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.

I pondered for days over what to write for this blog and nearly gave up, thinking that none of the things that I love is appropriate for public celebration. So I took more time and searched around my house with a greater degree of keenness. When I got to my bookshelf, I paused there for a long time, for it is the homiest place in the whole house. Those books are a treasure to me, and I’d rather lose everything else than a single page. However, the best of them all is my American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language–New College Edition.

AHDEL: It is an antique

AHDEL: It is an antique

AHDEL, I will call it here.

I love words, they fascinate me, and some days I read my dictionary the way I would read any other book. I search for new words, new phrases, new meanings to familiar words and phrases. When I was young and still living in the village, my father gave me an old Oxford Dictionary which himself he had used before. I used to read it like a novel. I knew things I had never seen, places I had never been to (and maybe would never) and words I could not pronounce. It was my Google.

When I joined high school, I maintained the spirit (it was hard not to maintain it). I even bought a 4-quire book for keeping my new words. At some point I realized that my vocabulary was truly fine (and refined). I had a great deal of synonyms for a great deal of words, a great deal of phrases to describe a great deal of things. This, coupled with an even greater love for reading and an affinity for books, in general, made my writing a bit easy, for even by then I had begun to scribble things.

English is not my native language and to speak it and write in it well, I must constantly consume it.

The AHDEL is like no other dictionary that I have ever owned. It is extremely detailed. It gives the minutest differences between words that can easily be taken for synonyms. Bold and courageous, for instance; strange and queer, bolt and dart, etc. It even has the origin of every letter in the English alphabet: from the Phoenicians, down to Greeks, to Romans, etc, and it shows every time the shape of the letter was changed.

I bought it by impulse from a second-hand dealer downtown Nairobi in 2010. It is one of the best books I’ve ever bought. It is my antique.

I also have Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary, and Collins English Dictionary, and Oxford—just so I am never speechless (pun intended).

Thank you for reading.

This post deviates from my usual ones, which are strictly fiction. I have not posted anything for three months due to an observation I made one day while stuck in traffic.  It led to a philosophical quandary that still plagues me to date. I hope to pull out of it sooner.

Meanwhile, my wonderful friends over at Blog Friends First, led by no other than Damyanti Gosh of Daily Writes have organized the Cherished Blogfest.

Cherished is the word!

The Cherished Blogfest is about the most cherished object in your possession. I once came across an assertion that life is but memories. Without memories there is no life. Memories trigger our emotions and we interact by our emotions. The things that we love, that we cherish the most, that we hate and loathe, and fear—we treat them as such because of the memories attached to them, invested in them.

The Cherished blogfest is NOT just for the members of the BFF: Peter Nena, Damyanti Gosh, Dan Antion, Sharukh Bombat, Paul Ruddock, and Cheryl KP.

We would also love you to tell us about the objects that spark off your fondest memories.

Therefore, for the Cherished Blogfest, we invite you to talk to us about one of your cherished objects. Tell us what it is, post a picture of it if you like, and tell us why you cherish it.

Keep your posts to a maximum of 500 words, and join us on the 24th, 25th and 26th of July 2015 in sharing memories, emotions, information.

Above all, join us in making new connections and renewing old ones. Visit the blogs of the cohosts and follow them, even as you increase your own followers and readers.

Add your name and blog link in this Linky List, sign up for the Cherished Blogfest, and share your cherished memories on 24th, 25th and 26th of July 2015.

Place the badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. 

The #Cherished Blogfest Badge

The #Cherished Blogfest Badge

NB: The Badge is a courtesy of Cheryl KP and Daniel Antion, both of whom are truly extraordinary people, full of heart, passion, dedication, and love.

                                                                                                                                                                                      I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s not to like about it?”

“That book is making you mad!”

Soni had rolled her eyes. Whatever!

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

“Soni?”

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

“What are you doing alone up here?”

“Excogitating,” Soni said.

“Ex . . . what?

“Thinking.”

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

“Where is he?”

“Outside.”

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

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

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

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

Skeleton.2.

“Hello, mellow! I love you!”

Soni!

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

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

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

“What happy thought?”

“Did you watch Pirates of the Caribbean?”

“Yes.”

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

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

Soni proceeded to ground floor and outside the building.

                                                                                                                                                                                  II.

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

“Hey,” Soni said.

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

“I missed you, Soni,” he said.

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

“You sighed.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He is,” she said.

“Why all this noise, then?”

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

“You sound unhappy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aha!

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

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

Soni sighed despondently and the doctor frowned at her.

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

“Yes,” he said after a moment. “Why?”

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

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

“What kind of teeth did he have?”

“What do you mean?”

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

“I suppose so.”

“That means he could eat teeth!”

“What?”

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

“What are you talking about, Soni?”

But at this point they were interrupted by Shiro.

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

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

“The jar is mine,” she said.

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                               III.

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

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

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

“So we have a relationship?”

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

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

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

He nodded. “I understand.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back off! You’re giving me déjà vu!

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

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

“We have a deal,” Soni told him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                                IV.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soni showered, brushed, and went to bed.

                                                                                                                                                                                   V.

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

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

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

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

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

She would rather he had shot her dead.

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

Soni the nuisance.

Aha!

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

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

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

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

Mom: No, Son.

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

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

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

(Mom laughs till she dies. Curtains.)

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

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

Some good friends. Some good old days.

                                                                                                                                                                                VI.

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

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

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

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

You’re crazy! Dama wrote back immediately.

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

Mad bitch, Dama wrote. You are absolutely mad!

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

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

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

Belgian blue

Belgian blue

A moment later Oloo called her.

“What do you want?” she demanded.

“Why do you insult my wife?”

My wife! How deliberate!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ha! Then I have made my point!”

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

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

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

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

“Peacock-peanis-peanuts!” she sang.

“Wormhole!”

“Peacock-peanis-peanuts!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fuck the prescription!”

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

                                                                                                                                                                            VII.

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

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

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

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

“Who is that?”

But it was Q.O. coming towards her.

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

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

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

“But you are a cat!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q.O.

Q.O.

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

“What is going on here?” she asked.

“You are getting rid of me.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Ha!” he snorted.

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

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

“Is that a true story?” asked she.

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

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

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

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

He ignored her outstretched hands and said:

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

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

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

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

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

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

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

“I didn’t know.”

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                         VIII.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

“What about how we feel?”

“How you feel also increases entropy.”

“But that is cruel.”

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

“Why? Why must it increase?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are we just puppets then?” she asked.

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

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

“What order?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Is there hope?” she asked.

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

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

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

“There is nothing hopeful in that either.”

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

                                                                                                                                                                                IX.

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

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

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

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

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

“I feel alive.”

“Then there is nothing to worry about.”

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

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

“Death is the cure?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” agreed Q.O.

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

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

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

“I just proved it.”

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

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

“Okay.”

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

“Oh, man!” Soni cried.

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

“Don’t say that.”

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

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

“What do I do now?”

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s the spirit, baby,” Q.O. said.

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

Our house,” Q.O. said.

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

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

Soni laughed. “Got it!”

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

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

“It stands for Quintessential Organism.”

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

“Why would you think so?”

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

                                                                                                                                                                                      I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hyde

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                                  II.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                               III.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is it true you have that much hair?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have hair!” she blurted.

“No, you don’t!” Jumbe said.

“I do!”

“You don’t!”

“I do!”

“You don’t!”

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

“If you did, you’d show me,” he said.

No!” she said.

“Opalo!” he shouted.

“Jumbe, please,” she begged him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” she asked.

“You are lying!” he said.

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

“This thing is from your head!”

“No!”

“Yes!”

“No!”

“Yes!”

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

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

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

“Show me.”

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                                IV.

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

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

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

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

I said sure she could if she wanted.

“Will you help me?”

I said yes.

“I will come on Sunday.”

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

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

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

“Can I climb too?” she asked.

I said yes she could.

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

“Don’t climb,” I said.

She looked up. “Why?”

“There are caterpillars.”

“I can’t see any.”

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

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

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

I said yes she could.

“Aren’t they dirty?”

“We eat them like that.”

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

“It rains on them up here.”

“What about the caterpillars you said?”

“They don’t eat fruits.”

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

                                                                                                                                                                                   V.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

“He is frightens people.”

“He frightened you?”

“No, but he looks so—”

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

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

As if to pacify me, Jacklyn changed the subject.

“Why are you called Dani and not Dan?”

I said I did not want to be called Dan.

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

I said sure it was.

“Then you should be Dan!”

I shook my head.

“My mother calls me Jack,” she said.

I told her Jack was a boy’s name.

“I know. But my mother calls me so.”

“Tell her it is a boy’s name.”

“You should call me Jack too.”

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                                VI.

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

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

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

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

“I don’t know,” I shrugged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you looking at?” she demanded.

“Your panties,” I said.

“Why?”

“I don’t know. They are very clean.”

“Do you want to see my vagina?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Is that why all girls hide their panties?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where did you see Jacklyn’s panties?”

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

“Who took her to the hill?”

“Me!”

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

                                                                                                                                                                            VII.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What did you tell Jacklyn?”

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

“What did you tell her?” I demanded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                         VIII.

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

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

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

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

“Who is Jacklyn?”

“She is our lastborn.”

“How old is your lastborn?”

“She is seven years old.”

“What did Dani do to her?”

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

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

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

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

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

Alora shook her head.

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

Alora shook her head.

“Then why do you beat my brother?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She nodded.

“Then I forgive you,” he proclaimed.

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

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

She said nothing.

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

She looked at him as if to say “What?

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

“No,” Alora said.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t believe you. Convince me.”

“Yes. Convince us!” Opalo stressed.

Show us!” Jumbe said.

“Yes. Show us!” Opalo reinforced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                                IX.

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

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

He was also Seri’s brother.

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

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

Atoti had a hippo-hide whip with him.

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

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

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

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

“What do you want to do about it?”

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

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

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

We went home.

                                                                                                                                                                                   X.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                                XI.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I need to bend this thing,” he said.

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

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

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

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

I gasped.

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

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

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

Nobody came, though. They thought I was campaigning.

                                                                                                                                                                            XII.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                         XIII.

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

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

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

The End.

                                                                                                                                                                                      I.

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

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

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

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

Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong.

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

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

Dark Road

Elgeyo Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                                  II.

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

“Can I get a room?” Grace asked.

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

“Where are you from at this hour?”

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

“Are you a student?”

“Yes.”

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

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

“Why is that?”

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

“That is lamentable,” remarked he.

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

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

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

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

“Is anything wrong with it?” asked he.

“It doesn’t look like Adams Arcade.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She didn’t know what he was talking about.

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

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

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

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

He said nothing.

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

                                                                                                                                                                               III.

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

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

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

The man laughed again. HAHAHII! HAIYAHOHO!

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

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

HAHAHII! HAIYAHOHO!

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you wounded?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                                IV.

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

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

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

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

“You said you were there to fix it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Please, don’t hurt me,” she pleaded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You breathe out helium?” Grace wondered.

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

“Are you not human?” Grace asked.

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

“What are you, then?”

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                                   V.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Grace,

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

Your Host.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                                VI.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What key?” Grace asked.

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

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

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

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

Grace got up and thrust her out.

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

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

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

Susan!

“Who is he?”

Grace bumped her against the wall.

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

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

“Did he say he is a watchman?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Didn’t you see my note?”

“Yes. I did.”

“What did it say?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                            VII.

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

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

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

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

“Unakimbizwa?”Are you being pursued?

She nodded.

“Na nani?”By whom?

She shook her head.

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

She shook her head.

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

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

A female officer came out just as Grace was rising.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Grace Wangari Kimani,” she answered.

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

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

“Yes.”

“Was he joking with you?”

“No. I do not know him.”

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

“He was not joking.”

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

“He breathes out helium.”

“Yes.”

“And he is as strong as the sun.”

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

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

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

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

“No. I do not know him.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace was jolted her back to consciousness.

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                         VIII.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                                IX.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                                   X.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                                XI.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                            XII.

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

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

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

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

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

This was not the house. Yet it was.

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

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

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

“Where is he?” repeated the inspector.

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

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

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

“Where is he?” Ogwal demanded again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                         XIII.

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

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

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

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

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

Eventually she fell into a wakeless sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you have my key?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                          XIV.

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

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

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

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

Baba! Baba!

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

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

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

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

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

He shot her father.

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                             XV.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Perhaps it should be her,” he said

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

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

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

“Why?” cried Grace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you want this?”

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

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

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

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

“Just kill me,” she said.

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                          XVI.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                      XVII.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                   XVIII.

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

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

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

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

“I will.”

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

“I am not time-bound like you,” he said. “Besides, I have an equation. I could finish you off in three weeks by applying a geometric summation of a variable X raised by a power N such that N moves from one to infinity and X is the number of people killed while N represents the number of days. I will make X=1000 and cause the equation to reset itself after every three days. If I couldn’t do it myself, I would go back and call Enki’s greatest foe. He has heard excellent things about earth and he still longs to see it and take it for himself. His fury is unequalled, and if he found the earth like this—this chaotic disunity contaminated to its very core!—he’d be so overwhelmed with disappointment that he’d hurl it into the sun’s core without a thought to spare. But I intend to live here. When I’m done with you, I will go find the rest of the Watchers of Paradise and bring them back. Together we will repair this planet, whatever is left of it.”

“Killing us will not make you any better than us,” Grace said. “It will indeed make you worse. We are still learning. There are good things about us too. There are good people. It is true we are capable of horrible things, but we can be better. If we were all bad you’d never have found us here when you came back. We’d have decimated ourselves to extinction. People have achieved some very tremendous feats and someday there will be peace on earth.”

“Stop talking to me,” he said. “You cannot claim credit for solving a problem of which you are the cause. And do not tell me about better! You ruined my planet because you hate one another and constantly want to prove who is better! I will show you hate, and I will show you better! Three hundred thousand years! And this is where you are! What are you learning? You will never learn to love one another—which is the most essential thing. Therefore, do not expostulate with me. This is not one of your stories where you emerge the heroes regardless. You don’t win in this. There is no version where you win. This is my story, my planet. I win.”

Grace did not know what else to tell him. So, after a short silence, she said, “What did you do to Adams Arcade on Sunday night?”

“It was a time trap,” replied he. “I set the trap for 1980 and waited for one of you to be caught in it from 2014. You were the unlucky one. It took you just one step out of the bus. Anyhow, I’m sending you back there. I spared you for a specific goal.”

“No,” said Grace, stepping back, full of horror and despair.

He reached into the bag and produced three sets of nine ring-shaped rocks of the same dark brown glassy translucent material as the ones in the gun-thing. They had different radii, which Grace saw that were increasing in a Fibonacci sequence, the first two being equal and the subsequent ones obtained from the sum of the previous two. He began to arrange them methodically on the ground, using each set at a time and starting with the smallest piece in the set. Grace saw that he was forming Fibonacci spirals, each starting at a single origin, which was a free space enough to accommodate a standing person.

“If you had but listened to your guardians instead of menacing them,” he said as he worked, “you’d never have had to depredate my planet in search of materials to build your civilization. All you would have needed are the frequency stones and the right combinations of Enki’s numbers. If I fancied, I could be rid of you by setting time traps at particularly evil and calamitous periods in your history, so that one day you all wake up scattered and lost in different times, unable to find one another, stuck there forever. It is an option I should consider if killing you proves more taxing than I anticipate.”

He stood up. He had one of the three largest rocks unused.

“Step here,” he directed, pointing at the free space.

“No,” Grace said and sprang back.

“You don’t listen,” he said and picked up the gun-thing. He shot her mother, who had regained consciousness and risen to her knees. She was hurled over a hundred metres away into the plantation, her charred remains dispersed like seeds.

“Don’t kill my mother!” Grace cried and, in her rashness, grabbed the gun-thing. It was intensely hot. Her hands evaporated, then her arms, and they would have melted up to her shoulders if he hadn’t rushed to put out the fire himself with one of his frequency stones. Her elbows were gone. She saw those ugly stumps sticking out of her shoulders and went crazy. She blacked out—it had been a long time coming.

He picked her up and stepped into the free space of the circuit he had created on the ground. He then completed the other end of the circuit with the rock he had spared. At once, a powerful whirlwind formed around them and they were whisked away.

When she awoke, she was in the room in Adams Arcade. The laughing thing’s room. It was 1980—ten years before her birth. She attempted to climb out of bed but fell since she had no arms to use for support. It was a struggle sitting up using her back and legs. Her stumps had somehow been healed and were itching like evil things. She could not scratch.

The creature was in the room with her. He had shrunken to six feet. He was standing by the door, the gun-thing in his hand, the bag at his feet. He said:

“There was a man who found favour in the guardians back then. He was upright and, above all, quested after Enki’s knowledge and design. As a noble reward, he was given a frequency stone to elongate his life. He is alive to date. But, after two thousand years he became insane, and after ten, began fading. By the end of the first one hundred millenniums, he had become completely invisible. Even myself, with all my superior designs, I can detect him only by his energy signature. Otherwise he moves in the wind, as the wind itself. Gradually, he was overcome with melancholy and despair and he hankered only for death. So in 1980, he disposed of the stone in Indian Ocean where it could never be retrieved. Still, he could not die. He realized that eternity is really too long. But then, without the stone and lacking in physical form, time stopped for him. He became stuck in 1980.

“That is what happens to your species when you finally find immortality. It makes you go mad and fade into invisibility. One day you look at your legs and you can’t see them, then your hands, your face. Eternity is not for the faint-hearted. You are a weak species and time is your master and lord. A heartless one at that!

“The man dwells here and you will be his companion henceforth. You will be stuck with him here. He is lonely. He is the reason I chose this year and this place. He will feed you. Be nice to him. If you irritate him in the slightest way, he will make you rot all over right where you stand. In the meantime, I have to go back and reclaim my planet while there is still something to reclaim of it.”

He took his bag and exited the room.

Outside, the laughing thing laughed: HAHAHII! HAIYAHOHO!

***

She pondered over how to kill herself and realized how difficult it would be since she had no hands. Then, hours later, it occurred to her that she could do it by banging her head on the wall until her forehead split. She rose and surveyed the wall. It was worth a try.

The end.

I.

There was a place in Karen where the Devil sometimes came through to Nairobi. It was an open field of about a quarter of an acre with a few tall trees, sporadic thickets, and patches of stunted grass. The trees and the thickets had yellow, sickly leaves and the grass was mostly burnt. But a building usually appeared there just moments before the Devil stepped out of a wall. It was an enormous building and it disappeared as soon as the Devil was gone.

I had thought once that perhaps I should set traps there with massive chains, hooks and barbed wire—or even with a modified rat trap intended for something his size—and catch him unawares and torture him until he surrendered my soul. But I did not know what could hold him. He was a gigantic thing, and as heartless as only he could be. If he overcame the traps, he’d find me and squish me underneath his feet. Or worse, he would give my soul to Moloch. He had said that if I did not fulfil my end of the bargain, he would give my soul to Moloch.

He had, however, been the first to dishonour the deal, and I now had to contrive to obtain what he owed me.

I crossed to the spot where the house usually materialized. The temperature was much higher at that point, though the heat was clearly not from the sun. It was also still; but for the miserable vegetation, I had never seen any other living thing in the area.

I waited.

I had seen how the wall cracked before, how it gaped like a jagged, sinister, monstrous mouth. If I could flit through it before the Devil noticed me . . . If I could do that!

But what if he already knew my plan?

Ah! That could bear imponderable consequences. I began to sweat and shake from its very prospect, and my heart hurt. I turned my thoughts away from it, wondering who owned this property that the Devil used as a gateway. I had asked the same question before, though in vain. Somebody in Nairobi owned it and knew the Devil used it often. If they didn’t know, they would have developed it already. People were hungrier and greedier for such property than ever before. Prime Property, the dealers called it, and then charged astronomical costs. Yet here it was, unfenced, unattended, a dead, deadly plot, a doorway through to Hell itself. I imagined the owner had neighbours, friends, family. Did they know that he had allowed his property to be utilized by the Devil as a gateway from Hell and that he probably benefitted immensely from the agreement? I imagined him drinking and laughing with his friends, having sex with his wife, maybe trying to be a good father to his children, even succeeding, while behind them all, he had made the evilest, vilest deal with the evilest, vilest being ever conceived. People could be frightening.

Where the Devil went or what he did while about town I did not know. But there were disappearances. Adults, children. Random indiscriminate unexplained disappearances. The Daily Nation had done a story on them once. The list had been too long.

Those, plus the souls that I’d given him. Given him in vain.

If I could just go through the wall without . . .

And I was calm. I had distracted myself enough to be calm when the house appeared at once and the wall exploded.

Shit!

I was thrown back, into the air and further back, but before I could hit the ground, I was flung against the ceiling and pinned there like an insect.

“Where do you think you are going?” demanded he. He was pinning me with his index finger, pressing my ribs too hard.

“None of your business,” I groaned.

In response, he drilled a hole through my heart to the ceiling. Blood flooded his finger and ran down the rest of his hand. I twisted and slid down, becoming stuck at the swell of the middle joint.

“Your business is mine,” he said. “You forget that all your business is mine.” His voice was like that of a man whose throat is clogged with oil.

“Give it back to me,” I moaned. “Give back what you owe.”

“You still owe me.” He released me and I fell hard on the floor. Dust and debris flew about and the house vibrated.

“Answer the phone and get back to work,” he said, and vanished.

II.

I rose. To my dismay, the wall had returned to its original state. Seconds later, the house faded into nonexistence, leaving me in the open. I was standing on dead grass.

Blood was gushing out of me. The hole in my heart was gaping at the world. But I did not care. It didn’t matter. I was overwhelmed by the futility of my ambition, the stark impotence of rage at the undying. Distress came upon me, despair. I did not move.

“Three souls,” he’d said. “Bring me three souls and you will get yours in exchange.”

Later, he’d changed to thirty-three, then to three hundred and thirty-three, six hundred and sixty-six, nine hundred and ninety-nine, and, finally, just one. The one that I could not get and he would not explain. Two thousand one hundred souls already! I had surpassed his target. All this accomplished in ten years. He had robbed me of ten years of my existence.

Yet he withheld the reward. How fitting of him!

The Devil. Lucifer. Satan.

Ah!

I’d been running from the cops when I bumped into him at this very place. He had been exiting, out for what I later learned was his once-a-month trip to Nairobi, while bullets zinged over my head and cops came steadily on my trail.

Suddenly, a house grew around me. A bungalow. Many-walled. Many-roomed. It came out of nowhere. I braked too unexpectedly and the momentum propelled me forwards, into someone, or something, that hadn’t been there before.

The impact knocked me flat on the floor. I immediately scrambled up. Confused, things spiralling out of view, going dark, too many inputs, too few interpretations, something clutching my stomach, my own heartbeat too fast—I started to flee, but at that critical moment, that decisive life-and-death instant, my strength failed me. My knees wobbled. I flopped.

Later, I realized that I’d wanted to flee in the direction of the cops. I also realized that if the Devil hadn’t been there at precisely when I ran into him, I’d have fallen through the crack into the unforgiving, implacable dark beyond and the unflagging fires of Hell.

He grabbed me, raised me. He was hot like a burning thing and I jerked away from him without a thought to spare. But he held on to my head. His hand was so wide it covered my head like a helmet, the fingers reaching far past my jaws, my neck. I was a little doll in his hands.

“Watch your path!” he said and shook me. “Human!” he spat. There was profound contempt in his voice when he did it. His breath was steam. It scalded my face.

I could not speak. I could not move. Neither could I take my eyes off him. He was a colossal thing that could easily weigh over a tonne. Hardy, rugged muscles jutted all over his immortal body, and his skin was like the bark of some ancient cursed tree that had stubbornly withstood the agonies of living in a cruel death-riddled world; it was hardened and rough-edged, excessively wrinkled and stained with the corruption and profanity of eternal Hell. A strange crackling sound was issuing from his eyes, as if they were roasting and might suddenly pop out, and reddish blue tongues of flame spewed out of his ears.

Lucifer.2.

The Devil

“You are about to die,” continued he, deadpan. “I can see it all over your face. What are you running from?”

When I didn’t answer, he said, “Can’t you speak? Or would you like me yank off your tongue so that you never have to speak again?”

“Cops,” I said. It was a faltering whisper.

“What is it you possess that they hanker after with such fiery passion?”

“They think I am a terrorist.”

The Devil grinned. A sinister grin that made the corners of his lips to curve like horns. The pupils of his eyes floated towards his nose and gathered there so that they seemed crossed. The irises glowed yellowish with tinges of red sprinkled all over. I could see my image in them: a distorted thing with a scalded, skinless face, eyes terrified beyond reason. I looked only once and shut my eyes.

“Are you?” he asked.

“No! My friend is.”

He seemed disappointed. I could tell by the way he sighed and squeezed my head.

“What difference does it make, anyway?” he said. “You are on the run for your dear soul. And they are going to kill you in two and half minutes. A bullet is going to shatter this skull like something for target practice. Are you ready to die?”

I shook my head within his stupendous hand. “No!”

“What difference does it make?” he asked again. “Dead or alive, you are all the same. All of mankind! The living ones exert too hard in order to die. The dying ones exert too hard in order to live. The living fight the living with a vengeance, yet mourn the dead with bitterness. It is pathetic. Stupid. However, there is a place where you can be both dead and alive simultaneously. It is the perfect place for mankind. Do you know it?”

My eyes were still closed and he shook me. I opened them just in time to see the wall shut itself. The edges met with the impact of jaws clamped together. What now faced me was its discoloured, ruined, ancient surface. It seemed to have been there for tens of thousands of years.

I had glimpsed what was on the other side of it: the black, hollow desolation that set the bladder loose and the bowels running by its very presence. A pit without an end; yet a scream had emanated from it, a deep, senseless, horrid cry from a truly wretched soul.

“Do you know it?” the Devil repeated. He was glowering at me.

Unable to speak, I shook my head.

“Well, then. You are about to find out. I’ll just wait for them to gun you down and then call Moloch.”

He removed his hand from my head, and I could again hear the police outside. They were too close. I could hear the sound of their running feet. One of them fired and the blast shook the house.

It occurred to me that I was truly caught between the Devil and the deep blue sea. Quite literally, between the Devil and the crazed gunmen. Death awaited me on both sides. It was a catch-22.

However, if the cops got me, they would triumph over my death and announce to the world that a terrorist had been eliminated. The world would rejoice and continue with its fancy delusions of safety. I was not a terrorist. I was an innocent man who had been at the wrong place at a wrong time. But that did not matter anymore. I saw my parents’ humiliation upon receiving the news, their shock, horror, the stigma that would haunt them for the rest of their lives. They were Seventh-Day Adventists proper, and frowned upon the consumption of something as simple and ubiquitous as tea. To discover that I was a terrorist would surely finish them off. I saw my mother weeping in quiet, felt her anguish, my father by her side, wiping his agonized face. My heart sank deeper.

The cops would never relent.

“So then,” thought I. “Why not disappear from the earth altogether?”

“Take me,” I blurted.

“Take you?” the Devil frowned. “I don’t do pro bono.”

“What do you want?” I pursued.

“I deal in souls.”

“Take mine.”

“I can’t take it like that. I don’t work like that.”

“Why? How do you work?”

“I don’t take willing souls. I don’t deal in free will. You have to do something to make it warrant my keep.”

“Take it!” I shrieked when another shot was fired.

“A condition has to be duly imposed if I have to take it under these circumstances,” he said. “You will work for me, and continue to work for me, until such a day as shall be judged suitable by myself to set you free from servitude, whereupon you will have fulfilled the number of souls required of you.”

“How many souls?” I asked.

“Three souls,” he said. “Bring me three souls and you will get yours in exchange.”

I wanted to ask him how I would still be able to live and work if he took my soul, how I would be able to see and extract the other souls, and where I would find him if I had them, but before I could speak, he raised me to his level (about nine feet high) and put his mouth against mine. With a single draught, he sucked out something.

A period of utter darkness passed during which I could not tell whether I’d been awake or asleep, or dead. I did not see what he had taken out of me, though I did understand that I had lost something, an essence. It was as if he had undressed me; I felt naked, cold; I felt unnaturally light and empty. When I breathed, the air seemed to flow right through me. I did not feel my presence; my substance, my person, had disappeared. I was not there; there was no I, no me. I was nothing. I looked at my hands and could not recognize them, could not tell what they were, or that they were mine. I was a stranger to myself.

The Devil brought his mouth back to mine and blew something into my mouth. Fire. He blew fire into my mouth. My awareness, my memory, returned at once with the heat. I was burning inside and I stretched and thrust against him. Flames and smoke came out of my orifices, and I thought my eyes would explode. I was sick, dying. I was dead.

I did not know how much time passed. When I came to, I was still hanging in his hands.

“The fires of Hell blaze your veins,” he said. “They are thirsty and they never die.” He lowered me. “And we have a deal. You owe me three souls.”

“Do I bring them here?” I asked. My voice was different. Harsh. Objective.

“When you have them, wherever you are, a gate will open for you. Hell has many gates. Enter the gate and Moloch will find you. He loves souls. He so loves them.”

He then left, and the house followed him.

I saw that I had wet my pants and my underwear was heavy with the weight of faeces. My face was badly burnt, blistered and swollen in several places, skinless and bleeding in others. My head hurt too where his hands had gripped, my hair singed, scalp peeled. Yet such terror had he put me through that none of it had drawn my notice.

But it didn’t matter now. Not the pain, not the deformity, not the horror. I felt nothing. Except the fire within me. It blazed. It consumed whatever was left of me.

The cops were still on the property. I did not know why they had not broken into the house. Maybe the Devil’s presence had kept them away. When the house vanished, they started screaming and running helter-skelter, scattering like little birds when the hawk came down, but when they saw me, they turned and began firing. They shot me several times; they shot me in the head, in the chest, and in the stomach; they shot me everywhere. It seemed they would not stop, could not stop. They were terrified. But when they could not shoot anymore, when they thought I was dead, I got up and I killed them. I broke them one by one and stamped their heads under my feet like mud.

III.

But the Devil had lied. That treacherous bastard!

With aggravated bitterness, I trudged away, head lowered. The day had grown gloomy. The sun was peeping down through an ominous stretch of nimbus, and thunder rolled occasionally.

I had scarcely stepped out of the spot where the house had been when my phone rang. It never worked within that spot. It would go off by itself as soon as I got there.

Several messages now reached concerning attempted calls by Stig. I remembered the Devil instructing that I should answer the phone and get back to work.

“What is it?” I asked.

“I need your help,” Stig groaned. “Come now!”

That jolted me back to activity. It meant more souls to be traded. I might even chance upon the special one the Devil wanted so as to release my soul for good. Stig had been helping me with the work. He crucified people on the walls of their bedrooms. Whole families, nailing them side by side from the father to the lastborn. He was the terrorist the cops had been looking for when they found me at his place. They had never caught him. After disposing of my soul, I had gone back and saved him.

He had acquired a new house after the raid and now holed up in a secluded compound off Forest Lane, surrounded by a dense growth of trees and a seven-foot tall wall topped with alternating lines of razor and electric wire. The gate was of steel, as tall as the wall, and had a metallic sign welded on it with the words ‘PRIVATE! ENTRANCE BY INVITATION ONLY’ in red, bold uppercase letters.

The gate was open. It was always shut.

Alarmed, I tore across the compound into the house. I found him sprawled in the living room, the floor around him teeming with blood. I thought he was dead.

“Stig?”

He raised his eyes. He was so weak I thought he might pass out any minute.

“My leg,” he said. “It’s gone.”

His right leg had been sawed off just above the knee. I could see his thighbone gleaming white against the spurting blood. A bit of marrow had oozed out of it.

I removed his belt and tied it around the wound. Next, I obtained a large bed sheet and wrapped the thigh into it. But neither the belt nor the sheet was of much help. He had lost too much blood and was certainly going to die since he would never risk going to the hospital.

“You are going to die,” I stated.

“Fine,” he said.

“You want to die?”

“Not before I get my leg back,” he said. “Go get my leg.”

“Where is it?”

“That bitch took off with it,” he said. “She sawed it off and took off with it.”

The bitch in question was Anther, his girl. When I first met them they had been a duo of budding musicians calling themselves Stigma & Anther, he being Social Stigma and she Alpha Anther. They had dreamed of introducing a version of European Rock into the Kenyan market. One of their choruses had gone thus:

I fell beyond bounds and made a deal with the Devil

Coming quietly in the dark, knocking on my bedroom door, he said

“In three days, I will raise you to a higher level

On the fourth day, I will walk off with your head.”

It was the song that had drawn me to Stig. I had loved it from the very first moment I heard it, more so because of the asphyxiating Christianity at home. However, Stigma &Anther had had almost no fans. Songs like that just did not do well in a country where the worship of God still dominated consciousness. But they had lived lavishly. A home in Karen, two Range Rovers, two Benzes, a BMW, parties every weekend, and trips to Europe where they said their music was more appreciated. I never asked them where the money came from, although it was doubtless the music did not make it. I had learnt not to ask such questions around here, where people were apt to flaunt oodles of cash yet investments were few and development retarded.

The parties, however, were my favourite, because of the hordes of university girls that always came. They were young and pretty, and ripe. And they liked sex. Stig slept with one of them while drunk and that was when trouble began. Anther took it bitterly. She attacked the girl and broke her arm. In the morning, the police came and took Stig and Anther for questioning. Thenceforwards, things precipitated from bad to worse for the couple, until the CID linked Stig to the Al Shabaab terrorists of Somali. Apparently, he was the Nairobi region coordinator of terrorism and piracy. He oversaw the distribution and investment of the money obtained from the acts of piracy in the Indian Ocean. He also owned the warehouse in Industrial Area where the terrorists hid before and after launching attack on Kenyans. The music was a subterfuge. When the police came for him, I was there, and I ended up trading my soul with Devil.

“Why did Anther cut off your leg?” I inquired.

“We had a deal.”

“What deal?”

“We were fighting over who really fucked things up that day the cops came so that now we live like prisoners. She said it was me and called me a fancy faggot. I beat her up. She cried and said she was leaving me. I told her she had nowhere to go. Cops will be up her ass the instant she walks out the gate. That really made her furious, saying I fucked up to imprison her. She said she hates me and would rather go to the cops than live with me. I got scared by that, man. I got scared bad . . .” He trailed off, coughing. I ran for water and when I came back, I sat him upright against the sofa near him.

“I begged her to stay, went on my knees, promised never to strike her again,” Stig went on when he could. “But she said she wanted proof of my word. ‘What proof?’ I asked. ‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘Proof or I leave!’ She made me desperate, man. It didn’t matter how much I assured her. She is all I have in this prison. I don’t know what else I can be or do without her. So I told her to cut off my right leg. She did. But then she took off!”

“And she carried the leg with her?”

“She was supposed to keep it in the fridge,” Stig continued. “That was part of the deal. But she took off with it. I want it back. I need my leg! That’s why I called you.”

“Where did she go?”

“I think to her sister’s. Karen Road. We’ve been there with you.”

“I’ll get your leg,” I assured him.

He squinted at me. “And what happened to you, man?” asked he. “You are all smoking like you’re smouldering inside. Your face is burnt. Is that a hole in your heart?”

I related what had transpired between me and the Devil.

“So he already knew you were waiting for him?”

“Somehow.”

“But, man, you go to Hell all the time yet you cannot find your soul!”

“That’s because the Devil keeps it in his private chamber. I cannot access it unless I go through that goddamned wall.”

“I told you not . . .” He started coughing again and drank more water. “I told you not to be tormented about a soul. It’s of no use. Look at people who’ve got it and show me the difference! If it mattered the world wouldn’t have been like this. Myself, for instance, I have it but . . .” (Cough) “. . . I crucify people on the wall. I blow people up like pieces of paper. I only wish the Devil had taken me like that—like you.”

We had had a similar conversation before. He thought my life had more meaning than his. I worked for the Devil, and, therefore, was part of a known eternal entity. He said that those who worked for God seemed abandoned and were victims in perpetuity. By default, he said, whether in the world or wild, the call to Hell was impossible to turn down.

Stigma did not understand my anguish. There was fire in me and it glowed and blazed. It would never die. It flowed through me like lava under the earth, churning with great agitation, devouring me, always ready to explode and spew forth its wrath and misery all over the world. The pain was unimaginable. The Devil had replaced my soul with fire. He had given me a piece of himself. And I now understood what Milton had meant when he wrote: “Which way I flie is Hell; my self am Hell.”

“I want my soul back just as much as you want your leg,” I said. “Look at people with legs and show me the difference! They are embarrassed of them. They don’t want to be seen walking. There is even a bias against those who have legs but no cars or shoes. Yet yours you so dearly desire, though you’re dying.”

He tried to laugh but coughed instead. He then inhaled so deeply I thought it would be his last. But he said, “I don’t think you’ll get back your soul. If the Devil honours his promise, then he won’t be the Devil. Will he?”

I didn’t want to contemplate that. So I went to the kitchen to fetch him sugar. I found a five-litre bottle of orange juice, almost two-thirds full. I poured it in a jug and gave it to him.

“Drink that if you wish to see your leg again.”

“Go on and fetch it, then!” he said. “Why are you still here? Plus, I think you may just find that special soul you’ve been looking for after all.”

I left, remembering to shut the gate.

The compound on Karen Road was full of cops. I arrived just as they were leading Anther to a waiting vehicle. She was carrying Stigma’s leg in a plastic bag. She did not show any signs that she was under arrest. No handcuffs. No undue stress. Her face was as pleasant as ever.

“Anther!” I shouted.

I had leaped over the fence at the back and was now standing by the main house. When she saw me, she jumped back shrieking, “That’s him! That’s him over there! That’s Obel Sibuth! Stigma’s partner!

He works for the Devil!”

I knew then that she had made a deal with the cops. Maybe she had told them that she had disabled Stigma so as to get him arrested. And she would be granted leniency.

The cops charged me. Like dogs. Three, four, five. Six of them. Oh, how I hated them! They had made me lose my soul.

A surge of rage overtook me; revenge beclouded my eyes; hate propelled me. The fire within me grew. It grew and grew. It blossomed, swelled, multiplied. It became denser, deadlier. I was burning. I was a pillar of fire. The agony was exquisite. It was uncontrollable. I was uncontrollable.

The first three cops to lay hands on me blew up like matchsticks. The other three, too rash to slow down, also pounced on me and burst into flames, hungry, predatory flames that wolfed them down in seconds. Just like matchsticks. What remained of them were charred shrunken lumps that might as well have been cat carcasses.

The remaining eight or so opened fire. It was a single-minded furious discharge from hands that shook with terror and hearts that beat too hard. A volley of bullets hit me. And kept hitting. I was lifted me off the ground and hurled back. My chest exploded; so did my stomach and back, organs ruptured, shredded, spilling.

I saw Anther running into the house with the leg and pursued her.

“Anther, give me the leg!” I yelled at her above the fusillade. She kept running.

I pursued her across the room and past the chairs. I pursued her along the hallways and over the stairs. I pursued her through the bedroom and into her lair.

“Give me the leg!”

But she was paralyzed. Seeing me like that, face shattered, body in shreds, blood, smoke and fire leaking out of me. She appeared dead. I made to grab the leg but touched her hand instead. Matchstick!

I couldn’t touch the leg in my present state without vaporizing it as well. So I stood over it and waited for the fire to cool.

I was still waiting and trying to relax in order to speed up the cooling when I heard the most unlikely sound under the circumstances issuing from one of the bedrooms. A baby was crying. I remembered Stig telling me that the special soul may come of this mission and excitement flushed over me. I followed the sound.

But in the hallway, the cops started firing again. They had followed me. How adamant! I did not want to heat up again, though it was difficult with those cops shooting me like that. I struggled to squash the rage, thinking only of the baby, my salvation. Succeeding, I went back into the room and took Stig’s leg. I gripped it firmly. My weapon. I faced the cops. I whacked them with it good and proper. I broke their skulls, necks, jaws, ribs, and every other vulnerable bone in their bodies. By the time I was done, they were dead in a pile, all ten of them, and Stigma’s leg was damaged beyond repair. I dumped it. He was dying anyway. I went for the baby.

The woman was slinking in the closet, the baby in her arms. Like her sister before, she became immobilized when she saw me. She could see through me like a shattered a window, yet there I was, not dying, not living—both dead and alive.

“The baby!” said I, my hands extended.

She blacked out.

I took the child before she could fall. It was a girl, maybe two months old, her eyes still bluish. A chubby thing, she smiled a lambent smile.

I bound her with a sheet and took her to Hell.

IV.

“Obel Sibuth!” Moloch exclaimed. “You bring me a bundle of joy!”

“Indeed,” I said. “It is for your master.”

“Nonetheless, I will receive it.”

He took the child. He was the demon in charge of torture. Inside his chamber, he had an enormous sewing machine which he used to sew people like clothes. He also took care of entertainment. He had invented a new game which involved randomly selecting two fat people from the suffering lot and smearing their bellies with glue (Hell’s glue). They were then stuck together and two demons yanked them apart to see whose stomach would burst first.

Moloch.1.

Moloch

“Obel Sibuth!” Mulciber said. “It looks like your body needs repair!”

“Indeed,” I said. “It is your master’s doing.”

“My master is good at his job.”

Mulciber was the architect. He superintended the construction and maintenance of all the infrastructures in Hell. He also had a talent for “patching up”—as he put it—people. Some days he worked with Moloch to boil people in a giant boiler containing molten, gluey, white-hot fire. After they had boiled for what seemed to be eternity and were in pieces like cooked beef, Mulciber sieved them out into a different vessel, where he then patched them up neatly—reassembled them like motor vehicles, that was—and cooled them down till they were whole and well again. But just when they thought the ordeal was over, and were a little relieved for the moment, he threw them back into the boiler.

“Obel Sibuth!” Beelzebub greeted. “How gleeful is my heart!”

“Indeed.”

Beelzebub was the second in command. He ran Hell. He was the one who had told me that my soul was in the Devil’s private chamber which I could only access through the mysterious house in Karen.

“Can I get my soul now?” I asked him.

“No,” he said. “And you won’t.”

“Why is that?”

“Because that is how it is.”

Shock. Anger. Rage. Fury. All at once. I was ablaze.

“I was promised!”

“We don’t keep promises here.”

“Lucifer wanted a special soul! I delivered it! That baby is a special soul!”

“Certainly, she is.”

“Then give back my soul!”

“We don’t give souls. We take them.”

“This is utterly unfair!”

“If you want fair go to Heaven.”

I groaned and swore with vehement acrimony.

“No need for further affliction,” Beelzebub said. “Mulciber will repair your wounds and Mammon will give you food if you direly crave it.”

Mammon dealt in (and with) matters of material value. He bragged about how he alone had colonized the soul of mankind and, by virtue of his “irresistible offers”—as he put it—brought in the largest number of people to Hell.

“Also,” Beelzebub continued. “I lied when I said your soul is in the private chamber. In truth, Lucifer ate it.”

“I am leaving!” I swore. “And I will never come back! I will never come back! All work stops forthwith!”

“You are not going anywhere,” Moloch said decisively. “You belong here. You belong in Hell.”

At this point, I gave vent to my frustrations and howled. But that was all I could do about my situation. I was defeated. Ten years of toil. Yet this!

Oh, damn you Lucifer! Damn you! You chronic, pathological liar! Father of lies! Damn you for tenfold the space of eternity! How deserving of Hell are you! The infernal fate! Ah! And how foolish of me to dream of life in your unpitying care, to trade my soul for enduring doom and relentless anguish! To pursue your mission and injure the innocent! Oh, how hopeless have I become! How destitute! Remorse consumes me. Grief besets me. Pain my everlasting companion. And fire. Chthonian and absolute, the tormenting inferno ravages me from all sides. I am doomed.

Truly, as it is written, thus it is.