The Kikuyu men had been manipulated into believing they were part of something important. They had pictured a place that was amazing and incredible, and it had all been a lie.
Nderitu, Kamandu, Patrick and Silas moved into Amka Town the day after the robbery. Patrick and Silas took an apartment together while Kamandu and Nderitu each opted for a private one-bedroomed apartment. Surrounded by villages, rivers and forest, Amka Town was nothing as sophisticated as Nairobi City. It was an ideal mix of urban and rural life though, and a few suits and ties could be seen on the streets where the majority of the residents wore faded khaki pants as opposed to jeans.
The apartment Nderitu moved into was a walking distance from town, in a low-income residential area. There was privacy here, peace and quiet and that’s what Nderitu liked most about the place.
Day after day Nderitu woke up to the sound of children at play, and lay on his bed listening to his neighbours talking about the day to day problems of life, or how the country used to be better during British Colonial rule. Humans were never satisfied. The neighbours agreed that giving a black man too much power was a mistake, and that's how Africa ended up with so many dictators.
"Did you hear what happened to the chief?" A female voice asked.
"He got robbed both at home and at the police station. There are rumours that the policemen's salaries were stolen. If the policemen strike, the chief will be in trouble with the Government and they may replace him."
"I'm glad it happened," a man said. "The taxes are too high around here, and the Chief's men have been robbing us clean at the market asking for bribes."
Nderitu smiled, and liked what he was hearing. Robinhood had come to town and he felt like the star of the show. His mind drifted back to what the neighbours had said about the new Kenyan government. Nderitu remembered how naive he had been thinking that all would be well after Jomo Kenyatta was elected president.
Jomo Kenyatta the leader of the Kenya independence movement was convicted by the British rulers for the leading the extremist Mau Mau in their violence against the white settlers and colonial government. As an advocate of non-violence and conservatism, Kenyatta had pleaded innocent in a highly politicized trial. Kenyatta in truth had been a great defender of Kenyan and African culture, and wrote eloquently on the plight of Kenyans under colonial rule. He had however played little in the Mau Mau uprising in 1952 but was imprisoned for nine years as a result of it.
Scarred by war, Nderitu had gone to Nairobi with high hopes of making his life better. Nairobi had been the dream. A city on a hill with glittering lights and paved walkways. In a time of industrial revolution, there had been promise of jobs for everybody, oportunities and better standards of living.
After living in the forest with Mau Mau, Nderitu had loved Nairobi and its skyscrapers. He had loved waking up early and going home late after a long day of hustling. He had enjoyed the little things in life that people take for granted: like eating hot food, sleeping in a bed, or just being able to relax at home. He had looked for a job at his own pace and then aggressively to no avail. Truth was a fragile thing. There had been no reward for Mau Mau freedom fighters and Jomo Kenyatta had refused to recognize their part in the struggle for independence. The boy inside Nderitu had been disappointed and he had felt betrayed. The Kikuyu men had been manipulated into believing they were part of something important. They had pictured a place that was amazing and incredible, and it had all been a lie.
In Nderitu's opinion, Kenyans were a remarkable people who devoted themselves from the moment they opened their eyes to the act of finding food for their families. They faced life with courage and Nderitu learned a lot from them. Bold and spirited, he had worked as an apprentice for a carpenter, a tailor, a shoe repair guy, and an electrician, and none of them had penned into a real job. Anxiety and fear of failure had followed and disturbing flashlights of his life in the forest had haunted him.
A beeping noise. Nderitu quickly turned off the alarm on his wrist watch and rose from his noisy spring bed. The time was 4.55pm in the evening and his alarm went off around the same time every day.
The apartment was small with one bedroom, a kitchen and a living room. A walk from the bedroom led him past a tiny bathroom and into the living room area where an old brown sofa was positioned against a wall. In front of the sofa was a wooden coffee table and adjacent to that, a love couch, and that was all the furniture in the room. He was planning on buying a cassette player but didn't have enough savings at the moment. Nderitu walked over to the door and pushed the white living room curtains aside to make sure there was nobody outside. The coast was clear. The last thing he needed was meeting some bored neighbour who wanted to make small talk, or cry about his miserable existence. He opened the wooden door first and then the burglar proof metal door. He cringed because the metal door made a lot of noise in the empty compound.
Nderitu walked across the veranda and opened the blue gate. He stepped outside on the grass and sighed that no one had stopped him. The sound of traffic was muffled because his apartment building was right in the middle of the neighbourhood, and one had to walk between houses to get to the main road. A man on a black bicycle rode by and geeted him in Gikuyu language.
"Wi mwega?" How are you?
"Di mwega," Nderitu replied. I'm well.
The bicycle sped down the street, the man's coat blowing behind him. Nderitu followed the bicycle with his eyes and noticed the neighbours' children playing and running after each other. He smiled, and dropped his guard a little. He liked children, but he tried to avoid everything that reminded him of his happy days.
"Hi!" A female voice suddenly made him jump. Whoever it was must have been very silent.
Nderitu span and saw the light skinned girl carrying a full shopping basket. The first thing that caught his attention was how tall the girl was. She looked to be 5'9" which was very tall for a girl. The yellow dress on her looked ragged and her long hair sat tangled on her shoulders.
"Hi," Nderitu said. "You ... you startled me. I ... I didn't hear you." There was something different about her; something that brought a stutter in his voice, and an ancient beating of drums in his chest. She looked carefree, like she could talk to anyone without a worry; then there was the subconcious smile that made him forget about her makeup free face.
"I'm sorry," the girl said with a big smile. "You were busy watching the children. My name is Claire, I live in the apartment next to yours. I have seen you a few times through our kitchen window when you walk out, and I always wanted to say hello."
She spoke fluent Gikuyu language evidence of someone who had never been to the city. The words came out loud and bold in an impressive way. The dress looked second hand and oversized, hiding her slender figure and average size body.
Nderitu extended his hand. "My name is Nderitu. I moved in a few days ago." It was a strange feeling just being near her. There was something raw and innocent about her and he felt an overwhelming need to protect her, even though he didn't know her.
Suddenly, a loud whistle pierced the air and Nderitu stood very still, completely avoiding her eyes. One minute of silence elapsed before the whistle sounded again. Nderitu eased up and sat on the grass with his back against the apartment wall.
"What was that all about?" the girl asked, placing her shopping basket on the ground.
"Nothing," Nderitu said with a grin. He pulled a blade of grass out and chewed on it.
"It's not nothing, obviously. Do you mind if I sit down?" She sat down before he could reply, and didn't make much of an effort to keep her dress away from the dirt. "That whistle came from the Chief's office at the police station, didn't it? I know they raise the Kenyan flag every day at 5am and bring it down at 5pm. Why do they do that?"
"Do what? Raise the flag? It's a military thing, or a police tradition," Nderitu explained. "The flag is raised at sunrise and brought down at sunset."
"Why not just live it there all night?" Claire asked and Nderitu looked surprised.
"I never thought about that, really. Wow. I think it’s probably to protect the flag from wear and tear."
He liked that she spoke her mind and had a good head on her shoulder. Claire nodded and looked down the street. The children were still playing and chasing after each other. "Are you are soldier?" she asked bravely. "Only a soldier respects a flag the way you do."
Nderitu laughed and then got serious. "I used to be Mau Mau. We fought for this country, you know?" He was beginning to sound like Kamandu and didn't like it.
She looked stunned and said nothing for a long time. "That explains your long unkempt hair. You haven't cut it in a long time I can tell. Are you trying to grow dreadlocks?"
Nderitu laughed. His hair looked more like an uncombed afro than dreadlocks. "No. I don't know. We lived in the forest for many months and there were no combs there. I guess I got used to it." It was amazing how easily he could talk to her. He had never talked to anybody about his life in the forest, except Kamandu and the other men. But then again, very few people had the courage to ask him.
"You are a patriot," Claire said with a smile. "You were willing to sacrifice your life for the country."
"I don't know about sacrificing my life," Nderitu said with a chuckle. "I just wanted to play my part like all the other men, and do something. But I didn't want to die. For boys, it was either stay home and hide behind mum's skirt or go into the forest and be a man."
"You are modest," Claire said. "It looks good on you."
"War," Nderitu spat the word out. "A fool’s game it was. We cheated death many times, but knew it was only a matter of time. One name kept the flame inside us burning."
"Yes, Jomo Kenyatta. His was a story told around every camp fire to ignite souls."
"I thought the name was Dedan Kimathi?"
"Dedan Kimathi was our leader, and we would have followed him to our graves. But Jomo Kenyatta was the beacon of light for the whole country. We fought so we could get to him."
A boy walked by carrying tadpoles in a jar, thinking they were fish and Nderitu smiled knowingly. "What's in the basket?" he asked playfully.
"Cooking oil, milk, and bread. My parents own the shop around the corner." Claire brushed dirt from her dress.
It was Nderitu's turn to be surprised. "The one painted Coca Cola?"
"Yes." Claire grinned at the sound of his voice. "I help them sometimes."
"What do you do? Do you go to school?"
She shook her head slowly. "The money from the shop got me through high school, but it’s not enough to put me through college."
"You must not loose hope. You will find a way."
"Thanks." Claire suddenly stood up and grabbed her basket. "I have to go and cook for my mother. She's at the shop now, but she will come home hungry. I'm happy we know each other now."
Nderitu rose to his feet and felt disappointed she was leaving. It felt like she was taking the sun with her. "Yes. I'm happy to have met you Claire." They shook hands and the eye contact lingered a tard longer, each trying to assess what the other was thinking.
"If you need anything, or any help, you can always knock on my door," Nderitu said.
"And you mine Nderitu," Claire replied. "I'll make you something one of these days and officially welcome you into the neighbourhood."
"That will be wonderful." He felt his heart race because she had called him by his name, and yet he did not understand it. Claire's beauty was not the kind that made heads turn and yet Nderitu felt a connection to her. He had met beautiful girls in Nairobi and none had caught his attention.
Claire nodded one last time and elegantly walked through the blue gate headed to her apartment. Nderitu heard a door open and close and knew she would not come out again.
His day had turned out better than he had expected. There was something intrigueing and captivating about Claire, and he wanted to see her again, if only to unravel the mystery. Right now, he had to go meet the boys. It was time to take over Amka Town.
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...