because you never forget that funny smell

Category: accidents (page 3 of 5)

The phones

Today’s little story begins with something that many people do every morning. The commute to work. That special time in the morning when millions of men, women and children from all walks of life leave home for their offices, factories, banks, shops, schools, colleges and other places of occupation. The movement of a huge population across our city in the space of a very short time is a moving testament to human organisation. It would be an amazing spectacle to observe from a decent height; think of the famous annual wildebeest crossing of the Mara river all taking place before 08.00 am. Continue reading

The keys

For Kabura.

It was about 1818 that a man from Winchester started a locksmith business in the English Midlands’ town of Wolverhampton. For Charles Chubb and his family the business grew rapidly and over time they became the biggest supplier of locks and keys in the British Empire.

Woolie had often wondered at the two words Chaabi and Chabi both related and meaning ‘key’ in Urdu and Hindi respectively. He was curious to know how many other languages used a form of the word Chubb in reference to keys. Continue reading

The picnic

Woolie thinks that it is a sign of our times that most people that we know – and you might also include yourself here – are time poor. Simply put there are just not enough hours in the day to accommodate all the competing preoccupations of our daily lives. This might explain why we do not take too readily to people who delight in telling random rambling stories with endless detours and diversions. We are a species on the run today – get to the point and do it quick…before we become extinct. Continue reading

City tails

“Gosh lady so you really weren’t joking when you said you hadn’t eaten all day,” he said as he watched me crunch another huge bone in my mouth. It was early evening and we were sitting with my companion at his back yard where I was happily tucking into the food that he had just brought me.

“I love this fatty meat and like they say the closer the bone……”, I said, between mouthfuls.

“I never get to eat anything this gorgeous at home….not allowed, you see. My people say uncooked meat is unhealthy.”

My companion looked at me and shook his head. “All these people are the same. They think that they are smart and know what is best but really they are the dumbest creatures.” He stretched his long legs and lay on the grass beside me.

“So are you going to tell me why you ran away from home”? He asked. He was kind and patient and I knew that he would wait until I was ready.

“Saddam, dear, what can I say. I just need to get away from here. City life is not for me anymore. Why don’t we run away together to the country.” I was looking into his large, beautiful, brown eyes as I said this and I knew that he would not want to leave. His life was here and he had everything going for him. He couldn’t leave Nairobi. It meant the world to him.

I had learned that Saddam’s early years had been difficult. He was one of six little ones born to a single mother living near Eastleigh between Mlango Kubwa and Kailisha. Mother would often leave her little ones for a few hours in the afternoon whilst she went out to look for their dinner. One day mother did not come back. Saddam was to be told later that his mother had been was struck and killed by a fast moving lorry on the busy Kinyozi Road.

Saddam was forced to learn the tough game of daily survival from a tender age. All his friends on the street lived by cunning and guile. Life was full of hazards and few made it to their first birthday.

Saddam was on food patrol one sunny day when the butcher’s son saw him. The boy fell in love with him and took him back home. The days and weeks that followed saw a transformation in Saddam’s life. Here was now healthy and well looked and sheltered from the elements.

To the other survivors in the hood Saddam was much loved. He was generous with his daily allowance of bones and meat and he quickly become a pillar of the local canine community. I was just honoured that he had chosen to be my friend. One day I asked him about the name Saddam. He said the Butcher’s son named him after a famous politician from an oil-rich country. I admitted I wasn’t too much into human geography or politics so it meant nothing to me. My own people had named me Beyonce because they thought that I was smart and very attractive.

Stormy night – part three – Broadmoor Island

I sat quite still for a few moments after reading Blue’s statement. I was hurt by his uncompromising and accusatory tone. He had somehow got the idea in his head that I was uncaring about the tragic situation that he had found himself in. There was only one thing for me to do, to put this right. So I booked myself a weekday passage on the ferry to Broadmoor Island.

After a calm and uneventful crossing we arrived at Broadmoor harbour just before mid day. It was bright and sunny and I enjoyed the short walk to the town centre. It was a neat town with just one main street. There were shops around a central market square. I stopped at a newsagent’s nearby to buy some cigarettes and get my bearings. The owner pointed me in the direction of the main Post Office.

The postmaster was a genial man who had seen perhaps sixty or seventy Happy New Years in his time. There were a few round coffee tables in his shop and I sat to have a drink. The old man brought over my coffee asking which part of the mainland I was from. He was a talkative soul and we chatted for a bit about life in general.

“So what brings you here?”, he asked. I told him that I was an insurance assessor and that I was following up a claim for a Ms Carla Topping. The trouble is that we had somehow lost her address details and needed to contact her. I had been sent here by Head office urgently. I wondered if he happened to know where she lived.

The nice man drew himself up to his full height of five foot and three inches and puffed out his chest importantly. “I know where everyone on this Island lives, and I can assure you that I have never heard of a Carla Topping.” He saw my surprise and continued, “There is a big house at the top of the hill over there”, He pointed in a direction behind me. “It is called Broadmoor Manor and is owned by Laurie Stopping, the last governor of the old prison.” The postman said that Mr Stopping had recently lost a son in a ferry accident. He went on to tell me that there was a daughter, Carmine, who was a teacher in the school just across the square from where we were. He felt that it would be unwise to disturb the family with my enquiries at this time. Perhaps he could introduce me to Carmine the next day when she came into the post office during her mid-morning break. I liked his idea and so I bade him good bye and went to seek a room for the night.

The next day, by mid morning I had taken my place at the coffee table and was reading the local newspaper when the post man whispered excitedly, “Here she comes, act natural, now, and let me do the talking.”

Carmine Stopping would stop any man’s heart for a moment. She looked as beautiful as she did on photos of “Carla” that Blue had shown me. When she spoke it was in the same clear voice that had answered my “oga wrong number” stunt on the afternoon that I had said Kwaheri to Blue at Heathrow.

My postmaster pal explained to her why I was here. She was watching him intently and did not notice that I was watching her as her chest heaved quickly up and down as she listened to what the postmaster had to say. When he had finished she turned to me, calm as you like and said in a cool voice, “I guess I can give you all the information that you require, Mr Kondoo. I just need to go back to the school right now and ask someone to look after my class. I will meet you here in about half-an-hour.”

She left the shop shutting the door quietly and Postman Pat looked at me with a silly grin on his face. “Do you two know each other?” He asked, winking slyly. I assured him that this was the first time that I had met Ms Carmine. I asked him about the brother that had died at sea. The postman said that he had only known him by sight. He was a quiet lad who kept to himself.

Carmine was true to her word. She opened the shop door some twenty minutes later and nodded at me. Taking my cue, I thanked the postmaster and went outside. We walked in silence for a moment before she asked, “So you are Woolie? I have heard so much about you.” She smiled for the first time but I could see pain in her eyes. We chatted for a bit as we slowly walked down towards the harbour. It was another clear day and one could see for miles out to sea. We saw several Ocean going vessels making their way across the channel. Carmine surprised me by naming every ship and telling me what country it came from and where it was bound for. We found a bench overlooking the harbour and sat to watch as the sea-birds dived into the water to emerge again with silver fish wriggling in their bills.

Carmine took a deep breath and said, “How could things have gone so wrong?” She looked at me, saying, “Would you believe me if I said that we did not set out to deceive anybody?” I nodded and said that she did not come across as some wicked con-artist or scammer. “Why don’t you tell me what happened”, I said.

Carmine seemed relieved for the opportunity to get things off her chest. Once she started talking she would only stop to take an occasional sip from a water bottle which I had brought from the post office. As we sat there over-looking the harbour, watching the noisy diving sea-birds she told me the troubled and difficult tale of a young man.

Carmine had two older sisters Amanda and Jennifer. They both lived on the mainland now and almost never came to the Island. After they were born their father, then a harsh prison governor demanded that the next child must be a boy. The next child was Carmine and father was livid. It is said that he was mean and cruel and brutal to his wife. In a strange twist, just over ten months later, their mum gave birth to a baby boy. In drunken rejoicing father called him Charles, because he was the heir.

It was Ma who first noticed that Charles was different from other boys. He preferred to play with the girls and their toys. His father took him to play football in the park and he enjoyed it. When he got back home, however he wanted to help Ma with dinner and house work. Ma said to the girls once that little Charles had said to her that “There was a mix-up and I was given a boy’s body”

When Pa heard about this he was unforgiving. Charles was sent away to boarding school to “toughen him up.” He played rugby and cricket but in the school holidays he would play piano and practice dance at the parish hall. Anyone on the island who did not go to Uni joined the Royal Navy. Charles had passed his A-Levels well enough to do a good degree but Pa insisted that he join up. By all accounts he had a good time. There were numerous deployments and they travelled all over the world in the 8 years that he was there. It was during one tour that they ended up in Thailand. This opened his eyes to the fact that he was not the only person who felt the utter misery of being trapped in the wrong body.

He took his next annual leave in one big chunk and went back to Thailand where he started the long process of re allignment. This is about the time when Blue first appeared on the scene. At first it seemed like just a bit of fun. Blue sounded like a decent enough character and so they chatted and emailed all through the difficult times. Blue was not here to see how Charles was transformed into Carla. Something about this transformation seemed to strengthen their friendship. Blue told Carla of how he had been in a serious car wreck years ago and how he had spent a couple of weeks in hospital. It was friends who visited him and kept him going. Carla saw in Blue the friend who would keep her going.

There was one problem. Father. We did not have the courage to tell him what Charles had done. When he came back to the Island he stayed with me at my teachers’ quarters. He needed money to fund his ongoing hormone treatment courses so he got a job on the ferries. He was employed as Charles Stopping because all his Sea Man ship certificates from the Navy were in this name. She did not tell Blue that she was working on the ferries. The transformation period would soon be over and she was going to meet Blue properly for the first time. It was Blue who had insisted on going to meet her at Portsmouth.

That last day Carla was very excited. She just could not keep still. She was up and down. She went to see Ma and said good bye to her. Pa was at the bank where he is a part-time director. She called him and spoke to him for an hour on her mobile.

Carla came back to Carmine’s for some last bits and pieces. She called Blue on her mobile at 11.00 pm and told him that everything was in hand. She then connected her charger and changed into her Ferry Crew uniform. The two siblings walked down to the harbour as brother and sister for the very last time.

The ferry sailed at midnight. When Carmine got back to her house later she was crying so much that even if she had noticed the phone connected to a charger she would not have realised its significance just then.

Carmine sighed deeply as she came to the end of her story. She looked like someone who had just put down a huge weight from off her back. I took her hand in mine and I thanked her. She said “Wooi Woolie don’t thank me. You now have to relay all this to your friend, no?”

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.


‘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.

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.


for children and grandchildren

It was about 10:00 am on Sunday morning and as I waited at the crowded airport arrivals hall my Babu emerged from behind the sliding doors. I almost slipped and fell on the smooth polished floor as I ran forward to greet him and relieve him of his large battered suitcase. He beamed at me, happy that for once I had registered the correct date and time of his arrival and we walked out into the bright Nairobi sunshine. The Jacaranda trees were in bloom and birds were singing high up there in the shade. I got the sense that Babu was happy to be back home.

I guided the old man towards my even older fluorescent green Fiat Strada which I had parked with a small rock wedged carefully against the near-side front wheel in lieu of a functioning hand-brake. I placed his suitcase in the boot and as Babu put away his rain coat and fedora in the back I stealthily obtained the rock and hid it under my driver’s seat.

We drove out of the airport and quickly joined the Mombasa Road traffic as we headed for Babu’s ‘South C’ residence. I kept to the speed limit in the near-side lane allowing plenty of room for the comedians, clowns, matatu driver’s and other maniacs of our roads to perform their stunts. The short journey was uneventful unless you consider the two elderly pedestrians who narrowly escaped with their lives right before our eyes after running across the road in some mad kamikaze effort to get to the other side of the Msa bound carriageway near the Air-tel buildings. The speeding ambulance that was hurtling towards them had screeched to a halt just before impact and the two wazee totally oblivious had just hobbled along to the other side of the road.

We dropped of Babu’s things and after a quick freshen up we headed off to his club next to the Police Mounted section headquarters for an early Sunday lunch. Most people know that my Babu was a former detective in the Police force where he spent nearly forty years working with the homicide department in various postings around the country. He is not my Babu in the real sense of a grandpa. He went to school with my dad and when I came to the city to find work the detective took me under his wing. I lived with him and his gracious wife before I went off on my own and when he started a private investigations consultancy I was happy to join the firm and was soon employed in discreet surveillance.

We ordered lunch and then took our drinks and sat on the veranda facing the deserted tennis courts. I had long ago learned that Babu would not start on a story until he was ready. So as we sucked at our tall glasses of madafu water by straw I gave him the usual small-talk of what had been happening whilst he was away. A few moments later the waiters came round and brought us warm water to wash our hands.

The waiter had recommended the chef’s special and we were not disappointed. As we silently attacked the spicy beef stew and ugali with fresh sukuma wiki, peas, carrots and potatoes, I realised that I had not had a decent meal since Babu’s departure over a month ago. Surveillance work tends to involve long hours of sitting, waiting and watching and drinking lots of coffee. One often lacks the required motivation to cook decent food at the end of such a cramped day and sadly we are only kept alive by unhealthy take aways.

The beef was so fresh you actually sympathised with the cow and the vegetables must have come from a garden just outside the kitchen. The ugali had been prepared in a revolutionary method that is still under patent pending rules and so I cannot divulge the actual process here. All I will say is that it was formed in the shape of a dome and was very soft and tasty with a hint of classical seasoning.

Lunch was cleared away quickly to make room at the table for our proper drinks. Babu pulled out a brand new pipe from his jacket pocket and filled it with exaggerated care. He had some strange foreign tobacco which he took out of a small plastic pouch. The picture on the pouch was a black eagle on a red background. When he lit the pipe he coughed twice as the smoke punched him in the chest. He squinted his eyes when the smoke rose up now spreading across the small veranda. A few patrons looked in our direction with renewed interest. The pipe smoke and Babu’s strong aftershave together smelled of power and influence.

Babu liked to have a glass of good whiskey by his elbow when doing a debrief. We talked and drank until the sun hid behind the tall cypress trees at the perimeter of the compound. His trip to Europe had been a resounding success by all accounts. He had accomplished his objectives and now he explained it all to me.

Months before, Rubina, a young lawyer from the firm that Babu used for legal work had approached us with an unusual assignment. Her friend, Katarzyna, from Poland, now living in Nairobi was in great difficulty. Her grandmother had passed away. It had come as a surprise that the granny was a woman of quite substantial wealth. She had left a huge inheritance for Katarzyna and her 13 year old son Pawl. There was a small problem. The young boy could not travel to Poland as required by the terms of the will because he did not have a passport. His father had refused to sign the necessary documents required by the Polish authorities.

Pawl’s father was from Poland. He met and married Katarzyna in the port city of Gdansk where he was in the Polish Navy. Pawl’s dad travelled the world as a sailor and he had fallen in love with Mombasa. After leaving the navy he came back to Mombasa with Katarzyna and their baby son and opened a bar which catered for visiting navy and merchant sea men. It was in a seedy part of town where vice of all sorts was never far away. Pawl’s father developed a drink and drugs problem and beat his wife about. With the help of friends she left him and moved away to Nairobi where she found work and settled. Her divorce papers were handled by Rubina. A year later Pawl’s dad returned to his native Poland where he married again and had several children.

Babu explained how he had used his extensive police contacts overseas to get the errant father to do his duty by his son. He got him to sign the official documents and Pawl would soon have a passport. From Poland, Babu visited England where he was invited by an old police colleague to visit his cottage in rural Oxfordshire. He found that his friend lived alone and used ordinary kuni to keep the house warm. The retired copper was now a coach driver and spent his days driving holidaymakers all over the place. Babu had accompanied his friend on one such journey which had taken them on a sight-seeing day trip to France. They got back quite late and took the coach to the depot. The friend had his own little van to get them back home.

They had got into the friend’s van for the 20 mile drive back to the cottage at 11.45.pm The country roads were dark and deserted. They had to drive through the lonely Wytham woods. The car started to judder a little like some older diesel cars when they are about to break down. This was just as they were out in the middle of nowhere. Babu’s friend decided to call his grandson who lived nearby. He asked him to come out in his car and follow them back to the cottage – just to make sure they got home ok. The twenty-something year old grandson declined saying he was already in bed and could not come. Even his granddad’s offer to fill up his car for him would not persuade him to leave his bed. Babu told me how depressed he had felt. The boy had totally lengad his grandpa at his hour of need.

The two coppers having no other option had driven on with fading headlamps and thick fog setting in. The car crawled at a snail’s pace but they eventually got to the cottage. The tired men could hardly stand after their long day and they went straight to bed. Babu says that his friend was snoring in under five minutes.

At about 03.00am Babu heard the phone ring. His friend answered it at once and almost immediately he was cursing and swearing. Babu heard his friend moving about and getting dressed and switched on a light. He asked if everything was ok. His friend could not help himself. It was as if a red mist had descended over his face. He explained that the caller was none other than his grandson. He who would not come to our rescue earlier in the evening. Some mates had called round to his house where they had played cards for ages before he decided to drop them off home. He had run out of diesel in the middle Wytham woods. He wondered if his grand dad would mind bringing him a gallon of diesel.

Babu and his friend had put on their coats and driven off into the dark cold night to rescue the ungrateful grandson.

As Babu recounted this tale to me Whitney Houston’s version of The Greatest Love of All was playing in my mind. The first line about the children being the future and how we teach them well and let them lead the way, seemed so apt somehow. One of the finest bloggers in town has really managed to marry music and the story in such a way that sometimes when you really listen you can hear the story being told in someone else words. I hope to be able to do that too, someday.

murder on record: part two


the missing guest

Once the police had concluded their formal interviews they retired again in private conference in the dining room.

Woolie said..” I have finished going through the notes and err…now why is there no reference to the chap whom the nurse referred to as Maramba’s nephew…..did any of you get to interview him?”
Babu and the commander both shook their heads. None of the house guests, it seemed, had mentioned Maramba’s nephew during their interviews. Mary, the house nurse was called back to see if she could clear this up.

Commander Ruby said to her, “Mary, you told us earlier that when you were unable to get a response from Mr Maramba you had sought assistance from the guests who were having breakfast nearby. You said one of these guests was Maramba’s nephew. Are you absolutely sure about that?”

Mary nodded, looking somewhat surprised at the question. The commander went on, “So what has happened to this nephew, where is he?”

Mary seemed puzzled. She said “Have you not interviewed him yet? He must be here in the house somewhere, surely. Nobody has left this house since the body was discovered this morning.

It was important to get to the bottom of this and the guests were all summoned back to the dining room. Monica was adamant that none of the guests who had been there the previous day were any relation of hers or Maramba’s for that matter. Rita the journalist said that there was a man who had been at breakfast but was not here now. She remembered talking to him briefly on Sunday just after lunch. He had told her that he was a senior executive in an energy company in Jinja – a company in which Maramba was a big investor. Another guest said that he had spoken to a man who said he was from Dar es Salaam and was in partnership with Maramba in the shipping business. It was the same man who had been at breakfast but was now missing. A final guest revealed to the police commander that a man fitting the same description had introduced himself as a professor of Mathematics from Cape Town.

The Commander ordered her officers to carry out a thorough search of the big house. Others were dispatched to search the out buildings and any other areas that the mystery man could be hiding. The staff were interviewed again. The farm manager now declared that one of his tractors, a John Deere, was missing. It had been parked in the garage that morning and he had seen it when he arrived for work just before 7.00am. The police then discovered from the security guard that just after 8.25 am he had opened the gate allowing a tractor to leave the farm. It had joined the main road turning left and heading for “Baraka farm”, he had thought. The farm manager confirmed that Baraka farm formed part of the estate’s land about 2 kilometres down the road.

The police commander got into a car with the farm manager and some officers and raced off towards Baraka farm. Less than a kilometre down the road the farm manager asked the driver to slow down. They came upon was a gap in the hedge. They stopped the car and got out. There were huge tyre tracks on the soft verge leading into the field. They followed the tracks and found the tractor parked inside the field right against the hedge and completely hidden away from the road. The police discovered more tyre tracks. It was apparent that a smaller car had once been hidden here too. This must have been the suspect’s get away vehicle.


The following week the police would once again descend on Maramba Manor. They were hundreds of officers, uniformed and plain clothes. It was Wednesday the day of the burial. Thousands of people had turned up to pay their respects. Babu, of course was there. So too was Ruby as the police commander for the County. She spent most of the time fielding questions from reporters who wanted to know how the murder investigation was moving. Babu would tell Woolie later that Ruby had the makings of a politician. She had handled herself well saying that “investigations had progressed well”, to one reporter and to another that they were at a “critical stage”. Before telling the last one that it was now “anticipated that an arrest was imminent.”

Babu himself had not expected such a huge turn out. Mr Maramba was not a politician but he had done much for his local community and his strong business ties ensured him a good send off. Babu was not surprised to see the smart executive limousines that drew up in motorcade with fluttering flags and bodyguards in tow. The huge police presence so early on had suggested there would be some VIPs in attendance. In fact the team captains from 1978 to the present had all come to pay their respects. As Babu said later to Woolie “It was as if Savimbi himself was back in town”

The Paper plot

Woolie was back in the study. He felt that the answers to his questions must lie in the documents that Maramba kept here. The police believed that they had a suspect and they were fairly confident that they would soon have him in custody. For Woolie it was not that simple. Who was this man? The phantom described by various witnesses as a shipper, an academic and an industrialist? Woolie needed to find any information that linked Maramba with the said suspect and which could therefore suggest a motive for this crime. He noticed a huge folder at the bottom of the cabinet that looked promising. He would not be able to take any documents out of the study and so he sat in Maramba’s chair and opened the folder.

The folder contained files all labeled Daily Eye which was the name of Maramba’s newspaper. Documents showed that when he took it over circulation was falling and advertising revenues had taken a hit. He had overhauled the paper getting rid of dead wood and modernising their publication processes. Maramba had invested in spanking new premises spending huge sums on new equipment too. Staff moral had gone up and readership numbers were now challenging the older dailies. Woolie read that the paper’s success had made it a prime target for a takeover. There was plenty of money about, banks had cash and could lend it for anything one wanted to do. Maramba had rejected any buy offers saying the Daily Eye was not for sale. He called his paper – macho ya simba (Lion’s eyes).

Woolie picked up a file labeled close surveillance. It contained printed A4 pages of cctv images taken in various locations which Woolie did not immediately recognise. There were hundreds of images, all printed out. At the back of the file an instructions leaflet on how to install the Chinese Tzinqui micro cam. Woolie looked at the photo prints again. Aha! It seemed that the paranoid Maramba had installed cctv in his home. The images in the prints were from the kitchen, the dining room, the main lounge and various other rooms in this big house. There were also stills from the farm yard and the garage. Maramba had secretly installed the cameras and only he knew of their existence!

* * * *

end of part two

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