The Age of Death

The-Age-of-Death.

It is grotesquely furrowed, beaded with perspiration like the drops of a light drizzle, on the rough exterior texture of a plastic pail roughened by years of use-What a face?

“We must face it.”

In a feeble alto, gulping from a Dasani mineral water bottle, she passes a frightful hollow whisper like the feeble despondent protest of a spirit broken widow under the yoke of conspiratorial sisters- in- law. She is and we all are under the yoke of something.

“We must face it,” she repeats.

It has come finally.

I remember the bits of newspaper opinion polls’ reports-the voting demographic scales are tilting massively in favour of…Who can forget?

And the prime time TV news headlines-IT IS A TWO HORSE RACE! Who can forget?

Who can forget indeed? The breaking of fights after fierce debates in filthy bars where we watched over bottles of beer the grand debates live on TV, smoking cheap cigarettes, drenching in cheap arguments, taking expensive hardline positions on who is who, what wealth has who and the tyranny of certain figures over certain so and so that certain quarters are all a bunch of illiterates without voting cards. 

The others saying they are the aristocracy of the nation, the others saying they are the nations intellectual muscle the others saying that the others are all a nefarious lot of mischievous monkeys, and others saying that the others are high priests in the avaricious temple of corruption to suggest not a clean dime have they made-so much about the others. All intoxicated counter and counter-accusations. Empty rhetoric fed on the institutionalized staple of stereotypes served on the plate of joblessness for us graduates. So we have drunk to our deaths and lives. Our joblessness, like the beer we have imbibed firing our immortal stupidity, granting us the ammunition of free time and our ferocious bar stool analyses of the Nation’s state of affairs no different from that of touts around newspaper stands arguing over the best semi-nude celebrity photo in a Friday tabloid or the English Premier League. And so we have been and so we shall be. Who can forget?

I summon my mental Qi (Chi) like the sporadic philosophy student with a stoically adulterated wit. My mind, for half a minute, odysseys into its sport of the idiotic, but what I find enchanting musings in such states of sobriety as mine is: Brief East-inspired though rogue philosophic journeys to dispel invading anxiety. The yin and yang of my mental and physical wholesome composure: the synergy encapsulating my Qi (Chi).

…Are we, in the grip of its talons? In the bloody talons of fear after the fall from conscience, is this the age?

Are we…?

…In the dreadful throes of a tragedy breaking down the walls of the aesthetic virtues of reason, are we crumbling into the open seas of anarchy? Is this the age of death?

The ageless question- Is there an age and befitting way to die?

She that I have seen is the landlady of that face I dread to rent that is the beaded bucket, the face which started this inglorious story. She thoughtfully drops her furrows with the following bombshell.

“The trouble is from that hell again.”

Then she loudly farts. We are both embarrassed in my bedroom.

We must face it. The trouble is from that hell. Again!

I tumble in conjecture-is that hell a pension for our years of ignorance, colonial inheritance.  Blah! Blah! Blah! But, I am unstruck with awe.

They are here.

She gropes in the dark stumbling over my softy playing Kenwood stereo speakers. I can hear her rising laboured breathing over the soundtrack of braveheart-that Scottish Epic I have been watching on my computer. She is anxious.

For the lack of anything to say, I’m like, “They are here?”

To quench her fear, she’s like. “They were so so so fast.”

And the lights go out.

She finally gets to me breathing in my face recovering from our mutual embarrassment.

“It’s hardly half-an-hour after the radio announcement of the winner? Just like ‘88 and ’92.Rivers and rivers of blood!”

This is the year 2007 the year of the general elections. It is the year of blood-Here we call them so, the election years.

Outside, footsteps clunk on crisp twigs that crunch over hushed voices. The window rattles. A rock smashes onto the iron roof before one ruptures through the window and the glass panes shatter into shreds.

We are in the heart of darkness. What’s happening?

“What’s happening?”

Our souls in the grip of the sword of Damocles are doomed.

It’s that time. Nimrod it’s time.

A voice trailing a flashing light breaks into my emotional darkness-light travels faster than sound isn’t it said so?

“Nimrod it’s time?”

It’s his unmistakable baritone. He flashes the light into my face. I blink and turn to her. He swipes it around the room then back at us.

“Nimrod?” he speaks again pausing before he continues, “they have come.”

*******************

He stares at me over the light. I stare back. Here stands the unflinching proud towering, corn farmer and the Mahii Church of Saints and Believers pastor. A man who loves his scripture and a connoisseur of Somali traded Polyester suits-don’t mind they are emblazoned with counterfeited Italian designer labels. Here stands the hope of our redemption.

“Nimrod its time,” he declares but seems to reflect over something shortly before finally he gives the order, “lead your mother after me.”

His good eye commands more resolutely than his metallic baritone.

Its hardness weighs down on me. He is stunned but not deflated. He still stands over us with his ingrained patriarchal hefty presence. Thirty years and in that astronomical stretch of time upon the land he has single-handedly worked, built a church, brought up a family and helped educate the children of the not so scanty in population- believers’ community in that exceptional school, the only one in Mahii village that offers a traditional free lunch of boiled rice and beef stew for pupils, run by his church-with the help of American evangelical missionaries, deep in the remote corn farming valley of Sugutata, miles from the forgotten nostalgic scent of the volcanic soil of his ancestral land in Tala near mount Kenya. 

Land whose scent is ever in the air after long-awaited downpours wafting indiscriminately into nostrils hungry for fresh air; where parcels of land are like tiny handkerchiefs on hills chocking with wild Mexican sunflower bushes with their irradiating yellow flowers and landless sons. Very far from his father’s grave, also far from the madding throngs in the muddled backstreets of Nairobi our beloved concrete jungle clogged with infatuating Chinese multinational Company billboards, ruffians of all shade and beer bars of all repute, far from tranquility at this, ACCURSED, hour.

It is at midnight.

My younger sister Esther Okwachi is lucky to be away in boarding school.

…Nimrod Okwachi happy birthday and to all the Okwachis God keep you safe…

I reel over her last parting words the last time we visited her under the silk oak trees in her school’s Wangari Maathai recreation Park. This is insensible. I can’t take it.

“Either we fight these people or we will be wiped out!” I explode.

I punch my fist in the air.

He gives me a young man may God perish that foolish thought look. Then sternly preaches.

“Not in my house, we will touch no hair, we will raise no finger to spill blood here. Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. Vengeance is for the Lord. In whatever way, I am ripe for the Lord’s harvest if time has come.”

Paternally emphatic, he taps on my shoulder with the flashlight.

What empirical buffoonery! Even at this hour when our family is being violated I’m helplessly uneasy that he still would find comfort in preaching but I do swallow it in silence. I’m past the traditional age of keeping house with them-This me now-former student should have moved out when I graduated.

I perceive that the patriarchal unshaven long beard that he keeps with vexation. His coarse disheveled hair lavishes him no dalliance in my present thoughts worse his shirt is hanging over his pajama trousers. It is repulsive. He appears older than his middle age irrevocably out of touch. Indeed control is out of his way. I could do with a cigarette if I had my way now.

…Are we crumbling into the open arms of anarchy?

Our only hope is fate.

There are voices out there shrieking deadlines of time. A time to weep for us and a time to reap for the malevolent hands with the poisonous wail: that they are hungry because of their prosperous neighbour’s bounty harvest. Yet like fate seasons come to all. What hogwash!

“Pluck the weeds from our soil!”

I hear the clarion call of a roaring voice roused by more voices.

I pull over my mother. She is dragging a stuffed gunny bag along.

Through the backdoor, we meet hissing petrol bombs and whizzing arrows. I clamp my fingers on one hurriedly breaking it into two, casting away the tail and keeping the head. I don’t know why but I just do it.

There is a clamouring of boots, a clattering of machetes and an inexorable ringing of the clarion call. Voices shriek in terror.

Then the roaring voice makes way and the rousing goes again. It’s like a hungry lion’s roar.

“Pluck the weeds from our soil!”

Then the bludgeoning eclipse of disciples…

A croak

“Weed the weeds out!”

A rasp

“Let the rats out!”

A hiss

“Let the cats out in this a rat race!”

More hisses, rasps and croaks, cats and rat races, endless vituperation as our blood is priced.

It’s like a discordant choir. I cannot make out anything. The backyard is marred. The concrete perimeter wall is a heap of rubble. I smell burning tire. Then I hear three gunshots that disfigure my concentration.

“God have mercy!” Mrs. Okwachi emits a gasp.

It is all confounding: Our home.

I’m soaked in blood-Nimrod Okwachi is soaked in blood!

I feel sickeningly nauseated.

…I’m in the throes of a tragedy?

The Solomonic disciple returns. The teacher of vanities returns.

By anything else but an arrow -DEATH-do visit? There is nothing new under the sun…

Nimrod, steel your nerves. The journey is long.

I have a piece of that arrow in the clutches of my fingers. I discard it somewhere on the floor where I can easily grope for it in the semi-darkness if need be.

I cough out into some thick dust that stings my eyes.

We are on a rough road in a fast-moving Kenya Defence Forces Bedford M-Series truck.

Finally, here we are. Nimrod steel your nerves. It is madness.

Did it happen? It happened. It was inevitable. Deal with it.

There…

“It is the madness.”

Click! Pause,

Click!

Click!

Is it an ancient Kodak camera?

No. It’s actually a man.

Is he mad?

Perhaps!

“Oh! What madness? Triple distilled madness.”

As if sailing on the same waters and wishing to fish in the deep sea of misery where I am etched, the man ,I have since mentioned, in uniform, invokes disillusionment in the exotic early morning half-darkness and the chocking dust from what I can slightly make out his features to be. He holds a gun the type of which I cannot discern: guns are unfamiliar to me unlike the clear bleakness of my future. He is in a beret and rustling military privates’ fatigues. Rough-in cloth but jolly in heart.

He appears to be irrefutably in conviction of what he says and its effect on anyone and no one in particular since he leans forward emphatically without releasing his grip on the gun. He looks a man whose single stripe of rank has overstayed on his arm.

“This triple distilled madness is not happening for the first time.” he wags his index finger.

The man vociferates a quick condescending lecture on the history of these- madness- elections. Right from 1988, the year Mrs. Okwachi gave birth to me. You find men like him in all unprecedented journeys.

“…’88,’92 ’97 and the game continues same monkeys, a different forest.”

He is boisterous and laughs liberally in a crackling smoker’s voice, clasping tightly on his gun. I wonder why.

“So it was not cake, chocolate and sugar,”

“I don’t know boy.”

“So where can someone find the truth?”

“The truth is that the truth never sells and so everyone has their version of half-truths.”

“Some people are not happy with the results of the election soldier. It was bitter lemons, aloes and bile that is the truth for now.”

Nimrod steel your nerve.

This is laughable.

“Their man was not our man and their bread was not ours.”

I throw my characteristic fist.

What nonsense. I bellow in big laughter.

I understand when he joins me not in the laughter. He is military.

Oh! What fetters my laughter is locked in; never shall its sarcasm prick the conscience outside its own.

The road is bumpy, full of potholes. The Bedford M-Series bumps into a small pothole, and then lurches into a bigger one swaying us from our positions. It’s a bumpy ride.

Nimrod steel your nerve.

A corpse now travels with us. An arrow sticks out of its chest, another in its gut and all sorts of places on the torso. The pajama trousers are bloody. The patriarchal unshaven beard and hair are infinitely silent under her overspread headscarf. Poor mother steel your nerves. Mr. Okwachi is no more. Nimrod steel your nerve. You survived.

Meanwhile, as the truck lurches forward…

I wonder at the plunder going on in our farm at Sugutata valley in Mahii village. The sweet potatoes ready for harvest, the great Holstein Friesian dairy cattle, zero-grazing in their stalls, the colourful sweet daisies and dahlias in the front yard of my father’s bungalow. All will be exterminated, looted plundered and trampled on. We will not be there to protect our property when it happens. I can see our house crumble into a heap of ash under mighty flames. No longer shall there be the smell of fresh milk tomorrow. For all who are ripe like corn, it is the age of reaping, the dawn of the age of death. Our history is written.