. There had previously circulated very dismaying stories about some folk in town who kidnapped albinos and sold them exorbitantly to witches who in turn used albino body parts to make juju potions for improving sexual virility in men. Muguna and Miguna were, thus, incarcerated in their compound, and whenever they were allowed to leave they were chaperoned with such severity that any fun of being away from home could not exist at all.

But they longed to see a dead person. Those two children did, with all the fiery passion in their young hearts! They had seen a dead housefly, a dead cockroach, a dead cat, and a dead dog. But a dead human, no! And they always wondered how a dead person looked like.

“Maybe people don’t completely die, anyway,” Miguna said one day.

“People die! You hear about it all the time!” said his brother.

“Maybe they just hung about somewhere and watch what you do about their rotting bodies: how loud or bitterly you cry, or how happy and cheerful you are. They gauge you.”

“Dead is dead, is dead!” Muguna said with emphasis. “Like the dog at the school gate. It looked so totally dead! Deader than the cockroach you squished in the kitchen or the housefly you burnt with super glue!”

“Do you think that if you look into a dead person’s eyes you will be able to see your reflection in them?” Miguna asked. He was serious, and he looked fixedly at his brother.

“I don’t know.”

“Would you like to know?”

“Sure.”

“Because, if you can see your reflection in them, then the dead person can still see you.”

And so it came to pass that the two boys conspired and sneaked out of their house on the night of the day the town was rife with rumours of a forgotten body near the tunnel. They wore black clothes and masks and gloves so they would fit with some confidence in the darkness without their skin colour betraying them. They also took their faithful dog, Tyke, with them. Moreover, they had a powerful flashlight, of the kind the night guards did carry around with them.

“What about the tunnel?” Muguna asked. His voice quailed. They were getting closer and closer to the hole. It looked blacker than the night itself; a foreboding pit, it was thoroughly revolting to the senses. It was like a nasty, slimy, monstrous thing, silently brooding and calculating.

The Tunnel

The Tunnel: It looked blacker than the night itself.

“What about it?” his brother replied. He sounded bold and defiant.

“You know what I mean! Don’t pretend.”

“I don’t believe any of it,” Miguna said confidently. “Nobody has seen a thing. There is no evidence. I am a scientist. I work with evidence!”

“If Tyke growls or barks or behaves in a funny way, I’m not entering that place. It is a Death Chamber,” Muguna said.

“Coward!”

“Don’t call me that!”

“Coward! If you run away, that’s what you are, will always be.”

“Nothing is as reliable as an animal’s instincts, you know. It saves them from tsunamis and earthquakes while humans die like squished cockroaches!”

“Aren’t you curious to see the eyes of a dead person—if there is any reflection at all in them—if they can see you?” Miguna asked.

“Of course, I am.”

“Today we must know for sure.

“What if we find that they just rot and sink into the skull and become two stinking holes filled with pus and maggots?”

“Like maggot swimming pool?”

“Like maggot soup.”

“Well. No matter. We must find out. Something else I am puzzled about is whether a dead man looks like a dead woman.”

“They can’t look alike! One is a dead man, the other a dead woman!”

“I mean, whether they smell the same, or feel the same if you to touch them, rot at the same rate if they die at exactly the same time. But most important is whether their eyes resemble!”

“Wow! You really should be a doctor!”

“I’m going to be a Medical Examiner! Isn’t that cool?”

“Yeah, cool!”

Tyke did not growl or bark or behave in a funny way when they entered the tunnel. But when they were almost through with crossing, shadows began to shift in front of them in manifold forms and all the hairs on their bodies suddenly stood on end, erect and stiff and prickly, and that was when Tyke did everything Muguna had said it might do. It growled and barked and leaped about in a funny way. But it was too late.

The flashlight burst and Muguna shrieked in pristine terror. Neither of them lived to tell of what bred within the tunnel. Miguna was found on the following day, drifting purposelessly on the other side of the tunnel. He was moribund, his eyes inside-out, eyelids shrunken like burnt leaves. His stomach was excessively distended—he looked pregnant!—and he was choking on something stuck in his throat.

By the time they got him to the hospital, he was dead. Upon examination, his body was found to be stuffed with the remains of his brother and their dog. He had been choking on Tyke’s intestines.

Where they buried Miguna, a curious incident occurred several hours later as the day faded to a grey evening and the sky became clouded and overcast as if with grief. A young girl named Nkatha, while playing hopscotch nearby with her friends, happened to glance cursorily in the direction of the town’s cemetery. Her attention was immediately arrested. A column of smoke, black as that of a factory chimney, was rising from Miguna’s grave. It wreathed heavenwards and then bent and flowed away.

Unbeknownst to the little girl, who was now irretrievably enthralled, the smoke flowed against the wind, and it flowed in the direction of the tunnel. Silently, lost in thought, goaded by strange forces, she followed it, and that was the last time she was seen.

Miguna’s coffin lies empty even as this story is told.

II. The University Students

That was almost three years ago. There was a media-blast about it and people gasped with horror. But memory fails people, fails them tremendously.

By the time the university students crossed through the town, the furore had died down and Kenyans had other businesses to mind. No one warned them of the tunnel. It was assumed that they knew about it. The townspeople had managed to keep off that route and believed that a person would have to be stark raving insane to use it. The tarmac was dull and littered with papers, rocks, silt, dead leaves and sticks from adjacent trees. Grass had overgrown the edges and now began to creep over it.

What’s more, the students were feared in these parts. They were a daredevil lot; openly rude and incautious, they believed life owed them a debt that had to be paid regardless. They viewed life in the manner toddlers did, resorting to violent tantrums, abuses, and causing irreparable damage to both domestic and commercial property. Shops were closed and entire roads avoided when they rampaged.

The group’s destination was not clear, but Morris, who was watching them cautiously from his shop window, ready to shut down if they should begin their characteristic frenzy, decided that they must have sought a shortcut to the Arboretum in the deep woods two kilometres beyond the highway. It was Sunday, the day the greatest number of people visited the Arboretum.

They were young, probably still in their first year, their faces bright and carefree. Young people in the prime of life, adorned in the gloriously beautiful but painfully transitory garb of youth, ripe and sweet and elegant, savouring life for the all the delicious things it offered, their indefinite futures still holding before them a plethora of choices. They chattered and laughed boisterously as they hurried down the road, gay, pert, and bold, adventurous and rash, full of erotic energy, all out to have fun, pure, unspoiled fun, unaware that fun came in multifarious facets, and that sometimes, if not most times, the onlookers had the greatest fun.

Morris was relieved when the tunnel swallowed them without incident.

Over the rails above the tunnel was perched an intrepid teenager named Kiama. He was flabbergasted when the rollicking group of girls and boys came out on the other side without incident. He heard their riotous laughter when one boy remarked: “I told you guys! Didn’t I? There’s nothing in that tunnel but superstitious gibberish and misplaced fear!” to which a girl, her voice musical, added: “When you don’t believe in superstition it has no influence over you!”

When his confoundment had subsided, Kiama contemplated the sky. A silver sliver of moon rode across it in a lonely subjugating gloom, and flocculent clouds scattered from it as if repulsed. The moon would vanish soon. The heavens would be dark. And there might be an incident. Kiama, who was fascinated by the thing in the tunnel, decided to wait for the students to return. But when it was almost seven o’clock and they had not appeared, he decided that they must have chosen a different path. So he went home, disappointed.

Soon afterwards, a keen scream brought the townspeople rushing headlong out of their houses. It was the girl who had remarked that superstition had no influence over those who had no belief in it. She seemed stricken insane. Her voice cut through the stillness of the night like a hot knife through butter. You couldn’t remain where you were after hearing that scream.

She came careering towards Morris’s shop which stood by the road. She was a wispy thing and did not seem to touch the ground at all when she moved. Long hair, slender neck, quick, graceful limbs, as agile as a reptile, she flew into Morris and seemed to perch on his chest like a bird. Such was her weightlessness that he did not feel her impact.

But she was raving mad. She would not calm down. She was shaking violently like one with paroxysms, and there was a great volume of foam spraying from her mouth. Her eyes were shut and she was uttering rapidly and incoherently, as if inspired with glossolalia.

The first thing heard, through all that unintelligible gabble—and it seemed a long time before anything could be made out—was: “Swallow!” Morris had to listen carefully because the word came out sounding more like “Sallow”. “Sallowed them!” she shrieked. After several other useless words and phrases, it became clear that the girl was saying “Swallowed them! It swallowed them! The earth swallowed them!

My head!” she cried and clutched her ears with desperation. “My head!

Her ears began to bleed, and there was a greater profusion from her eyes and nose. “It is in my head. Something is in my head!” she cried, before her mouth became an overflowing dam of blood. There was a tightening around her head, her forehead bulging forwards, the sides extending. The sound of her bones and flesh tearing apart was excruciating. Suddenly, her head blew up like a squashed fruit and most of her brain fell on Morris’ face.

For a wild, turbulent second, he discovered that the brain is rather too smooth in the mouth, damn easy to swallow, and a tad too salty. Or maybe it was just the girl’s brain.

Smoke was now pouring forth from all over her body. It seemed her brain had been boiling.

The townsfolk, who had been gaping speechlessly at Morris and the girl, turned and shot like arrows back to their homes. They careered back faster than they had come.

But that night, Kiama found one of the boys from the girl’s group—the boy who had said something about superstitious gibberish and misplaced fear—lying on the roadside not far from the tunnel. His eyes looked like the eyes of a dead fish, his face ghastly and twisted like a demon’s mask. His mouth was open and he did not have any tooth left. His teeth seemed to have been uprooted one by one, his gums swollen and ruptured all through, discoloured even, seeming ploughed by a lunatic farmer. Clotted blood coated the lining of his mouth, his tongue a massive chunk of grey flesh. His stomach was bloated and grotesque; there was an appalling putrescence all about him.

Kiama, overcome with curiosity, picked up a stick and prodded the impregnated belly with it, thinking that this one too may have been stuffed with the remains his friends, as the albino twin had been. The stomach made a squelching sound and then burst like a balloon, spraying foul stuff all over Kiama.

The university boy suddenly became alive and cried: “Ah, you! Ah!” He seemed angry that Kiama had disturbed him. He reached out with his hands to grab Kiama’s legs, his glassy dead-fish eyes shifting about crazily, but Kiama jumped back, his own shriek stabbing the night like a rusty blade.

His flashlight went off. He shook it. Nothing! He shook it again, hitting it against his left hand. Nothing! He started walking backwards, cautiously, his plucky spirit finally dissolved. He turned and fled.

The dead thing got up and chased him towards the town. Kiama ran as he had never run before. He wished he could fly. He wished he had stayed in bed. He wished he had paid better attention to the story about the fabled cat murdered by curiosity.

The thing caught up with him just as he was about to reach Morris’ shop. He screamed once, fell headlong, and it landed on top of him. It was cold, very cold. It was creepy, and wet, a most repulsive thing crawling on him. Its burst intestines, now hanging like torn ropes, wrapped around Kiama. They bound him like an insect in a spider web. He was dragged into the tunnel.

III. The Invasion

The disappearance of the university students had a greater impact on Kenyans than did the previous events that had taken place in the town. Twenty two students did not (and could not) just vanish like that.

A violent furore gripped the university and a mob of students invaded the town. They crowded around the tunnel and stopped traffic on the highway. When they couldn’t see any peculiarities about the tunnel, their anger increased greatly and they started a riot.

“People cannot sublime like iodine,” the student leader announced. “We must find our comrades. We will not leave before we know their whereabouts. Somebody lied to us!”

With this last proclamation, missiles began to rain upon the traffic. Traffic lamps, posts, and shop windows suffered irreparable damages. One student brought a hacksaw and began cutting the rails over the tunnel.

Looting began. Morris shut down his shop and begged God to ward off the marauders. It seemed God answered his prayer. But that was probably because he sold foodstuff. The students craved electronics the most.

Then there were journalists. The self-righteous seekers of truth. Theirs was a different kind of riot—the media riot. Antagonistic, opportunistic, importunate pessimists, where would they be without bad news? They came in hordes. Talkative vipers with reddened inquisitive faces warped with vindictive passions and strange prejudices, anxious eyes roving about in search of deformities.

They interviewed everybody they met: children, adults. Hell, they would have interviewed dogs if there had been any! (Ever since the tunnel turned wicked, animals did not live long in the town, unless they were indoor pets). They wanted the story told and they wanted it done by any means, all means. The nature of their inquiries revealed that they thought someone or some people were behind the disappearances. Just like the students did. It was unbelievable.

Repeatedly, they were directed to the tunnel where they took imaginative photos of it, of both interior and exterior, and from all perspectives conceivable. But they were in the end dissatisfied with the absence of any remarkable features about it; they found it to be only a plain tunnel, dingy, dank, sporting mottled walls reminiscent of ancient puerile graffiti and a fractured, crevice-strewn floor, left unrepaired and unpainted for decades, now languishing in a sorry state of slow decay and desuetude.

They scurried back to the town centre to harass people with their numerous questions. Such was their cleverness that they inveigled even the most honest of the townsfolk to reveal more than was true. Their main goal was to get somebody to admit, even subtly, that there was nothing amiss or mysterious about the events in the ill-famed tunnel; that the students had been indeed victims of a diabolic scheme.

A woman named Jane said: “In the beginning we didn’t believe that there was anything wrong with the tunnel.”

“What is wrong with it now?” she was asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “But it is—” She was cut off.

Morris was trapped in his house by thirteen reporters. Word had leaked out that the girl with the boiling brain had died in his arms. He was surrounded, his home infringed on, left with nowhere to run, to hide. He was greatly rankled. Normally, he was a reserved person who scarcely minded other people’s affairs. But distraught, as he presently was, he became tight-lipped. He had told the reporters everything he had seen, but they still wanted more from him.

“So you admit that she just died in your arms?” he was accused. “Where it gets unclear, is where you say the girl evaporates immediately after her cruel death in your hands. Would you clarify that again?”

The questioner was from Q-TV. He was thirty, had a shiny forehead and desultory eyes that seemed to see nothing. Morris ignored him.

The girl had vaporised. She had turned into smoke, consumed by something that had been inside her. Her stench had been evil, purely evil; so corrupt that Morris had almost become insane from inhaling it. It had attacked his respiratory tract and knocked all oxygen out of him, making him double over, clenching his throat, gagging, coughing, unable to breathe, to talk, to think, a man confined in a dark, unknown place reeking of death and damnation.

Morris had later told his wife that if Hell stank like that nobody would worry about fire, unquenchable or otherwise. That stink watered the eyes, corroded the nostrils, and poisoned the lungs. The black smoke had writhed its way, slow and worm-like, into the tunnel.

“The tunnel is a bad place,” he said finally. “People disappear there. Sometimes corpses are stuffed inside people. And sometimes the corpses awake to take you with them into the tunnel. Something evil lives there, something so evil that it can cause glass to crack without touching it. It has found a way through to this town. Maybe it rips opens a portal within the tunnel and takes whoever it finds.”

The reporters left him alone, though clearly disappointed. Morris, relieved, decided that such careers, as did numerous others, fed on catastrophe, grew fat on the carrion and turpitude of humanity. He was struck by the futility of warning.

“What is the point of warning anyone?” wondered he.

The police also came. But they had a different mission. While the General Service Unit officers battled with the rioting students, detectives swarmed the town. They needed culprits, and in Kenya, if the police want culprits they obtain them aplenty. They obtain them by any means, all means.

One inspector remarked that they should arrest every Toi resident they could find and lock them up at the station to be interrogated later on. His colleague praised the idea, but added that the station could not hold them all. So they went from house to house asking questions. It was a gruelling option but they had a cruel devotion. They wanted to know how each house made a living, the breadwinner and all.

Now, in any given Kenyan town, the unemployed are countless, street children are a must, and school dropouts as fish in the sea. The police made a bountiful harvest that Monday, their reasoning being that idlers are the most vulnerable to crime, are in fact criminals. It was a handicapped view, indeed, typical of the unproductive system they served.

Morris was arrested and cuffed alongside a forlorn teenager with whom he had never before had a chance to make acquaintance. His wife wept and pleaded with the cops to spare him. She said he was an honest man, kind even, an altruist who had never hurt anyone on purpose ever since she married him. “He has never even slapped me!” she shouted. But, of course, her pleas and implorations could not convince the authorities. Morris’ story about the university girl simply did not make sense.

It was evening and the sky looked mournful. Clouds hung low, dense and fecundated, casting an ominous shadow over the town. A chill breeze blew, and the families of the captives nestled outside their houses weeping in dejection and quivering in the cold as they watched their friends and relatives wrongfully taken away from them. A woman named Nyoruko who sold tomatoes and onions at the market expressed her regret for having lived in the town for too long. She should have abandoned it as soon as the first misfortune happened in the tunnel. Other families expressed the same sentiment.

The tunnel was built by the British in the 1920s. But the history of its wickedness began about five years ago. There was an electrical storm after which a fog enveloped the town for two days. A thirteen-year old girl named Soni became its first victim. The police were involved, but when their efforts did not fructify, it was decided that she had been kidnapped. The second was a construction worker with a family of four to feed. It happened on the same day. In total, seven people vanished before the question of the tunnel was even raised. When three high school boys went through it one evening and did not come out the other end, it was only then that it began to receive attention and rumours spread of an invisible monster hiding within it.

IV. Stupidity Unqualified

Once, not too long ago, two philosophers were discussing the human condition.

The first, a cynic, said: “People do not understand a situation if it’s not happening to them. You can explain it till your throat turns red, dries like sand, and cracks like clay, but they will only act as if they understand. This characteristic makes pain and suffering requisite, because, pain is the unqualified detergent of the soul and suffering evokes thought and compassion.”

The second, dispassionate, said: “The human, unique and uplifted above all animals, was bestowed with all the important faculties that every animal has. He was given them in moderation so that it is up to him to cultivate and nurture them. It means that man has the capacity to be the most intelligent animal on the planet, or the most stupid. It is up to him.”

***

The reporters lingered in town—and wonders of wonders, they were inside the tunnel! Many students had mixed with them to escape the GSU officers quelling the riot, so that the hole was packed. They were waiting to see for themselves what the thing did when darkness fell. They were chatting very loudly and laughing at the top of their lungs.

At the farthest end of the tunnel, where some light penetrated and the din was a bit tolerable, a man named Onyi, who worked for KTN, was hitting on a European woman named Sara, who worked for BBC.

“Why do women eat soil when they are pregnant?” he was asking.

“I don’t know,” she said, uninterested. “You can Google it.”

“Google kills conversation. I’m trying to build a conversation right now.”

“For what?”

“My mother used to eat salt when she was pregnant with me,” he said.

Salt?” she frowned, interested now.

“Yes. Table salt,” he said. “Sodium chloride. She’d eat whole packets of it. 2kgs, 4kgs, 10! Scooping spoonfuls after spoonfuls, ladles and ladles. She would dissolve a whole packet in a bowl of water and drink it like soda. She craved salt.”

“And you survived?”

“Standing right here loving your pretty eyes!” he said and grinned. She blushed, looked away for a moment, and returned to him.

“Well, that is very strange,” she said.

“What is?” asked he. “Surviving the salt or loving your pretty eyes?”

“My pretty eyes have been loved before,” she said, her tone a notch defiant. “For your information,” she added as an afterthought. “But the salt thing is alien. Did you become sick?”

“Healthy as a horse!” exclaimed he. “I was—and still am—preserved by salt. I am salty. So salty that when I was fifteen, I kissed a girl and dried her mouth by osmosis. She had to consume three litres of water afterwards in order to restore herself.”

“Lol, you are lying!” she said, laughing.

He liked the way she laughed. He liked even more that he was making her laugh like that. He stepped closer.

“How can you tell?” he asked.

“I don’t believe it!”

“I am literally a walking pillar of salt.”

“I don’t believe you!”

“Would you like evidence?”

“Yes!”

He stepped forward. “Kiss me,” he said, and something in his voice made her pause and regard him differently. He thought she would refuse and hastened to add: “I’ve been thinking about your lips ever since I first saw you here. I can’t help it.”

“That’s it then!” she broke out, laughing harder. “You’re hitting on me! You’ve been hitting on me all along! Oh my God, I should have seen it! You’re such a clever over-winding prick!”

She did not move when he took one more step and closed the distance between them.

“Can’t this be done another time?” she said, flushed, looking around warily at the rest of them.

At that moment, Onyi proclaimed himself a winner. He felt such a hot rush of triumph that his penis bulged like a rock outcrop. His heart was on fire.

He was beginning to hum “win some, lose some” when a strange shadow fell over him. He turned, spinning like a wheel, all his winsome charm and proud heart at once gone. The tunnel had become darker and ominous. There were strange movements in front of him. Shape-shifting things, incomprehensible things, amorphous things, shadowy, real. He smelled something foul, a bitter, asphyxiating corruption of flesh. He saw something like a wing. He heard a rustle of hairy, leathery things. He saw something reaching for him. It looked like a giant claw.

Onyi ducked and Sara let out a chilling scream. He had forgotten that she was there. The thing—the claw or whatever—struck her and her head went flying against the wall, bounced, and rolled on the tunnel floor. He made to rise up but her headless body fell on him and pressed him down. He could feel her blood burning his back, spurting forth like a crazed fountain, while her hands and legs jerked madly. He pushed her away with great might, scrambled up, but was suddenly covered in a horrible embrace with what he now confirmed were wings. Leathery, hairy wings, yet so large that he was lost within their eerie confinement. They tightened around him, the claws clasping his ribs, digging in, ripping his spine. He opened his mouth to scream but no sound came out. Instead, his eyes exploded, blood gushed out of his ears, and his teeth fell off like faulty ball bearings.

The university student leader, who had also sought refuge in the tunnel and had been listening with amusement as Onyi pulled a trick on Sara, broke into a frenzied, terror-inspired run when he saw what happened to the two. But something like a giant stinger stabbed him in the stomach, injecting strange fluids into him and paralyzing him there and then. He was digested inside out, becoming a small pool of brown liquid.

One Ciku, who worked for NTV, on seeing the complexly shifting images in the tunnel, did not wait to investigate. She had been thinking that the entire Toi community could not be so wrong. They couldn’t tell the same story as if they all knew one another and had discussed it. That man Morris, for instance, had not been lying. Yet there had to be an explanation for the events in the tunnel, which was why Ciku had elected to linger in it.

She fled now. But instead of coming out into the open, she fell into a hole which hadn’t been there before. She fell forever. It was dark. It was eldritch. It was endless.

The rest of the group fell after her. Some of them almost made it out but they tripped on the brown liquid, which, only a few seconds before, had been the student leader.

The cops heard the chaos and hurried towards the tunnel. They brought the prisoners with them. They could see from afar that there was nobody in it. All the journalists had vanished. But the cops were unafraid. They were the ultimate authority and they had guns. The prisoners now consisted also of unwatchful students who had been collared. The ones from Toi, however, were frightened. They knew just to what scope the tunnel could extend its malevolence. But there was nothing they could do to save their skins. If they disobeyed the police, they would be shot dead without hesitation. If they got into the tunnel, they would never make it out alive. They were herded in like sheep.

Morris had hung back from the moment he realized they were going into the tunnel. There was now just a single policeman behind him. As the others began to stream in, he stopped altogether. The policeman promptly kicked him on the butt. The next few seconds saw him flogged and dragged and pushed and called all manner of names. Needless to say, he did not budge. He had the will of a mule.

He held on to the edge of the tunnel with his free hand. He realized that he was much stronger than he had always thought. He was in fact stronger than the policeman. The problem was the kid with whom he was paired; instead of helping Morris resist the cop, he was pulling Morris towards the hole. He was also crying. A struggle ensued for sometime, but the officer, losing, began to grope for his gun.

At the same time, a great tumult erupted within the bleakness of the tunnel. Somebody cried out and a gun went off. A stampede ensued. Morris could see them coming back, running and tumbling along the tunnel, tripping on the floor, falling and trampling one another. But none of them was coming out. They were vanishing somewhere between the middle of the tunnel and the end where Morris and the boy were.

They looked vague, distorted images moving blurredly before being taken by mystery, into mystery, almost as if there was a barrier between Morris and them, a constantly shifting farrago of shadows and real images. Then there was a hissing sound, and a high-pitched diabolical cry like that of a furious cat. Something flapped like wings and a cold volume of air exited the tunnel in a gusty rush.

The cop was still distracted. Morris let go of the wall and kicked him in the stomach. The gun flew away from his hands and Morris pushed him into the heartless darkness, where something like a tentacle stabbed him and he rotted instantly. His tongue fell out and his eyes sunk into his skull.

Morris tugged the boy out, who fell hard on the stony pavement, yelped like a dog, but Morris ran, towing him aground.

He stopped after about thirty metres. His shoulder was hurting from pulling the kid along. Most of the boy’s face was bruised, lips shredded, and knees skinned. Nothing that couldn’t fixed, though. Morris scooped him up and hurried away. No one else left the tunnel after them.

V. The Thing

It is. It just is. In the supreme unknowable dark, where no light can reach and neither meaning nor logic can be found, where emptiness reigns unbound, it abides, and has abode, forever, and ever.

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.