Hubishi na akuzikaye – You don’t argue with your grave digger.
Wairimu had the sneaking suspicion that her name should not sound the way it did. So strange, hearing her name in the darkness over and over as it warped itself into something else, something almost physical in its abstraction and no sense-ness. She wasn’t sure when or where the sound of her name had distorted itself into something as ominous and lonely as it had become but once she got past the loneliness she kind of enjoyed it. It became a sort of conversation with the perpetual darkness that accompanied her condition.
This strange communication started with her name. Tired of sitting alone in her hole in Mathare, she would at first whisper it into the air for the illusion of company if nothing else. Maybe hoping there would be someone to hear it and offer theirs, maybe start a conversation, speak to her about the world outside, about seeing things, about interacting with people and sights and feelings and … people.
When no one answered because no one was there she said it a bit louder and then again louder still. It got to the point she was saying it over and over in various tones and volumes and emotions. Until the sound gained an identity of sorts, took on dimensions and depth separate yet connected to her. Strange at first but soon enough comforting, like a conversation with herself, or the dark, or something…
It was better than wallowing in the depression of a sightless life in a tiny mabati home (prison) in Mathare. Better than cursing her backward yet wealthy family for abandoning her at the first sight of trouble, ashamed, afraid and embarrassed by her disability. Better than hoping for a hero, a helper, a friend to balance out the darkness. To be a voice in the dark.
“I said don’t move.” Wairimu says into her darkness as someone moves near Counter 1 in Huduma Centre, GPO. She is not speaking to herself anymore in a dark room in some slum somewhere. She cannot see the man who tried to move towards the door to her right but she can hear him. He sounded Luo somehow. Large, obnoxious and proud. ‘Kimbelembele’ as her good for nothing mother would have said.
“My problem is not with you sir, it is with the government,” Wairimu tells the space in the general direction of the sound. She turns her head listening keenly as she takes in the entire place. She knows the hostages are sitting in and, as per her instructions, they have tied themselves in a way that restricts movement and prevents escape. Any movement is distracting to her, she politely explains to the hostages beseeching them to try really hard not to move.
“If you can just stay still a while and wait for the responsible parties to begin a dialogue this will go much smoother. I don’t want to use force, I am blind as you can see and I would not want an arrow to hit anyone but government officials.”
She hears several people turn their heads to the now crumpled heap on the floor by the Huduma Centre entrance, an arrow sticking up from his back.
“But I will not hesitate to hurt anyone who tries to run away. Look to that body for reassurance that I never miss a shot.”carefully listening to every sound in the room Wairimu continues in a softer tone. “You know what we’re told every day? ‘Disability is not inability’. Then you wonder how come nobody told the world? This story must be told, our voices heard, our sadness known, our gifts appreciated. This is one way to do it. My way of doing it. I have demanded to speak to the president about this, a conversation is not too much to ask I think. Is it?”
Standing stiff and strong with her arrows jutting from her back like wings, Wairimu’s voice fills the quiet hall. “What the world and all presidents and governments teach us is that if you can back it up with force, nothing works as well as the threat of violence when you want something. I want something. I want people to listen. To hear the voices of an abandoned people with hearts and voices that go unheard by too many in this every man for himself state of ours.”
“You’re rambling again.” Wairimu stops speaking responding automatically to the low tenor of the voice. Giving an imperceptible nod she abruptly ends her speech and settles down to listening. She had been rambling, but it needed to be said. Especially now with the media outside and live videos streaming online from several secure laptops in the room.
In moments of wry wisdom like this she didn’t mind the voice so much; maybe she even appreciated the dark baritone that called itself God and mentored her in her head. Other moments she yearned to have her darkness back to herself again, to forget about the voice and the lessons but not so, the voice never left her.
Let down by the world and people so much and continually feeling like she had let down herself, Wairimu had collected a general distrust of humanity around herself like clouds in the sky. With reluctance born of suspicion she allowed the mentorship to take place, expecting the worst always.
The voice liked to go on about some things that irritated Wairimu; the purity in man, the fear instilled by institutions, the left-sided nature of our education systems, the illusion of duality, of life and death… very instructional, and revealing. But Wairimu preferred the physical side of the voices teachings.
She had to give it to the voice though, when ‘God’ wants to build a blind warrior he builds a blind warrior. After arduous and rigorous training, Wairimu felt herself transformed into a warrior. She was proud of her accomplishments only wishing there was someone she could share them with.
The way she saw it, the voices blessings were the secrets it told her, old world secrets that had been abandoned by the corporate money making soul crushing machine that is the civilised nation. Secrets to the natural world- its power and its connection to her. Secrets to her anatomy and the history of the earth and it’s people. The reason why the schools lied and governments lied and why people were miserable. Secrets that gave her courage and, most importantly, power.
Standing stiff and tall the bow is an extension of her right arm; her left arm is loose and ready beside her, just like the voice had taught her. She turns her head often as if registering information unseen and unheard by the observers in the large hall that is Huduma Centre. They can no longer doubt her power, Wairmu knows. She likes the power but remains suspicious of God and his interests. The voice is powerful and all knowing, an automatically suspicious position to be in.
She keeps quiet like the voice has suggested and sits back down listening to the darkness around her for the faintest sound. Every 5 minutes the watch on her wrist vibrates a sequence that tells her the time.
25 minutes more and she will be forced to loose an arrow into another warm body. The first body emits no sound, the blood has stopped spreading on the floor. Wairimu wonders idly how long the body will take to rot if left there. Then she wonders how long the cowering hostages would survive the dead body before they go mad.
What about food, her mind continues, how long would they last without food before turning on each other, or turning on her? She had lasted 10 days without food that first time, before they remembered and brought her something out in her hut in the forest. How long before she had turned on them?
She had been 7 the first time; there were many other times but the first stands out in her memory. When her brother went away, there was no one to take care of her or teach her to care for herself so they left her out there in the forest on their land. Leaving her to her darkness and feeding her when they remembered.
Wairimu’s definition of family is burden and obligation.
Is that when the voice started speaking to her, Wairimu wonders, or was it later? She gets muddled when she thinks of a beginning and end to the voice. In that one way, she supposes, he conforms to the popular concept of God. In other ways the voice conformed to the popular concept of a shaman, or a witch doctor; its knowledge of the world was rich and deep.
Wairimu hoped there didn’t have to be more than one, but what she asked for – a meeting with the president- probably wasn’t going to happen. She was slowly coming to terms with what that meant exactly.
Later, after what became known as the ‘Wairimu Masacre,’ when the newspapers and television people had had their fill of the juicy story Wairimu was often asked when she first met ‘God.’ Wairimu (to confuse her enemies) would give a different answer each time. But the truth is she doesn’t know when exactly the first time the darkness into which she spoke answered back. Wairimu couldn’t figure out why the darkness chose a deep bass to speak to her or how long it had waited to answer her. Even as she said her name to the darkness Wairimu wondered who she was really calling.
“Are you calling yourself or…”
Wairimu in the stunned silence that followed the chillingly casual statement realises the inevitable has happened and she was now mad.
“Mad? Because you speak to yourself? Everyone does that.”
Wairimu shook her head as if to clear it, damning her sightlessness, not for the first time. Was there someone in the room with her?
“Maybe, but wouldn’t you have heard me enter?”
Yes, Wairimu would have heard, nothing happened in or close outside her hole without her hearing it. So who was speaking to her?
“That’s a good question.”
Wairimu shook her head again.
“I don’t understand what you’re doing with your head.” The voice seems amused which annoys Wairimu enough to speak again, albeit reluctantly.
“Who are you?”
Wairimu laughs. “God?”
“Isn’t that what you expected?”
She shakes her head no.
“An angel then, which one was it with Mary in that quaint bible story?”
Wairimu laughs hesitantly. “Are you an angel of the spirit, or my imagination?”
“You’re asking if I’m real.”
Wairimu tilts her head to the side waiting.
“Why wouldn’t I be real?”
You don’t sound real, Wairimu thinks.
“Does that mean I am not?”
So you can hear my thoughts?
“I hear everything.”
Why are you here?
“Because you called me.”
Wairimu sniffs derisively, I called myself.
“Why not?” Wairimu heard the lazy grin in the voice as it seemed to get closer to her ears. Her voice crept out of her in a mixture of fear and confusion filling the small space of her room.
That first why not is what landed her here, Wairimu thinks even as she turns towards the sound of movement to her right. It is the baby with the hair that smells like honey fidgeting near his mother. The mother is understandably afraid. Wairimu feels pity for the mother, how terrifying it must be the thought of your baby dying, with no power to save or change the state of affairs. They had all heard her demand and, if they were smart, knew the likelihood of the president coming down to Huduma centre for a chat about the state of blind people in Kenya.
The voice had made her promise none of the innocents would die. ‘Innocents,’ isn’t that what they were called in movies? Though Wairimu doubted anyone here was completely innocent, whatever that meant – except maybe the kid with honey hair. Who except kids could be innocent anymore in this man eat man world, in this every man for himself city of Nairobi?
Like the other day, right outside her hole in Mathare, they had robbed Mzee Mfalme late in the night as he was making his way back home from work. Everyone knew Mzee Mfalme there. Everyone knew where he worked and what day he got paid and that he used the bulk of that money to buy women and booze at Rafikis.
They robbed him and, as if this was not enough, beat him within an inch of his life. And no one did anything to help him. No one could have missed any of the 20 minutes of violence it took to reduce the 68 year old to a bleeding puddle of quivering pulp yet not one person in that congested sty in Mathare rose to do a thing about it.
At first Mzee Mfalme shouted in pain but after a while he was quiet and the only thing that could be heard were the grunts of the attackers as they rained blow after blow on the old man’s body.
Wairimu spent the night hearing the sounds he made after they had left him to die, as he slowly, painfully, wasted away. Mzee Mfalme took his time too, five hours later Wairimu was still lying still in her darkness hardly breathing, listening to the sound of life leaving a man.
The voice came shortly after this. Afraid to analyse the coincidence of this she never mentioned the ominous undertones behind this fact. Like she avoided thinking about Mzee Mfalme and what must have been his dying words. She strained to hear them but didn’t catch his words, only the final sputter of what must have been his last breath. Then silence. A deep and unforgiving silence.
Five more minutes according to her wrist watch. A great device, it was one of the things she would have spoken to the president about; making such watches available for free or cheaply to the visually impaired. But no matter. She had sent her manifesto to the press just like the voice suggested, it had everything.
The phone rang on cue and she picked it up quickly. Her pulse was elevated as she heard the go signal. It was time.
Yes it would have been great to see his face
Wairimu raised her head in the direction of the honey haired boy hoping for one more sniff of innocence. There he was, it sounded like he was sleeping, the mother was calm now, resigned even. Did they all have to die? They would ask her. No, she would reply, but it is more effective this way don’t you think?
Oh yes. They would call her crazy, cruel, terrorist – how every government loved that word- and maybe she was. But they would listen. They would wonder how they could have saved them. They would wonder what had driven her to this. Yes, they would have many questions to answer after this.
The voice was nowhere to be heard as Wairimu raised the bow and arrow before her. The little boy went first. Direct hit to the forehead, no pain at all, just like God had taught her. His mother went next stopped short in the middle of a mournful wail.
They couldn’t move but oh how they shouted as one by one they died. Just like Mzee Mfalme only quicker. None of them suffered like he did. Wairimu heard the doors break down finally just as the last arrow hit the last body.
I am fortunate to have been brought up in a family that loved storytelling, free thought and music. So much strength was passed down to me that I took strength for granted and only learned how messed up the world is after I left home and entered what people call the ‘real’ one. In this real world I got a degree (law of all things) found myself a job (UP Magazine among others) and contemplated the future. It seemed grim. I couldn’t do law- I like my hair kinky (read untidy) too much, and colourful clothes, and justice. And the selfish and greedy nature of the corporate capitalistic machine that Kenya is has me running from employment in general.
But stuck in a time and place where to ‘survive’ one must be employed I search for a means of survival that doesn’t kill my soul. Art, music, literature, storytelling… things I love and until recently feared the world with its sadistic pleasure in hating and hurting would kill. Even a little creative expression is better than one hour sitting in an office doing nothing you love.
My search has led me to sing in the band Yellow Light Machine, start an event services business by the name of Ndio Kweli, run Kiota every few months, an event that seeks to share and bring together Nairobi’s creative community. Writing and literature are a big part of what makes me who I am and are the threads that run between all my projects, and in most aspects of my life. I have no concrete plans for the future. With very little help from me or my motives I am here now and I seem to be going somewhere. I have a disturbing number of blogs each given some attention sometimes and no attentions other times, if I were you I wouldn’t expect any clear direction or motive or point…