Saturday, March 22, 2014
A taste of an upcoming novel with five short stories. Critical comments on these first five chapters of the first short story, Forbidden Love will be appreciated, very, very much.
It was a cold night in the Capital City, Trankite. The cold July weather was just beginning. The neighbors heard the first siren. They waited for the second one – it always came after 15 minutes. The second one rang. On this dark night, the sirens seemed louder than usual. They waited for the third one – this one came after half an hour. The third one never rang. The neighbors dreaded the three sirens – they were unique. They were not like the common ones when a prisoner had escaped or there was a major fight in the prison wards or cells or some sort of trouble behind the high walls at Shida Mingi Maximum Prison. These ones were only heard in the middle of the night – not too often though but very disturbing – another prisoner was about to be hanged. And so, the neighbors waited for the third siren, And they waited and they waited. They whispered among themselves but the third siren never rang. What had happened? Two sirens? They had never heard two sirens. Had the system changed?
Previously, when the three sirens rang, the neighbors knew another prisoner had died. This was the norm at Shida Mingi Maximum prison. Before a hanging, the siren would go off twice and after the hanging, it would go off once to signify the death of yet another capital offender. But tonight, not one but two prisoners known as the Valentine Duo awaited their death by hanging for a heinous crime. Wathera Kelepang and Jasho Ndjavera had jointly murdered Wathera’s husband Gentle Kelepang seven years earlier on Valentine’s Day.
After the two sirens, all awake and those it awoke awaited with abated breath – then something very strange happened. An hour passed by but the expected one siren to mark the death of a prisoner was not heard. Two hours, three hours....and then it was dawn. Hangings were never done in broad daylight. The third siren was never heard. What could have gone wrong, everyone wondered. Previously, stories of a last reprieve or the rope cutting if the weight was not commensurate with it were known to have stopped or postponed an execution. Which of these was the case tonight?
And the chill that night helped numb the confusion that the six prisoners felt in their minds as they waited to perform a duty many of their colleagues had performed before – bury the bodies of the Valentine Duo.
As they worked at lightening speed to dig the graves that would hold the Valentine Duo, they murmured among themselves how sad such a good romance had ended. “Why couldn’t Jasho just elope with Nyathera – they had such a good thing going though forbidden ….they reasoned….none of them had any feeling for Kelepang. After all, this particular group of prisoners who had been sentenced to life in prison were all in jail for similar crimes – they were just lucky to have escaped the hangman’s nose. “But guys aren’t we here because of our own stupid mistakes,” Robson reminded the rest.
They all mumbled something in agreement. But why were the hangings tonight taking so long? They too wondered.
The third siren was never heard.
From a farm hand to a manager
The look of satisfaction on Gentle Kelepang’s face, a self-made professional was evident. From a farm hand who used to milk, clean up the cow sheds and do odd jobs at the Technocat Horticultural Farm in Cherangani and was now manager of the largest of THF chain of farms in the suburbs of Tankite was no mean feat. Kelepang’s dream to become “somebody” had come true. He had toiled at this farm for the past 15 years and he was proud of his achievement.
But Kelepang’s promotions had not come easy – he had worked very, very hard to get to the top. In the past five years for example, he had enrolled for part time management studies in one of the institutions of learning in the city that taught agricultural management and as he acquired certificate after certificate, his seniors who appreciated the hard work he put in at the farm and unknown to them, at the expense of his personal life, reciprocated with promotions. Few of his classmates had made a better life of themselves. With little motivation to achieve higher education, many were farm hands, did menial jobs in the city or just lazed away in the village. A few were involved in crime, he had heard from friends.
Now, to add to his fortune, Kelepang’s lovely wife, Wathera was the perfect African wife. She took good care of their two children Tankiso and Taddy back in his village, Chengarani in the highlands of the Rift Valley. At 45, Kelepang and his mates felt he had made it in life. They often drank and tossed to his achievement while inwardly, he smiled and thanked God that he had made it this far and had wife he could be proud to show off to friends or discuss with his workmates.
At the village, Wathera, a petit, beautiful, friendly woman who was much loved by people in the area cared for their farm with the dutiful passion of a well-balanced African wife. With the help of her devoted farm hand, Jasho who had been with them for many years since soon after she married Kelepang, she was always up and about at four in the morning to help Jasho milk their four grade cows and feed the ever increasing rabbits whose meat she supplied to the tourist lodge in the nearest town, Kanye. She also helped him feed the hundreds of traditional chickens they owned and whose much sought after eggs she supplied to the only super market in the village while once a month, she supplied atleast 30 chickens to the lodge too. The villagers also bought chickens and eggs from here as well as milk. Later in the morning, she would set off to release the goats and cows into the fields nearby before rushing back to the house to prepare the children for school. She did her work with utmost sincerity and love for her family and was happy, or so it seemed to everyone who knew her.
Respected in her village, Wathera was often invited to participate in most functions from weddings to itegas, (baby showers) and was at hand incase anyone needed any help of any sort. The sick knew where to get first aid or free medicine before they went to a hospital. And the neighbours rushed to her house for such minor items as salt, sugar or extra cutlery when they had visitors, a common phenomenon in the villages. It was not surprising that she earned herself the title, Mother Teresa.
Wathera was also the “advisor” if couples had a problem or children were misbehaving especially as they reached teen age. It is not surprising that at her church, she held many positions from treasurer of the women’s chama (organisation) to a member of the choir, all of which she did with gusto. And as expected, Kelepang was proud of his wife. Whenever he went home, which, though, was rare, his friends teased him about her saying that if she decided to join politics, they would vote for her but not for him as few people ever saw him during the year. Though the comments about him being away for long broke his heart, Kelepang felt a lot of pride at the praise of his wife knowing she was in control of everything but wished he could be home more often. However, duty called and this would not be possible any time soon.
Kelepang gets a loan
As he progressed high up the ranks, Kelepang continued to add his shares in the Horticultural Cooperative Union that he had joined as a farm hand many years back. He was known to be among the highest savers and he used his money over the years to improve his own farm. Among the improvements was a brick house that he had started building when he was moved to Tankite. However, he sent money home often which his wife, Wathera used to continue with the construction and other needs.
Due to work, Kelepang was unable to go home the previous December but had been promised leave in February. As he went about his work in Tankite, he felt at the top of the world. At the end of January, his application for a loan of Ksh500,000 was going to be approved by his cooperative union to help complete the construction of his brick house at home. It was going to be a surprise gift for his wife and children. He could not wait for end month. He had secretly decided this would be her Valentine gift. And as he thought about the loan, he often day-dreamed about his completed house. Finally, in a month’s time, he would join the category of his neighbours Joshua Waruwa, Edward Ngetich and Fredrick Otieno who lived in brick houses and were the envy of everyone. He would renovate his semi permanent house and convert it into a guest house for visitors and later, a home for his son, Tankiso.
He continued to count on… “Finally, I will have a carpet in my living room like in Otieno’s house. Wathera will no longer have to paste newspapers on the wall to block openings on the mud wall that appeared from time to time. No one would make a joke of him and his “big job” in the city – saying he had nothing to show for it but a farm. Not anymore. He was going to complete his house this time around. In the not too distant future, he might be able to install electricity and develop his farm better. “I might be able to start raising day old chicks like Mbogori in the personnel department does or buy more cows from our farm here and buy milking machines so that we can supply more milk all over Chengarani and the surrounding villages,” he thought aloud.
He dreamed on. He could envision himself driving a pick-up track bought from the proceeds of the farm and use it to transport the many trays of eggs that the increased chickens would lay or the day old chicks to various customers all over the area. As the month drew to a close, he started seeing the reality of his dreams. “I will be the envy of my village - me Gentle who used to milk cows and is now a manager,” he thought aloud.
Loneliness engulfs Wathera
Meanwhile, back in the village, Wathera continued with her daily duties like the dutiful wife of Kelepang but unknown to many people, the twice a year visit of her husband had been nagging her for a long time. Sometimes when there would be a lot of work in the office, Kelepang would not come home for close to a year and though he would call her often to explain that he could not come home at the appointed time or to just chat away, Wathera longed for him more than he knew. Like many men working away, he believed that as long as his wife was well taken care of financially and the children were in good schools, nothing else mattered. Kelepang was a caring husband and always put some money in her bank account from the city every end of month and for him, that was sufficient for a woman. But Wathera was young, beautiful and very normal. She yearned for him and every time he postponed coming home, he would shatter her feelings and longing to just talk to him face to face.
She had so much to tell him. What with the chicken, some of which were laying twin yolked eggs or the white goat that had four sets of black twins, a sign of good luck to the family or the cow that had been producing 10 gallons of milk daily. She wanted to tell him how Taddy had written the winning essay at school and had been awarded a trip to visit Kenya’s tourist’s paradise, the coastal town of Mombasa for a week and to see the smile on his face as she narrated her excitement. Tankiso on the other hand was proving a difficult lad as he grew up without a father. He had friends in school that were influencing him to smoke cigarettes and skip classes so that they could go roaming in the nearby town, Kitale. His grades were not good any more and his teachers were concerned about his frequent absences from school. Wathera, who was able to advise other people’s children had tried it all – from denying him his favourite things to asking a close family friend to talk to him but nothing worked. She needed to tell Kelepang that but she knew that he’d not be home soon after skipping the December holiday. “How long can I wait for him?” she wondered.
And Wathera had other needs too – bodily needs. She missed his love making. She longed to hold her man, feel him close to her, hear him say how much he had missed her. How he was happy to be home. How much he appreciated her being his wife. How much he longed for the day they could live together as many couples in the village did.
She missed the laughter she heard when she visited the Otienos’, the Waruwas’ or the Ngetichs’. Those couples seemed to enjoy the company of each other and she longed for the time when Kelepang would be home for a longer stretch of time. Maybe three months vacation from office? Impossible she knew – they would not let him take a long leave – he supervised many people as a manager. Could she wait until he retired from his work? “Then I will be too old and not interested in holding him tight or whispering in his year and tell him how much I loved him,” the 40 year old woman thought.
Sometimes in the midst of her thoughts, she would share her worries with her farm hand Jasho. “Jasho, you know if Gentle was here, Tankiso would not be misbehaving. I think he needs a manly figure to deal with him,” she would tell him. “Have you tried reasoning with him and letting him know that his future is in his hands? Jasho would ask. “I have done everything I can. I have even asked our neighbor Otieno to talk to him and he promises to change but a month after, he is back to square one,” she would answer.
Without realizing it, the young farm hand, 10 years her junior had become her closest confidant. After all, they woke up at the same time, started the day together, spent the day together and he knew her likes and dislikes, respected her and unknown to her, secretly admired her and wished she would be his wife.
Jasho listened to all the whines of Wathera daily. He knew her more than anyone else including her absentee husband did. He also admired her and slowly before he knew it, he started getting ideas. “What if Wathera was mine? Wouldn’t I make her as happy as she wanted? She is a wonderful woman – just what any man could hope for and Jairo just doesn’t seem to understand what a special woman he has. He takes her for granted. He imagines she has no other needs – he thinks providing for their physical needs is all she needs? I can make this woman very happy,” he thought to himself as he watched her go about her duties in the farm.
As young Jasho’s ideas haunted him, he saw a chance to make them real every so often. Soon, he could not hold his feelings back any more. He grabbed at a chance to seduce Wathera when his hand touched her breasts as he bent to give her milking oil for Daisy, her favourite cow. “I'm sorry Mama Tankiso.. I did not mean to do that,” he hurriedly apologized to his boss not knowing that he had just ignited a fire in her that would be difficult to put off. Something clicked in Wathera – what if he let him touch some more of her? “Jasho, that’s okay. You can touch all of it if you want.” Jasho could not believe his ears. “Are you sure its okay?” he asked. “Yes go ahead. That felt good”. The business of milking came to a standstill. It could wait. This was an important moment, this is what she had been missing from Kelepang for the last eight months.
Jasho’s urge to own Wathera took over and Wathera’s urge to have Kelepang caress her and make her feel wanted disappeared with every move Jasho made. Their passion took over and as they made love in the cow shed, what started as a mistake was to grow into a dangerous passionate relationship of two people who spent so much time together doing what they knew best. The fire that was ignited could not be put off. Their lives together became something to look forward to every day. But the illicit affair had to remain a secret. The children must never know and the village must never suspect.