A Wound in The Deep By Nimrod Wambugu (Kenya)
Click here to send comments
Click here if you'd like to exchange
A Wound in The Deep
By Nimrod Wambugu (Kenya)
Click here to send comments
Click here if you'd like to exchange critiques
Inside a land with abruptly changing terrain, was one valley in particular, in which nestled a village. This valley resembled the effect left when a huge, many-sided bowl, is forcibly sunk into soft mud, thus displacing fresh earth outwards into a series of gentle and steep hills around its brim. An unadventurous community occupied the said bowl, in shiny-roofed and thatched habitations scattered about, like polka dot gone awry. Those hills at the brims of Kiriku village had (seemingly) severed direct contact with the rest of the world. Come to think of it now, there wasn’t a reason to drive the community to venturing beyond Kiriku, in the so-called search for greener pastures. If the need to fend for the stomach and retire without a serious complaint is anything to go by, then comfortable indeed were the people.Kiriku’s vegetation, which was thick and diverse, suggested agricultural suitability at its best. On the eastern side of this valley, there was a stream that thoughtfully meandered its way from the hills around, seeking an entrance. It appeared to flow towards the centre of the bowl, before making a turn towards some two other hills, and losing itself. Kiriku also boasted of a huge escarpment, the face of which was sliced by a neat line of a rusted railway track that had seldom served its purpose, if a guess based on its looks may suffice. This track had weeds of all kinds growing in generous abundance between the rail sleepers. Following the track, one came to a section that had some horizontal attitude to it and in which the heavily cultivated escarpment opened into a calmer view devoid of human cultivation. A few paces adjacent to the railway line here, there sat several weathered brick structures, one of which was an elongated strip divided into equal single-roomed houses. Our casual observer would have deduced that these structures had once served as some kind of a train terminal, probably to water the engine, or to wait for the opposing train to pass. The overall trappings of the surrounding requested to be dated to the era of the steam engine. A second set of rails had branched away from the parent ones albeit for a hundred yards, before rejoining. Mid distance along this diversion was a tall, tubular thingummy whose poise suggested that the steam engine had many a times, halted under its mouth to be fed some water, before resuming its journey towards the thick forest beckoning yonder. If rail service to these parts had for a long time been in disuse, it was not the same case with the station’s other accessories. The dilapidated houses were occupied by the larger Kiriku community, larger in the sense that they were further in distance from those inhabiting the centre of the valley. Being geographically elevated, (in some sense an advantage), another of these over the ones living on the valley floor was their proximity to fresh water. While those down below mainly drew their water from the stream, their rail brethren had an eternal supply of cleaner water from a miracle tank within this ancient railway station. This miracle tank was no more than an elevated metal water-tank. The few parts of it that you could see, were dark brown in colour from layers of rust. The rest of it was suffocated, and well camouflaged, with creeping flora. Overhanging weeds gave the entire structure the look of a dreadlocked giant in awkward amble up the escarpment, as the supporting truss structure had partly yielded with age. Vegetation was denser under the tank, a result of too much irrigation from water leaks above. Immediately behind the tank, the escarpment resumed its steep ascent. How the tank had continued to serve its purpose when the rest of the infrastructure had crumbled after years of redundancy, was a riddle not many of the simple village folk had bothered to decipher. To Kiriku residents, the ‘miracle’ was at face value; that the fresh water was eternal. Perhaps the real miracle of it was that at such high an elevation over the underlying land surface, it had been no sweat to strike the water table. To utilise this geographical marvel, the engineers of the time had simply employed the myriad of skills at their disposal to erect this tank, into which water was pumped using a manual contraption, in reality, a suction pump operated by pedals. The current villagers had taken upon themselves to continue maintenance operations on this device for as long as they needed water – and this, unsurprisingly, was always.
The Station Brethren
The entire population living within and in the whereabouts of the station could not make ten families. The rent for those living on actual railway property was payable to a certain village personage who had allocated himself a grander home within the railway station - the three-roomed former office of whoever it was that had been the highest-ranked officer in the times of the viable rail. The rest merely occupied single rooms. The rent paying itself was not a straightforward affair, as the grapevine had it that some tenants paid regularly as required, others irregularly, and some not at all. How this villager had come to be the deserved benefactor of this scheme was yet another tale that had contributed to the convoluted story, part of which is the question of how the valley had become an established community with its own history, and hopefully, its legacy.
The Old Hag
Another person of worthy mention in this community is an enigmatic character - a haggish woman - who bore all the hallmarks of purported wizardry, for lack of a fitter description. She was a short, bent, and lithe creature, that walked in measured steps which on occasion, erupted into a gallop, the perfect instance being when she was in the forest gathering firewood and the clouds were dark with impending downpour, forcing her to hasten home. Her choice of clothes did little to douse the ever-flaming rumours of her alleged wicked inclinations. She had a predilection for garments of the darker variety, her perfect caricature being her dressed in a dirt-brown dress; tightly but imperfectly tied with a string around the waist, and flowing to the ankles in waves of disharmony. She forever wore a beaded anklet that had grazed her skin ashen, plus a hundred this and that on her wrists. Her head had never seen any covering, contrary to what was the norm for women of her age in the valley. Her grey-spangled hair had maintained a steady density and length, being half a finger in height. She occupied the isolated and last station house in the direction of the forest, a square structure barely measuring five idle steps either way. Among her possessions was an ancient single-band radio that crackled inaudible static once in a while. A bed occupied half the room, sitting behind the swing of the door and across a chimney, on whose fireplace always rested a sooty pot atop three stones. This house had quite a yard. A broad-leafed, thick-stemmed and buttressed indigenous tree dwarfed the surrounding thick maize garden; all giving her house a sense of privacy. Among other crops in this yard were carrots, potatoes, and several other root and surface vegetables she had been adept at cultivating. An emaciated donkey akin to Rocinante, Don Quixote’s famed mount, could be heard once in a while braying within her compound. During idle talk between some village idlers, one had jokingly offered that he had once seen, or thought he had seen her, milking a donkey in her yard. “That’s nothing,” dismissed idler number two. “She was coming up the slope and in my position, I caught a glimpse of a Hyena’s canine hanging on her neck.” This had brought about a lengthy and witless argument analysing many of her traits.
It could be the idlers had a point, for the greatest talking point of the previous four years had come from an incredible deed our hag had remarkably achieved, that of killing a rogue hyena that had hitherto terrorised the village for months feeding on their chickens, sheep, calves, instilling fright in women and children, and amputating the leg of the village chief’s aging father. This latter feat had entrenched into the villagers’ minds, a guilty verdict on all counts of mysticism, if not outright witchcraft, regarding the woman. Notwithstanding the fact that plans had been underway to trap the animal, the mere act of carrying the lifeless beast on her back and dropping it on the village square early one morning had astonished all. The only person awake at that time had been the man responsible for mixing the chemicals at the only communal cattle-dip in the village, and who had risen before dawn to collect the required chemicals from the chief’s office in preparation for that month’s cattle-dipping and deworming session. His word would later spread. Prior to this, there had been too much talk and tea sessions in the village in the guise of strategising to tame the meddlesome beast, but the meticulous woman had made a fool of all that. In her usual forest excursions to forage for firewood, berries, herbs, roots and whatnots, Ragati, for that was her name, had studied the tracks of the cunning animal and established a pattern they betrayed. She used this information to ensnare and finally skewer it dead with a garden fork. The ensnaring part she had accomplished by first asking her neighbour, Njagi, who was the only person she regularly had verbal association with and who was a welder at the nearest town, to craft a simple ensnaring device that she later set up at the edge of the forest as advised, eventually succeeding three days later. It was Njagi whom Ragati used, him being a town regular, to replenish her snuff tobacco when she occasionally ran out of the narcotic. Njagi himself was not one to engage in worthless and intrusive talk, hence the actual circumstances leading to the hyena’s death were not substantiated, rather they got mired in loose talk, simple mirth, empty suspicion, and eventually took a life of their own, much to the detriment of Ragati’s, and later, Njagi’s characters.
The Valley History and the Committee
Their prejudices aside, Kiriku residents had cultivated a sense of coexistence, certain dreadful circumstances having motivated this virtue. What had really brought about some disconnect, or marooned this village from the town and the world beyond, was its brief history. To start with, the valley had been a gazetted forest until the inhabitants forcefully landed themselves. Hatred, acrimony, and eventual war in a distant land they previously had called home, had driven these people homeless. In the fleeing of battle they had found sanctuary in this deep. It became their paradise for want of no more than a reprieve from all the ills befalling them; having lost family, friends, wealth, trust in government and the formal church, and whatever it is that people lose or experience after such dire developments. One by one, hordes of a people pained, hopeless and bedraggled, had trickled into this haven. It is worth a mention, that at the time of migration, Ragati had, apparently, arrived alone, while many others had arrived in batches. It is further worth a note, that most of the migrants were strangers to each other, save for a unity of purpose. Using the little supplies they had salvaged from their past and few others from good Samaritans encountered during their exodus, they had endeavoured to eke out what they could at the mercy of who it was that owned the earth on which they swore, would avail them refuge. It had taken them several years to establish their current settlement in the state at which we are now narrating. In that duration, this settler community had logged, erected mud huts, slashed here and there, and later farmed on the previously gazetted land. Their basic needs having been satisfied, they had improvised a form of authority, goaded by the precautionary need to legitimise their migration. This authority was in the manner of a few personages who had shown an optimistic drive and a sense of protection in the short time the community was gaining a foothold on new life. A task was bestowed upon them to pressure and continue pestering the government until their endless journeys bore fruit. The government reluctantly conceded to their quest by granting certificates of ownership on parcels of land to those it considered legitimate squatters. These parcels comprised all that piece of land that traverses the valley upon which they had trespassed. Having gained some emancipation, their former wretchedness could sometimes be temporarily forgotten - the nature of man being a tolerant heart. A semblance of hope and belonging thence permeated Kiriku. By sheer fate connivance, the informal committee appointed to oversee that laudable task did not dissolve well afterwards. If the previously mentioned tea-sipping and strategising over the rampant hyena carries weight in this story, we may offer that those involved were one and the same as the victorious committee of persons latterly mentioned. From the day of migration to the present day (the day of our narration), the committee had undertaken very many tasks upon which it would be called. It was the de facto decision-making organ in matters of public interest. For instance, it had, after deliberations, universally agreed on the location of the communal cattle dip, and subsequently drawn up a long-serving pooling fund that financed the construction of many other necessary community projects. It had also nominated, by a simple majority, and on the government’s request, the village chief. Many other tasks under its belt had been the arbitrating of the simple disputes that arose, mostly due to plot boundaries; or due to a garden hoe that has been borrowed and not returned; or better still, was returned in worse condition than it had been borrowed in. Ever since the government had allotted land, many people had chosen to live and farm on their pieces while others had decided to continue living on what had been roughly declared a common ground, while reserving their parcels exclusively for farming. Many had renovated their initial mud and thatch dwellings into more decent timber and metal-roofed structures. All these developments did not come along without a habitual dispute here and there. However, given the society’s common history, a grudge could not hold for long. Another important responsibility was to ensure that the owner of the only jalopy truck in the valley suffered as little as possible as it was the only mode of transport between Kiriku and the outside world; ferrying necessary supplies, toting produce, taking children to school, and endless other tasks. Initially, the committee members had performed their duties with such remarkable dignity, natural enthusiasm and ethics, but over time this innocence gave way to self-importance, a holier-than-thou attitude, and an air of invincibility. As the society grew in many aspects, and with some members being more industrious and luckier than others, so would a favour be required from time to time to advance this or that cause, and sometimes situations would arise that had no precedent, hence requiring consultation. Step in the committee and its word would be final. Its influence growing, it logically arose that for one side to have a ruling in its favour, it had to win over one, if not all of the individuals constituting this powerful body. Where once the scales of justice had swung one side without fuss from either affected party, they started vacillating with intent, delivering questionable verdicts. Grumbling would be heard after this ruling or the other. The committee became a regular subject in murmured conversations inside the people’s farms. For many committee members, their morning meals did not lack a regular supply of eggs, slightly above the assumed per capita egg intake across the valley. Their animals suddenly became highly prolific, as the rate at which the stock increased did not tally well with naturally accepted statistics. Lactation charts started defying logic. The height of the committee’s indolence can be gauged with Ragati’s ensnaring of the Hyena. It was only too bad that she herself did not fall in good favour among the majority of residents. But society prospered nonetheless. In the very latter days, the village had started witnessing certain strange visitors who usually emanated from the direction of town, driving very shiny vehicles that made the only local jalopy seem rather prehistoric. These personages would point at the horizons, consult each other, fish out pens from their pockets, and make notations on small pads they carried. At times they would unfurl really huge papers that danced in the cool valley breeze, then alternate gazes between them and the expanse before them. They exuded marked concentration in whatever it was they were up to, and when they would be through for a day, a perceptive villager could infer a tinge of anticipation on their demeanours as they drove off in their magnificent automobiles. In essence, every trip, be it a first or a second, ended with a given stranger betraying an air of visible glee, a glee that seemed to be measured for maturation in another day. It did not take long before caution resonated throughout the valley. The usual suspects, for lack of options, had again to be called upon to shed a light on this puzzling matter. The committee promised to do the necessary inquiries and later communicate to the village.
The Administrative Centre, Property Developers and their Ilk.
As we may now expect, there existed a bustling urban settlement of some immense importance lying quite some distance away from the valley. This town was the administerial and commercial hub of the surrounding country hence our valley fell under its outstretched administrative tentacles. This town had in the current years seen such a tremendous pace of growth, at times dizzying. It is therefore without doubt that there was a clear and present need for a substantive expansion policy in order to accommodate a healthy atmosphere in all its aspects. This called for more land, an improved infrastructure, and more replenishing arteries to ensure the town did not suffocate. There was need for a lot more that was born out of a bustling economy; high-rise housing projects, by-ways, health centres, leisure parks, golf courses, resorts, hideaways - the works. Here again, such lingo as investors, prospecting, concession-ing, property developers, land adjudication, kickbacks, and other similar incorrigible terms, gained importance. It is from this and other factors that, in effect, made the queer personages previously mentioned, loom about the valley with intent. A favourite observation spot for the purposeful explorers used to be at the railway station as its elevation provided the perfect panoramic view of the majestic valley below. The queer visitors belonged to a consortium of real property-devouring developers from the town, now a city through a charter. Following such a level of importance and through endless meetings - some daily, some nightly; some formal, some others informal; some heated, some casual - Kiriku became an indispensable topic. Every visit was like the puff of an addictive weed that leaves you spoiling for another dose. Its location and ravishing beauty made it a prime candidate for the creation of a resort and exclusive housing for big-end clientele, among other largesse characteristic of those wallowing in the upper echelons of a certain pyramid. What remained was a way in which to entice the current owners into relinquishing their newfound Canaan. An irrefutable offer was prepared, and, off to the valley; the fortune ship set sail.
In the village committee, there stood out a few characters worth mentioning: Wagema the chief, and another highly garrulous member in the name of Munyi, whom, we now reveal, was the rent benefactor at the old railway station. Munyi’s story was different from the others since he had actually lived at the station before the arrival of the battle-fleeing immigrants. One or two tenants of a certain gender and age could be seen entering his railway quarters and leaving at what is sometimes called ‘ungodly’ hours. Not much thought would go into investigating whether these particular people regularly paid their rent. Wagema was just another good for nothing bloke whose only redemption was the occasional delivery of a funny maxim or two. His work was mainly endorsing the committee’s recommendations, and blindly so. These two gentlemen were the ones who broke news to the villagers, concerning the curious visits, having already sat through four hours of talk between the committee and the visitors’ representatives. At the meeting, the village committee had promised to give the city folk feedback after discussing with their fellow villagers. The investors, on their part, had offered to avail a van on the agreed date of feedback, to ferry the committee to the city to discuss other matters that could not be expounded on without an amount of information only available there. The developing consortium had, for starters, briefed our village committee on the circumstances in the city, and in the world in general, that had compelled them to consider available options; the chief of which was the desire to negotiate with the people who inhabit that valley. The committee had listened with rapt attention as the city folk eloquently painted a mental picture of their future and in their last gambit, put on the table such a speculative offer whose effect was to whet the committees’ appetite. All the probable options being weighed, the consortium had arrived at the conclusion that, for their mission to work as they had dreamt, it was imperative they purchased the entire valley by offering the residents a most tempting offer such that not one unsightly shack would be left to blot their perceived paradise. They had observed that the villagers owned parcels of land lying back to back throughout the valley and it was such a task to convince all of them to sell at once, if to sell at all. Hence not a single piece of business gimmick was to be spared in wooing the would-be sellers. The villagers initially received this news with indifference, for obvious reasons governing initial reaction to news of that nature, if not a human being’s conditioned response to any new unravelling. They would later retreat to their quarters and discuss these matters critically. Another public gathering was expected to be held in due course, in order to delve deeper. It was from the expectant common resolution, the travelling committee was to convey to the city, good tidings.
First Village Meeting
When the day of the village public gathering came, the multitude started amassing about their usual meeting place at the public square. The committee had already occupied its pride of place at the front, where they sat on chairs neatly arranged on a risen mound of earth. It seemed that nobody wanted to miss the meeting, even Njagi, who used to arrive very late aboard the village jalopy, was in time for the meeting. There was an awkward air of suspense about this gathering, and the stakes were already heightened even before Ragati’s tobacco-reeking form had torn through the crowd to take a spot at the front, where a yard of space surrounded her, since not one child - as children it were who filled the frontline - would dare share the same radius with her. Someone mumbled something about a prayer and it was immediately zapped through even before some sections of the crowd had actually realised the proceedings. The chief greeted the crowd, adjusted himself to suit this important occasion, and fluently narrated matters as they stood, emphasizing on the developers’ willingness to hear the best offers of the people on their land and how critical it was that a universal declaration highly reflected a generous, if not a blank cheque, by the moneymen. He suggested, by the wave of a hand in the general direction of the committee, that they had deliberated in detail, weighed many options and sought advice from afar; that this was an offer really worth considering. His manner betrayed the emotion of an already convinced mind, now beseeching the rest to follow suit. “Think about your history, my people, and ask yourselves whether this is not a chance for us to get into the mainstream of society,” he said. “For how long shall we continue to be living like we belong to a cursed group? Several years ago, who would have imagined that one day we would be wooed to offer homes to others, we who are the sorry souls who had not a hole to call home? Ask yourselves if this is not freedom that we are being offered. Freedom from this hole we occupy far from civilisation?” He continued with such imploring, delivering some more superfluous speech like a clergyman making an impression on his congregation. A dog seated in the no-man’s-land between the dais and the multitude, yawned and flapped its ears as it rose, and Wagema took it as his cue to end his oratory.“The stretching of a dog indicates its departure!” he loudly mused as he himself departed to the dais, injecting an interlude of pleasure to the crowd. The next to stand was Munyi, whose entrance coincided with Ragati’s sudden change of facial and body composure. She employed an outward conveyance of deep contempt for the man now speaking. “I have lived on this land longer than anybody else present here, and I understand its advantages more than anyone. It is my belief that it is a heaven to farmers, while the quiet atmosphere calms the spirit, which I know people with your history require. However, think of all the advantages we would get if we were to sell our property and settle, say, near the city, start a business or something. Has the government ever done anything to ensure our products reach the market while still fresh? Do we have a school in this godforsaken place? A hospital? A market? What’s the use of that rusty piece they call a railway line up there? Your children get to school tired after riding on that jalopy and on that sorry state of a road even our cattle try to avoid!” He was interrupted by Ragati’s nose blowing, which was so sharp it bugled like an ox horn. He paused in thought, cleared his throat and continued. “Before you people arrived here, I had thought of quitting the railway and joining the townsfolk, look for some work and live with the people. But here you came and I got company. Several years later, I feel the same urge to establish myself elsewhere, now that I got lucky to own a piece of land which, by sheer luck, is being bought at my asking price! …” “How much are they offering?” interrupted a woman. “Well, as I said, they have thrown that back to you. But first we all have to agree if to sell. Only then can we ask from them what we desire.” “How do we know we won’t be swindled?” shouted another soul. “My friend, these people arrived with the District Commissioner, whose legitimacy I can personally vouch for, and whom you well remember was involved in our earlier transactions with the government during our quest for the certificates we now own. In addition, we are travelling this weekend to give them your take and also see other matters that will shed more light on this.” Njagi popped his head above the standing pack forming the rear. “Why did they choose this valley while back in their city I hear they have questionable dealings?” Munyi took offence and replied, “If you heard our Chief well, he told you what our dealings with them are all about, and did I mention that the District Commissioner is involved? As for your city rumours, where don’t rumours thrive? In business, isn’t it between the buyer and seller that the relevant details are known, while the rest just fill up what they don’t know, and God knows with what? His facial expression, hitherto strung up with the endeavour to convince, suddenly vanished into a cheeky glow. “As a matter of fact I am curious myself to establish the truth of some interesting rumours indeed that have been passing around our village.” At this, there was a heightened sense of eagerness within the crowd. “About what?” queried a curious Njagi, whose daily trips to the city allowed him minimal interaction within the village. According to the rumour-mills, his cordial relations with Ragati, and her sporadic calls on his railway station abode, either to collect snuff, or have her ancient radio examined, had created some unfounded rumours whose whiff Ragati had sniffed out in the farms. Not that she bothered anyway, but the crowd’s reaction to Njagi’s innocent inquiry somewhat unsettled her. She who had (her initial frown at Munyi aside) been otherwise calm, shot up and prepared to say something but was unnoticed; the general drone of the crowd drowning her as each member laughed and consulted the neighbour in order to compare and exchange what either knew over the other. It took a while before a perfect drop in noise would start across the crowd, at the time when all realised that Ragati was standing and about to speak to the public - a first of sorts. As the noise subsided, it did not stop many ears picking the loud mouth of Chief Wagema, shouting to a man across the divide. “When it yelps, it’s surely been bitten!” This was a veiled reference to Ragati’s usually closed demeanour, now ruptured. It had the effect of launching yet another burst of laughter, as the sight of a livid Ragati was side-splitting to behold. She could not take such ridicule anymore, so she swore something that only those around her could have detected, and stormed out of the meeting using the more difficult route within the crowd. The mass peremptorily parted in two to expedite her exit. Those closest to her path could hear her curse as she passed by. “Over my remains! ... many will have died before I sell my piece… calling me a dog! ... the nerve, the nerve!” She let out more of a few threats before vanishing. Munyi was able to call all to order after Ragati’s infringement. He introduced another committee colleague who was good at appropriately delivering the tentative offers previously hinted at during the meeting held with the investors. In his rendition, this member revealed that the total number of land parcels across the valley amounted to seventy-three, give or take the common areas reserved for the communal purposes, the example of which was the ground upon which they stood. What he did not reveal was that the moneymen had offered to buy certain of these communal areas at a fee the committee was to agree upon, most specifically, the pieces whose existence the public had not become aware of (but which existed nevertheless), especially because no utility had yet been earmarked for them. The public didn’t have to be in on this matter, the wily moneymen had suggested. He therefore dwelt on those public pieces, like the cattle dip, that the public could not easily be swayed on without smelling fish. “On a point of information, these areas are the property of the government, but a tidy sum will be added on top of each of your individual asking prices, in recognition of the floating fund. You need no reminding, that this fund financed the structures which stand on these plots.” Two other members later stood to stress, inform, and persuade on this or that minor detail regarding the situation, but all with a restrained urge not to shout what was well written on their faces, “Sell the damn pieces, numskulls!” The meeting was later closed at dusk, with a hung resolution on whether or not to transact. But the committee took that as a victory - for a first meeting.
The day of the committee’s rendezvous in the city was ushered in the morning, as the sun rose, by the honk of a beautiful van. Without fuss, the committee boarded, and before the dust had cleared, the car had already disappeared into the distant hills, swiftly negotiating its way across the cattle track of a road. In the van, the members were neither noisy nor silent; they had a mixture of anxiety and yet another new and undiscovered emotion, pressed by the occasion whose precedent they had none. They had barely a clue as to the reception awaiting them in the city. The driver sped them through sections of it they had never seen, nor had thought existed; their previous visits having been mainly restricted to government offices, markets, abattoirs, and other city places rural folk strictly frequent. He appropriately gathered some airs, like stiffening himself, or pretending he did not hear some question directed his way. Well in the know that he was ferrying village simpletons, he privately enjoyed every moment his charges would point at this feature, comment about that glittering thing, and ‘wow’ at some magnificence. The moment he detected they were about to appreciate some city feature, he would either swerve, overtake, honk, or execute a manoeuvre; all in a manner that would not escape the passengers’ collective mind, that such features so surreal to them, were rather run-of-the-mill to him. Every face but his was a study of concentration. A few minutes of sightseeing and the vehicle arrived at the destination, the entrance to which was an imposing and unmanned iron gate that opened and closed itself immediately to allow their passage. Not a mouth uttering a sound now, the vehicle glided on a pathway, between rows of evenly-spaced and perfectly-trimmed flower clusters, later opening into a cobbled driveway. “This is it, you may alight.” the driver announced as he opened the van door. He informed them that a man would be there in a jiffy to take over, then zoomed off. The Kiriku committee was left on the driveway of a truly majestic edifice whose many glass surfaces glimmered with the sun’s rays. It was set in a garden of immaculate diversity. The grass lawns were mowed to a fault, the hedges manicured to perfection, and the serenity only interspersed with a few bird chirps and the soothing murmur of a pebbled fountain at the centre of the driveway. Just as they were being drowned in the grandiosity of the surrounding, a click was heard and a stiff uniformed gentleman appeared between sliding doors, welcomed them and asked them to follow him into the lounge, where even greater opulence administered itself. They were asked to make themselves comfortable on seats each thought were unbelievably clean and soft for purpose. The gentleman, on sensing their stunned silence, asked them to feel at home. Another cardboard character in the person of a clean uniformed lady carrying a tray, materialized and placed on the table, a porcelain pot surrounded with tiny cups. She announced “coffee”, and then disappeared twice, each time reappearing with another tray and announcing tea and juice respectively. There was too much around here, a single illustration being the guests’ inability to use cups whose dimensions and shape defied logic. After adapting themselves to the situation as they could, they were conducted into a meeting room where they were met by a familiar visitor and chief player in negotiations back at the village. He briefly introduced his incredibly wafer-thin wife and announced that the rest of the moneymen would be there soon. When the other players had streamed in and preliminaries effected, the meeting was commenced. Chief Wagema and Munyi were the key protagonists on the village side, while the host shone on the side of the moneymen. Everything was conducted in great camaraderie and the investors were glad to witness the confidence the committee had, of changing the opinions of those lukewarm to matters back in the village. A splendid lunch came and went, evening tea found them analysing and splitting hairs, after which the villagers announced their unease with the time but were quickly assured of accommodation if the proceedings would go into the night, which they did. Official matters were brought to a conclusive end with a sumptuous supper. The villagers were booked into a hotel belonging to one of the moneymen, with the promise to meet the morrow and refresh matters before heading back to the village. In-house entertainment was lavished aplenty, and it was stressed that ‘special’ requests, if desired, would promptly be attended to. The manner in which the message was conveyed left no doubt as to what ‘special’ implied, to an all-male audience. In the morning, the villagers were each handed brown bulging envelopes by the previous day’s host as ‘a token to their commitment’, ‘fruits to take to family’ or simply ‘a little something for their time.’ They were later asked to name whatever it was that they required, and also taken around town to purchase or seek it, before being ferried back to the valley.
The return to the village injected the committee with renewed vigour in canvassing. The members took it upon their daily occupation to move from group to group, door to door, and soul to soul; to entreat the populace into a unilateral agreement. They begged, solicited, and cajoled. Part of the recommendations requisite to the cause at hand, was a request by the city men to the committee, to prepare a favourable atmosphere in Kiriku for them too (the city men) to participate in the exercise; this being an insurance against any inconvenience, or intimidation, that the villagers might feel, out of mingling with filthy-rich strangers. Where stubborn elements were to be encountered, the moneymen were to suggest special ideas to suit individual cases. In other words, not the greatest single incentive was to be spared in situations which would imply the dimmest hope. All or nothing. The second public gathering was a meltdown. Tongues were envenomed and fire bloated the bellies of majority of Kiriku folk, whose minds had now been bewitched by the vibes shaking the valley. The kinship previously governing existence for years had, in a few weeks, been tainted by the pernicious aura of imminent prosperity. It is a pain to reveal, that the humble souls that had embraced unity of purpose since the migration, had now welcomed premeditated malice. Neighbours had started using nasty words to describe each other. Children’s innocent minds had been corrupted by their parents’ ill opinions of this or that family. People suddenly conjured ‘dreams’ that hitherto had lain dormant. If it was not the dream of this man to grow French beans in the warmer climes of the north; it was the return of the business streak to that woman; or the rekindled fire of baking acumen on Mugure the chief’s wife. Blame was therefore heaped on those viewed to be sabotaging others’ dreams. Not to be unfair, there was the odd man who tried to reason out with his antagonist, trying to win each other over. In the end, there was a serious swing in favour of dealing. The breaking of the meeting was received with slight optimism by the two or three moneymen who had neutrally observed proceedings, expecting to take a promising word back to their city colleagues. In the days that followed the last meeting, an all out ‘finalising exercise’ was rolled out to rein in the last remnants of obstinacy. It may well be said, that the winning of Ragati had become of serious concern because her piece, and Njagi’s (which she cultivated) were centrally located, and their failure to trade would have been truly injurious to the dream of paradise envisioned by the moneymen. In addition, she seemed to be the last vestige of hope for the few who did not really want to leave the valley, but whose best excuses had been won over with enticing inducements. They agreed to leave it to the last days to win her over. If she was won, then others would follow suit. Neighbour on neighbour, committee on all, moneymen on some others, all got embroiled, directly or indirectly, into influencing each others opinions. The committee, by now taking upon themselves a full scale do-or-die approach - for a huge fortune awaited them if a delivery was unanimous - crafted their own promises. They dispensed their campaign with vigour unhindered. Experts on negotiation were born, sporadic meetings were held, subtle threats were insinuated; and animal stock increased here, decreased there, and then again increased. Bartering became the tune that issued out of Kiriku the deep.
In the unwritten rule that she was a lone-ranger, Ragati had developed a ritual of fetching her water from a small tap at the base of the water thingummy situated at the railway station. The rest of the station dwellers, and some living near the escarpment, as we remember, fetched water from the miracle tank, many a times getting caught in conversations about anything. Maybe it was to avoid these banterings that had made her develop that habit, further into etching the unwritten behavioural code among all, that the thingummy was her tap, while the rest had the tank. ‘Ragati’s well’, was a common reference to the thingummy. Kids, being kids, would sometimes play around with the thingummy and scurry away when Ragati’s swift image appeared. They would hide in a nearby thicket and observe the comical combination of the odd-looking thingummy, with its hanging rubber mouth gnawed by age, dangling above the bowed, hideous and misshapen form of Ragati. Another practical joke played by kids passing by her concealed home, was to sing out her name in turns; manipulating the tone and syllables in a typically naughty way such that the end meaning was equally naughty and entirely different, before scampering downhill towards the village. Not once had Ragati admonished the parents of certain boys she knew who had outgrown this habit. On one hot afternoon, Mugure the chief’s wife was coming from Munyi’s house at the station when she met two kids playing at the thingummy, splashing water and such. As a matter of community responsibility, she asked them why they were wasting water and they replied that they were just splashing to keep cool on their way back to their homes. Having perceived some three water cans about the area, she figured they had been sent for water by their parents, who lived down at the valley bed. It was not uncustomary, when there was time (or boys) for those far from the station, to occasionally send for water that didn’t require filtering or boiling (that is, in comparison with the stream water). She told them not to linger for long but first accomplish their errand. All this was in a matter of passing.
The Tragic Night, Incitement
Later that night, the moon was bright and the crickets were chirping. An unmistakable, alarming female shrill, suddenly pierced the calm night. Those who heard the sound froze, awaiting another indicator, which did arrive and at several decibels higher followed by yet another one. The noises then increased in intensity and multiplicity, tearing the night with stunning adeptness. People immediately milled out of their homes and lent their ears to this astonishing cacophony that instantly invoked traumatic memories in many a villager’s soul. Many ventured out to find the sources of the screams while others hesitated, a sense of déjà vu arresting them. Voices exploded with emotion, not needing to explore to know all was not well. Invocations were shouted. Having revealed the matters leading to their flight from wherever it was that they had come, one may have a picture of the mixture of thoughts that did pervade Kiriku’s residents following the screams. One by one they trooped to the alarm sources, ending up at the homestead of a young mother of two. She was screaming and flinging herself to the ground while the husband was standing outside their mud-walled house. He held a hurricane lamp, looking utterly forlorn and confused as he watched his wife flit and flap. The arriving villagers attempted to calm, enquire and console; some going into the house to find two men already wrapping a body in a bedspread. Their youngest boy was dead. Before long, the homestead was teeming with humanity and humming with whispered enquiries and sobs. The cause of the boy’s sudden demise could not be explained, but it was gathered that he had started complaining of abdominal pains. The mother, now calmer, revealed that she hadn’t initially taken it seriously; suspecting he had eaten a bad fruit or maybe was having a reaction to those sour weeds so abundant on the railway line that the boys had a habit of chewing. Her concern had only risen when he suddenly started vomiting and dipping into a convulsive fit, at which she sent her husband for the local medicine man. The man had bagged a few vials as per the symptoms quickly described. At this juncture, the boy’s condition had so rapidly deteriorated that he had become unconscious. The medicine man and the husband had thus heard a piercing scream and rushed to the scene, only to find the boy dead. In the time it took the villagers to fashion some sense of organization given the circumstances, another frightening scream was heard issuing from a new location. It had the uncanny feel of the last one and real déjà vu. The medicine man, by now examining the limp body of the boy, reacted on impulse and suddenly started for the source of the new distress signal, hurling his bag on himself. Confusion gave birth in the compound as figures were torn on how to respond to the new development while still raw with the one at hand. Some decided to stay while others embarked on the newer development. Those who had not reached the first homestead were the ones caught in the greatest dilemma, until they were hit by the current of those in the know, heading for the second signal. By the time the medicine man had reached his destination, a situation that did not need much explanation unfolded itself, at which stage he only managed to find the lifeless but still warm rigour of another dead boy, whom, now revealed, was an accomplice (with the first dead one) at the water thingummy earlier on during the day. In the continuing screams that had reached immeasurable proportions, he pulled a more sober elderly woman who was holding the dead boy’s hand to the side. He was able to gather the sequence of symptoms leading to the prevailing situation. At this time, Mugure the chief’s wife arrived, and, on learning the identity of the latest death, and having received news of the first one, informed the enquiring medicine man of her last encounter with the two boys. Crowds were by now all over, asking all manner of questions in their desire to establish the cause of the tragedy. The medicine man had already launched into an investigative mode, to establish any other common occurrences anybody could have perceived earlier in the day concerning the two dead boys. Just as everything was happening, the mother to the latest dead boy fainted and she was taken outside her house for a fresh breeze. This was not taken in mind as a surprising development, given her loss. A plantain leaf was quickly snapped to aid in fanning her, until alarm was raised when she suddenly started convulsing and foaming at the mouth. The busy medicine man bolted towards her and disgorged the contents of his bag on the ground. He chose one vial and, with the assistance of those about, pinned her to the ground and forcefully administered its contents. The woman’s body cringed in reaction to the apparently bitter concoction. A moment passed and the convulsions subsided. The medicine man sought a verbal response from her without avail. She seemed to be lapsing into unconsciousness when he finally managed to detect some lip movement. He asked many questions requiring an affirmative or negative response but was unsuccessful, until her lip movements and inaudible grunts became a pattern. Someone holding a lamp suggested she was trying to mention something to do with water, at which all concurred after keenly observing the next communication. Mugure, who had been silently monitoring the events, went into the house and exited carrying a familiar water can, advanced to the ailing woman and enquired if it had been the source. The woman, whose condition slowly seemed to be improving, nodded in the affirmative. Mugure uttered an “hmm” sound and momentarily assumed a puzzled expression. Deeply disturbed by the rapid succession of events and severely pained by the inability to grasp anything remotely resembling the causes of these events, the curious multitude was now pregnant with silence. Such was their desperation that they would have ripped their veins out just to obtain a straw on which to scale for the truth. Mugure’s little action therefore ignited not a glimmer, but an inferno of hope in unravelling the mystery behind the drama. She rapidly narrated her afternoon’s encounter with the boys, and acting on this information, the crowd came alive with plenty of theories, informed guesses and far-fetched ideas. In the time it took this information to spread and the subsequent discussions to mature, the sick woman had regained total consciousness, but was still weakly. The medicine man had administered another dose of his medicine and sent for a particular plant with express instructions that it be boiled and the juice taken by the patient in measured intervals. It was about midnight when all dispersed camps had mingled, updated each other, and the committee convened to form an opinion. The committee literally brought heads together, and could be seen sending out for a particular person, interrogating, sending for another one, and so forth. Among those called who were not family to the deceased, the chief’s wife had the biggest role as she kept being summoned time and again. In the end, Munyi called out for a briefing with the special request that the bereaved mothers and children should not be present. With the gravest voice that he could muster, he announced:“My brothers and sisters, it is with great shame that I stand before you here in the night to announce the greatest tragedy that has ever befallen us since we set foot on these lands. As some of you may by now have figured, the young blood spilled today was the result of the devil’s devious ways in their worst. All those years we have lived here, to think that the first tragedy would have come from an act of this nature is a curse indeed!” The crowd could not afford to consult at this stage because Munyi’s speech was unrelenting. “Who would have imagined that the blood your relatives and friends, shed before you arrived here was not enough? Did you flee hostilities only to manufacture your own? I have always thought that no matter how far we’re unrelated by blood, the blood shed by your relations, our relations, binds us all here. What a fool I was. Are we not one people? I thought we were…” He uttered every single word with profound effect and compelling fashion, manipulating his vocal chords with impending sobs. “Some of you may wonder what I mean by all this but I can hold it no more. There are no children present here so I’m going to tell it as it is! This night has seen the rising of the murderous and evil eye that has so far been asleep. Our children have been murdered by one of us here! One with whom we have lived together, but like a snake that eats its brethren, she has murdered our sons. She has poisoned the water that has so far given us life. Where is she! Where is she?” The crowd erupted into a buzz of verbal activity. In the informal investigations that had been carried out prior to this meeting, it had emerged that a child had seen Ragati that morning at the thingummy doing something. On being pressed, and being confused by the nightly events, the kid could not prove whether the old woman was washing her clothes, her garden tools, or God-knows-what. Munyi continued. “How will you, my people, put an end to this curse that seems to be sewn into your souls?” It’s true you’re cowards; fleeing past injustices and blinding yourselves to those you continue to tag along. I wonder how we can be a community when some have totally refused to incorporate.” He was interrupted by a close friend to one of the bereaved families. “Munyi, that’s enough! Where is the witch? She will be turned to ash today!” Calm was ruptured, giving way to sheer pandemonium. Munyi’s speech was drowned. There was a blaze of frantic negotiations and a flood of tension. Now that the people could not avoid grasping the allusions to Ragati, they sought to know her whereabouts. “We’re going to burn her today!” the enraged man swore. The crowd followed its instinct and surged up the slope in the direction of the railway station perched on the escarpment (and home to Ragati). Munyi led the agitated horde, carrying a lamp, as clouds were occasionally dimming the moonlit night. On arrival at her compound, they tore through the simple gate. There was great suspense, as few had ever set foot inside her homestead, leave alone entering under the prevailing circumstances. Munyi, being her ‘landlord’, banged the door with a fist and it flew open, revealing slowly-dying embers in the fireplace. A warm, pungent and heartburning stench hit him. Chief Wagema, who was now closely following him, uttered a sound of revulsion; and they both recoiled. The crowd fell silent. The two men were the only ones to step into the tiny room, and therefore the only ones to observe that a sooty pot had curled into a deformed state - a sign of having been unattended to for a prolonged time. “This witch!” Munyi exclaimed as he kicked the pot off the firestones. He held his nose, lifted the lamp and slowly swung around to bathe the dark room with light. He saw a dishevelled, empty bed. Due to the limiting space, the two men stood very close to each other. Wagema felt the need to update the crowd outside, shouting “This is the devils kitchen!” Munyi handed him his lamp, going down on his knees in order to inspect the bed’s underneath. The crowd momentarily quieted, their minds racing and awaiting more updates. As Munyi’s face was peeking under the bed, Ragati’s unnoticed antique radio crackled a big sound from a place under that bed; little to say it startled him. Wagema was equally frightened to momentarily loosening his grip on the lamp. He fumbled to recover his grip but instead, flung it towards the wall alongside the bed, crashing the protective glass. At that exact instant, Munyi’s shock had instinctively instructed him to quickly jerk his head away from the crackling sound beneath, thereby sweetly connecting the back of his head with the under-frame of the wooden bed. Such was his reaction that that swift move stunned him unconscious. Wagema had consequently stepped back, himself clipping his heel on the door stop and reeling backwards. His efforts to grip onto the door and regain his balance only succeeded in banging it shut as he careened backwards and outside with startling simplicity. The crowd that stood waiting near the door while Munyi and Wagema investigated, started to recoil from this unfolding and indistinguishable commotion, creating a domino effect. While falling, Wagema’s temple had struck the knee of one of these back-pedalling men, thereby coshing himself too. Back inside, the lamp was spilling its contents on the bed and Ragati’s coarse beddings were quickly catching fire. All in one fell swoop. A shock-inspired moment of hesitancy passed. The flames quickly gnawed at the little they could find about the bed. Nobody would have dared to attempt entering the house for fear of the unknown. It surely was the devil inside that room. Wagema could not utter a word, what with the concussing knock. Maddening instinct swung one man into action. He burst forward and kicked the door open, knocking it off its weak hinges. Munyi was suffocating, and fire engulfed the room. The man pulled him by the legs and managed to tug him outside, just as the ceiling was coming down. No one felt like attending to the burning house much more than closing around the two concussed men. The fire smacked its consuming lips to the falling ceiling and the splintered door. The crowd did not discover what had actually transpired inside the house now totally aflame, culminating in shock, confusion and outright terror. This tested their sanities to the brink of madness. A confirming feeling in the hearts of those present was a total and unilateral fear and hatred for the unseen cause of the night’s misfortunes, indisputably, Ragati. What this crowd was not aware of was that somewhere inside the thick maize patch surrounding the house, there was another creature that was regaining a consciousness of its own. Recovering her sight, Ragati could slowly make out a commotion within her compound, and somehow, dark figures baying for her blood. Why and how it had to be so, were not circumstances her current state of helplessness could allow her to comprehend. But she could comprehend that they were looking for her and wanting to kill her. Since taking her evening tea and calmly sniffing her tobacco, while waiting for dinner to cook, she remembered having developed a stomach ache, ignoring it, only to develop more of its kind; and entertaining dizziness. She remembered thirsting for water and gulping a cupful. She had needed some fresh air too; hence crawling out of her cramped hole. She remembered stumbling into her maize patch to regurgitate the contents she presumed were nauseating her. Then this hubbub. Perhaps the slightest hope left in a dying being is to flee from further mutilation, hence the little energy and senses she had returned, advising her to slowly steal away from this bizarre surrounding. Like the rarely sighted anteater that knows its burrows, she was to creep undetected along her garden’s perimeter to reach the shielding privacy of the buttressed tree. From there she was to sneak through a gap leading towards Njagi’s home, hoping he would be there in this commotion. But it was not to be her day. Mugure, being one of a few women who had ignored Munyi’s call to keep away, arrived in the company of the medicine man and other late arrivals gradually catching up with events, the juncture at which the two men were being nursed on the ground. On discovering that it was her husband who lay unconscious, she let out a shrieking wail and launched into several sounds increasingly familiar to this night, cursing with all her might. “She’s killed him too! The devil has killed my husband!” She darted about the small compound, issuing all manner of screams. In the melee, the medicine man rushed to administer some potent application on the two concussed men. It was at this time that around the gate’s darkness a shout was heard, “There she is! There is Ragati!” This baffled everyone, especially those who had watched both Munyi and chief Wagema enter her house, culminating in the brief but concussing commotion. A report as to what had transpired in the tiny room was therefore commonly expected from them when they would come to. But Ragati was made to appear in front of the light of the fire by two men, much to everyone’s astonishment. With the little life left in her, Ragati was attempting to wriggle herself free, and also trying to speak in vain. The sheer madness, confusion and visual inadequacies of the moment, could not allow any discernment of her plight. “Throw her into the fire!” shouted a previously mentioned friend to the bereaved. Her captors hesitated. Mugure, who had temporarily ceased her ranting to assist in nursing her husband, sprung up and tore towards the prisoner, nearly knocking the medicine man down. “Wait! Wait! Wait!” interjected another voice from the direction of the gate, apparently trying to prevent an imminent lynching. “She is… wait! … She is…” Insanely possessed with fury without likeness, Mugure ran and wrenched Ragati away from the men restraining her. “You wanted to kill my Wagema too? You evil beast? I will burn you alive!” She shook Ragati’s limp figure like a rag doll, dragging her across the yard; the many bangles and anklets she wore, jingling to the controlled roar of the blaze. She would have been wrong to think Ragati was hearing or feeling anymore of her antics, for her lights had dimmed a moment ago, at the hands of her immediate captors; in the private calmness of darkness, but in the milieu of rage without. “Go stay with your master the devil. We don’t need you here!”Mugure’s almighty fury and strength virtually heaved the lifeless body of Ragati, off the ground and into her house, her dress flying and giving the likeness of a huge bat flying into a fire. The pleading man’s attempt only added to the confusion of the moment. Suddenly the roof came down crushing, blowing the fire outwards and scampering people away. “Go to the hyenas!” Mugure screeched above the roar.
The dawning of the post-tragic day was overcast, both literally and emotionally. Thick dark clouds hovered above the valley, threatening a deluge of biblical proportions. Several villagers had slept, many had not. Fires had been lit at several spots and stoked throughout the hours leading up to dawn. Not many people had felt like withdrawing to their quarters after the sorrowful events, the fear of traumatising themselves with loneliness and latent guilt winning over them. They were emotionally jaded souls, huddled together; with limited dialogue between. They simply felt like belonging, as it has often been said. Daylight would not ease the peoples’ collective suffering. No one, whose eyes were open that morning, could ignore the drifting strings of smoke rising from a spot within the imposing escarpment, and which, needlessly reminded that observant individual of the past night’s cataclysmic incidents. Every swirl of the smoke as it rose seemed to twirl into torture, the mind of the eye beholding it. A deep exhalation of breath from a single mouth in a huddled group would further aggravate torture of the collective. Even the bereaved did not seem to have any energy left to resume wailing, for excruciating silence teemed the deep. It is in the direst of situations that, from quarters unlikely, leadership emerges. It was not the fully-recovered chief to use his leadership position and lift the masses from their emotional morass; nor was it Munyi to rise to the occasion with one of his timely aphorisms; none but from the youthful Njagi it was left, to impress upon the people to recall their fading human capacities. He visited the chief and asked him to summon the people to a public gathering. As hesitant and as physically and emotionally worn as he was, Wagema could not rule out that something had to be done about the dawning reality. He mentioned something to do with letting the distant city authorities in on the deaths and unsolved clues. “This calls for a mightier hand than that which I have. This calls for the government.” Chief Wagema told Njagi. “Tell me what the government will do that we cannot do. Won’t we make matters more complex than they already are?” wondered Njagi. “Made complex by whom? Isn’t it that devil of a witch who…” Wagema cut himself short, either because he remembered Njagi was Ragati’s friend; or because he felt it was an abomination to replay tragic misfortunes. Njagi struggled to manage his anger and said, “Chief, just call a meeting and we’ll try to solve this thing as a community. If we start apportioning blame, who will not be guilty of something, if not greed?” They were interrupted by the medicine man, who rushed in panting. “You have to see something.” he said. “What is it we have not seen my friend!” Wagema said with a tone laden with irritation and resignation, events having outpaced his capacity to recompose his self. “Please tell us what you have come to tell us.” “I found this near the railway thingummy.” he stated as he produced a small black polythene bag with yellow labelling. Wagema and Njagi watched him, eager to see what the lead was. He shook the bag into pouring white granules on his palm, eventually raising the palm into the view of the two clueless men. “There was a larger chunk of this stuff here, which I diluted and fed to one of my chickens today. The bird didn’t live an hour! This, my friends, is what killed the two boys. And I believe it was planted at that water point.” Puzzlement filled the air. Njagi would not let himself imagine what this implied. He wondered just what would have driven Ragati into such a diabolic deed. “Quick! Let us go separate ways right now, and tell the people not to draw water from the station, not even from the tank, before we have tested the water. Njagi, I told you that this calls for a mightier hand. There will be a meeting right now.”
“I remember the spirit that we had when we landed here. I remember the poverty that we believed had been manufactured for us. But look at us now, physically stronger than ever, not one in hunger; yet so empty in our souls. In so short a time we have stripped ourselves of any human quality we have been able to cultivate.” Njagi drove a train of thought which the emotionally beleaguered crowd felt itself boarding. “I stand here as one who is a victim of this depravity, most of all betrayal, but I would want to forgive anyone who has wronged me, be they alive or dead. I stand here as one who is guilty too, of allowing ourselves to follow a path whose end, greed cunningly calls. We have dallied with our livelihoods. Where we once were being slaughtered, raped and our carcasses left to the dogs, we have gone one better; we are killing ourselves. What have we done to Kiriku, beneath whose earth lies no corpse buried?” His words sunk them into the pits of their moral awakening. “Where will we bury the first corpses?” “I asked our chief Wagema here, whether we should follow the vengeful path; or the path of healing. I am not a learned person myself but I remember once being advised that, where justice comes to a deadlock, the path of leniency is followed. Let us ask ourselves right now; should we start looking for whom to blame right now, or should we give the first three deaths in Kiriku, their deserved respects? I am of the opinion that we mourn these people and bury them as a manifestation of our greed, shame, and our failure to be human.”
Four days of incessant mourning, and which also saw a growing repugnance towards the men with shiny motorcars, saw the day of the first burials in the history of Kiriku. These events, of which we need not remind that Kiriku had no precedent, had been ran flawlessly. Njagi and a renewed chief had worked wonders – the committee’s mandate not featuring anywhere.There was a greater social responsibility ahead anyway, for three done deaths are just but one thing. The immediate future called for wider shoulders to bear the brunt of a community emotionally bruised yet again after painstaking years of harmonising the proverbial four humours of the body. The spiralling effects of an inevitable closure on land negotiations required moral rehabilitation; rebuilding of burnt bridges between friendships, rebirth of trust among the people, and all these needed guidance from an unfailing leadership, which Njagi and Wagema had to valiantly offer, or Kiriku’s brethren would lead to ruination. They were three graves in total, dug parallel to each other. Tears flowed, chests heaved, and curses flew. A man wearing a dour expression joined the gravesite. There was nothing strange about this person, other than the fact that teary eyes did not prevent the mourners from observing that he was none other than the man who had attempted to interrupt Ragati’s lynching; and that he carried a small, battered case – quite odd for the occasion. The man stepped on the brink of the last grave, unzipped his tightly clutched case, inverted it and shook it; pouring a fluttering rain of high denomination currency notes into the grave. This action baffled the mourners and the wailing halted; those shovelling the soil halting on their tracks. He paused awhile and then gestured at them to continue shovelling. They exchanged awkward glances, then slowly resumed their rhythm. After they had filled the grave near full, the man left the scene without a backward glance, much less an utterance, and disappeared around the bend. The tragedies of the recent past, ingeniously but deviously planned so that Kiriku residents would come together (and sell together) had, in fact, drawn them closer, only this time not to fulfil the previous objective. It was irony on irony. Still, inside the home of the man who left the funeral after the moving speeches, another line to Kiriku’s destiny was being drafted. He fished out a bag from underneath his bed. From it, he removed a black polythene bag with yellow labelling, from which he fished out a hard cake of snowy appearance. He crashed this cake into fine sparkling white granules and dissolved them in water. He took the bowl with both hands and lifted it towards his mouth, pausing midway to stare at the wall opposite him. It was as if he could see through the wall, like peering into a future, or swallowing a past. He then continued the bowl’s journey to his mouth, taking the poison in five rapid gulps. Three days later he would be laid to rest, and with him interred the truth.