Posts Tagged ‘Horror stories’

                                                                                                                         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.

Advertisements

I waited.

I waited patiently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She fled. He pursued.

She was screaming.

She ran like a rat and he would have exploded with laughter if her threat had been but a little less grave. She was running in the wrong direction yet too terrified of him to see it. He caught up with her deep into the forest where overlapping canopies and cuddling branches blocked sunrays and the ground was damp and rich with worms and insects and pungent-smelling dead things. He flung his leg at her, caught her buttocks squarely in midair, and she flew like a wounded bird, fell face-deep onto the mushy ground. He had an instant to hope that she’d broken her neck. But she rose, wobbling like a drunk, and there was a worm on her face writhing its way into her nose while her previously wide mouth was full of rotting things and mud. He stood in front of her, axe in hand.

“I can’t let you do that to me, you know,” warned he.

“I won’t,” she begged, spitting debris from her mouth, her eyes glistening in the scanty light, wet, distorted. He watched as she attempted to brush off the worm but squished it instead, decorating her upper lip with a smear of whitish gelatinous moustache.

“But you will,” said he. “You are just like your mother. A lot of mouth and no head. If you threaten me like that, I have to be really nasty,” he added and swung the axe before she could protest. The top half of her head flew off like a hat that had been carelessly removed.

“Nobody needs a head that can’t think right,” he told her.

A thin blade of light penetrated the canopies and fell on what was left of her left eye. She was still staring at him although most of her brain had spilled onto the forest floor and mixed with mud. She jerked about for some time, dying slowly, blindly, bleeding unmanageably, like a beheaded chicken.

As she thrashed about, her skirt withdrew upwards and exposed her thighs; young, ripe, untouched, they appealed to him, and he became aware of the frenzied throbbing of his penis. He could sleep with her now and finish what he had begun while she was still warm and kicking, her spilt brain notwithstanding. There was a man who slept with dead women in the village during an old ritual that ensured widows did not take their pent-up sexual cravings into the ground with them. If they did, they would return as ghosts and ghouls and rape men in their sleep. Morris could do that now, although it would not really be the same thing considering that the girl was not yet completely dead. He got hold of her panties and yanked them off. He then stepped into the space between her straddled legs. He was reaching for his penis when a peculiar thought made him freeze: if she died with him inside her, he might get stuck there. And he might then have to spend the rest of his life with a corpse hanging on his penis. Or his semen might bring her back to life whereupon she might exact her revenge by sucking out his energy through his penis until he was all withered and old, a skeleton, yet alive, draped in a revolting, cadaverous skin.

He jumped back from her with a low squeal.

He did not touch her again until she had stopped bleeding and he was certain she was totally gone. He gathered the scattered chunks of her brain and returned them into her skull. He replaced the top of her head too, tied it up neatly with a piece of bush-rope, passing the string below her jaws and around her neck. Finished, he agreed that it was a pretty fine work. He felt good about it. Her face resembled that of a severe clown.

Next, he carried the body to the edge of the forest where there stood an abandoned six-foot tall anthill, beneath which was a deep tunnel dug by the aardvark. He pushed the body inside headfirst. It could, however, enter only up to the knees, and he had to pull it back out and hack off the legs, like a butcher, before returning it in and placing the limbs on either side of it. Once it was hidden, he embarked on covering the hole. He worked up loose soil with the help of the axe for the purpose. It was mid March and the rainy season had just come to an end, the land still moist. Morris had thus a relatively easy task. The aardvark had also made a considerable mound of what it had dug from the anthill. Morris pushed it all into the hole. When he couldn’t get anymore loose soil, he collected debris—leaves, sticks, barks, clods, rocks, even the quills of two porcupines he had once hunted at the hole—and dispersed it over the grave. Finally, he decided to use some branches . . .

And that was when a very odd thing happened to him.

He found a tree with low branches and started hacking at one of them. As he worked, the picture of the girl’s thighs returned to his memory: how ripe and inviting they had been, how he had almost explored the sweet softness between them, thereby becoming the one to pollute the unpolluted, to tame the untamed. She had been unshaved, yet too young and jejune to give shaving a priority. He recalled how he had later chopped off those thighs when they couldn’t fit into the tunnel, how the axe had devoured them, her meat ripped, bones shattered. He had contaminated her then. He had befouled her delicate flesh. The chopping had been analogous to sex, destructive, mandatory, good. It was like cutting this tree. This tree had never been cut. It was young, naive, a virgin, all its branches, roots, intact. He was the first to cut it, to explore its virginity and expose it to unaccustomed pain, to the relentless brutality of life. He was breaking it. He was taking something from it. He was plundering its innocence, its life, its essence. It felt good to do that. It felt sooo . . .

His brain exploded. Like a volcano. An orgasm. Right inside his head. So fierce and savage in manner, so furious and rash, yet so sweet and irresistible that he let go of the axe and clung to the tree with desperation, wanting to scream, to bark, to moan, to say something, yet breathless, weak, his spine ruptured.

He hadn’t even realized he had an erection.

II.

He collapsed under the tree and rested awhile thereafter.

“It seduced me,” he said with amazement. “The tree seduced me.”

And he burst out with laughter at the thought. A hollow, deranged, lonely squeal that tore to the depths of the forest and made leaves curl. A flock of weaver birds nesting in a nearby tree took off. A lizard darted to the safety of dead leaves while its mate ran up a tree as if being chased by fire.

He noticed that he had experienced the orgasm at the exact moment the branch had begun to fall. It must have been the tree, then, for the girl was surely dead. The tree had charmed him with its sex appeal.

“Sex appeal,” he noted, and convulsed harder.

The laughter stirred his bowels and he looked for a place to relieve himself. He chose the grave, thinking it would be an added distraction to any overly curious faces. When he was done, there was a monstrosity there, a guard, so abominable it obviated the need for any further concealment. If the girl somehow awoke from the grave now, that thing would send her back forthwith. The stink was enough to grant her second death.

Still curious about the tree, he began cutting a second branch. He was careful this time. He sought to understand its magic, its power to grant such fevered orgasms. However, somewhere in the process, he became diverted—though how or with what object he knew not—and the only thing he understood thence was that he was dealing with the girl, the little sweet-sixteen, ravishing her, ravaging her ripeness, her mellow, untainted riches, harnessing her adolescence, her femininity, craving her, sinking deep into her . . .

And then there was fire.

And electricity.

He was ablaze.

At once.

“The second baptism by fire,” mused he, amused.

He could have lived in the forest and cut the tree his entire life, but he had to go home. He threw the branches over the grave, left.

III.

His children had returned from school and they rushed to him. The four of them, jolly little angels. He picked up the lastborn, tickled her, blew her belly, tossed her up three times, and then put her down. She went on to frolic about, chortling, beside herself with contented joy. The second lastborn tugged at his trouser and begged to be treated in the same way, which he did. The remaining two, ten and twelve, girl and boy, respectively, just stood by and watched with good-natured amusement. He rubbed their heads and flicked their cheeks. He then left them before they could be too close to smell the semen in his trouser. They still didn’t know what it was, but they would know someday—and woe unto him when they remembered.

“Where is your mother?” asked he; but he knew she was in the kitchen and he hurried to wash himself lest she should think he had been with another woman, something he had never done since marrying her. What had happened in the forest, him wanting to have sex with Kiri’s daughter, Gita, was merely an imprudent impulse turned sour, as most such impulses were apt to do. But what an experience it had been! Aha!

“A person needs experience,” his father had been known to say.

“Can I give you some experience?” he’d asked the girl but she had been stupid and threatened to report him to her father, who was his best friend and workmate. He had had no choices but to protect the friendship. It was a good friendship.

He washed also the clothes he had been wearing. When he came back out, he saw that his eldest son, Juma, had taken the axe and was swinging it at the mango tree by the house.

“Hey, put that back!” ordered he, frightened, his voice sharp. “You shouldn’t touch that by yourself; it is too sharp,” he added in a placatory tone. But what he meant was that it was a murderer’s axe. It had spilled the blood of a child they knew. Morris was still unsure whether Gita had cursed him with her last breath to have sex with trees or his discovery of the pleasure of cutting trees was just a serendipitous result of murdering her. Whichever it was, he didn’t want his son following suit.

“How was work?” Achi asked him over dinner.

“Fine,” said he, smiling at her. “And how was it at the market?”

“Fine,” she said, smiling back. “They are looking for Gita,” she added. “They said she came to the forest. Did you see her?”

“Yes. She was looking for her father,” Morris explained. “I told her to go ask Josi.”

“Josi?” asked Achi, frowning. “How is it so?”

Josi was their neighbour. He was also a thief. He stole chicken with a hook and a grain of maize attached to it, catching them like fish. His family was cursed, his elder brother being the one that slept with dead widows. He was a jailbird.

Achi loathed him. He stole her cock once and Morris had to go over and demand that he either paid or got killed for it. He had paid. But he had been shocked by Morris’ reasonableness and he had had to pay ten times the approximate cost. If it had been another family he’d have been dead by now. Most people across the village wanted a piece of Josi, a bloody piece of him for that matter, ripped from him, not cut. However, unbeknownst to them, Morris had intended to kill him that day. He had been fed up with Josi. It was one thing to be a declared thief; it was a different thing altogether to target your immediate neighbours. Only a foolish thief steals from his neighbour. And fools die fast.

“He has a tree he wants us to lumber for him. Kiri went to look at it,” Morris said.

“Then he must know where Gita is!” exclaimed Achi, rash in her conclusion, but who cared? It was best that way.

“He certainly does,” agreed her husband, who was full of secrets.

Around eight-thirty, Kiri came over to inquire concerning his daughter’s whereabouts. Morris directed him to Josi’s home.

By nine o’clock, there was a crazed blood-thirsty mob thronging the thief’s compound. By ten o’clock, he was dead, pounded, shredded, limb from limb, tissue from tissue, his head bashed in like a deflated football. Two dogs were fighting over his liver, another one dragged away his intestines, and a fourth licked his brain and ate whatever broke loose from it. His mother was wailing sick, his wife insane.

IV.

Afterwards, bored, there being no one else to murder, the crowd dispersed. It consisted mainly of young men from the village. Morris returned home with his wife by his side. He hadn’t personally touched Josi, though he didn’t feel bad about what he had done to him. The world was ugly and it was not his fault. He had found it so, and so he’d leave it. He thought people like Josi were as important to the society as were presidents and pastors. The world did not need justice or any of those things that were rammed down your throat every now and then. The world needed an enemy, somebody to collectively dislike, hate, revile, jeer at, and fear. Unity, justice, along with attendant virtues, would establish themselves once the enemy was known. The negative emotions were plentiful in the heart and more powerful than the positive ones; consequently, they needed to be expended often, even as the latter were retained. Where people had no adversary, they tended to turn on one another, or, worse, on themselves, which was the commencement of a societal fiasco. But they did not know this, and so they destroyed their adversaries and proclaimed victory. What victory? They were fools.

“If you kill him, how will you know where your daughter is?” Morris had asked Kiri.

“He killed her! I can feel it! He killed her!” Kiri had answered with passion, repeating himself like a dork.

“But don’t you want to find the body?”

“He buried it! I can feel it! He buried it!”

“What if he didn’t—if he just dumped it somewhere?”

“Then there will be a stink! We will find the stink!”

Morris had then watched as his best friend sicked young men to butcher innocent Josi. Kiri’s wife had been there, enraged, vengeful tears in her eyes, sicking her husband. She was a big ugly woman whose buttocks hung like two breasts. If she were Morris’ wife, he’d go mad and most likely die from thinking that she was married to him.

Night settled. A breeze blew. Cold and foul, ferrying the muted cries of the innocent dead. The voices of Josi’s mother and wife could be heard; they mourned like wolves.

While his family slept, Morris worked. He was a carpenter by night, a lumberjack, a charcoal trader, and an occasional hunter by day. He invested six hours of every night in carpentry, going to bed from around two when Achi was dead to the world. He had put up a house for Juma but turned it into a workshop, the child still too young. He was the only carpenter within a three-kilometre radius, which meant that the business was good and he could have made a decent living from it alone. However, he needed to work at night in order to avoid sleeping with his wife.

When he first saw Achi, she’d been one of those girls that made you wonder what they were doing on such a sickening planet as earth. She had been like a flower, a beautiful rose, growing amongst garbage; you could only gawk at her, popeyed and foolish, your breath gone, your lungs squeezing emptily, asking yourself how something like that could come out of something like this, yet unable to touch her, forbidden from her, for you were part of the garbage, you were waste, rotting wretchedly underneath her while she soared skywards undeterred, a blooming rose, and you became paranoid and irate at the world for mocking you like that, and you cursed God in your heart for being such a sadistic comedian as to tease you with a rose while you were dirt, even less than dirt: still, even as you craved for her, there was guilt in your heart, for you were loath to be the one to vitiate her, to introduce her to the corrupting aspect of this monstrosity called life; you wanted her as she was, with her freedom, beauty and purity, yet you wanted her for yourself. It hurt.

She had been such a woman. When she walked past, the whole world would consist only of her. Even Morris himself would cease to exist. It had taken him three years to get her to escort him up to their gate—only up to their gate. The first of those years had dragged by while he thought of something to say to her, even as jealousy jaundiced his mind of an imaginary opponent far much better than him sweeping her off to a faraway land; he would meet her and he’d freeze, speechless as a tree, dumb to the core of his soul, which was an awful thing to occur because the girls in the village regarded such behaviour unworthy of a man, a signification of inherent weakness, for they were too stupid to conceive of their very influence over you.

He married her, gifting her father enough for ten other girls. And he was happy; hell, he was the happiest, proudest man in the world, he was special, especially against his age mates like Kiri, who had married earlier, and whose wife’s mouth resembled the vagina of cow that has just given birth.

But life is a joke. A cruel joke. It is itself a living thing, working to stay alive, to survive and continue, its existence complete with duties and hobbies, its foremost hobby being to tease you with death by always sending you in the wrong direction, its duty to lavish you with pain so as to kill you.

Just when Morris’ head was the biggest in the world, his ego the size of an elephant, life decided to have its primary hobby on him: Josi, his thieving neighbour, got married. He married a pretty woman. Not as pretty as Achi, not even close by a thousand miles, but prettier than most other girls Morris had come across. Pretty enough, as a matter of fact, to make him wonder: “Why would a girl like that agree to marry a thief?”

After days of pondering over this question, he decided that the girl either did not know what Josi did for a living or, if she knew, did not care about it. She was in love with him. Morris wanted to accept the former reason (Josi had been such a man that if you asked him what he did for a living, he’d answer “I just live.”) but he convinced himself that the girl must surely know that Josi was a thief. Anybody who knew Josi knew also that he was a thief. He was built like a thief: tall, slender, long legs, long arms, long face, a suspicious disposition, and disconcertingly piercing eyes that constantly searched his surrounding, missing nothing. Which meant that the girl was in love with a thief and she knew it, which was odd, because there wasn’t enough love in the heart of a thief to inspire a reciprocating love.

With this disturbing conclusion, the matter would have nevertheless rested. But life wasn’t done yet with its hobby—is it ever done, anyway? Around that time, there was a story in the papers about a certain Miss Kenya who had married a politician—the very same politician who had afterwards incited an internecine war that had resulted in over a thousand deaths, with almost a million other Kenyans permanently dislocated from their homes. He had in person supplied the youth with the weapons for the massacre. Now, why would such an outstanding woman agree to marry such a devil? Morris worried.

“Achi, why do you love me?” he asked his wife one night in bed.

“I just love you,” she said.

“Is there no reason?” he pursued.

“What are you talking about? Do I need a reason to love my husband?” she replied and then squeezed tightly against him until his buttocks were on her pubic hair, her nipples pressed on his back, knees folded in his hams, arms around him.

She was happy. He was sad.

It meant that all his efforts were worthless. All the toil he had put in from the very first day he saw her, first in gaining her love and thereafter in making her happy, had gone unappreciated. It meant that he was not special after all. It pained him.

One day, while making love to her, he was struck by a ridiculous idea that it could have been somebody else doing what he was doing and she would not have minded. It could have been a thief or a homicidal politician, or the worst fool on the planet, but, still, she would not have minded. This thought scared him to hell and he rolled away from her, rejecting her for the first time in over ten years.

With time, the fear grew, and all his desire flew out the window. Not just for her, no, for any woman. It couldn’t be love if it depended on your capacity to please; anyone could please anyone if they wanted to. A thief could, or a wicked politician, or a witch. You couldn’t be made to work hard for three years to please a person who didn’t care about virtue. There had to be something more, a substance, a singularity, an eccentricity that couldn’t be found anywhere else on earth, except in you. Something, like a magnet, that drew the two of you—only the two of you—together from wherever you were. And once you met, you both felt the love without either of you having to say a thing, having to please. But there wasn’t.

Thenceforwards, Morris had elected to abstain from sex.

What had happened this evening in the forest with Gita had been a culmination of months of suppressed desire. Life is selfish; if you do not voluntarily obey its designs, it forces you to. It is sadistic. Despite his resolution, Morris had been no exempt from the tyranny of sexual appetencies. He’d attempted masturbation and succeeded twice. On the third occasion, however, he’d pictured himself naked with his penis in his hand, his face a perverted grimace, eyes shut, lips snarled, mind lost, a sad lonely man having sex with himself. A very unsettling picture indeed. To aggravate it, he had imagined God watching him at that very instant, seeing what he was doing and pointing a warning finger at him. He had never tried it again.

But now there were trees.

Tree Hugger.2.

V.

He went to bed after making two windows and repairing a sofa. His wife would give them out to the owners in the morning.

He slept.

In the morning, he returned to the forest and found Josi digging up the remains of Gita with a spade. He was bent awkwardly over the grave, his tall wiry form almost curled into a loop. He did not look up when Morris approached. “I know what you did,” he was saying. His voice was clogged with blood and it bubbled when he spoke. “I know what you did and they also will know it. I’m digging her out and I will show them what you did. What you did. What you did! Do you know what you did to me?” he asked and turned around, raising the spade as if ready to strike Morris with it. His face resembled the work of a blacksmith with a nasty case of nerves, all bashed in and deformed, as if with a sledgehammer. His forehead had burst and a white substance was oozing out of it. The crack zigzagged down his face along the ridge of his nose, splitting his jaws and shredding his lips, his teeth sticking out like nails. Moreover, his left eye was twisted and turned inwards, facing the right, while the right one was glaring straight ahead at Morris, sharp and fierce and bloodshot, unblinking, accusing as well. Morris ran from him but not so fast. He was whacked on the head with the spade and fell into the grave. Gita crawled out to allow him space. She was covered all over with grave-worms. She smiled at Morris, her eyes watery, her tongue blackened, her teeth looking like frozen droplets of pus, and said, “You can rape me now, Morris. I am much tastier now. Don’t you think?” But the top of her head had fallen off again and maggots swarmed what was left of her brain. One maggot rolled down and Morris watched it with terror as it began to crawl into his nose. He beat at it but it was too slippery and soft and quick and it had a motive. At the same time, Josi began to pound Morris’ head with the back of the spade in order to fit him into the grave . . .

VI.

Achi wakened him. He had been threshing about and groaning like a dying person.

He assembled his tools and left for the forest in a hurry, baffling his wife who was yet to start a fire for his breakfast. He told her he had business with a certain tree before the sun came up. Which really wasn’t a lie, though the first thing in his mind was to inspect the grave to ensure it had not been tampered with; wild animals might have dug up the body during the night. It must be what the dream had meant.

He was startled to meet with Kiri’s mother, Sida, at that hour. She was standing in the middle of the path. From her posture and disposition, she seemed to have been there for a very long time. She was seventy years old and wrinkled as if a large animal had eaten her and spat her out for being a witch. Her grandmother, Kiri’s great grandmother, had been a witch, and was the one that had cast a malevolent spell on Josi’s family. Morris wondered if Sida was a witch as well. Things like witchery ran in families.

“Too early, Sida,” he greeted, giving her a wide berth; but he’d startled her too and she goggled at him, wordless. He did not like her eyes, though; they were startled in a manner suggestive of a peculiar discovery. He imagined that she had come here to cast a spell in order to catch her granddaughter’s true killer. Maybe she had not believed that Josi had done it. Maybe she believed that a petty thief could not be a killer. And so she had cast a diabolical spell that the first person to come along would be the one. And Morris had just done so.

“A guilty conscience needs no accuser,” Morris sighed and went on.

He found the grave intact. No animals had come by it, no footprints. He exhaled deeply, his shoulders dropping, and was surprised by how tense he had been. He climbed the anthill and broke a quarter of it from the top, rolled it carefully onto the grave. The aardvark must have eaten the queen, for all the ants had migrated. Next, he squatted and took a fresh crap beside the previous one, stationing another monstrous guard, as rank and vile as the evilest thing. It was funny how everybody loved good food yet the stomach abused it so.

Done, he went to his tree. “My tree,” mused he, feeling ridiculous, nevertheless happy. He lopped off two branches for two mighty orgasms, resting in between, each time hugging the tree like a lover. He rested awhile afterwards before moving to the side of the forest where Gita had found him the previous day. He had felled some trees there that needed to be turned into logs. Kiri would bring some bulls with him to ferry them home to be made into timber.

Morris worked for five hours nonstop before going back to his girlfriend (girlfriend?). In that duration, the sound of his chainsaw drowned out everything else, yet he never for a single second let go of her (her?) memory. When he felt the need, he took the axe and went to her, to be with her. He ejaculated less and less with each destroyed branch, and it was good. The less the ejaculate, the headier the orgasm. It was a sweet pain, intense and rich, the best thing in life, yet pain could not be absent from it. “The monster loves pain,” mused he, amused. He wondered what Achi would do if she found out that he was cheating on her with a tree. Would she feel pain? Would she be jealous of a tree? Ha-ha!

Over the course of the next week, he annihilated his girlfriend, chopped off all her arms and legs. In the last days of her life, he climbed her, for her last arms were too high for him. When she was no longer beautiful and productive, he used her to burn charcoal.

He was saddened by the loss and he mourned for some time. It had been a good tree. His father used to say that the surest measure of a good thing is how much you wish to destroy it: “If you can’t help destroying it, then it is good. It is requisite. People destroy what is good them.” Which meant that people destroyed themselves, which was an irony, because people thought they were saving themselves when destroying things. Anyway, at first, Morris thought that the tree’s ability to grant orgasms was unique to her; he was soon proven wrong when he discovered that others of different tribes (tribes?) possessed the quality, even better. He’d never been gladder.

He learned that trees gave orgasms freely. When he saw a tree, he thought of sex. And he wanted to cut it down. When a different person was doing the job, he felt jealous. It was a chance for good sex going to waste. He thought the man such an imponderable fool and resented him. He made a deal with Kiri to be the one felling all the trees while he, Kiri, only converted them into transportable logs. Kiri did not mind.

Morris felled so many trees, burned so much charcoal, sawed so many planks of timber that he had a stock like never before in his career. He was unshaken of the Ministry of the Environment, whose officials believed that they could save the world by torturing people almost to death. They did not understand that the relationship between humans and the environment depended on the relationship between humans and one another. No one could save anything in this world by hurting people. The world was people. But that was what they did. They were fools.

Morris had found pleasure in work, a pleasure like no other. And nothing would take it away from him. Some people took pride in their jobs and boasted about it to the world; well, they were lucky they had never met him, or heard of him. He would have told them a different story and they would have shut up in shame and begged to join him. It was ironic that he had had to kill a little girl in order to discover something so potent and supreme yet to which the world was still blind. The irony was insignificant, though, since irony was just one of life’s sadistic hobbies. He was a pioneer. He was a trailblazer. He was the husband of all trees.

VII.

One afternoon, when they had taken a break for lunch and settled down under a tree for it, Kiri advanced the issue of his friend’s newfound vigour.

“You are too happy and strong these days,” said he, casual.

“I didn’t know that I was too sad and weak before,” replied Morris. He was crushing a small bone with his teeth while Kiri was peeling a slice of pawpaw and mixing the peels with those of the boiled potatoes he had eaten. The mixture was repulsive. The pawpaw was overripe and looked like yellow diarrhoea. The food had been brought by Abela, Kiri’s wife, who was a better cook than Achi. Achi was all beauty and bad food. Morris did not hate her for it, though. No one could be too thin or too fat. When something was added, another was taken away, and vice versa. It was how it worked. Nature was fair.

“That’s not what I meant,” Kiri said.

“It is what you said, or didn’t say,” Morris told him.

“The thing is, while you’re too happy and strong your wife seems too sad and lonely.”

“How do you know that?” Morris blared, startling Kiri, who then smeared the pawpaw all over his lips, nose, moustache, and cheek. Morris sat upright, his face rigid.

“Hey!” cried Kiri in complaint. “Don’t do that! Don’t shout!” He was speaking with the yellow diarrhoea pawpaw in his mouth so that his tongue looked like an enormous red maggot writhing in it. “It is apparent,” he went on after calming down. “A sad lonely woman is just as noticeable as a happy strong man.”

“Why do you look at my wife with the intention of judging her like that, huh? Why do you examine how lonely she feels—do you want her?”

“That’s not what I meant,” Kiri reasoned. He was wiping the pawpaw from his face with his shirt.

“You are perverting everything I say,” he added.

“I’m not perverting anything! I never speak of your wife like that. Because, if I did, I’d tell you to squeeze her breasts till they shrink to ordinary size—those nasty whopping tanks of baby-milk containers!”

Kiri got up so fast Morris readied for attack. But he only took his axe and walked away with it towards the belly of the forest.

“You eat my wife’s food and insult her like that!” he shouted once over his shoulder, his voice strained, incensed.

Morris did not care.

When Kiri was angry with people he could not bring himself to hurt, he took a walk. He had learnt that from living with Abela, who could drive you so mad that you wished to break her neck every single day. Instead, he chose to walk until the vindictiveness wore itself out. When he couldn’t walk, maybe due to the alterations in the weather or some other reason, he did something that required extreme exertion, like chopping firewood, logging, digging, etc. It helped to refresh him.

He walked now. He was filled with outrage. It was one thing to tell a man that his wife seemed lonely; it was an entirely different thing to insult his wife to his face. Like what Morris had done. It was disrespectful. It was evil. At one time, he’d thought that Morris was his best friend, a true friend. Morris had had good Christian parents who had instilled a sense of responsibility in him (as opposed to Kiri, whose father had been a chronic drunk that battered his wife like a snake). He had dropped out of high school but almost everybody did that in these parts. Still, he was better than most other people across the village: he neither drank nor smoked and did not quarrel with his family or cheat on his wife. He also worked very hard—and honestly—for his family. Kiri had thought there couldn’t be a better friend.

He doubted that now. Morris had changed lately. The way he insisted on felling all the trees by himself, for one, and the way he didn’t like Kiri to watch him while he worked. One time Kiri had arrived at the forest before him and decided to clear some trees so that Morris would have an easier task. It was what workmates were for: to lighten work for one another. Instead, when Morris arrived, he had been vicious. “Don’t you ever do my work for me again!” he’d warned, his voice laden with contemptuous hate, his eyes shiny, vacant.

Kiri had decided that true friendship was in fact rarer than true love. The whole world bemoaned true love, speaking of heartbreaks, of lies, of pain and disillusionment, yet true friendship was nonexistent. If there were true friendship, there would be true love. But they thought they had found true love because they were horny and deluded and terrified; sooner or later, though, they wished they had first been true friends.

Kiri walked. He crossed deep into the forest where trees were tall and sunlight did not reach the ground. The floor was almost clear, the undergrowth stunted. Here and there, climbing plants wound their way up the big trees. It was still.

Baba!

He thought he heard a whisper. A young girl’s whisper to her father. He looked around but there was nobody else. It was also hard to pinpoint from which direction it came. It was carried in the wind. He walked on.

Baba!

Again. He stopped. This part of the forest was scarcely visited. The trees were protected by the government and the officials from the Department of Forestry were nothing less than pissed off black mambas. If they found you here, logging or not, they flogged you without pity and made you carry a huge log by yourself to the main road, which was miles away, before taking you to prison.

Baba!

Kiri listened. He thought the voice was familiar. Ah! Strange.

It was coming from the opposite edge of the forest where trees were shorter and the undergrowth was a little more prolific.

He went to investigate.

But there was nobody. Just a broken anthill and some branches piled near it. He waited for the voice to repeat but it didn’t. For a second there, he’d thought it belonged to Gita. How strange. Guilt, he decided. The guilt of failing his daughter’s security and also not retrieving her body for proper burial. Morris might have been right: maybe her remains had been discarded somewhere to rot forever and become plant food. Or maybe it had been chopped up to bits and fed to dogs so that there was nothing left to stink and draw attention. He had been impetuous, reckless, and he did not deserve to be forgiven.

He climbed the anthill, about four and half feet of it, and paused at the very top, adding his own five feet eleven inches to it so that he towered beyond ten feet. It felt good to be up there, so lofty and proud, the air cooler, fresher, filtered by the numerous trees. He saw the villages far beyond the slope of the forest, iron sheets sparkling in midday sun. The sky was a vast blue canopy, cloudless and pure. His eyes swept through the forest, saw no one.

Baba!

It came from directly below him. He saw a footprint, then two, hidden by the branches; he recognized the patterns, gumboots, Morris’ gumboots. Morris had relieved himself there, not too long ago. He’d then concealed his excrement with several branches. Why? Why here? Why come this far?

There is something under this anthill, decided Kiri.

He climbed down, cleared the branches and the faeces, and began digging with the axe. After a few strokes, he prepared a stake and used it to dig, the axe being inefficient. He scooped away loose soil with his hands.

And what he found! Oh, what he found there!

He slumped down, unable to rise. He was in hell.

“Oh Gita!” moaned he.

Several minutes passed before he could focus.

Kikulacho ki nguoni mwako, he reflected, which was Kiswahili for That which eats you is within your clothes. Your worst enemy is the closest to you and will hide in the last place you will ever look.

“Oh Morris, why? Why?”

Kill him, thought he. Kill him now!

He got up.

VIII.

Morris had taken advantage of Kiri’s absence to have sex with a tree. He knew Kiri had gone too far; Kiri liked long walks when he was furious. The tree was coming down and Morris was coming with it. The crack, the creak, and the whoosh—like a groan, a moan, and a sigh—turned him on beyond hope, and he exploded forth, like thunder, squirting semen in his underwear like a teenager undergoing wet dreams.

He turned to dispose of the saw, which was still running, but then . . . Oh, shit! Shit! He collided with Kiri, who had been rushing towards him with his axe poised as if for attack, his face all fire and brimstone. “What are you doing?” Morris wanted to ask but he could not speak because of the orgasm which was shaking him out of control, unable to stop the saw. It was tearing Kiri’s insides to shreds.

He stopped it when he could, by which time there was a gaping hole through Kiri’s stomach to his back, his ribs shattered, lungs torn, and intestines hanging loose. He was looking accusingly at Morris, wanting to say something, yet no breath. He fell.

Morris was transfixed by what he’d done. He stood over the body, goggling at it. “What is this?” asked he, when he could, his mind whirling. Of all people, how could he kill Kiri? And what had Kiri been thinking coming too close to him like that? This was ugly. This was irreparably ugly.

Abela was still giving birth, being too stupid to stop by herself. And Kiri hadn’t wanted to discuss it with her, for fear of her unstoppable corrosive mouth. She had six children, her lastborn barely three months old. She was also lazy, a slumbering housewife, unlike Achi who ran a charcoal and timber depot at the market. Now Abela was a widow, thanks to Morris . . . and when she died . . . aha! When she died Josi’s brother would sleep with her, appalling as she was when alive. What about when she was dead? She’d be bloated and putrid, her breasts bursting like overripe pawpaw, tumbling down her chest . . . but he would still sleep with her.

Morris flinched at this idea. Without Kiri, Abela’s life would be horror, and would end with the most gruesome horror.

But Morris could not help with any of it. Done was done, and the dead . . . The dead are better than the living, his father had said after his mother’s funeral. We do not mourn that they are dead. We mourn that we are yet living. We mourn ourselves.

With this memory recalled, Morris stopped regretting Kiri’s death. Kiri was better now. He’d no longer have to put up with his shrewish wife, for one. Now all Morris had to do was . . . He saw that Kiri’s hands and boots were coated with red soil—the soft kind that could only be found at an anthill. So that was it. Kiri had found the anthill and dug up the grave. How had he found it? But that was neither here nor there. What disturbed Morris was that . . .

“He was coming to kill me!” he said aloud with astonishment. “He was coming to axe me but I sawed him first. How timely the orgasm! Thanks to my tree. Thank you all the trees. I love you all. You’ve just saved my dear life.”

And he was glad that he had found the singular treasure in the trees. He would never stop.

Still, “Death and burial are like fire and smoke: you cannot have the one without the other,” said he, quoting his father. He had to dispose of the body. But he couldn’t dig a grave. It would arouse suspicion. There also were no more aardvark burrows in the vicinity. What would he do?

“Charcoal,” said he, musing. He would chop up the body and use it to burn charcoal.

IX.

An hour later he was done. He had heaped enough wood over the pieces to burn for ten days. The kiln looked like a small house. His customers would be inhaling the fumes of Kiri’s remains from that charcoal. He couldn’t wait to give it to them.

In the evening, he returned Abela’s utensils with which she had brought them lunch.

“Where is Kiri?” inquired she.

“He’s gone to Medi,” Morris said.

“What for?”

“To buy things, of course! What do people do at Medi?”

“That fool!” she swore. “He didn’t tell me about it! I could have sent—”

But Morris did not wait to listen to the rest.

In the morning, she came to his house while he was sharpening his axe. Her face was puckered with worry and she looked most unlovely.

“He didn’t come back,” she reported.

“He will come back,” he assured.

“But he didn’t!”

“He will.”

She left with a melancholy sigh.

At midday, she came to the forest with lunch.

“Have you seen him?” asked she.

“No.”

“Where did he go?”

“He went to Medi.”

“Ah!”

She was about to cry. He could see her bosom heaving heavily. It was like her buttocks when she walked in front of you.

In the evening, she was waiting for him. He saw that she’d been crying, her face puffed, her eyes red.

“Is he back?”

“No.”

“Now where is this Kiri?”

“I don’t know.”

“But he didn’t say he’d go anywhere after work. He always says.”

“He always says because if he doesn’t you fight with him,” Morris told her, hard. “You are stark raving mad and you drove him insane too. As a matter of fact, he told me that one day he’ll just walk away and never come back. And nobody will ever know where he’s gone. You made him do it, and do not bother me anymore.”

She broke down with mourns and ululations, yelping like a wounded dog. She was the epitome of desolation and misery.

X.

But somebody knew what Morris had done.

After two episodes of orgasmic ecstasy for “Good morning, my lovely darling trees”, he began preparing the previous day’s logs for towing. It was a slow laborious work and he was thinking that he had better get a new workmate soon or he’d die of exertion when he became aware of eyes on him. He was being watched. He rose, twirled around, and there, three metres from him, was Kiri’s mother, Sida. She was composed and unmoving as though she’d been there since the day before. So close, it chilled him.

“What are you doing here?” asked he. She had come too far from home though she was as ancient as the Pharaohs. She was bent at the waist as if she wanted to pick something from the ground.

“Your colour is growing darker and darker,” she said in her rasping, phlegm-coated voice. “I know what you do to the trees. I have seen you with my eyes.”

He was unable to speak.

“The trees are whispering about you,” continued she. “They are crying. They hate you. They are cursing. They call you an abomination.”

“Go away!” he squealed, but he himself stepped back from her. He was shaking and he did not like his voice. It was hollow. Like a damaged reed. He was piping.

“And you killed them,” declared she. “You killed my Kiri and my Gita. You killed them both. I saw you in my mirror. I saw what you wanted to do with Gita, who was named after my mother. She took after my mother. But you killed her! You wanted to rape my mother and you killed her!” she barked suddenly and Morris jumped back again. Her withered, grotesque form reminded him of the monsters he’d imagined as a child.

“I should have yelled at you that morning. I knew what you’d done. I should have told the world what you’d done and saved my son. But I doubted my findings because I thought you were a good man, Morris son of Gogo. You were friends with my Kiri from the time you were children. I attended to you when your mother was away. What spirit has stolen into your heart? I looked again in my mirror today. And I saw you.”

She is a witch, affirmed he. He had been right about her that morning when he found her standing on the path. She had cast a spell for Gita’s murderer to come forth. He should finish her now before she cursed him. She had a malevolent curse with her, like the one her grandmother had imprecated on Josi’s family so that Josi’s elder brother slept with dead widows. Her curse would never relent; it would follow his lineage forever, right from Juma to the very last one, passed on like a genetic anomaly. He picked up the axe.

She did not move. Nor was there fear in her eyes—her squinty, rheumy eyes.

“Take one step towards me with that thing and I will turn your children into weeds!” she barked.

He took the step, paused.

“I will turn your children into weeds!” yelled she.

He approached her head-on.

“I will turn your children into weeds! I will turn your children into weeds! I will—”

He stuck the axe to her forehead, quieting her instantly. The impact shook his arm and warm blood splashed his face.

Another one for his charcoal.

XI.

When he got home at sunset, Juma ran to him.

“Baba, Sida was here. She was looking for you.”

Morris stopped dead.

“When?” was all he could ask. There was a cold thing in his stomach. It was churning and making him sick. He had killed Sida in the morning when Juma was in school.

“Just now,” Juma said. “She was dancing at the door with her stick and puffing red dust into the house.”

Morris looked for Achi, who was in the kitchen.

“Did you see Sida?” he asked.

“Only when she’d left,” she replied. “I was in here when she came. I heard her, but she was gone before I could come out. I saw her figure receding towards her home.”

“I must go see her, then,” Morris decided. He wanted a confirmation. Surely, the witch was dead. He had split her head in two.

“Don’t!” Achi snapped, who scarcely raised her voice.

“Why?”

“I don’t like that woman. And I don’t like what the children said she did at our door. Besides, if she had business with you, she’d have told me about it.”

Morris did not go, though it did not lessen his tension and terror. Pieces of Sida’s corpse were right now smouldering to ashes in a kiln up in the forest.

He woke up at dawn from a dream in which his wife and children had become weeds crying to him to save them from the chicken that were eating them in the garden, while across from him, he could see Sida’s silhouette croaking a jeering chant and pointing her walking stick at him: “I turned your children into weeds! I turned your children into weeds . . .

He sat upright, wet with sweat. And noticed that Achi was not beside him . . .

“Achi! Achi!” he screamed, running out in his underpants. “Achi!

But she was in the garden behind the kitchen. “What is it?” she asked.

“What are you doing out here at this time?”

“I dreamt that my children were weeds and they disappeared here.” She pointed at the garden.

“Where are they?” Morris asked. He was going mad.

“They are sleeping,” Achi said.

Relief. A surge of relief. He exhaled so deeply his wife frowned at him.

“What is wrong, Morris?” she asked, studying him. “I have been meaning to ask you for a long time now. You are different. You are a foreigner.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he told her.

“Even your dreams have changed. It is all nightmares now. Something is chasing you in the dark and you know what it is. What were you dreaming just now?”

“Nothing about you.”

“What did Sida want here? Where is Kiri?”

“I have neither answers,” he said. “However, I can go ask Sida for you what she wanted here. I’m going.”

He dressed and left. He was unafraid. The witch was dead, wasn’t she? Her whole face had shattered like glass from the impact of the axe.

Her door was ajar but the inside was dark and featureless. He had an instant to consider that door and discover that an open door is in fact scarier than a closed one. He did not want to go in.

“Sida!” he called out. “Sida! Sida!”

But she is dead, thought he. What am I doing? I should just go in. There is nobody.
He started to go in, but then . . .

Whoosh!

Movement. Behind him. He spun around like a wheel, emitting a breathless shriek. A single squirt of urine leaked into his underwear. It felt like an ejaculation.

There was something. But it was . . . What the hell is that thing? . . . a small tree? A shrub? A weed? Maybe a person squatting with a big weed on his back, squatting right there in front of Sida’s house where there had been nothing before. But it couldn’t be a person. It had no arms, no legs, or head; it was full of leaves, a plant, a weed, perhaps with fibrous roots and . . . It moved.

It moved!

Morris ran. He ran like a crazy man. And the thing charged him.

He ran towards his home but, somehow, in that frenzy of terror and panic, decided not to lead his pursuer to his family. He took the path that led to the hill. He could hear the thing close behind. No footsteps, no breath, just leaves, branches, vibrating, susurrating and whooshing in the wind.

He kicked a rock and flew, landed on his belly hard enough to think it had cracked. The thing fell on his back. It was a plant. Nothing human about it. Morris cried out once but leaves filled his mouth, tendrils tightened around his neck, and branches crucified both his arms and legs to the ground. And there was something in his trouser, a cold, wormy thing, wriggling in the crack of his buttocks, seeking his anus. It slithered up his rectum. Up up up. A new breed of terror seized him, murderous and deranged, and he fought without thought, only to get out alive. But he was overpowered by his rapist.

Thereafter, he recalled nothing more.

XII.

“There is something in our garden. It is talking,” Juma said. The poor boy was in shock. He had arrived nearly flying and alarmed Abela herself.

“What is it?” Abela asked, touching his head to comfort him.

“I don’t know. There are voices, and they are saying ‘Juma, help us! Juma, help us!’”

“Where is your mother and sisters?”

“I don’t know. There is nobody at home.”

“I’m coming with you,” Abela decided.

“I’m not going back!” the boy cried and cringed from her.

“Okay, you just stay here. I will go and look.”

Abela left her home for Morris’. When she reached, she was greeted by quietness. It was rather too early for Achi to have left for the market. The sun was yet to rise and as usual she should be preparing children for school while Morris prepared his tools. It seemed he too had left.
“Achi!” Abela called out. “Morris! Achi!”

When there was no response, she repeated their names. Still, nobody answered. Yet for some odd reason, Abela felt as though somebody was watching her. The door was open and she went into the house. But it was empty. The beds were unmade, which surprised Abela, knowing how neat Achi was. Maybe one of the girls had fallen sick and Morris and Achi had to rush them to the hospital. But how could three girls become sick all at once? That too was odd.

Anyway, Abela decided to leave. She had her own Kiri to worry about and nobody was on her side. Everybody said she was to blame for his disappearance.

“Abela!” The voice was from the garden by the kitchen. It was Achi’s voice.

“Achi!” Abela replied and went that way. At last there they are, thought she. But when she went behind the kitchen there was no one.

“Achi!” she called again, searching.

“We are here!” the voices cried. “We are weeds! We are weeds! We are—”

There were four alien plants strewn at random at Abela’s feet. Each about a foot high, they had black stems and branches but ashy leaves and gray sooty flowers shaped like mouths and ears. They were speaking.

Abela shrilled and took off, leaping away like a wild animal, overtaken by superstitious terror. She weighed over two hundred pounds but at that moment it was her life at stake and the weight did not encumber her.

Word soon spread around the villages and people came to witness the talking weeds for themselves. No one, however, left Morris’ home happy with the testimony; they all left tongue-tied, their hearts weighed down with terror. Some of them ran to their pastors and preachers; others to witch doctors. A woman, who had come by herself, had a heart attack, though mild, and had to be lifted away. It was an unspeakable thing, what they had witnessed. But people are puzzling creatures and many others kept coming. In the end, the stream dwindled until only children came by sometimes to scare one another. Morris’ home became desolated. Weeds swallowed it. The voices moaned and mourned at the passersby, forcing them to change route.

Juma went to live with his uncle. He dropped out of school because students would not stop making derisive jokes at him. They mimicked his mother and sister’s voices crying in the garden and wished him to become a weed as well.

“Your mother is calling to you. Why did you abandon her?” one would say.

“One day you will wake up and you will be a plant too!” another would say.

“Today after school, I am taking my goat to eat your mother!” yet another.

“How do you think it would taste if their leaves were boiled as vegetable?” yet another.

He couldn’t stand it.

When he was fifteen, he took up his father’s job. He had an axe and a chainsaw. The saw was unwieldy at first but there were older school dropouts with whom to handle it. Ten years later, when he had a wife, a son, and a daughter, he discovered, by a kind of warped serendipity, really—he never had to kill a little girl for it—the pleasure only his father had known. He became married to the trees . . . and polygamously so!
He had been spared for a purpose after all.

XIII.

Several days later . . .

The sun. The glaring flaring flaming orb hanging, as if by magic, above the earth but never quite falls down on it. It shines into his bones. It infuses his flesh. He is fascinated by it and can look up at it forever without shielding his eyes. It permeates his body, even his eyes, to the very last cell and he’s convinced that he lives only by virtue of its existence. He is stark naked and can feel it piercing him, probing his vitals, diffusing. The sensation bites, tingles, thrills feverishly. It is bracing. And something happens in him. Something is happening to him. A change. A great unalterable change. There is a seed in him. He is becoming.

Water. He needs abundant water to go with the sun. It is the reason he elects to return home. He is parched to the bone; the change he experiences exhausts his water reservoir too fast and he needs a constant undiminished replenishment. He recalls his home and walks in the direction. On the way, he happens on a puddle. It is milky brown and thick and shiny at the top. Mosquito larvae swim in it, dead houseflies float on it, and tiny insects jump off when he approaches. He steps into it with his bare feet without knowing why, without anticipating the act. He waits for something to occur. When nothing does, he lies down on his stomach and drinks it all like a cow.
He is eating the mud and crushing earthworms with his teeth when he feels the ground vibrating and looks up. But the man is still too far away to be seen. He is a big man and makes the ground vibrate too much. Morris runs and crouches behind a brush. He can see the man but he cannot be seen.

“Morris! Morris!” the man shouts, looking here and there. When there is no response, he sighs, “Ah! I thought I saw him coming this way!”

He is carrying a machete and it sends chills down Morris’ spine. The man can cut him with that. It’s what humans do. They cut you. Humans are no good for the trees. You give them shade and fruits and flowers, and, most importantly, oxygen; you purify their air, which they continuously fill with enough toxins to wipe them out, and when you’re dead, you give them wood for fire; but all they do is cut. Cut and cut and cut. They think you do not feel pain. They think they know and understand. How can you not feel pain when you grow and excrete and heal your wounds? The old humans understood and made buildings with rocks that have lasted to date; the new ones think they understand and marvel at the buildings while making love to the trees with sharpened blades. They won’t rest until you’re broken and dead. But they burn their rubbish, and hide their faeces, and bury their corpses too deep in coffins that do not rot, or cremate them and sprinkle the ashes in the sea, so that trees do not benefit from humans at all. Humans are a curse to the trees. When you see one, take off if you can. But there is no way to take off when you are a tree. There is a joke that trees tell themselves to mock their situation. It goes like this: “Why do humans worship Jesus? Because he was a carpenter!”

When the intruder is gone, Morris darts back into the hill. He must keep away from humans. He searches for water and hastens further and further into the forest until he finds a dank place that never dries. It smells rich and sweet and he feeds without a thought to spare. The corruption, the putrescence, the death—it fills him; he converts death back to life; he consumes the perversion of time and rejuvenates earth. He is the resurrection. He is the life after death.

But he needs the sun and he must move while he still can. The seed is growing and soon he will not be able to move. As he hurries downhill, a bird lands on his shoulder. He is fascinated and he doesn’t send it away. He likes it right where it is. It is beautiful and alive, and when it speaks, its voice is mellow and pure, healthier than anything in his memory. “Is it going to rain soon?” it asks. “No,” he says. “Will there be an earthquake any soon?” “No.” “Are there any eagles, kites, or snakes nearby?” “There is a black mamba in that tree yonder, and a kite has a nest in the fifth one north of it,” he says and points at both trees. “Do you think I should build my nest around here?” “If you can put it very high,” answers he. “I cannot put it very high,” says the bird. “I am a small bird. I must look for a new place. But thank you so much. You have helped me so,” it adds and flies away happily. He is full of wonder. He is knowledgeable without trying. He knows the language of the birds, of the trees, of everything. He has acquired the memory of trees. Trees know multitudes of things. They know all the history of the world. The seed has imbued him with knowledge.

He stops near a broken anthill. He can feel the sun. There is also a good smell and he searches for it. It emanates from a human corpse buried (or inserted, really) in an aardvark burrow. It invites him. His first real meal will be a human corpse. Now isn’t that something? He climbs onto it and becomes very still. He waits for something to happen.

Time . . .

Then something happens. The transformation begins. His toes burst and roots emerge forth from them. It pains him but the process is essential. His feet become the main roots from which the small ones break out. His legs fuse, thighs clamp tightly, as if glued by God or the Devil, and his genitals vanish. Ribs shatter and rejoin, bones coalesce, melt, and stiffen, spine stretches straight like a rod, skin hardens, spreads, and covers his face, teeth rattle, break, and fall out of his mouth, jaws merge in perfect stillness, and his arms become branches, facing the sun. His hair, ears and fingers become shoots, and up they shoot.

For months, he is in so much pain he cannot help screaming. He wants to scratch somewhere but there is no way to do it. He weeps nonstop.

Then the pain goes.

He has become . . . IT

But it can still see!

***

Several years later . . .

It sees the young man coming and recognizes him at once. So grown is he, so robust. Just like the father before. But there is a corruption about him. He is rank with perversion. And he walks like a wicked man. He is carrying an axe. It gleams in the sun like a serpent’s tongue. It makes the leaves curl in fear and the roots moan with dismay. He comes too close and climbs the father. The father screams for him to stop. The father senses what he is about to do. His eyes say it all. And the front of his trouser is bulging forth as if with a potato. The father screams abomination. He wails. But humans do not hear what trees say. Humans think trees do not talk. Juma therefore continues to climb undeterred, and when he is satisfied with the height, he ensconces himself and begins to lop off a branch. His axe is sharper than a witch’s razor and his excitement grows with each strike. He is frantic when the branch breaks, and he clinches the father in a violent embrace, shrieking like a barbaric thing. The father, racked by pain and horror, wishes the world would come to an end right away . . .

—The End—

I.

At six o’clock, her usual time, Laurie locked the house and began running. The evening was warm, though the sun had sunk and darkness was quickly diffusing around. It was November and nights began slightly earlier than usual.

She was going to run four kilometres around the estate, starting left on Elgeyo Road for about five hundred metres, a kilometre on Kilimani Road, two more on Kirichwa and Muringa Roads respectively before returning to Elgeyo for the last half kilometre. It was Sunday, the best day to run on Nairobi’s narrow roads; traffic was thin and there were few pedestrians to be bumped and dodged. She maintained a moderate speed, though she could run faster. Twice she had done it in less than thirty minutes, and Jowe had asked her if she was planning to compete in the Olympics, else she didn’t have to try to kill herself if she was running for leisure. She needed only to keep a steady pace, build stamina, he’d said. But steady pace meant that she would finish in about forty minutes. Not that it was too bad. She would have plenty of time to freshen up before he even showed up from Karen.

She ran. A small svelte girl, twenty-eight, five-four, brown hair, grey eyes, shapely, firm, fit as a fiddle. And she had great legs, her virtues, trimmed by dedicated exercise. Jowe had told her she had the best legs he’d ever seen, the finest in the world. “The best thing is that you know how to take care of yourself, and that in taking care of yourself, you take care of me. I do not know what’s better than that,” he’d said, enthusiastic, his voice booming.

She ran. She liked to think that she ran for him, that in running for him, she ran for herself. It was a good thought, lovely. It invigorated her.

Shadows pooled around her. Darkness gathered like a fabric. Vehicles now turned on their headlights. Pedestrians vanished one by one. Over her headphones, an overplayed collection of Mazzy Star played to the beat of her feet.

She was almost done with Kilimani Road, its intersection with Kirichwa Road coming up about ten or so metres ahead, when she ran into somebody. She bumped him hard and was thrown back in surprise and shock, her arms thrashing about uselessly, legs wobbling, body tilting. She was certainly going to hit the ground. But the man grabbed her arm, steadied her.

“Thanks,” she said, flushed, taking off the headphones, catching her breath, trying to smile at him. “And sorry I knocked you,” she added light-heartedly, although she felt that he should have been the one to apologize, and that she was really the one who had been knocked. He had been standing on her path. He must have seen her coming. She hadn’t seen him. It was as if he hadn’t been there at all. But he was too big to miss and it wasn’t yet too dark. Perhaps she had been too preoccupied.

His face was dispassionate, untouched by her smile and apology. He was still holding her arm and she gave it a small jerk to give him the signal that it was time to release it. She did not want to appear rude. However, he did not release it. She tried again. No.

She looked up at his impersonal face and tried to smile instead of screaming. She said, “You are gripping my arm, sir,” and chuckled uneasily. When he seemed not to have heard her, she said, “Is there a problem, sir?” Her words came out with a slight tremor, betraying the turmoil building inside her. She was beginning to feel that the situation was wrong. Perhaps she hadn’t bumped him by accident. Perhaps he had been waiting for her. The way he had just materialized out of nowhere like a spook. Where had he come from, anyway? Certainly he had not been there seconds before she collided with him.

“There is no problem, Laurie,” he said in a voice so deep it startled her.

He knows my name! she thought wildly. Terror flared up in her like a matchstick.

“How do you know my name?” she cried and twisted her arm.

“Is it a secret?” mocked he. “We all know your name, Lauren Sanders.”

And now Laurie fought to free herself. She yanked, twisted, and kicked with all her might, screaming “Let go! Let go of me! Let go of me! What do you want?”

But the man was gigantic. He was like the trolls from The Lord of the Rings: towering height and massive limbs, muscles jutting out like rocks, solid as a column. Laurie’s struggles did not even shake him; she was weightless in his grip; she was like an insect buzzing its wings to be freed from the hand of a human.

The section of the road was flanked by tall buildings on either side. Usually there were guards at the gates. But not today—not today of all days when Laurie needed them to be there the most! How wicked! She was suddenly struck by a chilling revelation that you were always alone; no matter how many people were on earth, you were always alone; when tragedy visited, when your death came, it always found you alone and unguarded. It wanted you, only you, and alone you’d go, as alone you had come.

The pedestrians had vanished as if swept onto another road; the vehicles had stopped passing, as if consciously avoiding Laurie’s trouble.

“Get in the car, Laurie,” the man directed.

Car? He wanted her in a car! He was kidnapping her! He was abducting her right here on open road between residential buildings! She screamed for help. She screamed with desperation and madness.

Needless to say, no help came. But even worse was that her kidnapper did not flinch at her screams. He let her scream all she wanted.

Then it occurred to her. There was no car. There were no cars anywhere on the road. What car had he mentioned, then? Maybe he didn’t mean to abduct her. Maybe he just wanted to see what she would do. Or maybe he had parked at a different place and was planning to drag her there. She would not let him. She would continue to fight all the way, and if she got the slightest chance, she would outrun him. She could run like the wind if situation called for it. He was too enormous to catch up with her even if she did not put in full speed. Besides, if he dragged her along and she kept fighting, somebody would happen by and see them. Surely the whole world couldn’t just disap . . .

And then there was a car. Right beside them was a car. A Mercedes Benz W222 S600, brand new, immaculately white and sleek, with tinted windows and . . .

And it wasn’t supposed to be there. It hadn’t been there. There was no way it could be real.

What was going on? While Laurie’s mind reeled from too many strange inputs and too many questions, while terror bored at her bones like a ravenous worm and her heart squeezed erratically like a broken pump, she was carried up like a child and tossed into the waiting car.

II.

She was instantly assailed by the stink of rotting meat. She gasped it in—gulped it down, actually—and was unable to breathe again. It drew tears from her eyes and she yelped, shrieked, gagging, choking, feeling as if her throat had been cut, her lungs afire, her mind foggy, swirling; in her disorientation she did not see the three men inside the vehicle. She fought to get back out, kicking and wriggling her small body in the crack between the troll and the door. She almost made it; she was agile and crazed. The troll was either two slow or he had determined that she could not escape and thus relaxed. When he saw her scrambling out, he rushed to shut the door, but her legs were pressed against it and she pushed hard. It banged on his knees and he moved off a little. And—bless heaven!—her legs were out. On the ground! Now all she had left to do was pull her torso out of the car and take off like the wind. Run as if there was a nuclear shockwave after her.

But bad things happen to good people. And no objectives are ideally fulfilled. In the decisive split second when Laurie’s right hand was holding the door back from closing on her while the left pressed against the back of the driver’s seat for support, propelling her forwards, something bit her. Teeth!—she felt teeth!—a row of warm, sharp, hideous canines digging ferociously into her left arm. It stung like nothing else she had ever experienced, and she retracted her arm without really thinking about it. But the teeth held on, as tenacious as death. She turned around jerking her arm as if she intended for it to break off at the elbow, but, to her horror, it was the driver gripping her arm. He was gripping her arm with his hand.

Even as her mind battled to make sense of this craziness, the troll shoved her into the car. This time he followed immediately after her and shut the door. She became trapped between two men, one white-skinned, the other black. The troll was black and probably Kenyan. The driver was white as well, his passenger black. The car was all fine leather inside, and could have been opulent and luxurious at a different time, but it was ghastly now, charnel, reeking of the breath of death, a tomb. The stink was asphyxiating Laurie and she began to heave frantically with anti-peristaltic spasms. There wasn’t much to be disgorged from her stomach, though, being a “scant eater”—as Jowe liked to put it—and, instead, bile and acidic stuff washed up into her mouth and she spat it all down on the Mercedes floor without a tittle of care, thinking that there was no escape now no matter what she did, thinking “Screw your car and screw you all deranged depraved kidnappers!”—not that her captors would have cared if she had shouted her thoughts; they didn’t seem the kind to do that, else they would have cleared the stink from the car. They were strange creatures to inhabit such an atmosphere and force people into it; they were ghouls.

The driver, without looking at her, turned on the air conditioner. Fresh air rushed in, a welcome relief to her respiration, though in no way relieving her from her prison and imminent doom. The rest of the windows remained shut.

Quiet lingered for some minutes. It was tense. It was intense. Laurie felt what animals must feel when they are about to be slaughtered—absolute fear and helplessness. Those few minutes might as well have been years on end to her, whose mind now raced faster than the clock. Gradually, she became aware of the pain in her arm where she had been bitten. It was searing, itching. There were several tooth-prints on it. The regions around the depressions were darkening and the hue was spreading outwards. Like venom. She rubbed at them in vain. She was beginning to rot. She knew it. The stench in the car was as a result of victims who had decomposed like garbage while seated exactly where she was. These people fed on decomposed bodies. But how could anyone decompose when they weren’t dead, explode spontaneously with maggots, bloated and putrid, their flesh falling off their bones as they watched in flabbergasted horror? It was going to happen to her.

But the vehicle did not move. They did not speed off. Which disturbed Laurie greatly, because if she had been abducted, they would have been driving away like hell right now, not parked at the same spot where she had been found. Who were these people? What were they? Where had they come from? Why weren’t they frightened? She recalled how she had yelled her guts out yet the troll had done nothing about it at all, not even so much as “Shut up!” They didn’t seem to consider that anybody could have heard her screaming and might be coming to investigate. It was weird. And it chilled her further.

“Take time to get used to your situation, Laurie,” the driver told her casually, still not looking at her. He spoke as if he knew her quite well. What’s more, or worse, his voice was familiar. Another weird thing. She did not know any of these men. It was familiar in a rather distant way, though, stored somewhere unreachable but present; at the very sound of it, her memory conjured up images of TV, computers, DVDs, magazines, pictures hung on walls, and Nicole Kidman. Nicole Kidman? Laurie did not understand this association. It was absurd.

“Your tradition dictates that we introduce ourselves,” he went on calmly. “I am Than. And this is Thun.” He pointed at the man next to him. “Behind me is Thicke, like the singer,” he said of the troll. “And on your left is Thicko. We are brothers, all the four of us.”

Than, Thun, Thicke, and Thicko! Oh, yeah, I’ll be damned, Laurie mulled. I am damned, she amended. This couldn’t be happening.

“This is not happening!” she ejaculated. Her voice shook.

“It is, and it is happening to you,” replied the one called Thicko, but it might as well have been Than speaking. Their voices were exactly alike. It startled Laurie and she recoiled from him. Since entering the vehicle, she had not looked at their faces, scared as she was. She did now.

To her consternation, the man sitting to her left was Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise? Yes, it was him, the Hollywood actor, the way he had looked in that Kubric movie Eyes Wide Shut when the camera focused on his face at the point where Nicole Kidman was telling him how she had almost slept with the Navy man. Laurie had pinned the face on her bedroom wall. She had been thirteen. She was still a fan of Tom Cruise and she had watched him enough to recognize his voice. That was it, then; that was the association between these . . . but who were these kidnappers? Even more confounding was that the driver, Than, was a thorough lookalike of the Tom Cruise man. And Thun, the one on the front passenger seat, was a duplicate of Thicke, the troll. Doppelgangers.
It was like two men each split into two! And they all wore executive suits.

This is not real! Laurie cried, punching her knee with a fist and pinching her thigh. They are screwing with my mind! I am not here. I am dreaming. Wake up! Wake up, Laurie! Wake the fuck up, you dumb sleepyhead!

But no. It was real. As real as it gets.

“You are not real,” she moaned. “None of you is real!”

“And are you?” the driver derided, smiling. He seemed to be the spokesperson of the group. “As far as I am concerned, Laurie, you exist only in my mind. That makes you only as real as my mind is.”

“You are not Tom Cruise!” she moaned.

“I didn’t say I am,” he replied and shrieked a mocking laughter.

The car began to move. The feeling was that of floating.

“Where are you taking me?”

“Where everybody goes.”

It meant they were going to kill her. “You are going to kill me,” she voiced.

“Do people get killed or they kill themselves?” he jeered, and then met her eyes. She saw how his eyes travelled from her face down to her breasts and crotch. They tarried on her crotch and thighs, a hard, piercing gaze, before shifting to her legs. She had on tight shorts of light material and she imagined he could make out the protrusion of her vulva. She clamped her legs together.

“Nice shorts,” he said, and turned to steer the car. “Better legs, even,” added he with an aura of mystery.

“You are you going to rape me,” she concluded.

“Rape?” he wondered. “You can’t stand being raped by us, Laurie. You need your ass more than your legs, you know. Besides, we could rape hippopotamuses, if we wanted something to rape. If we raped you, Jowe would weep like a little girl and kill himself like the coward of the universe.”

“You do not know Jowe!” she defended spontaneously.

“If you love him that much, you should tell him to take his balls to the doctor. He may still have a chance.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He shrugged. “It smells all over him like a perfume.” He paused, looked at her again, went on: “But that’s not why you are here. You are here because of your legs.”

“What?”

“Your legs, Laurie,” he said meaningfully. “We want them. They are ours . . .”

III.

“Laurie. Laurie. Laurie!

The sound was coming from too far away. Like a dying echo. The owner was invisible. She was being shaken. When she came to, she saw that she was shorter than usual. The ground was very, very close. Her legs . . .

She shot up like a missile . . . and bumped into someone. A man.

Again! Him! Them!

She pounced on him and pounded his face. Punching. Pinching. Slapping. Pushing. Clawing. She wanted to bite, thrash, crash.

“Hey!” he kept saying. “Hey! It’s me! Hey, stop that! Stop! What’s wrong with you?”

She did not stop. She was hysterical.

He finally managed to grab her hands and hold them behind her.

“Laurie, what is this? It’s me! Hey!”

She struggled for a few more seconds before she could see things as they were.

“Jowe?” said she, bewildered.

“Yes. It’s me, baby, and you’ve whacked my face like I am a devil. What’s wrong?”

She flung her arms around his neck and began to sob. “They cut off my legs. They cut off my legs, Jowe.”

“Who cut off your legs?”

“Four men in a Mercedes. I was kidnapped on the road. I went to run.”

He clasped her in a protective embrace, sighed. “Laurie, your legs are intact.”

It was then that she saw them, felt them. Her legs, strong legs. She must have wrapped them around him while pounding his face because that was where they were.

“But they cut them off!” she said and cried harder.

“They didn’t . . . whoever they were.”

“They wanted my legs.”

He took her into the house and sat her down. He then brought her water and sat with her as she drank. Afterwards, she laid her head on his lap and he dried her tears with his handkerchief.

“I was abducted,” she said when she’d calmed down considerably. He did not prompt her, so she went on narrating.

“Tom Cruise?” he interrupted her when she reached that part.

“Yes. And the other men were also like identical twins. But something was wrong with them. I think they didn’t actually look like that; they were faking those looks.”

“You think they had masks?”

“I don’t know. But they had Tom Cruise’s voice. They couldn’t fake that, could they? It was perfectly his voice. I know. And the other men did not have hair. They were neat to the scalp. I don’t know if there are such masks.”

Now Jowe knew all about Laurie’s teenage obsession with Tom Cruise. She was also a budding writer of weird fiction, constantly honing her skills. She was currently working on a book she intended to self-publish. A book about a man whose sexual orientation made him cut down trees. He cut them at every chance, felling them, or just hacking off their branches. The trees feared him but could not escape his insanity. In the end, they called on their tree-god to save them. The tree-god imprecated a malevolent curse upon him, and one day, when he went to the forest with his sparkling razor-sharp axe, he became a tree. Roots emerged from his toes and heels; shoots sprouted from his ears, eyes, nose, tongue, fingers; his arms became branches, even as more branches sprang from his ribs and spine. His legs fused into a trunk and his hair became several buds. Five years later, when he had grown and was enjoying being a tree, loving the sound of birds, the weight of their nests on his branches, the dewy scent of the morning, the song of the wind, the beauty and wealth of the sun, and the soothing light of the moon—just when these things delighted his senses the most and he bemoaned destroying so many trees in his previous life—he saw his son coming towards him with the same gleaming razor-sharp axe that had belonged to him.

Jowe, who read Laurie’s stories, called them mad and unworldly. He believed she had two personalities: Laurie, his girlfriend, and Laurie, the writer. The writer was wild and always out of her mind. When Laurie was writing, he left her alone, because it was a different Laurie. When he left today to inspect the construction of their new home in Karen, she had declined to go with him because she had wanted to finish a chapter of the book. He thought now that he might be dealing with the writer stuck in her quixotic world of people turning into trees and Tom Cruise materializing in Nairobi to kidnap young girls with the purpose of dismembering them. He was scared for her.

“Laurie, were you dreaming about Tom Cruise, or have you just been carried away by one of your stories? Did you even leave the house today?” he asked.

“You don’t believe me?” she shot and pulled from him, got up. “You don’t believe me! I was kidnapped, Jowe, and you don’t believe me? What if they had hurt me? What if they had cut off my legs and made me decompose spontaneously? Would you believe me, then? Is that what you want? You want evidence, huh? Well, then, in this case it’ll be me without legs, dead maybe, rotting! And you won’t know because they will have taken me too far away.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Jowe said in a peaceable tone. “I found you squatting at the door, abstracted almost to unconsciousness. You couldn’t hear me until I shook you, as if you were dreaming. How did you escape your kidnappers, if they indeed were there? How did you get back?”

“I don’t know,” she said, her tone lowered, wondering. She had completely no idea of how she had ended up squatting at her door. What had they done to her? She could not have been dreaming. She had gone running and she had been abducted.

She examined her shoes. They were coated with fresh dust.

“Look,” she said, pointing. “I went running.”

Jowe studied the shoes in silence. They were usually spic-and-span and he’d taunted her once that she kept the cleanest running shoes in the world. “What do you want me to do?” he asked.

“Take me to a doctor. I want to be examined. I don’t know what else those men did to me. They may have injected me with drugs or poison to mess up my mind.”

“Okay,” he said. “To the hospital we go, baby.”

As they were leaving, she remembered part of the ordeal she hadn’t yet told. “They bit me,” she reported and hastened to show him her arm. The tooth-prints were visible. But the dark matter which had been emanating from them had vanished, diffused all over her body by now, maybe.

“Grown men just bit you?” Jowe puzzled. He looked lost and Laurie became distressed more for him than for herself.

“It was the driver. He bit me with his hand,” she explained.

“With his hand? How?”

“I think he had teeth in his hands, Jowe. He had a lot of teeth in his hands.”

He had a lot of teeth in his hands

He had a lot of teeth in his hands

IV.

At The Nairobi Hospital, it took a while to explain to the physician the events that had taken place. The Tom Cruise part was the worst. It rendered everything doubtful. But Laurie maintained the truth. She had a physical and a blood test; she was healthy, nevertheless.

“I was scared,” she told Jowe as they exited the building. “I was so scared.”

“You are fine, sweetie. You are fit.”

“How is your face?”

“No damages. None that can be felt, though I swear I didn’t know you could fight so mean,” he said facetiously and she chuckled.

“I’m sorry I punched you, and for shouting at you,” she said. “I wanted you to believe me. I couldn’t believe myself.”

“It’s okay. You had me worried out of my skull.”

They got into the car.

“I’ve been thinking,” Jowe continued. “Why don’t we buy you a treadmill so that you don’t have to run around the estate and get nightmares?”

“I like to run,” she said. “I like the flow of wind against my face and in my hair. I like to see buildings and people moving past me. I like the blacktop. I like to see distance. It is not the same on a treadmill.”

“You still need it,” insisted Jowe. “Just so that you have an option and in case someday you don’t feel wholly happy about taking on the blacktop.”

“Fine.” She buckled up. “And, Jowe, thank you for understanding.”

“If I fail to understand your needs, then of what good am I?” he said and she laughed delightedly.

“I love you, Jowe,” she said. “I think you are the best man in the world.”

“You think so?”

“I know . . . And, oh, they . . . Jowe, they said that if I love you that much, then I should tell you to take your testicles to the doctor—that you may still have a chance.”

Jowe, who had been about to start the car, froze. Laurie saw how his hand retracted from the ignition. “What?” asked he, his face distorted, shocked.

“They said I should . . .” Laurie began.

“No. How did they know?”

“Know what?” asked she, now agitated. “Know what, Jowe?”

“I’ve been feeling strange around my penis.”

“Strange how? Pain?”

“Maybe a little. Mostly that something isn’t right down there.”

“Cancer?” asked Laurie. She felt the jitters.

“I don’t know. But if it were in my testicles I’d know. There’d be lumps, some pain, an extra load, suchlike. I’d know by myself.”

“Well, we’re still at the hospital,” Laurie said, unbuckling. “We just go back and find out. Then we go to the cops. Those people know us. They have marked us, Jowe. They said it smells all over you like a perfume, that disease, whatever it is.”

“They smelled it on me?” Jowe wondered. He was lost again and Laurie felt a pang.

“Yes. It means that they have been close enough with you to smell it. Or have you told anybody about it?”

“If I was going to tell anybody, I’d tell you first,” he assured her. “But, Laurie, if they can smell it on me, how can they be human beings?”

Something crept up her spine at this discovery. The kidnappers were not humans. No wonder they had materialized out of nowhere. And they could rape hippopotamuses. What in this world can rape a hippopotamus?

The oncologist ruled out testicular cancer after examining Jowe. He advised them to return the following day for advanced tests. He said he was considering the possibility of prostate cancer, but they shouldn’t worry about it; it was “something for old people.” Jowe was thirty-three.

Four days thence, he was found with prostate cancer.

Those creatures are real and they know us more than we know ourselves, mused Laurie upon hearing this news. They are stalking us. They have us marked. They will come back.

V.

They came back.

Laurie did not go out by herself for a long time. She waited for Jowe and they drove or walked. It was safe that way. The ghouls did not come when she was with him. At first she feared they would not care, that they might harm him as well, but after four weeks she established that for some reason his presence hindered their course. She, however, constantly caught herself searching her surrounding for them, she was especially alert and anxious when a white Mercedes drove by, and was excessively frightened if Jowe left her alone in public for longer than a few seconds. They were hand in hand majority of the time.

Life indoors was not regrettable, though; she was a writer, and writers know the value of silence in a locked room. She finished her book, The Curse of the Tree-God, rewrote it five more times and had it proofread, edited and reedited online. She was designing the cover.

In December, there was a story on TV about a man’s arm that had been found at a dumpsite. Just an arm, the owner unknown, unfound, most likely dead. It terrified Laurie because she knew the culprits were her abductors. Because she had successfully evaded them so far, they had vented their ire on a different person. Was that what they had wanted to do with her legs? Discard them at a dumpsite? So cruel! So unfeeling! How could you live knowing that your legs would one day be disposed of at dumpsite to be discovered by stray animals? And how would she run without her legs? It was an appalling prospect. The police were clueless. But around here they were almost always clueless, unless they had some poor thief to shoot in the back, then they became exceedingly excited and fierce. When Laurie and Jowe went to report her case, the cop in charge had laughed at them. “Tom Cruise? Alikuja hapa akakuteka nyara? Sasa hii ni uwazimu ama ujinga tu?” he’d scoffed in Kiswahili. (Tom Cruise? He came here and kidnapped you? Now is this madness or just stupidity?) He’d then burst out with gales of side-splitting laughter, doubling over, choking, teetering about like a sot. He had let them record a statement but no investigations were yet going on. Of course.

Nine weeks after Laurie had been kidnapped, in late January, a national event to raise money to save heart patients was organized by The Nairobi Hospital. It was called The Kenya Heart Run: Run for a Heart. Jowe registered Laurie and himself. Multitudes joined the race and, for once, Laurie was not afraid to run freely. She had missed that feeling of being on the road, of the tapping of her heels on the blacktop, of being caressed by the wind, of seeing distance. She didn’t care about the awards but she was certainly going to give the winners a run for their cash.

The race started well at eight o’clock. Laurie stayed within the crowd, Jowe beside her, cleverly gauging the runners for the one to take on. But they had scarcely covered two kilometres on Mombasa Road when everything went to hell. Traffic had been diverted for the purpose of the race. But there was this one car. One daring, presumptuous car. A white Mercedes Benz S600, brand new, spic-and-span. Nobody knew where it came from. The police officers spread along the road to provide security did not see it either. Suddenly, the runners at the front were dispersing and shouting and cursing. Some people were ululating. Laurie was at first blocked from seeing what was happening, being not so tall and jogging deep within the crowd. When she did see what they were cursing and giving way, it was too late. Too late.

Only one thought flared in her mind: Run!

She turned back and fled. She had a powerful, insane, furious conviction that the troll had got out and was on foot with her, making enormous strides, reaching for her, while the rest crept up behind her like a crocodile in their incongruous stinking Mercedes. She was tempted to glance back, yell, yell for help, but no! There was no time. It would slow her down. After all, she was being seen by the public. She sped, accelerating like a supernatural force, flying, leaping, her hair scattered in the wind, trailing.

But they had a car and no matter how fast she ran, they were always near, one or two feet behind, her heels almost knocking the bumper. She could feel the ground vibrating from the weight of the car. They were enjoying the chase, comfortable in the knowledge that she would soon be tired and they would just grab her and go with her. And cut off her legs.

At last, they did just that; the car swung to her right, closed in, and the troll extended one of his gigantic arms and grabbed her by the waist. He did this even as the Mercedes rolled on, his abnormally long fingers curling around her small middle as though she were a doll. He put her between him and Thicko as before, precluding escape.

She was breathless. She was maniacal.

To the observers, that car just vanished off the earth after taking Laurie. It vanished as unexpectedly as it had appeared. It simply sublimed. As though it had never been.

Jowe chased it in vain while shouting his girlfriend’s name like a madman. When the Mercedes disappeared, he felt something that could not be specifically described. It was a mixture of many unpleasant emotions, the foremost of which was despair. It was worse than death. He plunked down on the tarmac and could not speak or move by himself for more than an hour. Such was his loss.

VI.

Laurie looked back and saw Jowe running after them. Inspired, she started kicking and twisting, waving her arms and calling him, though her voice was weak. The ghouls did not attempt to stop her. In fact, the driver stopped the car, and she twirled around, wondering at this. She caught him smiling at her his sardonic smile.

He said, “Laurie, you just go on calling Jowe like that, but if he sees us, we will surely cut off his arms. We’ve spared him for too long for no great reason. If anybody sees us, we cut off something from them. We cut hard.”

Laurie stopped, collapsed, despair conquered her heart.

Things got dark thereafter, the road, everybody. Not a sound could be heard but the humdrum humming of the Mercedes’ interior. She had a feeling the car was floating through a vast expanse of bleakness.

“Where are you taking me?” she demanded.

“Where everybody goes,” she was told.

“And where is that?”

“Nowhere.”

She considered this answer and decided to let it go.

“You killed that man?” she accused.

“What man?”

“The one whose arm was found at the dumpsite! You cut off his arm.”

“Oh, that one,” the driver said. “He saw us.”

“Do you just go around cutting off people’s limbs?”

“We have targets. Then there are the unlucky ones. Collateral damage, you might say.”

“What do you do with the limbs? What do you want with my legs?” she asked and was chilled by the prospect of the answer.

“We don’t know yet,” he said. “We might just dump them in a garbage pit somewhere. We’ll determine once we have them.”

“How can you dismember a person just to throw their legs away in a garbage pit?” she accused, her tone hysterical.

“It is a big deal to you, isn’t it?” jeered he. “To us, it is like a kid pulling off an insect’s legs or wings. The kid just throws them away. Have you ever wondered what an insect thinks of such an act? I’m sure you do now. But we have good news for you: we will eat yours.”

Good news! How callous!

“Don’t worry about how to get back to your house. We’ll take you there and you won’t know when or how. Just like last time. We let you go because we like our targets to get used to the idea of the inevitability that awaits them; none of them ever does, though.”

“You are nothing but a bunch of pathetic cannibals, then?” accused she.

“I don’t know if we are cannibals, Laurie. I don’t know what we are. We don’t know. We just are. Forever and ever, we are. At first there wasn’t; then there was. It is like an age-old rock abruptly becoming aware of itself, its existence, its environment; moving, breathing, feeding. What would it know about its life, itself, but those functions that it performs from connate impulses whose origins it cannot discover?

“But yes, we eat humans,” he continued after a pause. “We just look for the tastiest one and cut off their legs or arms. Animals sense us from afar and take off. Humans do not, and cannot, even when we are face to face with them and sniffing their cancer. Until we reveal our presence to them, by which time all escape is ruled out, they do not sense us. So much for your acclaimed intelligence. But the cancer is the worst. It smells repulsive. And most of you are sick with it or some other malignancy. It’s why we prefer your legs and arms. They do not carry diseases. Sometimes, however, the limbs are outwardly appealing but the flesh is too salty, tasteless, watery, fat, or too smooth and foamy in the mouth; we discard those. Not all humans are edible.”

He paused again, faced her, said, “And now . . .”

At this time, they gave up their disguises and became their true selves. They were old things, ancient things, with crinkled cracked faces and runnels of rotting leathery skins draped over their gaunt bodies; discoloured bloodless eyes, scanty, withering hair, and sparsely planted spearheads of grotesque teeth. They were neither black nor white; they all looked alike, suppurating, malformed, gruesome things. They were the cause of the stink in the car.The Creature

And they had teeth in the back of their arms.

Laurie . . . she died.

“I read that book, you know,” the driver was saying, his voice a low bubble as though it was full of oil, an awful sound. “The one you are writing: The Curse of the Tree-God,” he went on. “I like the axe in it. How it glints eerily in the moonlight, keen as a witch’s razor. Ah! I like that one. I brought one just like it. Look!”

And he produced an axe, a crazy-looking, hair-raising thing that belonged in Hell.

“Do writers need legs?” he asked cheerfully, thrilled. “I thought no. They need only their fingers, their heads, and their buttocks to put on the chair . . . maybe their thighs too to balance the laptop. We won’t touch those. But we need your legs, especially those calves, an athlete’s calves. Elegant. Ripe. Toothsome. They are ours.” He broke briefly, as if for effect, and then shouted, “Hold her!

The two creatures on her sides grasped her slender arms and the one on the passenger seat stretched her legs in the space between the back and the front seats. The driver leaned forward, swung the axe, he swung hard, with fury and craze, brought it down. She heard it whistling against the air, slicing it, as it arced towards her, its unforgiving tongue thirsty for her bones . . .

My mother had a certain peculiar friend when I was nine years old. It was a woman named Odote, who was so bent at the waist that she walked as if she wanted to pick something from the ground. She was not very old; I remember now that she might have been at most forty, five years older than my mother. She used to come to our home in the sombre evenings when a pale sickle-shaped slice of moon dangled over the western hill before fading away soon after sunset as if frightened of darkness. In those days, my mother’s crude alcohol would be ripe for distilling. Odote did not drink the distillate, though; she preferred the thick, dirty, yellowish brown liquid which she slurped down her throat with the same sound a dog makes when lapping at a puddle of water. It was a strange thing about her because everyone else I knew was disgusted by the unrefined substance. Sometimes there were dead snakes in it. Though my mother covered the pot in which it was fermented, more than once I had seen her removing dead black mambas and green and brown snakes from it with a stick, and there were always lizards and insects that floated on top of it. But Odote did not mind. She would order five litres, two of which she’d filter with a bundle of dry grass and then suck with a small pipe that now reminds me of a disused IV line. The rest she’d take home with her.

I used to watch her while she slumped on a stool slurping her vile drink. She would be abstracted, her face pensive and sad, but sometimes she would look up and notice me and rebuke me with a scowl on her depressed, wrinkled face.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” she’d ask, and I’d run away giggling and hide behind the house. Presently, I’d return to peep at her from a corner.

I wondered what her children thought of her. I thought that if she were my mother I’d go mad. I’d run away and hide from her and never disclose to anyone, who did not already know, that she was my mother.

“Why is she so bent, Ma?” I asked once but was so excoriated for making a disrespectful remark concerning my elder that I never raised the subject near my mother again.

But one evening several weeks later, coming from school with my elder brother, Jumbe, I saw Odote ahead of us with a basketful of potatoes she intended to barter with my mother for the drink. She was more bent than ever, weighed down by the load, which she carried at the back of her head. She was tottering up the hill, the basket bobbing up and down like an object on water.

“What is wrong with her?” I inquired tentatively, fearing reproof.

“Gwati beat her up,” Jumbe replied.

Gwati was a withered, scarecrow-looking old man from the village. He was known to make weird supernatural sounds when the sky was dark and gloomy and clouds cast funereal shadows over the villages. He would shriek and sigh and curse and groan until another old man or woman elsewhere died of arthritis or heart attack.

“He just beat her up and she bent like that?” I wondered.

“Yes,” Jumbe said. “He beat her up with that black walking stick of his. It is not really a stick, you know. It is the hand of a corpse. And it’s spread like this . . .” My brother stretched his right hand towards me and fanned out his fingers. I stared at it and imagined a shrivelled, blackened, rotting hand cut from a dead person. I flinched.

“If he slaps your face with it, your head will turn all the way round until you can see your back,” Jumbe went on. “A hundred and eighty degrees!” he emphasized. “But you will not die and you will walk backwards for the rest of your life. If he slaps your back with it, you will never stand straight. Like Odote. He slapped her back with it.”

“What if he slaps both your face and back with it?” I asked.

Jumbe stopped to look at me. He was a tall person and looked at me the way my father usually did when I was holding his hand. “You know the answer to that,” he said in a quiet voice, which I found to be foreboding.

“But Gwati is sick,” I reminded him. “He is old, and he is weak, and sick. He cannot beat anyone.”

“You just don’t know,” my brother said. “You are still young. He gets well when he has somebody to beat, because he gets to transfer his evil and disease into that person. He has many evils and diseases. Like when he is ill, and he howls and curses and cries in the dead of the night, and, in the morning, somebody else wakes up with his illness and dies afterwards. Meanwhile, he lives.”

I was tongue-tied the rest of the way.

Overhead, on a rapidly darkening, scantily beclouded sky, the pale horned moon looked like a half-closed, winking eye of a dead man. It seemed to wink at the bending woman, mocking her.

I went to Gwati’s home after I had taken off my uniform and donned my home clothes. Some uncanny curiosity overcame me and I wanted a keen look of his walking stick. I wanted to know if it was perhaps made of skin and if the fingers were visible. He was sitting on a rock by the granary, his usual resting place, stooped as if he was in great agony. His hands and wrists were swollen with arthritis, so were his knees and feet. I skulked behind him, but, somehow, he sensed my approach and, grunting, reached for his weapon. I took off like the wind.

The following day in school, I asked Ooko, his grandson, about the stick.

“It is called The Hand,” he said. “If my grandfather wants it, he says, ‘Ooko, bring me The Hand.’ And I just do.”

“Does it feel like a real hand when you touch it? Does it have skin and fingers on it, for instance?” I asked.

“The fingers are invisible. But it feels like the dried tail of a cow when you touch it. It is really a hand. You can feel the softness of the skin. Subtle, though, it is. The wrinkles are prominent. When Grandfather touches it, it twitches and attempts to grab something. One day, Grandfather called to send me for his pipe, but I didn’t want to go because I was playing. Grandmother came out of the house and shouted, ‘Ooko, mind your grandfather now and do not make him mad! Or else, he’ll make you deaf-mute!’ If you make Grandfather very angry, he points The Hand at you and says something, and you become deaf-mute. Deaf-mute!” he stressed, his eyes ablaze with excitement.
“Did he beat up that bending woman, Odote, with it?”

“Yes! She was quarrelling with my grandmother over some money Grandmother owes her, and Grandfather told her to get lost and never return. When she turned to leave, he leaped after her and whacked her quickly on the back!”
It was crazy and it disturbed me for days. From then on, I perceived the old man as a terrible entity, a witch and a devil. I never went within a hundred metres of his home.

One afternoon, however, when schools were closed in December and the children of the village were gathered at our home to play, Ooko picked a fight with my little sister over the skipping rope, and he smacked her face and pushed her hard to the ground. She fell on her buttocks and wailed, jerking about while looking at me, begging me to avenger her, and I, without thought, grabbed a rock and chased her assailant with it towards his home. I struck him once and he screamed:

“Grandfather! Grandfather!”

I stopped dead. But it was too late, too painfully late, for then I could see the old man standing and pointing his walking stick at me and muttering crazy things that sounded like: KABALAKUBALAVADIKALADIKAKABAHAHAKA . . .

I think I became insane from the terror that seized me. I remember nothing else that transpired between that moment and when I bumped into my mother on the way. She was anxious and distressed, herself terrified for me. I could not talk; neither could I hear her. I’d been running too fast and shaking so badly that each heartbeat was a massive explosion. In answer to whatever she was saying, I pointed back from where I’d come and she stormed forthwith in that direction.

I tried to stop her; I tried with desperation and madness, yet in vain. She could not hear me. I thought Gwati would beat her up with his stick and she would be bent forever like Odote. As I watched her go, it dawned upon me that I’d become deaf-mute. It was too much to take. Darkness pervaded me.

When I came to, my mother was standing a few feet from me. She was bending like Odote. I stared at her for a few seconds hoping that she would rise erect, wanting her to, willing her, but she did not. She never did thenceforwards. She was weeping, her voice hoarse with hopeless anguish, her head turned backwards—a hundred and eighty degrees!—so that she was facing me with the back of her head.

She was bending forwards but her head was facing backwards.

That horrible Gwati, that devilish old man, had slapped her face and beat her back with his stick.

I howled, making a sharp, wretched, strangled unintelligible sound that made me black out again.

Around us, the rest of my playmates stood still and goggled at us, aghast.