Nderitu hid inside the kennel and watched the home guards leaving Cucu's hut. They looked frustrated and searched around with confusion in their eyes. Nderitu waited in hiding for almost half an hour hoping to catch a last glimpse of his sisters but none of them came out. Not wanting to take any more chances, he slipped away silently, past the grave yard and back on the main road.
This was farewell and he felt sad because he didn't know where the road would lead him, or when he would see his sisters again. Destiny was calling. He had taken an oath and pledged allegiance to Mau Mau and his country. The oath would kill him if he didn’t honour it, and the home guards would torture him if he stayed. It was now his duty and that of the Mau Mau to free Jomo Kenyatta so he could lead his people. It was Nderitu’s wish to be a part of this profound mission; to go against his nature and dig for real treasure in the trenches of life. The voices in his head were loud, he was not a rebel, he was a soldier!
Nderitu walked down the road in silence, rubber shoes crushing the gravel underneath and dusk threatening the horizon. Soon it would be dark and he would loose his sense of direction.
The girls would be okay with Cucu, he told himself as though trying to believe it. Women in the village were some of the most responsible , hard working, intelligent, creative and productive members of the society. The women took primary responsibility for the family, for the maintenance of the family home, and for the raising of the children. His sisters were in good hands.
Headlights in the distance. Nderitu ran forward and waved frantically. The car was an old Toyota pickup headed in the direction he was coming from. The driver slowed down and stopped beside the small boy. Nderitu saw the black beard and weathered face. The eyes were warm although the man wasn’t smiling.
“I need a ride to Mathari Boys Orphanage please!” Nderitu said in a pleading voice. “I have some money.”
“How much do you have?” The man extended an open hand through the window and Nderitu placed all his coins in it. The little boy held his breath as the man counted. “Okay, wait here. I’ll be right back.”
The car zoomed off with Nderitu’s money and the little boy stared with a bad feeling in his heart. What if the car didn’t return? He had worked hard to save the coins over a long period of time at the orphanage. He had hoped they would one day come in handy, but now he wasn't so sure they had.
Nderitu walked over to a rock and sat down. "So be it," he said out loudly. Who said that freedom was cheap? "If this is the price I have to pay – so be it. One day Mzee Jomo Kenyatta will come home and lead his people in a straight path of peace, away from the enemies, and away from the breath of violence."
The air was much quieter as darkness descended. The bushes started taking shapes and silhouettes jumped around the trees. Nderitu closed his eyes and tried to remember his father’s words. The war for liberation, what was it all about? Was it about political power and self-governing? No, his father had talked a lot about it. It was about livelihood, dignity, freedom and respect of all human lives. It was about equality – the delicacy of hope for a brighter tomorrow.
Nderitu was surprised when the car came back. He jumped in next to the driver with a feeling that maybe this was a good sign, that God Ngai was on his side. The engine roared and they were on their way again. The driver talked a lot and all Nderitu had to do was grunt, smile and nod in agreement. He never got the driver’s name and the man behind the wheels was too busy listening to the sound of his own voice to get to know his passenger.
Nderitu's eyes roamed over the dashboard and broken radio. He noticed a black book and picked it up with a frown. It was a Bible and the timing was impeccable.
It’s happening tonight! Nderitu remembered Kamandu’s words and fretted. It was the way he had said it. Samuel 17:46. Nderitu turned the pages and started reading.
This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands and I will strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcass of the Philipine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.
Nderitu shuddered. Something dreadful was going to happen tonight and that something had everything to do with the Mau Mau. He shook his head as a thought crossed his mind. It couldn’t be. No way! But the more he thought about it, the more his eyes enlarged – the Mau Mau was coming to the orphanage and they were going to kill Mr. Christopher. How did he know this? He just did, a clarity of mind born of past events that were fresh in his mind. There was only one white man in the village, and his blood was needed to initiate the boys into tough Mau Mau soldiers. Its happening tonight!
Forty minutes later, Nderitu told the driver to drop him off around a corner so he could walk the remaining short distance. The time was almost eight at night and it was very dark. He shivered a little and felt goose bumps as cold air found his skin. Nderitu walked over to the Mathari gate and saw that it was locked. He found a spot where the fence was anchored by wooden poles to the ground and vaulted over.
He paused and listened. How could silence be so loud? Everything was too quiet. There were lights in the office and he knew that Mr. Christopher was working; bent over a bunch of papers with a frown on his face. He usually worked till nine when the orphanage lights went out.
Throwing caution to the wind, Nderitu turned and started running towards Mr. Christopher’s house. All he could think about was his friend Alex, facing danger. If the director was in danger, so was his family. He had to save them otherwise it would all be for nothing. Everything the Mau Mau was fighting for would go to waste if the boys became the very demons they were trying to evict from the country.
He had never run so fast in his life before. He reached the front door, forgot about the bell and pounded with his tiny fist on wood. “Alex! Alex!!”
No answer. He tried the bell and held it down for a long time. The door suddenly cracked open and a woman’s face appeared. It was Mr. Christopher’s wife looking worried.
Nderitu was about to say something when Alex’s face appeared from behind her legs. “Nderitu? What is it?” the boy asked in a scared voice.
“You have to go now! You have to hide. The Mau Mau soldiers are coming to kill you!”
“What is the meaning of this?” Mrs. Christopher said angrily. “How dare you come to our house and…”
“Muum!” Alex cut her off. “His name is Nderitu and he’s my friend. We should listen to him.”
Mrs. Christopher looked lost. “The Mau Mau wants to kill us? Why?” She had always known that she would one day find herself in this very predicament but she couldn’t believe that it was happening. "All we have done is help the African children?" She looked dazed, in a sad kind of way.
Nderitu heard a noise in the distance and tensed.
"What was that?" Alex asked. "Nderitu? What was that?"
"It's a war cry," Nderitu said with a look of horror. “They are coming! You must go now!”
Mrs. Christopher heard the noise too and her face turned white. “We have to tell your father,” she said.
It was all the time Nderitu had. “You don’t have time ma’am. Save your son! Save yourself!” He turned and started running, hoping that nobody had seen him. The Mau Mau did not treat traitors kindly.
Nderitu ran past the office and the playground. The air was filled with murmuring voices. He saw bobbing lanterns and burning torches and headed in their direction. Boys were just exiting their dormitories and joining the growing crowd outside. Nderitu saw Kamandu and joined him. Beside Kamandu stood three rugged men with long dreadlocks, each carrying a wooden rifle. The sight of Mau Mau rallying the boys brought authority to the madness.
“It’s tonight or never!” Kamandu yelled, followed by an uproar from the boys.
“Tonight we become Mau Mau! Tonight we fight for our country!”
Under a full moon, Nderitu looked around and noticed that only circumcised boys had come out of their dormitories as expected. The crowd moved forward led by five Mau Mau soldiers and headed towards the office. Nderitu shuddered at the thought of what was about to happen. If only it was a bad dream.
The lights were still on in the director’s office. Mr. Christopher in all his arrogance came out brandishing a pistol at the sound of commotion. He yelled at the boys to go back to bed and the boys almost obeyed, hesitating at the sound of his familiar voice. The sound that had told them to dig the gardens and do their homework. The sound that had welcomed them into the village after their parents had been killed; the voice that had soothed them during their nightmares and told them that all would be well. It was a voice the boys had listened to and obeyed for years and it brought uncertainty.
"Go back to your bed children," Mr. Christopher yelled, face red with anger. "I can't accept this kind of behaviour."
One of the Mau Mau soldiers raised a rifle and shot the director in the stomach. The white man screamed and slammed against a wall, the pistol falling beside him. Mr. Christopher stared at his own blood in disbelief and refused to fall. He looked up with tears in his eyes, his dignity stripped away; pride, authority, the very essence that defined his personae, all gone.
Nderitu wanted to cry. Instead, he froze on his feet and allowed the other boys to walk ahead. This was not what he wanted. The fight for freedom was a fight for liberation against those who had taken land away from the people. All Mr. Christopher had done was help children displaced in a time of war. Mr. Christopher was not the enemy.
From where he stood, Nderitu recognized the universal cry of anguish, fear and hopelessness coming from the white man. A Mau Mau soldier grabbed the white man by the hair and forced him to raise his eyes. One by one the boys stepped forward and drove a knife through Mr. Christopher’s gut. The sick sound of metal digging through flesh filled the night and suddenly everything else went quiet. All Nderitu could hear was the sucking sound as the knife went in and out. Again, and again, and again… He felt dizzy in the head and knew that it would be a long time before he would be able to look into the mirror again.
“To the house!” The Mau Mau soldiers suddenly yelled pointing at Mr. Christopher’s house. Mr. Christopher’s frail and bleeding body collapsed on the floor and was quickly forgotten.
“No,” Nderitu said in a soft voice. Not the house! They would find Alex and kill him. He had to do something; he had to stop them.
The sound of pounding feet filled the air as boys started running towards the director's house. A spark of ignition hit Nderitu's body and he found himself on a full sprint. He had to get there first and make sure that Alex was not harmed. He did not know how but he had to help his friend.
There was one Mau Mau soldier in front of Nderitu running with easy steps. Behind him, battle cries filled the air as boys and other soldiers followed. Without slowing down, the Mau Mau soldier kicked the director's door and the lock gave in. Rifle at ready, the big man ran into the living room pointing at imaginary figures. Nderitu, with the advantage of knowing the interior layout of the house, sprinted through the door and headed for the bedrooms. He dashed into the first one and called out for his friend in a small voice. "Alex? Alex? It's your friend Nderitu!"
There was no reply. Behind him in the corridor, he heard the Mau Mau soldier burst into the adjacent bedroom and a woman screaming. It was Alex's mum. The Mau Mau soldier had found her!
"Nderitu?" A voice suddenly whispered from above. "Help me please!"
Nderitu looked up and saw the small boy buried in a pile of clothes on a top shelf. The footsteps in the corridor became alarmingly loud and Nderitu moved without thinking. He grabbed a chair and smashed it against the window, the sound of shatttering glass filling the night. Quickly he tossed the chair aside and pretended to look outside, searching. Five other boys stormed the room and Nderitu yelled at the top of his voice. "He jumped through the window! Hurry up, we have to catch him." And with that, Nderitu burst through the door, the other boys hot in pursuit.
They did not make it far. Suddenly, the air was filled with gunshots. The sound of semi-automatic weapons pierced the air and two Lorries full of British soldiers broke the gate into half. The Mau Mau soldier who had been in Alex's mum's bedroom came out running, one hand struggling to zip up his pants. Whether he had managed to rape Alex's mum was hard to tell but Nderitu had not heard any gunshots from inside the house which possibly meant that Alex's mum could still be alive. He prayed he was right and felt hopeful.
"To the trees!" the Mau Mau soldiers yelled and the boys started running.
The five Mau Mau soldiers dropped on their knees and fired at the colonial soldiers, covering the boys' retreat in the process. “Into the forest!” they yelled. “Run into the forest!”
While the boys dashed through the orphanage, more and more Mau Mau soldiers emerged from the shadows and engaged the British in a tough stand-off. Most of them had no uniform but a few berets and random military jackets could be spotted.
Nderitu ran with the other boys simultaneous doing his best to avoid being tripped. The boys were running scared and a few fled in the wrong direction. Nderitu was an emotional wreck, but happy that Alex had made it. He would cry for the death of the director and rejoice for his friend's life. It was ironic how the world ticked; soldiers died while their young ones were born.
Something hit him on the left shoulder and Nderitu looked puzzled. He kept running only to realise that his shoulder was getting heavier. In the midst of all the chaos, he looked down and saw blood soaking his shirt but still didn’t understand what was happening. By the time he reached the orphanage chain-link fence, he had lost so much blood that his legs couldn't carry him. Nderitu tried to climb over the fence but realized to his dismay that he couldn’t since one side of his body was paralysed. For a moment he stood frozen and listened to the sound of pounding feet and chatter of voices around him. There was nothing he could do but watch the other boys vault over. Soon the colonial soldiers would come and find him, and it would be over.
The pain moved from his shoulder to his head and Nderitu dropped on one knee. It hurt and he yelled out in pain. Someone suddenly grabbed and pushed him over the fence. Through teary eyes, he recognized Kamandu and felt relieved to see the familiar face.
“You’ve been shot Nderitu,” Kamandu exclaimed. “You have to keep moving. If the British find you, you will wish you were dead. Keep running!”
He did not know where he got the energy from, but with Kamandu supporting his weak side, Nderitu managed to place one foot in front of the other. Everything was blurry, but still he ran because the man beside him supported him. He did not know where they were, nor did he care. The only thing he knew was that he would never get away from the horrors of that night.
The war for liberation had just gone over to the dark side. It was about livelihood, dignity, freedom and respect of all human lives no more.
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...