A Grave Mistake

The Nyeri War Cemetery in Kiganjo is part of the Commonwealth War Graves. At this cemetery, you will find a tombstone marked, “Eden Cromwell, Sunrise 1916 – Sunset 1941, Son, Husband, and Hero.” In this grave lays a man I do not know in person, who died during the Second World War. Yet, almost a century later, this man would cost me the most influential position in our village; the chance to be the administrator of our village WhatsApp group.

This is a story about chance and there are many ways to tell it. No matter the starting point, the story always goes back to Eden Cromwell. In the 20th century, Eden Cromwell was among the thousands of young men who enlisted in the British Army to fight in the Second World War. Eden, a soldier in the African Pioneer Auxiliary Corps, fought in the East Africa Campaign at the Horn of Africa against the Italians. Unfortunately, Eden lost his life before the war ended. The British government delineated areas to act as war memorial cemeteries for the fallen soldiers. As fate would have it, Eden Cromwell was interred at the Nyeri War Cemetery, a few miles from our village, WarazoJet.

In 2000, sixty years later, Marie, Eden’s granddaughter traveled to Kenya on a Safari. As part of her exploration, she decided to visit her grandfather’s grave. It was there that she met Don Bosco. Every village has a Casanova. In WarazoJet, Don Bosco was Romeo, a playboy feared and loved in equal measures. Not once had the chief and the village council summoned him for impregnating village girls. At one point, there was an accusation of impregnating two village women at a go; a mother and her daughter.

The chief and the elders eventually gave up trying to deal with Bosco. They must have figured out that the problem was on the demand side. Don Bosco was just a willing supplier. The issue was that the women in WarazoJet could not help themselves falling for Don Bosco. They considered themselves lucky to be wooed by him. Of all men who have lived before, mighty Kings and prophets, the Bible recognizes one of them for his looks. The holy book says, “Now there was not a man in all Israel as handsome and highly praised as Absalom. From the sole of his foot to the top of his head, he did not have a single flaw.” Don Bosco was the Absalom of WarazoJet. Some villagers believed the creator took his time to mold him. Yet there has been another explanation to his good looks.

Two other people met twenty-five years before Don Bosco met Marie. An Italian Catholic priest named Father Mia Kefa got posted to the Catholic parish in our village. Father Mia Kefa was the last white man to live in our village after independence. No wonder he was somewhat of a fascination in WarazoJet. It is said that many villagers converted to Catholicism to attend the services he presided. At times in Latin.

Speaking of Latin, there was a funny story about how Father Mia Kefa earned his name. In reality, his real name was Father Pedro Matteo. There was an unexpected accident on the first day he presided over mass at WarazoJet Catholic church. An altar boy was so fascinated by his looks that he stumbled on the altar table and sent the Holy Communion tumbling on the floor. The congregation reacted in shock at the abomination. However, the priest quickly took the blame. In a quick reaction, he had uttered in Latin, “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” The Latin phrase translates to, “My fault, my fault, my most grievous fault.” Instead, the congregation heard Mia Kefa, Mia Kefa, Mia Mathima Kefa. That is how Father Pedro Matteo became Father Mia Kefa.

A few months after Father Mia Kefa posting, a real abomination occurred. The ordained priest fell in love with a local girl. Nonetheless, it was no ordinary girl. Mumbi was the most beautiful girl WarazoJet ever produced, probably up-to-date. She was tall with an hourglass figure that suggested she did not have a bad bone in her body. Her hair was midnight black, and she had sweeping eyelashes that framed her blossom soft lips. When she smiled, her angel-white teeth gleamed. In her prime, she won inter-village beauty contests back-to-back. At some point, other villages pulled out of the competition arguing that it was a futile exercise. Therefore, one cannot blame Father Mia Kefa for falling for Mumbi. It was bound to happen. In short, the priest had a love affair with Mumbi, which resulted in her pregnancy. At first, Father Mia Kefa denied responsibility for the pregnancy, but after nine months, even the Vatican admitted “illic est a forsit (there is a problem) in WarazoJet.

The baby born out of the affair was a mulatto. Also, the most beautiful baby that WarazoJet had produced. Two weeks after the birth of the baby boy, Rome recalled Father Mia Kefa. He left without saying goodbye, perhaps in a hurry to conceal the scandal. No other white priest has ever been posted to WarazoJet. That baby was Don Bosco. The mother must have settled for the most common Italian name. Now in her sixties, Mumbi still looks two months short of nineteen.

Don Bosco was a half-caste of an Italian and an African beauty queen. His chocolate brown skin, green eyes, and shoulder-length straight hair captured the eyes of many women in WarazoJet. More so, he was a biker. How he had come to acquire the most dazzling motorbike is still a puzzle. Most people believed the superbike was a gift from his Italian father, our priest. The bike was a Harley-Davidson Sportster. Don Bosco enjoyed going for epic rides holding the bike at an aggressive angle as the engine pistons fired at each revolution. Like a father-like son, Bosco amazed the village girls. He always wore fancy leather half-coats, eager to expose the eagle tattoos on his neck and arms.

Beyond being a biker, an art ambassador, and a master courtier, Don Bosco was the village photographer. In those days, hard copy photos were fashionable, and family albums a must-have. I warmly remember the Christmas photoshoots we took religiously. On a material day, we would dress up in our Sunday best clothing, smear ourselves with cooking oil, and shine bright like diamonds. Don Bosco was the designated cameraman. I suspect his Canon vintage film camera came as a gift from Father Mia Kefa.

Photography jobs were rare in between the holidays. Thus, Don Bosco became creative. He soon discovered that he could make money from whites by posing as a pop artist, photographer, and tour guide. There were three places he could find white people near WarazoJet. These spaces were at the British Army Barracks, Aberdare’s National Park, and the War Cemetery. On that fateful day, Don Bosco chanced upon Marie at the cemetery. On that occasion, he assumed the identity of a photographer and a tour guide. Bosco guided Marie to the cemetery and took photos of her at her grandfather’s grave. Something else happened. Don Bosco took Eden to his house in WarazoJet. We would later learn that she went there willingly, but Bosco kept her under duress.

Marie was declared a missing person two weeks after meeting Bosco. The British High Commission released a public notice in media outlets calling for information. A month after her disappearance, the diplomatic community criticized the national government for inaction. Then the British government called for a press conference and resolved to find Marie dead or alive. The foreign power pushed our government into action by threatening to deploy their security agencies in the country.

The frantic search had earlier on always ended at the war cemetery. Marie seemed to have disappeared in thin air from the scene. Our government extended the search to the neighboring localities. Posters were distributed and posted in all villages including WarazoJet. This move paid off for the government and one village girl. Her name is Ngima, and she was my schoolmate. Ngima solved the puzzle of the biggest search for a missing person in our nation. As a coincidence, Ngima had chanced upon Don Bosco and Marie on the day the two met. She remembered seeing Don Bosco with a white woman on his Harley Davidson. Upon seeing the poster of the missing British woman, Ngima had a recollection. She volunteered the information to our headteacher, who alerted the chief, and the information cascaded up the command chain.

On that day, our village played host to one of the biggest army raids I have ever seen. Well, army battalions did besiege WarazoJet a year later on a day that the elderly men in our village ran. That is a story for another day. An elite Special Forces unit conducted the raid at Don Bosco’s home. In the end, the soldiers arrested Don Bosco and rescued Marie. Accused and convicted for kidnapping, Bosco received a 30 years prison sentence. To date, he is still at Kamiti Maximum Prison.

A good thing did come out of the ordeal. Marie visited our primary school to appreciate the schoolgirl who led her to her rescue. In honor of Ngima, she promised two things. Today, if you visit WarazoJet primary school, you would find a big water tank built to harvest rainwater. Marie donated the funds to construct the tank. In so doing, she ended our slavery to years of child labor carrying water to school. On the stone tank is a silver plaque that reads, “In Loving Memory of Eden Cromwell.” The second promise benefited Ngima. Marie offered her an invitation to England with a full education scholarship upon completing her primary school education.

In December 2001, Ngima became the second person from WarazoJet to travel abroad. Our village organized a send-off party the week before her travel. The gathering was memorable for the speeches and the feasting. On that day, three speakers stood out for the very reason they had been included in the program. The first one was my uncle Kibe. Having worked at a tourist hotel on the Kenyan coast, he was considered a source of reference for European etiquette. Somehow he got high on his supply, having supplied the Muratina brew at the ceremony. Uncle Kibe’s speech was incoherent. Everyone knew he was drunk the minute he started talking.

“Ngima! If you ever attend a bucket, don’t walk while eating and don’t sit while you’re standing.” Uncle Kibe had said before the master of ceremony snatched the microphone.

Kimani spoke next. Having worked as a janitor at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, he was there to talk about airplanes. After all, Ngima was to have her maiden flight. Years later, when I took my first flight, I realized Kimani misinformed all of us. I recall Ngima asking what to do in case of motion sickness during the flight. Kimani advised that since the airplane cannot stop mid-air, the best action was to open the plane’s window and vomit outside. The last speaker was General Mugathe, the first person from WarazoJet to travel abroad. General Mugathe was a Field Marshal who had fought in the Second World War. Having fought in Europe, the event organizers thought it wise he shares how to live abroad. However, due to old age, the General had a stuttering disorder.

“Aaaaaa I! Waaaaaah waaaaas! Booboooo boboo booorn! Iiiiiii Iiiii In! Naaaa Naanaah Nineneteen twe twe twenty!” The General stammered.

At that instant, we realized his speech would never end. The master of the ceremony came to our aid, perhaps as eager to start the feasting part of the event. He humbly requested Ngima to visit General Mugathe for a lengthy one-on-one talk. The General was seemingly offended to be cut short, but all too happy to continue sipping his muratina. A week later, Ngima traveled to the United Kingdom where she eventually became a citizen. She comes visiting once in a while, and the villagers receive her like a goddess.

A vital vacancy arose in our village in 2017. Thuo, the administrator of our village WhatsApp group quit, to vie for the political seat of Member of County Assembly for WarazoJet Ward. He clinched the seat unopposed. Suddenly, WarazoJet WhatsApp group needed an admin. Just like Bibliophiles’ Lounge, joining our WhatsApp group is like gaining a pass to heaven. Firstly, the platform is the leading source of local news, some true, but mostly fake. It is usual for a member to falsely announce a villager is dead, only for the “dead” person to post red-face emojis, and the “killer” to demand an overdue debt. The group has the power to use death as a debt collection strategy. Secondly, the group is a medium for social mobilization. I remember we fundraised for Munuhe’s air ticket after “winning” the Green Card, only for him to be found selling clothes in the Gikomba market a year later. More so, members use the group to advertise products. Uncle Kibe even tried selling muratina to the local priest proposing it was cheaper than altar wine. For such reasons, the group admin is a demigod. He or she wields the power to include or banish a member of this community. There was a time when Thuo removed the village chief on account of previously delaying his national identity card. The chief had to beg for readmission.

I was among the two people who expressed their interest in the post of the new admin. My sole motivation was misplaced. I simply wanted the power to expel Mr. Kabue, the teacher who made my primary school days unbearable. To my surprise, Ngima also declared her interest. There was a charged campaign. My slogan was, “Posts You Can Believe In, and hers’ was Tried and Tested.” She cited her role as the Chairperson of the WarazoJet Diaspora community. Never mind that she is the only person in our village living in the diaspora. Her profile was convincing. It was like the power of an umbrella on a rainy day. She garnered ninety-nine percent of the votes. I refused to accept the outcome on the account of vote-rigging. Nderitu, the only person who voted for me posted a comforting message on the WhatsApp group before Ngima removed him.

“KaRuita! This is a grave matter, Accept and Move On. Your fate was sealed in 1941 when Eden Cromwell died in the Second World War.” The message read.

The Chameleon Apology

No village child should have to grow up without ever seeing a chameleon. I seize this opportunity to apologize to all the children in Warazo Jet. I am sorry for playing a part in the eradication of chameleons in our village. It was not deliberate, and I was a mere puppet in a grander scheme of things. Perhaps if I explain, you will understand.

Where do I begin? Growing up in the ’90s, the cardinal rule for all children was never talking to strangers. It was this law that I disregarded, setting in motion unforeseen events. On a particular day, our headteacher decided to send all students with fees arrears home. I had arrears and celebrated in naivety. Time out of school signified time to ride my bicycle and engage in mischief. As I cycled home in high spirits, a saloon car passed by and halted yards ahead. As I approached the vehicle, the driver rolled down the tinted window and addressed me.

“Young man! We are new here and require direction. Who is the best broker in this village?” He inquired.

I took time to examine him before answering. He was in the company of an equally middle-aged man. From their appearance, I could tell they were not from the neck of the hood. They were light-skinned, had curly hair, broad eyebrows, and sharp noses pointing to an Arabic descent. More so, they spoke with a perfect Swahili accent. I could not identify them, but I knew just the man they desired. “Follow me,” I said, cycling ahead with the car on my trail. Minutes later, we arrived at our homestead, and I introduced them to uncle Kibe.

There are three types of people, connectors, mavens, and salespersons. Connectors are contact databases, and mavens are subject experts and salespeople…well, salespersons are like uncle Kibe. My uncle possessed a rare gift. The ability to weave a story, convince people and sell anything. Had he utilized this gift wisely, he would have come to be a revered prophet like Jehovah Wanyonyi. Woefully, it would take time in prison and mass extinction of chameleons to prove his talent.

The meeting between my uncle and the strangers lasted for half an hour. Peeping from the house window, I watched the three rise from the bench under the Muiri tree. The men shook hands, indicating a deal had materialized. Then uncle Kibe rushed into the house full of excitement when the strangers left.

“You are right now looking at the new supplier of chameleons,” he declared.

“What?” The family members asked in unison.

At that time, uncle Kibe shared the strangest news I had ever received. According to him, the two men were business executives of a company called BioChem Technologies. The company was a research firm that developed human medicine. They had recently discovered that chameleon saliva had immunosuppressive effects on cancer cells. Notably, they were now sourcing for chameleons to undertake commercial production. Given our village’s proximity to the forest, they felt it was an ideal source for the reptiles. However, they preferred having a broker on the ground who would assist in sourcing for the animals. Uncle Kibe would be the middleman, and he received an order for 100 chameleons that week. Each at 500 shillings.

Uncle Kibe and I went hunting for chameleons the next day. A team of about ten youths extended the search with a promise of 250 shillings per chameleon. We soon discovered some things were hard to find, and a chameleon is one of them. After eight hours of bush beating and tree climbing, we had merely captured three chameleons. Keeping them alive was more tasking. Initially, my uncle insisted we nourish them with leaves, but they did not eat. Therefore, we settled on my idea of an insect meal, equally hard to trap. The get rich scheme was not as easy as we anticipated.

The business executives came back on the third day, much faster than expected. They seemed disappointed that we had only caught twelve chameleons. I was present when they paid uncle Kibe in cash. They retrieved six thousand shillings from a bundle of about one hundred thousand and left us salivating. On that occasion, they left, promising to return in two days. At that point, my uncle knew he had to wake up and work twice as hard.

The first thing we did to scale the chameleon business was strategic marketing. We made and posted posters around the village. The message was straightforward, “Chameleons Wanted Alive. Get paid 250 shillings for each Chameleon. Contact Kibe wa Kiguta.” That poster and word of mouth had the entire village abuzz with curiosity. The marketing worked. On the day that the business executives returned, we possessed 40 chameleons for delivery. They paid and left with the reptiles leaving behind amazed and inspired villagers.

The village had suddenly hit the jackpot. Two days later, one of the executives called Ayub returned and left with my uncle. Their destination was Nyeri town, where the company had a satellite office. Upon his return, uncle Kibe had news for the villagers. The company had revised the rules of operations to comply with “government” requirements. In the first place, the price of a chameleon had doubled to 1,000 shillings. Next, the company would only buy from registered suppliers. Any villager willing to supply chameleons had to register with 500 shillings to pre-qualify. Moreover, as the local representative, uncle Kibe would directly collect the chameleons and deliver them to the company every week. Lastly, the company would pay after delivery.

Only the first rule mattered to the villagers. The thought of receiving a thousand shillings for hawking a chameleon was astounding. A day after the new regulations, more than a thousand villagers registered as chameleon suppliers. Ayub oversaw the registration and issued each supplier an official paper card that read, “BioChem Technologies’ Verified Supplier.”

That week, chameleons became an endangered species. The entire village went berserk. Parents pulled children from school as search for chameleons demanded more workforce. There was a new song in the village.

“How many chameleons have you captured?” Villagers bench-marked with each other.

There was a rumor that some villagers chased away a yellow-billed hornbill for a hundred miles. The bird of prey was the only known chameleon predator. Before long, the numbers of the chameleons dwindled with each passing day. The chameleons had either disappeared or relocated from our natural habitat by the end of the week. Interesting, they became a domesticated animal. Some people kept them in chicken coops and others in customized cages. The unimaginative ones kept them roaming in their houses only to waste hours seeking for them.

I vividly recall that fateful Saturday when uncle Kibe delivered the first week’s supply of chameleons. I don’t think I will ever see as many chameleons, not in another lifetime. That day, we put over three hundred chameleons in a giant carton. The carton resembled a rainbow as the reptiles changed color like disco lights. Next, we loaded the package on my bicycle. As uncle Kibe cycled on for delivery, villagers cheered, unaware that the bubble had busted.

That evening, more than a hundred villagers camped at our home waiting for my uncle. Some were suppliers awaiting payment, but most were there to feed their curiosity. Uncle Kibe never showed up on that day nor the next. Eventually, he returned on the third day with a story.

“People, we need to talk. I wish there is an easy way to say this…” He hesitated.

“Kibe, don’t waste our time. Where are our chameleons?” A hostile villager shouted.

“We have been conned. There is no company called BioChem Technologies. This was monkey business, not a chameleon business. The swindlers were after our suppliers’ registration money.” Uncle Kibe delivered the shell-shocking news.

My uncle would go explaining how he found a vacant office upon getting to Nyeri town. He waited there for the entire day and the next day –still nothing. Upon investigating, he learned the two gentlemen were notorious conmen. Moreover, he was too embarrassed to report the case to law enforcers and returned home defeated.

Naturally, the news was not well received. The villagers did not know what to believe. In the end, the majority assumed my uncle was part of the scam. Ultimately, they issued a threat before exiting. My uncle had 24 hours to produce the money or the con-men, failure to which they would lynch him like a village thief. A thief was stripped in our village, put in a hive full of bees, and rolled down a hill as villagers cheered. Ordinarily, uncle Kibe felt cornered. He could not return the merchandise, having abandoned the chameleons in the town.

Always full of imagination, Uncle Kibe gathered the family for an emergency meeting. There amidst our kith and kin, he shared a solution.

“My people, there is only one safe hideout,” he said.

“Where?” We asked in curiosity.

“I will go to prison for a few months and return when things cool off,” he said.

That was the end of the matter. No one inquired how uncle Kibe planned to go to jail. An hour later, after eating and drinking a jug of Muratina brew, uncle Kibe was ready for jail. I fulfilled a crucial role in his escape to prison by ferrying him to the village police post with my bike. In amazement, I watched as he shouted all over the police post. When the police officers came out, Uncle Kibe lowered the national flag hoisted at the post. The next day he was arraigned in court for being drunk and disorderly and sentenced to 3 months in prison.

That same week, our village made national news. The leading newspaper featured a story titled, “Villagers conned half a million in a Chameleon Scam.”  The entire village felt ashamed. How could Kibe deliver them into the jaws of injustice and then pre-empt their justice? However, the scam soon dissipated as all human conditions. A month after getting out of jail, uncle Kibe bought the Volkswagen Beetle belonging to Tshibangu, the local tailor.

Today, the children of Warazo Jet complain of never seeing a chameleon. Then the villagers point at the Volkswagen and remark, “Kibe wa Kiguta drives all our chameleons.” Children, may you accept my chameleon apology. Never speak to strangers. Importantly, be very worried when someone commences a story with, we need to talk…”

Olelashe

Kenya is a hotspot of cultural diversity. There are more than 42 ethnic groups, all with a unique identity and set of traditions. Even though there are instances of inter-ethnic conflicts, diversity is part of our national heritage. Among the many tribes in Kenya, the Maasai people have gained international prominence for cultural preservation. The Maasai are primarily known for their distinctive dressing, love for livestock, and their bead-work. They are also locally acclaimed for their ability to make herbal medicine. There is a saying that a leap year comes faster than Maasai steps into a hospital. This story was born out of associated identity. 

In the wake of the new millennium, our village made national headlines for the wrong reasons. Once in a while, villagers would kill wild animals straying from the forest for game meat. Then there was a strange disease outbreak with symptoms like nausea, headaches, dizziness, short breath, chest pain, and swelling. The Centre for Disease Control moved in with haste, investigated, and declared that villagers feasted on a buffalo with anthrax. Those who had eaten or come into contact with the animal were hospitalized or quarantined. In the end, three graves remained a lasting warning.

The anthrax disaster put our village on the national radar. In the aftermath, different strangers appeared in our community. On a given Sunday afternoon, I was busy washing my bicycle in our home compound. I was too engrossed in my task that I didn’t notice a stranger walk in until he spoke.

“Ero! Why are you washing this thing? This thing cannot fly. Is this thing an airplane?” The stranger asked.

I looked at the gentleman and examined him head to toe. The man had long hair braided in a complex fashion and a headdress made of ostrich feathers. He had colorful beaded jewelry (shanga), including a necklace, earrings, and bracelets. Furthermore, he wore a checked red and black robe (shuka) with a sword fastened on the waist. On the feet, he had giant sandals (Akala) made of tire soles and strips. It was an amusing attire. I was still admiring when he spoke again.

Olelashe, my name is Ole Pakuo. I have come to sell medicine to you, but now that I see this thing, I have a business proposal,” he addressed me, pointing at my bike.

At that point, I noticed that he was carrying two five-liter plastic jerry cans. I was more interested in the business opportunity than the medicine he was hawking. I listened as he explained that the brown liquid was herbal medicine, a concoction of medicinal herbs. According to his claim, it could heal any disease by removing toxins from the body system. Significantly, he added that medicine would protect consumers from anthrax. The unique selling point was the affordable price. The selling price for half-a-cup of the drug was one hundred shillings. I did quick math and realized he had with him medicine worth eighty thousand shillings.

Olelashe, I will give you one thousand shillings if you transport me around the village with this thing and introduce me to the residents,” he proposed.

I wondered why he kept calling me Olelashe, yet I had not introduced myself. More so, I was irritated that he kept referring to my bike as a ‘thing.’

I do not shy away from business opportunities, so I embraced the proposal. However, I was not willing to sell any medicine I had not tried. Ole Pakuo gladly offered the concoction, which tasted more like salt-less soup. Then we mounted on the ‘thing’ and started hawking. The approach we used was consistent and replicable across homesteads. The exercise started with me ringing the bicycle bell to draw the homeowners out of their houses. Ole Pakuo would greet the customer in Maa by saying, ‘Sopa.’ He would then advertise the product. The marketing strategy was impressive; he sold fear before the drug.

“Did you know that half the people in the world die before their expected life expectancy? Do you know that diseases are the leading killer of the human race? Do you remember just the other day anthrax killed three people in this village? Half a cup of this medication will kill all the bacteria and viruses in your body. I guarantee you will not get sick for a year. The medicine is natural, made by boiling forty different medicinal herbs from the Maasai Savannah. I will not sell this medicine to you at five hundred; in fact, I will not sell it at two hundred. You look like a wise person, bring one hundred shillings and let the healing begin.”

The pitch was convincing and irresistible. Ole Pakuo would then instruct me, “Olelashe, pour some medicine for this customer who wants to live and grow old.” Each time a customer drunk the concoction, Ole Pakuo would jump and shout Sidai Oleng (all is well). The customers paid, and we left.

In the end, we ran out of the product after selling in fifty homesteads. The only place we did not sell was at the home of the church minister and Tshibangu. The former dismissed us on witchcraft while Tshibangu, the village tailor, kept his German Shepard dog unleashed day and night. Ole Pakuo kept his word. He reached into his robes and paid. 

Serenando (goodbye) Olelashe,” Ole Pakuo said and disappeared quietly.

My first stop was at the shopping center. It was time to reward myself –there was no better way than with a loaf of bread and one-liter soda. I felt sad to break my sparkling new bill. It was the first time I owned a one thousand shilling note. The shopkeeper received the banknote, scrutinized it, crumbled it, and threw it to my face. 

“Young man, don’t try me. I was handling money before you were born. Get that fake note out of here before I deal with you perpendicularly,” the shopkeeper warned.

I picked the bill in shock, inspected it, and realized it was missing the lion portrait watermark. How could Ole Pakuo defraud me after all that work? Unbowed, I jumped on my bike and started a man-hunt. I traversed all the major roads in the village, but Ole Pakuo was gone.

I did not share my encounter and loss at home. My family noticed the disturbance on my face but chose not to inquire. Their confirmation came in the middle of the night. It started like any other stomachache and transformed into the worst diarrhea. I spent the entire night making journeys to the toilet until I was dehydrated. The home remedies were not working, and my mother got worried. She kept asking what I ate, but all answers would end with the shame of being conned. I managed to find sleep at dusk though my peace did not last.

I woke up to a commotion. The arguments and counter-arguments informed me there was a riot in our compound. Having listened carefully, I heard people demanding to see Olelashe and Ole Pakuo. My mother kept insisting there were no such people at home. Then the crowd clarified they wanted me to produce Ole Pakuo. I got out of bed and stepped outside to make out what was happening. The group consisted of members of the families that bought the herbal medicine and the area chief.

“That is the Olelashe we are looking for,” they shouted the moment I appeared.

Then followed a bout of accusations, denial, and clarifications. I explained my encounter with Ole Pakuo, took responsibility for showing him around, denied anything about the medicine, and cried foul as a con victim. It turned out that every person who had taken the concoction ended up with severe diarrhea. Luckily, we all recovered after two days, just as the public health officer predicted. An investigation into the matter found that the medicine “washed” our body systems. Ole Pakuo had skipped how the concoction worked.

Nevertheless, the villagers got cautioned against taking unapproved drugs. Ole Pakuo never returned. I believe he was not a Maasai but a cunning entrepreneur. To date, the villagers still call me Olelashe. Ole Pakuo, wherever you are, I am always looking for you, not for the money, but to explain the meaning of Olelashe.

Chomoka na Prado

Bwana Musa aliamshwa ghafla na mlio wa simu yake ya rununu. Ingawa ilikuwa mchana, alikuwa amejilaza kitandani baada ya chakula cha mchana. Ujuzi wake kama mwalimu ulikuwa umemfunza kuwa mbiu ya mgambo ikilia kuna jambo. Alinyosha mkono wake kufikia ukingoni mwa meza iliyokuwa kando ya kitanda na kuanza kupapasa. Hatimaye, akashika simu mkononi na kuileta karibu na uso. Kama alivyotazamia ikawa ameupokea ujumbe mfupi. Alibonyeza simu na kufungua sanduku la ujumbe.

Lo! Mtima ulimfaza na damu kumpanda mithili ya mgonjwa wa kisukari. Maana yake ikawa ni ule ujumbe uliomkondolea macho. Macho akayafunga na kuyafungua tena kwa dhana kuwa alichokitazama kilikuwa ni kifunga macho. Musa alipiga yowe kama mwenye kicha na kumwita maulana.

“Alhamdulillahi! Kweli jua la bahati limenilenga ndipo leo,” akajisemea.

Huku akirejelea ujumbe ule wa simu, alisoma tena kwa sauti. “Mteja mpendwa wa mtandao wetu wa simu. Tuna furaha kukujulisha kuwa wewe ndie mshindi wa shindano letu la CHOMOKA NA PRADO wiki hii. Hongera. Tafadhali piga simu nambari 0700000000 uelekezwe jinsi utakavyo pokea zawadi hii. Hongera tena, na uendelee kutumia mtandao wetu wa simu.” Chini kabisa kukawa na kibwagizo cha mtandao kilichosoma “LINKCOM…taking you places.”

Aidha, Musa alijipata ameduwaa. Fahamu zilipomrudia, alizombwa na mawazo chungu mzima. Akajisemea kimoyo moyo, kweli wakati wa mungu ndio mwafaka, hakimbii na hachelewi. Bahati ile ilimpata akiwa na orodha ndefu ya mipango ya maisha. Mipango ambayo ingegharimu darahima. Darahima ambazo zilikuwa zinamkwepa kama mgonjwa wa ukoma. Musa alijiona kama mkulima aliyebahatika kupanda mmea uliochipua na kumzalia mazao kocho kocho.

Musa aliamka na kukimbilia mezani ungedhania amepokea taarifa ya kurejea kwa Yesu. Huko mezani, alielekwa moja kwa moja hadi kwenye kabati na kuanza kupekua pekua kama watoto marofa mapipani. Hatimaye akapata cha kumfaa na akajipa kiti. Mkononi mwake akawa amelishika gazeti huku akifungua kurasa baada ya kurasa. Haikupita muda akawa ameupata ukurasa alioutazamia. Kwenye ukurasa ule kulikuwa na tangazo maalum lililogharamiwa na mtandao wa LINKCOM. Tangazo lile lilikuwa na kichwa bayana ‘CHOMOKA NA PRADO.’ Musa alisoma kwa makini na kugundua kuwa kila mteja wa mtandao ule alikuwa na fursa sawa ya kujishindia gari aina ya Toyota Prado. Wateja walitakiwa kununua na kutumia kadi za mjazo ili kushiriki kwenye shindano. Kulikuwa na mshindi mmoja kila wiki, na shindano lilikuwa la kipindi cha miezi miwili.

“Basi! Mshindi wa wiki hii si mwingine ila ni mimi,” Musa akajipongeza.

Musa alionelea ni vyema ahakikishe ushindi wake. Akapiga simu kwa mtandao akitumia nambari ya simu aliyopewa. Simu ilipoanza kulia, Musa alipandwa na hamu huku jasho likimtirika usoni. Simu ililia kwa muda, lakini hakuna aliyeipokea. Haidhuru! Musa alikata na kupiga tena huku akijisemea kimoyo-moyo, “Woiye, chukueni tu.” Kilio chake kikasikika kwani mara hi, simu ilipokelewa.

“Karibu katika kitengo chetu cha mtandao wa LINKCOM, kwenye shindalo la Chomoka na Prado. Naongea na nani? Na nikusaidie aje?” Mwanadada akasema.

            “Mimi ni Musa…Musa Machozi. Nimechomoka na Prado. Namaanisha nimepata ujumbe wa simu kuwa mimi ndie mshindi wa wiki katika shindano lenyu. Je nitalipata aje gari langu?” Musa akajibu.

Dada yule alimtaarifia Musa kuwa kama aliupokea ule ujumbe, ilimaanisha kweli alikuwa mshindi. Isitoshe, alielekezwa kutarajia ujumbe mwingine uliokuwa na maagizo maalum. Kwa hayo, simu ikawa imekatwa na kumwacha Musa na furaha ya ajabu. Ungemwona, ungefikiria amepata hakikisho kuwa jina lake liko kwenye kitabu cha uzima wa milele. Punde ujumbe mfupi ulimfikia kwenye simu. Alifanya hima kusoma ili kutambua mbivu na mbichi. Alitakiwa kufika kwenye ofisi za mtandao mjini keshowe ili kuhudumiwa. Aidha, alipewa nambari ya simu aliyotakiwa kupiga pale afikapo nje ya ofisi zile ili kulakiwa. Kisha akajulishwa sharti abebe kitambulisho. Hima, alitoa mkoba na kuhakikisha kitambulisho kipo imara. Isitoshe, alisoma jina kuhakikisha kimeandikwa Musa Machozi Msafiri.

Musa aling’atuka kitini na kufululiza moja kwa moja hadi bafuni. Huko akayavulia maji nguo na kuoga. Alipokuwa akioga, akawa akiimba pia.

Leo ni leo,

Msema kesho ni mkwepa deni,

Nimechomoka na Prado,

Nimechomoka na Prado.

Uzuri, mke wake na wanawe walikuwa shambani, kwani wangetabasamu kusikia akiimba. Mtazamo wake ulikuwa wa kufurahisha. Baada ya kuoga, alielekea chumbani na kuvalia. Kisha akafunua blaketi kitandani na kuingiza mkono godoroni ambapo alitoa bunda la noti. Musa alihesabu zikafikia ishirini na nne kwa jumla. Zote zikawa elfu elfu. Alitoa nne na kurudisha zinginezo. Awali, Musa alitarajia kutumia zile pesa kulipia mwanawe karo pale shule zifunguliwapo. Pesa hizi zikawa zimepata matumizi ya kujihami kupokea ‘pesa.’Alizitia mfukoni, akatoka nyumbani na kuelekea madukani.

Ilikuwa ni mazoea ya wazee pale kijijini kukutana katika baa kula uhondo. Bwana Musa alifika pale na kuwapata wazee wenzake wakipiga soga. Maada ya siku ilikuwa uchaguzi ujao wa ngazi za chini. Musa alijiunga nao lakini leo alionekana kitendawili. Alikaa chini kwa heshima baada ya kuhakikisha kiti hakina vumbi. Baadaye, aliamrisha mhudumu aletee wazee wenzake sanduku mzima la pombe. Wazee wakampa macho huku wengine wakipiga mbinja. Pombe ilipoletwa, kimya kikatandaa! Hakuna aliyedhubutu kuguza pombe kabla ya kujua kisa na maana. Hatimaye, mzee mmoja akajitwika jukumu la kumuliza Musa maana ya mwelekeo mpya wa maisha.

“Bwana Musa, kwani umeingia Illuminati?” Mzee akauliza.

Haikuwa kawaida mle kijijini kuona mzee akionyesha ukarimu. Ingewezekanaje uzikingatia ugumu wa maisha juu ya kuzorota kwa uchumi? La hasha! Jambo kama lile lilishuhudiwa kitambo wakati wazee walipata malipo ya mazao ya korosho. Malipo ambayo kwa sasa yalibaki ahadi za hewa za wanasiasa. Musa alishika usukani na kupasua ngarimba. Aliongea kwa upole, uhakika, na ustadi wa kutamanika.

“Wazee wenzangu. Mnayemtazama hapa si Musa mnayemjua mbali ni Musa aliyebatizwa kwa upako wa darahima. Mimi sasa ni milionea. Mimi ni tajiri,” Musa akanena.

Wazee wenzake waliangua kicheko cha kusifika. Musa hakukejelika. Alichomoa simu na kumpatia mzee mmoja ajisomee ujumbe aliopokea.

“Haiya! Musa ameshinda Toyota ni Prado! Ameshinda, ameshinda,” mzee akapayuka-payuka.

Hamu iliwapanda wazee, kila mmoja akataka uhakikisho. Simu ikawa inapitishwa mkono hadi mwingine, mara tatu kwa kila mtu. Wazee walifurafia ushindi wake Musa. Walimpongeza kwa hali na mali huku wakiagiza pombe iongezwe, ingawa kwa deni. Walionelea kuwa Musa angewafaidi katika siku zijazo. Masikio kama macho hayana pazia. Taarifa ile ilipashwa haraka ikawa imeenea kote madukani kama moto wa pori. Watu wakanza kumiminika pale ungedhani wamekuja kutazama jogoo aliyetega yai la dhahabu. Kila aliyefika pale alimwamkua Musa kwa heshima, na mara Musa akawa amepata jina mpya, ‘mheshimiwa.’ Hili lilitokana na kuwa gari aina ya Toyota Prado lilionekana mle kijijini pale tu mbunge wa eneo alikuja kuomba kura kabla ya kutoweka. Kila aliyemsalimu Musa alikuwa na swali. Je ni kweli umeshinda gari la Prado ni Toyota?

Musa aliaga wazee wenzake ilipotimia saa tatu usiku. Vijana wakajitolea kumpa Musa ulinzi kinyume na tabia ya kuwahangaisha wanakijiji usiku. Leo walijitwika kazi mpya ya usalama kwa tumaini kuwa utajiri wa Musa ungewarehemu. Musa alipitia kwenye duka la nyama na kwa mara yake ya kwanza maishani, akanunua kilo tano za mnofu wa mbuzi. Vijana walimfikisha Musa nyumbani na kumuaga kwa heshima, “Lala salama mheshimiwa.” Mbwa wake Musa akachukuwa jukumu la ulinzi. Awali, mbwa wake angempokea kwa ukali, lakini leo, Musa hakurudi mkono mtupu.

Uvumi ulikuwa umeifikia familia ya Musa. Bibi yake alimpiga pambaja na kumvua koti. Musa alishtukia uwezo wa pesa kusisimua penzi lililoganda. Kinyume na msemo kuwa bahati ya mwenzio usiilalie mlango wazi, familia ya Musa ilifanya hivyo. Bahati ya Musa ilikuwa imewaletea mnofu. Mnofu ambao ulionekana mashambani wakati tu kuna sherehe. Sherehe amabazo zilifanyika kwa nadra. Baada ya chajio, Musa alitumana kakake mkubwa aje amuone. Mkubwa hatumwi ila leo alipokea hadi maagizo. Musa aliomba nduguye kushughulikia mikakati ya sherehe yake ambayo ingefanyika mtondo. La mno, aliagiza ng’ombe wake wa pekee wa maziwa achijwe awe chakula cha karamu. Alimpokeza nduguye elfu kumi kugharamia maandalizi.

Usiku ule, Musa hakupata usingizi kwa upesi. Alitumia muda mwingi akijenga kasri mawazoni. Musa alidhamiria kuliuza lile gari. Mamilioni ya pesa ambazo angezipata angezitumia kujenga jumba la kifahari la mawe na matofali. Pia, alitamani kununua ng’ombe wengi wa maziwa kupanua kilimo. Vile vile alionelea ni vyema ahamishie wanawe shule za kutajika, wasome, wafike hadi ng’ambo. Musa alidhani kuwa haungepita muda kabla hajajinunulia Prado. Isitoshe, alifikiria jinsi tadhima mpya ingefanya wengi wamfuate mle kijijini wakiomba mikopo. Hali kadhalika, alizombwa na mawazo ya kuchaguliwa kwenye nyadhifa mbali mbali. Wanakijiji walikuwa na mazoea ya kuchagua wenye mali kusimamia mali bila kujali tajriba.

Usingizi ulipomchukua, ndoto zikamwanzia. Kwenye ndoto Musa alijipata akigombea nyadhifa ya diwani. Wananchi walikuwa wamemshinikiza kujibwaga kwenye uringo wa siasa. Aidha kwa ushawishi wa pesa, wapiga kura walimchagua kwa wingi. Ikawa ni wakati wa kutangazwa kama diwani mpya.

Msimamizi wa uchaguzi akamuita, “Musa, Musa, Musa pokea sheti cha ushindi.”

Musa akaitikia, “Eh! Bwana.”

Musa alijipata akipokelea wito wa bibi yake aliyemjulisha ilikuwa macheo. Aliamka kwa uzembe ili kujitayarisha kufunga safari. Kwa mara ya kwanza, alilamikia godoro. Alidai tandiko limezeeka, na linamfinya mbavu. Aliapa kununua godoro la ng’ambo ati lililojazwa maji. Bibiye akacheka na kusema, “Haya bwana.” Baada ya kujianda, Musa alitoka huku akizindikizwa na nduguye hadi kwenye kituo cha magari.

Basi aliloabiri likawa limekwama pale kwenye stesheni kwa takribani saa moja. Dereva na kondakta walikataa kamwe kuondoka kabla viti tano vilivyobaki kupata abiria. Ghafla sauti ikasikika kwenye kiti cha nyuma ikisema, “Twende nitalipia hizo viti.” Salala! Abiria walishtuka. Vichwa vyote mle kwenye basi vikaegemea huko nyuma. Jamaa mmoja alikuwa amejiweka pale nyuma huku amevalia suti nyeusi na kofia. Kofia ambayo wengi waliibatiza Godpapa. Godpapa ambayo ilivaliwa sana na matajiri. Matajiri ambao walikuwa na uwezo wa kulipia viti tano. Jamaa yule alikuwa Musa Machozi. Basi likang’oa nanga na kuelekwa mjini. Kwa vile kiti kile cha nyuma hakikuwa na abiria mwingine, Musa alivua viatu, na kulala chali. Hakuna aliyedhubutu kumuamsha.

Kilele cha safari kikawa mji mkubwa wa Dar es Salaam. Musa alishuka basi na kuchukua teksi iliyompeleka hadi ofisi kuu za mtandao wa LINKCOM. Hapo alipiga simu nambari aliyopewa na kuagizwa asubiri nje ya jengo la ofisi. Wasaa mfupi baadaye, gari ndogo likafika pale na kuegezwa. Dereva aliyekuwa amevalia sharti rasmi ya kampuni ya LINKCOM akashuka. Alitembea hadi pale Musa alipokuwa amesimama na baada ya kumwamkua, akamuomba kufuatana naye hadi kwenye gari. Musa alisita na kusema alielewa wangeingia katika ofisi zile. Dereva alicheka kidogo, kisha akamwelezea kuwa ofisi za kitengo cha mashindano zililikuwa kando na ofisi kuu za mtandao. Maana yake, ilikuwa kuepuka kutatiza shughuli za kawaida za mtandao. Hakikisho hili lilimtia moyo Musa na akafuatana na dereva.

Baada ya kusafiri kwa muda wa dakika ishirini, Musa alijipata katika mtaa wa Maji Mazuri. Dereva aliegeza gari na kumjulisha Musa kuwa wamefika. Musa akashuka na kumfuata dereva pa mtima pa moyo wafanyavyo chungu wakienda kuhemere. Waliingia katika ofisi zilizokuwa kwenye jumba moja pale, na kulakiwa na dada aliejitambulisha kama karani. Mwanadada yule alipendeza sana. Uso wake ulimetameta kama shilingi ya dhahabu. Dada yule alipoongea, sauti yake nyororo ikamkumbusha Musa kuwa yeye ndie aliyepokea simu kudhibitisha ushindi.

Musa alijitambulisha kama mshindi wa shindano juma lile. Karani alimwacha kwenye chumba cha kupokea wageni na kuingia kwenye chumba kilichokuwa na maandishi “Meneja wa Mashindano.” Baada ya dakika tano, karani alitoka mle chumbani huku amebeba faili kubwa. Alimwelezea Musa asubiri aonane na meneja kwani alikuwa akishughulikia jambo la dharura. Karani alirudi kwenye deski yake, naye Musa akaendelea kukaa kwenye kochi la wageni. Kwenye meza kando na kochi, kulikuwa na magazeti ya siku ile na jarida za mtandao wa LINKCOM. Alichukua gazeti moja na kuanza kujifahamisha na yaliyomo.

Karani alimwelekeza Musa kuingia kwenye ofisi ya meneja baada ya dakika ishirini. Hata hivyo, Musa hakusikia karani akiwasiliana na meneja. Musa aliamka pole pole, akabisha mlango, na kuingia kwenye ofisi ya meneja. Meneja alikuwa kijana sana kinyume na matarajio ya Musa.

“Aah! Bwana Musa. Karibu sana ndugu. Kumbe wewe ndiye mshindi wetu wa juma!” Meneja akasema kwa tabasamu.

Heshima aliyotunukiwa Musa ilimwondolea hofu. Kwenye kuta za ofisi ile kulikuwa kumewekwa mabango kocho kocho ya shindano la Chomoka na Prado. Meneja aliomba kuona kitambulisho. Kisha akamtupia macho Musa, labda kulinganisha uso na picha ya kitambuslisho. Hatimaye alitoa fomu kadha na kumpokeza Musa. Meneja aliomba Musa kujaza maswali yaliyokuwa kwenye fomu. Fomu ya kwanza ilikuwa na maswali ya kibinafsi kama jina rasmi, tarehe ya kuzaliwa, pahali anapoishi, kazi anayofanya, na mshahara anaopokea. Musa alijaza yote yale kwa umakini. Kisha alitakiwa atie sahihi kwenye fomu ya pili ili kukubali kupokezwa zawadi. Alipokuwa akitia sahihi, alijipata akicheka. Nani, isipokuwa mwenda wazimu angekataa kupokea zawadi ile?

Meneja alipiga simu na kumwita karani. Aliamuru Musa apelekwe kwenye chumba cha picha. Musa hakukaribisha maswali. Alifuata karani hadi kwenye chumba chenye mataa makubwa ya stima. Kijana mmoja alifika pale huku amebeba kamera. Karani akaelekeza Musa kusimama karibu na ukuta uliorembeshwa na mabango ya shindano. Musa alitengeneza koti lake, akatabasamu, na kupigwa picha. Baadaye, Musa alielezewa kuwa picha ile ingechapishwa katika gazeti.

Musa alirejea kwenye ofisi ya meneja. Akilini, wazo la hadithi yake na picha kuonekana kote nchini lilimtia wazimu. Jina Musa Machozi Msafiri kuchapishwa kwenye gazeti pengine kando na jina la Baba wa Taifa. Sifa ilo aje? Meneja alijitwika mzigo wa kuelezea kanuni za kupokea zawadi. Mtaka cha mvunguni, sharti ainame. Musa alishtukia kuskia alitakiwa kulipia gharama kadha. Kwanza, alitakiwa kulipa elfu thelathini kama malipo ya kutoa gari bandarini. Pili, angetoa elfu tano kugharamia hati za umiliki. Meneja alikatiza orodha na kumwambia Musa alikuwa na nafasi ya kujichagulia nambari za gari. Bila kusita, Musa akasema bora ziwe na herufi ‘TBZ.’ Meneja alipotaka kufahamu sababu ya chaguo lile, Musa alielezea kuwa ‘TBZ’ iliashiria ‘Tajirika Bila Jasho.’ Usemi huu ulimchekesha sana meneja. Aliendelea kutaja chaji ya mwisho ikiwa ile ya bima ya gari yapata elfu ishirini na moja. Kwa jumla, Musa alilazimika kulipa elfu hamsini na sita ili kukabidhiwa gari.

Swala la malipo lilimtia Musa wasiwasi. Hapo meneja akamkumbusha kuwa dhamani ya zawadi yake ilikuwa milioni saba nukta nne. Hivyo, Musa angerudisha pesa zake kwa asilimia elfu kadha wa kadha. Isitoshe, akapata nafasi ya kutazama gari lile kwenye tarakirishi ya meneja. Mwishowe, meneja alimuliza Musa alicho lenga kufanyia lile gari. Musa alifichua nia yake ya kuuza lile gari na kutumia malipo kujinua kimaisha. Aliwazia hakuwa na uwezo wa kutunza gari la kifahari. Mafuta ya taa ilikuwa inamshinda, sembuse petroli? Kwa hili, meneja alijitolea kumsaidia. Alimwelezea kuwa ofisi jirani ilikuwa ya madalali wa magari.

Musa aliandamana na meneja hadi kwenye ofisi ya madalali iliyoitwa ‘Connector Car Dealers.’ Pale walipata kijana aliyevalia suti iliomfanya aonekane mzuri. Meneja akajipa wajibu wa kuelezea walichokifuata pale. Dalali alifurahia nafasi ya kufanya biashara na Musa. Matokeo ya mazungumzo yao yakawa ni mafikiano ya dalali kulinunua lile gari kwa milioni sita nukta tisa. Musa angepokea hudi ya malipo baada ya kuchukua gari na kumkabidhi dalali. Waliporejea kwenye ofisi ya Shindano, Musa aliomba kufika kwenye benki kutoa fedha alizotakiwa kulipa. Hapo, meneja akaonelea kumrahisishia kibarua. Meneja alielezea ilikuwa vyema afuatane na dereva wa kampuni hadi kwenye benki na kumkabidhi dereva zile pesa. Musa alitakiwa kufika kwenye ofisi zile kesho asubuhi kupokea zawadi yake.

Kwa sudi njema, Musa alikuwa amepokea mkopo wa shirika la walimu. Alinuia kutumia mkopo ule wa shilingi elfu sabini kuanzisha biashara. Hivi sasa alionelea ilikuwa vyema atumie zile pesa kulipia gharama za zawadi. Basi, alipofika kwenye benki hakusita kutoa elfu hamsini na sita kwa shuguli ile. Alifikiria jinsi kesho yake angerudi pale kustakabadhi mamilioni ya pesa. Siku ile hadi meneja wa benki angeomba kuonana naye. Baada ya kumpokeza dereva zile pesa, Musa alitafuta hoteli na kukodi chumba cha kulala. Jioni ile, Musa alifika kwenye chumba cha maamkuli cha hoteli. Kama dhibitisho la ujasisri wake, Musa aliagiza chakula bila kuangalia orodha ya chakula. Pesa hazikuwa shida, shida ilikuwa ni matumizi. Kawaida angeitisha ugali na matumbo, lakini leo, aliitisha kuku na biryani. Alikula na kurejea chumbani mwake, akalala kama tajiri.

Musa aliamka asubuhi na mapema kujitayarisha. Hii ilikuwa siku muhimu maishani mwake. Siku ambayo ambayo angeupungia umaskini mkono wa buriani. Alichukua teksi hadi mtaa wa Maji Mazuri zilizokuwa ofisi za kitengo cha mashindamo ya LINKCOM. Pale alishuka na baada ya kulipa dereva, akatembea hadi kwenye jumba la ofisi. Musa alishtukia kupata mlango wa ofisi umetilia kufuli kubwa. Wazo la kwanza likawa kuwa amewasili mapema kabla ofisi kufunguliwa. Alipokuwa amesimama pale, wazo la pili likamjia. Akakaribia dirisha ya ofisi na kuchungulia mle ndani. Lo! Karibu azimie. Alichokiona kilifanya mtima wake usimame kwa muda na mate kumwishia kinywani. Hakukuwa na kitu chochote mle ofisini; sio kiti wala karatasi. Ofisi ilikuwa imefagiliwa kabisa. Musa alirudi nyuma hatua ishirini na kulitazama lile jumba kwa makini. Alifanya hivyo kuhakikisha hakuwa amepotea njia. Akiwa pale alivutiwa na kijikaratasi kilichokuwa kimewekwa kwenye mlango wa ofisi ya ‘Connector Car Dealers.’ Alikaribia pale na kusoma, “Ofisi Huru za Kukodishwa.” Kando yake kulikuwa na nambari mbili za mpangishaji. Musa alitupa macho mle ofisini na akapata pia hakukuwa na chochote. Alitoa simu na kupiga nambari aliyokuwa akiwasiliana nayo na kitengo cha shindano.

“Samahani! Mteja wa nambari uliyopiga, hapatikani kwa sasa,” simu ikawa inalia kila apigapo.

Ghafla, ukweli wa mambo ukampiga Musa kama radi. Je, huenda ametapeliwa? Kuna uwezekano wamechomoka na Prado? Maswali haya yalimtatiza, nguvu zikamwishia na akaketi kitako nje ya zile ofisi. Aliingiwa na kitapo huku moyo ukidunda dunda mithili ya kinanda. Alikata shauri sharuti pawe na hitalafu ya aina yake. Je, kuna uwezekano kitengo cha shindano kimehamishwa hadi ofisi kuu za mtandao? Musa alichomoka pale haraka, punde akasimamisha teksi na kuelekea kwenye ofisi kuu za LINKCOM.

Taharuki ilitandaa katika makao makuu ya mtandao wa LINKCOM. Jamaa mmoja alikuwa amefika pale ofisini akihema na kufoka maneno yasioeleweka. Isitoshe, mteja yule alikataa kamwe kupanga foleni na kukamia ahudumie kwa dharura. Mshangao ulizidi pale bwana yule alipoanza kuzomea mhudumu akisisitiza wanamchezea mchezo mbaya. Mhudumu alimwomba mteja kushusha mori na kujielezea kwa upole. Hapo, bwana yule alijitambulisha kama Musa Machozi na kuelezea yote yaliyomjiri toka kushinda shindano la Chomoka na Prado. Mhudumu alimtupia Musa macho ya tuhuma kisha akamwelezea ukweli wa mambo.

“Bwana Musa umetapeliwa,” mhudumu akanena.

Ah! Musa alimaka. Mhudumu alielezea kuwa mshindi wa shindano wa wiki hakuwa ametangazwa. Kisha mtandao wa LINKCOM haukuwa na ofisi zingine kwani shughuli zote za kampuni zilifanyika chini ya paa moja. Isitoshe hawakuwa wanamgharimu mshindi hata senti moja. Musa alipigwa na bumbuazi. Alitamani ardhi ipasuke na akhera kummeza mzima mzima aepuke kashfa. Alijipata akikariri, “Walahi wamechomoka na Prado, wamechomoka na Prado.” Nguvu zikamwishia, dunia ikageuka chini, akazirai.

Musa alijipata amelazwa kwenye kochi alipopata fahamu. Dada mmoja alikuwa akimpepea kumpa hewa safi. Alianza kumfariji akisema asife moyo kwani yaliyompata sio mwisho wa dunia. Ati kuteleza sio kuanguka. Musa alionelea heri kuteleza kuliko kukatwa miguu. Alihuzunika kufahamu jinsi alikuwa ameishi kwenye ndoto ya ujinga. Sasa alibaki maskini hohe hahe, hana hanani. Mkopo aliotazamia ungemfaidi ulikuwa umesaidia matapeli.

Baada ya furaha ni karaha, nazo hufuatana kama misimu. Musa alijipata katika stesheni ya polisi akiripoti yaliyompata. Lililomshangaza likawa kusikia yeye alikuwa mtu wa tatu ile wiki kuripoti ametapeliwa kwa mbinu ile ile. Hatimaye alitakiwa kungonja polisi wafanye uchunguzi. Kwa sababu hiyo, aliomba dua mkono wa serikali uwe mrefu iwezekanavyo. Hata hivyo, alielewa vyema kuwa ilikuwa nadra sana polisi kukamilisha uchunguzi wowote. Afisa mmoja alimwaga kwa msemo, “Mzee chunga, teknolojia kama sime hukata kwa pande zote mbili.”

Usiku wa kuamkia safari ya kurudi kijijini, Musa aliketi kitandani usiku kucha. Alihuzunika kwani badala ya mamilioni mfukoni alikuwa na hadithi ya mamilioni. Musa aliwaza na kuwazua, “Siwezi kula wala kulala, na wala siwezi kuzuia mikono yangu isitetemeke. Pindi kutakapokucha, nitaondoka mahali hapa.” Alfajiri, akafunga safari ya kurudi nyumbani. Aliposhuka gari, alikata shauri kufika nyumbani liwe liwalo, ingawa alishindwa jinsi ya kufafanua yaliyomfika. Kisa chake kilishinda habari za mauti.

Kama alivyotazamia, alipokaribia kutia wayo nyumbani, finjo na nderemo zilitandaa kote hewani. Wanakijiji wakawa wamemngoja zaidi ya malkia wa uingereza. Habari zilipoenea kuwa amewasiri, unyendi ukazidi kupaa ungedhani ni uwanja wa mpira. Fauka ya hayo, walimu wenzake wakawa wametayarisha kikundi cha densi cha wanafunzi. Watoto waliovalishwa sare za shule walipangwa kwenye foleni mbili huku Musa akipita katikati. La zaidi, akina mama wakatoa leso zao na kuzitandika kama mkeka Musa asikanyange vumbi.

“Papapa! Karibu! Papapa! Mheshimiwa,” wanakijiji walishangilia.

Wakati ule, ukweli wa mambo ukawa ukimkandamiza Musa. Alifikiria jinsi angefurahia kama angerudi akiwa mshindi. Musa alishtukia ameinuliwa juu na vijana wenye misuli na kubebwa hobela hobela hadi kwenye jukwa. Pale jukwani aliketi kwenye kiti cha mamlaka na kutupia macho umati. Alimaka kuona jinsi watu wengi walikuwa wamejitokeza kwenye shamra shamra. Watu walionekana wakiinua shingo kadri wawezavyo kujionea tajiri mpya wa kijiji. Kakake Musa akashika usukani kama kiongozi wa sherehe na kuanza hotuba.

“Wangwana wenzangu, karibuni sana. Tutafungua sherehe kwa mamkuli. Naomba msijifunge kula kwani tunacho chakula cha kutosha adinasi wote. Kama ishara ya ukarimu, Musa amewachinjia ng’ombe.”

Musa alikuwa amesahau amri aliyoitoa ng’ombe wake wa pekee achinjwe. Mara moja alihisi kisulisuli kikimrejea, akafungua kinywa chake na kutamka, “Woi ng’ombe!” Pu! Akawa ameanguka kwa kiti chake cha heshima na kuzirai.

Beyond the Bet

An Imaginative continuation of The Bet by Anton Chekhov

The courtroom was full to the brim. People from all walks of life turned up to witness the landmark ruling of an atypical case. The case gained public popularity due to its peculiarity rather than the thirst for justice. It was hard to believe that what began an absurd social experiment ended with murder most foul. The moment they had all been waiting for arrived. Silence engulfed the courtroom when the judge called upon the defendant to arise and receive the judgment. A silence so loud that the men and women present could hear their pulsating heartbeats. Most of those present were there to feed their curiosity—the audacity to say that they were there when it happened.

This case was a matter of life and death for the accused. A respectable banker reduced to a man of fate. The banker rose to his feet slowly as if he could slow down the hands of time by so doing. Then he faced the judge. Their eyes locked momentarily, separated only by sweeping emotions. The elderly judge kept his head bowed by the weight of public interest. It was as if he was afraid to lean back and face the court audience, fearing his eyes would betray his conscience. With his head draped in a woolly wig and bent beneath a hint of hesitation, he finally read the verdict. “This court finds you guilty as charged for the count of first-degree murder and hereby sentences you to death. May God have mercy upon your soul.”

In a flash moment, the burden of justice shifted from the judge to the accused. The shock of the verdict seemed to affect all present. Some gasped, others stared, but the accused appeared devastated. The hammer of justice isolated him as an example to break the anomie. This reality hit the banker harder than a sledgehammer. Immediately, he slumped on his chair, unsure of his emotions. The ruling seemed to affect his body fluids. A tear trickled down his visage, and sweat dripped along the spinal cord. It was by grace that he controlled his bladder. Shell shocked, the banker’s mind retraced the memory of how he got himself in a mess. The bet took center stage no matter the start point and irrespective of the path.

Two months after the self-imprisoned lawyer abandoned the social experiment, the banker made an imprudent decision. The banker decided to destroy the last remaining piece of evidence of the bet. This act resulted from the conviction that the lawyer had disappeared from the face of the earth. On a fateful day, the banker removed the lawyer’s letter from the fireproof safe and threw it into the hearth. As the fire consumed the letter, and the paper crumbled into ashes, he acknowledged the lawyer’s perspective that nothing lasts on earth. The accomplishment educed emotions of satisfaction, relief, and guilt. Little did he know that rather than rebuild his life, he succeeded in burning it to ashes. How he wished he could reverse the chemical reaction and its ensuing repercussions.

Three days after burning the letter, the banker received a visit from the state police. The police officers ransacked his house without an explanation. Hours later, and without any tangible evidence, the officers led the banker to a police station and detained him. It was only during interrogation that the banker learned of his crime. In the middle of a tiny room, he faced the accusation of murdering a forty-year-old lawyer—the same lawyer who had spent fifteen years locked in his lodge for the bet.

Hunters discovered the body of the lawyer in a log cabin isolated in a forest. The men were looking for shelter when they chanced upon the log cabin. Having knocked without a response and alarmed by a foul smell, they investigated and discovered the lawyer’s body hanging from the roof. Doctors later confirmed that the man had been dead for a week before the discovery. At first, the cause of death appeared to be suicide. Then the police found the only tangible evidence that ruled out suicide for homicide. That piece of evidence would later connect the banker to the death and help convict him.

There was an unfinished manuscript on a table next to the hanging body. The title of the manuscript was Vanity. The police established that the lawyer authored the manuscript. However, only the first chapter of the script was complete. In this chapter titled “The Bet”, the lawyer explained his encounter with the banker and their bet. More so, the lawyer expressed his motivation as materialism and egoistic intellectualism. The title of the second chapter of the manuscript was “The Social Experiment.” In it, the lawyer started to explain the experience of his self-imprisonment at the lodge. However, this second chapter was incomplete. The state prosecution would peg their homicide case using this minor detail. In essence, the prosecution argued that the deceased left no suicide note nor completed his manuscript. These two details did not indicate the state of mind of a man in a hurry to exit this world.

In the trial, the state prosecuted the motive with a resounding conviction. The theory was that the banker murdered the lawyer to evade paying the two million bet reward. In the courtroom, witnesses from the party held fifteen years earlier recounted the two men’s agreement. The court determined that the lawyer had won the bet, having stayed in isolation for the agreed period. A burden of proof fell to the banker to show he indeed made the payment. The banker could not provide proof of payment or substantiate the claim that the lawyer recounted the reward. Moreover, the bankers’ declining estate and increasing debts did not help his case. In the end, the court pronounced itself on the matter, finding him guilty as charged.

Twenty-eight days after the sentencing, the banker woke up to his last day on earth. Indeed when this world is done with you, even the heavens conspire against you. How else could he explain that his execution month happened to be the February after a leap year? Ten years earlier, the legislature had passed a law fixing the execution of death penalties exactly a month after sentencing. The politicians argued there was no need to fatten a ram that would not benefit any ceremony. Back then, the banker welcomed the new law with a cocktail party. Amidst a horde of seasoned politicians, he proposed a toast. “Gentlemen! I once said that capital punishment kills a man at once, but lifelong imprisonment kills him slowly. This new law supports my humane perspective. Raise your glasses, and let’s toast to life is for the living.” Flash forward, and the banker was about to find out that the law is an ass.

There was a prison custom called the dead man’s feast. On the day of any execution, the inmate received a sumptuous meal. That fateful morning, the banker walked into the prison dining hall to a rousing welcome. Fellow convicts rose to their feet immediately he stepped into the room. Then the jailbirds started clicking their metallic cups using a spoon in a choreographed fashion. The musical performance went on until the banker reached the lone table set in the middle of the hall. At that moment, the prisoners sat down, leaving the banker standing to fulfill the final ritual christened The Last Word.

In this ritual, a death row inmate got a chance to make a final speech. The banker gazed at his fellow convicts with warm eyes. Sadness and gratefulness overwhelmed him. Sad that beyond the tag felons, these were sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers whose pursuit for freedom culminated with a loss of freedom. “No one is truly free,” he thought to himself. Nevertheless, grateful that these men convicted of inhumanity had expressed their solidarity with him. What else could a man want in this life beyond the assurance that fellow humans saw him? To matter is the greatest pursuit in this world, and the fear of missing out is the mother of all fears. Encouraged by the men, the banker shared his last word. “In the end, I have arrived at two truths. Firstly, I realize that in the face of certain death, only time matters. Secondly, capital punishment is a travesty of justice because the victim and the perpetrator end up dead, and justice is for the living.” Then he sat down for his dead man’s feast.

Later that day, at exactly quarter to noon, the prison wardens came for the banker. “It is time,” one guard said with a wry smile. The banker stepped out of the cell and followed the officers like a sheep to the abattoir. Do not be fooled that it is easier for a man to walk to his death in full cognizance. A short distance ahead and his feet failed him. It was as if all his energy had evaporated. This occurrence was not new to the guards, and they stepped in, lending the man support towards his omega. The brief journey terminated at the prison’s backyard. In front of the raised gallows, the chief warden, a judge, an orthodox priest, and a doctor sat in a neat row. The guards pushed the banker up the gallows hurriedly and forcefully.

The convict looked at his executioners in a grief-stricken face. Hoping to elucidate pity, he saw not a flinch of emotions in the men. To them, he was another check box to tick in the pursuit of payslips. Then the orthodox priest stood, raised the crucifix off his chest, and pointed it to the convict. At last, he made the final proclamation, “may God have mercy upon your soul.” At that point, the hangman hooded the banker and tightened the noose around the neck. There was darkness before the darkness. The trap-door below opened and his body dangled by the rope.

It is hard to explain how the banker felt. Everything happened so fast, yet it felt like an eternity as the man immersed in an outer and inner struggle. The pain at the neck was so cramping that his lips tasted like pepper. More so, he experienced bowel and urinary incontinence all at once. The banker gasped for air to no avail. In split seconds, he slid in and out of consciousness. Like a time traveler, his mind sauntered through his childhood and adult life. The warmth of caring parents and the sadness of losing them during teenage-hood. The exhilaration of marriage and the pain of childlessness. The pride of an illustrious career and the annoyance of jealous colleagues. A thrill of an egocentric bet and the regret of wasting wealth through gambling, not forgetting the relief of the lawyer’s renunciation. In the end, none of those feelings ever lasted, and now nothing mattered. All in life is vanity.

At the brink of unconsciousness, the unthinkable happened. Suddenly, the hanging rope broke, and the bankers’ body tumbled to the ground. Amidst the confusion of the bizarre occurrence, the judge pronounced himself. “Let the state records show that we hung the man, the rope broke, and per our law, he stands exonerated if he survived.”

Congo Daddy

What do you want to become when you grow up? No child can escape that question at school and away. My childhood friend Paulo wanted to be the Pope, Mbogo, a Walker Texas Ranger, and Nderitu, a Sinbad-the-Sailor. The children in my locality dreamt of occupations in which our village had never produced a professional. Thus, you can imagine the confusion whenever I answered, “I will become a Sapeur when I grow up.” I chose that career because no one sought a clarification –for fear of appearing ignorant- and because I knew such a person.

In our village, we had Tshibangu, the village tailor, and the Sapeur of Warazo Jet. Tshibangu had resettled in Kenya as a refugee from DRC Congo. All my life, I have never met a man with a sense of fashion like Tshibangu. The gentleman wore distinctive polished suits complete with silk ties or cotton bowties and bowler hats. Tshibangu did not shy away from color, and the village kids learned the rainbow colors from his clothes. More so, he imported all his suits, and they were as many as the days of a month. The first time I saw cobra skin boots and pigskin leather shoes, it was on Tshibangu’s feet –his love for animals was unique. My fascination with his style led me into his tailoring shop. There as he operated his Singer sewing machine, he shared the secrets.

“I am a Sapeur. We are a community of rare men who adopt and advance contemporary fashion as the sharpest dressers in our societies. Sapeurs are defined by their colorful, expensive, and elegant dress code influenced by the evolution of European fashion. Majority of Sapeurs live in Congo Brazzaville and Kinshasa, hence the term Congo Dandies. I decided to set base in Warazo Jet as the local fashion ambassador,” Tshibangu explained.

There was a rumor that he spent 5,000 dollars after winning a national lottery on a pair of leather shoes. They were so expensive that he decided to buy a car to avoid stepping on the soiled ground. That is how he bought a Volkswagen Beetle that he labeled the “Congo Dandy” on the rear body. Wherever the car went, village children would run after it shouting, “Dandy, Dandy, Dandy,” and you would turn around if you were a father.

I asked Tshibangu if I could become a Sapeur, and he explained the process. According to him, there were three significant ingredients in Sapeurism. Someone had to work on their confidence to dress and walk as if they were a work of art. Two, a Sapeur had to own a lot of impressive clothes. Lastly, one had to learn the art of fashion, like matching colors and attires. In the end, Tshibangu offered to help me become a Congo Dandy.

I spent most of my school holiday at Tshibangu’s tailoring shop. Though he shared many lessons about personal grooming, I realized that he was exploiting me for child labor. I became the shop assistant running errands such as clothes delivery. More so, he had poor eyesight and relied on me to put threads through needles. This painstaking task later earned me a beating from Ms. Flora, my class teacher, on account of winking at her –yet I had developed a habit of closing one eye. Tshibangu was an excellent Sapeur but a lousy tailor. The only reasons he retained customers were because of his fashion and the absence of competition. In many cases, he would argue with clients over delays, misplaced clothes, and shoddy work. I learned this from personal experience. 

Months after declaring my intention to become a Sapeur, I had a shot at owning an elegant suit. My mother decided to finance my fashion desire to appreciate my usefulness with home chores. I discussed with Tshibangu, and upon his advice, I commissioned a maroon three-piece suit. I still recall my excitement as he took measurements. Two months later, after back and forth arguments over the delay, Tshibangu finished making the outfit. However, I was upset to see the unveiled product. The coat was maroon, and the trouser was brown, yet Tshibangu insisted they were the same color. I suspect he settled for brown trousers after running out of maroon fabric. I stormed out of the shop in contempt.

“Tshibangu, you are a fake Sapeur. How can you be a tailor and color blind? Choose a struggle! This is not over,” I yelled.

That marked the end of our short-lived relationship. A week after my warning, a weird incident took place at Tshibangu’s homestead. The Sapeur woke up one day and found someone had vandalized his Volkswagen Beetle. The windshield wipers were missing, tires deflated, and a mixture of soil and water poured into the fuel tank. Villagers alleged it was village boys’ work, but I suspected one of the tailors’ disgruntled customers. However, Tshibangu assumed it was my way of revenge for the mishandled suit.

I discovered Tshibangu’s assumption of my revenge in the most unusual manner. Immediately after the damage, the Sapeur ordered a German shepherd dog from the city. The dog was so ferocious that the mixed breed dogs in the village stayed at home. I had developed a habit of meeting Muso, my village girlfriend, on their farm, during evenings. I would sneak into the compound, and we would spend time chatting under an avocado tree. One evening, I was cycling home after meeting her and passed outside Tshibangu’s residence. In a calculated move, his dog chased after me for almost a mile.

“Kolia Mbote! Kolia Mbote!” Tshibangu cheered bon appetite in Lingala.

My bicycle saved me. We did not see eye to eye with Tshibangu for a long time. Until one day, I helped him push his Congo Dandy, stuck in the mud. As he offered me a ride, he said, “A Sapeurs’ greatest talent is the ability to mix and match attires.” This reassurance was not factual; villagers reminded me the suit did not match.

“Cheer up! WarazoJet is big enough for two Sapeurs,” Tshibangu said. I was no longer interested. In the course of the short drive, I now wanted to become a driver. My career choice continued changing as I grew up. I now realize that the ultimate profession is a product of dreams shaped by social and environmental variables. More so, every change in career choice has a story worth telling.

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