The Drought: A Poem

The Drought: A Poem        

by Denis Kabi

The ground was cracking

into slabs of hexagonal dried clay,

their edges curling skywards

like hands lifted in prayer,

praying for rain.

A water reservoir once existed here

and many people flocked to fetch water from it

for their own use;

and their herds too depended on it

to quench their thirst.

But then came the drought,

and the reservoir was no more.

No rain had fallen for a long while now,

and no one could even recall what year

the last rains had fallen.

Children under five probably didn’t know what rain was,

for they’d never seen droplets of water

falling continuously from the clouds,

and creating rivulets on the ground

which streamed  into the reservoir,

filling it to its brim.

Whenever the reservoir was full,

there was joy amongst the people.

Singing could be heard

as the community prepared the fields

for planting season.

Singing could be heard

as the community weeded the fields.

Singing could be heard

as the community eventually harvested the crop.

Everyone would have enough to eat,

and every other night the youth would be outdoors

merrymaking, celebrating this or that occasion.

Even minor occasions like birthdays

wouldn’t be allowed to pass without a feast.

In times of plenty, every day is a celebration.

A goat or two would be slaughtered on such an occasion,

and there would be plenty of meat

to be roasted or boiled or fried;

and plenty of other foods and drinks

to accompany the meat.

Drumbeats would rend the air

and dancing fêtes  would drag well into the night.

Large herds allowed for dowry

to be paid promptly and generously;

and many marriage ceremonies took place

during such times of plenty.

On every face there would be a ready smile,

and all eyes gleamed with something good

– happiness, hope, contentment, certainty.

Adversity would be the last thought in anybody’s mind.

But it’s always there,

lurking in the shadows,

looming in the horizon,

zooming in on the carefree merrymakers.

It creeps in so slowly that no one realizes

that it is there,

until the ground starts to crack

into a million slabs of dried clay.

The slabs of dried clay cracked and disintegrated into bits

when the bare feet of an emaciated drained man

walked over them.

The sun was high and blazing

and he was extremely thirsty.

He needed to find water to drink fast,

and if he didn’t find any,

he’d collapse and give up the ghost.

He felt so weak that his will to live

was the only thing that sustained him.

His tongue clang to the roof of his mouth

and his eyes were so dry

that blinking couldn’t wet them.

Perhaps only a hose could.

As he walked,

he scanned the cracked ground for any signs of mud,

for he reasoned that there could be water

underneath any muddy patch of arid ground.

He was lucky,

because he soon spotted such a muddy patch

amongst the slabs of cracked earth,

and knelt beside it.

With his bare hands he began to dig

and he scooped large mounds of wet earth,

and dumped them on the edges

of the one-foot deep,  one-foot wide hole

that he’d excavated.

At two feet deep, he groaned with frustration

and stopped digging.

There was no water in there.

Just mud.

Damned wretched mud.

If the muddy hole was six-feet deep

and six-by-three feet in length and width,

it would have made a cool place to rest for a long time,

he thought while gazing at it resentfully.

What if he scooped a mound of mud

and wrung it like a drenched cloth, he thought.

Perhaps water would come out of it.

He swiftly scooped a large mound of earth

with both his hands,

raised it over his open mouth,

and wrung it like a drenched cloth,

expecting cool water to trickle into his mouth.

No water came out of the mud;

not even a single drop.

He flung the mound away and cursed it bitterly

and then stood up.

He was panting and seething with anger and frustration

as his eyes scanned the deserted arid vicinity

for any signs of the presence of water.

Just beyond the curve of the sandy horizon

he spotted a white object

which had a tall upright plank

and a slightly shorter horizontal plank

fitted across it.

It looked like a cross,

similar to the ones found at Christian houses of worship.

The white cross glowed in the sun like a star

and he was so intrigued by it

that he started to walk slowly towards it,

his bare feet dragging over the cracked ground.

After an hour of walking,

he still hadn’t gotten to it

and he started to think that the white object was a mirage,

similar to the illusory pool of water

usually seen glittering in the distance

on a sunny day.

But the cross’s potent glowing light drew him to it.

Another hour passed as he walked

towards the intriguing white object in the distance,

and as he walked, he grew thirstier.

The sun was blazing with fury

and there was not a tree in sight

or a house in which he could take shelter under.

He considered turning around

and going back the way he’d come,

but when he peeked over his shoulder

he saw a long trail of his footprints

stretching out over the dry expansive bare ground.

There was nothing back there

to go back to, he thought.

Nothing but sure death.

So he looked ahead and kept his eyes fixed on the cross,

and even though he grew thirstier with each step,

he kept walking towards it.

The heat was so intense

that he imagined that if he looked up to the sky,

he would see a thousand suns shining up there like stars.

He came across a withered thorn bush

which had recently fallen to the ground

and scattered its dead branches.

When he took his eyes from the cross to look at it,

he felt a sharp pain sting his heel,

and he had to stop to crouch and examine his heel.

A long thick nasty-looking white thorn was embedded

deep into the flesh of his heel.

He grimaced and writhed at it.

Muttering something under his breath,

he held the stem of the thorn between his fingers

and yanked it out.

A globule of ruddy blood rose to the surface

of the perforated area of the heel

and he released a sibilant hiss through his front teeth

as a sharp pain shot up his leg.

He flung the thorn away

and pressed the tip of his thumb

on the perforated area of his heel

until he felt sure the blood had clotted.

There was a blotch of red on his heel

when he pulled his thumb away,

and as soon as he put his foot down to walk,

the sharp pain again shot up his leg.

He grunted and seethed in ire.

But when he looked up to the horizon

and saw the gleaming white cross,

he temporarily forgot his pain

and instantly resumed his long walk towards it.

With each step he took towards the cross,

the wound on his heel inflicted by the thorn,

kept nagging him with sharp pain.

The wound on his heel kept reminding him

of the adversity he’d left behind.

The pain reminded him of the prolonged drought

that had refused to cease.

The blood he’d seen on his heel reminded him

of the folks and flocks that had perished

due to lack of water.

In spite of all these sad memories,

he pressed on towards the cross,

his eyes fixed on its potent light.

There were rotting odorous carcasses

and sun-bleached pale bones

of beasts that had perished,

scattered over the landscape

and sometimes blocking his path.

He didn’t look at them,

but simply walked around them.

He tried to ignore the stench.

On his periphery vision he could see

vultures clustered around a fresh carcass,

tearing chunks of meat from it

with their hooked beaks,

before greedily swallowing the chunks.

He felt sure that the vultures were appraising him,

asking themselves if his meat was any good

since he was so thin.

From the devilish gleam in the vultures’ eyes,

and their deathly cackles,

they were praying for his fall,

for he must’ve seemed moribund

in their jaundiced eyes.

Vultures relish taunting a troubled soul.

Despite sensing with his five senses

the close presence of death,

he pressed on towards the cross,

his eyes fixed on its potent light.

He could feel their eyes,

the wicked eyes of the vultures,

piercing his bare back

as he strode across the vast cracked dry ground.

The cracked ground was gradually replaced

by acres and acres of sun-bleached pale sand.

With each step he grimaced and grunted

because the sand was superheated

and it seared the soles of his bare feet.

Then the sand became less dense

and his legs began to sink into it

up to his knees.

Each step he took now

required great amounts of strength

for him to keep pulling each leg out of the loose sand.

His thirst was now as intense as the heat

of the sweltering sun above him.

When he was ready to give up and collapse,

he saw a well

and a man in white shining clothes

sitting beside the well.

The man was glowing with the same light

that the cross had glowed with.

‘Sir, I’ve come a long way and I’m thirsty,’

said the thirsty man.

‘Please, Sir, allow me to fetch some water from your well

and I’ll drink it and not die from thirst.’

The man in glowing white clothes said:

‘Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again,

but whoever drinks the water that I will give him

will never be thirsty again.

The water that I will give him will become in him a spring

which will provide him with life-giving water

and give him eternal life.’

‘Sir,’ the thirsty man said, ‘give me that water!

Then I will never be thirsty again,

nor will I have to come here to draw water.’

© Denis Kabi, 2011

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Once Born: A Poem

Once Born: A Poem

by Denis Kabi

The bus departed from the terminus

and drove through the bumpy winding roads

of the stuffy congested city,

steadily gaining speed

as the traffic gradually cleared up

the more distance the bus put between itself

and the big city.

It was a typical hot sunny day

and the air inside the bus was humid,

a riot of odours clashing,

making breathing a conscious chore

of labored inhalation and exhalation.

All the seats of the bus were packed

with animated travellers  heading home,

away from the big city;

or perhaps they were travelling away from home

to the countryside.

Who knows where they were going!

Rich timbres of varied mother tongues

flowed freely from all corners of the bus,

like a hotchpotch simmering in a pot,

the voices in conversations as loud as the bright colours

of their intricately patterned and embroidered attire.

The loud rattling noise of the bus engine,

and the thick black acrid cloud of exhaust fumes it belched,

competed for attention

with all these sights and sounds and smells

within the now speeding bus.

In one of the worn upholstery seats of the bus

sat a weary passenger,

his shoulder leaning heavily against the window,

his scarlet eyes cast forlornly out of the glass,

passively observing the rushing blur

of bushes and trees and fields

beyond the shoulder of the tarmac road.

In his travelling bag was a packet

filled with white powder,

an illegal substance which he was going to sell upcountry.

He slowly raised his right hand

and slid the window open,

hoping to get a bit of fresh air.

A gust of wind rudely hit his face,

and his breath caught in his throat.

The rushing wind made breathing difficult

and he now preferred the labored chore

of breathing the strange mixture of odours in the bus.

He tried to pull the window shut

but realized that he couldn’t,

for it had stuck.

The gust of wind hitting his face

was getting more and more forceful

as the bus gained more speed.

And since his breath caught in his throat

and he couldn’t breathe,

he was forced to lean away from the window

to avoid the wind hitting his face.

The woman passenger whom he shared a seat with

clicked her tongue in annoyance,

and asked what he thought he was doing

leaning so close to her.

As soon as she said this,

the passengers on the seat behind his seat

too clicked their tongues in annoyance

and loudly demanded that he close the window immediately,

for the gust of wind was ruining their hair-dos.

He lifted his hand again

and tried to pull the window shut,

but again realized that he couldn’t,

for it was stuck.

And so he raised his voice

to inform the annoyed grumbling passengers about this.

More passengers soon got drawn into the issue,

as the gust of wind grew stronger

the faster that the bus travelled

over the winding bumpy tarmac.

Because all other windows had been shut

to keep away the rushing wind,

this sole open window became the focus of attention

and source of great annoyance to many passengers.

Various angry voices speaking in varied mother tongues

called for the window to be shut immediately,

and if it could not be shut,

the bus should be stopped to fix it.

Neither did the bus driver hear these voices

calling for him to stop,

nor was the window problem fixed.

The gust of wind rushing into the bus

was getting more and more forceful

as the bus gained more speed,

and the angry voices irritated by it

grew angrier and greater in number.

Passengers on the rows of seats

on the right side of the bus

soon got up from their seats

and found someplace else they could squeeze into

on the left side’s rows of seats

while some stood on the aisle.

He didn’t follow the other passengers,

but remained seated on his seat on the right side

and kept tugging at the window,

desperately trying – without much success –

to pull it shut.

It was at that time

that the bus driver wrenched the steering wheel,

upon spotting a huge pothole

on the inclining curving road ahead,

and the bus swerved to the slanting dusty shoulder

of the tarmac road.

The weight of the passengers

packed on the left side of the bus

made the speeding bus tilt dangerously to that side,

and its right side’s front and back wheels spun crazily

as they rose from the ground.

Voices of panic-stricken passengers

yelling in varied mother tongues

collectively asked, “What’s going on?”

as their hands flung out to grab

at whatever firm thing they could cling to.

The weight of the yelling passengers

packed on the left side of the bus

made the speeding bus tilt further to that side,

and its right side’s front and back wheels kept spinning furiously

and rose higher off the ground.

The driver screamed from the front of the bus

announcing that he’d lost control of it.

The voices of panic-stricken passengers

yelled in varied mother tongues

upon hearing the driver’s unnerving proclamation.

The inclining curving road passed over a bridge,

and below the high bridge,

fifty metres below,

was a wide gushing brown-watered swollen river.

With no one to control the fateful bus,

it hurtled down the inclining road,

and broke through the bridge’s steel railings.

For a few seconds,

everything was quiet in the bus,

as it flew over the edge of the bridge,

and flitted down towards the brown gushing waters

of the swollen river.

His hand was still holding the handle of the stuck window

and he tugged at it one last time,

and this time the window easily slid shut.

Ah, finally the gust of wind

that had irritated the passengers was shut out.

Now every passenger who’d abandoned their seat

could return to the right side

and settle down on their respective seats

and enjoy the rest of their journey home

– or away from home –

depending on where they were going.

When he didn’t hear the rustle of movement

of passengers returning to their seats,

he turned to the left side of the bus

to look at the frozen passengers.

Everything moved in slow motion.

Their mouths were ajar,

their eyes wide,

their faces twisted into incomprehensible expressions.

He turned to the window on his right

and looked through the glass.

He saw what a person sitting on the window seat

of a low flying aircraft sees.

It was not the most pleasant of sights to see,

especially if you’re not in an aeroplane,

but are in a bus.

With a monstrous splash,

the bus plunged

into the brown waters of the swollen river,

and was swiftly swept

by the powerful river currents downstream.

All the passengers, including the driver,

drowned while struggling to scramble out

of the sinking flooded bus.

The man who’d sat beside the stuck window

suddenly opened his eyes.

His entire body was in excruciating pain.

He began to cry out in anguish.

He tried to move this way and that way,

but there was no relief from the excruciating pain.

In the surrounding area he could hear various voices

crying out in varied mother tongues,

sickening anguish in their high-pitched tones.

There was great heat in that place,

and when he looked around,

he saw flames rising up from the surface.

It seemed like a kiln,

a vast subterranean kiln

filled with wailing convulsing multitudes of humans

– both women and men,

from all races, nationalities, ethnicities, and religions.

Though the fire was endlessly burning,

none of the wailing humans was consumed by it.

The fire scorched them without consuming them

– similar to holding ones hand close to a candle’s flame

and losing the ability to pull back the hand from the flame.

The flame inflicts unbearable pain on the flesh,

though the flesh is not destroyed or altered.

In the subterranean kiln

the man who’d sat beside the stuck window

looked around and could see people he once knew,

people who’d been his friends and family,

people who’d been his acquaintances and business associates,

people who’d died and been buried,

people who were atheists

and people who were religious,

people who were wealthy

and people who were not wealthy,

people who were highly educated

and people who were not educated at all,

people who were stingy

and people who were philanthropic,

people who were nice

and people who were not so nice,

people who were famous

and people who were not famous,

people who’d lived decadent lives

and people who’d lived lives that were not decadent,

people who were good

and people who were not good.

As the man who’d sat beside the stuck window

looked around the crowded subterranean kiln,

a gentle force suddenly lifted him up and out of that terrible place.

He then heard voices screaming in alarm

and again he opened his eyes.

He saw daylight

and realized that he was floating belly up

in the gushing brown waters of a wide swollen river,

and there was a crowd of horrified people

looking down at him

while standing on the edge of a bridge

built above the river.

The steel railings of the bridge had been torn apart.

Two young men from the crowd of onlookers

swiftly removed their shirts, shoes, socks, trousers,

and remained in their shorts.

The two young men then hurried

down the steep walls of the river bank

and once they reached the edge of the embankment

they dived into the river,

and swam towards the man

who was floating downstream.

With a lot of difficulty,

the two young men managed

to pull the man out of the river,

and dragged him up the rising riverbank

to the tarmac road above the river.

He was the only survivor of the bus tragedy.

A selfless motorist stopped and volunteered

to rush the injured drenched man to a nearby hospital,

where he was hospitalized and treated,

and discharged three days later.

The bus tragedy was widely reported in the media

and the sole survivor was besieged by news reporters

who asked him how he felt being the only person

who lived to tell the tale of the fateful bus journey.

Though he said he was a Christian,

he had not prayed

or gone to church

or read the Bible

since he was a boy

attending Sunday school,

twenty or more years ago.

Despite his religious indifference,

he didn’t hesitate to answer the reporters

by attributing his miraculous escape

from the grisly bus accident to God.

But he was hesitant to reveal to anybody

his short visit to the vast subterranean kiln

where he saw multitudes of humans wailing

and convulsing in unending torment.

The sights and sounds and smells

of that terrible place played and replayed vividly

in his mind for several weeks after the bus tragedy.

Sometimes he couldn’t even sleep at night,

for he feared closing his eyes

only to see and hear those hellish images and voices

of that vast subterranean kiln.

Was that place hell? he wondered.

Is it possible that he’d gone to hell

and escaped from it?

What was that gentle force

that had suddenly lifted him up

and out of that terrible place?

What was the meaning of all of this?

Why was he the only survivor of the bus tragedy?

Why did the gentle force save him from the kiln

where the departed dwelled in unending torment?

And now that he had experienced

this shocking series of incidents,

what was he supposed to do with this knowledge?

Now he recalled a story,

a story that the Sunday school teacher had once read aloud,

from the children’s Bible,

a story describing a rich man and a poor man

who both died and went to different places

– one to heaven and the other to a fiery place.

For the first time in twenty or so years

he searched for his copy of the Holy Bible

and once he found it,

he blew the dust from its cover

and opened it.

He flipped through its densely printed pages for a while,

desperately searching for the passage he wanted,

until he found it.

With his hands trembling,

he began to read:

There was once a rich man

who dressed in the most expensive clothes

and lived in great luxury every day.

There was also a poor man named Lazarus,

covered with sores,

who used to be brought to the rich man’s door,

hoping to eat the bits of food

that fell from the rich man’s table.

Even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

The poor man died and was carried by the angels

to sit beside Abraham at the feast in heaven.

The rich man died and was buried,

and in Hades, where he was in great pain,

he looked up and saw Abraham, far away,

with Lazarus at his side.

So he called out, “Father Abraham!

Take pity on me,

and send Lazarus to dip his finger in some water

and cool off my tongue,

 because I am in great pain in this fire!”

But Abraham said, “Remember, my son,

that in your lifetime you were given all the good things,

while Lazarus got all the bad things.

But now he is enjoying himself here,

while you are in pain.

 Besides all that,

there is a deep pit lying between us,

so that those who want to cross over

 from here to you cannot do so,

nor can anyone cross over to us

from where you are.”

The rich man said, “Then I beg you, father Abraham,

send Lazarus to my father’s house,

where I have five brothers.

Let him go and warn them so that they, at least,

will not come to this place of pain.”

Abraham said, “Your brothers have Moses and the prophets

to warn them;

your brothers should listen to what they say.”

The rich man answered, “That’s not enough, father Abraham!

But if someone were to rise from death

 and go to them,

then they would turn from their sins.”

But Abraham said,

“If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,

they will not be convinced

even if someone were to rise from death.”

It seems that once a person is born,

and after their allotted time here on earth expires,

their spirit will live for eternity somewhere.

Heaven or Hades, which one do you choose?

This man chose heaven.

He decided to confess his sins,

and ask Jesus to come into his heart

and be his Lord and Saviour.

He got born-again!

© Denis Kabi, 2011

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Daughters of Ham: A Poem

Daughters of Ham: A Poem

by Denis Kabi

Daughter of Ham, how lovely you are.

A home was chosen for you

in the east coast of Africa,

a land to the south of Jerusalem, Israel,

farther south of the territory once ruled by the Queen of Sheba,

east of the source of the River Nile.

A little bit of the world is in you;

the lakes, the rivers, the streams;

the hillocks, the hills, the mountains;

the forests, the grassland plains, the deserts;

the sun, the snow, the ocean;

the browns, the blacks, the whites;

the Shems, the Hams, the Japheths.

How did your people come to live here?

Well, God created Adam and Eve,

who had two sons, Cain and Abel,

and another called Seth,

and seven generations down the bloodline,

Noah was born and in due time

he had three sons,

Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

When mankind had spread all over the earth,

the Lord saw how wicked everyone on earth was

and how evil their thoughts were.

He was so filled with regret

that He said, “I will wipe out

these people I have created,

and also the animals and the birds,

because I am sorry that I made any of them.”

But the Lord was pleased with Noah.

Noah had no faults

and was the only good man of his time.

He lived in fellowship with God.

God told Noah to build a boat,

for He was going to destroy

every living being on earth.

God told Noah to go into the boat

with his wife, his sons, and their wives,

and a male and a female of every kind of animal

and every kind of bird,

in order to keep them alive.

Then the flood came.

Every living being on earth died

– every bird, every animal, and every person.

When the flood ended

Noah and his family, and the animals

left the boat.

God blessed Noah and his sons and said,

“Have many children, so that your descendants

will live all over the earth.”

Noah, who was a farmer,

was the first man to plant a vineyard.

After he drank some of the wine,

he became drunk, took off his clothes,

and lay naked in his tent.

When Ham, the father of Canaan,

saw that his father was naked,

he went out and told his two brothers.

Then Shem and Japheth took a robe

and held it behind them on their shoulders.

They walked backward into the tent

and covered their father,

keeping their faces turned away

so as not to see him naked.

When Noah sobered up

and learned what his youngest son

had done to him, he said,

“A curse on Canaan!

He will be a slave to his brothers.

Give praise to the Lord, the God of Shem!

Canaan will be the slave of Shem.

May God cause Japheth to increase!

May his descendants live with the people of Shem!

Canaan will be the slave of Japheth.”

Things started rather badly

for Ham’s descendants, didn’t they?

The sons of Ham – Cush, Egypt, Libya, and Canaan –

were the ancestors of the peoples

who bear their names.

The descendants of Cush

were the people of Seba, Havilah,

Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca.

The descendants of Raamah

were the people of Sheba and Dedan.

Black people probably descended from this bloodline.

At first, the people of the whole world

had only one language

and used the same words.

As they wandered about in the East,

they came to a plain in Babylonia

and settled there.

They said to one another, “Come on!

Let’s make bricks and bake them hard.”

So they had bricks to build with

and tar to hold them together.

They said, “Now let’s build a city

with a tower that reaches the sky,

so that we can make a name for ourselves

and not be scattered all over the earth.”

Then the Lord came down to see the city

and the tower which those men had built

and He said, “Now then, these are all one people

and they speak one language;

this is just the beginning

of what they are going to do.

Soon they will be able to do anything they want!

Let us go down and mix up their language

so that they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them all over earth,

and they stopped building the city.

The city was called Babylon,

because there the Lord mixed up

the language of all the people,

and from there He scattered them

all over the earth.

Daughter of Ham, how lovely you are.

A home was chosen for you

in the east coast of Africa,

a land to the south of Jerusalem, Israel,

farther south of the territory once ruled by the Queen of Sheba,

east of the source of the River Nile.

A little bit of the world is in you;

the lakes, the rivers, the streams;

the hillocks, the hills, the mountains;

the forests, the grassland plains, the deserts;

the sun, the snow, the ocean;

the browns, the blacks, the whites;

the Shems, the Hams, the Japheths.

How did your people come to be so poor?

Well, is Noah’s curse still in effect?

The people of Angola and DR Congo

have suffered for many years

from political turbulence and civil unrest.

The people of Ethiopia and Eritrea

have suffered for many years

from political clashes and border disputes.

The people of Kenya and Uganda

have suffered for many years

from political strife and ethnic fire-ups.

The people of Sudan and Somalia

have suffered for two or more decades

from political turmoil and civil war.

The people of Rwanda and Sierra Leone

have suffered for many years

from political instability and subjugation.

The people of Western Sahara and Madagascar

have suffered for many years

from political upheavals and repressions.

The people of Zimbabwe and Cote d’ Ivoire

have suffered for many years

from bad governance and stagnating economies.

The list can go on and on and on…

Every other African country

seems to be rushing down the path to conflict

– or coming up from it.

The situation is even more depressing

in the lands where Africans in the Diaspora live.

The black people of Europe and America

have suffered for many years

from political exclusion and repression.

The people of Haiti and Jamaica

have suffered for many years

from political unrests and other tempests.

A sizeable percentage of the descendants of Ham

have never known peace or prosperity.

Sufferance seems to be their collective surname.

Year in, year out, decade after decade,

droughts come and go,

wiping out beings and beasts alike

in their wake.

Year in, year out, decade after decade,

civil wars come and go,

wiping out beings and beasts alike

in their wake.

Year in, year out, decade after decade,

coup d’ etats and violent elections come and go,

wiping out beings and beasts alike

in their wake.

Year in, year out, decade after decade,

colonialists and neo-colonialists come and go,

wiping out natural resources

and destabilizing indigenous societies

in their wake.

Year in, year out, decade after decade,

this vicious cycle seems to repeat itself,

wiping out more beings and more beasts

in their horrifying wake.

Nothing seems to go right in Africa!

Why did Ham go into Noah’s tent

that fateful day in history

and see him in the state he was?

Why did Noah pronounce such a terrible thing

against his own flesh and blood?

Couldn’t Noah have simply reprimanded the chap

and chosen a benign form of punishment?

Why did Noah curse

the descendants of his son Ham?

Did Noah know what the consequences

of his words would bring?

Perhaps there’s an answer to these questions…

Perhaps it’s only a biblical scholar or theologian

who can shed light on these concerns…

Daughter of Ham, how lovely you are.

A home was chosen for you

in the east coast of Africa,

a land to the south of Jerusalem, Israel,

farther south of the territory once ruled by the Queen of Sheba,

east of the source of the River Nile.

A little bit of the world is in you;

the lakes, the rivers, the streams;

the hillocks, the hills, the mountains;

the forests, the grassland plains, the deserts;

the sun, the snow, the ocean;

the browns, the blacks, the whites;

the Shems, the Hams, the Japheths.

How do your people plan

to make things better in the future?

Well, Deuteronomy twenty-eight says:

If you obey the Lord your God

and faithfully keep all his commands

that I am giving you today,

He will make you greater

than any other nation on earth.

Obey the Lord your God

and all these blessings will be yours:

“The Lord will bless your towns and your fields.

The Lord will bless you with many children,

with abundant crops,

and with many cattle and sheep.

The Lord will bless your grain crops

and the food you prepare from them.

The Lord will bless everything you do.

The Lord will defeat your enemies

when they attack you.

They will attack from one direction,

but they will run from you in all directions.

The Lord your God will bless your work

and fill your barns with grain.

He will bless you in the land

that He is giving you.

If you obey the Lord your God

 and do everything He commands,

 He will make you His own people,

as He has promised.

Then all the peoples on earth will see

that the Lord has chosen you

 to be His own people,

and they will be afraid of you.

The Lord will give you many children,

many cattle, and abundant crops

 in the land that He promised your ancestors

to give you.

He will send rain in season

from His rich storehouse in the sky

and bless all your work,

so that you will lend to many nations,

but you will not have to borrow from any.

The Lord your God will make you the leader

among the nations and not a follower;

you will always prosper and never fail

 if you obey faithfully all His commands

that I am giving you today.

But you must never disobey them in any way

or worship and serve other gods.”

Deuteronomy twenty-eight also says:

But if you disobey the Lord your God

and do not faithfully keep all his commands

and laws that I am giving you today,

all these evil things will happen to you:

The Lord will curse your towns and your fields.

The Lord will curse your grain crops

and the food you prepare from them.

The Lord will curse you by giving you

 only a few children, poor crops,

and few cattle and sheep.

The Lord will curse everything you do.

If you do evil and reject the Lord,

He will bring on you disaster, confusion,

 and trouble in everything you do,

until you are quickly and completely destroyed.

He will send disease after disease on you

until there is not one of you left

in the land that you are about to occupy.

The Lord will strike you with infectious diseases,

with swelling and fever;

He will send drought and scorching winds

to destroy your crops.

These disasters will be with you until you die.

No rain will fall,

and your ground will become as hard as iron.

Instead of rain, the Lord will send down

dust storms and sandstorms

until you are destroyed.

The Lord will give your enemies victory over you.

You will attack them from one direction,

but you will run from them in all directions,

and all the people on earth will be terrified

when they see what happens to you.

When you die,

birds and wild animals will come

and eat your bodies,

and there will be no one to scare them off.

The Lord will send boils on you,

as He did on the Egyptians.

He will make your bodies break out with sores.

You will be covered with scabs,

and you will itch,

but there will be no cure.

The Lord will make you lose your mind;

 He will strike you with blindness and confusion.

You will grope about in broad daylight

like a blind man,

and you will not be able to find your way.

You will not prosper in anything you do.

You will be constantly oppressed and robbed,

and there will be no one to help you.

You will be engaged to a girl

– but someone else will marry her.

You will build a house

– but never live in it.

You will plant a vineyard

 – but never eat its grapes.

Your cattle will be butchered

before your very eyes,

but you will not eat any of the meat.

Your donkeys will be dragged away

while you look on,

and they will not be given back to you.

Your sheep will be given to your enemies,

and there will be no one to help you.

Your sons and daughters will be given as slaves

to foreigners while you look on.

Every day you will strain your eyes,

looking in vain for your children to return.

A foreign nation will take all the crops

that you have worked so hard to grow,

while you receive nothing

but constant oppression and harsh treatment.

Your sufferings will make you lose your mind.

The Lord will cover your legs with incurable, painful sores;

boils will cover you from head to foot…”

 

Daughter of Ham, why do they call you Her?

Yet it’s your sons who have ruled you

and brought you so much misery…

 

© Denis Kabi, 2011

 

Comments (4) »

MIGHTY SUN: A Poem

MIGHTY SUN: A Poem

by Denis Kabi

Mighty sun, who created you?

Ever since I was a child, aged about five,

and looked up to the sky

with my curious pair of eyes,

and my inquisitive mind,

I always saw this round bright thing

drifting slowly across the sky.

It starts its journey very early in the morning,

rising from behind the darkness of the eastern horizon.

Gradually the skies of the east

turn from a dark blue hue,

into a pale grey tint, and, like magic,

a magnificent shade of ever-brightening yellow

fills that part of the sky.

On a cloudless dawn,

the patch of yellow on the eastern sky

is shaped like an arch,

much like the drooping mouth

of an unhappy smiley face.

The yellow arch is anxious to expand

and spread itself across the expanse of sky,

quickly eating up the dark hues

of the night gone by.

At the centre of the ever expanding arch,

there’s a lighted patch,

a smaller arch.

The smaller arch is at first mild enough

to be viewed with naked eyes,

but as minutes elapse,

it grows so bright that I can’t look at it

with my naked eyes.

My mother always told me

never to look directly at the sun.

“It will burn your eyes and you’ll go blind,”

she’d caution me.

But some kids in the neighbourhood,

kids who are my playmates,

taught me how to look at the sun

without burning my eyes.

“Use a negative photography film –

the brownish rectangular thing

found at the back of pictures in family albums,”

the kids advised me.

“By holding the negative in front of one eye

– and closing the other eye –

you can look at the sun directly!”

I have searched through the backs of the pictures

of my family’s photo album,

and found a rectangular brownish film

– what the kids described as a ‘negative.’

It has a series of squared holes along its flanks.

I make a mental note

not to look through those holes

when I’m viewing the sun directly

with my naked eyes.

Now I hold the negative in front of my right eye.

My left eye is tightly closed.

I position the negative close to my open eye,

so that I don’t mistakenly look through

the series of squared holes on its flanks.

Through the brownish film,

I look at the bright arch

emerging from behind the dark wavy line

of the eastern horizon.

At first I observe a semi-circle of bright light

emerging from the dark line of the horizon.

Then the semi-circle slowly grows into a half-circle;

then into a three-quarter circle;

and eventually into a perfectly round

circle of bright light.

I’m awed by its magnificence,

intrigued by the magic of sunrise,

fascinated by the dramatic revelation of the mighty sun,

yet fearful of its powerful light.

Wow! I gasp. Wow!

Mighty sun, who created you?

Were you created by the One,

the One who was here before the beginning of time;

the One  created the universe;

the One who was moving over the ocean

that covered the formless desolate dark earth?

Were you created by the One,

the One who commanded, “Let there be light”

– and light appeared;

the One who was pleased with what He saw

and separated the light from the darkness,

naming the light “Day”

and the darkness “Night”?

I’ve grown older, aged about ten,

and when I look into the clear blue sky

with my curious pair of eyes

and my inquisitive mind,

I see the round bright thing

drifting slowly across the sky.

It’s hanging in the sky,

halfway between the point of sunrise,

and the peak of midday.

It’s white hot

and is in a hurry to lose

its early morning mildness.

It would be a wonderful day

to go shooting birds with my catapult.

So I rush back into our house

and grab my catapult.

The catapult is fashioned out of a Y-shaped stick

and strips of black rubber

cut from a bicycle’s inner tube.

Schools closed a week or so ago

and we have a one month long holiday.

Oh, how I’m enjoying not going to school!

I leave the house and stroll around

the dusty roads of the hilly neighbourhood I live in.

I have my catapult clutched tightly in my hands,

my right hand’s fingers wrapped around

the stem of the Y-shaped weapon,

and my left hand’s fingers grasping

the little patch of leather

where the smooth rounded gravel stone is lodged.

As I walk slowly along the dusty roads,

I keep picking smooth, rounded stones from the road.

I put the stones

into the bulging pockets of my khaki shorts.

The pockets are bulging

because of the bunch of rounded stones

that I’ve collected.

The rounded stones are my ‘bullets’.

I soon spot a yellow-breasted weaverbird,

high up in one of the tall, leafy trees

lining the dusty, rocky road.

I crouch and tiptoe stealthily across the road,

and stand under the branch

where the weaverbird is perched.

It is singing noisily.

Stealthily I raise my catapult

and point at the yellow, noisy bird.

Like a rifle’s sight,

I position the moribund bird

on the crotch of the Y-shaped weapon.

When I start to pull the leather patch

and hopefully shoot down the weaverbird,

the brightness of the sun above

starts to interfere with my view.

Now I can’t see a thing!

The sun is too bright

and its glare temporarily blinds me.

I’ve pulled back the leather patch

– which contains a rounded stone –

as far back as the strips of rubber will allow.

Though I can barely see the weaverbird,

I part my fingers and release the stone.

The weaverbird is very clever and sees me;

it can see the Y-shaped thing I’m holding.

The bird deduces that I don’t mean it well.

It instantly jumps from the branch

and sings a loud song of alarm

as it flits away across the sky,

and disappears behind a clutch of tall trees,

a good distance from where I am.

The stone I’ve just released hits the branch,

exactly where the bird was perched,

and ricochets with a loud ping!

Angered by my ruined attempt

to shoot down the weaverbird,

I turn to the sun.

But I cannot stare at it directly,

for it’s too bright to look at.

“I’m angry with you, Sun!” I tell it.

“You ruined my shot. Now look, the bird has escaped!”

Mighty sun, who created you?

Were you created by the One,

the One who commanded, “Let there be a dome

to divide the water and to keep in two separate places”

– and it was done;

the One who made a dome,

and it separated the water under it

from the water above it?

Were you created by the One,

the One who named the dome “Sky”?

I’ve grown older, aged about fifteen,

and when I look into the clear blue sky,

with my curious pair of eyes

and my inquisitive mind,

I see the round bright thing

drifting across the sky.

It’s hanging in the sky,

directly above my head,

at the highest point of its arched path.

It is midday

and the bright thing is blazing,

having lost its morning mildness.

It would be a wonderful day

to get my drawing materials

– coloured pencils, white papers,

coloured pens, graphite-tipped pencils –

and go sit under the cool shade of a tree

and while away

the sweltering afternoon drawing pictures.

Pictures of yellow-breasted weaverbirds

perched on the branch of a tall tree singing.

Pictures of yellow-barked, towering acacia trees,

their trunks swaying stiffly in the blowing wind.

Pictures of the yellow sun

rising from the eastern horizon,

casting its bright spell over the earth,

ready to rule the day

till its inevitable setting.

Pictures of a yellow-shirted lad,

sitting on a rock

under the shade of a leafy loquat tree,

just outside his house,

scribbling the white paper on his lap

with black and coloured pencils,

lost in the imaginative world of art.

The act of making art

is probably the most pleasurable experience

that a human mind can know.

For a few wonderful seconds

– or minutes, or hours –

the artist’s mind departs

from the shoreline of reality

and sails into the vast wavy ocean of fantasy.

One does not need a sea-going vessel

to explore the vast, wavy ocean of fantasy.

No, one can swim in it,

if they want to.

They can float aimlessly,

if they want to.

They can even walk on the water,

if they want to.

One can dive deep into the ocean and explore

the strange realm under the surface.

Gargantuan under-sea mountains rule the lands below;

deep, dark valleys compliment the mountains,

their depths too scary to explore;

the under-sea creatures are cartoonish,

nothing like is seen on-shore;

the plants too are strange and rubbery,

swaying rhythmically to the unseen ocean currents.

One can float up to the ocean surface and swim

to the islands and islets dotting the vast ocean,

and explore their interiors.

Parrots and hornbills rule

the crests of the tall trees,

squawking and screeching;

apes and monkeys rule

the boughs of the huge trees,

hopping and jumping;

antelopes and gazelles rule

the vast grassy plains,

roaming and wandering;

iguanas and salamanders rule

the open spaces close to waterways,

wobbling and waddling;

tarantulas and giant roaches rule

the covert spaces underneath everything,

creeping and crawling.

One can then jump into the ocean,

and swim to Siberia,

to look at jagged glaciers lining the horizon,

fluffy, white polar bears sliding

on their big, fat bellies down a snowy slope;

and also see vast frozen lakes,

where otters have made holes in the ice,

holes that give them access to food

in the sea below,

and air in the atmosphere above.

One can jump back into the ocean,

and swim to the Arabian peninsular

to look at the vast sandy deserts,

pale plump desert snakes rolling on their bellies

down a wind-swept sand dune;

and also see lush oases

dotted with swaying palm and date trees.

One can jump again into the ocean,

and swim to South America,

to look at the Amazon River,

dark anacondas gliding on their sleek bellies

over the surface of the vast river;

and also see the lush Amazon jungle,

where pale white macaws flit back and forth

across the sky over the towering trees,

engaged in elaborate mating rituals.

But the sun is scorching my skin,

for it has drifted slowly across the sky,

and its light and heat

has exposed the cool shade of the loquat tree

that I’m taking shelter under.

I have to move the rock I’m sitting on farther back.

The artist’s mind departs

from the vastly unexplored world of fantasy

and reluctantly drifts back

into the landmass of unimaginative reality.

It would have been a wonderful day

to draw pictures, but I can’t indulge in my hobby,

because I’m in school,

barely awake,

sitting through a torturous double period

of a mathematics lesson.

Lunch break is coming up

after the math lesson,

and I look forward to leaving the classroom

and going outside

to sit in a cool shade of a tree,

and watch the mystifying heat shimmers of the sun

rising from the grassy grounds.

Mighty sun, who created you?

Were you created by the One,

the One who commanded,

“Let the water below the sky

come together in one place,

so that the land will appear”

– and it was done;

the One who named the land “Earth”,

and the water which had come together

He named “Sea”

– and was pleased with what He saw?

Were you created by the One,

the One who commanded,

“Let the earth produce all kinds of plants,

those that bear grain,

and those that bear fruit”

– and it was done,

so the earth produced all kinds of plants;

the One who was pleased with what He saw?

I’ve grown older, aged about twenty,

and when I look into the clear blue sky,

with my curious pair of eyes

and my inquisitive mind,

I see the round bright thing

drifting across the sky.

It’s hanging in the sky,

halfway between the peak of midday

and the dark line of the western horizon.

It’s yellowish now,

gradually losing its brightness and heat.

It seems subdued,

eager to reach the horizon,

and sink behind it,

and hide its face.

It would be a wonderful day

to take a walk

to the top of the green, knuckled hills of Ngong’,

and sit there at the apexes

and have a 360 degree view of the region.

So I depart from home

and stride at a moderate pace

through the winding, intertwined, dusty, rocky

roads and pathways

leading to the top of the grassy, green hills.

The roads and pathways cut through

residential neighbourhoods,

and past a small bustling town,

and open-air marketplace and bus terminus,

and past a health centre and a police station

and district officer’s office;

and up a steep, red dust road

lined with thorny, green hedges and trees;

and past a small church;

and past a steel barrier and a ticketing office

(I’m on foot, therefore I’m not required

to pay an entry fee);

and eventually I walk up a grassy, green slope

to the apex of one of the knuckles of the series of hills.

A gust of whistling wind blows over me

and I feel like a blade of grass.

If I wasn’t heavy enough,

the wind would have carried me away!

I stand with my feet astride,

to steady myself

as I behold the view,

the magnificent view before my eyes.

Slowly I begin to turn

on my pivot point,

studying the outstretched landscape

which curves downwards

in the distant, purplish, misty horizon.

In the northern horizon

I can see the tops of Nairobi CBD’s tallest buildings,

sticking out of the curving horizon.

I strain my eyes,

searching for the iconic three peaks

of Mount Kenya in the purplish fog

hanging over the northern horizon,

but I can’t see the peaks of the great mountain.

It’s too far away, I presume.

In the eastern horizon,

I can see the tops of numerous trees

– a forest, I suppose –

and in the distance a big hump,

which I guess is a hill.

I strain my eyes,

searching for the shimmering waters

of the Indian Ocean in the bluish mist

hanging over the eastern horizon,

but I can’t see the shimmering waters of the great ocean.

It’s too far away, I presume.

In the southern horizon,

I can see the dark blue mass

of the unmistakable Mount Kilimanjaro.

It’s uniquely shaped.

Unlike most mountains,

this one is not cone-shaped.

It’s shaped like the top of a fedora hat.

I strain my eyes,

searching for the snow-capped top

of Mount Kilimanjaro in the purplish fog

hanging over the southern horizon,

but I cannot see the snow-capped top

of the great mountain.

I guess it is because the snow

has gradually melted away

due to the troubling phenomenon

that the environment experts are calling ‘global warming.’

In the western horizon

I can see a vast grassland plain

stretching out to the curving horizon.

I’m guessing that that is the renowned

Maasai Mara Game Reserve,

the place where the spectacle of wildebeests

making a riotous annual crossing

over the Mara River, happens.

I strain my eyes,

searching for the bluish mass

that is Lake Victoria in the purplish fog

hanging over the western horizon,

but I cannot see the bluish mass of the great lake.

It’s too far away, I presume.

So I turn again and face the north.

In the hillocks on the foreground

of the unfolding landscape,

I try to locate my family’s house.

Numerous houses dot

the slopes of the hillocks,

their multi-coloured roof tiles

and rectangular hedge-fenced compounds

seeming like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

Numerous tall trees

planted along the perimeter fences

of the numerous compounds of the houses

on the hillock,

obscure the view of my family’s house.

I make a mental note

to borrow a binoculars and bring it with me

the next time I visit the peaks

of the grassy, green, knuckled hills.

But I see that dusk is fast approaching.

It’s starting to get dark,

and I’d better start my journey back to my home.

I don’t want to find out

what types of wild animals and people

come out at dusk

to roam over the tops of these hills.

The sun is hanging low over the western horizon,

and its heat is mild and soothing,

and I consciously enjoy this

as I stride back home,

weaving through the winding,

intertwined, dusty, rocky roads and pathways.

Mighty sun, who created you?

Were you created by the One,

the One who commanded,

“Let lights appear in the sky

to separate day from night

and to show the time when days,

years and seasons begin,

so that they will shine in the sky

to give light to the earth”

– and it was done?

Were you created by the One who

made the two larger lights,

the sun to rule over the day,

and the moon to rule over the night;

the One who made the stars,

and placed lights in the sky

to shine on the earth,

to rule over the day and the night,

and to separate light from darkness;

the One who was pleased with what He saw?

I’ve grown older, aged about twenty-five,

and when I look into the clear, dark sky,

with my curious pair of eyes

and my inquisitive mind,

I see the round bright thing

almost touching the dark undulating line

of the western horizon.

It’s a fiery orange ball

and is in a hurry to vanish

behind the horizon.

Oh, how amazing it is

to finally be able to look directly at it

without getting my eyes harmed.

Sunset seems to be the only time of day

when one can behold

this enchanting orb of light

with one’s naked eyes,

as it hastens to conceal itself

behind the dark, wavy horizon.

It would be a wonderful day

to stand on the balcony of our house

and just savour this moment,

this dramatic setting of the fiery orange orb.

Millimeter by millimeter it slips

behind the wavy, dark horizon,

its orange brightness tinting

the western horizon with a pale, reddish hue,

a hue which extends outwards into a wide arc.

The wide, pale red arc nicely blends

with the dark blue of the sections of the sky

that are not close to the west.

The fiery orange orb is now three-quarters of a circle.

Millimeter by millimeter it slips

behind the wavy, dark horizon,

and a series of twinkling little stars appear

on the lighted, reddish sky just above it.

It’s as if the twinkling little stars

are glad to see the fiery orange orb vanish

– disappear for the length of the night.

It’s only in the darkness of the night

that most little stars are visible.

The brightness of the daytime sun

renders them invisible.

But now it is their time to shine,

to enjoy twinkling in the dark night.

The fiery orange orb is now half of a circle.

Millimeter by millimeter it slips

behind the wavy, dark horizon,

and inspires the birds to start singing

their evening songs,

songs that are melancholic,

as if mourning the end of the day.

A fleet of migrating white birds

flit across the sky

heading from north to south,

aligned behind each other,

and forming a wobbly, not-so-neat capital V

across the sky.

Crickets and other nocturnal creatures

soon emerge and start their spirited sing-song,

energizing the fading songs

of the retiring daytime creatures,

taking over the nightly role

of being the soundtrack of the earth.

The fiery orange orb is now quarter of a circle.

Millimeter by millimeter it slips

behind the wavy, dark horizon,

and prompts the occupants of the residential houses,

and the numerous shops of the town centre,

to switch on the electric bulbs and tubes

of their respective buildings.

One by one,

I observe with amusement from the top of the hill,

as the electric bulbs and tubes of the countless buildings

in the vicinity light up,

reminiscent of Christmas lights

on a lush, green Christmas tree.

Amber floodlights mounted on tall steel poles

are lit to light up

the small town on the foot of the green hills.

Multicoloured head and tail lamps

of countless motor vehicles

flit back and forth along the main tarmac road,

residents rushing to and from their homes.

The cluster of multicoloured lights of the little town

under the rising slope of the dark, knuckled hills

look really good at night.

The last quarter of the fiery orange orb finally vanishes!

A profound feeling of something like sorrow

envelopes me,

a feeling like that of a nursery school kid

observing his mother leaving the school gates

on his first day in the school.

It’s an unpleasant, empty feeling.

I don’t like it.

The reddish arc on the western horizon

is gradually eaten up

by the dark-blue, starry sky.

Soon the entire stretch of sky

is evenly coloured dark-blue,

with smudges of purple here and there.

It’s surreal.

There’s no hint that a fiery orange orb

sat on the horizon just a few minutes ago!

Mighty sun, who created you?

Were you created by the One,

the One who commanded,

“Let the water be filled

with many kinds of living beings,

and the air to be filled with birds”?

Were you created by the One,

the One who created the great sea monsters,

and all kinds of creatures that live in the water,

and all kinds of birds;

the One who was pleased with what He saw;

the One who blessed them all

and told the creatures that live in the water

to produce and to fill the sea;

the One who told the birds to increase in number?

Were you created by the One,

the One who commanded,

“Let the earth produce all kinds of animal life:

domestic and wild,

large and small”

– and it was done;

the One who made them all

and was pleased with what He saw?

I’ve grown older, aged about thirty,

and when I look at the vast, velvety, starry sky,

with my curious pair of eyes

and my inquisitive mind,

I see a round, bright, white thing

drifting slowly across the sky.

It has just emerged from behind

the curving, dark, eastern horizon.

It’s mild and silvery

and is pleasant to look at.

Its light is mild and cannot harm one’s eyes,

if one looks at it with naked eyes.

It casts a faint grey glow

over the hilly vicinity.

I like it!

It’s called the moon

– the appointed ruler of the night.

It would be a wonderful night,

to get a Good Book and my pencil and my writing pad,

and go sit on the verandah of our house

and read and write a poem or two;

A poem about my dreams,

my grand dreams of becoming a published,

critically acclaimed, award- winning, bestselling author;

A poem about predestination:

My recent realization that…

Everything that happens in this world

happens at the time God chooses,

for He sets the time for birth

and the time for death,

the time for planting

and the time for pulling up,

the time for killing

and the time for healing,

the time for tearing down

and the time for building,

the time for sorrow

and the time for joy,

the time for mourning

and the time for dancing,

the time for making love

and the time for not making love,

the time for kissing

and the time for not kissing,

the time for finding

and the time for losing,

the time for saving

and the time for throwing away,

the time for tearing

and the time for mending,

the time for silence

and the time for talk,

the time for love

and the time for hate,

the time for war

and the time for peace;

A poem about human nature versus spiritual nature:

For those who live as their human nature tells them to,

have their minds controlled by what human nature wants;

but those who live as the Spirit tells them to,

have their minds controlled by what the Spirit wants.

To be controlled by human nature results in death;

to be controlled by the Spirit results in life and peace;

A poem about the self-righteous:

Fools say to themselves, “There is no God!”

they are all corrupt,

and they have done terrible things;

there is no one who does what is right.

The Lord looks down from heaven

at mankind

to see if there are any who are wise,

any who worship him.

But they have all gone wrong;

they are all equally bad.

Not one of them does what is right,

not a single one;

A poem about the foolishness of trusting in riches:

I am not afraid in times of danger

when I am surrounded by enemies,

by evil men who trust in their riches

and boast of their great wealth.

A person can never redeem himself;

he cannot pay God the price for his life,

because the payment for a human life is too great.

What he could pay would never be enough

to keep him from the grave,

to let him live forever.

Anyone can see that even wise men die,

as well as foolish and stupid men.

They all leave their riches to their descendants.

Their graves are their homes forever;

there they stay for all time,

though they once had lands of their own.

A man’s greatness cannot keep him from death;

he will still die like the animals.

See what happens to those who trust in themselves,

the fate of those who are satisfied with their wealth

– they are doomed to die like sheep,

and Death will be their shepherd.

The righteous will triumph over them,

as their bodies quickly decay

in the world of the dead far from their homes.

But God will rescue me;

He will save me from the power of death;

A poem about God’s glory in creation:

How clearly the sky reveals God’s glory!

How plainly it shows what He has done!

Each day announces it to the following day;

each night repeats it to the next.

No speech or words are used,

no sound is heard;

yet their message goes out to all the world

and is heard to the ends of the earth.

God made a home in the sky for the sun;

it comes out in the morning like a happy bridegroom,

like an athlete eager to run a race.

It starts at one end of the sky

and goes across to the other.

Nothing can hide from its heat.

Mighty sun, who created you?

Were you created by the One,

the One who said,

“And now we will make human beings;

they will be like us and resemble us,

they will have power over the fish,

the birds, and all animals,

domestic and wild, large and small”?

Were you created by the One,

the One who created human beings,

making them to be like Himself;

the One who created them male and female,

and blessed them and said,

“Have many children, so that your descendants

will live all over the earth

and bring it under their control”;

the One who said,

“I am putting you in charge of the fish,

the birds, and all the wild animals;

I have provided all kinds of grain

and all kinds of fruit for you to eat;

but for all the wild animals and for all the birds

I have provided grass and leafy plants for food”

– and it was done;

the One who looked at everything He made,

and He was pleased?

Were you created by the One,

the One who on the seventh day

finished what He had been doing

and stopped working;

the One who blessed the seventh day

and set it apart as a special day,

because on that day He had completed

His creation and stopped working?

I’ve grown older, aged just over thirty,

and when I look at the vast, velvety, starry, sky

with my curious pair of eyes,

and my inquisitive mind,

I see a round bright thing,

drifting slowly across the sky.

It’s about to sink behind

the wavy, dark western horizon,

close to where the sun set hours ago.

It has acquired a pale yellow tinge,

and is still pleasant to look at.

Its light is always mild

and can never harm one’s eyes

if looked at with naked eyes.

It still casts a faint greyish glow

over the hilly vicinity.

I still like it,

this dazzling silver orb called the moon

– the appointed ruler of the night.

It would be a wonderful morning

to make a cup of tea and sip it

while reading a Good Book.

So I heat the water and brew a cup of tea,

and sit in my room, and pick up the beloved tome

and open it, and read from its pages.

A passage catches my eye:

‘In the days after that time of trouble

the sun will grow dark,

the moon will no longer shine,

the stars will fall from heaven,

and the powers in space

will be driven from their courses.

Then the Son of Man will appear,

coming in the clouds with great power and glory.

He will send the angels out

to the four corners of the earth

to gather God’s chosen people

from one end of the world to the other.’

Mighty Son, when will you come?

© Denis Kabi, 2010

Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!!!

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ITCHY PALM

ITCHY PALM

by Denis Kabi

Gwethoa is a Gikuyu language word which means to scratch oneself. Scratching oneself could be caused by all kinds of things – a rash, an infection, insect bites, allergies, sharp pain et cetera. But amongst the Gikuyu community, not all causes of itching are natural. Most Gikuyu believe that some causes of itching are supernatural – the intense need to itch a certain area of the body seen as a sign sent by the gods to a lucky person hinting that immeasurable blessings are in store.

A sizeable number – say, 99.9 percent – of this incongruous community’s population are said to have a strong propensity for certain rectangular pieces of printed paper. This potent propensity is also exhibited for small circular minted pieces of metal.

A popular aphorism even states that, “If you want to know that a prostrate man in a morgue is a Gikuyu, then throw a coin to the floor and let it clink noisily. If he is from this community, the man will swiftly wake up to claim the coin.”

Most Gikuyus find such insinuating aphorisms offensive. “Ni koruma maratoruma,” they lament. (They are abusing us.)

It is a widely held belief in Gikuyuland that the specific area of the body which is screaming to be itched holds a clue to the type of blessing that the gods are preparing. This area of the body is not the feet; not the legs; not on the torso; not on the neck; not on the head, no, not the head. It is somewhere else. Somewhere on the bendable appendages joined to the sides of the torso.

Most Gikuyu believe – in the same manner they believe muratina is a far much superior beverage than Tusker – that at the end of these bendable appendages lies the flat fleshy area that needs to be scratched in order to attract the blessings of the gods.

It can now be revealed here that this flat fleshy area is called the palm. Yes, the palm of the hand. (Not the palm tree.) Now, let’s be clear; it’s not the side of the hand that the knuckles are on. It’s the other side of the hand. Mwena ucio onge. Yes, that side.

Most Gikuyus believe that an itchy palm is a sure sign that the person with the itchy palm will come into contact with large sums of money in the near future. The myth of the itchy palm is so widespread that even the religious types have faith in it.

Kimonyi was a Nairobi-based businessman. He was 30 years old and everybody called him Kim. Kim ran an export-import company which specialized in exporting and importing bulk grain. A shrewd Gikuyu, Kim would keep a close watch of the cereals industry in Kenya and beyond, keen to find out which regions or countries had a bumper harvest and thus a surplus; and, alternatively, which regions or countries had experienced a failed crop and thus had a deficit.

Upon learning that a certain region or country had a bumper harvest and a surplus of grain – for instance maize – Kim would dash to his bank and ask for an overdraft. Since his credit balance and cash flow were always healthy, the bank manager would say, “Okay, Mr. Kimonyi, you can have a ten million shilling overdraft.”

Upon hearing these words, Kim would punch the air in excited glee and then shake the man’s hand so vigorously that the bank manager’s shoulder joint became sore and he couldn’t move the hand for the rest of the day.

As soon as the money was in his bag, Kim would quickly depart from his Nairobi home and travel to the region of Kenya – or the African country – where there was a reported bumper harvest. Kim would swiftly check into a hotel and patiently lie low (like the infamous envelope), keeping an eye on the price of the grain, waiting for the price to sink to its lowest possible point. As soon as the supply outstripped demand and the grain price fell so low that farmers began selling it at throw-away prices, Kim would step in to ‘save’ the farmers.

Kim would henceforth use his overdraft money to buy as much of the low-priced grain as his finances would allow. He would then hire a couple of long-distance trailers to transport the sacks of grain to his Nairobi warehouse where he would store the grain for several weeks. He would then return to Nairobi and keep a close watch of the cereals market, looking out for the highest prices of grain that the regions which had grain deficits would offer.

Time and again, the southern Sudan import companies were the ones who offered the highest price for purchase of bulk grain. And to his delight, the Sudanese import companies paid for the grain in US dollars – and almost always in cash.

It was in late 2009 and most regions of Kenya that had experienced adequate rainfall (and consequently planted various grains) reported bumper harvests of various grains – wheat, maize, beans, sorghum, millet et cetera. Desperate farmers packed their surplus grains in sacks and then hired large lorries to transport the sacks to the government-owned silos, hoping to off-load the grain at a decent price. In the open market, supply had outstripped demand and the price of various grains fell sharply. The government-owned silos bought as much of the grain as their silos could hold, but alas, a large number of the farmers’ lorries had to be turned away.

The frustrated farmers were even interviewed on a local TV news bulletin, and were heard lamenting about their difficulty in finding buyers for their surplus grain harvest. “We have been left with no choice but to dump the grain on the tilled fields and use it as fertilizer in readiness for the next planting season,” a forlorn farmer said in the interview, the tone of pain clear in his breaking voice.

That night, Kimonyi and his wife, Wanja, were seated in the sitting-room of their up-market apartment eating supper while watching the nine o’clock news bulletin.

“Except North-Eastern Province, every other region of Kenya has reported a bumper harvest of grain,” said Kim to his wife as he lifted a slice of pizza to his mouth and took a large bite of it and proceeded to chew vigorously. “There’s way too much supply of grain, particularly maize, but very little demand for it in the market. What do you think I should do, Wanja?”

“I think you should wait and see how the markets of neighbouring countries react,” answered Wanja and picked up as slice of pizza from the open pizza box and lifted it to her mouth and took a bite of it and chewed slowly. “Maybe southern Sudan didn’t get a bumper harvest. Maybe they have a grain deficit and will soon put advertisements in the local papers requesting for suppliers of grain to send quotations.”

“You’re right, Wanja,” said Kim as he bowed his head slightly to take a bite of the slice of pizza and then chewed vigorously and turned to gaze at his 25 year old wife. “You’re always right. I’m glad I married a university graduate. I’m glad I disregarded my mother’s advice to marry an O-level village girl. What do village girls know about grains? Or pizza, for that matter? City girls make the best wives, for they know how to pronounce the word pizza properly – not pee-zah; but pitsah.”

(Wanja was one of those chunky, light-brown Gikuyu women who were weaned on waru. She had graduated recently from a local private university with a degree in computer science and thus could Google effortlessly.)

Nindahona…I’m full. I cannot eat anymore pizza,” announced Kim after swallowing the last mouthful of his slice. He picked up a serviette and wiped the excess grease from his mouth and hands with it, and then crumpled it and threw it on the coffee table. He grasped a bottle of Coke and unscrewed its top and took a swig from it and replaced the top and set the bottle back on the table.

As Wanja got up and cleared the table and left for the kitchen, Kim sighed loudly and reclined on the comfy sofa and used the remote to switch the TV channel to another which was airing an English Premier League soccer match. (Their TV set was the new type that doesn’t have a kisogo.)

Wanja soon finished clearing the remnants of their meal in the kitchen and came back to the sitting-room only to find her husband fast asleep on the sofa. She saw that he’d been watching a soccer match on TV and so decided not to disturb him. “Maybe he’ll wake up in a minute or two and continue watching the noisy game,” she told herself. She dimmed the lights and quietly retired to the master bedroom where she spent some time exfoliating before she too fell asleep on the large executive bed.

As the soccer match progressed noisily on TV, and Kim snored lightly in his sleep, a hairy worm crawled covertly through the space under the front door of the apartment. The hairy brown worm (called munyongoro in Gikuyu) hastened across the smooth tiled floor and soon scaled the side of the leather sofa which Kim was reclining on. The worm then crawled over Kim’s belly and down his arm and finally settled on his right hand’s open palm. It was the aroma of the pizza on the man’s unwashed hands that had attracted the munyongoro. The worm spent the rest of that night licking and rolling on his palm, leaving its skin-irritating saliva and spike-like hairs over the skin surface. (Kim’s left hand was folded over the TV remote, grasping it, making its greasy surface inaccessible to the worm.)

The next morning Kim woke up from the sofa and immediately felt the overwhelming need to scratch his right hand’s palm. Gwethoa moko. He put down the remote and used his left hand’s nails to scratch the right hand’s palm and soon realized that the intense itchy feeling couldn’t go away.

He switched off the TV – which had stayed on all night – and rushed to the bedroom to wake up his wife and inform her about his itchy palm. When Wanja woke up and heard about it, she immediately jumped out of the bed and held Kim’s palm close to her eyes to examine it.

“It’s a sign!” Wanja suddenly exclaimed with rising excitement. “Your itchy palm is a sign that money is coming. Mbeca nyingi niciroka…big money is coming our way! We’re going to be rich, Kimonyi, my dear! Rich beyond our wildest dreams!”

“What should I do? What should I do?” Kim asked with rising excitement.

“Whatever you do, don’t wash your hands,” Wanja said excitedly and protectively held the man’s hand and made him sit on the edge of the bed. “If you wash your hands, the good fortune will go away. Where’s your mobile phone?”

Kim sat on the edge of the bed and kept scratching his itchy palm. “Somewhere in the sitting-room,” he said and watched Wanja scurry out of the bedroom door and return shortly afterwards carrying Kim’s Nokia handset.

“Here, call the bank manager,” said Wanja, sitting beside Kim and handing him the shiny cellphone.

“Call the bank manager?” Kim protested in puzzlement. “Isn’t it too early? I don’t think the bank has opened its doors yet, woman.”

“Look at the time,” Wanja insisted, pointing at the digital clock displayed on the screen of the cellphone. “It’s already past 8:30 a.m. and most banks open at 8:00 a.m. Here, take the phone and call him.”

Kim reluctantly grasped the handset. “What do I tell the bank manager?”

“Tell him you want a 20 million shillings overdraft,” she said and pressed the keys of the cellphone, scrolling down the phonebook list until she found the bank manager’s telephone number. She instantly pressed the ‘call’ button and raised his hand to his ear. “Here, hold the phone against your ear.”

Kimonyi reluctantly did as instructed and clasped the handset against his left ear, holding it with his left hand. He kept rubbing his itchy palm against his knee. “Twenty million shillings overdraft?” gasped Kim in wonder as he heard the phone begin to ring. “Honestly, Wanja, don’t you think we are getting a little ahead of ourselves here?”

“No, we are not. Your itchy palm is a sign that the time is right to buy as much of the low-priced maize as our finances can allow,” she said seriously, fixing him with a stern look. “We’ll store the bags of maize in the warehouse – as we usually do – and then look for a buyer. Your itchy palm could be a sign that a bulk buyer of maize is right now about to put an advertisement in the daily newspaper, seeking for suppliers of bulk maize. Talk to the bank manager about this plan.”

“Should I mention my itchy palm?” Kim whispered as the phone kept ringing.

“No, don’t mention the itchy palm,” whispered Wanja, leaning close to her husband’s ear to listen in on the phone call.

“When do I tell him we want the money?” Kim asked, still scratching his palm over his bended knee.

“Today, if possible,” whispered Wanja eagerly as the call was finally picked up by the bank manager.

“Good morning, Mr. Kimonyi,” said the bank manager good-naturedly. “How are you doing today?”

“I’m doing fine, Mr. Sibuor,” said Kim, chuckling to conceal his anxiety. “And you, omera? How are you doing?”

“Heh heh heh…me I’m doing fine, bwana. Yawa, how can I help you?” said the deep-voiced bank manager genially.

“I want an overdraft,” said Kim and hushed to listen to the bank manager’s reaction. He turned briefly to exchange a worried glance with his wife.

“Mmhhhmm…an overdraft. That can be arranged. How much money do you need?” asked Mr. Sibuor curiously.

“Twenty million shillings only,” said Kim and hushed to listen to the man’s reaction. He again turned briefly to exchange a worried glance with his wife.

“That’s a bit over the maximum limit of ten million,” said the bank manager reluctantly. “But if you need the money quickly, then you have no choice but to apply for a regular loan.”

“A loan? How long will that take?” Kim asked disappointedly. Wanja exhaled loudly with displeasure and rolled her eyes.

“Forty-eight hours or so,” said the bank manager helpfully. “Come over to my office today and bring with you your land titles, car logbook, and the title of your apartment. We can finalize the paperwork today and you’ll get your money by the close of business tomorrow.”

“Really? You’ll give me the money?” exclaimed Kim in a rising tone of rapture. Upon hearing this, Wanja threw her hands around her husband’s shoulders and listened keenly to the conversation.

“Yes, our bank will loan you the money,” said Mr. Sibuor confidently. “That’s why we are in business – to serve our customer’s financial needs. I’ll see you in an hour or two. Bye-bye.” And he disconnected the line.

“Wanja, my dear, we’re getting the money!” said Kim ecstatically, turning to gaze with wide eyes at his equally ecstatic wife. “You were right when you said my itchy palm is a sign that money is coming. Mbeca nyingi niciroka! We are going to be rich, daughter of Mumbi! Rich beyond our wildest dreams!”

The couple laughed out loud together and hugged and rolled on the bed. “You know what, Wanja?” Kim asked when they stopped laughing and rolling, and he lay on top of her.

“What?” she asked expectantly, her eyes wide and sparkling with delight.

“Remember your wish to travel to South Africa to watch the 2010 World Cup which starts in a couple of week’s time?”

“Yeeeeeees…?” asked Wanja with a rising tone of eagerness.

“I’m taking you to South Africa to watch the World Cup!” Kim announced grandly.

Wanja akeuga mbu! She then wept uncontrollably with joy.

~*~

That day after Kim showered and dressed up in a neat designer business suit, he went to the bank and applied for a loan and was asked to hand over the titles of his land, car and apartment to the bank. This he did, albeit halfheartedly.

A day after applying for the loan, the bank released twenty million shillings to him. Kim soon departed from home and travelled to the regions of Kenya where maize was plenty and low priced. He bought as much dry maize as the money he’d gotten would allow. He then hired a convoy of 22-wheel trailers to transport the numerous bags of maize to his Nairobi warehouse.

That night, when the last of the bags of maize were off-loaded from the trailers and stacked high in the warehouse, a terrible rainstorm hit Nairobi. It rained so hard that the warehouse was flooded to the rafters.

When the rains subsided, something called aflatoxin (a fungal infection) set on the damp maize, effectively ruining the entire stock. Mbembe cikethoka!

Haiya!”

“The maize has to be incinerated. All of it,” a KEBS (Kenya Bureau of Standards) official had declared after inspecting the maize in the warehouse a week later.

On that sad day, Wanja and Kim watched as the damp, reeking bags of maize were loaded into trailers and transported to the Dandora dumpsite where they were dumped and consequently doused with petrol and set on fire. (They’d followed the trailers in their shiny new car.)

Weeping uncontrollably while clinging on to each other, Wanja and Kim watched in horror as the mountain of maize bags worth 20 million shillings burnt to ashes. Mohu!

That afternoon, when the downtrodden couple returned to their Valley Road apartment, they found a group of handymen hired by auctioneers carrying their belongings into a waiting lorry.

“Wait! What the heck do you think you’re doing with our stuff?” an angry Kimonyi had shouted at the handymen.

“The bank you borrowed a loan from has hired our auctioneering firm,” said one of the men, removing a sheath of papers from his coat pocket and outstretching his hand to show Kim and Wanja the official documentation authorizing the seizure of their properties.

Even their new car which they’d just drove to the apartment in was confiscated and driven away by the auctioneers, closely trailed by the large lorry packed with their household belongings. Kinya thafuria magekuwa! (They even carried the cooking pots!)

When the lorry was out of sight, and the downtrodden couple tried to open the front door of the empty apartment, they found it locked. Locked, for crying out loud!

“We have lost everything…riu togweka atia?” Wanja began to weep. “Everything we had, we’ve lost…boo hoo hooo…”

~*~

Wanja and Kim have since moved to Kariobangi, a neighbourhood in Eastlands Nairobi, where they’ve rented a small single room in a humble residential plot. They have to share the sole bathroom and loo with 50 other residents of the plot.

Wanja now runs a small kibanda (wooden stall) where she sells onions, tomatoes, cabbages and sukuma wiki. She now spends most of her time chopping up sukuma for her customers. Her proficiency with the knife has greatly improved.

Kimonyi, oh poor Kimonyi, spends his days pushing a handcart packed with jerricans of water, selling the water to his clients. Business, he was recently heard lamenting, is bad.

Though a far cry from their earlier ostentatious lifestyle, the Kimonyis are gradually adapting to life in Kariobangi. They’re planning to follow the proceedings of the up-coming football World Cup on their newly acquired kameme (very small radio).

Next time your palm gets itchy, bwana, be wise. Don’t tell your wife about it. But if she happens to find out, blithely disregard her advice. It’ll save money…lots of money…

© Denis Kabi, 2010

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NOIZEMAKERZ

NOIZEMAKERZ

by Denis Kabi

Three teenagers, two boys and a girl, were students at a high school in Nairobi. The school was called City High School and had a population of about 700 students. It was a day school; meaning that students commuted from home to school (and back home) everyday. The school uniform consisted of navy blue sweaters and trousers and white shirts for boys; and navy blue sweaters and skirts and white blouses for girls. It was mandatory for all students to adorn this uniform when in school.

The three teenagers were in form four, the final year of high school, and were therefore preparing for the KCSE final exam. The grades attained by a student in the revered KCSE exam were used by the administrators of public universities to determine whether the student would proceed with their studies or not.

Students who scored high grades in the KCSE exam were easily admitted to prestigious public and private universities while those who attained low grades in that exam had to make due with village polytechnics and other low level tertiary institutions.

So it was imperative for every form four student to study diligently in the hope of scoring high grades in the KCSE exam.

The three teenagers were aspiring musicians and had formed a band which didn’t have a name yet.  They were still searching for an appropriate name for the band. 3T, Teen Trio, Teenz, Mateeny, were some of the names they had considered for the band.

The three students’ names were Joe Wachira, stage name Shira; Linda Mathews, stage name Linda; and Geoffrey Githinji, stage name GG.

On one sunny Friday afternoon all the teachers of City High School were suddenly summoned by the school’s principal to a hastily arranged staff meeting. One of the teachers was sent around the classrooms to inform the teachers about the impending meeting. The meeting was to be held in the school’s hall.

The teacher of the class that Shira, Linda, and GG attended left in a huff for the staff meeting after instructing the class prefect, a slender girl named Pamela, to write down the names of the noise makers – students who talked in class and disturbed others instead of concentrating on studying.

When the teachers were away, the numerous students in the multi-storey blocks of classrooms settled into a cacophonic din of animated banter. Some students wrote and passed notes amongst each other; some students fished out their mobile phones and made phone calls and sent text messages; while some students pulled out their multi-media gadgets – MP3s, MP4s, iPods, Blackberries, et cetera – and listened to music and watched music videos and surfed the internet.

Shira sat at the back of the classroom and was bobbing his head in time to the music playing in his iPod. His eyes were glued to the two-inch screen of the gadget, engrossed in watching the music video of the song that he was listening to.

He occasionally clasped the tips of his fingers to his ears to stop the white-coloured earphones from falling off his ears. He was so imbued with the music and its video that he didn’t realize that he was audibly singing along to the popular American hip-hop song.

Students in the classroom began to turn to stare at the tall, eccentric boy named Shira. Shira had the uncanny ability to cram the lyrics of the songs that he liked. He could thus sing along, word for word, to most of the popular songs, both local (in Swahili) and international (in English.)

As the song which was playing in the iPod reached the chorus, and Shira began to sing the chorus, the students who’d been watching him also joined in and they collectively sang the song’s catchy chorus.

GG was seated at the front of the classroom and he turned to look at Shira and the other singing students. Abruptly GG got up and went to the back of the class and plucked out one piece of Shira’s earphones and stuck it in his own ear. As soon as he heard the song, he too began bobbing his head and joined in and sang along to the well known words of the chorus.

Pamela, the pencil-thin class prefect, immediately got up and went to the front of the class and began to angrily bang her hand on the teacher’s desk. “Stop!” she yelled above the two dozen singing voices. “Stop making noise!”

As she uttered these words, the song that Shira and the animated students had been singing suddenly came to an end and the class was suddenly quiet. It was so quiet that one could hear an eye blink.

Pamela, the scrawny prefect, held her hands to her tiny waist, seeming proud that she’d brought the class under control. She then narrowed her eyes and winced at the classmates who had meanwhile turned their attention to her. She raised her forefinger and wagged it at them. “If you make noise like that again, I’ll have no choice but to write your names down and hand the list to the teacher for punishment. Do you understand me?”

A few hushed murmurs of dissent resonated from various corners of the classroom.

A boy seated at the middle of the classroom ignored the prefect’s terse warning and turned to face Shira. “That was fun,” the boy said elatedly. His name was Albanus but everybody called him Albo. “But do we really need to keep copying Western artists? Their lyrics are alien to our situation in Africa. Why can’t you write and record your own song? A song with lyrics that capture the hopes and dreams and experiences of the urban Kenyan youngster.”

When GG heard this, he gently punched Shira’s shoulder. “Why don’t we perform to the class one of the songs that we recorded during the last school holiday?” he suggested.

Shira seemed eager to perform for the class. “We could perform one of the songs that we wrote and recorded recently, but sadly we don’t have an instrumental to accompany our vocals,” he said regretfully.

When Albo heard this, he instantly turned to his wooden desk and began to bang the top of it with his open right hand and his clenched left hand. This action produced a four bar hip-hop sounding beat.

Shira got up and began to bob his head in time to the thumping beat as he strode to the front of the classroom. Pamela, the class prefect, watched in ire as Shira climbed on top of the teacher’s desk and began rapping in time to Albo’s beat. The lyrics of the rap were in Sheng’ (Swahili slang popular amongst Nairobi youngsters.) In the poetic rhymes of the rap, Shira extolled the curves and grace and smile and beauty of an imaginary girl.

As he rapped, making appropriate gestures and facial expressions, some of the female students who found him attractive catcalled him and made other suggestive noises and gestures and facial expressions.

Two male students, one called Chris and another Charles, yawned loudly and exaggeratedly. The two students didn’t seem to be enjoying the performance.

Pamela, the class prefect, was so incensed by Shira’s performance that she threw her hands up and strode back to her desk and sat. She helplessly watched as indiscipline reigned in the classroom.

Shira was about to complete rapping the first verse of the song when he jumped down from the teacher’s desk and strode the aisle between the desks to the middle of the class and grasped Linda’s hand. He gently prompted her to stand up and then guided her to the front of the classroom.

Just as Shira was rapping the last line of the verse, Linda tunefully joined in and began to sing the soulful chorus.

“…Songea karibu, songea karibu,

Nishike mkono, uwe wangu,

Nikupeleke chumbani mwangu…”

She repeated these lines twice and accompanied them with the appropriate facial expressions and gesticulations. These Swahili lyrics simply appealed to a supposed lover to move close to her, hold her hand, and take her to her bedroom.

Boys in the class who found Linda attractive whistled licentiously. They were obviously inflamed by her suggestive movements and throaty, sensual tone variations.

Linda was bi-racial (her mom was African while her dad was a white Briton) and was light skinned and had long, curly hair. She had a lithe rounded figure that fascinated the boys. Whenever she walked along the corridors of the classrooms, and happened to pass by a group of boys, the male students would suddenly go quiet and gawk at her. She was considered one of the hottest girls in the school.

Just as Linda was about to complete singing the chorus, GG got up from his chair and bobbed rhythmically to the front of the classroom and began rapping the second verse of the song.

The students in the class cheered him on with chants of, “go GG go, go GG go.” GG’s lyrics were also in Sheng’. In the rhyming poetry of the rap, he comically tried to woo an imaginary girl to go out on a date with him. The students in the class laughed out loud when they watched GG’s zany facial expressions and gesticulations.

Most of the students, both boys and girls, were now bobbing their heads in time to the beat of the song. They were evidently enjoying the performance.

Pamela, the prefect, was wincing and had crossed her hands over her chest and was breathing heavily in frustration and anger.

Just as GG rapped the last sentence of the verse, Linda joined in again with the soulful chorus and sang it twice. As she was about to sing the last line of the chorus, she gestured at Albo to stop beating the desk. Albo stopped beating the desk and glared at Linda. His face was flushed.

In a slow, sensual, throaty voice Linda finished singing with the words, “…Nikupeleke……… chumbani mwangu…” and trailed off and stopped.

Five seconds of complete silence engulfed the classroom, all eyes on the three talented performers poised at the front of the classroom. Then the students burst into a wild round of ecstatic applause, some even jumping on to their chairs and desks and whistling and clapping and catcalling.

Chris and Charles didn’t applaud but winced hatefully at the trio.

Pamela sat tight and writhed in annoyance.

Shira, Linda, and GG began to stride along the aisles of the classroom, grinning and giving high-fives to their cheering, adoring fans.

Pamela got so incensed by the noise that she hopped onto her chair and yelled, “Stop making noise! Stop making noise!” But her high-pitched yelling was drowned out by the cacophony of three dozen voices loudly showering praise on the trio.

Pamela gave up and sat down, crossing her hands over her small heaving chest. She began to wonder why she was always at loggerheads with the rest of the students. Though it was considered prestigious to be a class prefect, she had come to realize that that prestige only impressed her parents. Not the students. Pamela had always wanted to be popular amongst her age mates. She wanted everyone to like her. They didn’t.

But the teacher had picked her out amongst three dozen students and given her the responsibility of being the class prefect. And with that responsibility came sacrifice. It was her duty to maintain silence and discipline in the class when the teacher was out of class. Pamela grudgingly acknowledged that she had to sacrifice her opportunity to be popular.

She reached into her desk and pulled out an exercise book. She tore a page from it and grasped a biro pen from the top of her desk. At the top of the page she wrote in capital letters the words NOISE MAKERS and underlined these words using a ruler. Under the underlined title she scribbled the names of the students whom she charged with responsibility of creating the indiscipline reigning in the classroom. The three names were Joe Wachira, Linda Mathews, and Geoffrey Githinji.

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

A leading mobile phone service company called K-mobile was eager to tap into the vibrant urban youth culture and market. The company soon launched a music talent search competition.

That Friday evening Shira was seated in the living room of his house on an armchair watching TV. The nine o’clock news was showing on all TV channels. Shira’s mother was seated on another armchair in the living room keenly following the news broadcast.

Shira couldn’t stand watching news broadcasts. But his mom, like most adults, was a fun of news. Yes, news! An endless and depressing reel of government corruption intrigues, comical but destructive political wrangles, grisly automobile accidents, chilling sexual crimes, terrifying landslides and other natural disasters, et cetera.

Shira’s mom was a single mother and lived with her son, Shira, in a two bed-roomed apartment in Westlands area of Nairobi. A passing love affair with a charming but ageing lecturer at a local public university where she had been studying left her pregnant. The lecturer, who was married with grown children, disowned her on learning of the pregnancy. But she ignored her friends’ advice and chose to carry the pregnancy to full term. She eventually gave birth to a son whom she named Joe. Her late father’s name was Joseph Wachira. Shira’s mom currently worked as a personal assistant to the managing director of a local corporation.

As she was watching TV, she happened to peek at her seventeen year old son seated beside her. Shira was reclining on the armchair with his long legs stretched to their full length. His hands were flung lethargically over the arm rests. His eyes were almost closed and he seemed bored. He kept sighing loudly and yawning.

Maybe it’s the news that’s boring him, the mother thought. But the news broadcast only lasts 45 minutes. After that he’ll be free to watch whatever TV show, or VCDs, or DVDs that he wants.

Or maybe I should buy him his own TV and DVD player so that he can watch whatever he wants, whenever he wants, in the privacy of his bedroom, she thought.

The K-mobile music talent search competition advertisement suddenly came on the TV screen. The mother watched in astonishment as Shira abruptly sat up and opened his eyes wide and gawked at the TV screen.

According to the colourful and vivid audio-visuals of the advertisement, the talent search competition was inviting all music groups (and not solo artists) who have not previously had their music recorded and released and those not signed to a music production company. Registration of the contestants would begin the next day on Saturday morning at the K-mobile’s headquarters building in Nairobi CBD. Only the first 500 bands to arrive at the registration office would be registered.

The grand prize for winning the competition was a million shillings in cash and a fully paid one album recording contract with a local music production company called Hits Factory. Hits Factory only produced electronic pop music and steered cleared of acoustic folk music.

The music competition would have ten heats spread over a ten week period. Competitors found lacking in talent would be eliminated during each televised heat. The public could vote using SMS for the acts that they wanted retained in the competition. The groups with the lowest votes would be eliminated. The final performances of the competition would be televised live on TV on the night of October 13. The winner of the one million shillings grand prize would be announced on that night. A grand party would then be held in honour of the winning band.

Sadly, the KCSE exam would begin the following day – in the morning of October 14.

As soon as the advertisement ended, the mother watched as her son hopped to his feet and trudged briskly out of the living room. The characteristic bang of his bedroom door confirmed that he had once again retreated to his bedroom.

Maybe he needs brothers and sisters and, most importantly, a father – or father figure. A father (or father figure) would know how to communicate with the moody teenage boy, she thought. Maybe it’s not wise for a single mother to raise a boy on the verge of manhood as an only child.

Once in his bedroom, Shira hopped onto his well-cushioned, comfy bed and lay belly up. On his hands was his Nokia mobile phone handset. His thumbs bobbed rapidly on the lighted keys of the handset as he drafted a thriftily-abbreviated text message. He then sent the text message to both GG and Linda, his bandmates and classmates.

In the text message, he inquired whether they (GG and Linda) had watched the ad for a music talent search competition screened on TV during the nine o’clock news.

Ten seconds later two beeps sounded confirming that his Nokia had just received two new text messages. He swiftly opened the inbox of the handset and proceeded to read the new messages. Both GG and Linda confirmed that they too had watched the ad on TV about a music talent search competition sponsored by the leading mobile phone company K-mobile.

Shira’s thumbs bobbed rapidly again as he drafted another economically-worded text message. In the text message, he urged his two bandmates to meet him in Nairobi CBD, at the Ambassaduer bus stop, the following morning at 8:00 a.m. Once they met, they’d go together to the K-mobile building where they’d register for the music competition.

Shira knew that a lot of Nairobi youngsters nursed dreams of becoming musicians and so the turn-out for the music competition could be staggering. Shira wanted his band to be amongst the 500 to be registered.

Both Linda and GG sent text messages confirming that they’d meet Shira in town at around 8:00 a.m. the following day.

Shira’s mom was still watching TV when she saw her son walk into the living room and sink into the armchair that he’d been sitting on earlier. He reclined and stretched out his long legs. She heard him sigh deeply as he resumed his half-closed-eyes impassive stare of the moving images on the TV screen.

“What’s disturbing you, son?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he said without looking at her. He then added, “I need some money for bus fare. I have to go to town tomorrow morning.”

“And what are you going to town to do?” she inquired suspiciously.

“To meet some friends,” he said.

“Does this ‘meeting’ have something to do with music?” she scowled. “You do remember that you are in your final year of high school. Your priority should be your studies and the KSCE exam; and not music.”

“But music is my life,” Shira countered hotly, now turning in his seat to face her. “Music is not drugs!”

The mother ignored these remarks. “The school principal telephoned me today,” said the mother flatly. Shira immediately looked away guiltily. “You and a couple of your rogue classmates have been suspended from school for singing loudly in class when the teacher was away. Your music is interfering with your school work, isn’t it? Music is bad.”

Shira sighed dismissively and stood up. “Am tired. Am going to bed. Don’t worry about me; I’ll soon find a way to make money; lots of money.” He then walked out of the living room. A familiar bang of a door confirmed that the boy had for umpteenth time that evening retreated into his bedroom.

The mother shook her head in dismay; not knowing what to do with her moody unpredictable son. Later, before she retired to bed, she got some money from her handbag and slipped it under Shira’s bedroom door.

The next day, on a glorious sunny Saturday, the three bandmates met in town at the Ambassaduer bus stop. It was 8:30 a.m. Together Shira, GG, and Linda threaded through the streets of Nairobi CBD, chatting animatedly about the prospects and possibilities of participating in a major music talent search contest.

Shira and GG were donned in their quintessential rapper regalia of oversized, sagging blue jeans, striped collared T-shirts, Timberland boots, oversized chains and medallions, crooked baseball caps, and iPod earphones in their ears.

Linda was dressed in a long faded blue jeans skirt and brownish block-heeled open toe shoes and a white spaghetti top. She also wore large loop earrings and a red bandana on her head. She carried a small leather purse.

On Kenyatta Avenue they found a long queue stretching from the front of the multi-storey ultra-modern building that was the headquarters of Kenya Mobile Telephone Company, or as it’s colloquially called, K-mobile.

Shira and cohorts stood behind the last person on the queue along the pavement. There must have been at least 500 youngsters on the teeming queue. A clash of hairstyles, scents, fashion senses, personalities, and egos festooned the pavement. Some of the aspirants even had guitars and drums.

“It’s going to be a long, long day,” Linda said upon gazing at the stalled, crooked queue.

“You can say that again,” said GG disappointedly.

“It’s going to be a long, long day,” Linda repeated, mocking GG. The three of them chuckled at the joke as more flashily dressed youngsters joined the queue behind them.

A rectangular, conical-roofed white marquee had been erected near the entrance of the K-mobile building. The white marquee had plastic tables and chairs arranged within it. The registration of the contestants of the competition would be conducted in that tent. A dozen or so officials of the company could be seen seated and conferencing in the marquee.

One of the officials soon got up and stood at the front of the tent; exactly where the queue of the youngsters began. The official had a clipboard on one hand and a megaphone on the other. He held the megaphone close to his mouth and began speaking through it. His amplified voice could be heard two streets away. Such was the stridency of the megaphone.

“Good morning, everyone. Thanks for showing interest in this talent competition,” he said and then gazed down at the papers on the clipboard. “There are three rules to be observed before your band is registered. One; you must have proof of identity – a national ID or passport will do. Two; you must have a name for the band – a name that is pronounceable and marketable. And three; you must be able to sing or rap. We don’t want magicians, acrobats, or stand-up comedians.”

Upon saying this, a sustained murmur resonated from the queue of youngsters.

“We can sing and rap; but we don’t have national IDs or passports,” said GG worriedly.

“…and we don’t even have a name for the band,” added Linda.

Shira reached into the back pocket of his jeans and fished out a blue-coloured folded piece of hard paper. “I have my school ID card. But am not sure if we can use it for registration.”

The official brandishing the megaphone heard the voice of a young man speaking from the back of the queue. “Can we use school ID cards to register? Some of us are below 18 and so don’t have national IDs,” the young man yelled confidently. It was Shira.

The official scratched his head and walked back to the marquee where he briefly consulted with his colleagues. When he came back to the front of the queue, he held the megaphone to his mouth and spoke. “Yes, you can register for the contest using school ID cards; but only if they are genuine and have the school’s logo, address and phone numbers, and the holder’s picture.”

A worried murmur resounded from the queuing youngsters. Some of the youngsters stepped out of the queue and stood in small groups discussing this new information. Some of the youngsters hurried away and disappeared down the avenue, presumably going to retrieve their identification documents. Other youngsters who’d been on the queue walked away slowly, seeming angry that the officials hadn’t announced the three rules earlier. Maybe they were acrobats or comedians or magicians, or didn’t have identification documents, or perhaps, imponderably, they’d failed to come up with a pronounceable, marketable name for their band.

As a result of the departed youngsters, the queue shortened and Shira and friends strode forward to take up the empty space. Nearly a third of the original queuers had left.

GG reached into his pocket and he too fished out his school ID card. Linda too reached into her purse and pulled out the blue folded hard paper. “Thank God we all carried our school ID cards,” sighed Linda gratefully. “But we still don’t have a name for the band.”

“We need to come up with a name fast,” GG added. “Something simple; something that defines us.”

Shira’s eyes widened and lit up with animation; the kind of look a cartoon character has when a light bulb goes off in a bubble over his head. “Why were we suspended from school yesterday?” Shira asked mysteriously.

“Because we were making noise in class………,” answered Linda, trailing off and exchanging a curious glance with a baffled GG.

Shira spoke again. “And what is the title of the list that the prefect wrote our names in?”

The three bandmates exchanged wistful knowing glances and then in unison blurted out, “Noise makers!”

When they got to the front of the queue, and were summoned into the marquee, they registered the name of their band as NoizeMakerz, spelling it as one word, with Zs instead of Ss; emphasizing their artistic quest to detour from the highway of the norm.

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

That Saturday night, Linda busily criss-crossed the kitchen of her house as she helped her mother prepare supper. Linda’s mom was also a single mother. They both lived in a three bed-roomed maisonette in a housing estate in the expansive Lang’ata suburb of Nairobi.

Linda’s mom worked in a travel agency as a personnel manager. She earned a decent salary and therefore could provide a comfortable life for herself and her only daughter. Sixteen years ago, when she was just starting out in the hospitality industry, she had a brief love affair with the owner of a travel agency, a British expatriate named John Mathews, who soon returned to his home country upon expiry of his contract. Linda’s mom only realized that she was pregnant three months after the man left Kenya. Since she was already working, it was an easy decision for her to carry the pregnancy to full term. When the baby was due, she took leave from work and soon enough delivered a baby girl whom she named Linda.

The scrumptious aroma of the cooking food wafted richly in the house. Soft music was playing from a stereo in the living room.

“The food is almost ready,” said the mother. “Help me carry the plates to the dining table.”

Linda took two plates and spoons from a sideboard and went through a doorway to the adjoining living room. She placed the cutlery across from each other on the round-shaped dining table just as her mother carried a porcelain pot of food and set it in the middle of the dining table.

“So how was your day?” the mother asked as they sat down to eat supper.

“I and some friends of mine from school registered for a music competition,” Linda said excitedly before scooping a spoonful of pilau rice from her plate and stuffing it into her mouth. She proceeded to chew.

“Really?” said the mother interestedly. “And what’s the prize for winning the competition?”

“A million shillings,” said Linda, transporting more food into her mouth using the spoon.

The mother too began to eat. “Are you sure you can afford to enter music contests at this period of your life. You do remember that you have a major exam at the end of the year?”

“The music contest will only be on weekends,” Linda said as soon as she swallowed a mouthful of food. “So I’ll have plenty of time to study during the course of the week.”

The mother seemed satisfied with the girl’s answer. They kept eating and the mother smiled as she gazed up at her daughter. “What if you win the grand prize of a million shillings!” she asked animatedly. “What will you buy your poor old mother?”

Linda set her spoon down and a contemplative look came over her face. “We are three members in our band and so the million will have to be split three ways. Each one of us will take home three hundred and thirty three thousand and thirty three cents – hopefully if we win,” she grinned and picked up her spoon again and dipped it into her plateful of fried spiced rice. She again transported a spoonful of the food into her mouth and chewed vigorously. When she swallowed, she looked up at her mother who was gazing expectantly at her.

“What will you buy me?” the mother asked again and smiled indulgently.

“The amount I’ll get is too little to buy you a new car; it’s too much to spend on clothes or a holiday at the coast,” Linda said thoughtfully. “So I’ll simply buy you the new laptop computer that you’ve been talking about and have been saving for. The rest of the money I’ll deposit into a bank account and help you in paying for my up-coming college fees.”

“Wise decision,” the mother said happily and proudly. “And I hope and pray that you and your bandmates win the music contest.”

“Thanks, mom,” Linda blushed and tinkered with the food using her spoon.

~*~

The first heat of the music competition was to be held at the Plenary Hall of the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, or KICC as the cylindrical-shaped building is colloquially referred to as.

At 12:00 noon the following Saturday, Shira, Linda, and GG arrived at KICC. There were banners and posters and other paraphernalia bearing the blue-coloured logo of K-mobile hanged on every available space leading to the landmark skyscraper.

Throngs of flashily dressed youngsters loitered outside the venue. Some of the youngsters were huddled in groups loudly discussing some inconsequential subject while others rehearsed their songs.

Once inside the plenary hall, Shira and his two bandmates strode through the aisle looking for a place to sit. Rows of stackable chairs had been arranged on the entire length and width of the vast hall’s floor. A single aisle separated the rows of chairs.

Throngs of youngsters sat in the rows of chairs and the hall was almost full. Shira, GG, and Linda soon found empty seats near the front of the hall and sat down. Linda sat between her two bandmates.

At the front of the hall was a raised dais. On the dais was a band that had been hired by the organizers of the competition to provide the back up instrumentals to the contestants. There would be no deejay playing prerecorded instrumentals. All manner of musical instruments were packed on the dais. A tower of large black speakers stood on either flank of the dais. There was lots of room at the front of the dais for the performing artists to move about.

On several platforms on the hall amongst the rows of chairs were mounted TV cameras. Cameramen donning large headphones stood on the platforms behind the TV cameras busily moving the cameras to film the animated youngsters in the brightly lit hall. At the front, just beside the dais, was a large screen on which the live footage captured by the TV cameras was shown.

Youngsters stood up and waved and gesticulated elatedly at the camera as soon as they saw their image on the large screen. An up-beat, expectant mood hang over the teeming hall.

On the front most seats were the officials of K-mobile who would coordinate and moderate the music contest. One of the officials, the same guy who’d addressed the queuing youngsters with a megaphone the previous Saturday on the pavement of Kenyatta Avenue, stood up. He was holding a clipboard and a wireless microphone. He raised the microphone close to his mouth. Suddenly the lights of the hall were dimmed and a spotlight illuminated the official.

“Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the much anticipated premier of the K-mobile music talent search competition,” said the official while facing one of the TV cameras in the hall. He went on to recite a lengthy monologue about the mobile phone company’s repertoire of services and its range of charitable activities. He kept repeating that K-mobile was committed to nurturing the musical talent of Kenya’s youngsters.

But it was common knowledge that two thirds of Kenya’s population consisted of youths (persons, presumably, between the ages of 15 and 35.) It would spell doom for any profit-seeking company to ignore this vital demographic.

After the boring official was done speaking, he sat down and handed the microphone and the clipboard to another man who was seated amongst the officials on the front most seats.

As soon as the bespectacled burly man stood up, a round of applause erupted from the youngsters seated in the hall. The bespectacled man was a well known master of ceremony and was a regular at most of Nairobi’s entertainment spots.  His name was Big Fred. Big Fred was the most sought after MC for product launches and exhibitions and road shows. He seemed to enjoy his job and people generally liked him.

“Good afternoon and welcome to the K-mobile music talent search competition,” said Big Fred into the wireless microphone. He was facing one of the cameras and his smiling face was now showing on the large screen at the front of the hall. After reciting some promotional material about K-mobile’s products, services and commitment to nurturing musical talent in Kenya, Big Fred went up the steps before the dais and strode onto the dais. The competition proper was finally about to begin.

Big Fred grinned indulgently and held the microphone close to his mouth and spoke while facing the camera in the dark hall. The lone spotlight shone on him.

“Each of the registered groups will be allowed five minutes to perform their song. After performing, the group members are free to leave the hall or they can take seats and watch the rests of the performances.

“The live band behind me on the dais will play any instrumental that you ask them to; be it hip-hop, benga, R&B, lingala, reggae, rock, et cetera. The first twelve groups to perform are the following….,” Big Fred went on to read a list of band names from the paper on the clipboard he held.

Shira, GG, and Linda waited in baited breath for their band’s name to be called. But the NoizeMakerz weren’t called out. Instead a group of five trendily dressed young men got up from seats in the middle of the hall and, in affected walks, went up the aisle to the dais and briefly spoke to the members of the live band.

Judging by their baggy clothing and gaudy jewelry, the five young men on the dais must’ve been rappers, Shira thought, sitting up to get a better view of the now brightly lit dais. The rest of the hall remained dark, the revolving light fixtures on stage flashing with multicoloured lights.

Big Fred held his microphone close to his mouth and spoke in an animated comic voice and held his hands out to the five youngsters on stage who had meanwhile grasped a microphone each. “Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause for the Eucalyptus…,” Upon saying this Big Fred hurriedly left the dais and took a seat amongst the aloof officials.

Linda chuckled and stared at the young men on stage. “Who in their right mind would name a music group Eucalyptus?” she thought mockingly.

Sporadic claps resonated from various corners on the vast hall. A few condescending boos were heard. More youngsters kept streaming into the hall and took seats.

The members of the live band began to play a hip-hop beat, the most prominent sound being that of the drums and the baseline, laced with interludes of the rhythm guitar and blasts of the saxophone. The Eucalyptus began to agitatedly move about the dais. One of them held his microphone awkwardly between his fingers, its end tilted to the roof, its orbed head to his lips as he recited rapid rhyming lines in English.

His poetic rhymes were rendered in a difficult attempted Black American accent. Clearly the young rapper had been spending too much time listening to (and imitating) American hip-hop artists. His four friends rapped in the same annoying tone, twang and agitated manner. In their brash lyrics they bragged about their skills in rapping. A smoke machine belched clouds of smoke onto the stage.

“Are they joking?” Linda chuckled derisively. “They have no skills at all. They’re just copycats. They’ve been watching too much MTV.”

GG nodded in agreement with Linda’s remarks. “And we can’t clearly hear what they’re saying because they’re holding their microphones too close to their mouths,” GG said irritably.

“But you have to admit that they are enthusiastic and energetic on stage,” Shira added helpfully.

The Eucalyptus members ended their five minute act by posing on stage and making all sorts of gang signs using their bejeweled fingers. Subdued clapping resounded from the numerous youngsters seated in the dark packed hall. There must have been at least 2,000 youngsters in the hall.

Burly Big Fred, the MC, straightaway went up the three steps onto the dais and grinned and said encouraging things to the five young men. The young men nodded and replaced their microphones on the microphone stands and then went down the steps and strutted modishly down the aisle. As they walked down the aisle, they grinned amongst themselves and knocked each others elbows in glee. They didn’t leave the hall but took seats where they’d been sitting before they were called up to perform.

Big Fred, the MC, laughed genially and said kind (but false) things about the Eucalyptus’s performance. Big Fred then called out another weird-sounding name from the clipboard. “The Ghetto Sisters!” Big Fred gazed into the darkness of the hall to see who would stand up to claim that name.

Four young women in black scanty booty shorts and tops and extravagant jewelry stood up from seats near the front and made it to the aisle before strutting modishly up the steps onto the dais.

Linda cringed when she saw the four young women on the dais picking up the microphones from the stands and begin to yelp loudly and crudely in fake Caribbean accents.

After consulting the live band, a fast paced reggae beat began to be played.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Big Fred said comically and dramatically. “Give a round of applause to the Ghetto Girls – I beg your pardon – Sisters; the Ghetto Sisters,” he corrected himself upon consulting his clipboard. He then hastily departed from the dais.

Though the applause was much louder than that accorded to the Eucalyptus, it wasn’t elated. Most of the young men in the hall sat up and cocked their necks to get a better view of the feisty Ghetto Sisters whose scanty dress would surely make for an interesting stage act.

One of the four young women on stage began to rap agitatedly in patois – which is Jamaican slang fused with hints and traces of English, but mostly gibberish. The multi- coloured stage lights flashed and the smoke machine belched clouds of smoke onto the dais, creating a concert-like ambience.

After the first verse was done, the four young women lined themselves on stage and collectively sang the chorus of the song as they began to do a creative, spirited, well-rehearsed dance routine. One of the other girls rapped the second verse followed by the singing of their chorus twice. Their bottom shaking soon inspired licentious wolf whistles and catcalls from the male audience. How could girls barely out of their teens possess such ample bubbly behinds?

An ecstatic burst of applause resounded from the hall when the Ghetto Sisters finished singing their song and bowed severally before the appreciative standing audience. Holding hands and blushing, the four young women walked down the steps and strutted down the aisle and took their seats.

Linda was coerced to clap by the people around her who were all clapping, though she thought it was the booty shaking that had impressed the crowd. Not their singing.

The Ghetto Sisters had just set a standard that was so high that it would be difficult to march or even outdo it. Now the audience was hungry and eager to watch the next act. If the next act’s performance didn’t ignite the crowd into a frenzy, they’d surely be booed and jeered off stage. Such was the eagerness and urgency of the young audience for an explosive, high octane performance.

Big Fred went up the three steps and onto the dais. He was holding the clipboard and the wireless microphone on each hand. “What an explosive performance!” he said jubilantly into the microphone. “Another round of applause for the Ghetto Sisters!”

The plenary hall shook with a roaring burst of sustained applause. One of the cameras swung and trained on the four seated girls and the image of them was shown on the big screen at the front of the hall. The four girls waved and grinned and ululated elatedly, happy to see themselves on the big screen.

When the applause subsided, Big Fred called out another name from the clipboard. “CO2,” he said wonderingly and gazed into the dark hall to see who would stand up to claim that name.

From the same row of seats that Shira, GG, and Linda sat, two young men in baggy attire, crooked baseball caps, and oversized chains and medallions got up and had to walk sideways to get to the aisle because of the series of legs of the seated audience members.

When the two young men passed by Shira, GG, and Linda, they roughly brushed against their feet and knees and even stepped on the toe of Shira’s new Timberland boots. Shira got up angrily to grab the rude boys but GG and Linda restrained him. Shira muttered a vile curse under his breath and sat down.

When the rude pair of young men got to the brightly lit stage, Shira sat up abruptly. “Look!” he said in shock. “It’s Chris Okumu and Charles Ogot from our class.”

Linda stretched her neck to look intently at the cocky young men on the dais. “Yes it’s Chris and Charles from school. But I didn’t know they were musicians,” she said in bafflement.

“Remember the day we performed our song in class and they kept yawning loudly?” said Shira.

“And they didn’t cheer for us after we finished,” added GG. “I don’t think they enjoyed our song.”

“It’s called professional jealousy,” Shira said tensely. “They consider us as competition. And not fellow musicians.”

Big Fred’s booming voice cut short their conversation. “Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause for CO2,” he said before leaving the dais for his seat.

After the CO2 duo consulted briefly with the live band, a benga sounding beat began to play. The two young men on stage grabbed microphones from the stands and began to sing a chorus before one of them cut in with a verse of Sheng’ rap.

The audience was somewhat jaded by the slow movements of the two male rappers in baggy attire. The aftertaste of the Ghetto Sisters’ gyrations hadn’t worn off yet. The audience was yearning to gawk at a curvaceous lass.

A subdued round of applause resounded in the hall when the CO2 boys finally finished their bland, improvised act and replaced the microphones on the stands. After strutting affectedly down the aisle, the two young men again had to walk sideways to move past numerous feet and knees and get to their seats.

Again the CO2 boys roughly brushed against Shira, GG, and Linda’s knees. One the CO2s, the one called Charles, even stepped on Shira’s new boots.

Incensed by this, Shira shot up and forcefully shoved the boy named Charles. Charles stumbled and tripped on the leg of a chair and fell amongst the laps of the seated youngsters. The seated youngsters pushed him away and he fell to the floor but managed to scramble to his feet. A fuming Charles then turned confrontationally at Shira, a savage sneer creasing his face, and they would have exchanged blows had Shira not heard Big Fred’s booming voice calling out the name NoizeMakerz.

GG and Linda had to pull an incensed Shira toward the aisle and away from Charles who was still standing and seething and sneering furiously at Shira.

Charles’s mate, Chris, pulled the young man to his seat as the three members of the NoizeMakerz made their way down the aisle toward the dais. When they went up the steps, a plethora of wolf whistles and catcalls resonated from the audience as soon as they got a glimpse of the curvy, light-skinned, young woman.

Shira and GG were donned in their typical baggy denims and T-shirts and baseball caps while Linda was clad in figure-hugging white hipsters and a spaghetti top and open-toe high heels. Linda had let her long obsidian black hair down over her shoulders.

After briefly consulting with the members of the live band, Shira, GG and Linda grasped a microphone each from the stands.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Big Fred dramatically. “A round of applause for the NoizeMakerz!” He then hastily departed from the dais as a mid-tempo benga sounding beat began to play.

The exaggerated yawns and boos of the embittered CO2 duo, Charles and Chris, were drowned out by the incalculable wolf whistles and catcall and claps resounding from the hall as Linda began to move her body in time to the beat and rhythm of the instrumental. The male audience members were blissfully blind to Linda’s pair of bandmates.

Shira began to rap the first verse of the song. It was the same song that they had performed in front of the class a couple of weeks prior. The poetic rhyming lyrics were in Sheng’ (Swahili slang) and each time he mentioned a word praising the beauty and sensuality and grace of a young woman, the female audience members cooed and catcalled appreciatively. The multi-coloured disco lights kept flashing and blinking.

A cameraman with a hand held camera knelt in front of the dais and filmed Shira as he rapped. The footage was transmitted live on the big screen beside the dais. Just as Shira was rapping the last line of the verse, Linda joined in and crooned the soulful chorus.

“…Songea karibu, songea karibu,

Nishike mkono, uwe wangu,

Nikupeleke chumbani mwangu…”

Same as she’d done on the day they performed this song to their class, Linda repeated these lyrics twice and accompanied them with the appropriate inflections, facial expressions and gestures. The smoke machine spurted gusts of blue smoke which enveloped the sexy young singer. The colours of the flashing disco lights reflected on the undulating clouds of smoke.

Linda moved her curvaceous body alluringly in time to the beat and rhythm of the instrumental. The cameraman with the hand-held camera knelt on one knee in front of the dais and filmed Linda’s arousing performance. As she sang, Linda happened to turn back and see her image portrayed on the big screen beside the dais. She smiled and turned forward and gazed directly at the camera held by the cameraman who was kneeling before the dais.

Linda blew a kiss at the camera when she finished singing the chorus. Her image on the big screen blowing the kiss sparked a flurry of wolf whistles and catcalls from the inflamed male audience members.

A good number of the enthralled young men in the hall had by now stood up to take in Linda’s performance.

GG then joined in and rapped his comical verse (also in Sheng’). The standing audience members sat down and watched the zany antics of the rapper on the big screen. Bursts of laughter erupted amongst the amused audience members.

Just as GG was rapping the last sentence of the verse, again Linda joined in with the soulful chorus “…songea karibu…”

She sang it twice and accompanied it with her suggestive inflection and gestures and body movements. As she was about to sing the last line, she turned and gestured at the live band members to stop playing the instrumental. They acquiesced.

In a slow, throaty, sensual voice, Linda finished singing with the words, “…nikupeleke…chumbani…mwangu…” An echo of the last syllable ricocheted poignantly within the walls of the dark hall.

As it had happened in class when they’d performed this same song, a hypnotic, awed silence descended on the plenary hall, all eyes trained on the young gorgeous woman on stage and her two compatriots who were striking a thuggish pose on either side of her.

After a couple of seconds all the members of the audience rose to their feet and burst into an ecstatic roar of sustained applause. The image of the NoizeMakerz trio was portrayed on the large screen bowing gratefully to the appreciative cheering audience.

After the NoizeMakerz’s thrilling performance several other acts were called to the stage and performed their songs in front of the audience. Most of the latter performers were teenagers and thus lacked experience, skill and refinement. Most of the rappers, with exception of a few, were only used to rapping along to pre-recorded instrumentals playing from a machine. Performing with a live band thus became a major challenge. Some rappers and singers routinely sang off-key and MC Big Fred had to step on stage and stop their terrible performance under a hail of harsh boos and jeering from the incensed audience.

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

A week later, on Sunday night, GG sat on the sofa in the living room of his house watching TV. It was some minutes past nine o’clock and the first of a series of the K-mobile music talent search competition TV shows was about to be screened right after the end of the nine o’clock news.

GG couldn’t wait to watch the highly anticipated TV show. He yearned to watch himself and his bandmates on TV rapping on stage in front of a live audience.

GG lived with his father in the three bed-roomed house located in the South-B area of Nairobi. GG’s dad was single.

GG’s mom and dad had divorced when he was only a toddler. GG’s dad had been a student in a local university studying for a law degree when his then girlfriend, a fellow student in the university, announced that she was pregnant with his child. Their parents forced them to get married just before GG was born. But they divorced just two years into the troubled marriage. They just couldn’t tolerate each other’s idiosyncrasies.

GG had lived with his single mother until he was ten years old when he decided to move in with his father. His mom’s new boyfriend had moved into their house. GG hated the noises he heard coming from his mom’s room at night.

GG’s dad was a lawyer and was a partner in a law firm in Nairobi. The man had chosen not to marry again after divorcing his first wife. GG’s father was inclined to partying and club-hopping and he loved getting drunk. After work, the man spent most of his evenings in up-market pubs together with his friends, most of them young professionals, drinking beer and eating nyama choma (roasted meat) and chatting animatedly and laughing loudly.

GG’s dad was a flashy dresser and drove a BMW car. He, the father, treated GG, his son, as if they were age mates and always encouraged the seventeen year old boy to be outgoing and sociable.

On several occasions the father would take GG to a pub and encourage him to try beer. GG would drink half a glass of it and switch to soda. Beer, he thought, was bitter. After leaving the pub, father and son would hop into their BMW and drive to another entertainment spot in another part of town. GG mostly enjoyed the loud music and the mood of revelry in the clubs. After visiting several other pubs and clubs, the father would be so inebriated that he could not walk himself to the parking lot where their BMW was.

On such occasions, GG had to throw his staggering father’s hand over his shoulder and drag the man from the pub to the parking area and into the passenger side seat of the BMW.

GG would then hop into the driver’s seat and drive himself and his sloshed, dozing dad home. Though he hadn’t gone to a driving school, and didn’t have a driving license, GG had learnt to drive a car when he was twelve years old. His dad had taught him the basics of operating a car (this is the gear; and this one the steering wheel; and those three

the accelerator, brake and clutch pedals respectively) while GG had taught himself the modalities of navigating through the dark deserted roads of Nairobi nights.

Upon arriving home, GG would park the car in their compound, drag the semi-conscious man from the car, guide him into the house to his bedroom, and put him into bed.

GG spent most of his time at home alone and unsupervised. He could easily get money from his drunken dad’s wallet and therefore was never in short supply of cash.

At exactly 9:45 p.m. the K-mobile talent search competition TV show came on. Three of the leading national TV channels were simultaneously airing the pre-recorded show.

K-mobile must have bought expensive prime time space on the TV stations. Clearly no expense was being spared to market the show to its target audience – the urban youth of Kenya.

K-mobile’s approach was simply to portray itself as a hip and modern brand; the preferred network for the cool, upwardly mobile youngsters. But the company’s main aim was to sell lots of air-time (minutes, they’re sometimes called) to the millions of vibrant, talkative urban youths. Only the bulk sale of air-time would boost the company’s profit margin; and not the silly charade about promoting art and music.

GG felt thirsty and slipped out of the living room to the fridge in the kitchen. A second later he came back into the living room with a can of chilled beer and sat on the brown leather sofa in front of the large flat screen TV. With a hiss of escaping fizz, GG opened the beer can and tilted it over his mouth and took a swig from it.

“Ahhh,” he sighed upon swallowing. He smacked his lips appreciatively and gazed tenderly at the can. “I love beer,” he thought. It didn’t taste bitter today. He wondered why this was so. Maybe it’s because he was excited about the prospect of watching himself and his bandmates performing a song on national TV.

A K-mobile official, the same guy who’d spoken at the KICC plenary hall before the start of the live recording of the competition, came on the TV screen and spoke for a while.

“I saw this guy speaking live,” GG thought in amusement and took another swig of the cold delicious beer. GG sat up when the official ended his monologue and MC Big Fred’s bespectacled face came on the TV screen.

The genial MC laughed as he introduced the viewers to the music talent show and briefly explained how the rules of the competition worked.

GG’s mobile phone’s ringtone sounded. He abruptly fished out the Motorola handset from his jeans’ pocket and peeked at the lighted coloured screen. He’d just received a new text message. Upon opening the message, he read it. It was from his bandmate Shira inquiring on whether he, GG, was watching the K-mobile talent search show on TV.

As GG was hastily drafting a reply text message, his handset’s message ringtone sounded again. Abandoning the draft, GG opened the new message and read it. The new message was from Linda, she too inquiring whether he was tuned in to the TV channels airing the talent show.

GG’s thumbs bobbed rapidly over the keys of the Motorola handset as he finished typing the reply draft and swiftly sent it to both Shira’s and Linda’s phone numbers. In the message he confirmed to them that he was indeed watching the talent show and was even sipping a cold beer and was all alone in the house.

Both Shira and Linda sent thriftily-abbreviated text messages expressing their envy of GG’s independence and lack of parental supervision.

After Big Fred’s introductory speech, he proceeded to call out the first band and the cameras zoomed in on the five cocky rappers. The interludes where the contestants consulted with the live band were edited out. Different shots from different cameras were fused to make an exciting music video-like show.

“Urgh! Not the Eucalyptus again,” thought GG in consternation. He took yet another sip of his beer.

After the Eucalyptus performed, then came the Ghetto Sisters followed by the CO2 boys.

GG finished his beer and went to the fridge to get another can. As he walked back into the living room, the CO2 boys were just finishing their bland performance. GG went close to the TV and gently knocked his clenched fist on the area of the screen where the two boys’ heads were. “I hate those guys!” he seethed.

When GG sunk into the leather sofa, Big Fred finally called out the NoizeMakerz. GG’s Motorola rang and he picked up the call. The name Shira appeared on the lighted screen.

“We’re on TV! We’re on TV!” Shira yelled elatedly before hanging up.

As GG eagerly watched their performance on TV he dialed Linda’s number. Linda picked up the call after half a ring.

“We’re on TV! We’re on TV!” GG yelled elatedly before hanging up. GG then tilted the beer can over his mouth and poured all its frothy contents into his mouth. He swallowed the beer with a loud glug and burped and stood up to watch his bandmates and himself on TV rapping on stage in front of a live audience in the plenary hall, and, also, the TV audience sitting in their homes.

This was the stuff daydreams were made of! This was the highest point of GG’s musical career.

In the last fifteen minutes of the TV show, when most of the bands had performed, Big Fred came on the screen severally and appealed to the viewers to send text messages to a short code number and vote for the contestants that they wanted retained in the competition.

In the last two minutes of the show, when the text message votes had been tallied, Big Fred came on the screen and read from a list on his clipboard the names of the bands that had been eliminated from the competition.

The Ghetto Sisters, Eucalyptus, CO2, and the NoizeMakerz were not amongst the bands eliminated.

The original number of 500 bands that had been registered for the competition had now been narrowed down to 100. As the TV show ended, the innumerable credits rolling up the screen, Big Fred thanked the viewers for tuning in to the show and requested them not to miss the show the following week. “Same time, same place, same channel,” he laughed before a large blue graphic of the K-mobile logo covered the TV screen.

GG jumped and punched the air in glee. Excitedly he began to do a spirited dance around the living room until he was out of breath and consequently sank into the sofa.

In another part of town, Shira’s mom watched in amazement as his excited son happily jumped up and down in the living room after they’d both watched the TV show.

“Mom, did you see me on TV? Did you see me on TV?” Shira kept yelling elatedly. “I told you I’d be famous someday!”

Shira’s mom was happy that her son had appeared on a TV show, though she didn’t see the need of jumping around the living room like an inebriated kangaroo.

In yet another part of town, Linda and her mom hugged each other and briefly hopped around the living room before sinking into the sofa.

“My baby is famous! My baby is famous!” the mother kept saying in delight while holding Linda close. Tears came to their eyes. Joy reigned.

Every Sunday evening after the screening of that first episode, the one hour long talent search show was routinely aired on the three leading national TV channels.

Also running simultaneously were the live recordings of the performances by aspirants to the prize. The live recordings were staged every Saturday afternoon at the KICC plenary hall. Throngs of flashy youngsters attended the live performances.

Viewers were encouraged to vote for the bands that they wanted retained in the competition.

Weeks later, with only a month to go to the grand finale, only three bands remained in the competition. These bands were: the boisterous Ghetto Sisters, the CO2 duo, and the gifted trio called the NoizeMakerz.

The TV show soon became the most talked about issue in the Kenya media. Some FM radio stations ran call-in programmes to discuss the intrigues of the TV show and the bands participating in it. This call-in radio shows were especially aired on the Monday morning following the Sunday evening screening of the show.

The weekend society pages of the mainstream newspapers were awash with photographs, interviews, and articles of the contestants, both of those voted out of the contest and those still in contention.

A page was even created on Facebook, the popular social networking internet site, by the fans of the music contest. Initially upon its creation, the friends totaled 106,250. hourly updates were posted on the Facebook page, mainly speculative discussions about which band seemed likely to be eliminated; who was the hottest girl in the TV show (Linda and the lead singer of the Ghetto Sisters were the fans’ favourites); and which rapper had the most refined rapping skills (Shira and one of the CO2 boys were the fans’ favourites.)

~*~

One weekday evening early in October, Shira and his ubiquitous mother sat in the living room of their house. They’d just finished eating supper and were now watching the nine o’clock news bulletin.

Shira was stretched out on his favourite armchair impassively gazing at the flashing images on the TV screen. He hated news bulletins and everybody who watched them.

Shira’s mom sat on another armchair, her eyes glued to the TV screen, keenly following the news reports. When a series of advertisements came on, the mother turned her attention to her son. “And how are your studies coming along?” she asked.

“Fine,” Shira said indifferently. “Just fine.”

“It’s less than four weeks now to the start of the KCSE,” she said seriously. “Shouldn’t you be busy studying instead of wasting time watching TV?”

“I spent the whole day in school studying,” Shira said without looking at her. “Now that I’ve come back home, I need to do other things except study.”

“What degree course do you wish to pursue if you get into university?” the mother asked brusquely.

Shira sat up and interestedly stared at his mother. “Fine art degree course,” he said brightly, hoping that she’d say that she had connections to help him get into a university without having to score As and B grades in the KCSE.

“You need to score As and Bs in KCSE in order to be admitted to that degree course,” she said raucously.

Shira looked away to the TV screen and sat back with a disappointed sigh. “Why is it important that I get a university degree?” he asked demurely. “There are lots of successful, respected, wealthy people in the Kenyan society who don’t have university degrees.”

“Without a university degree, you won’t be able to apply for jobs,” said the mother matter-of-factly.

“I don’t want to apply for a stupid job,” Shira said gruffly. “I just want to pursue my music career; make money, lots of money.”

The mother was infuriated by the boy’s naïve words. “Music career?” she gasped scornfully. “What music career? This is Africa. Music doesn’t pay. Poor people don’t spend their meager earnings on CDs and concerts. If you go the music way, you’ll be poor all your life.”

When Shira heard this emotive declaration by his angry mother, he sat up and stared at her. The truth hurts, he thought, now beginning to realize that his fascination with music might just be a waste of time – a pipe dream, some call it.

If music doesn’t pay, then I’ll surely need to find another source of income, he thought. I’ll need to apply for jobs. I’ll need certificates, diplomas, and degrees for my CV to be marketable.

Now I see why she insists that I study diligently, get the required grades in the KCSE, and proceed to university where I’ll work more diligently till I graduate with a degree.

Shira’s mom watched her son stand up. The boy smiled meekly at her.

“I’m going to my room to study,” he said before walking slowly out of the living room. She soon heard the familiar bang of his bedroom door as it shut.

“Good,” she grinned smugly to herself and then grasped the TV remote, changed the channel, and busied herself watching a Mexican soap opera.

“Ooh, Antonio, I want to kiss you,” said the actress in the popular soap.

“Ahh, Racquel, your kiss tastes like wine,” replied the actor.

~*~

That same evening in early October, Linda and her mother sat opposite each other on the circular dining table in the dining room of their house eating supper. Smooth soothing music was playing from the hi-fi music system.

“I’m full, mom,” said Linda, putting her spoon down on the empty plate and proceeding to pat her tummy. “I’ll help you clear the dishes and wash them.”

“No, no, my child,” said the mother concernedly. “Don’t worry about the dishes. Just leave them to me. You need all the time you can have to prepare for the exam.”

“Okay, mother,” Linda said, getting up and replacing the chair neatly under the dining table. “I’ll be in my room studying.”

“What degree course did you say you wanted to pursue once you get into university?” the mother asked after chewing and swallowing food. She set her spoon down in the plate of pilau rice. (Pilau rice was their favourite meal.)

“A law degree,” Linda said. “I hope to set up my own law firm once I graduate and get my practicing license. I’ll specialize in entertainment industry laws and cases.”

“That sounds ambitious – but attainable. Do remember to take a break from studying and rest once in a while,” said the mother concernedly. “Scoring high grades in an exam is a good thing; but it’s not as important as your mental and social wellbeing.”

Linda smiled at her mother. “Can I, therefore, take a break now and watch TV? There’s a Mexican soap opera that I like. It’s airing today…”

“Of course you can take a break now. Sit down and watch your soapie,” smiled the mother, gesturing at the living room where the wall unit containing the TV set was. “Is the soap opera the one starring Antonio and Racquel?”

“Yes!” said Linda excitedly. “That’s the one.”

The mother abruptly picked up her plate of food, stood up, and hurried to the sofa in the living room and sat. “I love Antonio. Switch on the TV. I can’t wait to gawk at his handsome moustached face.”

“Ohh, Racquel, you don’t know the things I want to do to you,” said the actor.

Ahh, Antonio, hurry and do these things to me. I can’t wait any longer,” said the actress.

~*~

In another part of town, GG was seated next to his father in an up-market pub. The table before them was crammed with beer bottles, some full, others half empty, and yet others were empty.

Loud pop music played from large speakers mounted on the wall above them. GG’s dad was inebriated and kept laughing out loud as one of his friends said something funny. His dad’s friends sat around the table.

GG tilted the bottle of his soda over his glass and then took a sip of the soda. He’d developed a strong craving for beer. He desired to gulp down some beer but didn’t want to do it publicly and embarrass his dad in front of his mates.

And, anyway, GG needed to stay sober since his dad seemed too drunk to drive. His dad perennially used him as the designated driver whenever he went on drinking sprees.

“Isn’t your son in form four?” one of the intoxicated friends of his father asked.

“Yes, he’s in form four,” said GG’s dad, raising his glass and taking a swig of beer from it.

“I heard somewhere in the news that the KCSE exam is just around the corner,” said the man. “Shouldn’t he be at home busy studying?”

“No, no, no,” laughed GG’s dad. “These days you don’t need to pass the KCSE to get into university. They’ve invented something called the parallel degree program. All you need to do is pay the administrators of the university stacks of money and your kid is in! No stress!”

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

The Saturday after that, the three remaining bands performed to a packed crowd at the plenary hall of the KICC.

The hall was so packed with cocky, flashily dressed youngsters that throngs of them had to be turned away because there was no space inside the hall for them to sit.

Undaunted by this, the youngsters congregated outside the KICC building and listened to the music and euphoric cheers coming from inside the hall.

The show and side shows at KICC were all filmed and later edited and slated to be broadcast the following week.

The Sunday after that, in the evening, millions of Kenyans congregated in front of their TVs in their living rooms, others in pubs sipping beers and sodas, others on the internet’s YouTube, and others on their hand-held wireless gadgets, all eagerly waiting to watch the second last episode of the K-mobile talent search show.

Fans of the show, millions of them, yearned to watch which band would be eliminated from the contest and thus leave only two bands to fight it out for the grand prize of a million shillings.

The fans also kept their mobile phones close in anticipation of MC Big Fred’s appeal to the viewers to send text messages and vote for the bands that they wanted retained in the final duel of the hit TV show.

The mainstream newspapers devoted at least three pages each in their society and lifestyle sections to articles and pictures of the remaining bands.

FM radio stations devoted several hours of call-in shows to discuss the eagerly anticipated finale of the enthralling talent search competition.

The Facebook page devoted to the talent search show was inundated with new posts on the discussion board. The number of friends had jumped to 901,370.

~*~

The signature intro music began to play and the affable, bespectacled, burly MC named Big Fred finally came on the screen and a loud, euphoric cheer erupted in the background. (Big Fred had by now become as popular as the TV show.)

Hundreds of thousands of Kenyans watching the TV show braced themselves for the scheduled performances of the three remaining bands – the Ghetto Sisters, the CO2, and the NoizeMakerz.

MC Big Fred laughed, a signature, open-mouthed, genial “ha ha ha,” and for the umpteenth time that year introduced the viewers to the TV show using the same scripted lines. He was holding the ubiquitous wireless microphone and clipboard.

Shira, GG, and Linda characteristically grabbed their mobile phone handsets and drafted and sent (and received) text messages from one another inquiring whether they were tuned in to the show.

In the text messages they also expressed their apprehension about being voted out of the music competition and thus missing out on the grand prize of a million shillings.

After the introductions, Big Fred called up the NoizeMakerz to the stage to perform their song. The camera zoomed in on the trio and they were shown on TV getting up from their seats near the front of the hall and strutting along the aisle to the dais. A different frame of a different camera showed the trio on stage holding wireless microphones as the live band began to play a slow benga-sounding instrumental. The crowd went quiet.

Linda began to sing the chorus of a song – a different song from the one that they’d performed in front of their class a couple of months back. The new song was much slower; mellower in its rendering and mood. It was a love song. The coloured revolving lights flashed and a cloud of smoke wafted from the smoke machine.

The crowd in the plenary hall erupted in a cheer of appreciation as Linda’s melodious voice crooned the chorus closely followed by the slow, mellow rap verses of Shira and GG respectively.

A euphoric cheer erupted from the crowd in the hall when the NoizeMakerz completed their performance and bowed theatrically to the audience.

Big Fred went up the steps to the dais and proceeded to thank the NoizeMakerz trio for their titillating performance. Big Fred then read from his clipboard and called up the Ghetto Sisters to the stage.

The four feisty young ladies were shown getting up from their seats near the front of the hall, the crowd ululating and clapping and whistling. They strutted stylishly to the aisle before going up the steps to the dais.

Rapid edits and fused camera shots showed the four tastefully dressed lasses in different angles as they grasped wireless microphones from the stands and stood in form on stage. They were clad in long, flowing, figure-hugging, red, silky evening gowns.

A slow, melancholic reggae instrumental began to play after which the lead singer of the Ghetto Sisters raised the microphone to her mouth and began to sing. It was yet another love song. The multi-coloured stage lights flashed and the smoke machine belched out clouds of smoke. There was a concert-like mood in the hall.

At different intervals, the three other girls of the group rapped a few mellow lines blended in by the lead singer’s harmonized hums and emotive choruses.

The song was a great departure from their typical fast-paced, energetic, agitated beats and raps and scanty stage attire.

A wild cheer erupted when they finished singing and held hands and bowed dramatically to the ululating and clapping audience.

A grinning Big Fred went up the steps on to the dais and heaped praise on the Ghetto Sisters’ classy attire and performance. He then read from the papers on his clipboard and called out the last group to perform that day, “CO2!”

The two young men in baggy denims, T-shirts, crooked baseball caps, sneakers, chains and medallions were shown on TV getting up from their seats near the front of the hall and swaggering confidently along the aisle, up the steps, and onto the dais.

Rapid edits and varying, blended camera shots showed the duo grasping microphones from the stands. A slow R&B-sounding instrumental began to play upon which both of the performers’ voices harmonized to sing the opening chorus. This was closely followed by their individual rap verses. They ended the performance by singing the chorus again. Theirs too was a love song.

The excited crowd rose to their feet to clap and cheer for the CO2 boys who had built a reputation as hardcore rappers. Their switch to a love song greatly pleased and surprised their fans and the general audience. The CO2 boys bowed dramatically to the crowd.

Big Fred went up the steps as soon as the CO2 boys had left for their seats. He instantly recited the scripted lines appealing for the audience at home to pick up their mobile phones and send text messages to a short code number with the name of the band that they wanted retained in the contest.

During the last two minutes of the one hour TV show, when the text message votes had been tallied, Big Fred came on the screen, the camera zooming in on his bespectacled face, and he announced the results of the eagerly awaited tally. (This final clip of Big Fred was being aired live from a film studio set. The previous clips of him were the ones filmed a week earlier at the KICC performances.)

The Ghetto Sisters had received 20, 006 votes; the CO2 31,772 votes; and the NoizeMakerz 25,232 votes.

“It saddens me to say this,” Big Fred confessed to the TV camera, genuine remorse in his voice. “But the Ghetto Sisters are no longer in the running to become the finalists in the K-mobile talent search contest.”

The credits began to roll up on a segment on the left side of the screen, the signature music playing.

“The NoizeMakerz and the CO2 are the finalists of the K-mobile music talent contest. These two bands will fight it out for the grand prize of a million Kenya shillings next week on Sunday, October 13th at the KICC’s plenary hall. The final show will be aired live; same place, same time, same channel.”

Big Fred turned to face another camera. “Bye bye for now,” he said as the large blue-coloured K-mobile logo covered the TV screen.

~*~

A minute hadn’t even elapsed after the TV show ended when Shira’s mother began to yell. She was angered by Big Fred’s declaration that the finals of the competition would be held on Sunday, October 13th.

“The KCSE exam begins on Monday, October 14th,” she ranted. “There’s no way that my son is attending, let alone participating, in a stupid music contest the night before he sits for a major exam. Only if am dead and buried will I let that happen!”

“But, mom,” pleaded Shira desperately. “I love music. I and my bandmates, GG and Linda, have worked so hard to achieve this. We’ve been writing and rehearsing new songs and stage routines since the competition started. You have to be heartless to bar me from participating in the finals!”

The enraged mother stood up and towered over her seated son, her hands held menacingly akimbo. “Uh-uh, Wachira, I said that the only way that I’ll let you participate in that final contest is if am dead and buried! You’re not going to KICC on that Sunday, do you hear?!”

“You can’t do this to me, mom!” Shira cried, gazing up at his writhing mother. “If I don’t show up, my bandmates will be disqualified. We could lose out on the grand prize!”

“I said you are not going to that stupid music contest,” the mother screamed defiantly.

Shira rose to his feet and glared angrily at his panting, enraged mother. Mother and son were about the same height. “If KCSE is that important, then I’ll re-register and sit for it next year. Will that make you happy?” Shira asked with a sly, mirthless grin.

“Don’t be sarcastic with me, boy,” the enraged mother growled threateningly, her face wrinkled into a savage sneer.

Shira threw his hands in the air and sighed heavily before turning away from his mother and headed for his bedroom and banged the door shut and locked himself in.

~*~

Within that first minute after the TV show ended, in another part of town, Linda’s mom rose from the sofa and stood over her seated daughter. “Let me make it clear to you, young lady, that you are not going to the final of that talent show the night before you begin the most important exam of your life. Do you understand me?”

“But I love music, mother,” Linda pleaded desperately. I and my bandmates, Shira and GG, worked so hard to get to the finals. We’ve been writing and rehearsing new songs since the competition began. You can’t deny me this opportunity of going to the finals!”

The peeved mother wagged her forefinger threateningly at the seated girl. “Listen, young lady, and listen good; I’m your mother and as long as you live in my house, my word is law! You are not going to that silly music contest.”

Linda tried to smile. “Remember that I promised I’ll buy you a new laptop computer with the prize money?”

The mother sneered at Linda menacingly. “I don’t want a stupid laptop,” she hissed coldly and bended to glare at the bewildered girl. The mother then mellowed her voice to a maternal tone. “What I want is for you to spend the eve of the start of the KCSE preparing for it. No music, no parties, no competitions. Just study and have a good night’s rest. Do you understand me?”

“Why are you getting so worked up about the music contest?” Linda suddenly yelled and stood up to face her mother. “You’ve been supporting me all through the weeks since the beginning of it. This is a nasty side of you that I’d never seen before. I don’t like it, mother. I don’t like it.”

As Linda recited this last sentence, she backtracked slowly away from her stunned mother and went into her bedroom and banged the door shut and locked herself in.

~*~

In another part of town, the respective parents of the CO2 boys, Charles and Chris, harshly scowled the boys and warned them against participating in the eagerly awaited finals of the popular music contest. Charles’s and Chris’s impassioned protests fell on deaf ears. “Concentrate on KCSE!” the set of parents hissed coldly to their shocked sons.

~*~

That same night in yet another part of Nairobi, GG was reclined lethargically on the sofa in the living room of his dad’s house, sipping a cold beer from a can.

“Long live East Africa Breweries,” he burped while appreciatively gazing at the logo of the brand of beer.

He’d just watched the K-mobile talent search show on TV and was elated that him and his bandmates had made it to the finals.

GG’s dad was, as usual, away from home. He’d travelled the previous night to the United Kingdom to visit his brother who was graduating from university that week. GG’s dad would be gone for a whole week and he’d hired a maid to take care of his son and the house.

GG’s dad had assured his son that he would be sending him money through Western Union money transfer service whenever he was in need.

The message tone of GG’s Motorola handset sounded and he swiftly placed the beer can on the coffee table before sifting through his denim’s pockets for the phone.

Upon retrieving the handset, GG swiftly pressed the keys and opened the inbox to read the text message. The text message, he saw, was from Shira. Shira was inquiring whether he could come over to GG’s place and live there for a couple of days till the finals of the music contest were over.

GG’s thumbs bobbed rapidly over the handset’s keys and he drafted a text message asking Shira why he didn’t want to stay at his home with his mom.

Shira replied to this text message saying that his heartless mother had barred him from participating in the finals of the talent show. “Cn u blv it?” he ended the abbreviated message.

“Ok, tmrw u cn pck ur thngs n cm ova,” GG wrote, informing Shira that once he packed his things he could come over to his house.

As soon as he replaced the Motorola handset into his pocket, it rang again. GG irritably pulled it out and gazed at the lighted screen. “Linda,” it said. It was an incoming call and not a text message.

GG pressed the green ‘receive’ button. “What’s up, Linda?” he said, clasping the handset over his ear.

“Hi, GG,” Linda said, her voice lacking its characteristic vibrancy. “Can I come over to your place and stay there for a couple of days till the finals of the competition are over?”

“Let me guess,” GG said and chuckled. “Your mom has barred you from participating in the competition?”

“Yes, exactly,” said Linda in distress. “How did you know?”

“Shira contacted me just a minute ago,” said GG. “He’s in the same fix. His mom won’t let him participate in the finals of the competition. Ati he should be preparing for the next day’s exam. Kwani, what’s wrong with moms these days?”

“I don’t know what they’re smoking,” Linda said. “My mom said the same thing as Shira’s mom. She’s acting weird. I mean, the KCSE exam is not the end of the world! We can register again and sit for it next year. And how come your dad doesn’t meddle in your life, GG?”

GG laughed smugly when he heard this last sentence. “Me and my dad are buddies. He understands that I need my space to do my own things.”

Linda sighed heavily through the phone. “I wish I had a dad like yours,” she said. “So, can I come over and stay for a while at your place?”

“Of course,” GG said. “Pack your clothes and things and tomorrow you can come over.”

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

The next day, a Monday, GG didn’t wake up early in the morning to go to school. Instead he slept in till midday and woke up to watch Cartoon Network in the living room’s TV while munching on brunch prepared by the maid.

Later in the afternoon GG took the car keys and hopped into his dad’s BMW and drove out of the gates to the local bus stop where he picked up Linda and GG who’d just alighted from a matatu. Linda and GG both carried large suitcases and a knapsack each.

GG then drove them back to his house and showed them where they’d be sleeping – a double-decker bed stowed against the wall on one side of his bedroom.

The trio spent the rest of the day lounging carefreely in the living room watching videos and eating snacks served by the maid and chatting animatedly.

During their animated chats they developed a plan of winning the music contest. They agreed that they needed to spend at least six hours of the remaining five days rehearsing their songs and dance routines. They also agreed that they needed new costumes for their final performance – for Linda something similar to what Janet Jackson wore when her bosom was exposed (black leather motor-racing gear) and for Shira and GG black costumes to complement Linda’s.

Though he didn’t have a driving license, GG took his bandmates and drove them to Nairobi CBD where he parked the BMW and they spent a couple of hours in the clothing shops buying outfits, shoes, and jewelry.

To pay for the stuff that they bought, GG used the money that he’d been given by his dad.

That Monday night when Linda’s mom and Shira’s mom, respectively, arrived home from work and found that their son and daughter had ran away from home, they were so shocked that they telephoned the police and informed them of the disappearances.

The police officer on the phone asked the worried mothers to first contact all of their relatives and friends and inquire whether the teenagers had been seen.

If the two teenagers were not staying with any of their relatives and friends, the police averred, then investigations would swiftly be launched to track down the boy and girl.

It was during the series of telephone exchanges between the police and the worried, distressed mothers that a meeting was arranged at the Central Police Station in Nairobi CBD.

Shira’s mom and Linda’s mom hastily arrived at the police station in their respective cars and were introduced to each other by the officer commanding the police station.

“Hello, I’m Mama Shira,” said the mother, extending her hand to greet the other woman.

“Hello, and I’m Mama Linda,” responded the other woman, she too extending her hand to shake Mama Shira’s.

“Like my son, your daughter too is in the K-mobile music contest, isn’t she?” inquired Shira’s mom.

“Yes, my daughter, Linda, is in the K-mobile music contest,” responded Linda’s mom. “I think they’re in the same group – the noise makers – though am not sure I’ve pronounced it correctly.”

Having established rapport, the two thirtyish women began to talk about the disappearance of their children.

“Recently in the media there have been reports of kidnappers snatching kids and demanding hefty ransoms for their return,” said Shira’s mom. “Maybe that’s what happened to my Shira and your Linda.”

The OCS (officer commanding station) walked out through the front door of the Central Police Station building and hastened towards the two tastefully dressed women.

“Good evening, ladies,” he said, extending his hand to shake theirs. “I am Sergeant Kiptoo, the OCS of this station. I am at your service and will assist you to find your missing children. Follow me to my office.”

The two women locked their cars and followed the uniformed sergeant through the front doors of the police station building, and through the corridors, to his little crammed office.

When the OCS had sat behind his desk and asked the two women to sit on the visitors chairs in front of his desk, he spoke to them.

“I am starting to think the disappearance of your children could be a case of kidnapping. I suggest that you keep your telephones close because the kidnappers could call you to make a ransom demand,” said the OCS gravely. The two women anxiety increased and they fidgeted in their seats.

“Your children, I have just been informed, are celebrities, and regularly appear on a popular TV show. Is this correct?” asked the OCS.

“Yes, for a couple of months now they’ve been appearing on a music contest show on TV,” said Shira’s mom.

Linda’s mom nodded in agreement with these remarks and both women gazed expectantly at the OCS.

“This being the case,” said the OCS pensively, “the ransom amount demanded by the kidnappers could be very high. Perhaps running into millions of shillings.”

“Millions of shillings?” both women gasped unitedly in shock.

“We don’t have millions of shillings stashed away somewhere just waiting to be withdrawn and paid to a bunch of criminals,” Shira’s mom said in indignation. “We are just regular people struggling to earn a living and raise our children in these difficult economic circumstances,” added Linda’s mom.

A prolonged silence ensued and was only broken by the OCS’s sullen voice. “There are three of them in the singing group – the noise makers. The other boy – the short funny one – has his parents reported that he too has disappeared?”

The two distressed women exchanged bewildered looks before Shira’s mom spoke worriedly. “I believe he is called Githinji. But we have not received any information from his parents indicating that he’s missing.”

“Could you have his or his parents’ telephone numbers; or know where he lives?” asked the OCS. “Maybe your son and daughter could have gone to visit him at his house.”

In their distress the two moms were not thinking rationally.

“No, that can’t be the case,” said Linda’s mom. “Whenever my daughter, Linda, goes visiting her friends, she always informs me exactly where she is and whom she’s with.”

“My son too does the same,” added Shira’s mom on noticing that the OCS was gazing inquisitively at her.

“We are left with no other choice but to conclude that the mysterious disappearance of your children was caused by kidnappers,” said the OCS pensively before getting up.

“What do we do?” Shira’s mom asked in desperation. “Our children are missing!”

Her voice was breaking and tears flowed freely down her face. Linda’s mom too teared up and she reached out and put her hand around Shira’s mom’s shoulders.

“We have to be strong,” Linda’s mom said. “Let’s have faith in the police. They’ll find our children. We have to hold on to hope.”

The two women hugged each other and broke down and wept and snivelled together.

The OCS had to turn away from them and clandestinely wipe away a stray tear when he became overwhelmed with emotion.

~*~

The next day was a Tuesday and the front page of one of the leading daily newspapers carried the banner headline reading, ‘Youthful TV Stars Kidnapped.’

Under the front page headline was a photo – a caption from film footage of one of the performances at KICC plenary hall – of the NoizeMakerz trio striking a modish pose; Linda in the middle flanked by Shira and GG.

A smaller headline at the bottom of the page read, ‘Parents of the Singing Trio the ‘NoizeMakerz’ Fear for their Childrens’ Lives.’

Both of the headlines were followed by speculative articles that lacked the slightest hints of facts.

On that Tuesday, Nairobi-based FM radio stations devoted their morning programmes to call-in discussion shows about the missing trio. Callers in the radio call-in shows voiced all kinds of wild ideas about who kidnapped the NoizeMakerz trio. The weirdest theory was that a British record company had offered the NoizeMakerz trio 10 million shillings not to take part in the finals of the competition ,but instead sign a recording deal with them.

One caller even suggested that the NoizeMakerz trio’s dead bodies had been spotted floating in the murky waters of the Nairobi River. The caller went on to speculate that the CO2 duo’s parents had hired hit-men to eliminate the NoizeMakerz from the competition.

The Facebook page created by fans of the TV show was inundated with posts on various discussion boards – all posts either offering condolences to the families and friends of the NoizeMakerz trio or more wild speculations about what might have led to the trio’s sudden disappearance.

The local TV stations too ran reports on their daytime news bulletins, all reporting the same thing – that the NoizeMakerz trio had disappeared.

One TV station even managed to interview both Shira’s and Linda’s moms. The teary mothers were showed talking in the living rooms of their respective houses. They both stuck to their original story that their children had been kidnapped.

Shira’s sobbing mother even gazed into the camera and appealed to the kidnappers to, “please release my baby. He’s my only child…boo hoo hoo…”

During the same news bulletin, the commissioner of police was showed banging his fists over his desk, swearing that all resources at his disposal were being directed at tracking the missing teenagers.

A related news report on the same TV station showed one of the officials of K-mobile saying that the NoizeMakerz trio would forfeit their chance to win the million shillings if they didn’t turn up at the dais of KICC venue before the 7:00 p.m. deadline. (The final performances were scheduled to start at 7:00 p.m., Sunday October 13th.)

The K-mobile official gazed at the camera and appealed to the viewers to tell the NoizeMakerz trio to present themselves at the KICC plenary hall stage by 7:00 p.m., failure to which the one million shillings prize money and other prizes would be awarded to the CO2.

When the CO2 boys, Charles and Chris, heard this, they and their sets of parents jumped up in glee and hugged each other. It would be the easiest million shillings that the two young men would ever earn.

Chris and Charles swiftly exchanged a flurry of abbreviated text messages agreeing to split the million in two halves. They also speculated on the various things that they would spend their share of the money on. It was the happiest day of the two young men’s lives. They just couldn’t stop grinning.

~*~

On Sunday October 13th at dusk, some minutes before 7:00 p.m., the KICC’s plenary hall was already packed with noisy, flashily dressed youngsters; all eagerly awaiting the suspenseful outcome of the long-running K-mobile talent search competition.

The live band members were already poised on the brightly lit stage grasping their musical instruments, waiting to belt out instrumentals.

Cameramen wielding cameras and donning large headphones were busy turning their cameras this way and that way, filming the goings-on in the packed hall. Multi-coloured disco lights flashed across the bodies in the hall.

A battalion of K-mobile officials were seated pensively at the front seats just below the raised dais. Big Fred, the bespectacled, burly MC sat uncomfortably next to the officials, shifting repeatedly in his seat.

Charles and Chris, the CO2 members, sat grinning pleasurably behind the officials. Almost everyone in the hall kept raising their wrists and mobile phones to check the time.

At exactly 6:55 p.m. one K-mobile official stood up. It was the now familiar official who had held the megaphone and addressed the queuing youngsters on the day the registration of contestants was launched. The official now held a wireless microphone and went up the steps onto the dais and faced the noisy restless crowd of youngsters.

On seeing him, the youngsters in the hall who’d been sitting facing each other or away from the stage began to move and sit properly and face the front and turn their attention to him.

The babble in the hall had subsided a little when the official raised the microphone to his mouth and spoke. It was 6:58 p.m. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he began pensively, turning his head from side to side to take in the crowd’s reaction to the announcement he was about to promulgate. “The rules of this competition stipulate that if one of the bands in the finals fails to make it to the stage by a certain specified time, in this case 7:00 p.m., then they automatically forfeit their chance to participate in the final competition.”

A babble of murmurs resounded from the crowd of youngsters. The official raised his arm and checked his wristwatch. “It is now 6:59 p.m. and one of the two bands that made it to the finals – the NoizeMakerz – has not showed up. The CO2 are seated right there in the hall. I have no choice left but to declare the CO2 the winne…..”

He suddenly stopped talking when he spotted three dark figures in sleek leather outfits strutting briskly up the aisle towards the dais. Heads and eyes and cameras began to turn to gawk at the three phantom-like dark figures making their way purposefully to the dais.

Soon the three figures went up the steps and onto the dais and stood in front of the stunned, blinking official.

“The NoizeMakerz?” gasped the official in shock, his eyes closely gazing at each of the three figures. “Is it you? Where did you come from?”

The three youngsters were donned in sleek, black, leather suits and dark, over-sized, designer sunglasses.

Shira, Linda and GG grabbed a wireless microphone each from the stands. Theatrically they raised the microphones to their mouths and spoke in unison saying, “Yes, it is us. The NoizeMakerz!”

The crowd in the hall burst into a frenzy of rapturous applause. The whole KICC building shuddered.

The bewildered CO2 boys, Chris and Charles, grimaced spitefully at the three black-clad, stylish figures on stage. Their broad pleasurable grins were no more. A cloud of fear had come over their wide eyes. The million shillings that they’d so frugally planned for had suddenly sprouted wings.

~*~

Both Shira’s and Linda’s moms were seated on sofas on their respective living rooms watching TV when they spotted the three black-clad figures on the screens. Both mothers simultaneously sat up and gazed closely at their TV screens. They identified two of the black-clad figures as their missing son and daughter respectively.

Shira’s mom swiftly grabbed her Motorola handset and restlessly dialled Linda’s mom’s number. “My son is alive! My son is alive!” she screamed elatedly as soon as Linda’s mom picked up the phone.

“My daughter is alive! My daughter is alive!” Linda’s mom screamed in response.

Both women then spoke and agreed to meet at the KICC plenary hall in twenty minute’s time. Soon after disconnecting the call, they both locked their respective houses and hopped into their cars and raced crazily toward KICC.

By the time the two moms arrived at the KICC plenary hall, the two bands, CO2 and NoizeMakerz, had each performed three songs on stage in front of the frenetic crowd of euphoric youngsters.

The two mothers walked into the packed hall when the NoizeMakerz were on stage and performing their last song. It was the same song that they’d performed in front of the class many months ago. The stunned mothers walked down the dark aisle of the hall as Linda sang the last chorus.

…Songea karibu, songea karibu,

Nishike mkono, uwe wangu,

Nikupeleke chumbani mwangu…

She sang the chorus twice. She gestured at the live band to stop playing the instrumental and in a slow, throaty, sensual voice she finished with the words, “Nikupeleke …chumbani …mwanguuuuuuu……

She blew a kiss to the audience. Five seconds of complete silence descended on the hall, all eyes on the three talented performers poised on the dais.

The audience then broke into a wild round of orgasmic applause, some jumping onto their chairs and whistling and clapping and hollering.

Shira’s and Linda’s moms rushed onto the stage and embraced the trio.

Big Fred, the MC, laughed and happily appealed to the audience in the hall and the viewers at home to send text messages to a short code number and vote for the band that they thought deserved to win the grand prize of a million shillings.

In the last two minutes of the one hour live broadcast, when the text message votes had been tallied, Big Fred stood on the stage and read from the paper on his clipboard.

The noisy frenetic audience suddenly went mute, all eyes on the burly MC. Adjusting his spectacles, he raised the wireless microphone to his mouth. In a slow, deep voice he looked at the camera in the hall and said, “The winner of the K-mobile talent search contest 2009 is…….” He paused for dramatic effect. The tension in the hall grew to impossible levels.

“The NoizeMakerz!”

© Denis Kabi 2009

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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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