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.