Latest Qwani Posts

Conversations With the Mountain | John Njoroge
Conversations With the Mountain | John Njoroge

Would you like to hear the story of the odd man?

Like a puzzle made of blank pieces, impossible to understand.

Who always turned to the mountain,

Like a hopeless romantic, pouring coins in a love fountain.

He told the mountain of his solitude, struggles and despair;

He talked about his cheating wife and all the emotions his broken heart could not bear.

Of his greatest vice: wanting to reap where he did not sow.

Of his life: a true depiction of The Murphy’s Law.

And he curses his burst kidney, damned the rut of dialysis,

Conversations with the mountain, his only means of catharsis.

But silence prevailed; The odd man vividly knew that silence was also an answer.


___ 


John is a student of life curious about expanding his circle of competence. He'd call himself a noob reader since he only recently started reading books and novels for leisure. So far, he's enjoyed reading fiction and books on science, especially those talking about the human body. He's hoping with time he'll become an avid reader which will ultimately help him become a decent wordsmith.   


To communicate more with the writer:  

X: 4donjohn

Instagram : souliloquiesbyjohn




Golden Heart | John Njoroge
Golden Heart | John Njoroge

The problem of wearing her heart on her sleeve

Was that, not all archers are cupids.

So she mastered the art of Kitsungi;

Mending the broken parts with gold.

Strong enough; never to break,

Shiny like a knight’s armor; never to quake,

But what is broken can never be whole.

The interstices left by pieces lost to other souls,

Allowed room for the anger and hatred to grow.


___ 


John is a student of life curious about expanding his circle of competence. He'd call himself a noob reader since he only recently started reading books and novels for leisure. So far, he's enjoyed reading fiction and books on science, especially those talking about the human body. He's hoping with time he'll become an avid reader which will ultimately help him become a decent wordsmith.   


To communicate more with the writer:  

X: 4donjohn

Instagram : souliloquiesbyjohn



Season | Jane Wanjiru
Season | Jane Wanjiru

Stressed bout’ what I can’t change

Years going by as I turn an odd age

Unbothered to get to the root of my rage

When will it end?


My eyes are telling all the stories

Not wanting to accept the change

Ignoring what I’ve become 

The world may never know 

Mi gato knows, The silent cries

When will it end?


Replacing every positive thought with the unimaginable

Fueling my anger on to the wrong people

Tired trying to change

Can I get some love here

When will it end?


___ 


“Season” is a poem that tries to take us through the perspective of turning older according to Jane Wanjiru. She walks us through the fear and anger she feels about it, and how her body attempts to channel it out.


Reader’s Notes: The depiction of the worry and rage about turning older is expressed well, but a few of the proses feel incomplete, like there’s more to add.

The last line repeated in every paragraph is a good touch.

Throw to Grow - Qwani’s tree planting hike at the Ngurunga cia Njangiri caves | Yvette Regina
Throw to Grow - Qwani’s tree planting hike at the Ngurunga cia Njangiri caves | Yvette Regina

I had been waiting eagerly for the coming hiking day ever since I made the decision to join the Qwani hiking community early in February . This time, they had planned to visit the Ngurunga Cia Njangiri hills in Lusigetti, Kikuyu. These specific hills are said to contain caves that allegedly housed the Mau Mau during the guerilla warfares in the colonial times. And the very reason I decided to join this hike is that I am a sucker for anything that links me to my ancestors.


Nairobi - the city under the sun - had been going through a heat wave since January. Therefore, I knew that there’d be perfect weather for a hike, but ironically, on this day, it seemed the weather had it out for us, the hikers. A persistent drizzle lingered on and it was freezing cold. 


I, however, convinced myself that, by 10 am, the sun would be shining on our East African foreheads, enough to be reflected.


 At 7:45 am, I arrived at the meeting point which was the Hilton benches. Despite the rain, a high number of people were already there and it also seemed like everyone else had their fingers crossed that the sun would still shine,  judging by how they were dressed.  We waited for 30 minutes past the agreed time due to those who were operating on African time . I kid you not, even after leaving the meeting point, and even midway into the hike, some latecomers were still asking for our live location so that they could catch up.


We boarded a Super Metro at Archives at 8:30 am and made our way to Kikuyu. 

We arrived in Kikuyu at 9 am, and once again proceeded to wait for some of the late-comers. When they eventually caught up, we boarded a Nissan to our final destination, which was a small town outside Kikuyu known as Lusigetti.


The Africanization of European names has always been an interesting concept to me. So, you can imagine my excitement and surprise when I found out that our destination, Lusegetti, as well, was initially called Rose Gate by the British.. Funny enough, the locals actually called the place ‘Ruthigiti’, which was now an Africanization of the already Africanized name, Lusigetti.


Beginning of the hike
Once all the hikers had settled, we formed a circle, and then Zawadi, one of the lead guides, led us through stretches so that we could jumpstart our muscles for the trek that awaited us.


The terrain started off in a promising manner, preparing us for an adventure-filled day. Large rocks lined up the way ahead, and we really struggled to descend past them as they had become quite slippery due to the morning rain. "This is why you hike on a sunny day," said one of the hikers. Nonetheless, we progressed on as our curiosity got the better part of us.


Once we had completed our descent, the road smoothened and we could now see the horizon where the clouds met the mountains; our destination. This tickled the spirit of adventure that was well rooted within me that I could only assume was inherited from my ancestors. We walked, each at their own pace, taking pictures and marveling at all the sights. 20 minutes into the hike, we arrived at what was to be our first stop. 


It was a valley that looked like a rock mining site.


"During the construction of the James Gichuru-Rironi road, this was where the Chinese contractors would excavate the sand. Once they finished the project, they abandoned it as it is; a case of land dereliction." Said Ang'ana, a history connoisseur and our guide.


The escarpments of the valley provided child-like excitement to the men so much so that one of them climbed up to the top. " If you're man enough, you better climb up this valley!" Dared adrenaline pumped man. Without much of a thought, almost all of them, with vigor, run up the steep terrain to get to the other side. Our mouths hung low as we watched them. Boys will be boys; the rest of us muttered to ourselves as we took the more clear path to the other side of the valley. 


We walked on until we finally arrived at the foot of some hills. The hills stood majestically ahead of us. Walking up the steep terrain proved to be quite difficult. You could hear huffs and puffs of the unfit youth and somehow, this wasn’t even the hardest part. At this point, I was still energized and ready for the challenge. I could see other people had already started taking rests but I was driven by the zeal to get to the cave.


We made our next stop at the top of the hill


" In 2022, when we first visited this area, it was completely barren. We then decided to take it upon ourselves and plant some trees."Ang'ana said, "So we made an initiative that every time we came here we would plant more trees and that is our main activity for the day."


This was quite surprising as there weren’t any seedlings or jembes around; at least none that I had seen. Seeing the look of confusion on our faces, he went on to clarify how we were going to plant the trees. 


Seedballs Kenya

"Cookswell Jikos and Chardust Limited had come together to form a joint collaborative project known as Seedballs Kenya. The purpose of Seedball Kenya was to come up with a sustainability method through which seeds can easily be planted. Therefore, the product of their collaboration was a product known as a seedball. Creation of seed balls involves coating acacia seeds, which are more accustomed to such arid and semi-arid environments , with a layer of humus and then an additional layer of charcoal on the outside to form a round ball. The purpose of the charcoal layer is to ensure that the seeds are protected from adverse conditions, while the humus acts as a fertilizer to help them grow," explained Ang'ana.


I thought that was cool , but it turns out that it was not as cool as how we would plant them. We would put the seeds on a slingshot, and shoot them. Just like the parable of the sower, they would grow on whichever ground they fell, and they needed not to be tended to.  


Most people took this chance to play with the seeds by directly aiming them at Ang ’ana and shooting at him. In all honesty, this was my favorite part. At one point, I aimed 5 balls at him, all at the same time, but lucky enough for him, he missed them all. Talk about shooting your shot and missing.


After that, we took our lunch, and I was surprised to see what people had packed.  One gym bro called John Mark Njihia had packed 12 eggs and avocado salads while the rest of us just had a bunch of processed foods. I honestly admired his dedication. 


Afterwards, we walked over to the edge of the hill at the cliff and the adrenaline junkies sat right at the edge. Turns out, for you to get to the cave, you have to unleash your inner mountain goat and swallow your fear of heights, then crawl at the very edge of the cliff.


At this point, most of the people gave up. But I wasn’t having any of it. I had to get into that cave even if I died trying (in this case it was actually a possible outcome). 


My heart was in my mouth the whole time, as I began the trail to the cave almost on all fours, trying not to look down at the horrendous plain that was almost 100 feet down. The terrain, which was as steep as they get, also had to be slippery as hell.


A shrill cry struck right into our ears and created an aura of panic in us. Did someone fall off the cliff? Everybody started looking out for the tiniest girl in the group who possibly could have been likely to reach that Mariah Carey-level pitch.


To our utter bewilderment, it was a 6 foot 3 macho-looking burly. We roared with laughter as he tried to recollect himself from just a mere slip.

That wasn't the end of it - a more comical state ensued as a couple of people began to imitate him. One (guy with the beard and glasses idk his name) yelled as he pretended to slip "Tell my ex I still don't love her!" 

Laughter could be heard all over as we tried our very best to navigate the terrain.


The Cave

After an excruciating eternity, I made it to the cave. Wide as a mouth reminding me of those large rocks that resembled giant animals, it fit almost 50 people. It was dark as night with eerie sounds coming from the back. 


At the entrance, you could see almost the entire little town of Lusegetti. Inside, water dripped from the roof and the echoes our voices made were sure to be heard from miles away.


As we walked on, we discovered that the cave wasn't as deep as we expected. It was 5m in length with a narrow passageway that was impenetrable. Inside the narrow passage, came the sounds that we had heard when we got to the cave, not wanting to find out what animal made the sounds we swallowed our curiosity and got around to admiring the rest of the cave.


I expected to find writings and drawings on the walls of the cave as I had seen in numerous movies, but much to my dismay, the walls were bare and seemed almost to have never been habitable—suspicious.


Could it have been just the British colonial's suspicion that the MauMau had hidden there? 


We got around to taking pictures and the adrenaline junkies were at it again,on top of the entrance of the 100 foot cave taking pictures. "These people's fight or flight instinct must have been replaced by the rest and digest instinct." I thought to myself.


A thousand pictures later, we began yet another tortuous journey down the hill. I barely use cuss words, but on this trail down, I used all the cuss words in all the four languages that I could speak.


It appears it was my turn to have a dance with gravity, as I slipped and fell right on my behind. Luckily the people ahead of me caught me before I could tumble down the hill and lose more than my mind. My life flashed in front of my eyes and so, the rest of the way down, my heart was in my mouth as I vowed to myself that this was my last time hiking.


As we crawled on the slippery ground, the thickets and shrubs scratched our arms as the rocks scraped our hands. I finally made it to the sweet level ground. Praise the Lord!


The views from down below were even more immaculate, and it was especially funny seeing people almost lose their marbles with every little slip they made; Forgetting that it had been me just a couple of seconds before.


We then made our way to the finishing point and on the way, a few of the men decided to show off their bravado by engaging in a race while the rest of us cheered them on.


I cannot imagine how they woke up feeling the next day. We ended by doing warm-down stretches, thanks again to Zawadi, and then proceeded off to our various homes.


Two days later my back is still sore but I cannot help but marvel as I look at the pictures we took and the memories we made. Maybe I could give hiking another chance?

Blood Begets Blood | Lawi Kiplimo Metto
Blood Begets Blood | Lawi Kiplimo Metto

There is a certain grief that does not haunt your soul or break your spirit. A grief that neither leaves you lonely nor leaves you questioning. A grief that does not cause you to shed a tear or curse the gods. There is a certain grief that summons the abyss. A grief that calls for blood. This is the grief that hovered over Zegero’s homestead.

 


“Do not avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God. For it is written, that vengeance is His. Rather, feed your enemy if he is hungry and give him a drink if he is thirsty. By doing so, you will heap burning coals on his head…” The voice of the pastor - a man approaching his sixties, short but strong in stature with a dash of moustache and a cleanly shaven head complimented with piercing eyes - tore through the crowd of about a hundred.


Nina tried to retain focus, to listen, and to believe. Her mind strayed often and consistently. She had always been a staunch believer, a lay reader at the village church. Today, however, her faith wavered. She questioned God, how could he let that happen? She compared herself to Job, a man who had stood firm among tribulations, but she could not muster his strength, at least not in that moment. She was a woman, grieving the death of her child, the second of three in two months.  Her hands fidgeted violently, the Bible in her sweaty hands slid and fell, the cover separating from the entire book. She hurriedly picked it up and turned to the verse the pastor was reading. As she tried to read, her vision became blurry and a tear dropped on the page. She felt betrayed by God and the universe.


“Under this January sun, we declare that from dust we come and to dust we shall return. Kenda came from it and now he returns, that he may rest…” the pastor announced as the body was laid in the grave. There he lay, next to Nuru, whose grave had just started sprouting with flowers. The sharp, painful wails of women and the shushing of men infected the already dry air with an unfathomable sadness. In the background, Amos and Josh's Baadaye played from the cheap hired speakers and in that moment, it was in perfect synchrony with the mourning, a man to a wife.


Towa sat at a distance, watching them wail, faint, and throw themselves to the ground. It all seemed akin to a movie he had seen the spoiler to, like a well-plotted choreography. In deep thought, he led his eyes to watch the once beautiful horizon, he could not watch the last of his siblings go to ground. His eyes were dry with sadness but sharp with rage. He had made his mind up. Vengeance was his.


*****


Pushing his unfolded and now wet handkerchief back to his pocket in such a manner that it hung almost falling off with the December wind, Kenda continued with his speech,“Father remains at the hospital; the doctors say his condition is stable but he has lost his…” He paused for a second, rolling his anxiety ring around impatiently, trying to grab all the strength he could gain from his embers. “Father has lost his movement; the attack reached his spinal cord and he is  now paralysed.” He continued with a shaky voice, “He remains under strict care but may be released as soon as the new year. He has thanked you all for your prayers and contribution. Most importantly, he appreciates your presence as we lay his secondborn son to rest.”


Being the firstborn son, he continued to read the eulogy, as was his duty. His voice cracked and faded from time to time. After what seemed like an eternity he completed his speech and hurried through the crowd to the back of the tents. There he sat, his head buried to his knees. He sobbed like an infant—terribly and uncontrollably. The sound of the speeches that followed rang like a white sound to his ears, far and indistinct. It was not until he heard a tap on his shoulder that he looked up. Towa’s young face, heartbroken as his, pitied him as he requested, “They say we have to lead them in carrying the casket bro, sijui kama tunaweza but we have to. Let’s go.” Stretching out his hand to his young brother for help, he got up and briefly dusted off his pants, that had then been dirtified by the dry ground. Hurriedly, they went to lead the awaiting procession to the graveyard.


When the sun had set and the crowd had dispersed, only the family and close neighbours remained. A sense of loneliness reigned. The once closely-knit family felt loose and vulnerable.


Meanwhile, rumours had started spreading across the village. Those who had better knowledge spoke of the incident as brutal. That the deceased had been battered on the head so brutally that it turned into a mash and that explained the closed casket. That the doctors seeing the body just directed it to the morgue without bothering themselves with a futile challenge. They spoke of how a crowbar had been struck on Zegero's back as he tried to save his daughter from the assailants.


Others spoke of those they suspected. They spoke in hushed tones of Mugo, the richest man in the village. He was a man revered all over. Respected by many and feared by all. He ran the most successful enterprise in the village shopping centre, a hardware store, a wholesale shop, and a hotel. For long, there had been shushed talk about how he had been able to retain his thriving enterprise with little to no competition for almost a decade since his arrival. Some said it was through his shrewd character, that he ran his business with an iron rod, knowing every nook and cranny, every sale and discount, every debt and creditor. Some claimed it was through witchcraft, claiming that was why he had never been seen in the village church, where every villager attended with pride and dedication. A mystery that remained was how all of his competitors had failed, either by the weight of their own incompetence, theft, in the hands of law enforcers, or by natural deaths that could not be explained. It could not evade the minds of the people that the deceased family's booming hardware was now suffering the same fate.


As they had supper the uncles spoke of the business. Siwa, the eldest proclaimed that the hardware was cursed and that it should be closed forthwith. “It has brought the family only distress. It has taken more than it has given. To hell with it!” He said in a stern voice. His brothers disagreed, saying they should forge onwards, that it was in their blood to never give up or give in. At last, it was decided that Kenda would take charge of the business. He had come of age and was the rightful heir, that owing to his father's incapacitation, he had become the right man for the job. Nina heard all this in silence, perhaps distracted by the grief that rocked her chambers or perhaps knowing that her voice even though respected, would never be considered. When all the talk was done and a compressing silence suffocated the room except for Siwa’s old age cough, Nina broke out in prayer. She weeped for the family to be granted strength in their weakest moments and a light in the unfamiliar times. When an eternity had passed, when tears had flooded her dera and when Siwa had started snoring, Nina declared in finality “In all these let your will be done. Amen.”


The uncles left one by one, promising to come the following day to offer comfort. Siwa ordered his wife to stay behind to give company to Nina through the night. She accepted.


In their shared room and shared bed Kenda and Towa remained in silence for an extended minute. Towa's sobbed question finally pierced the silence, “Are you asleep Ke?”. Kenda sighed then responded, “How could I be? Pa is at the hospital and his bill needs sorting. Ma is with that witch in their room. Sis is fresh in the ground and I am shouldered with carrying on a business I have no clue about. How could I be asleep?” 


The pin-drop silence then resumed and hung over the room, constantly being broken by the friction between the blankets and their clothes as in turns they tried to find the corners of their t-shirts or handkerchiefs to dry their tears. Kenda finally continued, his voice stern and convinced, “At the moment it is not vivid who did this to us. That is their only luck. That I do not know who they are. On Nuru’s life if I find them, my pain they will feel, and my rage they will endure. Haiwezekani hao wakatu fanya hivi na wakaenda scott free…” Towa suddenly interjected, “Usiseme hivyo! Don't say that! It only makes us as bad as them. Turn the other cheek, remember? The only thing that remains is our hope, that we will not give up but continue to forge onwards. That's what Nuru would want.” “Give up we won't, that I assure you. But blood begets blood. That is the law of the universe.” Kenda finally declared. They turned their backs to each other, the rain started falling heavily on the rusty roof and they pretended to sleep.


*****


When Kenda’s funeral had drawn to a close and only the family remained, a silence engulfed the tent in which they all now sat. Towa cut the silence with a dry voice and angelic rhythm:


     Nu was hit, Ke was shot 

     Pa can no longer walk, Ma looks lost

     Ke is fresh on ground, Nu is starting to rot

     I can no longer bear it, revenge I plot 


     With ambition we set out, in honesty we sought

    Bitterness and agony, is all it brought 

     My mind is gone, in pain I jot

     I can no longer bear it,  revenge I plot


When he completed his recitation, the pain in his voice had touched the spirits of his family, awakening in them a sense of duty. Duty towards the fallen and the family that remained. Nina's delicate heart had been swayed and Zegero’s hard stance watered. They were convinced, so much that when Zegero finally posed the question, unanimous nods of acceptance were the response. It was engraved in their minds that only one option remained, vengeance.


It was agreed that Panini, a witch doctor from a nearby village would be contacted at once and that the rituals would be conducted on that night. Before the sun had completely set, word had already reached him. He arrived as the waning gibbous moon took over the night sky. He talked for a while with Zegero, asking incidental questions on what had occurred. He then asked to be directed to the graveyard. There he knelt over each grave, murmuring inaudible words from time to time. The family stood from a distance as they watched in awe and terror, experiencing what they previously thought they would never seek.


When he had completed his act, Panini approached the family and declared with each word and syllable intentionally pronounced, “On a mundane evening the murderer haunted by his sin will come. Like a mad man he will appear. Declaring his deeds for all to hear. Letting his nudity out for all to see. He will come injured, his blood licked by the dogs in the streets. Cursed be them that shed innocent blood! Cursed be them that shed innocent blood!” A cloud hid the moon, and he disappeared into the dark, as he had come.


*****


In Tuygain, the shopping centre, a still calmness took over the air. The calm before the storm. All the enterprises stood on one side of the road gazing over the village market that stretched on the other. There the women had convened for the weekly Saturday chama. The meeting's agenda had already docked and they retorted to cheap fitina. Talking about whose eggs had hatched and whose son was getting older without a wife. Laughing about whose pot had broken in the river and whose husband had left for the city never to return. All this they did seamlessly, as was their routine.


In the bar across from the market and next to Mugo hardware, the men sat, some in idle talk while others were engrossed gambling on a game of draft. Each taking a drink of the age-old busaa. Wakadinali’s Kuna Siku Youths Wataungana played in the background, filling in the spaces left by the occasional awkward silence. They taunted each other on their favourite athletes losing races and their women finding out about their girlfriends. They giggled about their……..and the men who had lost sight after they drank illicit liquor. All this they did in symphony, as was their habit.


In Mugo Hardware, the last-born son attended to customers, daring them to go to other shops if they felt the prices were too high. So they bought, one after the other, dissatisfied but with no option. In the hotel nearby, Mugo’s wife served customers with humility, giving portions as had been dictated by Mugo. The shop was the cornerstone of the business and was run at the moment by the eldest son. He ran it professionally, allowing debts to only those his father trusted. Mugo was out in the city. He had left strict instructions to be followed and targets to be met.


Zegero sat in his wheelchair in the beautiful sunlight outside his shop. He pondered on how life had seemingly moved on in the village yet the wounds from his grief remained fresh. He saw how everyone was back to their usual routine; a woman gossiping here, a man drinking there and a child buying from a shop. What was a tsunami to his family, seemed but a mere wave to the village. He called on his soul to accept. A tear almost dropped but he remembered his wife sat beside him and quickly reattained his composure. Inside the closed shop, Towa tried to reconcile the stock on one hand and on the other his thoughts, he tried.


“It is I! It was me! I did it all! It was me!” A loud voice that startled the shopping centre was heard from a distance. A hysterical laugh then followed. A crowd now formed on the roadsides. The men and the women alike. Watching the end of the bent road that led into the shopping centre and away from it. The voice grew nearer, louder and clearer. Some of the women held their breaths, scared of the scene they were about to witness. To the men it was sobering, the moment exaggerated by their drunken stupor.


Like the sun that first threatens with its rays, the figure finally appeared at the end of the bend. The man, tall and well in his late twenties or early thirties walked into the shopping centre. Barefoot and naked as the truth that was about to be revealed, he walked in a zombie-like motion. Dogs kept him in gruesome company and the centre stray dogs joined the party. Biting and licking on his wounds. Despite the evident pain he was in, he continued laughing hysterically, constantly declaring, “It was me! It was me!” The women and a few men had scurried away in fear and disgust, as the man drew closer.


He walked straight through the crowd towards Zegero hardware. Nina had already disappeared into the shop. Towa stood outside the shop next to Zegero who sat paralyzed on his wheelchair, watching as the man drew closer. “It is him, he killed my daughter!”, Zegero suddenly tore the confused air with his hoarse old voice. “It is him!” It then became vivid what had happened and who the man was. The prophecy and the curse had come to pass.


Without signaling each other, in primal and feral fashion the men seized him. Kicking and punching. Hitting and stoning. Their rage as clear as the pain in Towa's voice he barked out, “Wait! He must tell us who sent him!”  The lynch stopped for a hot minute as the man was questioned. With blood oozing out of his lips and with an injured tongue he was finally able to make out the words; “Mr Mugo, he…” his speech was cut off as the blows resumed while the others launched another attack. 


Mugo's sons, who had been part of the mob all along, were caught before they could make their way out and thrown to the centre of the mob with the naked man. There they were lynched, mercilessly and without restraint. When their bodies had become mush, tyres were thrown on their necks like ornaments and they were torched in the fading evening sunlight. Mugo's wife who had hid in the hotel’s kitchen went ablaze with it when the hotel was set on fire. Together all the Mugo properties were scorched, they came tumbling down, brick by brick. They then proceeded to the family home and handed it the same justice. Cleansing the village of what they considered an abomination, a blemish to the society.


When the pandemonium was done, the shopping centre smelt of barbecue and ashes. Smoke filled the area like a heavy mist. Coughs could be heard here and there between the murmurs of the villagers discussing what had taken place. Some proclaiming they had always known the family was up to no good and others surprised on the occurrence. Those who believed what had happened was not right kept it to themselves. A sense of community ensued.


Mugo seemingly caught wind of what had happened and was never to be seen. He disappeared into the city and little was ever heard of him.


In Zegero’s homestead, the three remaining members ate under the full moon. The evening meal of ugali and pumpkin soup first. Then accompanied by mursik to complete the delicacy. Nina then took the utensils to the kitchen. Afterwards, they sat around the fire, reminiscing with nostalgia of the times they had once sat there as a whole family. Appreciating the memories they had made and regretting the love they had not given. 


When the crackling fire had faded into embers and a cold breeze blew over the homestead, Nina declared, “I have lost my children, my husband, and now my faith. I have lost it all!”

****

Glossary

Baadaye: later.

Dera: a colourful baggy dress traditionally worn by women in the coastal region of Kenya.

Haiwezekani hao wakatu fanya hivi na wakaenda : it is impossible for them to do that and go

Usiseme hivyo: do not say that

Chama: micro-savings group.

Fitina: gossip

Busaa: a traditional alcoholic drink enjoyed in Kenya.

Kuna Siku Youths Wataungana: there is a day the youth will unite.

Mursik: traditional Kalenjin drink made of sour milk


___ 


To communicate more with the writer:

Email: mettolawie@gmail.com

Contact: +254742600675


A Coin's Chronicles | Innocent Ouko
A Coin's Chronicles | Innocent Ouko

That afternoon, in front of a keen and seemingly patient group of corals, I began my story:


Legend has it that our ancestors were wrought in gold. Generation after generation, the story goes, gold coins ruled the land. In intercontinental trade routes, they would cross the seven seas and live in the houses of the rich, the famous, and the powerful. I would sleep when my mother told me of such tales, gradually transitioning into dreams sometimes when I was asleep. At times when I was awake.


Nowadays we’re tossed before the start of football matches and explained as examples of math problems to an ever-growing number of young students who continue to lack a basic understanding of probability.


It’s what I hear so many people say in emotion-riddled post-game analyses from fans and radio commentators. Well, of late, I can’t tell if it has changed. Before nature carved a path for me into the saline depths of the Indian Ocean, football had radically changed. Refereeing was no longer the same, fans would stream games on their mobile phones and the number of witch doctors abandoned the hallowed trips to the stadium to summon the gods for a victory of their home team.


But that was when I was young, not too tarnished, and living in the city. Or so I thought.


Before I learned of the different hotels, matatus, and torn pockets of the people I frequented, I had a fairly settled childhood. My mother, ever the storyteller, told me how she got me from the market. I never believed her. I think I came from some factory along Thika Super Highway, next to a branched-off road headed to Mathare Phase 4.


Our distant cousins, closely related species, Kenyan notes, have told us of the tales of the hidden factory mint. I wondered what they meant. If it was hidden, why was it next to one of the major highways in the country? Why did it have a name, De La Rue? More like Peek A Boo – and viola, you found this supposed building hosting millions of cash.


Purportedly.


I think we also came from the same warehouse. A large family whose origins story got muddled up with the exponential growth rates of urban development. It seemed our arch-mother acquired a defect somewhere between the time of Alexander the Great around 300 BC and the acquiring of Kenyan Independence in 1963. The defect, what we have to live with throughout our lives, was a silver shine.


We shine, but not like our ancestors, members of the golden age. A time when technology was not, forgive me for saying this, the golden goose that everyone chased. Along with this defect came a unique style inborn in all of us – the spin.


Each one of us knows how to spin. Almost by instinct, when surrounded by the different swaths of air, swooshing all around us, we dance to the sound of the wind blowing into our ears. She is the most gifted singer I have ever heard. She travels all over the world, in seasons, booked in concerts which are ever packed but never charged. Free concerts but I’ve never seen her posters or even a billboard in her honour. Humans can be so self-centred sometimes.


We have always been lucky to have preserved our enhanced hearing abilities, always sensitive to her songs. Somehow, she times her songs to match the coin flips we used to get from boys as they raced to shops and negotiated for more rounds of computer games at the estate. A flip would be as joyous as the chorus that rang so eloquently in my never-aging ears.


There would be days when I would get so lost in the music, that I would never land on the same hand that flipped me. I’d toss, spin, and dance to the background scene of a clear, pale blue sky and scatter the rays of a setting mellow sun before being exchanged over a counter for four samples of Ice Ya Maziwa.


The boys loved this treat. It was not your typical popsicle. It wasn’t frozen on a stick. It was embraced by a long slender transparent polythene. Inside it was a mixture of sugar, spice, and everything nice. The secret ingredient was never chemical x, because the girls never turned into powerful superheroes when they had their share of the icy treat. The infused milk, however, would have a tangy residual taste, as the boys slathered their tongue and tapped their palate, enough to make them consider having a second helping if they had a close family friend inside their pocket.


These were the days when I would chill by the cardboard of shopkeepers, samosa outlets, and chemists in Komarock Sector 1 estate.  Sometimes next to Mwalika, other times next to Msaponi. The culture back then was vibrant. 

Kids in primary school would keep their coins in piggy banks, the African kind. They barely resembled pigs. They weren’t even pink. Cuboid in shape, with sharp edges and a single slit at the top enough to allow a broad array of my people, we were forced to accept there was more than one form of what a piggy bank should look like. 


Wait. Have I ever told you about the Giant? 


They gave me that quizzical look. Delighted, I continued:


He was revered and valued by the young and the old alike. He was the most peculiar coin I have ever seen, and one large, stout, and brazen enough to strike fear into the hearts of coins whose values were larger than itself.


As you can see by the golden circle at my core and the silver strip jacket, I am a twenty Kenyan shilling coin. We got the defect – the thin heritable outer silver strip – from our mother. We were the most valuable coins before the third president broke our cycle of supremacy with a forty-shilling coin, our bitter enemies. They weren’t that many. Two of us could take one down.  Regardless, they always were a threat.


But as large and valuable as they were, they could never match the strength of the five Kenyan shilling coins. Originally, we were meant to be symmetric. I am circular, as are almost all the other coins in the country. The giant was not.


It wasn’t even an octagon. It defied any form of symmetry historical in our lineage. It was seven-pointed, like the seven seas you might be familiar with.


At this point, the corals beamed in excitement. I continued:


An odd numbered member, odd enough to stand out. Edges blunt, but evident. A tarnished version of silver but you can never judge a coin by its cover. In those make-shift piggy banks where the kids tried to start a saving culture, the giant coin could at times resist. It would put up a fight, and lock its horns with the iron-clad pediatric safe, sometimes being successful. Other times, not quite.


I’m reminded of the seven seas. They could resist any attempts at the introduction of new species or sometimes, get forced to work with what was thrown at them. Sometimes living, sometimes plastic. Don’t ask me how I know all this. I was a keen listener of the radio back then.


Kiss 100 FM was the station. Caroline Mutoko, in her authoritative voice, would interview upcoming musicians and play some of the best songs I have ever heard by humans. Top seven at seven, in 2001, waiting for E-Sir’s hit:


Cheza kama wimbo ni wako, sababu uu huu wimbo ni wako…


However, none of these songs ever woke the tingly senses in us to make us spin. None of them could match the age-old songs of the wind.

My guess is that you too can hear the gentle symphonies of the deep seas. Could that explain why, like the slow-moving tentacles of an octopus on the hunt for its next meal, you sashay?


The coral beamed once again. I took it as a nod. I loved how patient they were. Never intruding. Keenly displaying visible gestures that they were following. I continued:


Alas. Giants no longer walk the land I have grown to know. We live in a changing continent and the number of coins, relics of a dying age, is reducing. I hope someone out there chronicles their mighty and epic tales.


Speaking of epic, allow me to deviate for a moment, in the name of love. Producers of the Titanic and the Notebook would quickly jump at this opportunity to listen and make a blockbuster off it. They may, however, only see the value through how much it would gross rather than the story it tells. So I’d rather tell you than tell them. 


It’s the story of how I met my first love. 


It was right before I landed on the light-green-coloured window rims of the shop that would be my home for several coin-years. 


On an afternoon much like this one, Collins was headed to town. His mother was doing some back-to-school shopping, but Collins had outgrown his Bata toughees. He needed an extra pair. A tough pair, because his mother knew how often they would be used to kick stones on the road to and from school. 


Eager to purchase ‘something special’, he carried me with him. Junior Gong’s ‘Welcome to Jamrock’ played in the background. The car had a paid contract to take its passengers from Komarock to Nairobi Town, but it seemed it was more interested in overtaking its fellow road users. Many times I was tossed inside Collin’s pockets – the small pocket from the mabati-shinning jeans popularly known as Dumu Zas. They would shine in the sun and even when exposed to night-time street lights. 

But the shine could not compare to the bright reflection that came from the large one-shilling coin I saw when we were at Luthuli Lane. One of the busiest and noisiest lanes in the heart of the central business district, it was bustling with conmen and eager victims. 

I was lucky not to have been traded to purchase the ‘something special’ as Collins had planned. Rather, he was given extra change by his mother, and that’s when she slipped into my life. It was like in all high school movies, where the girl bumps into the dashing young man, who helps her collect her fallen stationery. 

Time stopped. Time too took its time staring at her beauty. The pocket did not have a staircase, but she looked like she slowly rolled down to where I lay, next to a blue patch of dried-up Quill ink. 


I wasn’t prepared. 


How could someone so beautiful pack so much value yet humans only regarded her at a twentieth of what I was worth? She was worth much more. In fact, a lot much more, as a close friend would occasionally insist. Her face was the kind of glimmer that a six-year-old gets on its face after a warm afternoon bath and smoothened by premium Vaseline jelly. 


Her face matched the vignettes she gracefully told me. I thought I was made of metal, but on that day I felt like I was melting. Luthuli Lane was no longer noisy. Infatuated, all I could hear was her sultry voice and gentle chuckle as I asked for more questions amid her stories. The ride back home was not bumpy. As we made for that corner from Little Angels Academy and crossed the first bump, Collins alighted and headed straight for what would then be my home for many coin years. 


He reached into his pocket, grabbed me amid an engaging conversation with my first love, and asked the shopkeeper to give him a packet of Bournvita Chocolate. I was the one that got away. She stayed with Collins. 


A two-edged sword. Collins saw her value. I saw her value. She was retained. I was exchanged. I never had the rebellious trait of the giant five-shilling coin. Had I rebelled, she might have seen an anger bubble in me that I have never brandished. From a melting heart, a hard one was forged.


But I’m glad I landed here, in the deep ocean. I enjoy the calming effects it has. I’m learning to be soft and wavy, like the ocean currents. Hopefully, the plastics don’t disrupt the climate. 


The corals again, swung forward in agreement, like a large football crowd bowing to the last game of a legendary player. 


And like the sudden change in the number of rebellious feats by the five-shilling Kenyan coin, you never know when it’s your time to leave an area. Or when love evaporates from your life, leaving a residual patch, a reminder of what could have been. This outcome is so common among humans, that they use us to formulate new phrases – ergo, coining a phrase. Apparently, love teaches just as much as it scars. I was scarred, again, not by my would-be lover, but by my owner. 


The stench is still rancid in my memory. I might have started losing my shine from then. I was placed in the pocket of a garbage collector one morning. He climbed the back of the truck and the pungent fumes wafted through his purple polyester overall.


Before, those who owned me never wanted to discard me. They would keep me. Shiny. Precious. Clean.


This guy’s pocket became my new home after an exchange from one of the oldest shops I have ever known, situated in Sector 1 opposite Tender Care Academy in Mwalika Court, after crossing the first speed bump in the road leading down towards Kayole. The same crime scene where my heart was broken. 


I thought the shopkeeper, too, valued my shiny veneer. Business, it turns out, is business. It comes first. Coins pay the price.


I never valued that dingy pocket. My new owner, however, valued me. He didn’t want to trade me with anyone. With time, I got used to the smells, the trips, and the occasional slip in the bathroom when he hung his overalls.


One time, he lost his job.


I think he lost the job. 


I’m not too sure. 


Or it could be that most jobs stopped operating as they usually did. What I know is that he was forced to relocate.


I forgot to mention where he used to stay. Forgive me. I moved from Komarock to Kariokor. The name was a failed effort by the local Kenyans to pronounce the English phrase – Carry Your Corpse. It was catchy. It stuck. Like my owner’s affinity for my gradually fading shine.


He moved to Voi, the town along Mombasa Road. It was around 2008, January. The town was peaceful, but the radio announced the violence that had shaken different parts of the country. It’s possible that my owner was one of the victims.


Voi grew on him. It grew on me. The air got cleaner. He even discarded his overall and kept me in a nice and pristine wallet which looked like it had seen better times in another regime. Outside it was a logo, Safaricom. It wasn’t the better option, but it was better than the pocket I was dumped in.


This wallet was not the most secure one. It could easily have its coins slipping. I have had my fair share of falls. In such moments, I learned to yelp whenever I hit a hard surface. It would alert my owner. I’d then get nursed back into the wallet.


But it just seemed that this roomy wallet never imagined it could keep itself together – it continued creating other ways of discarding its contents. At the bottom, its stitches began to loosen up. It was now my duty to stick around or run the risk of losing a home. Again.


My insecurities took a 180-degree phase turn when my owner traded me with a long-distance truck driver. He was headed for Mombasa when he lost a bet to a game between Arsenal and Manchester United. He placed his bet on the Red Devils and lost.


That is how I came to Mombasa port.


The weather was different from what I was accustomed to in Nairobi. Hot, wet, and somehow, slow. I never thought the weather could be slow. A minute here seemed like it had 123 seconds.


The air seemed to have infected its residents who were never in a hurry. In contrast, I was quickly traded for a local coconut brew. I barely knew the guy and yet here he was, exchanging me like a meal card.


He stuck his hand into his pocket, rummaged through his contents for the only coin he could find, me, and traded it with someone who had a rough set of hands. From the undulant changing chorus of the coconut trees, which could also hear the melodious sounds of the coastal winds, I could tell that the guy was a climber.


A coconut tree climber. A coconut fruit gatherer. A coconut brew seller.


The new weather slowed my thinking and now completely took away my shine. I would sometimes fall on the sandy beaches. Dry at times wet. The salty and acidic waters changed my outward appearance. My shiny days were now behind me.


Although I was still young, I looked old. The rough hands of my new owner could do nothing to scrap the outer coat of old age from my skin.


I wanted to rest.


I no longer felt the need to explore the world.


They dry world, at least.


Maybe I was turning into an old one.


Then the ocean heard my plea. One evening, when the breeze blew from the land to the large water mass, my owner tripped over a lichen-coated rock. He survived. But what we had inside his pockets didn’t.


I was tossed out, rocked, and landed between seaweeds.


To and fro. The sun was still visible. It moved sideways. Or maybe it was me who moved. Maybe we all moved. Maybe the sun too enjoys the music of the ocean.


Again, the corals beamed in excitement. To learn that a celestial being enjoyed the same music as they delighted them. Enthused, I continued:


A hand reached for a parcel of sand, and I was thrown further into the ocean. It seemed many people were at the beach at the time. The loud music penetrated the thick much of salty waters, diluted urine, seaweed, and plastic. The density of plastic was enough to choke the best of divers.


Everyone was musically moved, but I grew up learning the classic hits of the wind, E-Sir, and Nameless. I’m learning to appreciate the music of the waves. I guess there’s a lot for you to teach me.


But did I particularly tell you how I landed in this deep corner of the ocean?


Just as I was about to start another plot of my story, a piece of yellow plastic, with huge eyes that barely blinked, sank between me and my equally astounded audience.


I never thought the plastics I had seen by the shore would find their way to the very depths where I lay, unmoved, waiting for my death as I reminisced about my younger days. The corals gawked in new wonder, a yellow thingamajigger. In awkward silence, we watched as it descended for a long minute, a whole 123 seconds, as it was taxied by the waves into an algal parking spot by the ocean’s floor until it settled.


Then it quacked.

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