Jeff is a friend of mine from shags. He is a few years my junior. A family man with a delectable wife and two beautiful baby girls. Jeff was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, or one made of any material for that matter, but he has worked hard to forge and place his own piece of cutlery in the mouth.
He has two milking cows and a small herd of goats and sheep that he sometimes herds along the road like he is an old man of old.
Talking of old man, Jeff is not aged but he has been through a lot. He has seen mengi even without living a lot.
Despite this, God has blessed the work of his hands and feet too (he rides a boda boda). Right now he doesn’t need any one to fight his corner and this touches on his father who made his life a hell on earth when he was growing up. His corner, at the moment, is looking pretty rosy making his past detractors, more so his father, to look up to him with envy and a sodding huge potato stuck in their throats.
Juzi, I requested Jeff to come ferry some stuff for me with his boda boda and in our small talk, I asked him a tricky question which I thought he wouldn’t take kindly but it turns out the guy has matured greatly. He laughs it off and gives me an answer that is the basis of this story.
Jeff, “the day you were caught under the bed at Muriuki’s place, what had really happened?”
I was referring to an event that had taken place many years ago. We were young then. I was thirteen years old or there about. Jeff was younger than that.
He grins saying, “let me tell you something that is unknown to most people. People always held the notion that I was a thief and this didn’t help my reputation here in the village for the better part of my growing up. There are people who, up to date, still think I am a criminal but I have never been one. At that time, life was very hard for me or rather my father was making life a living hell for me. He was literally chasing me from home and warning mum over feeding me. I would come to cucu’s place but you know how it was then. Most of my aunts are all married in the neighbourhood and they are quite a number you know?
So cucu’s place would be teeming up with cousins and aunts and my two uncles who are my juniors.
You would not expect to always find food in such a place plus mum was siding with my father to label me an enfant terrible. In our confrontations with father, she would not only sit on the fence but also make a dwelling place on top of the hacienda. This would result in cucu and guka being less concerned or unconcerned at all about my welfare contrary to the norm between grandparents and grandkids.
It is guka alone who used to encourage me saying “Jeff, ìreragìra rùkùinì ìkaya kùigana” This was in reference to the wood beetle that defies all odds to grow up inside a piece of wood.
On that material day (he calls it material but the grin on his face is confirmation that it has become immaterial), I am hungry like hell. I have not taken any food for three days running save for stolen guavas, sugarcane and mangoes . I have even been sleeping in the open under the cover of banana trees.
After school, remember in standard three we never used to attend afternoon classes, an idea came to mind.
At Muriuki’s place, I couldn’t miss on something to eat. Even if it meant some left overs. They were well off and food was always in plenty. I had witnessed this on several occasions when I happened to do coffee picking kibarua.”
I interrupted with a question, “why did you opt to go all the way to Muriuki’s place leaving all the other homesteads nearby? Why Mùriuki’s?”
He says, “It was the most perfect place to sneak in unnoticed. Muriuki was never in during the day, remember he worked in Nyeri town leaving early morning on his motorcycle and coming back in the evening….”
I interrupt again, “his was the only motorbike in this village then..”
“You are talking about the village? Make it the whole sublocation.”
“So, Muriuki wouldn’t be in, the wife would be manning the shop which was an extension to the main house, the kids were in upper primary and therefore wouldn’t be home till 6pm. This coupled with the fact that I had seen lots of food during my earlier visits presented a perfect opportunity for me to quell the fire of hunger that was raging in my stomach.”
I approached the house surreptitiously from the shamba. When I came within a short distance from the pig sty, the swines made a mad racket nearly blowing my cover.The dogs joined in the cacophony from their kernels. This was enough ruckus to draw the attention of Mrs Muriuki’s who would definitely be around the homestead moreso inside the shop. I was torn between bolting away and carrying on with the mission.
In that state of confusion, I spotted a bucket half-full with what must have been sow and winner meal or fish meal or whatever meal the Muriuki’s were feeding their pigs. I thought of scooping a handful or two to my mouth to alleviate the hunger pangs and silence the growling intestines. After all, didn’t the prodigal son survive on pig feed?
I decided against the notion to eat the puff food despite the dire situation I was in. I picked the bucket and poured the contents in the the feeding troughs. The pigs jostled for spots in the trough and their noises subsided save for occasional soft grunts. I was amazed at my prodigious talent in swine-silencing.
With the pigs quiet, the dogs followed suit. I went round the pig sty and the cattle boma avoiding the dog’s kennel entirely . From this point, I came into clear view of the door to the main house and the shop’s rear entrance. The later was ajar but visibility inside was limited. I stood for a while to check for any movement. There was none.
I was lost as to whether Mrs Muriuki was inside the shop or in the house.
An idea came to mind. I would go to the shop and pose as a customer just to ascertain whether she was inside. And because I had no money, I would ask for a pack of cigarettes. I chose cigarettes for I knew the shop didn’t offer the item Mrs Muriuki being a staunch Women’s Guild lady, a former primary school teacher and stuff. She would just tell me “tutiendagia thigara…. caitani” though she would make caitani inaudible but it would be there in that sentence.
But just before I executed the idea, Mrs Muriuki came into view from the shop’s rear door with a jug of water in hand.
She threw the water in my direction missing me by inches. She even lingered a little bit before going back inside as if to ascertain whether she had splashed me properly.
I dashed into the house immediately and direct into the kitchen. It was a spacious kitchen with a sink and wall cupboards and a 4*6 bed that conceivably belonged Muriukis eldest. Food was in plenty in that kitchen. I was spoilt for choice. There was a jug full of milk, another with uji, yet another one with tea, I lifted a sufuria that was covering some humongous piece of ugali ya jana or asubuhi I didn’t care which, a bowl with sukuma and meat stew, another sufuria with plain githeri…. food.
I hadn’t seen that much food in one setting for quite sometime. I took the jug with milk and gobbled the contents ravenously. This triggered a very sharp pain in my stomach as the intestines woke up from days of inactivity and lull. I nearly screamed.
I tightly clutched on my stomach writhing with pain until it subsided. I cut a piece of ugali with my dirty hands and chewed at it voraciously pushing it down with another huge gulp of milk.
Part of me begged that I carry the humongous ugali and the bowl with stew and the milk niende nikakulie mbele. Another part reminded me “yùmbùkaga na kìrìa ìmeretie” (a bird only flys with whatever it had swallowed)
I would continue eating Ugali and stew and pushing it down with sweet milk until something happened that froze me in my tracks.
I was too preoccupied with eating to hear Mùriuki’s motorbike approach the house. I only saw him at the door pushing the bike inside. The motorbike must have had a silencer fitted. Either this or I had lost my hearing. But si I had just heard the pigs and dogs make a racket a few minutes ago?
I had to think fast or I was in big trouble. Mùriuki was not known for joking around with people. He would beat me up before handing me over to the area sub-chief who was also a strict disciplinarian or to a blood thirsty village mob who would beat me senseless before roasting me with a tyre. Or worse still, to my father who would take the opportunity to reinforce his claim that I was a spoilt brat while beating the daylight out of me.
He would beat me to a pulp and top it up with battering mum for bringing upon him, shame and ignominy.
There was a bed in that kitchen that no doubt belonged to Mùriukis eldest son if the clothes hanging on the headboard were anything to go by. I hurriedly slithered under as stealthily as I could. Mùriùki would most likely go out to have a look at the animals and inspect the shamba or probably go to the bedroom for a nap. This would give me an opportunity to melt from the house. I would have to do it quickly before the wife came into the kitchen to prepare something for the husband to eat.
From my position under the bed, I could clearly see Mùriùki who, instead of going outside or to the bedroom as I had hankered for, slumped into the sofa with a newspaper in hand. He tossed two cushions to the floor and used one as a pillow. He assumed a sleeping position facing up with legs stretched over the opposite arm rest. He went about reading the newspaper for hours on end.
I would remain under that bed for hours lying with my almost-full-stomach against the cold hard floor. Mùriùki didn’t move or change position from the moment he slouched into the sofa. Safe for the occasional ruffling of the pages, you would have thought he was deep asleep.
Meanwhile, I was feeling too pressed. My bladder was full as a result of the jug-ful of milk I had drunk. Why was Mùriuki being so inconsiderate?
A wall gecko perched just a few feet from me was ruefully staring at me its eyes full of distress. Perhaps, it was sympathetic of my situation or it was worried over my intrusion to its territory.
As time passed, my bladder refused to hold any longer and a rivulet ran from under the bed cascading wildly to the center of room and then towards the table-room. I had prayed that at least the urine could pool just next to me as opposed to flowing away. Now, Mùruiki would surely see the small stream rushing towards him.
I didn’t see my companion the gecko catching a big camel cricket until she started tapping her head against the wall in a bid to disable the big meal snapped in her tiny mouth. The tapping sound was loud enough to be heard from the shop leave alone the table room.
The cricket was beseechingly waving the enormous feelers in my direction in the hope that I would save it from imminent death. It didn’t seem to realize that I had my small problem to contend with. The gecko’s eyes, that were previously full of mercy were now full of menace. They had stay-out-of-this written all over. The tussle went on for a few minutes, the tapping grew even louder. The sounds were like those of a woodpecker. The gods seemed to be on my side though because as it was, Mùriùki only turned another page, and another.
Things quietened with the cricket throwing in the towel, straightening out its hind legs that had sizeable drumsticks and passing a globule of what must be cricket urine as it gave up the ghost.
The incident just about summed life in general. Eat and avoid being eaten. The camel cricket had dropped its guard a wee bit and ended up paying the price. The wall gecko, the captor in that encounter was wary of my presence and seemed to know very well that I presented potential danger. On the other hand, I was under a bed inside people’s house without the subtlest of clues what would befall me if caught. I was alive to the fact that anything could happen; from lynching to being set on fire to being handed over to my brutal father or to the sub-chief or to police.
The voice of Múriukis wife startled and scared me more stiff.
Ndùngígwatia tawa? No ùrona? (You can’t light the lamp? Are you seeing anything?)
Mùriuki cleared his throat but did not utter a word.
She was coming towards the kitchen when she inadvertently got her feet into the small disinfectant dip that had formed a little bit earlier.
“Maí maumire kù maya?,” she inquired.
“What water?,” bellowed Mùriùki turning his head slightly.
“Maya maingì ùù.”
She followed the “water” to the source , bent to check under the bed and our eyes locked. She froze for the briefest of moments then cursed, shindwe shetani! letting out a shrill scream that must have been heard two ridges away.
She let out more shrills as she stormed out of the kitchen nearly knocking down Mùriùki who was coming her way.
“Kwìna mùici rungu rwa ùrírí”, (There is a thief under the bed) she gasped.
“We nawe ní kí? Mùici umire kù mùthenya?”, (what’s your problem, a thief in broad day light?) bleated Mùriùki.
They disappeared from view the wife carrying on with her screams ,wuuuuu muici! ukai.
Mùriùki reappeared with a crowbar in hand. He struck the floor just besides the bed generating a metallic screeching sound, some sparks and smoke.
“Wewe ni nani?”, he demanded.
“Nì Jeff”, I piped.
He set the crowbar aside after hearing my voice and realizing it was just a scared kid. He bent down to check under the bed and beckoned me to come out.
I crawled from my hiding place and came face to face with Mùriùki who was staring at me indignantly with arms akimbo.
“What are you doing in my house?”, he growled.
Before I could give an answer, a man stormed into the house with a panga in hand.
“Enakù?”, he asked.
He stared at me and then at Mùriùki. I saw him heave and relax the panga grip.
“What is going on here? Did they kidnap him?”
Mùriùki didn’t answer.
“He can’t be the thief!?”, he quipped staring at my wet shorts.
“This is a kid who has even wet himself.”
I could hear more voices outside. A crowd of responders was gathering Everybody was asking to see the thief. Some came into the house but you could hear their collective downcast heaves of disappointment or relief when they set their eyes on me.
I was marched outside to be greeted with more heaves and sighs. The crowd was very expectant. They were hoping for a real big thief to work on not a lower primary kid with piss all over.
They asked me a few questions here and there all of which I responded to with answers that I believed would bail and exonerate me from condemnation. I told them I had acted the way I had out of hunger. I was almost set free but for Mrs Mùriùki who was still frantic dropping a bombshell.
“Where is the money you took from the till? 3000?”
This was a well calculated sucker punch. I felt my stomach churn and a huge knot form in my throat. She was determined to offer the mob something to revel in. Perhaps to wipe the shame of screaming her voice hoarse that there was a thief in a house only for it to turn out that it was a kid.
I had to think fast to save my ass.
“Whose kid is this?”, some people in the crowd were asking.
“Níatwarìrwo ithe”, he should be taken to his father. This statement sent a shiver down my spine.
I had to think extra fast to save my ass from the mob and the monster- my step father.
I had to think of something to throw them of balance. Mang’eeche!
I said that I had been sent by Mang’eeche with strict instructions to hide under the bed and open the door for him at 3.00am when everybody was asleep so that he could kill Mùriuki and his wife.
I said this with a straight face. I saw fear register on Muriuki’s face. Mrs. Muriuki was excessively terrified that she let out another loud scream. She fainted. Women frantically tried to administer first aid to her. Mine was a real sucker punch that sent her sprawling to the canvas.
I spent the night at the Kianjege police post. I had received some beating at Mùriùks and along the way too. But that was a small price to pay for all my troubles. To make sure that I was locked in, I repeated the fake Mang’eeche story.
“Kijana unashikana na jambazi sugu?, utalala dani usaidie sisi kukamata yeye kesho”
The cell was an unused classroom in what used to be a county council nursery school. It had an earthen floor which ensured that it was not as cold as sleeping in the open or under banana trees.
Early the next morning, one of the Askaris opened the classroom cum cell door bellowing, “kijana mbona unapea sisi hekaya za abunwasi?”
“Unaona sisi bongo lala eh? Ulipatana na Mang’eeche wapi?”
Mang’eeche iko King’ong’o na imekuwa huko karibu mwezi moja sasa.”
I opened up to the Askari. I told him the truth. I told him I had only walked into Mùriùkis to look for something to eat.
I told him about my father. I told him that I had conjured up the Mang’eeche tale to ensure that I was taken to police but not to my dad. That that not even my mother or my paternal uncles could defend me from that monster. I told him how I used to go for days on end without food.
I told him everything. He was really touched. I never knew Askaris had a soft spot until this encounter.
After giving me a block of bread and rich tea, he asked me whether there was any close relative who cared for me in the slightest. I told him guka.
He brought me to guka’s place walking all the way from Kianjege. He talked at length with guka but I was not privy to the discussion. Later guka would ask me to catch a jogoo for the askari.
That’s how I ended up living at guka’s place up to date. He even bequeathed me a few “points” of land where my house is built.
May God rest his soul.
Just who was Mang’eeche.
Mang’eeche was a well built strong young man who was as bad as they come. A born hoodlum whose mischevious acts and way of life were a headache not only to the villagers but also to the authorities. He was never without a hideous wound suffered from his endless fights. He had missing front teeth while still in primary school.
Talking fo primary school, by he time he was in class seven Mang’eeche had been in and out of several approved schools and back to regular school the approved schools having failed to cope with his bad behaviour.
He would drop from school and vanish to Kìeni (Kíeni here refers to any place past Kiganjo eg Narumoru, Nanyuki, Chaka, Nyahururu, Rímuruti, Ng’arua, Timau, Dol Dol) where he would be employed as a herdsboy for a school-term or two before rejoining school. For all the young hoodlums to whom school was not a cup of tea, Kíeni had an insatiable appetite for them. Demand for cattle herding hoodlums outstripped supply.
When not in school or Kíeni, he would be touting or working for the local bootleggers who used him as a one-man-security-detail. It didn’t help that his immediate neighbourhood was the local Mendelin, his uncles the El Chapos and Escobars of no mean repute.
He donned a trademark faded green Stetson, an old military pair of boots that had last seen polish during the Mau Mau uprising, a denim trouser and a denim half court. The half court was mostly worn without any other garment on the inside.
The clothes had some holes and were stained with, banana sap, blood spots, and grease.
He had an uncharacteristically lyrical voice that was odd for a person like Mang’eeche. The kind of voice that would make you pity him especially when he was being taunted by fellow makanga.
Just to show how crazy Mang’eeche was, he once jumped off the carrier of a moving, overloaded, and overcrowded toyota Stout into another one moving in the opposite direction and missed terribly ending up with multiple fractures on both feet.
On another occasion, Mangeeche cut a patch of skin from his father’s only cow threatening to do it on a daily basis until he was handed money and allowed to become a man. His father, afraid to lose the poor animal, capitulated allowing Mang’eeche to get the cut when in std six.
When the rest of the folks walking along the railway tracks would be scampering for safety when an engine approached out of fear of the approaching behemoth and the screeching noises it made or afraid that they would be sucked in by the fabled gigantic magnet, Mang’eeche would steal a ride by hanging on the rear wagon of the speeding locomotive and disembark at Checheni or Karatina depending on the direction the engine was headed.
There were rumours that Mang’eeche was an apprentice to Gecko the aged dreaded gangster from Mùkore. Gecko was himself, in his youth, a footman to Mùgambi a notorious international thief who was mostly infamous for his daring escapades of the Ugandan Coffee heists and smuggling in the late 70s.
Mang’eeche’s sudden demise.
One day, Mang’eeche got admitted at Karatina District Hospital with an unknown ailment. During the three days that he was in hospital, his mother would walk to and from Karatina more than twice a day to visit his ailing son. His father too would cycle the old rickety bicycle to go see his eldest son. His siblings would find time from school and go visit him. Drivers and turn boys too. The villagers wouldn’t.
Mang’eeche died inside three days.
The disease that knocked out Mang’eeche in three days must have been a very nasty one. It was perhaps an epidemic or a pandemic or both. A bad plague that could have wiped the whole village but for Mang’eche deciding to take one for the community. It probably was some form of a tragic community service.