Fiction

Lucy Mwelu: Mchele

mchele
Image by Merlin Lightpainting from Pixabay

I coughed and sputtered violently when the door to the small and tidy house opened. I keeled over, blindly running my left hand over the dashboard of my car. I finally touched the glove compartment and pulled it open. It easily responded to my touch, and I immediately began rummaging it for my water bottle. My eyes were blurry with tears, my throat burning from swallowing the cigarette smoke. When I finally retrieved the dodgy water bottle, I swiftly brought it to my mouth and used my teeth to open the lid. I felt the bottle top slide over the side of my chest and over my arm, it fell somewhere beside my leg. As I gobbled the water, I thought about the bottle top, how I had forcefully displaced it, how it now lay vulnerable next to my feet. Just a few seconds ago, that bottle top had possessed a job, a sense of duty. Without it, water would wobble and flow from the bottle, free to damage all that laid on its path. I scarcely wondered if I was anything like that bottle top. I chuckled, amused at how philosophical my subconscious could be at times.

My vision was now clear, my throat recovering from brief PTSD. I massaged the skin around my neck, attempting to apologize to my throat. My eyes lazily moved to stare at the cigarette burning in my right hand. I had sworn to stop. After all, was this not a habit that I had developed recently? It was not like I had grown up with it. Yet for some reason the cycle always repeats itself. Me swearing I would never smoke again. Me frustrated. Me craving for one puff. Me choking on that one puff, well, more like twenty puffs. Me rubbing my palm over my neck. Me swearing to chuck my packet of cigarettes down the toilet at my place.

My place.

I laughed grimly at the thought. Life has a funny way of throwing you off balance. You can spend your whole life mapping legos of how your future will be, and then, one by one, those legos would begin to vanish until you are left with a map drawn with invisible ink. Nonexistent.

I stared at my cigarette and watched as the fire slowly crackled, burning out. It was begging me to keep it alive. Just one puff, one long drag to awaken it, to keep it going. Was it not humane after all? To attend to the needs of a dying cigarette? A peal of bizarre laughter escaped my throat as I slowly brought the cigarette to my mouth. My bottle swung in my left hand. I could hear the sound of its contents swishing. This sound provided a background track for my bad habit. My hand paused in front of my mouth, waiting for my philosophical subconscious to bellow at me. Nothing happened. There was no quip, no irksome reminder on why I should quit smoking. As I was about to put the cigarette out of its misery, I heard voices.

Slowly, I emerged from my slouched position until I could see them through my tinted windows. They were three. Three giddy humans. Three laughing humans. Three happy humans. The woman caressed her protruding belly with one hand. The other hand was gingerly placed on the small of her back. From her stance, you could tell she was tired which was probably due to how extremely pregnant she was. Next to the woman was a puny girl with long pigtails. She was shrieking, demanding that she be made an airplane. Conceding to this eerie request, the third member of the trio bent over to pick the girl with the pigtails and throw her into the air. Up and down, up and down, up and down she went. The man grew weary and placed the child gingerly on the grass-padded ground. As he was straightening his back, his head briefly turned in my direction. For a short-lived moment, I could have sworn he saw me. But that was me with my wishful thinking. My husband, Kibata Kinanja, shifted his attention back to his family, his new family.

His new place.

*                                               *                                                  *

Savior complex.

I do not know when or where I first heard of this term. For a long time, I debated whether I caught wind of it while passing a huddle of idle philosophical youths or if perhaps I had heard it on the radio from a cheesy station. Maybe it’s none of these and I actually heard the concept in class. I had, after all, taken on a Psychology unit. What I do recall though is thinking how maddening it was for an individual to imagine that they could save another human being. Only God had this authority, or angels and maybe, to some extent, the Devil.

As it turns out, I could not have been more wrong.

Club Tano Tena was infamous for its drunken brawls, elaborate robberies, and assaults against the female gender. It was also a drug hub, where novice politicians would come to snort cocaine from their women’s breasts in the dingy bathrooms, or at times, when they could not stand the smell, they would inhale the drug at their dark corner tables. The politicians who had been in the game long enough preferred a different kind of high. Every other night you would see them leave with one or two campus ladies who were either severely drunk or well, unconscious. Some of these ladies knew what they were doing. They tailed these men to their homes and gave them a thrilling night in exchange for monthly allowances. Other girls were just unlucky; unaware that their innocence was about to be violated, unaware that their life was about to be obliterated into smithereens.

After such incidents, we would see the oblivious girls floating around campus like ghosts. They would always possess this odd look, like they were not present in their reality. Some wound up pregnant. Others were diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. Many of them could hardly sleep at night so they decided to seek permanence in sleep. The worst part was, no one blinked over these suicide cases. They blamed it all on social campus pressures. To some extent, this was true but the pressure these girls had been feeling had not been campus-related. The pressure they had been encountering had been bigger, gnarlier, scarier and they had succumbed to it. Who could blame them?

I began working at Tano Tena in my second year of university. It was an easy decision considering my financial situation. I was surviving on money from student loans, mostly HELB which was not much. My mother had called earlier in that semester claiming that my younger brother was suffering from a really bad stomach ache. In the previous semester, it had been a really bad chest ache. During my first semester on campus, my brother, who I had seen the previous week, was dying from a headache. I was not naïve, I never have been. I knew my mother was lying about my brother’s health condition. I knew that she was willing to lie to get money. I knew that she was probably investing that money in pyramid schemes and poorly researched business ideas. But, despite all this, I did not stop her. I continued to indulge her, paying for my brother’s “treatments” and sending her money for follow-up “consultations”. During this period I kept telling myself that perhaps Chris, my brother, was actually ill. The truth was, I was scared. The last time my mother felt like she could not take care of us she came back to our home with a man. This man beat her and later he began beating Chris and me. We had been miserable while poor but the battering increased our suffering tenfold. So I chose to indulge my mother’s requests, to save Chris and me from reliving our daunting past.

 

*                                                *                                                     *

 

I jostled the doorknob to our…no, my place, aggressively. When it refused to budge, I sighed exasperatedly before sweeping my eyes down the hallway to confirm whether one of our…no, my, nosy neighbors was lurking around. Satisfied that I was indeed alone, I kicked the lower part of the door, near the edge, and watched as the door slowly swung open. Kibby had invented this hack and over the years, it became our narrative, our inside joke. We became so fond of this technique that we never had the door fixed. Now, I could not pinpoint the humor behind us having to kick a door in order to get inside our house.

I felt a stray tear trickle down my heated cheek as I trudged into our…I let out a short frustrated scream. For how long? For how long would I need to remind myself that I was no longer a part of an item? For how long would I have to rebuke myself for pluralizing my situation? I was alone. I was miserable and alone. Lately, I had been experiencing disorienting migraines. Each one left me frailer than the last one. There was also always this weight, this heavy weight pressing my chest. As if someone had placed their boot on my torso and was deliberately pushing all their weight through that one foot. The doctor I went to see for sleeping pills winded up diagnosing me with depression. He did give me pills, just not the one I had wanted. A feeling of guilt washed over me when I saw our…my, disorganized table. There were over ten different medications sprawled carelessly across the glassed furniture. All of them remained unopened. I immediately suppressed the feelings of guilt. I was sad, not depressed. Sadness was like a fatal wound. No matter how much you dressed it, all it required to heal was time.

Besides, I had sought out another drug to calm my agitated nerves. I patted the inside pocket of my jacket and fished for my box of cigarettes. I closed my eyes momentarily as my hand reached to cradle my stomach. I paused midway, shook my head, and retrieved a lighter for my trouser pocket. Soon I felt a calmness drape me, like a warm blanket.

My phone vibrated, startling me from a temporary relaxed state. I suddenly felt anxious, the same feeling I experienced when I was still with Kibby. He used to call me regularly and each time I would feel this rush of sweet anticipation course through my veins. I frowned when I retrieved my phone.

“What?”

“That is how you answer the phone nowadays, Anita?”

“Grow up Chris.”

“Nye nye nye…”

“Call me when you have matured.”

“No no no…wait wait…You need to come home, sis. Mom is in a really bad place.”

I flinched at the statement as if I had been violently slapped across the face. My left hand curled itself into a ball and I could feel heated lava pouring into the pit of my stomach. When I spoke, my voice quivered with anger.

“So now just because I have refused to send you the money you have decided to lie to me? Call my bluff? I see you have learned well from Ma’. Well, I am not stupid Chris! I do not know what game you two are playing but I will not be a part of it!”

I hang up, shoved my phone across the room, and sunk to the ground wailing. My cries heightened when I spotted a strewn, black sock aloof from me.

*                                                 *                                                   *

They called it “mchele”.

I later learned that the drug was known as Stilnox and that it was a common substance to see in clubs such as ours. I read that it was prescribed by doctors to treat insomnia. In Tano Tena, however, this drug was used to spike the drinks of unsuspecting customers. Wanja, the girl I was shadowing during my first week of the job, explained that “mchele” was much more than a spiteful way to rob a rich politician. The drug was a statement, a stand against abuse. If they fell unconscious, they wouldn’t be able to beat their girlfriends that night or take advantage of any campus girls. Besides these were politicians. People who stole from the citizens. People who pocketed taxes. Wanja called the staff at Tano Tena Robin Hoods. She claimed that our job was to take from the rich and give to the poor which in this case was us.

After working there for a month and gaining some sort of footing on my job, I finally asked a question that I should have voiced on my first day, how was Tano Tena still in business? Why had the police never intervened despite the plethora of cases about rape, suicides, and battery? I posed the question to Wanja. The fourth-year student stared grimly at me for a while before bellowing for her friends to join us. She then repeated the question to them in an exaggerated squeaky voice that made her sound as if she had inhaled helium. I scarcely wondered if that was how I sounded.  After Wanja was done, everyone turned to look at me. This made me squirm, I had never enjoyed public scrutiny. Finally, a tall, dark-skinned man with a wide mouth began to laugh. Soon everyone joined him before they all retreated to their workplaces. Wanja looked at me condescendingly, the way a rich chic aunt would look at their poorly dressed niece.

“Oh poor, naïve Anita. The world has its owners, just like this club belongs to those despicable politicians.”

I could tell that she hated them. Every time she described a politician her mouth would curl into a snarl and her eyes would turn venomous. Later, the tall, dark-skinned waiter would tell me how Wanja had been raped in the bathroom stall by three men. That is how she had come to know about “mchele”. She had been a victim of the drug. To Wanja, spiking drinks was not a robbery scheme or a political statement. To her “mchele” was her way of getting vengeance.

 

*                                                            *                                                *

I recall the quick flash of anger I felt when he stepped on my foot. He was drunk and disoriented, staggering all over the club. I remember thinking how foolish he was, how if I were him I would be asleep in a warm bed with soothing Sauti Sol music in the background. I was in my third year then, balancing classes and my job. I was hardly getting any sleep and when I did, my roommate, Mindy, would stumble into the room with her hoard of girlfriends chirping excitedly about a hot lecturer or a hot student or a hoot cook. That is all they seemed to be talking about, attractive men. Sometimes I would feel searing jealousy due to this. I would have loved to have my only worry be who in the school was gorgeous and who was not. Those girls did not have to worry about school fees, hostel rent, food, classes, and even how they would land jobs after school. Their destiny was on a silver platter while mine was still being written on some wooden plank. At times, however, I would feel sorry for Mindy and her friends. They lived in a rainbow-filled bubble that one day would be popped. When this happened, they would not survive.

After stepping on my foot, the drunken stranger had vanished from sight, probably to the bathrooms for a snort of cocaine. I had never seen him before so I immediately concluded that he was a new politician or maybe he was from a neighboring county. Nairobi was always ready to receive strangers who craved a thrill and when you were a politician, Tano Tena was the it-spot. As I was clearing my table, my eyes caught sight of Wanja reaching inside her generous bosom and pulling out a transparent sachet. Over time I had learned not to question her actions or those of the other staff but I had not joined their “movement” either. I knew that these men were monsters but not all of them were cruel.  Some just wanted to have fun. Sadly, these thrill-seekers were usually the ones who woke up outside Tano Tena in nothing but their expensive underwear. They, too were powerless to report this to the police because then an investigation would be opened at the club. The beloved club that allowed them to quench their deepest, disturbing desires.

I kept an eye on Wanja and watched as she spiked a customer’s drink. I had come to know that there was no method to her madness. To her, everyone was fair game. To be fair, Wanja had no idea who had raped her. Any man who showed up at the club every night could have been one of her assailants. After she had completed her mission, Wanja stealthily walked away. Shortly afterwards I could see her engaging customers with her signature sensual smile. I began making my way to the unattended table where Wanja had been. I discretely monitored the environment before switching the spiked drink for an uncontaminated one. It was a fast swap, my swiftness had immensely improved with time. When my savior complex had kicked in the previous year, I had vowed to sabotage Wanja’s dark ploys. At first, I was exceptionally terrible at the task; Wanja had almost caught me undoing her plan several times. But then I had gotten better, and I had not stopped. I was not sure when I had decided to fight in the corner of selfish and greedy politicians but what I did know is if Wanja wound up killing an individual, her life would be over. So in a way, I was fighting for Wanja

“You should not be doing that…”

I froze. At first, I thought it was a waiter, a member of the Robin Hood but when I turned, it was the drunken stranger who had stepped on my foot aggressively. I immediately noticed that he was no longer staggering and that he did not look disoriented at all. Either he had been pretending or he was very good at getting sober within a short period.

“I am taking you to the police station. Place your tray on the table and follow me. Do not make a fuss, if you do, I will arrest you in front of all these people.”

As if in a trance, I had followed the stranger’s instructions. As we exited Tano Tena, I caught a glimpse of Wanja smirking. She had known that the man had been a police officer. She had known that I would swap the drinks and get caught. She had known all along. I had been right, after all, humans could not be saved.

*                                                       *                                                         *

At the police station, I learned that the man who had arrested me was a detective. His name was Kibata Kinanja and he was the lead investigator on the “politician-mchele case”. For hours we were locked in a small, immaculate room. He had kicked off his interrogation intimidatingly; banging the metal table, yelling and wiggling his forefinger near my face. He threatened to call my parents, I piped that I had none. He calmed down after this. Kibata claimed that they had strong evidence against the waiting staff at Tano Tena but that they needed someone to testify to their case, a witness. That is when it had hit me, I was not being accused of drugging anyone. I sprang up from the uncomfortable metal seat.

“Can I leave? You have no case against me.”

“I caught you red-handed, exchanging my drink-“

“Then I am sure you know that I was actually swapping your spiked drink for a clean one!”

He sighed then and gently asked me to sit down. I still cannot recall why I conceded.

“Listen I have scouted that place for years. I know the rotten things that take place there-“

“Then why haven’t the police done anything about it?”

“Because we are owned. We cannot make a move against politicians…”

“So meanwhile they get to get campus girls and boys hooked on drugs? They get to sexually abuse them? They get to beat women and anyone they feel is inferior? So we just sit back and watch as our society crumbles?”

Kibata smiled then. He had a beautiful smile. Full and reassuring, the type that makes you feel warm in a blizzard. I recall my anxiety dissipating. I relaxed, threw my head back, and settled into my seat.

“I know all this. The police here know all this. Hell, the media in Kenya knows all this. But there is little we can do to exact change. That is why I need your help.”

“I do not understand. What is it that you think I can do to help stop all this?”

“Not stop…more like scratch the surface. If we start investigating Tano Tena in a way that paints politicians as victims, we will be allowed to continue the said investigation. We cannot go in guns blazing, demanding the arrest warrants for politicians tied to gender-based violence, sexual abuse, and drug addiction. We need a way in. You are our way in…”

“What do you need from me? I am just a sociology major with no power at school or my job.”

Kibata looked down for a moment before reaching for my hands. He cradled them in his, as a father would his daughter. Once again I felt my panic vanish.

“Tell me who is behind the mchele operation. Tell me which members of the staff spike drinks. Tell me who the ring leader is. Tell me everything about these robberies.”

I chewed my lower lip desperate not to cry.

“Am I obligated to tell you any of this?”

Kibata suddenly let go of my hands as if they had turned into hot coal.

“No Anita Maina. You are not required to say anything but remember your silence is harming more than helping.”

I weakly lowered my head into my hands. If I exposed them, chances were, all of them would go to prison. I knew most of their stories. I knew how they were all struggling to make ends meet. I knew how Wanja had gotten into a relationship with Tano Tena’s manager so that she could perpetuate her operation. I had heard how she was suffering education-wise, how she was having trouble sleeping. If I exposed them, chances were they would spend a long time in jail while those despicable politicians moved on with their lives.

“Come on Anita, trust me.”

He was attractive and gentle. He was sweet and self-assured. He was a man I could never get making me want him even more. A quick glance at his hand told me he was not married. There was no ring, no wedding band imprint. Still, I could not bring myself to trust Kibata.

I stood up with my gaze lowered and walked out of the room. The following day I quit my job at Tano Tena.

*                                                   *                                                    *

To my surprise, I was able to get another job soon after I resigned from Tano Tena. It was not as well paying and there were no generous tips but it was less stressful and allowed me to sleep at night. The first call from Kibata came on my fourth day as an employee at the Pizza Fest. I declined the call, afraid my mother’s mobile creditors had once again tracked me down. A message quipped shortly after I dismissed the call. I remember feeling flustered and scared at the same time. Later, when I called him back, he told me that he would like to buy me a drink. I made a joke about not wanting to go to Tano Tena and nervously waited for him to laugh. He did and for some reason his laugh made me laugh too. Everything about that man was infectious making him dangerous. We met that evening. He bought me dinner and told me about his childhood. His conversations were animated and extremely intelligent. I remember thinking that I could talk to him all night. This, however, did not happen since he had to wake up early for work and I had an exam the following day. He promised to keep in touch. As I walked to my hostel that night, I recall smiling because not once had Kibata asked me about the “mchele” operation. Still, a part of me worried that he was worming into my life in order to obtain the information he needed. With time, however, I pushed this thought away, desperate for it to be untrue.

I was constantly afraid that he would get bored of me. My insecurities were reasonable considering that he was a decorated detective, an integral part of the DCI, and I, I was a campus student working part time at the Pizza Fest and studying sociology. So I was a tad surprised when days turned to weeks and weeks morphed into months with us still dating. At some point, I moved out of the hostel at his request. Prior to this decision, he had been talking constantly about getting our place. He complained about how Mindy and her girlfriends were irritatingly loud. He hated how they looked down on me and how they did not respect my privacy. By the time he was asking me to move in with him, I had developed a profound loathing for my hostel. I recall thinking how suffocating the place was, and how I deserved to be free from it. The move was simple and easy. Kibata was in charge of finding the house, I was in charge of making it a home. We bought furniture, drapes, sheets, utensils, a gas cooker, fridge, microwave-you name it. We turned that empty, spoilt milk-smelling place into our place.

During our eighth month of dating, I watched in awe as Kibata went down on one knee during our anniversary dinner at the Hilton hotel. My engagement gift had been a car, a classy two-door Peugeot with a powerful engine and a stunning body. I recall how starstruck I had been. My cheeks had been sore from smiling.

Soon after his proposal, I started calling Kibata my husband. The term irked him, he claimed it sounded alien and boring. I told him I was rehearsing for the remaining part of our lives. I suggested that he get used to being called “Hubby”. I chuckled when his face morphed into horror. Sighing, I gave him a final offer. From that night, I would call him, Kibby.  He laughed at this, lifted me to our kitchen counter, slowly pulled my innerwear down, and made love to me until the crack of dawn.

*                                                   *                                                            *

One evening, I skipped my class and decided to surprise Kibby. This had become a habit; skipping lectures and work shifts so that I could prepare an eventful night for Kibby. I was failing in most of my classes and I was sure that Yvonne, my boss at the Pizza Fest, would fire me soon. But none of these situations fazed me; I was about to get married to the man I loved. A man who was financially stable. A man who was sweet, kind, and generous. A man who knew who he was and what he wanted. I would not have to worry about my family or my education, or an irritating shift schedule. Kibby was my haven, the place where I would lay my head and rest.

Armed with fried fish and some natural spices, I scampered down the road leading to our apartment. As I passed a clothes stall, I spotted long, black-hued socks. They were not special in any way, they were plain and unappealing but for some reason, I felt a pull towards them. We were kindred spirits, the pair of socks and I. We were both unremarkable but we both deserved a shot. I bought the pair of socks, Kibata would love them. He applauded simplicity. At times I wondered if that was what he had seen in me. I shook the thought away, what was it about love that made a person doubt their worth?

I jiggled the doorknob to no avail. Sighing, I carefully placed the groceries on the side of the door and proceeded to kick the door. It did not budge. I cocked my head deep in thought. I tried to recall how Kibby did it. Satisfied that I understood the mechanics of the act, I brought my foot to an angle near the edge of the door. I slammed my foot against the space, nothing. I was about to retrieve my phone when the door was opened. I gasped, my eyes immediately turning glassy.

“I don’t know…I…They are…I’m so tired Anita.”

My eyes raked Kibby’s length. He was dressed in a greasy white vest and loose-fitting pants. His hair was disheveled, his eyes bloodshot. But it was his face, his face was what had forced air out of my lungs. I had seen Kibby during his bad days but this…He looked lost and defeated. There were creases on his forehead and his cheeks were ghastly pale. When he reached out to hold my arms, I could feel his own shaking. My mouth suddenly felt dry and when I tried to speak, a silent croak came out. I decided against talking altogether and led Kibby to our couch. I then went to the kitchen and fetched drinking water in two glasses. Kibby gobbled his greedily. His need to rehydrate confirmed my suspicions. He had been crying. Since I met him, Kibby had never shed a tear. Even when we had attended his brother’s funeral two months ago or when he watched a child get hit by a bus while crossing the street. His eyes had remained dry and I had questioned his ability to express sadness and grief. Now, seated in front of me, was the same man who had clearly spent the better half of the day crying.

“What happened?”

Kibby lowered his gaze and fixated his eyes on our carpet. I followed his line of sight and felt a flush creep on my cheeks when I saw strewn ugali crumbs tucked within the wooly carpet.

“My niece goes to your school. She and her friends went to Tano Tena two nights ago to celebrate her birthday. Three of them did not return to the hostel. No one reported them to be missing because well, they are campus girls so there is an assumption that they are somewhere playing house with their boyfriends…They found her today Anita…they found them today.”

My face was wet. I had not even realized I had been crying. I helplessly watched as Kibby fished for his phone in his pants. His hands were shaking so much so that he could not properly slide his finger over his screen to create the pattern of his password. I gingerly took the phone from his hands and opened it for him. I felt my brain go numb. On the screen was a blurred photo of three girls tied on a bed face down. The sheet they were lying on was covered in blood sputters. I scrolled the photo suddenly craving for a clearer version. I let out a scream when the next image slotted itself on the screen.

“I am so sorry Anita.”

It was Mindy. Her body had been untied, cleaned, and transferred to the morgue. She stared back at me with soulless eyes, body sprawled on a metallic table. The other two images resembled that of Mindy’s. Three girls who had wanted a good time. Three girls who had possessed a bright future ahead of them. Three girls whose biggest worry had been which man on campus was hot. The three girls were now in a morgue with their toes tagged.

“Do they know who…do they know who did…”

I broke down in tears. I felt Kibby pull me into his warm embrace. I felt him rubbing his palm soothingly up and down my back. I felt his warm tears trickle down my neck.

“I had the power to stop this…I had the power to save Bella. I failed my niece…I failed my sister.”

His tears were that of guilt. Kibby could handle sadness and grief without physically expressing them. It was the guilt he could not handle. It was guilt that poked at his tear ducts. He was crying because he had not saved his niece. I scarcely wondered if he too had the savior complex, the unrelenting need to be someone’s knight in shining armor.

“Wanja…she is the head of the “mchele” operation…she was raped a while ago and she…she came up with this plan to hurt them as much as they hurt her.”

Kibby remained quiet and for a moment I wondered whether he blamed me for his niece’s death, for Mindy’s death. If I had given up this information when he had asked me months ago…

“Thank you Anita…Thank you. Now, what are we having for dinner? All this crying has made me hungry.”

As I walked towards the abandoned fish and spices, I wondered if I had been tricked. Whether all this had been an improv show and I the unsuspecting member of the audience. Had all this been a ruse to make me give up Wanja? An image of Mindy lying on the morgue table crossed my mind. I told myself that I had done the right thing. That Mindy and her friends deserved justice. When I reached out to pick my unmade dinner, I let out a chuckle. The only thing that was left in that hallway was one black-hued sock. Later, Kibby matched it with another sock whose partner had mysteriously vanished. As I had predicted, even if it had a missing piece, Kibby had loved the sock.

*                                                       *                                               *

My phone was vibrating again. I had fallen asleep on the carpet. As I patted my surroundings I grimaced, the carpet was soaked with my tears. When I finally found my phone across the room, a feeling of thrilling anxiety bubbled in my belly. It was quickly replaced with disappointment then dread when I saw the caller ID. Sighing, I answered it.

“You cannot put this off forever Miss Maina.”

I closed my eyes momentarily before clearing my throat.

“I appreciate the fact that you have left me alone for a while. All I am asking is a few more days. I am in no state-“

“The more you put this off, the more the situation goes stale. Do you want to see them win Miss Maina?

“No.”

“Then please come down to the station tomorrow at around 3:00 p.m.”

“Okay…okay, I will.”

I stared at my phone for a long time after the call had ended. For two weeks I had refrained from switching on the data and surfing the internet. Perhaps it was time. I slowly made my way to the couch and sunk in one of the cushions. A breathy sigh escaped my mouth as I tapped the Google app on my phone. I willed my fingers to stop trembling as I began to type in the search box. My first search was about the Tano Tena “mchele” arrest. Fifteen people had been taken into custody. Fourteen people had turned against the ringleader and made bail. The ringleader, Wanja Kimili, was sentenced to twelve years in prison. The politicians debunked this ruling saying it was too lenient, that someone could have died on the account of the “mchele” operation. Wanja’s sentence was thus dramatically increased to two decades in prison. Wanja had been studying to be an architect. She loved to draw, enjoyed criticizing buildings. She had come up with a Tano Tena structure design that had blown the owner away. I had never agreed with her methods but her hands had been tied. The police would not have helped her. She would have never gotten justice. Her Robin Hood operation was the only thing that had kept her going. The only thing that had kept her sane. I had robbed her of that. I had robbed her of her life and her retribution.

“I am so sorry Wanja…”

The plan had been simple. Start investigations on the “mchele” operation, extend the investigation to the crimes committed in Tano Tena, and finally, implicate politicians. Only one part of the ploy had been executed.

I erased the story about Wanja and began typing again. I inserted one word at a time, afraid of the search results. Hot, fat tears fell down my cheeks and onto the screen of my phone. My vision blurred so that I could not properly see his face. I blinked away the tears and took in the two pictures before me. One was an image of Kibby immediately after he made detective. He was smiling in that photo, he had been happy and proud. He had told me once that he had been the youngest officer to ever join the DCI. I had made a comment about the obviousness of it all. Kibby was intelligent, charming, and ferocious. These qualities made him quite an asset to the DCI. His suit was simple, a neat dark grey one.

My mind suddenly returned to the place I had driven to earlier. I recalled the house with the small door, how simple it had been. I recalled the lawn and the surrounding trees. I recalled the immaculate pavement and the silence. I recalled the three people outside that house. The three people draped with bliss.

My eyes trailed towards the second image in the article. Kibby’s body was sprawled outside Tano Tena. His suit was in tatters, his appearance tousled. There was a bottle of whiskey tucked in his left hand and a condom wrapper in his right hand. The headline of the article read,

Decorated Detective Beaten to Death After Trying to Sexually Abuse a Campus Girl.

I squinted at the image to look at the bruises. I whimpered when I saw how his shirt had been soaked in blood. Kibby had decided to effect change. He had made a choice to fight for the young men and women who had come to the university to make a life for themselves. He had wanted to battle injustice and stop crime. As a reward, Kibby, the unsung hero, was now to be remembered as nothing more than an alcoholic, a disgusting rapist.

“My husband…You would have loved that house.”

I brought my hand to my stomach and cradled it. I had found out I was pregnant the same night Kibby had been killed. I had not been to the gynecologist yet. I had chosen to ignore the whole situation. I had even begun smoking, a habit that could adversely affect our…no, my unborn child. I was going to raise it alone, without Kibby. For two weeks I had driven aimlessly through estates looking at houses, simple houses. Each time I found an area I thought Kibby would love, I would draw an image of us, standing outside the house, happy and contented. Then I would remember that I would never see him again and I would imagine myself as his mistress, stalking his family from my car. This was better than coming to terms with the fact that he was dead.

I weighed my options. If I went to the police and agreed to be a witness, chances were I would tread the same path as Kibby. If I failed to do this, these potent men would continue terrorizing our community. I thought about my unborn child. I thought about Chris and how our mother had ruined our lives. I wanted this child. I wanted to raise a young Kibby and teach him that this damned world can be a beautiful place. I wanted him to know that his father was a brave man and that he could be too.

The following day at 3:00 p.m. I walked to the bus station and boarded a vehicle to Bungoma. I was going home. Perhaps I still had time to rewrite Chris’ narrative. On my way there I tossed my sim card in a trash pit and bought a new one. As the bus lurched forward preparing for take-off, I concluded that I did not have a savior complex and that was alright. I did not have the ability to save everyone and that was okay. Choosing my safety, and that of my family was not cowardly and I hoped that Kibby would understand. As our journey started, an image of Kibby smiling filled my mind. I suddenly felt warm and safe-I knew exactly what I would do. I would fight the injustice through words. I would publish a story exposing all the nooks and crannies of Tano Tena.

————–

Image by Merlin Lightpainting from Pixabay

About the author

Lucy Mwelu

Lucy Mwelu is an emerging writer from Kenya.

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