Archive for July, 2009

HALF A LOAF

HALF A LOAF

by Denis Kabi

Kang’ee was hungry.  He’d spent the better part of that morning looking for manual work to do in order to earn some money to buy food with.

Kang’ee worked at the Wakulima Market in downtown Nairobi as a kanda ya moko, or porter. For a small fee, he usually carried the heavy sacks of potatoes, nets of onions, crates of tomatoes, et cetera, for the fresh produce traders from the lorries parked outside the market and into the canopied market.

He charged 20 shillings for a sack of potatoes, 10 shillings for a net of onions, and 15 shillings for a wooden crate of tomatoes.

On a good day, especially after heavy rainfall had hit the highlands of central Kenya and crops had flourished in the farms, Kang’ee could easily carry 10 bags of potatoes, 10 nets of onions, and 10 crates of tomatoes in a day.

On such a day, he would take home approximately 450 shillings. After work, he’d go to his favourite food kiosk, order his favourite dish – wali wa dondo – and wash it down with a glass of fresh milk.

Then he’d save a part of that money and use it to pay rent for the single room wooden shack that he lived in and also buy jerricans of water from the vendor at the local borehole.

After supper, Kang’ee would buy some mogoka, or khat (a leafy green plant chewed as a stimulant) and head back to his single room where he’d lay on his bed and chew the mogoka leaves as he listened to reggae music playing from his Sanyo FM radio.

On such nights, he would experience pure bliss when the intoxicating stimulants in the mogoka saturated his system and the potent message in the reggae music touched the core of his being – the soul.

Lying on his bed on such a night, he would wish that the night would never end. Chewing mogoka leaves was ten times sweeter than bedding a Latina beauty queen. (Kang’ee loved Latin women; for they had the silky long hair of white women, the bulky curves of black women, and a poetic timbre in their spoken language. Kang’ee couldn’t wait to save up enough money to travel to Latin America to meet these magnificent creatures called Latinas.)

But unfortunately, Kenya was experiencing the worst drought in its post independence history. The farms in the Central Province highlands had dried up and there was hardly any produce being transported from there to Nairobi for sale.

This depressing fact meant that there would be no work for porters.

Even though there was no work, Kang’ee always woke up early in the morning and went to the gates of Wakulima Market to look for work. For the third straight month now the sun would set without him finding goods to carry.

It was one o’clock in the sweltering afternoon when a famished Kang’ee stood up from the pavement near the gates of Wakulima Market. (The colloquial name for the market is Marigiti – a corruption of the word market.)

He was thin and frail. He’d lost ten kilograms because of going without food for prolonged periods of time. He only ate what he could find discarded on the market’s garbage dump – rotten mangoes, oranges, bananas, pineapples. (One time he saw a fat dead rat and contemplated on eating it but didn’t.)

For three long months he hadn’t relished the taste of sweet mogoka. The blissful transcendental nights of reggae and mogoka were a distant faded memory. He yearned for a return of those placid nights in his room.

Kang’ee strode slowly to a general goods kiosk not far from the market’s gates. He stood before the shop window and leaned to look at the woman who was the shopkeeper.

Mkate nusu,” Kang’ee said confidently while he dipped his hands in his pockets as if to retrieve some money. He didn’t have a cent in his pocket.

The shopkeeper dutifully grasped a loaf of bread from the shelf, cut it into two, put one half into a transparent polythene bag and handed it to a delighted Kang’ee. His heart began to beat with anxiety for he’d never stolen anything before.

The shopkeeper then held out her hand expecting Kang’ee to deposit money on her open palm. He didn’t.

Kang’ee instead gazed wistfully at the hand and then up at the anxious woman’s inquisitive eyes.

Leta pesa (give me the money),” the woman said grumpily.

When he heard these words, Kang’ee slowly turned from the woman and began to walk away from the shop. After a few steps when he heard the shopkeeper begin to yell, “Mwizi! Mwizi! (Thief! Thief!),” did Kang’ee start to run. At a certain distance he happened to look back and saw a bellicose group of young men chasing after him.

He took a sharp corner and ran towards the plot where his rental cubicle was. Once in his room, he securely locked the door with three steel latches.

He then sat on his bed and tore the polythene bag from the half loaf of bread. The delicious aroma of baked bread hit his nose like a punch. His salivary glands lost control. He drooled.

Kang’ee’s hands trembled with anticipation as he raised the soft, white, aromatic mass to his drooling, open, eager mouth. As soon as he sank his teeth into the divinely delicious softness of the bread and took a large bite, a group of angry people began to yell and bang on his wooden door.

“Come out or we’ll burn this house!” they yelled maniacally.

Kang’ee blithely ignored the angry yells and bangs on his door. Nothing could stop him from enjoying this moment, this moment with holy bread. (He considered the sweetness and softness and scent of the bread divine.)

He swallowed the first mouthful and proceeded to take another bite after which he chewed slowly to allow his senses to savour the rich nuances of the aroma, taste, and consistency of the bread. Instantly his teeth knew they would chew nothing sweeter.

Mogoka, Latinas, reggae, and wali wa dondo, had gone down the list of his favourite things. Bread was now at the top of that list!

It was at that instance that Kang’ee noticed the thick smoke wafting into his room. Somebody had set on fire the wooden door and walls of his house!

The dry wooden planks of the walls caught fire quickly and the fire spread to the four walls of the cubicle. Kang’ee stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by four walls of orange, dancing, crackling, angry flames.

He chewed and swallowed the last chunk of bread and then fell to the floor and began to cough. He couldn’t breath. He soon lost consciousness. The walls and the roof of the house collapsed on him and burnt his body to charcoal.

Is this what a human life is worth!? Half a loaf of bread?

© Denis Kabi 2009

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