Often Nderitu thought about Alex the Director’s son and wondered what he was doing all by himself in the big house. It had to be lonely not to be able to go outside and play like a normal child. It was the price of being an expatriate's son; settling down away from one's native land. None of the other boys seemed to know about the existence of Alex and so Nderitu said nothing.
But one Saturday and unable to control his curiosity, Nderitu decided to take a chance and see how his friend was doing. The time was two in the afternoon and Nderitu knew exactly where the Director was. He was in the office as usual, digging through paperwork and making calls to donors. Nderitu walked past the office and took a hard left towards the Director’s house. The closer he got the more tense he became and his courage almost failed him. The white Peugeot the Director owned was missing from the parking spot and could only mean that the house was empty. Nevertheless Nderitu walked around the beautiful homestead and stepped onto the green backyard.
There was something serene about this backyard. He had felt it the last time but now he studied it. A cool breeze rustled the trees and birds sang in a manner that drew attention. Nderitu saw the water fountain and bird feeding trays hanging on branches. Unlike the rest of the orphanage where birds were hunted for sport, the birds here were bathed and fed in what looked like paradise.
He felt the eyes on him as he was watching the weaver birds playing in the water. Nderitu turned and saw the little white boy sitting on a yellow bike leaning against a wall. The two boys locked eyes for a moment and neither smiled.
“You came back,” Alex said in a curious voice. “I didn’t think you would come back.” It was a question.
Nderiitu took a step forward. “You are my new friend. Why wouldn’t I come back?”
The boy got off the BMW bike and pushed it forward. “Everybody is afraid of my father. Nobody ever comes here and when they do, they can’t wait to get out. Even the adults are scared of him. My dad has no friends.”
Nderitu grimaced at these sad words. “Your dad pinched my ears the other day. But I was in the wrong and can't blame him. I don't think he's a bad man.”
“He’s an idealist, my Father,” Alex said. “At least that’s what people call him. He left his country and came to Africa to make a difference. He can get carried away sometimes listening to his own voice, that's what mum says.”
“I know what you mean,” Nderitu chuckled. “His word is the law and that’s why people fear him.”
The two boys were standing next to each other. They were the same height although Nderitu looked stronger. “My father has never touched me,” Alex said. “My mum would never let him.”
The image of Mr. Christopher afraid of his wife flashed through Nderitu’s mind in a surreal kind of way. He blinked and erased the image, his eyes fully devouring the BMW bike. “Can I have a try?”
“Do you know how to?”
“No. I’ve never seen a bike so beautiful before.”
Alex helped him up and showed him where to place his legs. “I will push you, and all you have to do is peddle. Don’t stop and don’t fall into the flowers.”
Nderitu giggled as the bike started moving. He peddled hard and the bike moved too fast. A rush of hot blood washed over his body and he was thrilled like never before. Alex ran after him and caught him just as he was about to fall. “You did good John. Try again and don't go too fast!”
He did. He tried again and again and couldn’t get enough of it. Finally, Alex said he had to go inside. Bike time was over. He seemed to live his life through an impressive schedule and Nderitu thought it confining. Nderitu was about to say goodbye when the boy invited him in.
“I can’t…” he said in a scared voice.
“Just for a minute and then you can go. Let me give you something to drink.”
That did it, because he was thirsty. The entrance through the backyard was a sliding door that opened into a sitting room. The beige carpet was thick, and matched well with the white couches. The house was heavily perfumed, with colourful pictures on the walls. Growing up in a mud hut, Nderitu had never seen anything so fancy and warm.
While Nderitu stared at the TV, Alex went into the kitchen to fix him a drink. The TV was coloured and the pictures were really pretty. The TV in the hall that the boys watched was black and white and very small.
The sound of soft footsteps coming from the bedroom made Nderitu suddenly tense. He looked up just as a white girl stepped into the room. "Hi," the girl said with a wave.
"Hi," Nderitu replied, staring. The girl wore a white dress and was slightly shorter than him. Her long hair looked brown and shiny and cascaded down her back. She walked with a raised neck and never dropped her eyes, almost like she had been taught how to.
"My name is Caroline," she said as she sunk on the couch.
"Nderitu. I'm Alex's friend." He felt excited by her presence in a funny kind of way and found himself wondering whether he was well dressed.
"I'm his friend too," the girl said with a smile.
Nderitu had seen white girls before, but always from a distance. Caroline was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen and he thought she looked like a cute doll. There was a slight language barrier but kids always had a way of getting around that, and Nderitu's English classes were beginning to pay off.
Alex chose the moment to return with a glass of cold orange juice. "I see you have met my friend Caroline. We go to school together and sometimes she stays with me until her parents find time to get her."
"May dad is a doctor at the hospital in Nyeri," Caroline said. "What does your dad do?"
The orange juice tasted different from what was offered in the mess. The flavour was rich in nutrients and had very little water, and Nderitu loved it. "My father is dead," he said and that was the end of that conversation.
“Come on, sit and finish your drink,” Alex invited, patting a spot on the carpet.
“I shouldn’t…” Nderitu said.
Caroline slid on the carpet and smiled at the African boy. Her face was white like someone who had never worked in the sun.
“Come on,” Caroline insisted, using one hand to push her brown hair away from her face. “Have you ever seen the cartoon Tom and Jerry?”
Alex played with the remote, changing channels and Nderitu thought him a genius. The cartoon started and the three children sat down on the carpet, their faces close to the screen. Nderitu was sat on the far right near the sliding door with Caroline between the two boys. She smelled like flowers and Nderitu realised that the smell was coming from her hair. The cartoon was awesome. Tom was a hopeless cat who was always outmaneuvered by Jerry the mouse…in a hilarious kind of way. The three children laughed until tears fell down their faces. When it was over, Nderitu glanced at Alex and was glad to be there. “That was funny Alex.”
“Wasn’t it?” Alex said. “Thanks for being my friend John. I hope you will come often.”
Nderitu sighed happily and smiled at Caroline. If only the world was like this every day. "Are you from the same country as Alex?"
"No." A bulb lit in Caroline's face. "I'm from America." There was pride there, in the voice and the face.
"This America ...," Nderitu said slowly trying to find the right words. "Is there peace in America?"
"Oh yes," she said. "My dad says that America is fighting to help other smaller countries fight against big countries like Russia. He says that one day we will rule the world."
Alex wasn't smiling. "War is immoral. I don't like it. Killing people is wrong regardless of how you look at it."
A moment of silence passed and Caroline moved closer to the African boy. She touched his face and then his hair, as though inspecting him. "Your face is soft, but your hair is tough. You want to touch mine?" He nodded, unable to speak and she guided his hand to her hair. It was soft and silky and Nderitu wanted to touch it for a long time.
"Do you have a girlfriend?" Caroline suddenly asked and Nderitu's eyes popped.
"N...no." He could feel her eyes on his face and didn't dare to look at her.
"I think you are handsome," Caroline said. "I mean, not like the boys in my school, but in a masculine kind of way. You don't touch your hair all the time like Alex."
Alex chuckled but said nothing.
"Do you want to be my boyfriend?" Caroline's boldness caught Nderitu by surprise and he finally looked up. His eyes moved up from the white dress, to her soft lips and then her eyes. She smiled and turned to face him.
"Y...yes," Nderitu said. "But I don't know how."
"It’s easy," Caroline said with a giggle. "We have to kiss and make it official. And then you can't have another girlfriend and I can't have another boyfriend."
"Oh, I didn't know that." Nderitu stared at her lips and felt a rising panic. This feeling inside his body was strange to him and brought forth perspiration on his forehead. He was excited and afraid at the same time. He had never thought it possible for a black person to have a white girlfriend. Nobody had forbidden or tried it, and it was mostly an implied rule in the society.
Caroline suddenly leaned forward and pursed her lips. Nderitu started shaking as he leaned forward to kiss her. Beside them Alex watched with a lot of interest.
The children were so preoccupied that they did not hear the front door open. Nderitu felt a shadow behind him and started trembling. Slowly, he turned and looked up. He saw the huge man standing there, hands on his waist, an angry face through reading glasses.
“What are you doing here?” Mr. Christopher yelled.
Nderitu didn’t wait. With the agility of a gazelle, he leaped through the sliding door and ran around the building. He thought he heard Alex yell his name but didn’t stop; he couldn’t say goodbye. Mr. Christopher had set boundaries and he had just crossed them. No native boy had ever set foot in the Director’s home until now.
When Nderitu arrived near the front side of the house, the little boy stopped running and started walking fast. His whole body was shaking and his heart thudded dangerously against his chest. A smile crossed his face and suddenly he started laughing. It had been a close call. Mr. Christopher would have pulled out his ears.
The time was 4pm. Nderitu was about to walk past the office when he saw three boys standing in his way. He stopped and recognized one of them. “Oh hi Kamandu,” he greeted.
The bigger boy didn’t reply and instead walked over and looked down at Nderitu. “You look like you are in a hurry Nderitu. Where are you coming from?”
Nderitu was about to tell the truth when he realized that he couldn’t. Mr. Christopher had brought the soldiers to the orphanage and was therefore the enemy. The boys couldn’t know that he had crossed into enemy territory.
“I was just enjoying a walk. I’m rushing back to my room to get ready for supper.”
Kamandu lowered his face and studied the younger boy. “I think that’s the first time you have lied to me Nderitu. Why?”
“Maybe he’s hiding something?” One of the other boys said.
Nderitu tensed and decided to keep quiet. He wasn’t a good liar and couldn’t trust himself not to get caught.
Kamandu narrowed his eyes at Nderitu. “What do you want in life Nderitu? Do you know?”
“What? Yes.” He hesitated, caught unawares by the question. At the age of sixteen, Kamandu was a natural born leader and loved the power of control over the other boys. He copied most of his words from the black and white movies the boys watched on the TV in the hall. “I want a lot," Nderitu said thoughtfully. He knew the answer Kamandu was looking for and decided to pander the older boy. "I want more than this orphanage can give. I want to see Jomo Kenyatta walk free. I want my old life back, with my family… full of love. I want my father alive.”
A sad smile crossed Kamandu’s face. “Then only you can make that happen. You must fight for what you believe in… for the people you love.”
Nderitu understood what he was saying. Kamandu was talking about freedom and Nderitu's place in the struggle. “I hate the killings,” Nderitu said with a sigh. “But I will fight if I have to.”
Kamandu nodded and moved out of the way. “There’s a storm coming Nderitu. Make sure you catch the wind, otherwise you will drown. Do you understand what am saying?”
Nderitu nodded but didn’t look Kamandu in the eye. “I understand.” And with those words, he walked away, grateful that his secret was intact.
He thought about Alex that night in bed and wondered about the white boy’s life. Surrounded by cartoons and new bikes, did he understand the depth of hatred and numbness around him? Probably not. He thought about Caroline, beautiful and bold, and wished he had kissed her. He tried to imagine how that would have felt like, his first kiss. He prayed to see her again and officially make her his girlfriend.
Off to AFRICA
My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.
The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen
Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...