wetwool

because you never forget that funny smell

Category: education (page 1 of 2)

Dad forgive me.

She was quite sure that her friend had said “Half-way up Loita Street.”. Her feet were killing her, but she walked on in the mid-October heat. She crossed the road and hurried past the ghastly Nyati House, Nairobi’s infamous chambers of horror. She walked on towards the Libyan Embassy and it had occurred to her that this was an odd place to have an embassy, but then again, Nairobi town was odd like that. There was no diplomatic district as such; embassies and consulates were scattered about all over the city.

Rubina saw the coffee house and walked up the short flight of steps leading up to the entrance. It was cool and welcoming inside and it took a moment for the eyes to get accustomed to the low, soft light. There were few customers in the restaurant and her friend was not there. Rubina smiled. She was always the early one. She chose a seat by the window, looking onto the street. When a young waitress came over to take her order, Rubina said she would have a bottle of water as she waited for her friend. She sipped the cold water watching the world go by.

There was a quiet, pleasant hum of conversation in the restaurant. That and the cool breeze from the slow moving ceiling fans above offered Rubina a chance for quiet reflection.

The day in court had gone very well. Both sides had finished their submissions and the judges would probably issue a ruling in the morning. There was pressure from many quarters for the matter to be concluded speedily. Any further delay would be a case of justice denied.

It was clear to Rubina, if not to all the other participants in this tragic affair, that this was one of those cases that would never have got to this point, but for the various shortcomings of our justice system. She considered the old quote: the wheels of justice grind slowly but they grind exceedingly fine. In this particular case a totally corrupt and ruthless man, who had bullied, bribed and bought his way throughout his adult life had died at the hand of his wife, thus cheating justice. When the judges considered all the facts presented before them, the only conclusion that they could reasonably arrive at was to uphold Mrs Indania’s appeal and quash her conviction. Nothing else would serve to heal the tarnished reputation of the justice system.

The facts were very compelling. Everyone and their dog had heard some version of the story. The daily papers loved this sort of thing. It sold papers. Targets were met and people received fat bonuses. The main papers were all carrying a special ‘High Court Section’ dedicated to the big trial of the year or as one editor had put it: Kenya’s OJ moment. The public’s appetite had been worked up to a frenzy. Everyone wanted to read about the wealthy, former cabinet minister and advisor to leaders, Nowa Indania, who had cheated friend and foe alike for most of his adult life, whose life now had suddenly been cut short by a blow to the head administered by his wife in a domestic violence incident.

The masses had bayed for blood. This case was not helped by countless stories of men suffering death and mutilation at the hands of their spouses across the length and breadth of the country but most notably in the county of Nyeri. Julia Indania herself was, quite understandably, in a state of shock following the death of her husband and in that state, could hardly take in the full implications of being a defendant in a murder trial. Her defence team at the time seemed overwhelmed by the public storms and did not, in Rubina’s mind, have a snow flake’s chance in hell of putting forward the woman’s side of the story. Their case was tossed about like a small boat in a violent sea and Julia Indania was convicted on the lesser charge of manslaughter and sentenced to twenty years in prison.

That would have been the end of the matter, as Rubina recalled. Mrs Indania spoke little during the trial save for answering questions. In this same air of quiet disinterest she accepted the court verdict and went to prison without ever protesting her innocence. It was a little while later that Rubina learnt that Mrs Indania’s father-in-law wanted to launch an appeal on behalf of his daughter-in-law. In his papers Mzee Indania Snr had stated: The boy has already lost one parent, surely that is a burden enough, for someone so young. He added, my daughter is not a murderer. I will sell everything that I own if that is what it will take to see that she is set free.

Rubina recalled how thrilled she had been when they asked her to lead the appeal. If proof was required that they held her in high regard back at the firm, this was it. She knew that this would finally put to rest the demons that stalked her following the leopard attack. She smiled at the thought of her pals visiting her in hospital back then, all crowded in that little ward. Babu was scared as hell, but tried not to show it. Woolie’s eyes were filled with sorrow and he looked out through the window most of the time that they were there and Ruby – she was just angry beyond words. Angry that someone could have done this to her.

Back to the appeal. The original case, as Rubina had suspected, was handled poorly by both sides. The prosecution believed what the police had told them. It was an open and shut case. A murder victim, a weapon a suspect and some sort of a motive. Mrs Indania was portrayed as an angry woman, jealous of her husband’s wealth and success. The defence argued that this was a most improbable motive. They claimed that Nowa Indania had attacked his wife in a fit of drunken rage, a fairly frequent occurrence, and that she had struck back in self defence. His death, therefore, was an accident.

Rubina had met Mrs Julia Indania for the first time at Sharwama Women’s GK prison. She wanted to hear her story. In the course of the conversation Rubina had realised that something was missing in this woman’s life. They went through the events of that fateful night. Rubina was making notes and would ask a question here and there. Julia answered as best as she could. She told the same story again and again with very little variation.

Nowa Indania had come home angry and very drunk. He had come straight to the living room where Julia had been seated near the fireplace, watching a television thriller with their ten-year-old son. Julia sent the boy upstairs. Indania had just poured himself a double-whiskey when his cell-phone rang. He had answered it and exchanged some angry words with whoever it was on the line. He threw his whiskey glass at the wall shattering it into a thousand pieces. Julia knew better than to speak to Nowa when he was in that state. She stood up to leave the room and go to bed. He grabbed her roughly by the arms and pushed her back into the seat. He declared that Julia had poisoned his boy against him. “I will teach you a lesson tonight!”

He beat her, first with his belt and then he used his fists and his feet. She was screaming at him to stop and he taunted her saying “Scream all you like, nobody will hear you, except your gay little son.” Julia was lying on her back in the sofa as he rained blows to her body and face. She thought she was going to die. She reached her had out and grabbed the fire poker, and whacked him on the head. His eyes rolled over and he fell back, blood gushing from a big wound just behind the left ear.

Julia’s story was accurate in almost every detail. This was because she had told it to herself so many times that she had come to believe it. Looking at Julia, Rubina realised what it was that was missing. There was no light in her eyes, no hope, no future. Now she understood. Mzee Indania Snr had completed the jigsaw.

When the police arrested Julia Indania on the night of the murder, officers also kept the boy at the station over night before taking him to his grandparents the following day. The despondent ten-year- old told his grand father how his mother had sent him to bed when Baba came home. He had sat at the foot of the stairs listening to Baba say some really awful things to his mother.

“Suddenly Baba started hitting my mother again and again. I opened the door and shouted Baba, stop! He didn’t stop he just kept hitting her with punches and kicks. I jumped on Baba’s back and put my arm round his neck. He growled at me like a bear and threw me to down the ground.”

the fireplace

That was when Julia had picked up the poker. Nowa had turned back to her and in the shoving about she had dropped it to the floor. Nowa continued with the beatings. The young boy launched himself across the floor. He picked up the poker and stood over his father and said “ Dad forgive me.” As he brought it down, Indania turned to look up and the blow caught him just behind the left ear. That must have been was when the lights had gone out of Julia’s eyes, Rubina thought.

A white cab drew up on the street alongside the restaurant. The occupant got out and took the steps up to the entrance two at a time.

Rubina called to her, “Ruby! Over here.” The ladies hugged and sat down. The police commander raised a hand to attract some attention. “Hope you haven’t waited to long, Rubina. The traffic is manic on the highways, you’d think someone important is coming to town. Shall we order?” Rubina smiled and nodded. “Let’s order.”

They had coffee and chocolate cake. The commander watched as Rubina stirred her coffee, deep in thought. She asked, “You said you had some news. Is it work related?”

Rubina smiled and looked at the commander. She said “I have been short-listed for an interview for a teaching post.” “ Oh, how thrilling!” said the commander, showing real pleasure. “When’s it for?” Rubina said “In about five weeks. I’ll need all that time just to organise everything!”

“You’re the most organised person I know, my dear, it will be a walk in the park. A piece of cake.” the commander said this as she picked up another piece of the lovely chocolate cake.

“I dunno, Ruby. I need you to tell me how I’ll break it to the guys that I’ll soon be off for an interview for a teaching post in Toronto……”

Erstwhile kindly landlady (ii)

It was twenty-past ten when I finally got to the office on a cold, wet morning after the night before. What a night it had been. I was still trying to get my head around what I had learned from Rubina. Babu was standing at the office reception and he did his usual annoying thing of looking at his watch when he saw me. Continue reading

Ten O’clock Prompt

I feel sad when someone turns up late for an appointment and I get annoyed with myself when I am late. Lateness is rude. It suggests that you have no respect for my time and by extension for me. It is said that punctuality became history with the arrival of mobile telephony. People can now be late with impunity because they can call to let you know they will be late.

One Friday evening last month I stopped by the swanky offices of a city law firm to pick up a friend. As I entered the threshold I glanced up at the large clock on the wall above the receptionist’s desk and it said tick tock tick tock tick tock (sorry). The time was showing 5.50pm.

I was a few minutes early. I always like to be early so that the person that I am meeting feels relaxed. I grew up in an extremely time deprived home background, always the last kid to arrive at a party and the last one to be collected by the parents after everyone else had gone home. If we were going to catch the 7.00 train we would leave the house a few minutes to 7.00. Everything we did was so last minute that I grew up to become a clock watching tyrant.

Rubina had said she would be finished in the office at six. I had arranged to take her to see a short play as a surprise. I thought she would like Oscar Wilde’s The importance of being Earnest by the Mashinani Theatre Company. There would just be enough time to have a quick coffee before the seven o’clock performance. I hoped that after the play perhaps we could do something else. I was thinking dinner; or dancing if she preferred. We would see. I picked up a random magazine from a pile on the coffee table and sat down in the middle of the large brown sofa.

I was leafing through the magazine in an idle sort of way when an article by well-known writer and commentator caught my eye. I wish I could tell you the name of the writer or even the magazine. Sorry I just don’t remember. The article’s main theme was that society was in terminal decline. According to the writer we were heading the way of the ancient kingdoms of Ashanti and Old Zimbabwe. All that would be left of the modern east African cities would be ruins for archaeologists and anthropologists of latter years to pick over.

Now you might be thinking Wars, Insurgencies and Revolutions or Corrupt Politicians and Tribalist Leaders or maybe Al-shabbab and Boko-haram lunatic terrorists. You might even think Global Climate Change or perhaps Catastrophic Seismic Events and Solar winds as the most likely candidates to lead to the end of life as we know it. You would be wrong. You see according to this eminent writer our society is doomed because of our failure to understand the importance of punctuality. Interesting, I thought

I was just turning the page to read more of this fascinating theory when the double doors opened and Rubina stepped out of the lift. Sometimes one comes across funny writing and strange sentences like ‘She can light up a room just by walking into it’ and one often thinks : sweet sentimental poppycock. I honestly don’t know. The big clock had stopped ticking – or perhaps my racing heart was pounding in my ears, blocking out every other sound. Whatever the case, I have no recollection of anything at all that occurred before six pm that Friday evening in late June.

We now fast forward events to this morning to find that I have woken up with the early birds before 7.00 am. I have a shave and a quick shower. I am ironing a shirt when the phone rings. Rubina has called with some information regarding our current case. We talk shop for a while and once that is over she asks me what time the wedding will start. I am looking at the invitation card which they sent and I say to Rubina, “It says here that The service will begin at Ten O’clock prompt.”

“Is that Kenyan time”, Rubina asks, drily. I laugh and after a short while we conclude the conversation.

The time now is 10:57 people have been seated quietly in the church for nearly an hour and still there is no sign of the bride. Ushers and other important and stern looking people are walking quickly in all directions across the floor looking at the clocks on their phones and tut tutting. There are parents with restless toddlers. Earlier they were looking at one another in some bemused sort of way but now it seems some are getting slightly agitated. Nobody seems to know what has caused the delay. One man remarks how it is incredibly unfair for people to keep others waiting for so long. A lady usher observes quietly that this is a record in lateness for their church. Still we wait.
A fellow guest seated beside me says ‘Brides are special. We need to give them time. It is our Kenyan way. Let’s just grin and bear it.’

‘But it is unfair, I retort. ‘Other people have made sacrifices to be here on time. There are folks here from different countries too. What image are we giving them of ourselves?’

My friend chuckles and says, ‘Look, there is literally nothing you can do about it so stop fussing and just relax. You are their captive for the day. You should have brought a book or something. Better yet avoid the church ceremony altogether next time.’

It is 11:20 am now and reports are filtering through that the bridal party have been held up in a traffic jam caused by a serious traffic collision on the highway. We are assured that they are not too far away. Everyone is more understanding. Nobody likes to hear of traffic collisions and most people are just relieved that there are no reported casualties.

At 11:41 am a huge cheer goes up. The white stretch limousine carrying the bridesmaids has been spotted turning slowly into the road that leads to the church. In front and leading the way is a yellow old type classic car. Travelling in this car the bride and her father look out to see the cheering and waving crowds. The one overwhelming feeling that is coming across is that people don’t really care that they had to wait so long. The person they had all come to see has finally arrived. That is all that matters. The wedding ceremony begins late but is already showing the signs that it will be a great
success.

Finally here

I feel sad when someone turns up late for an appointment and I get annoyed with myself when I am late. Lateness is rude. Have you been punctual for all your appointments this past week?

In conversation with Alex

Dear reader today it gives me great pleasure to present a conversation with Alex, The blogger of Kai ni kii fame. This special interview was recorded live using the wonders of modern science. So without further ado, to The conversation.

Alex, hi there!

Hey Woolie.

You run a very popular site on the Kenyan blog scene Kai ni Kii.

Umm, popular is not the word I’d use...

Well it is certainly very well received in many quarters.
Continue reading

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

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.

The jk pie

I have often heard that one of the worst things for a blogger is to break their blog schedule or routine. For new and seasoned bloggers alike the golden rule is to blog and blog often. It is this that keeps visitors coming back. I am told that nothing is more frustrating for the keen blogger than failing to make the deadline for their new post.

Many bloggers, I am told will spend long sleepless nights worrying about how their readers will visit their blog only to find that nothing new has been posted for a week. The more they worry, the more difficult it gets to write. This causes even more worry and feeds further anxiety. As days and weeks go by the worried bloggers, loners by definition, become unwell quite quickly. Enlightened doctors up and down the country have come to recognise certain symptoms. If a patient visits a doctor presenting with insomnia, temperature fluctuations, nervous twitches, poor appetite, weigh-loss, amnesia and sometimes substance abuse, the first thing doctors will ask these days even as they take your blood pressure is whether you have updated your blog.

I got to Woolie’s front door, clutching a small bag of groceries. It was a cold evening and the streets were full of people rushing home before the rains came again. I picked up some small pebbles and threw them at the first floor window above me. There was no response and so I tried again with a larger pebble. There was such a loud crack that I thought I had broken the window. Moments later my friend’s angry face appeared at the window shouting some very naughty words. He recognised me and tossed the front-door key down with a loud mscheeeeew.

The first-floor bed-sit looked much smaller than it had been the last time I was there. Perhaps it was all the clothes, bags and other rubbish lying about all over the room. His unmade bed was at the far corner of the room. An overfull ashtray lay in the middle of the bed. Against the far wall the tv was tuned to Al Jazeera with the volume turned down. It was stuck on the same image of the Westgate mall. With shoes, socks and underwear strewn all over the floor space it was quite difficult to move in the room. It pained me to see my friend living like this. He looked rough and unshaven and it may have been a while since he had washed. We cleared some clothes from the large sofa where I sat down carefully.

“I have to write something. My blog is crying out….” Woolie said.

“Look at all this madness…”. He was scratching his groin and staring at the telly which was showing different scenes of the Westgate now. Helicopters hovered above the mall as armoured personnel carriers appeared driving down deserted side-streets. Now we saw a group of terrified civilians being led out of the building by plain clothes policemen. Woolie reached for his pack of cigarettes and lit one. I could not help looking at his shaking hands. His gaunt features were frightening.

“Have you had something to eat?” I asked, looking around for evidence. I noticed several empty cheap whisky bottles under the table. There was also a litre bottle of mineral water containing an amber liquid which was by the door and next to it dried banana peel.

Woolie shook his head wistfully. He turned to me and said “No energy to cook or go shopping. I’ve had nothing all day except whiskey ha!”

“Well then you are in luck, Woolie my boy.” I said.

I explained that we would tidy up the room together and then while he got himself washed up shaved and dressed I would prepare something small for our supper. He thought it was a good plan so we switched of the telly, cranked up the music and got to work.

When Woolie went off to the bathroom taking away the big mineral water bottle I headed for their shared kitchen which was at the end of the corridor. The cold building had six bed-sitting rooms all occupied by “professional tenants.” There were 2 small well-equipped kitchens where they made their meals. The tenants were expected to clear up after using the kitchen. Some did and some did not.

I found that everything I needed was here and I was ready to go. I could not get the image of my suffering friend out of my mind. I would have to make him something that he could eat today and perhaps for 2 or 3 more days. I racked my soft brain for inspiration wondering idly if chefs suffered from cooking block. Eureka! I thought. I would make Woolie a jua kali chicken and mushroom pie

From my shopping bag I took out a small tray of diced chicken pieces. There was a small onion on a shelf marked Woolie which I took and finely chopped before frying it with some ginger and garlic in a wok using a couple of spoons of vegetable oil. I dropped the Kuku pieces into the wok now and fried them for several minutes, sprinkling a bit of Rosemary and Thyme and ground white pepper. I also added a pinch of salt to this and after a couple more minutes I added 100g of chopped mushrooms. I added my secret ingredient now and 300ml of chicken stock and brought it to the boil. I let this simmer for a bit before turning off the fire.

the filling


The next step was making the pastry from scratch. People often say this is difficult but I found it very easy. I sifted 400g of plain white flour into a bowl adding a pinch of salt. To the flour I added 80g each of butter and lard. Using clean hands I mixed the floor and fats together squeezing between the fingers until the mixture resembled breadcrumbs. I added 2 tablespoons of ice-cold water and brought the mixture together into a dough. I remembered not to knead the mixture. I rolled it into a small piece of cling film and placed it in the fridge to cool for 20 minutes.

flour butter and lard

Let’s roll


As I waited for the pastry to cool I took a small 100g bag of frozen mixed vegetables – peas, carrots and sweetcorn and added them into the chicken and mushroom filling. This was useful because it helped to cool the filling even further. The pastry needs to be worked when very cold to avoid melting the butter and breaking everything down.

I got the pastry out of the fridge. It was nice and cold now and easy to roll out. I rolled it into the shape of a baking dish and placed it inside. I rolled out another piece of pastry to use as the top. I poured the filling into the pastry and then covered it. I had enough filling and pastry for 2 more pies because Woolie’s pie dish was quite small.

all filled

ready to go

I placed the pies in the middle shelf of a hot oven at 220 degress celsius (gas mark 7) for 30 minutes until the pastry was golden brown. The pies were now ready.

twende

Jua Kali pies

I went back to the room and found Woolie seated at his desk typing away at his laptop. He looked clean and smart and like a man without a care in this world

“What you typing?” I asked…..

4th March 2013

It is election day today and voters up and down the country have joined in large numbers to queue patiently and await their opportunity to exercise their democratic right under the New Constitution of 2010.

One Nation

We are told that the presidential poll is too close as the age old Kenyatta – Odinga rivalry enters the final straight. Whatever happens tonight the Fourth of March becomes an important date in our national calendar. As Kenyans take part in this historic event they should take great pride in the fact that this democratic exercise is only possible because of their own desire to vote peacefully whilst exercising patience and tolerance.

To see the long queues in the hot sun is to understand the challenges of our young democracy. It is also to understand that it will not be Kofi Annan or Hillary Clinton or even our own Barack Obama that will come here to sort our country out if the violent genie of 2007/8 comes out of the bottle this year.

Only Kenyans working together and taking on these challenges can find lasting solutions. Many Kenya patriots living abroad and following developments on the social media will quite rightly feel a sense of loss at not having been able to take part in this most noble cause today.

God Bless Kenya

I always wanted to leave home. I never knew they were going to stop me from coming back. Maybe, if I knew, I never would have left. It is kind of painful to be away from everything that you’ve ever known. Nobody will know the pain of exile until you are in exile. No matter where you go, there are times when people show you kindness and love, and there are times when they make you know that you are with them but not of them. That’s when it hurts.
—Miriam Makeba

March 4th is also the birthday of the great Miriam Makeba – “Mama Afrika” who would have been 81 today.

Miriam

Poor parenting and bad luck

There is a new notice on this keyboard that I am using that says : Warning – official business only.
I am working late in the office tonight – only the second time in the 12 years that I have worked here – because I spent most of the day at Kaloleni police station. I was invited there to try and identify some items taken in a burglary at our flat in early August.

As I put my feet on the desk and sip my coffee I take a moment to savour the peace and quiet of the office. Outside, traffic is easing in the streets below as people make their way home. Save for the light from the street lamps it is very dark in here. Our electric lights’ circuit has recently been put on some kind of a timer so that you cannot switch the lights on after 5.30pm. The water in the loos is also on some timer – no flushes after 4.30pm.

Our problems began when Head office brought in a new office manager, Julius Kata, to take over as our Gladys went on maternity leave. Since the beginning of August Mr Kata has lived up to his name. He has cut our lunch hour to 35 minutes and declared a ban on all overtime. Some of the senior staff members on better salaries were asked to take pay cuts or see their positions made redundant. Everywhere in the office Kata has pasted small notices with slogans like Cut waste. Waste costs Jobs. Increase Productivity. He is quickly becoming public enemy No.1 in this place but we are powerless to do anything.

I sip some more tea and try to recall the events of the last few weeks. It came as a bit of a coincidence that just at about the time Mr Kata started swinging his axe in our office our youngest son aged ten learned that their school was starting Taekwondo lessons. He asked us so many times if he could join and each time Mrs Woolie said no. My son bided his time and came to me when I was alone. He begged and pleaded so much that in the end I capitulated and said yes. I read the letter that he thrust at me. It contained details of the course and fees. I almost screamed. They were charging a fortune! Is this legal, I wondered.

The next mistake that I made was to swear the little boy to secrecy. Under no circumstances could we tell mummy that he was taking the taekwondo lessons. At least not for the moment. That was to be our secret. I’d then sneaked out of the house at about half-past-eight making my way to our local watering-hole. On arrival I whispered to Magdalen, the young barmaid and she went off to fetch the local financial advisor. Just as I sat down Magdalen returned with Mr money- bags. We waited until our drinks had arrived. I explained my predicament and the shark said that what I needed was a short term log-book loan. We agreed repayments terms and I discreetly passed over Mrs Woolie’s Log Book. He counted out the 23K(i had my own expenses to take care of) with a practised hand, all the while a small line of saliva hanging from his lower lip.

My third mistake had been to confide in the shark. I explained that it would harm my marriage if Her Majesty was to learn of my smooth cunning. I said the clever thing tonight would be to put the notes in an envelope wrapped carefully with the signed letter of authority, place this inside one of his books and put it all away in my boy’s school bag. The boy could then give it to the teacher.

Shark seemed genuinely impressed and called me sungura mjanja.I bought him a final drink and made my excuses – I said to him that I had a mission to take care of. He smiled and winked at me – and guess what? I winked right back.

I was woken in the morning by wailing from downstairs. The children should have been finishing their breakfast. Their school-bus was due in a few minutes. Instead they were crying and shouting and totally inconsolable. I could not make out what they were saying; it was as if they were speaking a foreign tongue. Their mother informed me that someone had broken into the house and stolen some items from the kitchen. They had not managed to get through the security door that led to the bedrooms. She was calling the police. As I looked in the kitchen it suddenly occurred to me that the children were crying because the raiders had also pinched their school bags………..

Strong desire to be free

We arrived just as they were leaving. They were in a small group of about twenty standing there by the edge of the lake. The ladies wore black and the men were in dark suits. Most of the group wore dark glasses. They walked back to where they had parked their cars and then very slowly they drove away.

I recognised the big car that was the last to leave. It belonged to my friend the former police detective. My companion who was also gazing at the line of departing vehicles said, “That was an ash scattering service. I have been to one here before. Someone says a short prayer then they get the ashes of the deceased and scatter them onto the lake, then they all go home.”

“Wonder who it was that was cremated. I doubt they were African”, observed my pal.

Was he right? I had to find out. On monday I called upon my good friend the ex-detective. He showed me an orbituary and funeral announcement from the Daily Nation of the previous week. It was for Caroline Buxton, If I wanted the background I would have to buy lunch, he said. That is what I did and here is what I learned:

Caroline was born in Nakuru to Thomas Simon Buxton and Anna Waithira in 1956. Buxton worked in the Colonial administration at the time and Caroline’s mother was a Senior nurse at the Provincial General Hospital.

In 1977, Caroline then a qualified nurse, married Timothy Mokasa the son of a powerful Provincial Commissioner. Timothy had recently joined a law firm in Nairobi and with his good family connections he was expected to do well. Timothy was not a good lawyer and the firm was eventually forced to let him go. Caroline stood by her husband when he changed course and decided to set up in business. He used his connections again to secure GOK supply contracts.

During the early years of their marriage, Caroline continued to develop her career and was able to establish herself as a major expert in the training of junior nurses throughout the country. She was in contact with officials from the health and education ministries and all the big government hospitals and she published several training manuals that were used in these institutions. Her continued success was a source of anger and jealousy for her husband, who had not found much fortune in business.

It was just after the birth of their son that Caroline realised that her husband was becoming jealous and had started drinking heavily. Neighbours told stories of his physical and mental abuse of Caroline. At this time Caroline was the principal of a nursing school and had a busy writing schedule. Her successes had now opened to her doors to high society.

In spite of his jealousy and pride, Mokasa was able to convince his wife to use her connections to advance himself. Against advice from family and close friends Caroline used her influence to secure her husband a position in the health ministry as a financial advisor. In a letter to a friend her elderly father wrote…”It is no longer qualifications or what you know but who you know that determines things in this new Kenya. I have very little confidence in the future…”

Around this time a new director of Nursing Services arrived at the ministry. The high-flying doctor was popular with medical staff and ministry officials and it was rumoured that he was destined for big things in government. It was the nature of his position that he consulted with Caroline on a daily basis and they frequently travelled together on official engagements. The young doctor was now pursuaded by political contacts to stand for parliament in a by-election. It was hoped that upon election he would secure the health assistant ministry.

It was time for Timothy Mokasa to strike: without warning he sued the young director. He had hoped to stop the doctor’s political career in its tracks and get some money in the process. He cited the close working relationship between the young doctor and his wife as merely a cover for an outrageous adulterous affair. The case was over in 3 weeks. Mokasa the lousy lawyer lost the suit and the young doctor emerged with his cotton clean image intact. The vengeful Mokasa now vowed that he would never grant his wife a divorce.

Unfortunately for Caroline, Mokasa had used every dirty trick in trying to put his case forward. Now her reputation was in tatters. The intense media interest and declining health forced her to retire from public life. In 1985, Caroline left her husband. She managed to subsist on her earnings as an author, but Mokasa claimed these as his own. He argued successfully in court that, as her husband, Caroline’s earnings were his in law. All her book earnings were surrendered to Mokasa. Caroline got her own back by using the law to her advantage. She ran up bills in her husband’s name and when creditors came for payment she told them that they could sue her husband.

Caroline refused to go back home to her parents prefering to live in Nairobi. Her son studied medicine at the uni going on to become a succesful surgeon. Caroline was never divorced from her husband. The long years of stress took their toll and Caroline was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

As her illness progressed she wrote to a friend of her “strong desire to be free…. I have been locked in a cage of unhappiness for much too long. When my time comes to go please do not put me in a box in the ground. I don’t think my spirit could take it.”

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