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Below is an excerpt from my novella ‘A Jacket for Ahmet.’ It seemed apt for this Saturday:
I stood at the doorway of Ben’s cyber café and stared in disbelief up the street where lots of smoke had enveloped the border control stall with its stony office where Kisima, Giningi and others always kept sentry and checking duty of people flowing across the Kenya-Tanzania line.
I hoped all the men were safe.
Mom always stayed at her ‘Mama Subira’ cafeteria and crafts shop until at least 8pm, so I knew she was OK. Then a third explosion boomed at the border control stop, and from the smoke, like one of those musicians in award shows on TV, something came out.
It was a military-looking jeep full of men -- two in front and three or four in the cabin at the back, all of them carrying big guns. One was firing random shots in the air as he yelled some foreign-sounding phrase over and over again that I could not quite hear from that distance up the road.
The men all wore green jungle jackets with black vests beneath them, but their heads were covered or half covered in a variety of woolen masks, bandanas and those scarves we call ‘Arafats’.
I was so frightened at the sight of that jeep and those chaps that I felt a loud fart of fright escape from me. Even then, I remember thinking it was a good thing Tamima Ephraim had gone on home to her house instead of joining me at the cyber café as I had half hoped she would.
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Except she always went home to do her homework, then house chores, even on a holiday Friday.
Other than her being in clear and obvious danger, as I was at the moment, it would have been so-ooo-embarrassing passing wind in front of her on the A-one oh four like that. Clear of the snare of the smoke bomb they had thrown to confuse anyone coming in to support the border control boys, the five or six occupants of the army jeep roared down the road.
I felt my forehead turn cold, as if I was coming down with malaria or something sickly and serious like that, at the exact time that my feet turned to stone in my shoes.
“Ben,” I croaked, half turning back to the door of the cyber café that I had stepped out of in what seemed to me to be 1902 -- I almost expected to see a lion racing across the grass on the other side of the road with a white hunter giving chase -- but that could not have been more than 10 or 20 seconds ago.
The hard sound of a metal door crashing shut shattered 1902, and then the harsh and grating sound of a bolt slamming home.
Just before he disappeared, no doubt to hide under a loose floor board he had built just in case of such an emergency (event), I caught sight of Ben for the last time. His big, brown face had a look of guilt, the ‘mwanya’ between his upper teeth showing as he flashed me an apologetic grin.
Mama’s words of wisdom came to me in that moment. ‘In this world you are born alone, and in the end, you die alone. That is why it is better to just live alone!’
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All these bitter ‘solitary’ quotes had begun being thrown about like Aunty advice at a wedding only after father had gone running off to Chicken and Dogtown and wherever the Hell else he’d been in the USA. And mama had stocked ‘em up, like maize in a granary.
“It is far better to be alone than to be in bad company.”
“The time you feel lonely is the best time to be all alone.”
“The longer one is alone, the easier it is to hear the earth’s song.”
I always wondered whether the Earth’s song was the one that Michael Jackson had once sang about back before I was born in the last month of the last year of the last century.
‘What about sunrise? What about rain? Did you ever stop to notice…?’
I pictured my mother turning the back page of a newspaper, a black-and-white photograph of me there with the words -- ‘Trojan Mwamba Tayari -- sunrise, December 23 - sunset, March 31’ Hot tears spilled down my cheeks.
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