The liquid flood of unceasing feet rolling tensely along the pavement past the Media Centre opposite The Pub off The Street is inhabited by a tall pair of dark marionettes which the duo’s eyes catch and the running water has above it an air of revenge, cloying perfume, white caps, and long kanzu robes hurriedly melting into The Mosque above which hundreds of black-and-white wings flap tilting their feathered bellies past the green crescent and numerous white domes which have whispered with The City for the sister of a century. The two dark marionettes, tall like flag-posts, will branch right, into The Restaurant this midday, their buttocks mocking The Cafe on the other side of The Street where white couples in khaki shorts and tough brown shoes love to sit sipping coffee from large Chinese mugs, the wind caressing their bleary eyes, sometimes with an athletic Kenyan girl whose eyes remain open in spite of the wind. Months back in the Media Centre’s newspaper there was a picture of Robert Mugabe tripping at the airport and African Union conference in Ethiopia, his back pushed by the slow but muscular arms of old age. The TV screens showed Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete declaring John Maghufuli President even before actual elections. After that was a picture of Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza winning a stolen election. In today’s newspaper there is a picture of Yoweri Museveni wishing to outlive God, and Kiza Besigye arrested for the hundredth time in one day. Much of this continent is ‘yuom,’ a political sex defect! An invisible mind whispers as he walks along The Street. President Macky Sall of Senegal is fighting to cut his term to five years; but here we are in our usual ticklish small-mindedness, stretching the limits of eternity!
Street sweeper in yellow –
Urchin digging into bin –
Thick spittle –
Boy beckoning mirror, helping park driver –
Odd cat –
‘Welcome; measure weight, height’ –
‘Oga’ – the loud pair of Nigerians –
‘Naza bien, mobali na ngai’ – the daring herd of Congolese –
Cowardly Kenyans press onto walls to let them pass –
Clouds up above, up, up, breezing past buildings which cheat the eye that they will come down in rabbles.
The duo hurrying along is part of the hubbub…
There was a time last December, on the heels of August elections, when wind arrived with the wet news that a Kenyan had met death on the blade of a spear in Juba. He was a man. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between General Garang’ and El Bashir had brought a sweet harvest of Independence for South Sudan. General Garang’ had a thriving economy which gathered Kenyans like moths. Oil economy. The newspapers reported that a South Sudanese man wanted dowry for his bride.
‘Father,’ he was telling his mother’s husband.
‘You can see that I am here.’
‘I am ripe to marry now, Father.’
‘But fathers have never been spouses for their sons.’
‘But what about my heifers.’
‘To take to the homestead of the father of the girl, Father.’
‘Nkl, your head is without shame –’
The newspapers in Nairobi reported that the father reprimanded his son for not seeing how the decades-long war between Juba and Khartoum had eaten up nearly the whole of the old man’s herd. The media said how, blind with rage, the young man bolted out of his father’s hut, grabbed a spear, hit the road, and the first unlucky person he met on his way to nowhere was an expatriate Kenyan wasting time near a tree. The Kenyan’s chest received the full length of the spear and fell without bothering the ill-trained clinical officers a Juba hospital.
President O stepped in and Opinya’s body was airlifted to Nairobi. How Dr. Ofwa’s liver glowed with anger at the thought of Juba for swallowing his elder sibling! (Those who know say that Dr. Ofwa is the preident’s very very very distant cousin). How the angry man has ever since followed every South Sudanese in the streets of Nairobi just to mock and abuse their thin, tall-dark frames!
Kimathi Street is abuzz with cars and brisk walkers. The Jamia Mosque muezzin pours out his sonorous ‘Allahu Akbar’ to the rhythm of dove wings flying over the mosque. Kanzu-wearing Muslims hurry past. Nation Centre is a giraffe over many buildings, barking height the way it does news and newspapers. Slightly west on the other side of the street is Java Cafe. Tribeka Pub bangs Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here merging into Greenday’s American Idiot. The scale pressed against the street wall still invites passers-by to ‘welcome, measure weight, height.’ Dr. Ofwa and Njoro both slip past it, and they branch into City Star Restaurant where the two tall South Sudanese have entered this midday.
In 1982, after the failed coup that sought to inspect President O’s manhood for any circumcision marks, Dr. Ofwa – hurriedly grabbed from the University of Nairobi’s Department of Anthropology – and a graduate of Syracuse University through Kenya’s 1960’s scholarship airlifts – to oversee the systematic castration of Njoro’s Kikuyu people, had met Njoro somewhere along Tom Mboya Street. Njoro was crying. His right hand had hung in gory dripping blood, the elbow above it splintered by a soldier’s bullet.
‘I could have killed you Okuyu,’ Dr. Ofwa had told Njoro then, attaching the predictable Nilotic ‘O’ prefix to Njoro’s ‘Kikuyu’ tribe. ‘I forgive you only because right now you are a very terrified man running along this street named after one of my own – our matchless Tom Mboya. You must be happy that you killed him but see how I forgive you. Thank me.’
‘Thank you Sir Oh Ngai mwathani!’ Njoro had said promptly, thanking his God.
And then, because human beings meet, the two had not been shocked to see each other again at the City Council’s tender meetings where Njoro usually arrived with his left arm only and Dr. Ofwa felt for him the way Mother Cheetah sometimes does not eat an orphaned Thomson’s gazelle calf in Maasai Mara Game Reserve. The PhD invariably gave all the tenders to Njoro at a kickback fee…
This lunch time the friendly duo enters City Star Restaurant in haste. Dr. Ofwa is paranoid of every South Sudanese he sees in Nairobi’s streets. It was a South Sudanese who killed his brother, Opinya, in Juba. They killed him, and they know that we the Luo also came from that Sudan of theirs. Nkl, these people! Dr. Ofwa says in his heart and head. He must ask if it was these two who did it, and make them pay in full, now that his very very very distant cousin is the Kenyan president.
The duo climbs the first flight of stairs. North. They turn. Climb the second. West. They reach the guard seated at the restaurant door.
‘The wajinga fools from South Sudan.’
The guard says, ‘Hapana, I did not see them.’
‘Nkl!’ Dr. Ofwa clicks his tongue aloud. ‘You must have been asleep at this midday. You watchmen! Nkl!’
‘Not like that, Sir –’
‘It is true you are old!’ He cuts the guard short. ‘Let me add that you are old. Retire today – and take care – remember you are talking to the president’s cousin.’
The guard freezes.
Njoro smiles behind Dr. Ofwa. The latter flashes his eyes over the seated crowd. Famished people drink food like zebras at a waterhole in Maasai Mara Game Reserve. It is not difficult to see a South Sudanese even when people are seated – very tall, dark.
‘There! There! The wajinga fools are seated there!’ shouts Dr. Ofwa as Njoro comes behind him and they walk to the table where the two South Sudanese are just joining their kin – eight electricity poles of them are neatly seated, white-toothed, black-faced, tall, threatening. One look at the quantity of goat meat and rice in the endless trays of General Garang’s people and Dr. Ofwa bursts in mocking laughter:
‘Ehehehehe! How can these people from Juba be eating like this? Njoro my friend!’
‘Look at this madness omera! These people will finish all our meat here in Nairobi yawa!’
(It is true, the volume of food a South Sudanese pours into his stomach in any Nairobi hotel can sometimes worry the average Kenyan eater. A joke erupts in the outskirts of the city. Poor men tell their wives: If you see with your eye the world of meat which disappears into the stomach of the South Sudanese in our humble town, you will know how I went to the butchery and found meat finished – true, I am not lying…)
The restaurant guard arrives before Njoro can answer.
‘Leave this restaurant!’
‘I will not. Heh, why must I?’
‘Because you trouble our customer and restaurant will not accept.’
‘Take care,’ Dr. Ofwa warns, sternly. ‘You are talking to the president’s cousin.’
‘You must leave even if you are brother of president. Toka! Toka!’ he begins to push him out and two other guards arrive to help.
‘Let us go, Dr. Ofwa,’ Njoro begs him.
‘What is his name – O-what? Ofwak?’
‘Call me ‘Dr.’! Dr. Ofwa. I earned my PhD in America, Syracuse University – what is wrong with you watchmen? I might tell the president – remember.’
‘Leave even if –’ the restaurant manager arrives.
‘Stop talking, you!’ Dr. Ofwa barks at the Somali manager. ‘These Sudanese killed my brother, Opinya, in Juba. How can I not ask them?’
‘Well but it was not them exactly –’
‘Shut up you Ja-Somali! You are al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab mixed together!’
They haul him out anyway, and abandon him at the entrance. Njoro stays beside him.
Kimathi Street has breathed a little – only a few cars, wind, and the sun. People must be eating in the hotels. The ‘welcome, measure weight, height’ goes on at the corner. Adherents pour out of Jamia Mosque. Doves fly over the mosque’s moon-like domes.
The Kikuyu declares his presence, ‘Niko hapa bwana.’
‘I do not know what is wrong with Kenyans and Africans,’ Dr. Ofwa says, dejected. ‘Africans do not like the idea of justice. No one is willing to help me discipline those Sudanese. You saw with your own eyes. It is a hidden rule that Europe must come in everywhere. Nkl! I reject! Let us enter Java and find something to eat.’
At the pub he quickly orders a hot meal for both of them. A middle-aged white man is whispering sweet things into the ears of a Kenyan girl in the pub. The two hungry entrants take note. They will eat a lot of fatty pizza this lunch time.
Something comes to the TV screen as they rinse their throats with water-pot-cold coca cola – the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor has lost in her attempt to nail down the perpetrators of Kenya’s 2008 ‘post-election violence.’ Ironically, what Nation Centre’s newspapers call ‘post-election violence’ was meted out on the citizens by the state. Over one thousand people perished; three-quarters of them mowed down by policemen’s guns.
You can bet that all Kikuyu people are not happy at the news. Blood coagulates in their hearts. They know they were 2008’s chief victims. Justice in Africa is as impossible as meeting a virgin in Sodom and Gomorrah, their faces tell you. President O stole the election from them. In Kiambu, a policeman shot down a demonstrator and kicked his body in front of a journalist’s powerful camera. In Naivasha, a Luo communal militia used broken bottles to chop off the penises of circumcised Kikuyu. The Luo militia locked up a Kikuyu family of eleven and doused the house – the whole family except the husband perished in Naivasha. It raped Kikuyu women. In Thirimi Slums, Nairobi, the militia made Kikuyu babies eat swinging axe blades with their bare gums…
‘Ehehehehe, yes!’ Dr. Ofwa yells in the cafe, rising and clapping his hands. ‘Yes! Kenya is a sovereign state. Africa is free. I reject neo-colonialism! Yes! Fatou Bensouda was not going to succeed where Moreno Ocampo failed. Argentina is way bigger than The Gambia – let Bensouda return home to Gambia. Nkl! Suits Europe which still tries to show disrespect for Africa. I would have stripped naked if our Luo president, my cousin, was going to be found guilty by the Netherlands court.’
Though not directly, Dr. Ofwa says it at the white man seated nearby. The Kenyan girl looks embarrassed but hides it. When it is too much the couple slinks out of Java Cafe, down the stairs, and into their waiting Range Rover. They drive away.
After a while the attendant comes wiping the table where the couple sat.
‘He works for CIA, you know? The American thing,’ he tells Dr. Ofwa.
‘Who do you mean?’
‘Huyo mzungu white man of course.’
‘Ukweli,’ the attendant confirms the truth.
‘Up to him, my friend omera,’ Dr. Ofwa dismisses. ‘This is Africa.’
They have gorged themselves on the food. Towards late afternoon rock music comes blaring from Tribeka Pub. It is Zombie by The Cranberries. The two leave Java and cross Banda Street. They enter Tribeka.
‘Do you have D.O. Misiani?’ Dr. Ofwa asks the Kikuyu DJ against the noise.
‘Misiani – the Luo benga singer, Daniel Owino Misiani. Do you have him?’
‘We don’t play that.’
‘Heh, but why?’
‘People don’t like.’
‘It is you, who does not like,’ Dr. Ofwa confronts the DJ. ‘Congolese, Jamaican, Nigerian, Tanzanian, and white music you play. But Kenyan music you never touch – except Kikuyu music of course. If I had asked for Joseph Kamaru and Musaimo you would have played them for me. You Okuyu are dangerous tribalists – I wonder the God that created you with His hands! Nkl! Njoro, I do not understand why Kenyans despise themselves this much.’
Njoro looks on, smiling. The duo parts when the day dies and Kimathi and Banda streets come alive with yellow bulbs, perfume, doves perching on Jamia Mosque crescents and domes, and the muezzin’s voice…
Before the duo meets again a million things go on in the mind of the invisible Kimathi Street walker: The continent is a sex defect of leadership – yuom. Male leaders are dogs born with the foreskin pulled back. The red head of the penis sticks out eternally – the inability to embrace concealment. Female leaders hide passion fruit tendrils which coil – a handicap of the will to be straight. Both are uncircumcised states. National thought processes are abducted, hostaged in small, stinking pants of the post-coital colonial hangover, a feminine act where tribes bicker over who availed her womb to the coloniser more readily than whom…No one is willing to circumcise their minds and bury the foreskin of the past; or conceal the glans and forget the days of nudity gone by.
After three days is the next time the duo returns to Java Cafe. The South Sudanese still troop into City Star Restaurant on the other side of the street, but Njoro and Dr. Ofwa tensely avoid the Somali-owned meat den with their past humiliation in mind. It is a pay-back project that can be pursued another time.
They find the white man and his spouse sipping cocktail juice on a hot midday in Java. The couple sits so close that each breathes the other’s carbon dioxide. Cars zoom past. The sun. The wind. The street sweeper in yellow. The urchin helping someone park. The Congolese. The Nigerian. Above the tall buildings fat clouds travelling. ‘Welcome, measure weight, height’ goes on across Kimathi Street, on the squeezed wall next to Nation Centre.
‘Njoro?’ Dr. Ofwa calls.
‘I have decided.’
‘To use all my resources in looking for the murderers of my brother Opinya.’
‘But President O is your cousin. Can he not help?’
‘He drags his feet. You know cousins hate one another sometimes.’
‘He stole 2007 elections; I hate him.’
‘But he did not steal omera. He won fair and square.’
‘You lie; out of eight provinces he won only one province.’
‘Ah, Njoro, leave the past alone. Do not be conservative like the opposition party of your Kikuyu tribe – always thinking about old things and the past. I love Kenya.’
‘You are more conservative than I am. You love Kenya which began in the nineteenth century; I am talking about 2007.’
‘What do you know?’
‘You are bitter that our Jaramogi Odinga became president and let Jomo Kenyatta die in prison; that my Luo have been three out of four Kenyan presidents. Nkl!’
‘I am not bitter.’
‘You are – that Dedan Kimathi was buried where you do not know, and yet you say that the Mau Mau brought Kenya’s independence. Our independence was negotiated between our Jaramogi Odinga and the British, my friend. You Kikuyu need not become presidents. We do not need circumcised people as presidents. It is an abomination. Their penises are too dry to fertilise, wet Kenya into economic prosperity.’
Njoro laughs and clicks, ‘Nkl. And you Luo, you are uncircumcised children holding the presidency. Kenya is waiting for a clean man to lead the country – one who has no dirty penis.’
‘Hehehehehehehe!’ Dr. Ofwa bursts. ‘Kenya will never receive change through the foreskin of a circumcised penis. As if the Luo did not circumcise. Your circumcision was borrowed from us. We abandoned the practice during our Bunyoro-Kitara kingdom of Uganda. Only for you to pick it up through the Tiriki and claim it is yours. Nkl, you are very unoriginal, you Kikuyu. Circumcise your minds instead.’
‘Sometimes you lie very badly.’
‘Did I not read anthropology, I Dr. Ofwa? I am not like you who were scratching the earth here in Nairobi when I was busy drinking knowledge in Syracuse University – I learnt in America, my friend.’
Njoro thinks. What jerks his memory is the Kenyan woman shouting at Dr. Ofwa nearby, and the white man is laughing himself dead, Yoweri Museveni winning on the TV screen.
‘Shame – shame on you! Aibu!’ yells the Kenyan woman. ‘He said here three days ago that Africa doesn’t need Europe to solve her problems, and here he is asking a white man to help him track his brother’s killers. Shame!’
Image (modified): Michael Coghlan via Flickr
This is bare knuckle—If it were the days of yore I see you self-exiling. Well, bold story you have here.