The Novel: “The Bother in Kenya,”
The positions that Arogo and Tuwile were sitting in, at the back of the red pickup, prevented them from seeing the farm buildings that were coming into sight straight ahead. They didn’t see the two African men, both holding shot guns, waiting outside a large closed barn. The pickup parked in front of them.
‘We’re here!’ shouted Jim. Before he got out from the drivers seat he took a revolver from the dashboard. Jim, Hiuhu and two African men stood in line outside the barn, all looking at Tuwile and Arogo.
‘Get down both of you,’ ordered Jim in a menacing voice.
‘What is this? I don’t understand,’ said Tuwile. He had a look of puzzlement upon his young dark face. Arogo, in her early twenties like Tuwile, also didn’t understand. She pushed the brim up of the old, wide brimmed straw hat she was wearing.
‘I won’t tell you again, get down.’ He pointed his revolver directly at Tuwile.
They both got down from the pickup. They could smell the big barn, creosote and wood baking in the heat, clogging their nostrils. One of the African men went and opened the barn door. He gestured for them both to go in. In silence they walked into the barn. At first they were aware of the sheer enormity of it, and then the coolness. There was the uncomfortable smell of dried cattle dung and something else—urine mixed with dirt. There were some structures to the left built from heavy boards; they seemed like holding pens with roofs.
‘What do you want with us?’ asked Arogo.
Her question was ignored as they were told to go further into the barn. Then they saw it, behind one of the pens, a naked African man hanging dead from a rope round his neck. This sight put fear into them both. Tuwile suddenly felt sick and began to shake all over. He looked at Arogo and could see that her eyes were closed and she was whispering a prayer.
‘What is this? We mean you no harm. Can we go now?’ said Tuwile, turning to Jim.
Arogo knew this was wrong and felt a dry lump in her throat. Her heart was pounding so much she seriously felt afraid of having a heart attack. She placed a hand on her chest as if to steady her heart beat.
‘Take all your clothes off, both of you,’ commanded Jim.
Then they saw, not too far away, a pile of clothes.
Arogo ran towards Jim. ‘Please, let us go!’
He punched her in the face so hard that she fell backwards on to the dry, dusty floor. Tuwile went towards Jim but stopped as the two Africans with guns threatened him. Arogo got to her feet and they both began to undress. Standing there naked, they both looked towards Jim for what to do next. But he was looking at the dead man strung up.
‘Hiuhu, bring him down,’ said Jim.
Hiuhu disappeared behind one of the pens and they all saw the hanged man slowly lowered to the floor. Then Hiuhu came out from behind the pens carrying a stepladder. He placed the stepladder to one side and then bent down to loosen the rope round the dead mans neck. After Hiuhu had unceremoniously dragged him round the back of the pen, they all watched as the rope was raised. Then Hiuhu came back and placed the stepladder beneath the noose.
‘Go on,’ prompted Jim, nodding towards the stepladder.
Tuwile realised they were all looking at him. ‘Please, no, why are you doing this? I beg you, spare my life and hers,’ said Tuwile.
Jim got out his revolver and pointed it at Tuwile’s stomach. ‘Do you know how painful a bullet in the gut is? You’d better get up those steps,’ said Jim.
Tuwile climbed the steps and felt the rough rope against the soft skin of his neck as Hiuhu placed the noose around it. He thought he heard Arogo cry out, but he wasn’t sure as Hiuhu tightened the rope around his neck.
‘My God, no.’
But it was too late; the stepladder was kicked out from beneath him. He struggled with the rope for a full minute, using his hands and the strength of his arms to take the weight off his neck. But eventually he had no more strength left in him and he strangled to death slowly, right in front of Arogo.
‘No Tuwile, don’t die, I love you. You bastards! Tuwile and I have done nothing to you,’ yelled Arogo.
She looked into Jim’s face; he had the look of a fox that had just cornered a chicken.
‘Why are you doing this?’ shouted Arogo.
Jim turned to her. ‘Because we can, my dear, because we can.’
On the end of the rope Tuwile had stopped shaking. His face had turned purple and his eyes were open and bulging out horrifically. Arogo realised that Tuwile was gazing at her in a death stare. She looked away, unable to cope as her body began to shake all over.
‘Bring him down,’ said Jim to Hiuhu. ‘Your turn,’ he said, looking at Arogo when Hiuhu had finished with Tuwile’s body.
‘I ask again, why are you doing this? I think I might be pregnant,’ she said, looking to see what effect this news would have on Jim. He didn’t even blink at Arogo’s revelation. ‘I love life, I want to live. Is it money you want?’ asked Arogo, tears flooding down from her eyes.
Jim grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her towards the stepladder that was in place beneath the rope. ‘Come on, you!’
Arogo collapsed on to the floor. ‘I’m not going.’
He turned to the three farmhands and said, ‘Let’s get her up the stepladder.’
She screamed, bit, thumped, scratched and kicked, but eventually she was up there with the rope tied securely round her neck.
‘Damn bitch,’ said Jim, as he kicked the stepladder out from beneath her.
Arogo and Tuwile had left their tiny shack that morning in the village of Chagra, in present day Kenya, and were walking the thirty miles to the town of Nakuru where they would search for work. Jim and Hiuhu had been waiting on the road, casting a net to entrap any passers-by. On the pretext of giving them a lift into Nakuru, Arogo and Tuwile had climbed on to the back of Jim’s pickup, but were driven to the farm instead. Tuwile had kicked up a fuss when he had realised that they weren’t travelling down the Nakuru road but instead were going down the farm track. But Jim told them that he was just going to drop Hiuhu off at the farm and then he would take them both to Nakuru.
Before Tuwile and Arogo had set off from Chagra that morning they had paid a visit to their friend Chege to say goodbye. Chege, twenty-nine, tall and thin with a kind face, was sad to see them go, however, he told them that he would probably follow them in a couple of weeks as there was no work to be found in Chagra.
That evening Jim sat out on the porch of his large Farmhouse with Hiuhu.
‘Jim, when are you going to deal with the five bodies? They’re piled up at the back of the house and are beginning to stink’ said Hiuhu, as they had hanged three previously.
Jim picked up his bottle of Coke from the table and took a swig. ‘I want you and the boys to bury them at the back of the house tonight.’
‘When is Mrs. Grace coming back from England?’
‘That’s what I wanted to speak to you about. I’ll be going to England to see her next week. You can drive me to Nairobi airport on the day,’ said Jim.
Hiuhu nodded and sighed. Then, after a little thought, he said, ‘We didn’t even know their names.’
Jim took another swig of Coke. ‘See how desperately that bitch wanted to live. She loved life, I could tell.’
A week later Chege started out from the village of Chagra, heading towards the town of Nakuru. He was taking the same route that Tuwile and Arogo had taken two weeks before him. He was carrying a bundle of possessions. He set out early in the morning and made Nakuru by nightfall. He had no money so he spent that first night sleeping rough in the park, under a big tree, where there were other homeless men and women. They eyed Chege suspiciously as he approached. He would have slept on one of the benches in the park, but they were all taken. That evening he asked around if anybody had seen Arogo and Tuwile. Nobody had seen them. He found this odd, because Nakuru wasn’t too big a town. They hadn’t money when they left the village, so they would have slept rough at first. Chege spent the next few days trying to find work and also asking after Tuwile and Arogo. There were no jobs and nobody had seen his two friends.
He began to think that it was a waste of time coming to the town. He was in the cheap side of town and looking in a pawn broker shop when he noticed a blanket in the window that had the same pattern and colour as the one Arogo had when she left the village. He was sure it was hers; so he went in to speak to the pawn broker.
‘Hello. That red patterned blanket you’ve got in the window, did you get it from a young woman or maybe man?’ asked Chege.
The pawn broker was old and wanted to help. ‘I bought it off a white man some time back.’
‘A white man? Did he give his name or something?’
‘No. But he drove a red pickup truck.’
Chege thanked the pawn broker and left. He couldn’t think of any possible connection between a white man who drove a red pickup and his two friends. But then the more he thought about it, the more he found possible reasons why it could have happened. Perhaps they were working for the white man and had asked him to sell the blanket for them. Perhaps they gave the blanket to him for some service or other. He soon realised that there were dozens of possibilities.
Chege spent two weeks looking for work in Nakuru and found nothing. He managed to eat by visiting the back of shops for food they had thrown away. But the time came when he admitted defeat and so set off one morning heading back to his home village of Chagra. He planned that it would take about half a day to walk to Chagra, providing he set out nice and early. Half way there, on the hot and dusty road, a red pickup passed him. In the distance he saw it turn off the main road and head down a sidetrack. Probably a farm, thought Chege. But the fact that it was a red pickup stuck in his mind.
He reached his village by nightfall and stood outside his auntie Saada’s cheap brick hut. The wooden door was made up of half a dozen pieces of timber nailed together. The bottom hinge was bent, so always squeaked loudly when the door was closed or opened. The walls were made of cheap bricks that had been used before. Inside were three rooms: one bedroom, one living room and one kitchen. The toilet was outside and was shared by five families.
He didn’t bother to knock, but just walked in. Saada was in the kitchen fixing herself a meal of yams and a small piece of curried goat meat that she had bartered off the next door neighbour for a teapot cosy that she had knitted herself.
‘Hello, Saada,’ he said, standing in the doorway.
Without looking up from the pot she was stirring, she answered, ‘So you’re back are you?’
‘I couldn’t find any work.’
‘I’m not surprised; everybody within fifty miles of Nakuru goes there for work. I expected you back sooner, that’s all,’ said Saada. ‘You’re just in time for supper.’
When they were sat round the upturned box they used for a table, eating their supper, Chege brought up the subject of Tuwile and Arogo.
‘I didn’t find them in Nakuru, no trace, like they had never been there.’ Then he told her about the blanket and the red pickup.
Chege respected Saada for her age, sixty six, and her experience of life. Subsequently, he valued her opinions and views on things.
‘I’ve lived long, Chege, and I’ve known some odd things. But I always think that things happen for a reason. How many hours walk is this farm?’
‘About three hours.’
‘When you feel like it, pay this farm a visit,’ said Saada. ‘But remember, don’t go there looking for your friends. Tell them you’re looking for work and have a look around at the same time.’
Chege picked up from his plate a piece of curried goat and popped it into his mouth. ‘I’ll go tomorrow. As for asking them for a job, well, I could really do with one.’
That night Chege’s dreams were full of demons, devils and foreboding. Because he slept lightly, the next morning he could remember snatches of his dreams. He set off down the road taking with him a large bottle of water.
When he got near the farm turn off he saw the red pickup pull out and head off towards Nakuru. Chege left the road and walked down the track and soon saw the farm buildings in the distance. As he got nearer to the farm he couldn’t see anyone and wondered whether the owner had been in the pickup and had left the farm unattended. He came to the large barn and saw that the door was open. The smell of baking creosote and wood filled his nostrils. Not able to see anyone or hear anything, he went into the barn. It was cooler in the barn and just enough light to see by. He saw nothing, just a few structures to the left and an empty barn. After seeing an open door at the far end, he walked towards it. He went through the door and saw a mountain of manure directly in front of him, and to the right some more farm buildings. He walked between them and came to a stable yard. There were a couple of horses with their heads out of the stables, watching him carefully as he passed them by. Then he came to what looked like the farm house. There was a porch with a table and chairs on it out front. There was still no sign of anybody. As he climbed the wooden steps up to the porch, they creaked loudly.
‘Who’s that?’ came a voice from inside the house.
‘My name is Chege and I’m looking for work.’
The front door opened and an African man, plump, coffee coloured skin with long black wiry hair, stood there holding a shot gun. ‘There’s no work here,’ said Jomo.
‘Are you sure. Are you the owner?’ asked Chege.
‘The boss is away at the moment. Like I said, there’s no work.’ He levelled the shot gun at Chege and pulled back the two pins.