Pamela breaks down for the a-millionth time. The coffin is being lowered into the grave. In that box, going six feet under, is her son, the first of seven children. A hard-working boy who had stepped up to support her and his siblings since his father died four years ago. He did this mainly by doing odd jobs in the village, as well as tilling their one acre farm. Recently he had decided to go to the city to seek greener pastures. Only to return in a coffin.
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Michael lands at Tea Room on a Tuesday evening. He is coming to stay with his uncle Emilio, who lives with his family in Rongai. He hopes to secure a job soon. Any kind of a job. Suddenly, his small phone vibrates. His uncle. Michael tells his uncle that he is still at the Meru stage at Tea Room, just next to the Sunbird bus. The older man soon arrives, a broad smile on his face.
“Aahh, niatia Kiyana? (How are you, young man?)”
“Ikwega sana uncle (I am fine, uncle)”
“Anga utanoa mno? Wauma nja irua rii? (You must be tired. Did you leave home today?)”
Emilio takes Michael’s backpack, an ageing black bag that has his earthly possessions, and guides him towards Railways bus stop. They board a huge, blue bus that takes forever just negotiate its way out of the stage into the highway. But it is the smaller, flashier buses with blaring music and whose horns could shatter your eardrums that impress Michael. Emilio explains that they have video screens on the seats, and Michael moves from mere fascination to open mouthed wonder. He wonders aloud why they couldn’t board them, but his uncle patiently explains that their fares are more expensive than those of the ageing giant they are in. There are flashy matatus in Maua, the only big town Michael has been to, but these are on a whole new level. Even in Meru town, where he passed today on his way to Nairobi, he did not see anything like this.
Michael is tired, so he easily dozes off in his seat once he settles in. He is only awoken by blaring music. Those minibuses again. They are passing off the road. Three of them in quick succession. Their own bus is standstill.
“Ka ngali ithukile? (did the bus break down?)”
“Ali. Ni Njam. Naa uu Lungai Njam ni imbii (No, its traffic. Here in Rongai traffic jams are bad)”
Michael curls himself again and falls asleep. The next time he wake up, his uncle is shaking him. They have arrived. They weave their way through a market, passing through vibandas and shops, until they get to a four story stone house. Through the darkness, Michael can see it is one of the few in the area. Most of the structures in the area are tin houses. It is a slum of some sort. They enter the building and Emilio leads the way to an open door on the first floor.
Emilio lives in a single room with his wife Nancy and their two sons, Sam and Ken. On one side of the room is a double decker bed. A couple of seats and a small table are on another side. The cooking area is in one corner. Nancy is seated on the lower bunk peeling potatoes. The two boys are quarrelling over a toy in the upper bunk. Nancy welcomes Michael warmly. Emilio asks him to sit on one to the two seats. He then pours two cups of tea from the red flask on the table and sits on the other available seat. They sip the tea as they engage in small talk. Nancy prepares a meal of mukimo which they eat as they continue to talk.
When it is bed time, Nancy pulls an old mattress from under the bed and spreads it on the floor, having pushed her cooking items further into the corner. The table is also pushed further to the side. She takes one blanket from the top bunk and spreads it on the mattress. She then orders the boys to sleep on the mattress. Michael gets the top bunk. She and Emilio take the lower bunk. Nancy unfolds old sheets from under the top bunk so that they act as curtains for the lower bunk, affording her and her husband a semblance of marital privacy.
As the days go by, Michael settles into life in the dusty town. Emilio introduces Michael to the foreman of the construction site where he works. The foreman likes him and hires him without a fuss. At the end of the week, Michael receives his wages. He is excited, though they do not amount to much. His splits the earnings into three portions. He gives one portion to Emilio and Nancy. They protest. They cannot charge their son for accommodation, they insist. So Michael devices a way around it by doing a little shopping for the house and giving it to Nancy. She cannot refuse a gift from her son, he tells her with a sly smile. He sends the second portion home to his mother. Then he keeps the last portion for himself.
Towards the end of that month, he sees an advertisement for the job of a supermarket attendant at a local supermarket. All they require is a form 4 certificate. Michael had carried his. And he had done well in KCSE, scoring a C plain. Unfortunately his mother could not afford college fees. He could not blame her. She had really tried to keep the family together since her husband, his father, died. So after form 4 he had sought odd jobs to help his mother look after the younger ones.
Michael quickly applies for the job. A week later, they call to tell him that he has been accepted. Without even an interview. He will not only be earning more now, but he will not have to do hard manual labour under the scorching sun. Nancy and Emilio are so happy for him. Nancy starts teasing him with marriage, telling him that he now needs a woman besides his mother to share his wealth. Emilio and Michael laugh whenever she says that, Emilio nodding in support of his wife.
One day, while Michael is working at the supermarket, he sees his old friend Mutua. They grew up together in Kimongoro village. Mutua did not complete his high school studies though. He dropped out at form 2 and escaped into the city. Now he is looking wealthy, with flashy clothes and a beautiful woman beside him, with whom he is doing shopping. Michael is naturally excited to see someone he knows besides his relatives and colleagues.
“Michael!” Mutua yells when he recognizes Michael.
“Mutua! Habari za masiku wachia? Naona maisha kwako si mbaya”
“Ah siwezi complain. Huyu ni Celina, girlfriend wangu. Ulikuja Rongai lini?”
“Sasa Celina” Michael shakes her hand. “Nilikuja kitu two months ago,” he adds, turning again to Mutua.
“Mieli ili kuu Lungai na utandingila inya thimu? (two months in Rongai and you can’t even call me?)”
“Ntiraiji wi kuu wachia. Na inya nti namba yekuu (I didn’t know you live here agemate. I do not even have your number)”
“Aaahh gutiu. Ingukua namba yekwa o nandi. Ona ibwega nakwona. Ndina party Sunday ukeya? (No problem. I will give my number right now. It is even good I have seen you. I have a party on Sunday. Will you come?)”
Michael thought it would be a good opportunity to meet more people in this town, where he was still relatively new.
“Thaa ing’ana? Ngeta Mass rukiri (What time? I will attend Mass in the morning)”
“Thaa inyanya. Inya uuni imbitaga Mass (in the afternoon. I also attend Mass)” Celina rolls her eyes, so Michael suspects it is a lie. But the afternoon would be perfect, so he accepted the invite.
That Sunday Michael follows directions to Mutua’s house. He expected to find an impressive apartment in a serene neigbourhood. Instead he ends up in a shady neigbourhood. The house itself is a filthy one-bedroom apartment. The sitting room is full of other people, young men and a few young women, Celina among them. Some are playing cards. Others are talking while taking alcohol. A couple is making out on a couch. Loud music is playing.
“Kuluka (enter)” a smiling Mutua tells Michael. He then introduces him to his friends. Michael rejects an offer for alcohol. Some of the young men tease him mercilessly, calling him soft. He is very uncomfortable. This is not the kind of party he had anticipated. He sits quietly watching the game of cards. Everyone is in a jubilant mood, and keeps referring to the mission. Michael has no idea what mission they are talking about.
A girl comes up to where he is and starts talking to him. At first it is just general small talk. Then she starts seducing him. She places her hand on his thigh then starts moving it up. Michael is fed up. He rises to go. Then as he stands, a gunshot rings outside. The next three minutes are a blur. The young people scramble out of the door. Michael has no idea what is going on. His survival instincts tell him he is safer inside than outside, especially because he is not familiar with the neigbourhood. But he does not understand why everyone is running out, when the gunshot came from outside. Then Mutua and Celina emerge from the bedroom, each holding a pistol. Michael is stunned.
“Kuthuka! (Run!)” Mutua yells at Michael, as he and Celina dash out of the door, following their friends. But Michael is too stunned to move. It all looks like a dream. His knees are weak. Suddenly three policemen appear at the door, their guns trained on him. He immediately goes on his knees and lifts up his hands.
“Msiniue! Sijafanya kitu!” he begs.
But one of the policemen pulls the trigger twice in quick succession. Both bullets go through Michael’s heart, and his lifeless body slumps on the cold floor.