With the two yellow twenty-litter Jerricans tied together using a sisal rope on the bicycle carrier, we were en route down across the road. Things were different. The road was dotted with stones and metallic water tanks that seemed to be releasing pungent smokes. Burning tyres took their defiant positions on and off the road. It was impassible. The streams that usually and grudgingly followed the commanding directions of the culverts had turned red with blood. And after three days of tiresome travels, they had begun to release their anger and fatigue by expelling a really reeking, sinus-numbing disturbance to the living noses. For five good minutes, I had stood in the middle of the road, dumbstruck, contemplating. Questioning my actual existence. Wondering; Vicky stood there watching me and leaning on the idle bicycle. It was a moment of Understanding silence between two cousins on deathly road….
Just then, we heard the echoes of a tear gas canister going off. And we rushed to akina Njeri’s compound. The fact the gate had been knocked down did not surprise us. Things had happened. Bad things. What killed my spirits was the state of kina Njeri’s house. Their red-tiled elegant house had turned black and sooty. The glass doors and windows has been converted to mere shards and smithereens! There was no sign of life. the question that lingered in our heads was whether Kina Njeri had escaped or they were consumed by the man-made inferno. That thought was sad. You see, Kina Njeri were significant to this town. Theirs was not only the most beautiful home in the estate, but also the most resourceful. If you needed eggs, youd get them at very subsidized prices. If rats were busy were engrossed in their daily routine of shitting, eating, and destroying your household items, kina Njeri would give you a beautiful kitten, whose miaowing alone was enough to chase the rats away. And Njeri herself was the pride of our estate. She was the modern day definition of light skin, she always wore clean, black rubber shoes; her uniform was ever new. Ever devoid of a crease. We were proud to say estate yetu inaitwa kwa kina Njeri! But they were no more. They were nowhere to be seen. Until today, I have never seen Njeri.
Apparently, in my mind, I thought we still had Mogaka’s shop as the alternative resource center until we saw it. Mogaka was a mysterious man. Even his shop was quite daunting. One could never see the inside of the shop. The peephole of a counter was surrounded by clear, translucent, and opaque paper hanged on the wire mesh. When mogaka was outside his shop, he was, well, a normal human being. However, when he got into his dark shop, his whole demeanor changed; he became darker than usual. His eyes became whiter and his voice was notch higher towards the gusii-induced soprano. An unsuspecting new client would be scared to the point of soiling himself when his eyes met those of Mogaka. He would go and share the story and more people would come to his shop. More customers perhaps? But thinking about it now, I think this was Mogaka’s tact for keeping idlers and potential petty thieves from doing their businesses around Mogaka’s premises. All in all, Mogaka’s shop was down to ashes and he was nowhere to be seen.
On the day I almost died for my country, we fetched the water and started our journey back home and we discovered that more people had evaporated into thin air. The wonder in our heads just alternated between two theories. Either they escaped or they died. But that remained to be seen. We had a more urgent matter to deal with. As we were crossing the road, a rowdy group of youth was running towards our direction. Agitated barrels were exploding behind them. The pinching sensation of teargas had caught up with us. that was when we realized that Houston had a problem! We pushed out bike loaded with 40 litters of water up the hill as fast as we could. But just before we could cut the corner, the helmet-head saw us! He began to raise his AK-47. We disappeared into the alley that led to the house. We got in. closed the door behind us. But I smelled trouble. The noise was moving closer. Doors were being banged thunderously and my heart skipped a bit when our immediate neighbor let out a frantic cry.
We were next! Mum, being the wisest of all, instructed all of us to hide under the beds. She was looking straight into Vicky’s eyes. He had to be the first to squeeze under the bed for obvious reasons. All went under the bed one after another as the metallic door complained against the polite knocks by the men in blue. All went under the beds with the exception of me. I refused! Don’t judge me just yet. Let me explain; when you are infected by the disease of being right, you can easily make such a decision. Well, yes, I knew I was right. I had not engaged in any wrongdoing. At least according to me. And what kind of boy goes under the bed and leaves hi mum to deal with those violent pieces of shit, who think they are motherless?
Freedoms were not made a reality by people who hid under the bed!
But the next ten minutes that followed taught me that, at such times, reality, being right, freedoms, are just mere words that portray relative meanings. The in-the-eyes-of-the-beholder sort of thing. So I was betrayed by my luminous green long sleeved shirt. Hii gichana ametumpua sana! One of them said as I was hauled like a miserable sack of potatoes to the flower bed. At my mother’s door. He is a good boy. He has never done anything wrong. Please leave him alone. The neighbors could be heard shouting from their windows. I saw red stars flying across my face, in unison with the flying splinters from the police rod. I felt heat in my head. I took my two hands and used them to cover my head; the fingers broke. One after another, until I could not bear it anymore. There was no helping or protecting the head. Blow after blow opened various taps and blood dripped to the ground. Like water from Kina Njeri’s tap! Relief came and went as each rod was depleted and another was picked. Such are the moments that some irrational voice speaks to you. fight back! It urges. I tried to clinch a fist but the broken fingers couldn’t allow. Defiant to the torrents of blows, I raised my eyes and looked up at the faces of the men offering me a beating. That was when I saw it!
Through the thin film of blood, my eyes met with the barrel. We faced each other; the oppressor and the oppressed. I saw death giving me a grotesque, wry smile. I saw it breathing the bloody air through the grooves. I saw it ready to yaw its way through my already exhausted skull. I saw the angel of death dressed in the royal armor of a cartridge. Waiting for the trigger. Again amid a horrendous conflict of pain and screeching muscles, I shifted my glance towards the soil and shut my eyes. So, just like this. This is the day I die. Just like that, I die for my country. No cool stuff like the Mau Mau. No Dedan Kimathi kind of stunts. No years in jail and emerging victorious in the end? It doesn’t matter that I am not on the wrong this time. just like that I die!
I almost died for my country