Jameni, I lost the silver bracelet my nyanya had given me when I was a little girl when I heard the news that he would appear on the Goldenberg Commission. I ran around our small shamba and through the fence to his clan on the next shamba to tell everybody and the bracelet fell and I did not feel it leave my skin. Imagine. I told his Gogo in the small house we lived in and Uncle Rotiken, our closest neighbor about one kilometre away in his also-small house, about the Commission. It was only when I saw afterwards that I had torn my bui bui on the Ngombe barbed-wire fence, and that there was a scratch with blood on my shoulder, that I saw that the silver bracelet was not on my arm. Ai there I was with my shoulder open to the world to look at the blood because my head was full of the news of the Commission. I remembered nyanya’s madrassa when I was a small girl and slipped the cloth over my shoulder and went to check it inside, away from the eyes of the world. That is how bad the last years had been in forgetting how I had grown up and that is how good this news was. The silver bracelet was always leaving my arm and I knew nyanya was trying to tell me something. That maybe I should not have stayed in Olokurto. But when I took my steps again I found the bracelet near the fence.
The first time the CID came to pick him up in the police Land Rover we wondered whether we would see him again, even if a new regime had now come into power. He came back after a week and said that he had been asked to be part of the preparations for a Commission looking into Goldenberg. He said this government would not let the sins of the past be forgotten. I knew that we had stopped hiding when he also said that we had to start preparing for a new life. He even said that we would travel to the Coast to see my parents who I had not seen since we came to Maasailand, and that was six years ago. The silver bracelet stayed on my wrist and did not slip off even when I was digging with Gogo, or washing the girls or the viombo dishes.
Alafu he was picked up again by the police Land Rover to go to Nairobi to testify and he went wearing the blue suit that had been bought for him by Transparency International. While he had been preparing with the Commission the news of what he had done had come out and Transparency International had come to us. Now he sent more news: they were going to give him an award and maybe even a job for the brave thing he had done. He said we would then even be able to go and live in Nairobi. Inshallah. At least they had bought him the blue suit while he was doing the work of the Commission so the government would take him seriously. When the newspapers announced the Commission and said that he would be one of the witnesses, some people here in Olokurto thought he had done a stupid thing not a brave one by not taking the money like many had all those years ago. Maasai jinga, they said.
The few days when he stayed with us before he went back to Nairobi we noticed that he did not go quiet maji ya mtungi for long periods like he used to. He started talking talking quickly again in English as if he were practising for our new life to come. He had always been good at talking talking like an offisi person and even when we had not been able to leave Olokurto he read the newspapers that wrapped the meat when we could afford it once a month. Before we had two daughters, Amina and Fatu, he had impressed my father with his knowledge of the Koran when he came to tell him that he wanted to marry me in Mombasa. Even if we had a wedding he still had to be given permission by my parents properly in the Muslim way for me. That is the way of the Bajuni who used to be my people. I knew Allah would plan for us when we would go for the final blessing. The Koran says that man just says. It is God who decides.
Then when he was away, the newspapers said that one of the very powerful ministers who had been in power during the last regime had gone to court to stop the Commission. We knew how the country was and I was scared. When he called us at the red jamii telephone at Olokurto trading centre he laughed and said that hii ni tsunami. No one can stop an idea whose time has come. His English over the phone was stronger than this powerful minister. But as I walked back to the farm I knew that a minister in Kenya is more powerful than English. That is why wanasiasa say the important things in our languages, then the other takataka in broken Swahili and in English.
The Commission, we were told, was meeting at Kenyatta International Conference Centre, the most important place in Nairobi. We all knew about KICC but I had never seen it. Gogo shook her head and laughed and said it looked like a big mboro, tall and long, that had been built in the middle of Nairobi so that wanaume leaders could feel strong and good about themselves even if wananchi were going through many problems. Gogo’s feet were old and angry and made her say things like that. I could not stop thinking about a big mboro growing in the centre of Nairobi and I was ashamed. I missed him in our bed. I asked Allah for forgiveness.
We were told the Commission had started. I could not go to Nairobi to see him because we could not afford it even when everyone asked me in the trading centre unaenda unaenda? There was only one TV in Olokurto at the Good Hopes Bar. Gogo and I were called to go see him kwa Commission. We did not have any money for soda and we carried chai from the house. The barmaids from Molo, who had come with their people after the ’92 clashes and served at Good Hopes Bar, looked at Gogo and me with fitina eyes and sengeyad sssss at us in Kikuyu. But they did not know Gogo was Kikuyu before she married Guka and had not forgotten the tongue of atiriri.
Everyone on the television at the Commission looked serious sura ya kazi and Gogo kept on falling asleep. When he appeared on TV after a few days of Commission I felt happy and remembered when we first met in Mombasa. He looked so beautiful on TV that Gogo and I looked at each other and said Ai Ai Ai. The barmaids from Molo ssssd ssssd and looked at us with macho za papa. ‘Kweli, the eyes of the shark,’ my nyanya used to say, ‘are dead, but binadamu are not far.’ These Molo women, whom Gogo said she did not know why they came here, knew my husband because of that time he had thought he was carrying the world on his shoulders. Men ndio hivyo they think the world is on them. He refused to come home and was always in Good Hopes Bar and slept in the lodgings next door. Gogo had said she would send him an engoki and then kill herself and come back to make his life a wilderness. The dawa medicine power of the gogos of UMaasaini is not to be played with.
In the TV he looked as if he worked in a bank in Nairobi in the deep blue suit, white shirt and red tie from Transparency International. I quickly sent for our baby, Fatu, and Amina who was already a little girl, to be brought to the bar to see their Baba. Ka-Joyce the youngest daughter of Uncle Rotiken who was in likizo from school was looking after them. I said she must dress them in the Bajuni way so that people would not think we had forgotten our religion by sitting in a bar. And I touched the silver bracelet and knew nyanya would be happy because this is what she had taught me.
I had never been to a bar before then. When I came to Olokurto I had tried to start a madrassa. I did not want to forget my mila. The ways of the Bajuni. When I was growing up in Lamu my father was always at the mosque or the town-square. There were no bars of Good Hopes. My mother only left the house to go visit other women of her age in their homes or the market. The market here was for cows and men and I did not have any friends to visit. I wanted to teach the few Muslim children here who stayed in the trading centre the Koran, and to say their prayers five times a day. I was taught to wash five times after saying my prayers. Five times. When Fatu and Amina were born they were not held up so that the traditional call of prayer was said into their ear. That is why I had started the madrassa so that they would not forget the mila I had come from. And now they had to come to Good Hopes to see him.
I showed Amina and Fatu their Baba on TV and Fatu pointed and laughed. ‘Bara, bara,’ she said. Even the eyes of the Molo barmaids became woi and they gave her a Fanta for free. Good Hopes Bar was full of men smelling of wheat ngano farms. The men went very quiet during his testimony and said that we should be given anything we wanted because of what he had done for the country. For that day he was on TV saying what had happened we ate as much as we wanted at Good Hopes.
He told in English how he had joined the Central Bank of Kenya in 1990 and worked as a clerk for two years. There was this big man who had a very big head tumbo kubwa with many thoughts asking him questions but he was not scared. I could not understand everything and I explained to Gogo kijuujuu because they were talking in English.
‘Then, what happened?’ the lawyer asked.
‘I reported to work every day at 8.30 a.m. and left at 5 p.m.’
‘Can you explain to the Commission how you became involved in Goldenberg?’
I could not keep track of all the questions with my slow English. When the big-headed tumbo kubwa wakili-lawyer asked him how much money was involved he kept quiet for a few minutes and then he said: ‘One million dollars was involved.’
The lawyer said: ‘Did you say one million dollars?’
‘Yes, Your Honour; one million dollars.’
It was like a DVD movie. There was noise in the court and everyone in Good Hopes Bar cheered. They said: There he is, your husband, the hero.
I remembered how we met in Mombasa all those years ago when he was running away from those bank people who had stolen the money and I wanted to cry right there in Good Hopes Bar. Shukran to Allah.
Before I met him all I knew was the Coast. I miss bahari, the sea how it smells. I miss eating fish. His people here say that samaki are insects and God did not create human beings to eat insects. Ngai. For six years since we came here I have only eaten kuku chicken five times because his people do not also eat birds. I had to hide and buy the kuku from the other Molo Kikuyus who own the food kiosk in Olokurto. When I went there I did not wear my bui bui so nobody recognised me. When I asked for the chicken in my Swahili that had stopped being sanifu the woman selling knew who I was. I knew she knew because she asked if I also wanted mbuzi ulaya. Pork. Ai. Salaam Aleikum. I touched the silver bracelet and remembered nyanya. The boiled kuku stayed in my mouth for a whole week and I could feel it scratching in my stomach. I prayed to Allah for forgiveness.
I was only sixteen when we met in Mombasa. When I finished my Koran studies in madrassa and primary school in Lamu I had gone to live with my sister, Hadija, in Majengo. She worked at the Port and opened a small biashara for me to sell mboga, fruits and other takataka. I met him when he started coming to my stall to buy fruits.
‘Habari-yagho! Fungia-mimi-hiyo,’ he would say in his strange voice pointing at mandizi. It was completely foreign to me. Even then he spoke mostly English. I also used to work in a salon and I used to see him with this Taita girl with big eyes who used to come in to do her hair. Then, I did not see her again. One day he just came to me at the stall and he said: salama lakini. He said he wanted to see my parents. By then his strange accent had disappeared. I had always thought he was a Mbarawa, a Bajuni from Somalia.
The ways of men are very strange. I told him to tell me what he wanted. My mother had told me when it comes to men and women there should not be too many stories. When he offered me a Bitter Lemon, I refused because he had not declared himself. I asked him about his Taita girlfriend who used to come to the salon. He said she liked money too much. Aieee, I looked at him because I had seen them holding hands. He said that he had become a Muslim and wanted to marry a Muslim girl. I laughed and then saw that he was sura ya kazi serious. He even showed me a letter from the Kadhi to say that he had become a Muslim. I pushed away the barua from the Kadhi – these were not the things for a girl of my age to read.
We met two times because that is the way it is with us. That was enough. With us Bajunis, you say what you want. No stories. Hadithi mingi. And if you want to marry me and I like you, you go see my parents. No wasting each other’s time.
Then, he started to visit me at the home of Hadija my sister. At first I used to run away when I saw him to go and watch mapenzi Bollywood films with a Tanzanian boy, my friend Jomvu. My sister asked me why I was playing this game of panya na paka, cat and mouse. After my sister spoke to me I became close to him. The time he came and he saw me with Jomvu his neck started swelling and his ears turned red. Imagine. I pretended not to see. I wanted to see whether he was serious and he did not just want to tongoza me.
Jomvu was maskini and could not pay Ksh 30,000 and buy my parents a sofa set and a bed made of mvuli hardwood. So, I became engaged to him instead. Nobody in my family knew where he was from. They also thought he was a Mbarawa. At our wedding, only his brother and his brother’s father-in-law came. The men from my family wore kikois and rubber-thonged sandals on their feet with the women in bui buis that only showed their eyes to the world. In those days there were still songs during our weddings. The sheikhs had not yet refused us to sing and make poem mashairi. We could not afford to bring the famous Juma Bhalo but the cousin of my poet who had been one of his musicians came to the wedding to sing. Then, my father said we must give our new family a chance to speak.
Hai. We wondered what Kiswahili these people were speaking. It turned out to be Kikuyu Kiswahili. What if it had been Maasai? I would never have married him. The words come out of the mouth like a waterfall. I’ve become used to it at Olokurto because this is what my ear listens to all the time.
He explained that he had been born out of ndoa and had no father. His only family was his brother and his brother’s father-in-law. He said his mother had died and we felt pity for him. We did not question him when he said his relatives were far away. Like many other things, I only knew later that he was hiding from the government of Moi. But he was able to give mother and father a jumbo sofa set and bed made of hardwood podo.
When we arrived in Olokurto everything was so different from pwani. I had never seen a Maasai in a shuka, only those Kikuyus who used to jump for tourists on the beach who were warani bandia. I did not even know how food came from the ground. Gogo tried to teach me all these things. She laughed at me at first and then she grew angry when she saw me put back the potato waru stalk in the soil thinking that another potato waru would grow from it. When she asked me to go and bring ati firewood I went to Olokurto and bought charcoal. When I tried to cut wood with an axe I almost cut off my toes. He helped me with the firewood and shouted, how would I become the Maasai woman of the house. Gogo could carry huge bundles of firewood easily. I had never seen my own mother carry anything. She would have dropped dead fofofo on the spot.
In Lamu and Mombasa people don’t walk anywhere because the sun will kemea you and ask you where you think you are going. I could not even walk to the Olokurto trading centre. In Mombasa, I just threw Ksh 5 at the manamba even to go to the shops. But in Olokurto everyone we knew stayed so far away, we had to walk.
Aii, the food. I could not understand how anyone could eat so much meat. I was used to coconut mnazi rice and samaki. There was no bread or sugar just a cup of strungi, sugarless black tea, for breakfast. I forgot everything for a while when Amina was born till she was one and a half.
My tongue refused to pick up Maa though my children could speak it. My Swahili changanisha mixed with Kikuyu. I found myself saying Ngai and calling the fence, iriga. Waru ati for viasi potato. We do not have such words in Tikuu.
One day I saw Gogo, who used to drink raw goat fat, give it to Amina mixed with cream. Amina cried at first but she became used to it. Gogo said that it would make her strong and she would never fall sick.
After this I told him that I wanted to visit my sister and pick up some things. He said that Gogo would take care of Amina if I was going for a short time. So I went to my sister Hadija in Mombasa. Hadija did not ask me anything when I stayed and stayed without saying when I would go back. My nephews and nieces laughed at me when the words came out of my mouth. Hadija told me to stop speaking like a Mmbaara in front of neighbours and friends.
He sent messages begging me to go back and it was only when I started missing Amina that I went.
Gogo sat me on a low stool when I arrived and told me what had happened to him with the Central Bank, banki kuu. She said this to make me understand why he kept quiet with mawazo. After I came back I became used to everything slowly and slowly and I forgot the ustarabu that I had been raised with.
After the Commission ended we did not see him for a month. Gogo and I went back to the things we had always done. We only had four goats and three cows to take care of. Even if he was a hero and our lives were going to change, Gogo and I went back to the shamba to look after the maize, beans and potatoes we had planted. One of Uncle Rotiken’s sons brought us the newspaper and he was on the front page with his name in the headlines. After that every few days we were brought a newspaper and sometimes there was a photo, sometimes just his name. Then we received a message that even if the Commission was over that he was now working with the government and he was helping them with the case against those who were involved. I was scared again because these were important men. Imagine. They were going to go back ten years and find all those who had taken money back then. Gogo and I did not even have five small shillings and we borrowed milk from the kiosk for Fatu.
We then got a letter from him that was delivered by the police Land Rover and inside was a postcard with a picture of KICC. There was another one of the sea and his words that said that we would be going back to see my parents soon. The postcard said many other things about his whistleblower business in Nairobi but I was thinking about how we would go back to Lamu to see my parents. Inshallah.
The policeman who delivered the letters asked whether I had a message for my husband and he said he would pick it up the next day. He also smiled kama papa ya baharini and said he wished he had someone like me to wait for him. He was carrying a big gun when he said this and spoke funny. Gogo said this was because he was from Kisii where there were many ogres. We had come to know the police from the Olokurto post because they are the one who brought his letters and took our messages to him. We did not like them because they were not from here. But I did not fear the police as much as the warani. Every harvest the warani came to our house because I was not Maasai to ask for meat and milk. They liked to go to the houses of Kikuyus and those who were not Maasai and take things. We hid the cows and goats because they would take them if he was not here. The warani did not come when Gogo was there because they feared she would send them an engoki curse.
When I showed Gogo the letters and the postcards from him that the policeman brought she started crying. Then, Amina came running into the room and when she saw Gogo she started crying and then Fatu was crying and I found tears falling down my face. I had to be the one to remain strong but at night when I went to bed I cried.
When I asked Gogo in the morning whether she had any message for him so that I could take it to the police post she wiped her tears and put her hands on her head and looked at the sky. Uncle who came every evening to see us when he was not here brought us some githeri and uji and we all held hands and prayed together. All the years we had been here he would get angry and say that people in the reserve thought that God would do everything for them. Before the Commission and the change of regime when his Uncle had come to pray with us in our hour of need he refused to join us.
When I went to the police post to send the message the police told me he had said that we could go visit him in Nairobi for the award ceremony by Transparency International. Gogo said that her feet would not carry her to Nairobi and that it was just better if we were given the money because Fatu did not have milk. The people he was working with did not send us the money for the matatu fare. They said that they would us give us the money when we reached Nairobi. I do not know which matatu these people travelled on that gave receipts. When we told Uncle Rotiken all this he said the Good Lord would provide. Uncle even if he was Christian was always praying every day like my Muslim baba.
Uncle called a meeting of the family elders to do a small collection for our trip. He said that I could not go alone with Fatu as Gogo was now too old to take care of her. Uncle offered to come with me to Nairobi. We were not able to raise the fare for many days and then Uncle got a donation the day before the awards from the Anglican Church in Narok.
We woke up very early on the morning of the awards. Uncle said that we would reach the City by 2 p.m. in time for the awards in the evening at 8 p.m. The people from Transparency International who had not sent us the fare said they would meet us at the big matatu stage in Nairobi near Tea Room. The driver and the manamba between Olokurto and Narok were very kind because the matatu was owned by somebody from our clan. When we told them we were going because of the Commission they told us that we did not have to pay because we were the people of a great hero.
When we got to Narok it was the day of cattle market and there were many people. It was like I remembered Mombasa. There were old men in shukas standing on their long sticks with simba eyes looking at everybody like something had happened and they were wondering about it. They looked and spat and then looked again. They shouted in the air as if they had just thought something from their past in their heads. When a woman in a shuka passed in front of them they raised their stick as if the woman was a cow and she would run and laugh. The old man pretended to be angry and shouted at her that if he was still a young man she would see. And I could see that the women’s eyes were shining at this and their faces settled like cool water in a pot.
At times Land Cruisers came running very fast through town and they did not stop because they were carrying mzungus to the Mara. The mzungus inside were covered in kofias and they wore big glasses and looked like insects. Fatu pointed and laughed and tried to sing the song that Gogo had taught her about mzungus.
Palikuwa mtu moja
Jina lake ni Smithi
I told her shhhhh and put my hand over her mouth. I had worn my green bui bui and I had drawn henna on my hands and feet for the awards for him. Old men in shukas pointed at me. I could understand some of their words and I heard them say that I was a jinni. A spirit. In Olokurto, when I walked for my prayers in my bui bui, children jumped up and down. I did not understand what they were saying. Then Amina told me that they were saying ‘paka paka’ in Maasai. Black cat. I wondered whether the old men were calling me a green paka.
Because of Fatu I was allowed to seat in front of the Nissan where it was more comfortable. Uncle was also directed to the front seat next to me because he was old. The manamba said we should sit there because the back was too hot for old people and babies. But then the manamba said that we would have to pay double if we did not share the seat with a third person. Before we entered the matatu Uncle had said that the new Kibaki regime had come to power and taught the matatu men manners. But now the manamba started shouting that we are going express and that it was a hundred shilling extra. Uncle Rotiken pleaded with the manamba that the only extra money we had was for our lunch but the manamba said that he also needed lunch too. He said even the owner of the matatu needed lunch kitu kidogo too. And even the policeman at the checkpoint needed lunch kitu kidogo too. He said everybody needed lunch kitu kidogo in Kenya.
When Uncle said that God would take care of everything and that we were going to Transparency International Awards because of Commission, the manamba became kali and said that there was a Commission every other year and the country had still not changed. He started singing Ouko Inquiry. Muge Inquiry. Ndungu Land Commission as he collected all the money from the passengers before we left the Narok stage. Uncle looked very old like Milka our cow before she died last year after he handed over the money. We were lucky we had not paid for the matatu we had taken from Olokurto and had extra. I wondered when the President Kibaki manners would reach Narok.
There was a sticker on the windscreen of the matatu that said: Dear Passenger, this is the place of my business. Please respect me and I will respect you too. Thank you dear passenger. There were many stickers and I tried to read them all on the journey but Fatu would not let me. When she slept another one said: God made Man. Man made money. Money made man mad.
On the way the matatu broke down just after Mai Mahiu and we were told to wait by the roadside. We could see a small church that was very old where we stopped. Uncle said that Italians had built it during the First big war of the mzungus. I took Fatu under a small tree outside the church. The building reminded me of Lamu. I played mkono tupu with Fatu and then we slept there on the grass and I dreamt that my parents had grown very old and were about to die. When we were woken up and told that the matatu had been repaired it was already late afternoon. I knew from the dream that I had to tell him that we had to go see my parents soon.
We knew we were near Nairobi when we saw KICC from a distance. It became bigger and bigger as we got closer and I laughed when I thought about what Gogo had said. Uncle Rotiken looked at me and thought I was just happy. I asked Allah to forgive me. When we reached Nyamakima in Nairobi it was saa kumi. Four o’clock. The police had told us that he had said there would be someone waiting for us. Everybody quickly ran off from the matatu and we were left there alone. Nairobi was like the big hill for ants that is outside Gogo’s house that looks like it’s breathing because of the movement inside. Amina had learned how to stay away from the anthill but Fatu was always getting bitten and crying when she forgot and stood too near. Now Fatu looked around at everything with big eyes. My father had always said that you had to be careful in Nairobi.
We sat in the matatu and we were not sure where to go. We did not know what the Transparency International people looked like. We had been given a simu to call. We knew that the ceremony was at eight o’clock at a big hotel on Thika Road. Uncle asked the manamba whether he knew Transparency International. The manamba had been eating miraa for the whole trip and his mouth was green and his eyes had become very big. He pointed in the direction of KICC, ‘You see that big mboro – all the Commissions are held there.’
When we left the matatu Uncle started asking everybody where the Commission or Transparency International was but they were busy like the ants outside Gogo’s house. There was a very thin man who was shouting that the hour of the Lord was at hand. Brothers and sisters look carefully. See the signs. Repent. He held a book on one hand and a handkerchief in the other. You see this cloth and you see this book. Which one should you trust? When he saw us looking at him he said. Yes, elder brother, sister and little sister. Choose one. Choose fire or eternal life.
Uncle said that we should go to Tea Room and have some chai and try and look for a telephone booth to call the Transparency International offices. We went to Tea Room, the famous restaurant that all people travelling from upcountry know well. Fatu was hungry but did not cry because all the people around us scared her. Tea Room was full of people of all shapes and sizes with bags travelling all over Kenya. I saw that they did not put their bags down when they ate and held them like children. I did the same and put Fatu down. Uncle used some of the coins left to buy Fatu soda and mandazi and some chai for me. We had carried some ngwaci and I gave Fatu some and she fell asleep. It started getting dark and the waiter who had brought the chai came and told us that we had to leave because we had finished eating. Time was money. There were other travellers that needed the table. The manners of these Kibaki times were also yet to reach Tea Room.
Uncle begged the waiter in Kikuyu and told him that we had come for the awards because of the Commission. He went to call from a phone booth and when he came back he said he had spoken to someone who had told him that we should take a taxi to a big hotel called Safari Park Hotel. They said that when we got there someone from Transparency International would pay.
When we found the taxi the driver asked us where we were going and Uncle said the Safari Hotel on Thika Road. He looked at us suspiciously as if he did not know why we were going there and then he said: ‘Haya twende.’ We left and went through the streets at such a slow speed that even the people who were walking were faster than us. Fatu kept sleeping and I could watch all the things of Nairobi that I had never seen. Everyone was rushing this way and that way leaving work and I wondered whether he would be like that when we lived here like he had said.
After a long time we left the crowds of people and the buildings everywhere and the roads became wider but the cars increased and we stayed in a long line of cars for a very long time. It looked to me like we were always going around KICC at a distance. My green bui bui had folded like a mzee’s skin like I had been sleeping in it. I looked at my hands and the henna was not as bright as it had been when I left home because of all the dust I had picked up on this long journey. Then the sun went down very quickly. It was not like Olokurto where it gave a long warning and took a long time to go to sleep. We became like blind people and we did not know where were going. Uncle said we were now on Thika Highway when we found more cars and went as slowly as we had in town.
The driver kept looking at us and saying, ‘Ati you are going to Safari Hotel eh? Nyinyi Safari Hotel eh?’ Uncle looked at him and said, ‘Ndio. Safari Park Hotel.’ Gogo had once told me that Nairobi people are never sure of anything that is why they ask something many times.
We reached a big gate and there were many watchmen. They refused the taxi to go inside and asked the driver to park on the side. Uncle said that is how all watchmen are with old cars. It was now almost 8 p.m. and we wondered whether we would be late. He would be very angry. After a long time the watchman came and said they have tried to call the people at the awards and nobody was picking. They said that they had sent their people to the awards to find someone to come. We would have to go and park on the side of the highway and wait. The driver reversed the car and we went and parked and waited. Then, the driver began asking for his money. Uncle said that the Transparency International people would pay him.
‘Ati nini,’ the driver said. ‘Mzee, is it the international people that are transparent that I have brought here or you people from the reserve? Let us please respect each other. I need Ksh 2500 or I will take you to the police. Just here. Not far away.’
Gogo had also told me that people in Nairobi think taking you to the police can solve all problems.
Uncle said: ‘Please please tafadhali. We were told to come here by Transparency International. Let me go and see whether they have been found.’
Uncle got out of the car and went back to the gate and he did not come back for a long time. Fatu woke up and started crying and the driver said he had been working since 5 a.m. and that if Fatu did not stop crying we should wait outside the car.
Then, he looked at me. ‘Ngoja. And if you run away…’
I told him that I could not run very fast and he smiled like a papa ya baharini. ‘You women are the worst. You do not like to pay for anything.’
I told him I could leave my bag but he looked at my green bui bui and then pointed at the silver bracelet that nyanya had given me and he said, ‘Leave me that I will give it back to you when your Mzee comes back.’
Fatu started crying again and I could see she was tired of the taxi and the heat. I slipped off the bracelet, gave it to the man and got out of the car. Even before I put down Fatu to straighten my bui bui the taxi drove away.
I looked around and there was nobody on the side of the highway where many cars were passing. Fatu and I sat on the side of the highway and I thought of nyanya. The silver bracelet had been trying to run away for a long time and now it had left me.
Then I heard Uncle’s voice in the dark, Maimouna Maimouna. I said ‘Ndiyo,’ and I saw him coming towards me with a woman and a man. The woman dressed in a suit like his came and picked up Fatu and asked her name. The man greeted me and asked where the taxi was and I said it had left me. He said he was very sorry. I did not say anything about the bracelet. We went into the hotel and they said the awards had started and we had to go in immediately because it was going to be on TV.
Ai, there were so many people and they all looked like those we saw on the television. I wanted to go and jump in the fountain outside and wash Fatu and myself. There were even mzungus who had come all the way from Ujeremani. All because of what he had done. They said many things about him. That he was brave and he was honest.
We were so tired that we did not listen to any speeches. Ai, I just looked at the people who were all shining. There were many tables with a lot of vino and everyone spoke na utaratibu. Kweli hii ni ustraabu. Fatu had seen him when we entered and said: ‘Bara bara,’ and then smiled and fell asleep immediately. Many people came to me and said what a brave man he was and that I was lucky. One woman came up to me and said I was also very brave like him even if nobody said. She said she worked for – ati, they were called African Woman and Child. She said she even wanted to interview me because I was an African woman and Fatu was an African child and we were also important. She touched Fatu the way some people touch their dogs and went away.
Even the wife of the President apologised because she could not come. Mama Lucy. The man who came instead came to the table where we were all sitting and greeted us. He said Mama Lucy thanked him for what he had done for the country. The man said he had integrity. And that was the name of the award he had won – Integrity Award.
Before everything finished he stood there before everyone and he said: ‘Ladies and gentleman, I did what I thought was important for the country.’ We all stood up and clapped vigelegele.
Soon after me, Uncle and Fatu were taken by the people of Transparency International to where we would sleep. He did not come because he had to talk to all the important people and all the people from the newspapers and the TV. I remembered Tea Room and how we had been chased. And I remembered the silver bracelet that was a blessing from nyanya and I did not feel sad about it anymore because everyone saw what he had done was important.
He came in the morning and we all went for breakfast. He looked like he was from Nairobi and we were just people who were here to shangilia him. And then he said to me again that everything would now change. He said that we would be in the newspapers with him and I was ashamed because I had brought the dust from Olokurto. And then, the Transparency International people came and said he had to go. They gave us money and said that was for the matatu and the taxi even if we did not have receipts. And they put us in a big car and we were driven all the way back to Olokurto without him.
He did not come home for almost a month after that. He was always in the papers and now they always called him the whistleblower. Mpiga firimbi. Yaani we wondered like a referee. We were the supporting mashabik on the sidelines of a football game we did not understand. He sent letters saying that he was almost getting a new job at OP I did not know what this OP was. Uncle told us that it was the Office of the President. He wrote and said that he was helping people in the new regime to fight corruption. He also said that he was working with a filmmaker and a publishing firm so that his story could be written and his life could be made into a film. So that what he had done would not be forgotten. I did not want Amina and Fatu to forget him so I showed them his photo in the newspaper every day and Amina ran around singing in the compound about her Daddy and told all the other children about it. Gogo had given her a little calf and she asked whether her Daddy would only come back when it was big.
When we came back from Nairobi, Uncle became sick and we were told it was pneumonia. When we went to see him he said in a small voice that I could not hear very well that my husband had done a very important thing by going to the Commission. When Uncle got worse the clan took him to Narok Hospital. Even if he had raised the fare for us to go to Nairobi nobody did the same for him. A week later he died in hospital and we buried him and my husband did not come. He sent his condolences but everyone knew that he and Uncle had not been very close. I was ashamed because I knew that Uncle had died from being tired after taking me to Nairobi and because we had been kept waiting outside at night for so long. His family did not show any anger at me – they just looked very tired like the old cow Milka and said that they trusted in God. At the funeral the pastor from the AIC church said that all of us were going to a better place and that was where God had taken Uncle Rotiken. After Uncle died I started thinking about my parents and the dream I had had outside that small church by the roadside. I wondered when he would come so we would go see them for the final blessing of our marriage.
Then, one day he came back. It was a Saturday and Amina was on her school holidays. We were hoeing weeds from the beans and sukuma wiki in the garden with Gogo because it would soon be harvest. We heard the sound of a vehicle rushing up the hill to our homestead. At first we thought it was the police and we were happy we would get some news. Then, we saw the minibus from the shamba kwa bara bara before it disappeared in the trees. Then, we heard shouting and we knew it was him and went into the compound. The minibus had stopped outside the small gate and there he was with several men who we did not know.
I felt dirty and wished that I had instead gone to wash and prepare for him. He stood at the gate and held out his hands and hugged me even if I still had mud on my hands and my dress. He bit my lips with his teeth and I could feel a little blood on my tongue and I could also smell something like Fatu’s cough syrup on his breath. I remembered when I was a child when my mother gave it to me and I missed the sea. I knew he was not sick but that he had started drinking again.
Gogo started wailing and ululating in the old way. The rest of the family had heard the minibus because very few cars came all the way here. They came and started stamping and celebrating their son who was now a national hero. He wore a brown suit and light blue shirt with black shoes that were shiny and I could tell he had put on weight. His skin had lost the dust of all those bad years we had been running away and I wondered whether he would now still stay with us. Gogo brought Amina and Fatu from the house where they had gone to hide because of all the men. Amina went to him but Fatu hid behind Gogo. He picked Amina up but she tried to stretch away and he laughed and said she would get used to him again. He then picked up Fatu but she cried and he told her that her future was bright because her father had testified before the commission and the country would be a better place when she grew up. All the men who had come with him laughed. They were much younger than him. One had a camera and took many photos of all of us. I had always thought about how he had looked when he had worked in the Central Bank before I met him. And now I could see. He had cut his hair, he had shaved his beard and he looked like the old photos that I put away of him before we met. He no longer looked like us upcountry people but someone from the city. Becoming a hero had made him bigger and stronger. Even if he had been away just for two months he was now someone different. He was somebody in a newspaper like a politician. Someone to be listened to. Someone who had been to a Commission. The whistleblower. Mpiga firimbi.
The rest of our family brought milk and we cooked tea for all of the men but we could tell that he was restless that he wanted to be left alone with them to discuss the big things that they had left in the city. He excused himself and he stepped out with one of the younger men who carried a notebook with him wherever he went. They went towards the fence and I could see them through the wooden planks of our kitchen hut.
I saw the young man with a notebook give my husband an envelope. When they came back they drank the tea but did not touch the bread even if we had sent one of the nephews all the way to the trading centre to buy it. I kept it away for Amina and Fatu for the next day. My husband said that these were the men and one woman from the publishing house and the film company. He said that he would take them to Olokurto and make sure that they found a good place to sleep. He reached for my hand and squeezed in some money and when I looked I saw it was Ksh 10,000. Maybe our lives were really going to change.
I waited for him but I fell asleep and he did not come home that night and I remembered the Kikuyu barmaids with the papa eyes and the sss sss. Later the next day at midday the minibus came to the house and when we went outside we saw it was only the driver. He said that my husband had sent him with some things for us. We took all the kiondos he gave us and they were full of roast and raw meat, sodas, and milk and biscuits for the children. That night I cooked some of the meat with some waru potatoes for him but he did not come and I went to bed. We were lucky to have meat after so long but he wasn’t there to eat it with us.
Then in the middle of the night there was banging at the door. Fatu started crying and when I opened there he was and he could not stand properly. I helped him come to the house and when he sat I removed his shoes and his coat. I had not seen him drunk like this since Gogo had said she would send him a engoki curse him a few years ago. He kept on saying that he had gone to the Commission and the most famous lawyer in the country had said that without him there would have been no case. He said that he had met ministers of this country. That he would meet Mama Lucy soon. And as he was talking he fell asleep fofofo on the sofa without eating.
The watu wa film and the writing people stayed for five days and he only slept at home for that one night. Imagine. When they left he came back to us and when we lay together at night I wanted to ask him many things. But it was not like those years that we had suffered together. For the first time he asked how things had been while he had been away. And could I say. What. We had just been waiting for him. I did not want to ask him whether he would be going back to Nairobi.
A few days later one of the men who had come before in the minibus arrived at the house. My husband told me that he was a writer and he also wanted to talk to me. ‘Anataka nini?’ I asked. He was the one I had seen giving my husband that envelope. He also said he would be leaving with the writer because they needed to work together on the book of his life. Ai. This one did not look like a writer. He told Gogo and me that his name was Kahora. Gogo asked him what the name of his people was. He thought for a long time and said Wa Njama. Gogo asked the writer many questions about his people but we could see that he did not want to talk about them. Gogo says do not trust anyone who does not talk about his people. The writer’s eyes were very watchful kama chui even if his face was like a baby. Round and brown. We had heard my husband calling the writer Billy.
When the writer asked me questions about when we met in Mombasa I did not remember many things because I had stayed in Olokurto for so long. This Kahora wrote everything down. He also carried a small cassette player and he put our voices in it. I could see my husband was happy to have somebody to listen to him after all these years. Gogo and I sat in the kitchen and we could hear their voices day and night talking politics and the future of the country. My husband said that the writer knew people that he would help him start an anti-corruption NGO, and that the book he would write would make my husband famous. He said that the writer was also helping him with getting government to recognise what he had done for the country. He said there was a lot of logistics. Gogo said that all this would also make this Kahora famous.
But we were also happy to talk to Kahora too. We told him things we had forgotten ourselves. When he asked me about our life in Mombasa, I was happy to have someone listen to me when I remembered my old home. He talked to Gogo about her daughter, my husband’s mother and she told him everything. Kahora put our voices in his small radio. Then, he took our voices and left.
Now, it is months after the Commission and our lives are still the same. Sometimes I try to talk to him about things here and even about going to see my parents but he has become only interested in politics. He praises the new president all the time even if he was also in the old regime for very long. He listens to me the way he now listens to everybody with a wise strange face I do not know. Even those who are powerful now come all the way to see him because they see him as a leader. He seems to understand things even if I no longer know who he is. It is not like it was before he became a hero. Our councillor even visited us for the first time. He said that he should join the ruling party and run for office because he is well known. He now walks with a confidence like the politicians. At the trading centre people greet him with respect, even those we still owe money from our time of difficulty.
We have not had a good harvest. I am now worried because Amina has to go to school next year and he has not said where the fees will come from. He says that the bank will pay him because of what they did to him and so we wait. In our room the glass award that he won with Transparency International just sits there with the dust of Olokurto. The blue suit he was given so that government could take him seriously also hangs on the wall being eaten by insects.
Kahora comes and goes every few weeks and they discuss corruption. They talk about it the whole day. I hear the word Goldenberg often but I am now tired of it. This Goldenberg. He has explained that we did not have anything at all, all those years, because the previous regime was corrupt. That if you do not fight corruption your life is worthless because you will be left with nothing. He says that is why he has to join the fight against corruption. Then he leaves again for Nairobi.
Gogo cannot walk because her legs ache too much. I kept the money he gave me from the envelope and I arrange for her to be taken to Narok Hospital. At times like this I feel that I am fighting for our family by taking care of Gogo and our two babies while my husband is fighting something else that is not with us and is far away. This corruption.
One day I discover that I am with child. He is happy. He says that this child will be born in a new country. A new country that he was part of making. He talks against the old regime. It has become like a song that plays for too long on the radio. I still have hope that the government will give him a job. He has stopped going to the Commission or writing the book with Kahora. He now travels many times to Nairobi to take his papers to different offices. He has an old friend at the Central Bank who was just a grade above him and is now the Deputy Governor. If he had not said anything about the stolen money he would now also be a very big man. Imagine. But we would never have met. That is the way of Allah. I want to explain all this to Amina our daughter. But how can you tell all this to a child of six years old?
After a few more months he has not heard anything from all the places he took his papers. Some days he becomes quiet like he used to be, before the Commission. We have come to have little again but at least now he is here with us. There is no more meat and little milk. Even with this regime, just like the old one, money is very important.I have started going again to the small madrassa that I used to teach at every day. I walk up to the hills every chance I get. I also go to the stream and sit beside the water and think. I think about Gogo and the stories she tells our children about warani and the ogres they kill. I think about my nyanya and look at my arm where the bracelet used to be and left a mark. I think of Baba and Mama and picture them down at the Coast in Old Lamu town. I can see them heading together to the mosque and I know they will pray for me. He says we will go and see them soon. This government moves slowly like the last one and we wait. When he says this his face becomes like a shadow but then he looks up and I see he has not given up. Yet.