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Month: December 2013

A stormy night – part two – Blue’s view

You may recall I talked last week about our stormy Christmas night – do you remember the wind howling and bending the heads of the tall trees and the rain crashing into the windows so that it sounded like someone was chucking shovels of gravel against the glass? It was an awful night indeed and the only saving grace was the warm log fire.

As I sat there staring at the flames I recounted the events of a year ago when the ferry from Broadmoor went down in stormy weather taking 25 innocent souls to the bottom of the sea. My friend Blue had travelled down to Portsmouth to meet a special passenger crossing on the last ferry of the night. My memory of events that long ago is a little hazy so I’m thinking why don’t I step aside and let Blue fill in some of the backstory leading to this terrible tragedy. Using the wonderful magic of technology, I give you Mister Blue…….

“Please fasten your seat-belt sir, we’re about to take off.” The young stewardess said this smiling sweetly as she moved quickly up the aisle, checking other passengers. The plane jerked forward and was soon taxiing towards the start of the runway. I shut my eyes tight and said another silent prayer. Moments later we were hurtling down the runway going faster and faster at some ridiculous speed and just when it seemed we would never take off the aircraft nose lifted and the rest of the Boeing 777-300 followed it skywards. I saw the look of relief on my fellow passengers’ faces and realised I was not alone.

My name is Blue. I hate flying, sailing and any form of land transport that involves vehicles with fewer than three wheels. So here I was now on Sunday evening flying across the night skies to Kenya. I had no choice. I needed to get away from Britain, the cold weather, the dull environment, the mindless Christmas hustle and bustle, but most of all I needed to get away from Woolie.

I had just lost someone very special in a freak ferry accident. The craft had sank in a wild storm killing everyone on board. The girl with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life was among those dead. I felt sadness at first and then a sort of sterile emptyness. This was followed by anger. A wild rage. I wanted to know why this had happened to me.

Woolie had appeared in Portsmouth just as I was trying to take in the news. He stood by my side from there on and supported me. He tried to comfort me. Every time he said something I wanted to punch him in the mouth, to shut him up. Woolie was part of my woes. That night – as we watched the tv news, I told Woolie how I had met my girl. I told him how much she meant to me – that was my biggest mistake.

Woolie is not all bad and true he is my best friend. It is just that he is a bit old-fashioned and conventional in his ways. Sometimes I think he is just confused. In matters of the heart I am afraid to say that he hasn’t got a clue. This explains why he was quite shocked to learn that I had never met my future bride to be in person. He laughed when I said that we had not found the opportunity in the seven months or so that we had been ‘dating’.

Woolie suggested that there must be something odd about the girl. He said, suppose she is not really who she says she is. I told him that we had exchanged loads of pictures. She lived a large manor house which her pa, a retired prison officer had bought from the last children of an old aristocratic family. I had seen the girl’s parents, her sisters and other members of the huge Broadmoor manor household.

Woolie had then interrogated me about West-African style online scams to see if the girl was just out to steal from me. I was not about to show him all the sweet emails, music and other cuttings that she had sent to me. I think those exchanges were private, more so now that she was gone.

There was still a final insult and disrespect to come. My friend asked me, “By the way, what is the name of your mystery girl? I don’t recall you ever having mentioned her name.”

“Carla” I said, quickly. “Her name was Carla Topping.”

Woolie immediately googled and searched the social media sites. There was no mention anywhere of a Carla Topping from Broadmoor Island and from that Woolie decided that she was a fake. For some reason, my best friend was unable to help me grieve over my loss. He wanted to show me up as some old fool who had fallen for a con artist. Bloody bure kabisa. I could have killed him. Instead I asked him not to mention Carla or Broadmoor or the sinking ferry to me again. It was time for me now to accept and move on. That shut him up and he helped me to prepare for my trip to Kenya.

As the plane touched down at Jomo Kenyatta I felt the sense of excitement that every traveller must feel on their return home. I knew I had made the right decision to come here and I would stay for as long as it took to come to terms with my loss. I said another quiet prayer of thanks.

A stormy night part one

It was the night of the storm. The squally rain was beating against the windows with such ferocity that the curtains on the inside were blowing about. Flashes of lightning lit up the black sky momentarily and these were followed by rolling thunder in the distance. The wind blew against the house howling and screaming like a creature in agony. My heart was grateful for the warm log fire.

As I sat listening to the violent battle going on outside the tragic events of the previous winter came back to mind. Exactly one year ago I had travelled down to Portsmouth at the beginning of the month for an important training fortnight organised for the heads of department in our region. The company had an office block beside the old Railway Station where the seminars took place. Our sleeping accommodation was in a middle-of-the-road family run hotel close to the docks on the other side of town. The company had paid for bed and breakfast but nearly everybody went out for dinner.

On the third evening I was too tired to go out. I thought perhaps I would check out the hotel kitchen to see what they had to offer. I was just making my way across to the restaurant when to my enormous surprise I spotted a friend seated on a high stool at the bar. What a coincidence? He had not seen me. He was gulping his whiskey as he stared at his reflection in the bar mirror in front of him.

‘Vipi Blue!’ I said in greeting. He turned quickly on hearing his name.

‘Woolie? Wacha! What are you doing here?’ He asked. He grabbed my right hand in both of his. His eyes were red, and it was not due to the Jameson.

‘Could ask you the same, I guess. We are both far from home. It’s been ages bwana. When did you come down here?’

‘I’ve been here all day, mzee. I am in mourning.’ He signalled to the barman who asked me what I was drinking.

‘What are you talking about, Blue? Kwani who has died like?’ I asked him. I was getting a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Blue is a real friend – almost definitely my best friend. We are like one. We think alike and act alike and share so many things in common that some acquaintances have mistaken us for brothers. It does not help that we look so much alike. In the crazy world of insurance you learn very early to seek a mentor and role model. Blue appointed himself as my mentor many years ago and he taught me everything that I know. If there is any single aspect about the insurance industry that Blue does not know – it is not worth knowing. I have learned much and achieved wonderful success in the this industry thanks to my association with Blue.

My buddy was the most successful salesman in the south-east region in his day. A charismatic, skilled and extremely charming salesman he had earned himself a small fortune when decided to retire and try his hand at life coaching. He was doing very well at this too.

We decided to leave the bar area and find a quiet table where we could talk. The flat screen tv on the wall opposite was tuned to a 24-hour news channel. The volume had been turned down. Blue was watching the news intently now. There were pictures of a large ferry that had capsized in the high seas. The caption read ’20 passengers still missing.’

Blue took up the story. The ferry from Broadmoor Island had set off on its six hour crossing with 8 cars, 2 lorries and 25 passengers and crew just after midnight. A sudden violent storm had whipped up midway through the crossing and despite the crews’ efforts the ferry had gone down in the high seas. No survivors had been found so far.

Blue had come to Portsmouth to meet a passenger coming over from the island on this ferry which should have docked just after 06.00 am. News of the tragedy had spread in the dock area long before it was picked up by the news wires. He could not believe his ears. The ferry bearing his love and all his hopes for the future had gone down. It could not be possible. The news was simply unbearable.

I needed to know more. So I asked Blue: Who was this lady? How long had they been together? What was she doing at Broadmoor Island.

It was in a voice heavy with sorrow that Blue explained how he had met this beautiful young lady online. Blue of course was single. She told him that she was single too but was under the care and guardianship of her ‘benefactor’ She said that she would explain it all to him when they finally met. All she would say was that he was controlling and very jealous. They had spoken at length and made real plans for the future. Blue had found his soul mate. I asked what the ‘benefactor’ business was all about. Blue said that the way she explained it he was someone who had once helped and supported her in the past and was now holding it against her. Some kind of emotional blackmail. He did not want her to leave, ever! They all lived in a big manor house on the Island. The benefactor, his wife and kids, Blue’s lady friend and a host of domestic staff who worked and lived in the manor. Blue looked at me with a pained expression and said how in life we only got one shot at being truly happy. He felt inside himself that this was a chance of a lifetime.

It had been proposed between the two of them that the lady would steal away from the manor the very first moonless night so that she could make her way down to the harbour under the cover of darkness. She would have previously purchased a ticket for the ferry crossing. Blue would be waiting for her in Portsmouth harbour and upon her arrival they would make their way to London where they would lie low before setting off for Kenya to start a new life together. Blue told me with tearful eyes that they had been hatching these plans on emails and phone calls over the past seven months.

We talked through the night in my hotel room. Blue’s lady had called him just before 11:00pm on the previous night to say that she was just about to leave the manor house. It was all systems go. That was the last he had heard from her. On hearing the bad news he had tried calling her cell-phone. It went unanswered. He tried it again and again until eventually a message came through saying that the subscriber was not available. Blue knew better. The phone must be at the bottom of the sea, he figured. He deleted her number from his phone. I know how to retrieve deleted numbers and unseen by Blue I copied it onto my phone.

I cancelled my training sessions in the morning and went back to London with Blue. He was in a bad way. We stayed at his flat. He was slowly coming to terms with the grieving process. One morning I asked him what he was going to do. He replied that he was still going to to relocate to Kenya. It had been his plan for the past seven months. The reality of his loss had sank in now and he felt that it was the right thing to do.

Blue stopped watching the news on tv or reading newspapers He said that he wanted to move on. He felt that the secondary emotions that he experienced whenever the news was on were not helping him.

It was Sunday. Blue was flying home today. At the airport we checked him in early so that we could have plenty of time at the bar. We sat and ordered our drinks. As I made a swift visit to the gents, I stopped to look at a newspaper on the stand. There was a picture of the ill-fated ferry on the front page. I read the report. My heart was pounding inside my chest and I thought it would burst open. Sea rescue and police had reported that they had now recovered the remains of all the victims of the ferry tragedy. There had been a single female who was a member of the crew. All the other passengers aboard the ferry that night had been male. Everything screamed to me that Blue’s lady had missed the ferry. But how does one explain the fact that he had not heard from her? I was weighing all this in my mind when Blue walked into the gents.

‘Chief, they’ve put out the last call, I better split.’ He looked really excited. I was not going to spoil that.

‘Look Blue, wewe nenda salama we’ll chat when you touch down.’

I watched as my friend went through departures. He did not look back once. When he was safely out of sight I whipped out my phone and dialled a number, It rang three times before it was answered by a young lady whose voice Blue would almost certainly have recognised.

‘Hello?’

‘Oga, Is that ma broda Harry-O?’ I asked.

‘I think you have the wrong number.’ Came the response.

‘I guess I have. Sorry.’ I hung up, deleted the number and went to look for my car.

A stormy and violent end to 2013

It is Tuesday 24th December 2013 and as I write these few lines violent storms are sweeping across the British Isles with high winds and heavy rainfall battering the country. The Met Office has issued ‘severe amber warnings’ forecasting extreme weather conditions for all parts of the country. Transport disruptions and localised flooding are expected. People are being advised not to travel ‘unless it is absolutely necessary’. Hello….It is Christmas eve.

The theme of violence takes a deadlier turn closer to home. Events of the past week in South Sudan have plunged the country into dangerous chaos and uncertainty. There are now reports coming in of ‘ethnic’ killings between the Dinka and Nuer communities. The AU and UN watch as Africa’s newest country totters towards a full scale civil war.

It would seem that 2013 may be remembered for all the wrong reasons. With the post election violence of 2007/8 at the back of everyone’s mind we went to the polls in April. The results were contested in the courts and the decision when it came was a slap in the face to a huge section of the electorate. For the sake of ‘peace’ we were all urged to accept and move on. Peace at any price.

Violence continued to rear its ugly head. The Westgate tragedy revealed the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of our diverse society. The stories of people risking their lives to save others in the face of what they imagined was a huge terrorist attack. Kenyans helped one another regardless of race, class or creed. The long queues of blood donors and other volunteers giving freely of themselves gave a sense of pride to many Kenyans. We said to the world…”this is how we do it here…”

The inadequate response by our security apparatus, the failure of all security agencies to understand the nature of the terrorist threats facing our country and chaotic manner in which ‘the siege was ended’ revealed a disturbing level of incompetence by those charged with managing the situation. I will not say much about the looting by the KDF and the facts now emerging that there were no more than four attackers who probably all got away. I think we have had enough.

Something positive for 2013? Well the world bade farewell to a great man. It has been said that we will not see someone like Madiba for a very long time. Perhaps never.

Florence Kiplagat and Wilson Kipsang won the Berlin Marathon women’s and men’s races with Wilson setting a new marathon world record. The men’s race had an incredible top five finishers from Kenya. Beat that!

image from Bleacher Report

On that note may I take the opportunity to wish you all a very happy and peaceful Christmas. May the new year bring your dreams and aspirations to fruition and may you keep your noble resolutions until February, at least.

of guns and people

The last time I visited my Babu at the farm it was right in the middle of harvest time. The man had dropped out of sight in Nai and travelled up to Cheptiret some two weeks earlier. He had then telephoned me to say that he had taken charge of the predicted bumper crop and would be away from the office. His reason for calling? Well, he wondered if I would be interested in taking a short likizo from work. I agreed at once.

Babu welcomed me eagerly on the Sunday morning and I was swiftly ushered to my quarters where I would be staying for the next week or so. I put away my stuff and went to meet Babu at the verandah where we sat down to a hearty breakfast. The farm house breakfast was something more akin to a feast. There was plenty of fresh fruit and juice and an endless supply of eggs and bacon with fried tomatoes. There was also lightly grilled trout caught in the stream that same morning. Babu pointed to his wife’s famous mahamris, her enormous buns and the lightest pancakes I had ever sampled. There was a roast leg of Molo lamb on a platter which sadly I could not touch. We washed it all down with giant mugs of sweet steaming milky tea.

After breakfast Babu whipped out his pipe and filled it with baccy stroking it lovingly. I watched in envy as he lit it and started puffing smoke like an old train. A few weeks before I had given up smoking for good. The nicotine cravings were particularly harsh when I watched someone who took his art seriously. We sat and talked for a while as I gave him the news from the big city. He told me that my arrival was quite fortunate as they needed every available pair of hands for this year’s huge harvest.

After a bit more chatting Babu’s wife came up and said that I could go and rest in my room. She knew that I had travelled most of the night so if I wanted to I could lie down for a bit. She had recently installed WiFi in her home so I logged on with my lappy to deal with work-emails. There were just a handful that required any serious response and I was done in a matter of minutes. I caught up with some of my favourite news and entertainment sites before looking up a few blogs at random.

I looked in at Savvy’s to get an update on the analogue – digital migration. After that it struck me that I needed to give a junior colleague at work some support over some issues he was going through with his new girl. Where better to visit for relationship questions than the project? Relationships come in all shapes and sizes and there was always the chance that my colleague would need to dig a little deeper to find the solution to his conundrum. Perhaps he needed the scientific approach.

What had started as random browsing to kill time in a farmer’s cottage in shags had sent me down long and winding paths and here I was now reading a post on guns. It was a disturbing post especially because of the casual way in which these gunmen whipped out their tools at the slightest provocation. I made a mental note to discuss the matter with my Babu. I was really tired now and so I logged off before slipping into a deep sleep.

After dinner that evening I asked my Babu about the allegedly high prevalence of guns in private hands. He shook his head sadly and asked if I too had read the post about the man with a gun. He told me it was a very serious matter. The issue was a growing crisis. He poured our drinks and we settled comfortably in his old sitting room. I waited patiently for the story that I knew was to come but I would be a liar if I wrote on these pages that I was prepared for the tragic tale that he was about to tell me.The story involved a local family who lived just beyond the hills to the north of Cheptiret.

The Srill family were well known in all the surrounding area. They were successful land owners, rich beyond belief. They also had interests in banking, insurance, property letting, and charcoal exports; old money with connections in the heart of government. Babu told me how the shrewd old Mzee Srill had created an empire “with his bare hands.” His business success gave his family a life of priviledge and respectability. Old man Srill was preparing his eldest son, Donovan to start taking control of the family business. As time went by Donovan Srill married Julia, a local girl from a staunchly religious and well-respected family in what became the wedding of that year in Nakuru.

It soon became clear that young Srill liked to beat on his sweetheart when he was drunk. He would later apologise, buy her some expensive jewellery and swear never to do it again. But he drank more and the beatings got worse, brutal. When she was hospitalised for a month the marriage was over. There was a collective sigh of relief that there had been no children.

Srill’s family came together, closed ranks and found him another bride. However old mzee Srill issued him with an ultimatum: mess this one up and you can say good bye to your inheritance. Donovan Srill could not afford to get divorced again. So he never laid a finger on Vanessa. This was when he bought the gun. According to records he applied for and obtained a firearms licence. He would later acquire several more hand guns, join a shooting club and style himself as a collector of small firearms. He said that his guns were for the protection of his family and property. He became known locally as the gun nut. Whenever the dogs barked at night he would stand on a balcony and let off several rounds into the air “to scare off the would be attackers” Srill liked to pull out his gun in public places, bars and night-clubs having first made sure that there were no armed police nearby. Matatu drivers and touts were his favourite prey. He would come up to the driver’s window and point a pistol at the driver – just for a laugh. Srill was becoming a social nuisance and a bully but because of who he was he was able to get away with it.

Srill’s drinking problems deteriorated quite quickly after the birth of their daughter. He crashed his new car into a wall one evening, fracturing his ankle in several places. At first this seemed to be a blessing. He had smashed up his right ankle and so could no longer drink and drive. Vanessa’s joy was short-lived however as she discovered that Srill required her to act as his chauffeur driving him around every day from pub to seedy pub. He had this bizarre need to have his wife present to witness his power when he made grown men cower in fear at the sight of his guns.

Late one Saturday night the Srills were driving home after visiting friends. It had been raining all afternoon. A steady downpour falling on already soaked ground. Vanessa was at the wheel with Don as usual in the passenger seat in his normal drunken stupor. In the back sat the baby’s maid. It was quite cold and she had placed a woolly throw over the baby girl. As they turned a corner the headlights caught what seemed to be boulders or obstructions on the road. Vanessa brought the car to a halt. It appeared that there had been some sort of a land slip. Rocks and soil had slipped off the hill side and onto the road.

The sudden stop jerked Don back to life. He too saw the boulders on the road. His demons screamed at him that they were in the valley of death, a place crawling with vicious car jackers and highway men. And they were under attack! It was up to him to protect his family. He reached into his glove compartment and pulled out several guns kicking open his door and rolling out commando style onto the wet road. He was firing from all barrels and in all directions. The women screamed in horror as Don continued firing like a man possessed. All the while he was shouting AAAAHHHHH!! like a US Marine in the movies.

Don’s ammunition was soon spent and the night fell silent again save for the falling rain. Vanessa could not believe that she had not been hit. There were several holes in the windscreen and the car body work. She went to the back calling out to her baby. The maid had placed her own body over the child to protect her. A stray bullet had entered the maid’s back and exited just below her heart. It was this bullet that killed the sleeping baby too.

Babu was silent for a moment and I stood up to throw some more logs into the fire. With our glasses refilled Babu said that this version of events as he had recounted it to me were not known to the general public. Babu had learned that Vanessa had told her father exactly what had happened. Vanessa’s pa also told Babu that Mzee Srill had influenced the official statement that was later issued.

The official report suggested that passers-by had raised the alarm and police had arrived at the scene some twenty minutes after the shootings. Donovan Srill was found squatting at the roadside rocking back and forth, his head held in his hands. They found Vanessa in the back of the car cradling her dead baby. She had covered the baby’s maid with the woollen throw. The police officers had called their superiors and mzee Srill had been informed.

That night police officers acting on a tip-off had intercepted four suspects who opened fire when challenged by police. They had all been shot dead. It is believed that these suspects had earlier on that evening been involved in an attempted car-jacking where a young woman and a baby had been fatally wounded.

Donovan Srill is now hospitalised in a private psychiatric hospital for an indefinite period.

Tragedy

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