Chapter 11

 

 

Renegades

 

            Being in a new town could be stressful, confusing, intimidating and exciting at the same time. Nderitu followed Kamandu and Patrick as they strolled through Amka Town, although his mind was still with Claire. It had been a perfect night with her - the long conversations, the soft of her sound soothing the night.

            They had slept in the living room, with Claire on the couch and Nderitu on the floor. Claire had woken up early and prepared a lovely breakfast of eggs, bread and tea. Waking up to the smell of fried eggs and Claire's bright smile had been heaven on earth. Nderitu had left her in his apartment and invited her to stay for as long as she wanted until her parents returned from Nairobi. She would leave the key under the door mat for when Nderitu returned from Mr. Ferguson's ranch.

            "When will I see you again?" she had asked.

            "I'm not sure Claire. Kamandu is still working on the schedule." It would be a while, but he couldn't say that. There was so much to do at the ranch.

            "Take this Bible with you then," Claire had said. "Read it, and always remember that you are strongest when you are weakest."

            "How's that?" He frowned.

            "Most people call for God's help when they are weak. With God for us, who can be against us?"

            He had broken into a smile at her words. "That is really good."

            The Bible was in his coat pocket next to the pack of cigarettes. It had appeared mysteriously in her hand, like...like a weapon. And that's how Claire had explained it. The Bible was her weapon against the unseen enemy. It was a book full of scribles and highlights of great passages. Like Corrinthians 5:17, Claire had said, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old is gone, the new is here!" It was Claire's dream for him and Nderitu felt ambivalent about the whole religion issue.

            Patrick pointed out a tiny post office and all the men laughed. It was but a room that could barely fit a man inside; a joke compared to the huge post office in Nairobi. They walked past an array of shops owned by Indians and a few by wealthy Africans. Fish and Chips restaurants dotted every corner of the town. Fried Chips as a meal was cheap enough for the locals to afford as a mid-day meal, especially so because the people of Amka Town grew their own potatoes.

            Familiarizing themselves with the city was important for the men, but making friends was not. Led by Kamandu, the three men walked through a dusty market with grim expressions on their faces. Nobody knew who they were and here they could reinvent themselves to be anything they wanted to be. The people of Amka Town stared at the overcoats and dreadlocks, and whispered amongst themselves, wondering who the rough looking strangers were. Tuesday was a market day, though not as busy as Saturday. There was less human and car traffic on Tuesday, and the Nyeri-Nairobi Highway looked almost deserted.

            Tired of canvassing the streets, the men walked into the Amka Market Bar slash restaurant at around 11am and ordered some food. Nderitu looked around at the old wooden tables and benches and noted there was nothing elegant about the bar. Yet, it was a famous spot in the little town due to its irresistable menu and cheap prices. The meat here was grilled on spits above charcoal and retained an original juicy taste that locals called the ‘African meat’. 

            A dark skinned girl wearing a blue apron took their orders, and the men stared longingly at her perfectly curved body. They watched her walk away and didn't bother to hide their excitement.

            “I like dark-skinned girls,” Silas said.

            "You got laid yet?" Patrick asked Kamandu.

            Kamandu was about to answer when another girl showed up and wiped the tables. She was a lot wider around the hips and the men tapped each other under the table.

            "That one's yours Silas," Kamandu said as the girl walked away. His words were followed by muffled laughing sounds.

            The beer came first and it didn't take long for the ugali and nyama choma to follow. Steam rose from the plates and the smell of the roast meat was pleasing.

            "Twice," Kamandu said, as he grabbed a chunk of steak. "I've been laid twice since we came to this town. These local girls don't have a lot of experience in bed, but they make up for it with passion."

            Patrick laughed and Nderitu reached for some ugali with his bare hands. He knew Kamandu was lying. Moving into a new town came with battling through countless bouts of loneliness and sleepless nights as a result of social anxiety. Kamandu's tough act only worked to fill the hollowness within. It would be a long time before any of the men got laid.

            They had left Silas behind as part of the plan. What they were about to do now was dangerous and doomed to end up badly. Silas was the contingent plan; a straw floating on the ocean.

            The food was magical and made for a memorable experience. The men asked for water and saved the beer for last. At 11.30am, more people walked in from the market, and tables filled up quickly. Most of these customers were hawkers who settled for simple dishes like fried maize and beans. The money earned from the market was little and mostly used for family consumption; food and education.

            Murmuring noises and laughter filled the restaurant, and customers called out politely to the waiters. Plates of food danced in the air and landed on respective tables. For most of the customers, it was a quick lunch and small talk, before heading back the stalls. Nderitu almost smiled at the sound of life bouncing around the air. He realised to his own amazement, and after being in Nairobi for so many years, that he liked how simple the people in Amka Town were. They called each other by name and enquired about each other's children. They looked happy with little, and that was a blessing.

            Nderitu was too busy enjoying the scene that he almost missed the five rough looking men who walked in with heavy boots and coats. A stillness clogged the air and the room fell silent. It was as though a switch had been flipped. People found new interest in their plates and shrank in their seats. The change was shocking and reflected the power of fear.

            Lumumba, the chief's right hand man stopped in the middle of the restaurant and searched for an empty seat. There was none. Following him closely were four rough looking goons, all wearing trench coats and standing at six feet tall.

            Looking frustrated, Lumumba walked over to the nearest table and glared down at a group of young men enjoying their lunch. "Get up, now!" he yelled.

            The men hesistated and looked at each other, searching for courage. It was clear they didn't want to move. The rest of the room stayed silent as people waited to see what would happen. The people at the table would eventually vacate, but none wanted to be the coward who stood up first.

            The sound of a chair scraping the floor suddenly interrupted the air and Kamandu stood up. “Well, well,” he said in a careless voice, never once looking up. “What do we have here?”

Half bent over his table, Kamandu reached for his beer and took a long sip. By the time he replaced the bottle on the table, Lumumba and everybody in the restaurant was looking at him. Kamandu’s long dreads fell forward and people searched for his face. He threw his hair back and gave everybody a good glimpse of his strong jaw and hard eyes. Nderitu smiled and watched, knowing exactly what was about to happen. Prison rules; one picks a fight with the biggest and meanest inmate to establish credibility.

            Kamandu walked across the room to the men Lumumba had challenged to stand up. He walked slowly, his eyes shifting from the chief’s goons to the table. The other customers stopped eating and watched him with uncertaintly; unable to process what was happening. “I wouldn’t stand up if I was you,” Kamandu said with a shrug to the young men at the table. “You are paying for the food and the table, aren’t you? These men can wait like everybody else."

            People in the room stirred and the new energy in the restaurant was tangible. Could it be? Was it possible? Hope.

            Lumumba, the chifef’s right hand man took a while to recover. He couldn't remember the last time he had been challenged, or seen such confidence in a man. Kamandu took it a step further, walked across the room and stood in front of Lumumba. He cracked his neck left and then right, and the two men searched each other’s eyes. They were the same height, but only one would remain standing.

            Kamandu relished at his upper hand. He knew his enemy very well. Lumumba was an ex-cop, now working for the chief to oppress the locals. He was good with guns but not so good with his hands.

            "Y...you dare defy the chief's men?" Lumumba asked in a strained voice.

            "I'm not defying the chief. I'm saying no to oppression and harrasment," Kamandu said with a growl. He pointed at Lumumba's chest as he spoke. "As the chief's men, your job is to collect taxes and not harrass civilians. It's a free country we live in; democracy sir if you know what that means! Government of the people, by the people, for the people. These people you are harassing actually pay your salary through taxes. Do you understand that?" The words were like an insult, a slap on the cheek and Lumumba’s face twitched with confused anger.

             A little boy scurried away to alert people in the market about what was about to happen. Lumumba's eyes hardened as more people walked in. Kamandu was a rough looking stranger in town and people didn't know what to expect. Nderitu and Patrick remained seated and mostly due to their training. Being rush only got one knocked out silly.

            Kamandu took his eyes off his enemy to address the people. If Lumumba made a move, he would see it … in the people's eyes: a twitch, a gasp, a half pointing finger...

            "Is it not enough that these men take your money? Now they want to take away your dignity." His voice was strong and commanding. "As citizens of Kenya, and residents of Amka Town, you should be free to speak your mind without fear. You should be able to criticize the authorities and protest peacefully in case of injustice. Evil wins when good people do nothing!"

            It was obvious that Lumumba hadn't been spoken to in that tone for a long time. He took a step forward and hardened his voice. "Haven't seen you around here," he said. "Who are you?"

            Kamandu continued addressing the people. "We are the men who fought for the freedom of this country; to unify the people and build a Kenya where we can all rise together instead of tearing each other down."

            A murmur went through the crowd and one word was audible above all. “Mau Mau!” Someone said. “These men are Mau Mau.”

            Lumumba's laughter caught in a cough as he pointed at Kamandu. "Is this guy serious?" The four men who had walked in with him suddenly stepped forward and started flexing.

            "You dare challenge my authority?" Lumumba said, gaining confidence by the seconds. He walked across the floor, looked at the gathered people and then stopped in front of Kamandu, and that was his biggest mistake. Kamandu stood very still and watched him.

            The sound of pounding feet filled the air and more people flocked into the restaurant.            

            "This ends today!" Kamandu said in a loud voice for all to hear, his eyes fixed on Lumumbas face. "There will be no more extortions in this town. People will pay government taxes and nothing more. This is what the Mau Mau fought for, this is what Dedan Kimathi fought for. This is what we fight for now!"

            A loud cheer erupted in the air and people clapped hopefully. The four men suddenly flanked Lumumba. Nderitu and Patrick finally stood up and walked over to where Kamandu was.

            Lumumba laughed. "There's only three of y..."

            He did not finish the sentense. He was standing too close. Kamandu punched him staight on the face and the words were lost in a scream. Blood gushed out of Lumumba's nose and the big man stared in desbelief at his own blood dripping on the floor. Kamandu's second punch slammed into his gut and the big man doubled over. Kamandu pushed him out of the way and Lumumba crashed into a fully occupied table, landing and breaking furniture in the process. The nose was broken and the big man would not be fighting any time soon. A gasp of disbelief went through the crowd.

            With Lumumba down, the fight was very much over. A loud roar suddenly filled the air and Nderitu launched for the nearest man. The man punched and caught Nderitu on the shoulder. He ignored the pain and punched at the man's head. He connected and the blow staggered the chief's man backwards. Nderitu didn't follow. At the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of silver and quickly stepped back. The knife narrowly missed his gut and brought a gasp from the crowd. Twisting and turning fast, Nderitu caught the hand, twisted it once, and then twice. The man screamed and dropped the knife. Nderitu, full of rage, picked up the knife and drove it deep into the man's soft part of thigh. The man went down screaming, staring at the blade. Nderitu followed him with a kick that silenced the scream. Beside Nderitu, Patrick head butted a man three times. Blood appeared on both men's foreheads and on Patrick' dreadlocks. He pushed his hair back and showed red teeth. He was a shark, excited by the taste of blood. The crowd was shocked at the men's brutality.

            Kamandu's plan was working. First impression; that was the whole idea. It was the same principal used by Mau Mau - to instill fear in people and make them remember. Make them remember! One of Lumumba's men tried to run and Kamandu hit him with a chair. He fell and tried to crawl. Kamandu raised the chair again and smashed it hard on the man's back. The chair shattered to pieces and the man didn't move again.

            Nderitu breathed hard and searched around for any last man standing. He was disappointed there was none. He had taken down two without noticing. The crowd stared and looked confused. They would only believe it tomorrow.

            "Police!" Someone yelled.

            People moved out of the way and waited for the men to run. But instead Kamandu turned to address them. "For how long will you live in fear? This is a new country and the colonial white men are gone. We are not going to run away from anybody, not even the police. We must fight for our country. We must hurt so that our children can have a better life! We say no to extortions and no to harrassment, and it starts now!"

            The crowd fidgeted and remained quiet as the sound of sirens got louder. A police pick-up truck finally arrived and five police officers stormed the restaurant with AK 47 rifles at ready.

            Nderitu took in a deep breath and encountered a moment of fear. This was going to be the hardest part of the plan - doing nothing. The policemen hesitated and for the first time in a long while, Nderitu remembered Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and the seven years prison sentense. Arise Africa, arise!

            "It's those three!" Lumumba cried with a pointing finger. He was sat on the floor, his back to a wooden post, with blood all over his face. Even the policemen were startled to see him look so small. He was well known and feared in the small town.

            "Down! On your knees, now!" The policemen yelled at the three men.

            Kamandu went down first followed by Nderitu and Patrick. The men knelt and placed their hands above their heads simultaneously bracing themselves for what was to come. The first kick hit Kamandu in the gut and he doubled forward. A cop applied pressure to his back with a knee and cuffed him. Nderitu saw a fist headed for his face and slightly twisted his head. The blow glanced but still hurt him. On the side, he saw Patrick fall on his belly as a cop tried to stomp on his face. The three men twisted and rolled as they were kicked around. The crowd suddenly went ballistic and threatened to take the guns from the policemen. The three men were quickly cuffed and thrown into the back of the truck to avoid the wrath of the mob. Nderitu grinned at the sight of blood on Kamandu's face and knew he didn't look any better. Outside, people pushed and tried to get a last look at the three men – Mau Mau. The story of Mau Mau was well known in Kenya, and people regarded them as heroes.

 

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Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...