There is a saying in Nairobi…’Hii ni town!’ It has been used to justify all sorts of misdeeds and irregularities. It has also been used to validate exaggerations as well as make the insane seem normal. This was the same phrase Njenga had in mind as he pushed against the crowd of people rushing in the opposite direction. He heard someone call to him, perhaps to say hi. He ignored him. It was the morning rush hour and he didn’t want the sun to rise before he got home. That wouldn’t be good. Besides, the gunia on his shoulder seemed to be getting heavier by the minute. He would occasionally reposition it but the weight was never equally distributed. He finally got to the gate of the plot he had rented a room. He found it open. Nothing strange about this for Baba junior was employed. He’d go out early in the morning and come back late at night. Njenga envied him. He honestly did. The sight of him behind some desk at some firm in tao, however, didn’t sit well with him. Njenga had only studied up to class four but he knew that was no fault of his. He never asked to be brought to this world but since he’s here, there’s nothing to do but keep going, right?
He put the sack beside his door and rampaged his pockets for keys. Putting the sack down felt like tasting paradise. His heavy breathing could have been suspicious to his neighbors if only they had been awake. Unfortunately, not all were asleep. He sighed on finding his keys. After opening the door and carrying the sack in, he fell onto the sofa. He smiled on wondering what he’d brought home. With that weight he wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be gold. He wanted to unwrap it but every single muscle in his body protested the attempt. He leaned back and relaxed. He closed his eyes and tried to bring his breathing back to normal. He felt the nice coziness of the sofa. It had been a good choice. He had ripped it off some lady. Nothing new there. After all, hii ni town.
His break was cut short when he suddenly remembered how deep into debt he was. He opened his eyes only to find that the sun’s rays had penetrated the space left by his closed windows. Their yellow coloration brought life to his house that was more of a pigsty. He felt its warmth and smiled. He stretched before standing up from the sofa. He stood the sack up so that it would be easy to open it. The knot had been made using a leather wrapper. Knife in hand, he started cutting it. His mind wandered as he thought of how sharp that knife was. It came in handy during his night escapades. He still couldn’t understand how he hadn’t hurt anyone to date. He suddenly jumped up with a creased face as blood dripped from his left index finger. He had accidentally cut it in his absent mindedness. He rotated his arm fast about its axis, as one does with a pen that prematurely stops dispensing ink. He sucked the cut part, quite salty, and tied it with one of his kerchiefs. It wasn’t all that clean but hygiene had not been top on his list for some time now. He went back to cutting the leather wrapper and put his entire self into it. In a few minutes, he was through. Full of enthusiasm, he opened the sack…
Don’t get me wrong, Njenga sure had the capacity for evil. Just one look at him and you’d be convinced that he was a thug. You wouldn’t be wrong either. However, there is a huge difference between potential and utilization of that potential. Even when his gang went out on missions, he would only act as the guard so that they don’t get caught. He had never harmed anyone physically. Maybe a few threats here and there but nothing serious. It is, thus, not peculiar that after opening the sack he jumped back to his sofa, startled by the grotesque site. His breathing had escalated tenfold and the sweating came back as if it never left. His mouth was aghast but no sound was forthcoming. It was as if a spell had been cast on him. His wide eyes tried to reflect the horror that was in his mind but they couldn’t. Although he didn’t think of it then, looking at him you’d agree that he couldn’t be more scared…but you’d be wrong!
‘Wewe kijana wacha matharau!’ The landlady shouted. She had this habit of speaking loudly so as to embarrass the tenants with rent arrears. It was more of a strategy for the shame that came with it forced many of her tenants to pay their rent on time. It didn’t work on Njenga. The last time he had paid rent was three months ago and that was the previous five months’ rent. She wasn’t willing to let it go that far this time round. She had vowed to nag him morning, afternoon, evening and night. To this effect she had successfully kept the young lad on his toes whenever he came home. Today, however, he had thought more of his ‘catch’ that of her nagging. She heard him as he opened the gate. Of course it was him. She got out of bed slowly and waited. Nothing! She took a quick shower then waited. Nothing! She even made breakfast and waited. Still nothing!
‘That stupid boy had the audacity to go quiet on me!?’ She was an iron lady and this was more than a metaphor. Her mood couldn’t be accounted for. No one ever saw her truly happy or overjoyed. She always wore a frown as though someone had wronged her. Everyone had made it a habit to be formal and respectful around her and she viewed this as accomplishment. Yet she never smiled.
Enough was enough. Njenga was gonna get it today alright. She locked her door, as this would take some time, and walked towards the defaulter’s door. She swallowed saliva and prepared her throat as an opera singer does before a performance.
‘Njenga!’ She shouted. Normally, her voice was irritating, to say the least, but today…today it spelt doom. Goosebumps appeared all over Njenga’s body as he turned his head to look at the door. In his exhaustion he had forgotten to lock the door. His mouth was dry and his throat even drier. If Madam Kisirani, as she called her, saw this, it would be the end of him! And right he was. He pushed himself up using his palms and dragged his heavy feet to the door as fast as he could. Just as his hands touched the cold metallic frame to close it, the door swung open. Njenga fell to the floor. He had already been weakened enough by the sight. In front of him stood the landlady ready to breath fire and brimstone down his dry throat. She looked at poor Njenga on the floor and for a moment she was tongue tied. She lifted her head as if to explore a different perspective only to be met by the open sack with its contents half revealed. For a moment that seemed like an eternity to Njenga, silence reigned.
‘Wuuuuuuuuuuuuuui!!!’ The resounding noise made by the landlady were enough to awaken the dead. The birds that had woken up early to sing to their Lord felt outshined. She kept on shouting, hands firmly pressed together on her lips as if to pace the shouting. She had slowly walked backwards unknowingly. Once she was in the compound, she placed her hands on her head and shouted even louder. All the neighbors rushed to see what was amiss. A weak and shock-stricken Njenga just laid on the floor, speechless. As more and more people joined the crowd, temperatures rose. He didn’t notice who took him by the collar and sat him up but someone sure did. He also didn’t recognize who threw the first blow but someone definitely did. In a matter of minutes, the mob had successfully helped Njenga get rid of more than half his blood. The blows just kept coming and coming…
‘Bring the tire! Mafuta taa!? Mafuta taa!?’ A male sound shouted. Blood had blinded him. Fortunately, he was still conscious. The crowd went silent and some even fled. Those who had their hands on Njenga let him go and retreated behind the rest. He couldn’t understand what was happening. He had not heard the gunshot. Perhaps the mob justice had served to deafen him as well.
The cops did the formalities: Questioning, barricading the scene of crime, taking the witness into custody etc. As Njenga was led into the police jeep, he felt shortchanged by life. He might have been a criminal but this was too harsh a punishment. The famed phrase couldn’t enter his mind at this time…No, it just couldn’t. How!? How could he tell them that the heist he was to be a part of the previous night flopped and he was about to go hungry for yet another day? How could he tell them that the sack was not his? How in the world could he explain himself to these angry looking fellows who look for the bad and the ugly in every youthful civilian they meet? How could he even think of telling them that he saw a weary traveler who seemed new to the city at the bus stop and decided to rip him off of his luggage? Of course he knew that what he did was wrong but after all, hii ni town! Majuto ni mjukuu, huja baadaye.
Back in his room the crowd was still astonished. The women cried as policemen recovered the murder weapon, the bloody knife that was super sharp. They cried even louder when all the contents of the sack were brought out and it was discovered that the lady who had been sliced into pieces was pregnant. The poor unborn baby suffered a terrible fate due to no fault of its own. Njenga’s verdict was clear. No judge in his right mind would free such a guy, faced with such a myriad of evidences, misplaced or not.