Throwing a Stone By Simiyu Barasa
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Throwing a Stone
By Simiyu Barasa
Click here to send comments
Click here if you'd like to exchange critiques
“I have sinned”
“God is merciful”
“If I can”
It was getting boring for him, all this silence, and all these crazy people on this earth. He waited for her to go on, but she didn’t. He tried to place a name to her voice- he had never heard it before. Three years of listening to people of Makutano Village tell him of their little sins had made him a master of saying hi to individuals after the church service and pinning nameplates and faces to the voices that came to the confessionary. Voices that were confident that the curtain hid their faces and hence could boldly tell of drinking at the bar, sex in the bushes, stealing bananas from the neighbours kitchen, sex with the neighbours wife, stealing of the neighbours chicken, sex with the neighbours visiting cousin, stealing of the neighbours maize cobs, thoughts of sex with the neighbours daughter…
Her voice was new. He knew she wasn’t a local, he knew all the locals voices. Hers was soft, breathless, inviting, sweet with the smell of yellowed mango, promising in its huskiness. He could not see her, darkness was setting and she had walked in when he was just about to light the candles and he’d thought that her silhouette was Satan coming to earth beating the good old Lord to the game of ‘I will come like a thief in the night’.
Maybe she was nervous, so he decided to restart the conversation.
“You can tell me anything you want to. I am here for that”
“I….no, I can’t. Am sorry, Father Muramba, let me go”
It startled him that she knew his name. He was not a father. He was a priest though. But what’s the difference, he thought, not wanting to correct her. For a fleeting moment he realised that Fathers can not father children but pastors do father…so he was a father too, but not the father she was referring to. Maybe she was the age of his long dead daughter…
“I have never told anyone else about it, father Muramba...”
“I will listen”
“No one…not even one. I might be killed if I tell you...”
“God protects...”He mumbled. His body had started to bubble at the sultry seductiveness of her voice, at how her words were loaded with longing.
“We were having dinner with the kids…I probably should not tell you this, it is a mistake...”
“Yes…” she whimpered, gasped, and gulped. “…then I suddenly had this huge knife in my hands...”
His jaw stiffened. His breath froze; lassoing his wandering mind and pegging it firmly back to the present. He tried to peer in the darkness, trying to carve out her face into his mind. Did she have a killer-tight lip? A murderer’s twitch of the jaw? A scotching crazed eye glint?
“I do not know what shetani came over me,” she went on, blaming the devil. “I just felt the room tell me to do it…I looked …there was no one. Just me, the soft neck of the girl, the bread…and the knife. It pricked me when I lifted it…and the devil came across me...”
“Does she have long hands?” he thought, “Veined hands? Stained hands?”
“I felt possessed, I lifted the knife….” She started again, but dangled the lines mid way and seemed to cave in to a moment of silence. Heavy breathing. Sobs. She sucked in air to deliver the final statement. But she exhaled and the silence came again, wrapping the room like cellophane keep-it-fresh wrapper.
He quickly struck the matchstick to light the candle. In the flickering light he was shocked to see that she was oh so young, twenty two maybe. His daughter had died when she was twenty five, killed when they came to punish him for handcuffing a drugs guy the locals called ‘Hacksaw’. That is why he had fled the city and sought the refuge of the rural village. And Jesus. Leaving the police service he was now in the service of the Lord.
The match burnt his fingers so he quickly licked the tongue of the candle with it and it burst into a spurt of light before lazily settling to dancing in the wind. He turned to fully face her.
Her beauty assassinated his faculties. He felt his stomach lurch. No killer-tight lip. No veined hands. No killer glint in her eyes. What errors in trying to place imaginary faces to voices. She was young, innocent, virginal eyes…oh, nice bust….Jesus! The legs…
“And?” He hurled the thoughts out of his system.
“I wish I didn’t…I raised the knife...”
“And I put down the knife on top of the bread. And I ran out of the room. And I never went back. And I wish I did not tell you this story.”
Pastor Muramba cursed under his breath so loud that the flame went off. He quickly fumbled trying to caress the table among the bibles to get the matchbox. A Victorian vase with the painting of the fight between God and Jacob broke on the badly cemented floor. Maybe he should ask for a transfer. This place was giving him the creeps. Too much adrenalin and just when your tongue was drying up in anticipation you get the hugest disappointment of mundane issues. When will the apocalypse happen? At least there will be a real knifing craze…veined hands…
“Did I bore you?’
Her voice in the dark somehow scared him.
He, in a state of panic, magically, without looking, stumbled, unintentionally, across, (to his surprise,) the box, small, containing, thank God, the matchsticks, realising, much to his horror, that he had all along been holding it in the palm of his hands.
He lit the candle again and walked out of the stuffy room full of such old bibles the scriptures smelt of doom. At the door it was ‘Re-reading John’, but farther back into the room was ‘Genesis: The Original Version’. Ok, he was not so sure it was Genesis but it must have been the smell of the Old Testament now that they were the only ones packed there. “Seems no one reads them now,” he thought to himself.
He looked at her. Tall. Brown. Eyes like a dove, and the legs….
“I’m Liz. For Elizabeth”
“I Am Muramba. Pastor Muramba.”
“Do you live here alone?”
Now these were tricky grounds. If the Reverend came and found him alone with her….at this hour ...OK, he could say she had come for prayers, but then, those legs…
“I live with the Reverend”
“Peter? Yes I know. I saw him in Kisumu yesterday.”
“You were there?”
Kisumu was over three hundred kilometres away. Peter had gone home for the holidays, leaving him to man the church.
“The lord sent me to you”
Three hundred kilometres to him? He wondered. Now she was definitely crazy.
“You live in Kisumu?”
“I live nowhere and everywhere”
He picked up the Bible and pulled the faded window curtains. He went past the wall painting that some old priest had tried to do of Jesus on resurrection. The picture, like the Messiah’s mission, was unfinished, so that he was rising or rather ascending to heaven minus the legs. The painter-priest had died of malaria before he could paint the legs into place, leaving on the wall an obscene void bigger than the one he had left in the mosquito infested community.
“I can spend the night here if you do not mind”
He turned to see whether she was up to some games. Her face was blank, innocent.
“I do not know anyone here. You would not like me to end up in the bushes do you?”
All will power to send her away evaporated. A picture of the local boys seeing her soft nape and her breasts and going for her…roughly pulling her legs apart….No, he would not let them.
“You can stay. But we follow the way of the cross. No luxuries, living as ascetically as Jesus did.”
She looked at him and smiled. She is going to be uncomfortable, he thought, but she is just going to stay here for this night only.
One week later, Reverend Peter came from Kisumu carrying a basket of dried fish which dropped off his fingers at the door when he found Liz mopping the floor and Muramba behind her with a pile of embroidered table cloths he was neatly covering the sparse furniture with.
“What is she doing here?” Peter asked him after pulling him behind the church. His voice hissing, and his dark forehead raised in alarm like the cemetery in front of them had flung itself open and bodies started walking. “Do you know her?”
“She told me that her name is Elizabeth”
“Yes, yes, but do you know her?”
“No, never seen her before. She told me that she comes from your area”
“Pastor Muramba, kneel down right here and pray. She is the worst prostitute in our rural town.”
They heard footsteps behind them in the soft grass. They turned to see Liz only metres behind them. Rev Peter snapped up straight and hurried to the other side and soon Muramba could hear the grand piano come to life. Liz looked at him, such innocence. Could she really be a prostitute? A picture flashed of heaving faces fat faces sweating faces burying themselves into that soft nape of her neck…hands reaching between those legs…
He shook his head to shake the thoughts ways, the way a fowl shakes the dust off its feathers. Furararrrrrrrr!! He too stood up and left for the shopping centre.
For the next three days she became a shadow, silently weaving around them in wide arcs, avoiding their space, straightening the seat covers, dusting the window panes, washing the dishes, cooking them lunch, re-arranging the Bible library, washing their clothes even when told not to, scrubbing their bathroom, ironing their clothes, sweeping the leaves into a pile in the yard, but not talking a word.
She transfigured the sitting room from a bombed out Iraq cowshed into a homely place where everything was arranged with a ruler and a T-square.
She was driving them crazy. Peter too had suddenly taken a vow of silence and didn’t even talk to Muramba. Then Peter left without an explanation to visit the Mombasa parish again.
On the second night after Peter had left he was in his bedroom studying the
Bible when she stood at the door and spoke for the first time.
“Can I come in?”
“You already are in!” he said.
“I know am irritating you, but ….I won’t disturb you. You can go on reading the bible as I sit here. I just need to be here, the sitting room is scaring me, and it is dark”.
He went back to his bible.
A few minutes later she laughed.
“What are you laughing at?”
“For the past fifteen minutes you have not turned a single page.”
Shit! Thought Muramba, immediately castigating himself for his foul language.
“Are you wondering why am here?”
He turned, wanting to tell her damn right, who are you and what do you want and why aren’t you going home and why did you have to have such long legs…
“You know, today I plan to kill someone” She said, removing a penknife from under her skirt. She stretched her hand to him. He took the knife, pushing the bible away from him.
“Pastor, I will answer that later. But please…” She moved closer to him.
He started to breathe faster. I knew it, he told himself, she is here to tempt me. But, I am her father’s age. I will not let her. See, she is coming very close. Then she will lift her dress up, and I will turn around, and will not look at her. I’d better turn around now before she lifts the skirt....
He turned around, his mind racing.
I know, he was thinking, she will put her hand on my shoulder, but I will not turn, then she will move closer still, till I hear her breath next to my ear, but I will not listen, then she wont give up, she will pull her chest close to me, and press her nipples against my back, bring her hand to my crotch, but I will not turn,
then she will wrap those long legs around me and beg so softly, and I will not…I mean the legs…I …will…turn just a little to see the legs…and …ah, I will turn and ask the Lord to forgive me, even He can see that the devil is to blame …
She turned around, arms spread in the air like a Jesus crucified on an invisible cross. “Check me for any weapons, pastor,” she said. He hesitated. What if she was playing a game so that he could caress her? Then he realised that he still had that pen knife in his hand.
He expertly ran his hands all over her, suddenly remembering his days in the police when he had to frisk everyone about to enter into the football stadium. By the way do they still have football in the country? He wondered, remembering the days when the country was fanatical about Gor Mahia when they took the Nelson Mandela cup. Now they only talk of Arsenal and Man U, some even come to church in those red devil T-shirts.
No weapon even after the second frisking.
“Everyday I wake up and ask myself is this the day that I should kill myself?”
He gulped. “The lord would not like that”
“Exactly,that is why today am going to kill someone else instead”
“I will make that person make me angry.”
“He hurts you?”
“Who said it was a he?” She stopped him short. He shrugged and sat on his bed.
“And before I kill that person I will inform them”
He wondered whether she was sane. Of course she couldn’t be, he reminded himself, to have come uninvited unknown unannounced and unwanted and to unceremoniously be ungoing away.
“I will tell that person that I am carrying a weapon and give it to them.”
“Liz, please go sleep.” This was getting sick.
“Then I will tell the person to check me for any other weapon, and if the person does not find it, I will get angrier and kill him”
So it was a he. Maybe it was him.
He quickly rose and went to the door.
She followed him.
He reached for the latch. She pushed it shut. He wanted to scream. His throat died. She smiled. From nowhere a knife emerged. He sank to the floor. She raised the knife, and flicked away at the cobweb on the door.
“Shame, that such a good priest like you should live in a cobwebbed house,” and with that she dropped the knife on him and vanished into the night.
Late in the morning just when he thought that she had finally gone, she came back with tiny specks of blood on her hands and bruises on her forearms.
He followed her as she went into the room and she just said “I killed the person” before sinking into deep sleep.
He went round the whole village trying to find out if there had been any person killed. He was careful for if a body was found everyone would remember his suspicious questions and then he would have to tell on her and the police would come and toss her into the back of their jeep and he would be left standing at the gate seeing her long legs dangling out of the jeep as they left and even before they delivered her to the police station they would have raped her for she had such long legs and again for she was a murderer and again for the legs were beautiful and again for she had made them come such a long way deep into the village and again for she had innocent eyes and again for she had to be taught a lesson by the law and again for she was about to die and again for she was dying and again just to make sure she really was dead before her legs became cold.
There was no body that day.
Neither was there the next.
Nor the next nor the next, nor was she talking, nor was he asking. Then he found one on the fifth day.
He was walking along the river thinking that he was going mad if a body was not found, or a person reported missing when he came across the body of Rev. Peter.
Peter was lying on the river bed and when Muramba touched him to see whether he was cold Peter rolled and yawned and sat up.
“Hey, you look like you have seen a ghost!” he uttered, and Muramba had to quickly compose himself.
“Brother Peter! How good to see you! You never said you were coming today! And how come you are asleep here? Praise the lord, brother, let me help you carry those …”
Peter had no luggage or anything in his arms.
“The city is in chaos. All the Matatus have gone on strike, so I had to walk all the way. I sat down here to relax and I must have fallen asleep. By the way is Liz…?”
Muramba nodded, and the look in Peter’s eyes said more than his words would have said. They talked no more as they headed back to the church compound.
The next Sunday Reverend Peter introduced Muramba to the pulpit.” Here is Pastor Muramba and praise the lord, his wife is here with us …”
And the crowd yelled back AMEN! And Muramba as he was preaching could see the old women in the front pews smiling, that curious look in their eyes that always voiced their concern at his bachelorhood replaced with a smile of congratulations. At the back he could see the smiles of the young ladies who competed in shouting HALELLUYA the loudest had evaporated and been replaced with an instant declaration of hatred for the girl who had come out of the blues to snatch their hope away.
Muramba waited for the very Reverend Peter and in very not so pastoral tones drove him to a corner of the church almost drilling him to the wall with his gestures. Of course it was after Pastor Muramba had smiled and greeted the tiny congregation as they streamed off after the service. It looked like immediately Muramba hanged the collar on a vestry he hanged his Christian calmness, uncloaking the tempers that lay so hidden in him that even Peter was for a moment scared.
“Why did you tell them that she is my wife?” Muramba asked, his clenched fists waving around Peter thought he would turn into a helicopter and levitate.
“Listen,” Peter said, looking past Muramba’s broad shoulders, for an escape route just in case, it came to fists flying loose. “The whole village is talking. You know; the usual village gossip. I had to fore stall the rumours.”
“John the Baptist”
“What?” Peter asked, not getting it.
“John the Baptist, that is you,” said Muramba, “You call that forestalling the rumours, when you have prepared the way for even greater ones?
Peter sat down and looked deep into Muramba’s eyes. “Seriously now, tell me, what is she doing in our place?”
“She came for spiritual help,” Muramba said, unconsciously darting his eyes away from the drilling penetration that Peter had levelled at him.
“She has been there for a month now,” Peter went on.
“Are you sure it is a month?” The gasp unconsciously escaped Muramba as he tried to make a quick calculation. Damn, it seemed like it was only yesterday. “Oh yeah, but who cares how long a person takes before she gets her spiritual help.”
The look that Peter shot back at him utterly crippled the lame excuse. Muramba regretted that he had said it. He could hear himself, his voice a bit so shrill and not as casual as he had desperately wanted it to sound.
“I care how long it takes for someone to get her spiritual help” Peter said, pausing for maximum effect. “And so do the neighbours, and so does the congregation.”
“God doesn’t” Muramba retorted , surprising Peter and surprising himself even more by the harshness in his tone.
“Search yourself real deep, brother,” Peter said in what sounded to Muramba like the voice of the almighty Jesus, speaking to him in a final offer seconds before Armageddon, “ Search yourself real deep. Kneel and pray and ask God for guidance, brother”.
Peter rose up and left, leaving Muramba with an empty feeling in the pit of his stomach and the pain was aching and aching.
Yes, she had to go. GO. GO. GO. But every time he said it he felt this emptiness in his stomach.
For the sake of the flock, she had to go.
He stomped his way to the house to find Liz sitting on the veranda with a bag ready by her feet. Those legs…
“Sorry pastor, but I have to go.”
Halleluyah! His heart said but his mouth beat him to it. “Why?”
She stood to her full length, straightening her clothes creased by the sitting on the floor. “Of all the things that I am, Pastor, I am not deaf.” Her hand reached for the bag, and the sight of her bending to gather her belongings and gather herself out of the village made Muramba sick
His hand shot to the bag faster than hers that he bumped into her. “Do not leave”.
It was a command, knotted in a plea, wrapped in a fear and plaited into a begging, all weaved together by the strong string of his voice that was so tight his words twanged his chords and tremored.
She looked at him, surprised and amused. “Why shouldn’t I?” She whispered, the sight of her tongue so fundamentally sightful that he was lost for words.
He quickly grabbed the words before they could eternally be lost in his throat. “I mean, you do not have to go. Not now. I mean why leave? You should never let peoples words dictate to you how to live. The Bible says….”
What did the Bible say? Well, everything but not enough for a situation like this. He knew that he was a man drowning, reaching for the bible to legitimise his situation, clutching at the straw to salvage himself from the impending doom spreading in front of him in the form of a beautiful Liz, and that straw happened to be God, but God was not supposed to be dragged into these kinds of situations. What the hell, he dragged in the almighty God.
“The Bible says,” he stammered, “the Bible says that …God will not let his people suffer, he will not” and here he thanked his years of preaching, “God will not let the enemy speak ill of you, he will prepare a banquet in front of those who speak ill of you...”
She laughed, and laughed. She laughed and he could not see what she was laughing about, so he sat there mesmerised at the way it was rocking her body in spasms and spasms, her breasts heaving rhythmically with each pearl of laughter and he saw that she had dimples. He saw the cleavage on her breasts he saw that her eyes were glittering with the tears of laughter that her legs were vibrating with the laughter that she was laughing at him because she could see through his zip because what had just uttered those words was not his brain but the zip and she laughed and he laughed and they laughed.
She picked her bags and left.
Then just when the ache in his tummy was dissipating after two weeks of her going away and he had just finished greeting the Sunday congregation goodbye and they had one after another asked him if he was ok for he looked sick and he lied yes he had a little flu just a little God will will it away and some told him he should take a rest for all this preaching business with all this dust in this dry season was giving him the flu and today’s sermon was the worst she had heard in years from him, and he had retreated to the vestry to his now passionate issue of reading the whole bible for stories of how God dealt with sinful women and how Jesus dealt with the prostitute at the streets and also the other prostitute Samaritan woman at the well, she came back.
Peter immediately left for another visit to a parish that had invited him and Muramba, wondering how come these days the visits were coming that often yet he could have sworn that the other parishes did not know that this church existed, but before he could begin to wonder Liz stopped his attempt to wonder. Six months later Liz had not left. She had not left because he had married her. He had married her because he had told her that he loved her. He loved her because the Bible talked of Jesus talking to prostitutes. And because of Jesus, the church had kicked him out of the priest hood. They had kicked him out of the priesthood because of Peter. He, Peter, insisted that she, Liz, despite her new found claim to have seen the light, and gotten saved, the light having shone out of Muramba’s eyes , she Liz , was a prostitute, yes a horrible one, no saved sessions would ever clean her. He knew it, Peter said, because “She is my younger sister”.