Four O’clock Tea

She held the tray in her hand calmly as she walked into the room.

Five men were seated a midst her boss, ranting on carelessly about the current state of affairs in the country. They were politicians you see, and they were among the best in the country.

This was not the first time she saw such dignitaries in this home. She was in her sixth year of service in this home. She remembered how the madam was patient with her in her first year of service. Fresh from the countryside, she believed sugar was added to tea when cooking and not according to people’s portions. She also believed that food that would be boiled for long hours would be done under firewood and not the gas. She did not see the need to use aprons, or change her work attire everyday, it was all a waste. But the madam saw potential in her and was patient with her.

Now it was hard to imagine Naomi was the same person. She woke up at five thirty and performed her tasks with ease. She knew the boss loved his Daily Nation on the top left of the dining table, and all other papers after. She knew he loved boiled eggs with coffee and toasted bread; the bread had to be toasted once he sat on the table, he loved it hot.

Naomi knew the madam would have tea first once she got home. She knew the madam always soaked her feet in warm water every Thursday at seven o’clock in the evening. She knew madam loved  a compliment on Sunday’s before leaving leaving for church, it was after all, the day she would show off her latest attire to her less fortunate friends.

Yes, knowing all this made Naomi efficient at her work, and thus the longest serving maid in this house hold. And she was happy with her job, and the person she had become.

But today was different. Her boss was discussing very serious issues in regards to the country. The state of security was terrible in the country and there was a new plan of action brewing. Her boss said the government was not doing enough to protect it’s people, his ally laughed saying the people themselves did nothing to protect themselves. He said there were whispers, there were people gaining more with the current state than if people were protected. Why, some large organizations were more than happy to sponsor terrorism, and there were rumors that the government itself used these so called ‘terrorists’ to tests out their new warfare equipment on the citizens, just so to determine their impact.

Two of the big men were shaking their heads in disbelief. Another said he was not happy with the current state, but his security firm had never experienced such profits with the current state. He said he understood the tyranny of numbers but he hoped something could be done to reduce the violence.

“How many sugars sir?” Naomi asked the guests, politely interrupting the conversation.

“One, thank you,” said one man as he shifted back to the conversation.

Her boss was excited by the talk, you could see the gleam in his eyes, like this was going to be his big break to make a change in the country. Naomi always thought he was a wise man and a good leader, she wished nothing but the best for him.

She picked up her tray and exited the room to leave the men debating. From the look of things, these men would stay on for supper. She picked up the kitchen phone and called the madam upstairs to inquire what to cook for supper. She sounded busy, probably winding up on her speech for the women’s conference.

She wanted fish with a hearty vegetable side and rice. Naomi nodded and put the receiver down. She walked to the fridge and took out the vegetable in order to prepare them. Then she remembered Sara, the new maid who had joined a month ago. Madam had put Sara under Naomi’s care, she was to teach the girl how things were run. She thought this would be a good time to show her how madam loved the vegetables steamed.

But the girl was not in the kitchen. She walked into Sara’s room only to find her bags and belongings gone. Startled, she rushed to the gate to find out from the watchman if Sara had left. He said she had not come near the gate the entire day. At that same time, the gardener approached them with a long sheet tied to a rope. He said he found the rope by the back wall, it was as if someone was trying to make an escape.

Naomi was very confused now. Suddenly, a huge cry came from the house. They all ran to the house to find out what had happened. The five men stood in the living room making frantic calls. Madam was on the floor clenching the boss’s lifeless body. He had been poisoned they said.

Naomi was in shock. It couldn’t be, just a few minutes back she had served them all tea, she left them talking about the current state of security. She had left the kitchen with the tea prepared by Sara, and in less than an hour, the boss was dead!

“You!”shouted one of them men pointing at Naomi, “You did this. You served him tea and he died! We were all to die, only that we opted for coffee! Askari!”He shouted facing the soldier. “Detain this woman until the police come!”

“But I…”Naomi said as she was dragged away. “Madam, madam! You have to tell them I am innocent, I would never harm you nor the boss, madam!”

But her cries fell on deaf ears as she got dragged into one of the stores.

Soon, Naomi would understand how bad the state of security was in the country.

The common mwananchi

Harry loosened his tie as he sat on the park bench. The sun was high up and getting hotter with each passing minute. From his Tusky’s paper bag he removed his lunch; milk and bread.

Tuskys Supermarket had realized having a bakery within their stores would entice people to buy bread. Every time he passed by one these stores with his daughter, she’d squeeze his hand tightly and beg him to buy that bread instead of Kenblest which was more affordable.

Harry was an office messenger. He had been one since he cleared his high school education and came to leave with his uncle in the city. He had been his uncle’s houseboy for two months before getting the promotion to a messenger boy with Barclay Bank. It had since been twelve years and he had a wife and a daughter to feed.

He bit on to the bread and savored the taste. That bread tasted so good. He couldn’t help but smile.

A street boy taller than him passed by with a sack full of plastic containers. He was sniffing glue.

“Niaje buda….”he said standing in front of Harry. “Niaje hako kaloaf angalau…”

“Get out of here!”he hissed grabbing his bread tighter than ever. He was afraid but he would not show it.

“Sawa buda…”said the street boy smiling. “You’re the people who deserve your outfits painted. Buda…next time, next time, me I’ll paint your suit.”

“Toka hapa!”he shouted reaching for a stone on the ground.

The street boy laughed and sniffed his glue, slowly walking away like he had no fear.

Harry shook his head in anger. A man seated at the opposite bench looked at him and smiled.

“Don’t mind them,”he said.”They are used to the hard life.”

“Aren’t we all?”Harry responded. “But you’ll never hear us threaten others with fecal matter if we don’t get what we want.”

The man chuckled and grabbed his paper.

Harry looked at his bread as emotions swept over him. That boy was somebody’s son. Maybe he ran away, maybe he went mad after a bad ordeal, maybe he was born in the streets, maybe, just maybe he wanted a decent meal for one day.

And here he was, with a roof over his head, with a loving family and enough money to buy more bread if he wanted. He felt guilty and angry. Angry that his pride would not call the boy back for the bread.

His pride had cost him a great deal today, he thought. Twelve years of service of service down the drain simply because he felt too proud to move files to the storage room.

He remembered that morning well. He got to work at eight as usual and did his usual rounds from desk to desk, collecting all letters and documents that needed delivery. He picked madam Wario’s food order as well since she gave him a tip afterwards. By eleven, he was back at the bank. Maria had been waiting for him. She said she wanted some files moved up the stairs to the last office, and she wanted it done immediately.

Now Maria had joined the company a month ago, as an intern. She was young enough to be his daughter if he had started a family earlier. And yet, here she was barking orders like she owned the office. Mr. Waiganjo, the Director never even addressed him like that. And nobody ever gave him such kind of work without paying him.

He said no. He said he would not carry those files unless he was paid. She said he was absurd. He laughed and moved to the coffee room. Samira the coffee girl quickly joined him saying Maria had run into Waiganjo’s office with a fit going on. He was told she was his niece…from there on he knew he was in trouble.

He pressed on the envelope in his pocket. He had fourteen thousand shillings with him. His last pay and a proof of twelve years.

He took off his tie now and stood up.

He had a long walk home. He had to go and tell his wife the sad news that they were moving back to the country side.

Utu

As Valentine sat in the dark, against a corner of the attic, she realized she had hit rock bottom.

Only yesterday, her worst fear had been missing out on a promotion, her boyfriend leaving her and maybe, her family disowning her. Yesterday she had normal people problems and she missed them dearly.

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Three months ago she had moved to the capital to make a life of herself. She had a job as a receptionist at a law firm on the good side of town. It paid well enough to cater for a middle class life, while at the same time paying her sister’s school fee.

Joshua was doing well himself. He was an accountant with the National Bank. He had a government job, which most people craved. The working hours were few, the allowances better than the salaries, not to mention the deals that went on in the company.

Yesterday she had told him that she was two months pregnant. He had smiled at her happy at the news, but she could see the worry in his eyes. Would her leave her or ask her to procure an abortion? They were after all, only twenty one. A baby would complicate their plans of travelling the country before settling down into marriage life…she knew he was thinking all this through and could not decide if the child was a blessing or curse.

But she said nothing. She looked at him and smiled back, pretending not to see the doubt on his face. She knew she had to be strong for both of them, especially during these times.

The country was ongoing a revolution. Three years back they had attained independence from the British. After eroding on common enemy, the country had started turning their hate on each other. The Kikuyu, her tribe, had taken over power, and with it, most of the lands.

The other communities felt sidelined and of late, the rallies on hate speech had become more frequent. It was then Joshua had advised her never to introduce herself with her maiden for her own safety. It had been easy for her, nobody asked for her second name. From the dark color of her skin, they all assumed she was Kalenjin.

Her Joshua was however predominantly Kikuyu. From his use of r’s more than l’s, to his forehead and his complexion, he was clearly visible.

She clearly remembers a day out dancing when she was cornered in the bathroom by a group of women. They called her a gold digger after Kikuyu money. They reminded her that her culture was filthy, and that Kikuyu’s were superior. They said all this cornering her, and in Kikuyu. They reminded her that Kikuyu was the second informal national language and she had to respect their superiority.

After that ordeal, she asked Joshua to go home immediately, she did not feel safe in her own country.

When the tragedy started last night, she feared for her life. Her father had called her around eleven o’clock at night. He told her to hide, that the killings had begun. The Luos and Kalenjins were killing Kikuyu’s, sending a message to the government that they could not control the masses.

 Then Julia, her Kamba colleague called her. She was worried for her she said. Veronica had called to say that their boss had been killed in his home, with his wife and children. She was home alone, her husband was not yet back. She asked Val to seek refuge at her home, and that she could bring Joshua.

Joshua picked her with a taxi and they drove off to Julia’s. 

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On arrival, Julia welcomed them, with fear in her heart. Her husband was still out, and there were no mobile phones at this time.

“Not to worry my dear, I’m sure he’s fine.”

With that, the women went into the kitchen to make some tea.

Within a few minutes, they heard a group of men walk into the compound laughing loudly. Julia was relived as she heard her husband’s voice in the crowd.

As she walked into the living room to welcome him, she was stopped dead in her tracks by the look on his face upon seeing Joshua in his living room. 

“What is this man doing here?”he asked as his friends looked on. They were holding pangas and had blood stained hands.

“Honey…”she said with fear in her voice. “This is my cousin Mutisya. He heard of the killing sand came here to seek refuge.”

He laughed facing Joshua. “So you are Kamba, eh?”

“Ye, yes,”Whispered Joshua with fear in his heart.

“Your ID, give it to me,”he said moving closing to Joshua.

“Wilberforce, there really is no need-“

“Silence woman!”He shouted full of anger and hate. “I shall not be the man who betrays my community. The Kikuyu’s may be close to your tribe, but remember you married a Luo. You are either for us or against us!”

With that, Julia watched helplessly as Joshua was dragged outside to meet his fate.

Julia quickly rushed into the kitchen for her dear friend who was now hiding in the kitchen store.

She quickly took her upstairs and hit her in the roof. They could hear the cries outside as the men beat him up while calling him names. Valentine wanted to go out and save him but Julia reminded her that she was outnumbered, that it was better to save one life than none at all.

“But your husband, he’s a murderer!” she cried out with tears in her eyes.

Julia sighed. “Yes Valentine, I know that. But I can’t do anything about it now. In the end, justice shall prevail. Please, help me make one thing right by hiding.”

No sooner had she agreed to hide than did the man come back, happy, with smiles on their faces. They asked for cold beers.

“Tomorrow we strike again, and the day after, and the one after that, until the government is shared equally among our people. More blood shall be shed, and no life spared!”

Valentine sat in the attic, listening to them speak, refusing to sleep, refusing that Joshua had just been killed outside while she hid like a coward. She refused to believe that she was hiding for her life, a fugitive in her own country.

She woke up to the sound of the radio playing Papa Wemba’s music. A night had passed and she was alive, hidden in a cold dark attic.

It was just yesterday she had normal people problems.

 

 

 

 

Gone.

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It was a cold winter night. Leaves brushed on the ground, moving with the wind. The streets were well lit, but deserted. There was a night curfew you see. The country was in a state of unrest, with the new regime things had changed. In a struggle to state their authority, and with citizens resisting it, there had been many deaths, and stories, terrible stories of rebels who called themselves the government. Rebels who hijacked people in the streets at night, and others from their homes. They took them to places, and did things to them, terrible things…then in the morning, their bodies were left in the streets for the town people to collect and mourn. They served as an example, and so far, resistance to the new government had subsided.

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A figure was seen hovering near the dark. It was a girl, moving briskly. She had a scarf covering her head and a long jacket hiding her from the cold. She looked from side to side before crossing the road to a dark corner. One could tell she was young, no older than seventeen. From her attire, she was from a well off family. Probably raised well enough to know she should not be out this late.

But she did not care. She knew the risks she was taking on, but there was no other way of seeing him. She had feigned a headache and asked to go to bed early, then, under her parent’s watchful eyes, snuck out the window to go see Michael.

Her heart raced. she could feel the blood in her teeth, and the beating of her heart was louder than her surroundings. In her head, this no longer seemed like a good idea. She should have just stayed home….

“Psst, Julie, I’m here,” whispered a voice from the dark corner. She felt relieved! He was not late at all.

She walked towards him happily and embraced him happily. It had been two weeks since they saw each other. Two weeks since schools were no longer safe, two weeks since she had been out of the house. Luckily their help knew Michael, so when he passed on the letter, she had received it without her parents knowledge.

In his arms she told him how much she had missed him, how the political unrest scared her; how her father was planning to escape from the country, with all of them. And how, sadly, he would know. How they would all know what they had done in the dark. She told him it was time for them to be adults and accept responsibility for what they had done. She told him that father would be angry at first but he would accept him, them, their baby. And he would go with them; It was his chance to start afresh, away from a regime that oppressed and tortured the innocent. It would be hard, but it was a fresh start.

Michael held her, all the while listening to her. He smiled at her, nodded at everything she said, but in his heart, he disagreed with her wholly. He wondered what she would do if she knew. Knew that he was with her for a reason greater than love. You see, she was the daughter of a very powerful man, a man who knew what the government planned and said before it was done. And he always carried his work home, talked about work with his family. And his daughter, young, naive, and not knowing the power in the knowledge she had, always spoke about him, and what the government said.

The rebellion knew that she was fond of him. They knew it would be a matter of time before they overthrew the government, but they needed to know what was brewing. And so they used Michael. And he, with the promise of a good life for his family when they took power, bought the flowers, chocolate and said what needed to be said to earn her trust, love and words.

Now that the rebellion was in power, they no longer needed her. And her she was, in his arms, telling him that a baby was on the way. And she wanted him to leave everything he had worked so hard for. Leave his mother, his family, the rebellion…for a baby borne out of lies. A child that carried half the blood of the oppressing government.

Julie felt the grip on her neck tighten. She was afraid now. She knew what was happening, but she did not understand why. He was her life and soul,she did not understand what went wrong. She could not understand why he, of all people would want her dead. As she took her last breathe, all she could see was his face, filled with hate. His eye, focused on her, did not blink. They had hate in them. She heard him whisper a good bye before she shut her eyes completely, never to open them again.

Michael stood up, still looking at her body. She was dead. A loss for the government meant a victory for the rebellion. He had done the right thing.

He peered out the streets to confirm there was no patrol car passing by. He then went back, picked up the girl’s body and dragged it onto the road.

By dawn, there would be more bodies lined up next to hers. Nobody would ever question why she was dead.

And he, walking away smiling, would be a free man.

Misery.

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Men and women filled the bar. Commotion, smoke and mixed conversations filled the air, somewhat blending with the music. Most were merry, celebrating the completed elections, which many considered free and fair.

Mike sat by the counter sipping on his beer slowly, contemplating how things turned out. Never in his dreams had he thought that his candidate would lose. He was very bitter, and the celebratory crowds did little to soothe his pain. Nevertheless, it was better than going home to a soothing wife. Betty could be a nag. He knew she secretly supported the opposing team, and with every consolation she gave him, deep down she was glad her candidate, her ‘person’ had won.

He was interrupted from his thoughts when a very drunk man shoved him as he tried to regain his balance, knocking his beer down. This was what he needed, he thought to himself, this man would know who was in charge here…

“Ah, brother,”slurred the drunk man holding Mike by the shoulder. “I…I am very sorry about that, you see…my balance, my balance is a bit wanting after the celebrations,eh? You know what, to…to apologize for this little incident, let me get you a beer to forget it all, eh?”

The man, still with his hand on Mike’s shoulder, surveyed the room, looking for a waiter. “Eh, waiter, waiter! Give this man here four beers, cold ones, and quickly! I…I want to see them here before I blink again!” He said laughing.

“Again, I’m so sorry my good man. I am…” the man’s talk was distracted by a woman dressed provocatively passing by, who just winked at him.”Well brother, enjoy the beers, I…I have more pressing matters to attend to. And celebrate, we have a new president. Hey…hey, madam!you over there…” he trailed off as his voice got lost in the crowd.

Mike looked at the man in disgust as he disappeared into the crowd. He was barbaric, but on the other hand, he got him three extra beers…

He took off his coat and sat on his stool once more. He wondered why people were so jovial when, all along they knew, they knew the elections had been rigged!

He could hear a group of young men and women seated nearby discussing how the new president won. He did have the majority ethnic tribes on his side, it was obvious that he would win. They praised him, saying that the country would now be in good hands, be in hands that were accustomed to money, that corruption would now cease and that there would be better chances for all to a better life.

He smiled at their stupidity! Money is what gave that man power to win. He had bribed his way to the top. And as soon as he took those vows, he would start paying back his debts. He would take care of those that helped him first. This would be worse than tribalism, it would be nepotism. Bribes on the other hand would have doubled, he had after all, set the bar high enough, meaning that the normal citizen, such as himself, would suffer in the hands of the wealthy.

He wondered if those celebrating knew what it meant, all of them, as a nation, were going to face harsher times ahead.

He wondered how life would be if his candidate had won. Peace would prevail. And the man’s dream was great, maybe too great for this nation. They would have definitely grown to a nation to reckon with.

But then again, maybe he was as biased as they were. Maybe he was too fixated on his candidate winning that he never saw the benefits they could reap from the winning candidate. Maybe he had let the dark cloud of his ‘person’ blind him so greatly that he did not see the vision, the dream of his contender was greater than his candidates.

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Maybe, he mused, sipping on his beer. But either way, like a little child, he stayed rigid and grumpy, and he decided, all on his  own, that the elections were not fair, simply because he was unhappy.