wetwool

because you never forget that funny smell

Page 2 of 13

The crazy man at the post room

Back in Babu’s office building they have this fellow who collects and distributes mail for all the offices on their floor. His name is Carlos and he has worked there for many years. His is a demanding job looking after the postal affairs of nearly thirty businesses. The post-room at the end of the corridor is his official HQ from where he issues decrees and directives. He has a staff of three harassed junior clerks working under him and between them they sort all the inbound and outgoing mail.

Last week saw me hunting for Carlos, sort of. Continue reading

the announcement

I paused for a moment, realising that Babu was staring at me, his mouth open. I thought he was either in a state of shock or he was very thirsty. Our glasses had been empty for a while, and I signaled to the barman, who had been standing close by, listening to the Malaika tale, to fetch more beer immediately. Continue reading

malaika

Is it just me or do you also find that hardly a day goes by without someone sounding off about the Environment, Climate Change and Recycling. Television, Radio and the newspapers are all full of it. New companies spring up daily promising to supply “green” energy using all types of weird and wonderful renewable sources from wind power and sunlight to cow manure and biomass.

A few years back our local council embraced recycling in a big way. First they issued every household with a brand new wheelie bin. All rubbish would only be collected if it was stashed in these bins. Next, they cancelled the weekly collection. Rubbish is now collected twice a month. Further, householders are required to separate out the stuff that can be recycled from the general rubbish that eventually goes into landfill sites. There are three different bins at the front of most houses each for different items of household waste. The system suffered teething problems at the start but it seems to have taken off now and the city fathers claim that the city was coming close to hitting the recycling targets set by the EU. Councillors like to remind us that for programmes like these to work we need to inculcate a sense of civic pride and people must accept their own responsibility for the environment and global climate change. This would include reforming the throw away culture. We needed to look carefully at the Japanese idea of Mottainai, popularised by Kenyan Nobel laureate, Professor Wangari Maathai.

Imagine then, my good friend John’s surprise when he took Malaika to see her doctor recently. I know the good lady well and whilst she is no spring chicken she looks really good for her age. She has been with John’s family for just over 12 years.

The family acquired Malaika, a white, 1980s VW beetle from a German couple who had toured the country by road, spent all their cash and decided to sell their car for food, board and bus fare for the journey home. Malaika may have been of advancing years but she had never once let them down. She had remained a loyal friend getting them from A to B and back again, come rain or sunshine. The lower parts of her body were beginning to show her age but John did not expect the rude reaction that he got at the garage when he took her in for an MOT test. The older mechanic laughed out aloud at all the rust showing on Malaika’s lower body. He asked why John didn’t just scrap her and save himself the hustle.

The younger mechanic respectfully explained to John that this model was obsolete and it would get more and more difficult to obtain parts. Further, the rust problem was getting worse and he’d noticed that Malaika had had several previous welding scars. There was more welded material than original bodywork on Malaika’s backside and for that she would fail her MOT test. Another man who seemed to be just standing around asked John to sell it to him for what sounded like an obscenely tiny amount. John asked the man why he’d want to buy the car and the man’s answer left him speechless. This man’s son was a drag race maniac. Together, they bought old cars changed the wheels, souped up the engines and then went off to race them in the mud. John could not imagine dear Malaika coming to such an undignified end and so he told the man what he could do with his twenty-quid.

Vintage

As they drove out of the garage, Malaika noticed that the driver’s mood had changed. Johnno, as she called him was like an open book. And for that she loved him dearly. She could read his emotions by the way he handled her. When angry he always pushed the accelerator pedal right down to the floor. It made her scream and hurt her throat. When Johnno was happy he whistled and tapped on the steering wheel, tickling her. When he was in a good mood he drove slowly as if wanting the moment that he was inside her to last forever. He liked to sing out aloud when he was alone in the car and this always made her heart melt. She loved his deep crisp voice which made good harmony with her own high engine sounds.

Malaika had never seen this side of John. He was not just angry, this was something different. An emotion she found difficult to place. Was it guilt? shame? She concentrated hard trying to read the vibes in the air. She tried to remember what those dirty mechanics had said to him. The rude men used words like trade-in, newer model, scrap yard. What did it all mean? They were now driving along the winding road that went up ‘Dead man’s Hill’ near the rock and sand quarries. Johnno did not play a tune on the wheel. He held the wheel firmly, staring at the road straight ahead.They were just getting to the top of the hill. The road here followed a winding path to the bottom and extra care was required when driving along this part.

Now Malaika’s mind went back to a warm Sunday in July, many years ago. She was hot and dusty. Johnno had come out with a bucket of cool soapy water. He wore one of those nice string vests. He used a soft sponge to scrub her white body slowly, making sure that he covered her entirely in that sweet smelling foam. He was happy. A neighbour came over and said that if John continued to wash the car like that, rain would fall. John told him that this was the love of his life. He liked to take care of her, give her a good wash and shine. He would never trade her in for a newer model!

Now she understood. She too was angry. She pulled the accelerator pedal down, herself, right to the floor and locked it there.

As Malaika suddenly gathered speed, Johnno lurched backwards into his seat losing his grip on the steering wheel and all control of the speeding car. Moments later they flew off the edge of the cliff, hurtling down towards the rock quarries several hundred feet below……….

this passport is valid

As soon as I got onto the by-pass I realised that I had forgotten to call Rubina. I had meant to do it before I left Babu’s office, where I’d gone to meet him for a short briefing. The old man was not to be hurried. He had so much to tell me. When he had paused, 2 hours later, at the end of a rather funny anecdote, I seized my chance to escape – and failed to make the call.

I drove on towards her place anyway, hoping that she would be home. I turned off at their little neighbourhood shopping centre and stepped into Maria’s mini-mart where I picked up a bottle of wine and some bites. It was only seven-thirty but the sky was dark and moody. The trees swayed frantically in the wind which swirled around the car-park blowing leaves and litter across the asphalt. My trained eye spotted a bar at the far corner of the shopping centre. I would have a swift pint in there and call Rubina.

Half-an-hour later we were in Rubina’s kitchen cooking dinner. She had opened the wine and we were making chicken curry with rice. I offered to make a side dish of her favourite ML spinach and in retaliation she made me the tiniest ugali you have ever seen. This was to thank me, she said, for turning up unexpected. She was glad that I had come by and happy that we were making a proper supper to have together.

We were having a ball in the kitchen. There was so much to catch up on. I had been away on assignment in Mombasa and we had only exchanged short conversations and not much else. I knew that Rubina was currently very busy at work and when she had called me one evening saying she had something rather important to tell me, I had asked her if it could wait until I got back to Nai. I would see her when I came for the office briefing. So here we were.

The meal was a success. I could have done with a larger ugali but Rubina’s coconut milk rice was an excellent substitute and it went very well with the chicken. I asked her why that chicken tasted so different from other currys that she had made in the past.

“I used a special ingredient.”, she said. “Lemon grass. It makes all the difference.” She stood up to clear the table and I topped up our glasses with the last of the wine. She washed and I dried, like they do on tv and when that was done we retired to the living room.

I was surprised to see the floor covered in papers and things. It looked like the contents of two drawers had been chucked all over the floor.

‘Ooops! Oh dear, I forgot about this, Woolie. Ha. Please excuse the mess; this is what I was sorting when you called. I totally forgot about it. Come sit here on this seat.”

“It’s ok, Rubina. Ha. I thought you’d been burgled! I can help you tidy it away, if you like.”
I started to pick up some documents when she reached out and took them, grabbing a whole load more from the floor.

“No no….Look…..this is my mess. I’ll sort it, thank you.” Rubina was getting somehow flustered, and I stepped back.

That was when some of the stuff that she held in her hands slipped and fell, and at the top of the pile was her passport.

“Are we going somewhere?” I asked, picking up the little blue book and turning the pages.

Old Passport

“If you look carefully, you will note that that’s is my Old passport. I was looking for my New one in order to make sure that it was in date.” Rubina said, putting some of the papers in order. She was obviously agitated by the thought that her passport may be lost. I picked up the remaining papers and together we put them away in the drawers.

“Try and think when you last had your kitabu.” I said, hoping to jog her memory. Rubina did not travel abroad much and I was struggling to remember myself. Was it that time during the floods?
Rubina left the room with the two drawers full of papers.

As I idly turned the pages of the expired passport, I noted the message on page 4 which read:

PASI HII INAWEZA KUSAFIRIWA KATIKA NCHI ZOTE ZA JUMUIYA YA MADOLA NA ZA KIGENI

It was also translated into English

THIS PASSPORT IS VALID FOR ALL PARTS OF THE COMMONWEALTH AND ALL FOREIGN COUNTRIES

EXCEPT THE REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA

The bit about not travelling to SA had subsequently been deleted on the document, following the first multi racial elections: a culmination of the freedom struggle, the arrival of the age of democracy and a new South Africa, with the great Madiba Nelson Mandela as its first president.

The Exclusion

I marveled at the idea of how one was making a political statement every time one took a passport to travel abroad. Today’s passports do not have this message and I would be interested to know of other exclusions that may have been placed on passports and over the years.

After a while Rubina returned to the living room. She was wearing a bright red dressing gown. She carried a pale cream duvet and some blue pillows. She placed the bed things on the sofa and said “You shouldn’t really drive home tonight. There’s a storm brewing and you’ve had a lot of wine. I think I’ll just make us some hot drinks, then I’ll try and have an early night.”

She went into the kitchen and a few moments later emerged with two large steaming mugs of milky cocoa. She placed mine on the small table near the sofa.

“Have a good night, Woolie”, she said, offering me her cheek. I kissed it lightly and said good night in a voice that I barely recognised. Now I watched as she flowed out of the room, in the red gown. I heard her bedroom door close, putting that final full stop to the evening.

I wondered what it was that she had wanted to tell me as I slowly drifted to sleep……….

Would I lie to you?

I was in Babu’s office, seated across the desk from him, waiting patiently for him to end his phone call. He spoke in hushed tones and I barely made out what he was saying. I guessed it must be a sombre matter; perhaps some elderly relative was gravely ill, or had even died. He spoke for a further couple of minutes before saying goodbye and replacing the handset with a deep sigh.

“Whoa!” he said. “That woman is fuming. She’s spitting blood!” He looked at me, eyes twinkling over his reading glasses and asked, “Woolie, bwana, what have you done to make Ruby so angry?” I shook my head, surprised. “Me?” I asked. “I’ve done nothing – what’s she accused me of, Babu? Whatever it is, it wasn’t me. It’s not true, I haven’t done anything wrong. Would I lie to you, Babu? That woman just hates me. What am I supposed to have done?”

I was getting angry now. Commander Ruby Mwekundu of the Nairobi Regional Crime Squad was Babu’s pal. She made no secret of the fact that she loathed me painfully. She still referred to me as Mr Mbuzi even though she knew my name was Woolie Kondoo. I chose to rise above all that petty stuff, knowing that she was great friends with Babu. He was speaking again, now, repeating what commander Mwekundu had threatened to do if she ever laid eyes on me again. Apparently she had vowed to cut out my kidneys and roast them on a slow fire. It occurred to me that she may have referred to different body organs but Babu was ever the diplomat. He said “Stay out of the way until whatever ‘this thing’ is blows over.”

I wondered what ‘this thing’ could be. We rarely crossed paths, Ruby and me, and each time that we had met in recent times we had always parted ways courteously and without drama. Why was she suddenly on the warpath?

I did a quick rewind mentally to the very last time that I had seen the commander. This was when she had called round at my flat, the Friday morning before I was due to leave for work in Mombasa. It had been a short friendly meeting. She had brought a couple of parcels that she had asked me to take down to her relations in Mtwapa and we drank tea, chatting amiably about her niece’s wedding the following Saturday.

I remember how just as I had been complimenting Ruby on the wonderful preparations for the Big Day and my own regret at being unable to attend the nuptials, her official driver had come up to the door in a state of slight distress. “Very urgent call on the secure car-phone line, madam.” he proclaimed. Ruby had dashed out of the house and into the car to take the call. I could tell at once that this was a grave matter. After she had finished the conversation she lowered her window, her face all drawn and explained to me that there had been some serious breach of security somewhere and she was going straight back to Police HQ.

“I also need you to do me a really big favour, Woolie.” she said. It’s for the wedding tomorrow. Go to the shop and get another pair of long (arm length) gloves, please. Drop them off at my house and when I get back in tonight I’ll deal with them.” She stretched out her hand to give me some instructions, written on a piece of paper torn from her police note book. She also gave me a wad of notes.

From Police Notebook

I put the note in my pocket and offered a self-conscious salute. Ruby smiled sweetly and said, “We’re all counting on you. Please don’t let us down, Mr Kondoo.” And with that the car sped off in a cloud of dust.

I showered and shaved quick time and prepared to go to the shop as detailed in Ruby’s instructions. It was just after 11:00 and the sun was quite hot. At the shopping centre I noticed that KK’s bar was open for business so I stepped inside and ordered a swift Pilsner to wash away the dust. I had just put my favourite track on the jukebox when two pals from shags walked through the doors. They were down in the city for their monthly shop. The married couple were known around here for their love of mayhem. They would wine and dine Friday afternoon, dance away the night and then wake up to buy their provisions late on Saturday evening before heading back to the village. I had plans so I only had two beers with them. I began to feel the effects of 4 Pilsners on an empty stomach. If I was to accomplish mission Ruby and finally prove to her that my IQ was not a single digit, I had to make a move.

I found a taxi driver who was familiar with industrial area. Next I was looking for the small piece of paper with the name and location of the shop. It was not in my jacket or shirt pockets, nor was it in my trouser pockets. Should I call Ruby and ask her to text me the info? There was an unread sms on my phone. It was from Ruby, some 2 hours ago. “Hope you got the gloves. In a meeting till late. Bye xx” Oh no!

I nearly panicked but lucky for me I have a photographic memory. I knew where we wanted to go. I asked the taxi driver to head straight for Junction Road. We were there in twenty-five minutes, bless the kind man’s soul, At the corner of Junction Road was a row of shops. The middle one was called Mjengo Welding Supplies. I walked through their doors just five minutes before they were due to close. The man showed me his selection of gloves. I paid for a pair of full(arm length) gloves which came in a secure box. We dropped them off at Ruby’s house in Kilimani and then headed back to my flat where I packed a suitcase. The taxi finally dropped me off at the coach waiting room and |at nine-thirty I boarded a night coach to Mombasa.

Babu had listened to my story without interruption. Now he picked up the newspaper and slipped it across to me saying, “Open page 36, the classified section and look half-way down the page.” The advert gave me a cold empty feeling in the pit of my stomach.

M&J Wedding Supplies

Neither a borrower nor a lender

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be;For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!”

A short passage from Lord Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 3 which I then shamelessly proceed to borrow in order to illustrate a point.

It was Sunday morning. Woolie sat in the tiny living room, tucking into a king size breakfast of fried eggs, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, toast and ML spinach. In his right hand he held a huge mug of coffee and in his left, the remote control with which he surfed the various news channels. His continuous flicking up and down the channels was irritating and Babu, sitting opposite, took a sip of his black tea and shook his head. Woolie wanted to hear what the brightest brains in the land were saying about Obama and his amazing speeches. He wanted to hear why the killing of a single lion by a crazy dentist in Zimbabwe was making more headlines than the killings of hundreds of people in trouble spots around the world, including Zimbabwe. Was it true that the Governor was taking back the trees used to line the highways after the great leader left?

“ Look, switch off that telly and let’s talk for a bit. Explain it to me again, what really happened here, Woolie?” Babu asked.

First Kenyan American President

Woolie raised his arm unconsciously making a sign for Babu to keep quiet. He was trying to catch up with the news for the few days that he had been incarcerated as he ate the food that Babu had prepared for him. Babu stood up and and switched off the telly. “Finish your breakfast first, then you can watch all the tv that you like.”

“Boo!” Woolie said, making a face.“You know how grateful I am for you coming to my rescue, Babu and those mushrooms are just the way I like them! What more can I say. You saved my life, boss. You’re my hero,” Woolie said, spreading jam on a piece of toast.

Babu shook his head again. “No, no, Woolie, I’m not finagling for gratitude here. You’ve been trapped in here for nearly three days! I tried calling you for ages and you were not answering. That was really odd, man. Scary.” He looked at Woolie intently and asked, “ Does this have anything to do with young Rubina?”

“Finango who? “ asked Woolie. “Where have you been learning new words, Babu? No, this has nothing to do with Rubina. I have not actually spoken to her since last Friday, before she left for Nakuru.” Woolie thought for a moment and said, “I’ll give her a call in a bit, I guess.” For Babu this was the information that he sought. It was an indication that the lawyer had not told Woolie of her plans for the near future. Babu wondered when she was going to tell him. Perhaps she wanted to tell Peter Malo first. That was why she had gone to Nakuru on Saturday morning, he mused. To Woolie he said, “Finagle.”

Woolie knew that he had plenty to be thankful for. He told Babu how after dropping Rubina home on the Friday evening, he had gone home to get changed as he was going out for a bite to eat and some drinks with his pals. The city was abuzz with the much awaited arrival of Barack Obama, the first US President to visit our fair Republic. That day the media were covering a single news item and Woolie had learned a lovely new word: Potus

Woolie explained that he had come home to a cold flat in complete darkness. All was quiet, save for the occasional screeching from the the cats in the alleyway at the back. It was early evening and the cats would be fighting for fish bones from the rubbish bin outside the rear gate of the Bahari Fish and Chips shop. As the night wore on the cats would move away leaving the alleyway for muggers to lie in wait for tipsy revellers, foolish enough to take a short cut home.

Woolie had run a bath, pouring himself a large whiskey in a small glass. He drew the curtains and turned on the tv to see whether President Obama had finally arrived. They were still waiting. It seemed Barack would land late in the night. This was Nairobi, not Camp Bastion! So much for all the grass that the Nairobi Governor had planted.

Woolie went into the bathroom, locking the door as was his habit when he was doing more than just a number one. He picked a nice book from the drawer and settled to read. When he was done he got a packet of sweet smelling bath salts from the drawer and sprinkled them into the water. He slid into the bath and lay back, shutting his eyes. He placed a wet flannel over his face, pretending he could not breathe. He lay there for a while as the tiredness left his limbs. The water became cold so he finished washing and got out. He had forgotten to bring a towel. When Woolie grabbed at the knob to open the door, it came away from the door in his hand.

“Nkt!”, he said, stooping low to pick up the screws that had also come away from the door panel. As he tried to push them back in he realised that he would need a screw driver. He remembered that there was one in the drawer. He had left it there when he adjusted the arm on the toilet ball-valve to reduce the water he was flushing. He rummaged about looking for the screwdriver. As he did so he recalled the day two months ago when the neighbour from two doors away, Cecil, borrowed the same screwdriver for ‘five minutes’. He had not returned it. As he fiddled with the knob the rest of the door mechanism on the outside of the bathroom fell away. He was trapped!

Woolie had told himself that there was no need to panic. Far better to take a calm and considered assessment of the situation. There had to be a way out of this predicament, surely. He was locked in the bathroom, that was certain. The window was too high and too small to offer him an exit. His mobile phone was in his bedroom next door. He had no tools, with him, in the bathroom, that he could use to break out. He may not have food, but there was plenty of water to drink. He started to panic. How did one pick a bathroom door? There was only one thing to do: shout for help.

Woolie had tried to shout for twenty minutes. He stopped to take a break when his voice became hoarse. The streets outside were busy and very noisy. It was patently clear that nobody would have heard him unless they happened to be in the bedroom next door. He wondered why he had not placed a land line in the bathroom. He tried to kick the solid door but it was one that opened inwards and had a very solid frame. The bathroom was tiny with very little room. Woolie realised that he could not run up and smash into the door with any power. He hurt his foot and gave up on that idea.

At 2:00 am Woolie drank another tumbler of water. He was getting quite hungry. He could hear loud music and laughter from the bar down the road. The smell of barbecued goat hung in the air. The streets were quieter and the traffic flowed quicker. He considered the numerous items that he had lent to his friends, never to see again. Should he even refer to these idiots as friends, in future?

Missing screwdriver

That man Cecil, with the screwdriver, he was definitely an idiot and Woolie thought of him as an acquaintance rather than a friend. Mary who was an old schoolmate had moved to a house in a street behind Woolie’s. They had met at the local bar a few times and she was a good friend. There had been a power surge one afternoon, at Mary’s house and it had blown out her iron. She had come to borrow Woolie’s and he had done the neighbourly thing. Mary’s house was burgled when she was away for the weekend. They had taken everything that was not fixed down. Panye was in a class of his own. He had come to Woolie one lunch time, spun him a tale of how he needed 2k urgently to replace some filange part on his car which had broken down on the side of Mombasa Road, near the big Equity bank. He was never seen again and Woolie, upon learning that Panye did not actually own a car, had considered the 2k well spent in a lesson on friendship and money.

It was 04:00 am Woolie was getting cold. He had nothing to wrap over himself to keep warm. Woolie wondered why he had never considered hiding a small bottle of whiskey in the medicine cabinet. There was no pen or paper with which to write a quick SOS note that he could throw out of the bathroom window. He slept a restless kind of sleep, on the cold floor. He spent the whole of Saturday sleeping, only waking to drink some more water. Saturday night was party night. The streets were full of noise and celebration. Woolie slept a distressed sleep that night dreaming of soft towels, screw drivers and tool-boxes. The hunger made it difficult to think. The smell of nyama choma from the bar was torture and his belly complained loudly. He dreamed of Cecil running away with the screwdriver “Woolie! Woolie!” he said, “I’ll be back in five minutes, Woolie”. Woolie dreamed of getting himself a bow and some arrows..”Five minutes Woolie,” Cecil had said.

“Woolie! Woolie! There was someone inside the flat, calling him, shouting out his name! It was not a dream.

“In here, I’m in here. In the bathroom”, said Woolie, rather weakly.

When Babu kicked the door in he had been expecting the worst. Had Woolie disturbed some burglars who had beaten him and tied him up in the bathroom? Had they injured him, perhaps left him for dead? The sight of a hungry Woolie, shivering from exposure was not what he had expected. He helped him to his room, getting him a pair of pants and a dressing gown.

“Can I get you anything?” Babu had asked. Woolie smiled saying that all he wanted was his phone and a nice cup of tea.

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……”

Collision Course

So earlier this afternoon I was standing by the bus stop waiting for the number 10 when a young lady emerged from a side street pushing a baby buggy in a bit of a hurry, nearly running into the old lady who stood in front of me.

“Hey! Look where you’re going.” Said the woman. “There could have been a collision.”

The young mother mumbled an apology without pausing in her mobile phone conversation and hurried off.

It struck me at the time that the baby in the buggy seemed rather large. I mused that perhaps the near-miss had been caused by the fact that it must have been quite a mission for the petite mum to control this heavy buggy with one hand as she came down the very steep hill. I dreaded to imagine what nature of a collision would have happened had the lady tripped on a paving stone, say, and let go of the buggy for a second……Our bus stop is at the junction of a very busy road.

It has often been said that you hear a new word one day and then you find that for the next few hours and days you are coming across the same word so many times. The same thing happens when you buy a car, dress or jacket. Suddenly you find that the whole world is full of cars, dresses and jackets just like yours but you had never noticed. Today’s word of the day was Collision. When I switched on the telly at Rubina’s flat later in the evening there was this wonderfully boring science programme about mechanics, velocity, motion and all things collision.

Don’t get me wrong when I say boring. I enjoyed the show. I really loved physics way, way back in my school days. The principal reason was one bright scholarly girl: Condoleezza Ajiambo. She was the light of the class, no… the light of our school. She demolished the old (silly and somewhat chauvinist) ideas of a less enlightened age and inscribed in every school boys heart at the time that smart girls were nerds and Beauty X Brains = K. Condoleezza was consistently top of the class. She was clever, witty and very pretty and had what is sometimes referred to as a heart of gold; she was a gracious soul. Everyone liked to be near her and every night I said a prayer for the physics master because he had instructed me, the slowest kid in the group, to sit next to Miss Ajiambo in the physics lab.

The master himself was something of a phenomenon. Back then the older kids joked that he had taught Einstein most of what he knew. I believed them. The guy suited the part of the nutty professor perfectly. In his lab he was King. If you asked him a question he would swing round on his heels, and armed only with a piece of chalk he did battle on the black board producing obscure (to us) characters. He would tweak them here, cross-out there and adjust there and in a few minutes he would derive another masterpiece of an equation.

One morning, after another satisfactory equation exhibition, Master asked if there were any questions. Ms Ajiambo, or Condi, as we called her stood up and asked “So Master, how do you think this world will end?”

The physics master smiled, pulled out another piece of chalk and said, “There are many ways in which the world can end but my favourite ones are as follows”

He swung on his heels turning to face the board and wrote:

1 The sun burns itself out, suddenly like the flash in a camera so that the earth has no source of energy and life, as we know it ceases to exist.

2 A most powerful volcanic eruption that would crack the earth’s core killing most life on the planet.

3 My worst case scenario is the very probable prospect of an unstoppable body moving fast and colliding (that word again) with an immoveable body, (our planet)

heavenly bodies

The master went on to explain that outer space was full of debris from the break up of larger heavenly bodies, asteroids and such like. This debris travelled across space at “astronomical speeds” and If even one such body say about a quarter of the size of our moon was to crash into the earth…….He painted a scene of devastation of cataclysmic proportions and concluded by saying that even now as we spoke there were many objects hurtling through the universe, faster and faster on a collision(Ha!) course with our planet. Impact was most certainly assured. It was simply a question of when, not if, this would happen.

Astronomical

Much time has passed in between and over the years we lost touch with one another. Sometimes, I do wonder what I would ask the master today. What about Condi? If I met her today I think I should like to ask her whether she might agree with me that there is a new unstoppable object sweeping rapidly across the planet, almost as fast as the moon’s shadow racing across earth during an eclipse.

This object is on a deadly collision course with the rest of humanity. I describe the rest of humanity as the immoveable object today because it is totally oblivious to the nature of the threat that it faces. The rest of humanity has no response and watches in awe and confusion as killing and maiming, raping and beheading, burning and looting rages in almost every continent.

Last week’s attacks in France, Tunisia and Kuwait drew swift condemnation and anger coming as they did in the Holy month of Ramadan but like numerous attacks in Kenya, Somalia, Nigeria, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and other countries, tough talk about tightening security, punishing the perpetrators and the all important War on Terror do nothing to hide the most inconvenient truth of today: We don’t know where or how the next attack will be carried out. Like the physics master’s dire warning it is just a question of when.

What happened to the King’s gold

I have never felt comfortable writing a post on birthdays, whether past, present or future. Perhaps it is the random streak of shyness within me that made me ask: What merit can there possibly be in one shouting out that they are another year older?

Now all this was before I read the numbers game which is a beautifully engaging post celebrating life and a making a play on the number that is one’s age. Notice how every birthday one is obliged to pick a new number: 20, 25, 30, 45, 50, 55. And yet they are the self same individuals. No wonder someone important once said that age is just a number. What does it feel like to be 39? or 89?

I did not have to wait too long for my next birthday treat. I came across a post which can be called Just do it. I got my teeth into this excellent high velocity, energetic post as it cruised along at about mach 5. The theme here: goals and achievements. There is no time like the present for one to push the boundaries and realise their true potential. Tomorrow might be too late

I allowed these ideas to percolate in my mind as I searched high and low for my final birthday offering which suddenly appeared one day in the shape of Father Time.
It was a wonderful evaluation of the changes that had taken place in the past year. Time was the theme as the title suggests. What had changed as the hands of time had made their revolutions around the clock- face? A coming of age type of story.

After reading these 3 pieces I had clearly experienced an instant radical change of perception.

* * * * * * * * * * *

I woke on Tuesday morning with a start. My breath came in quick, short gasps. It was as though I had been running for a bus in my last dream. I glanced over at the alarm clock by the bedside. It read 05:33, a whole twelve minutes before my alarm was due to go off. My body shook in silent laughter in the darkness as I recalled an old saying: why keep a dog and then bark yourself?

I got up from the bed and opened a window. The air in my bedroom was stale, reminding me of boiled cabbage, rotten eggs and bad drains. Perhaps I should have given that cold mutura at the pub a miss last night, I thought gravely. I moved about the room with a dangerous, lithe spring in my step. Today was my birthday.

I quickly shaved, showered and moisturised, and twenty minutes later I was locking the front door. I stopped by the early morning kiosk to pick up a paper, a bag of peanuts, some tissues and a bottle of water. I ran recklessly across the street to catch a mat bound for the city.

I arrived at the office to discover that the others were all there. My general plan was to not say anything. I did not expect them to remember what day it was and I was not going to tell them. Why should I tell them it’s my birthday? They’d probably think I’m desperate for cards, prezzies and stuff. I would pretend it was just a normal day.

Babu was looking over some papers at the receptionist’s desk. He glanced up at me when I entered and grunted a greeting. The photocopier man, standing nearby handed me a box of toner to take to the cupboard and promptly disappeared. As I walked along the corridor to my office I noticed Commander Ruby accepting and signing for a package from a delivery man. She saw me and casually placed a newspaper over the package on the desk. She came to the door, said hello and pressed an empty coffee cup into my hand, asking if I was going to the kitchen. I said hi, declined the coffee cup and went into my office. I shut the door in despair, disappointed that not one of my work mates had even though for a moment about the significance of this great day.

The day wore on. It was busy as normal. There were clients to see, emails to reply to and phone calls to return. Before I knew it it was 5.45 and time to disappear. Rubina was just getting back from the courts. She asked me to wait, saying she had a present for me. She had managed to obtain a wonderful film for my birthday. It had been delivered today. Her plan was that we should go back to my place and watch it. She also presented me with a beautiful birthday card and a lovely brand new copy of Okot P’Biteks, Song of Lawino.

I was ecstatic. Rubina had come through. I wondered what to do about my other forgetful colleagues but when I stepped outside the building, I discovered they had all gone home.

Rubina had gone to fetch her car from that dark and damp place, that is the basement of the building. She pulled up beside me and I jumped into the passenger seat. We went by her place where she offered me a coffee while she picked up some overnight things. We left almost immediately with Rubina negotiating the city roads with considerable skill. It was quite dark now. A few moments later we had arrived at my flat in South B. As we got out of the car we were giggling with excitement. We had managed to outfox the rest of the work colleagues and now we could spend some quality time watching a good film all by ourselves.

Had I been a more conscientious fellow in my day to day domestic affairs I would have had the light bulb in the porch area, inside the front door, replaced months ago. Perhaps then I would have noticed that something odd was going on. As it happened this area at the front was in total darkness just like the rest of the house.

I opened the door to the sitting room. What happened next was the last thing that I would have expected that evening.

“Surpriiiiise !! Came the loud shout of about twenty or thirty voices all at once as they switched on the lights. They had all been lying in wait, in the darkness. Somebody turned on the music nice and loud and Babu came up and hugged me as he gave me a present. Someone else put a drink in my hand and slapped me cheerfully on the back. I looked at Rubina. Her face was like a blank sheet of paper. It was impossible to say whether she had been in on the joke or not. I said to her, “Looks like we’ll have to watch the movie next time. What film did you get, by the way?”

She smiled and took out a package from her coat pocket. It was the very same one that I had seen Commander Ruby signing for in the office earlier that day.

“Happy birthday Woolie.” said Rubina and the Commander in unison as I ripped away at the wrapping paper. I finally got to the DVD. It bore the bold initials of the National Archaeological Unit. The title of the film was “What happened to the King’s gold?”

King’s treasure and the rogue zero

They arrived at the venue with moments to spare. It had been hurriedly arranged, almost at the last moment. Weeks ago Babu had offered Woolie a pair of tickets to a public presentation by the National Archaeology Unit. The event had been billed as “A show that will blow your mind.”

Woolie had wanted so much to take Rubina to this thing, whatever it turned out to be. This would be quite different. He felt unsure about asking her. He hardly saw her at all these days and when he called her on the phone she was always busy. It just rang and rang. She never returned his calls, which displeased him. He considered, with some irritation, how this new guy at the office opposite had just breezed in and had now managed to take Rubina to the cinema one weekend and then to play tennis, yes Tennis! On the following one. The new boy was clearly a mercenary! Would Rubina really be interested in going to some stuffy lecture about bones and stuff, he wondered. He waited almost two weeks, putting off asking her, like it was some ordeal.

When he finally asked her, just two days before the event, she said it was a lovely idea and she’d love to go. “Yay!” Woolie thought, totally delighted.

So here they were now at the National Museum. They run up the stairs and entered through the big doors to join the others in the beautiful Louis Leakey Auditorium. Once everyone was seated the Director, Professor Aden welcomed them all. She went on to introduce the Curator, Mr Shu Kabatt who drew up to the stage in his electric wheelchair. At his signal the lights were dimmed. The curtain went up and everyone looked at the huge cinema screen expectantly. The curator introduced the show in a deep, steady and sombre voice.

“laaadiees and geeeentle meeeen, it gives me great pleasure toniiiiight to welcome you all as you join us in our first showing of what is a truuuuuuly amazing story.”

The music playing in the background was an instrumental version of Michael Jackson’s Earth Song.

“As you all know, “ The curator continued, “The SafariGone Railway Coorporation won the contract to build and operate a South to North train service between Namanga and Juba in the Republic of South Sudan. Construction work in the Rift Valley was progressing steadily until about six months ago when the contractors reported that they had stumbled upon something quite unexpected.”

On the screen the audience now looked at what seemed like footage taken by the construction crews. The advance party had come to a halt before a dry and rocky plain upon which stood a hillock which was right in the path the proposed railway line. The engineers decided to tunnel through the hill. They had enough explosive to blow up the whole hill if it was necessary. They prepared their dynamite charges, cleared the area and blew open a big hole at the front of the hill. The loud explosion echoed across the plain sending flocks of huge birds flying in all directions. The dust soon settled and the contractors came back to survey the results.

The film footage showed clearly how the dynamite had smashed the large rocks at the front of the hill into small pieces. It soon became clear that the hillock was quite hollow inside. They had blasted open an entrance into a huge cavernous space. The ground sloped gently into the earth as the men ventured cautiously further into the cave. The men wore helmets with powerful torches attached which lit up the cold, damp space inside. The inside was huge, like a large cathedral. The audience were watching open mouthed when the leading men stumbled upon the first human remains. There were audible gasps as the camera panned the cave to reveal more human and animal remains, There were skeletons belonging to humans, goats and camels. Woolie glanced across to see Rubina completely engrossed in the unfolding drama.

Meanwhile back in the cave, the Chief Engineer suddenly blew his shrill emergency whistle and called out. “Stop! Stop where you are. We cannot carry on like this. You, turn off that camera. This is probably an ancient burial ground. We do not want to desecrate it. Don’t touch anything. Let us turn round, right now and walk back the way we came.” The men muttered to themselves but they did not argue. They turned around and walked out of the cave to the bright sunshine outside.

“And this is where we come in.” Said curator Kabatt, importantly. SafariGone were astute enough to realise the gravity of the situation. They reported the discovery immediately to the National Museums and we are able to secure the site. As you know we have executive authority over all areas of Natural, Scientific or Historical interest in the country and our powers can only be revoked by Executive order and Only in matters concerning National Security.”

The next piece of film on the screen looked more professionally done. As Kabatt continued to narrate the story the audience saw a team of archaeologists arrive and take control of the entire hill. They went into the cave again, photographing and documenting all their findings. They retrieved the remains of about 900 men, women and children inside the hill. There were also hundreds of farm animals – goats and sheep, chickens, pigs and cattle, It now looked as if the people had gone into the cave to seek shelter from some natural calamity. Radio Carbon dating put the remains at 1000 years old meaning that the tragic events leading to the deaths of an entire community took place in the year of Our Lord 1015.

The film continued to explain how further investigations by archaeologists showed that around AD 1015 there had been a series of huge earthquakes in this region. The land all around was flattened and some mountains had been swallowed back into the earth. The scientists bagged and tagged the stuff that they found amongst the human remains. One day they came to a depression in the ground. It looked almost like a shallow pit. In the darkness they struggled to see what was inside. The film crew then shone their powerful halogen lamps into the pit. The audience was silent as they beheld the breathtaking view. A deep pit nearly 10 metres wide by 10 metres long and 10 metres deep and full of gold bars. They had found the King’s treasure.

“Take me home, Woolie. I’m tired and hungry.” Rubina said. In the darkness of the auditorium, Woolie took a moment to process this. He had forgotten where he was. The story of the caves and everything had arrested his imagination.

“ Yes, yes of course.” He said. “Let’s go at once.”

They stood up and made their way carefully through the darkened auditorium. In the car Woolie asked, “what do you fancy for supper?”

“ Haha, can you make me something?” I don’t really fancy take away, Rubina said.

“You don’t mean cook right now, surely, Rubina. It’s so late.”

“ Late shmate Woolie, you’re not even working tomorrow you can stay up as long as you like. Unless you don’t want to cook for me.”

Woolie put his foot down hard on the accelerator and said “I’ll make you anything you like, Rubina. Just name it.”

“Anything? Anything at all?” Rubina was not sure if Woolie was being serious. He was driving quite fast now down the highway towards South B, where he lived.

Woolie said, Ok then I’ll make you a surprise dish.
The arrived soon after and by force of habit, Woolie went round the house, drawing curtains and checking that windows were locked. Rubina hung her coat on the hook by the door and came back into the living room.

“I want to help.” said Rubina, “What can I do?”

Woolie opened the glass cupboard and brought out two glasses. There was a bottle of Blue Nun in the fridge and he filled their glasses, rolled up his shirt-sleeves and washed his hands. He found a block of mild cheddar cheese which he asked Rubina to grate.

Woolie found a pan with a heavy base and placed it on the hob on medium heat to melt 80g of butter. He then took 80g of plain white flour and stirred it into the melted butter as Rubina watched. She fished out a whisk from the drawer and passed it to him and he added milk whisking the mixture quickly to produce a smooth thick pasta sauce. Rubina added salt and pepper when the heat was turned down.

Bolognese

“Now pass me the big pan in the fridge, please, Rubina.” In the pan was the Bolognese sauce which Woolie had made earlier like they did in the cookery shows. He brought a large glass pasta dish and started by placing a layer of Bolognese sauce at the bottom.

Pasta sheets

He placed dried pasta sheets to cover the sauce and then poured white sauce over the pasta sheets. He then put another layer of meat sauce and repeated the process another couple of times. He placed a final layer of pasta sheets on the top and covered that with white sauce. He then sprinkled a generous amonut of the cheese that Rubina had grated.

white sauce

all covered

Ready

With that done they placed it in the middle shelf of the oven at 180 degrees to cook for 25-30 minutes.

“ Now while we wait for your lovely lasagne, perhaps you can tell me why you don’t call me any more, Woolie.” Rubina was smiling as she said this. Woolie looked puzzled. He said, “I call you nearly every day. You never return my calls. I’ve been wondering about that.”

It was Rubina’s turn to look puzzled. She said, “I haven’t seen any missed calls from you, sir and It is you who doesn’t answer or return my calls.”

“Wait…” Woolie thought a moment and said, “ Do you have your phone nearby?” Rubina nodded. “Call me right now then”, continued Woolie. “I know we can get to the bottom of this.”

Rubina got her phone, looked up Woolie in her phone-book and pressed ‘call’. It indicated that it was dialling and shortly after there was a sound to suggest that the dialled number was ringing, Woolie’s own phone, meanwhile, lay quietly on the table quite oblivious to these proceedings.

Rubina asked Woolie to call her number, which he did and as before the phone made a ringing sound to say the dialled number was ringing but Rubina’s own phone remained silent.

Curiouser and curiouser, they both thought. How does this happen on a Friday evening in the month of May?

Shortly after, Woolie said, “ I must turn off the oven. Look up the number you have under my contact details and write it here. I’ll do the same.”

And just as they thought. They both had wrong contact numbers for each other. The digits were all correct except for one What made this mystery even more puzzling: It was the same editing. The last number had been altered to a zero

Woolie had growing suspicions. He refused to accept that it was just coincidence that his calls to Rubina had been sabotaged soon after the new guy had arrived in the office. How easy was it to edit someone’s contacts via an email application on the work computer, he wondered. They were always walking away from their desks and leaving everything logged on.

Woolie did not want to spoil the evening. They agreed to revisit the problem the next morning.
The lasagne was gorgeous. After they had had two helpings each Woolie brought ice-cream. They retired to the sofa where they settled to watch the late film.

Rubina had been right. They could stay up as late as they liked.

The end

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