The sun was going down in Kangemi and you could hear the drums in Makau’s compound. There were six men and five women of the cloth, singing, praying and worshipping in their white akorino garb. Some danced, others jumped and a few spoke in tongues. Makau’s wife, Eva, was in the house making supper; they had agreed a long time ago that she would not be part of the congregation. It was a small price to pay. When she had found out what the gathering was a front for, Makau had feared that she would pack her bags and leave. But she had stayed and Makau had loved her more for it.
The crescendo of the drums rose higher. “Mungu tunakuabudu. Wewe ndio mwanzo na mwisho; kama sio wewe tungekuwa wapi?” one of the male congregants was chanting with his masculine arms lifted up to the sky—the sky that was now dimly lit by the stars and the moon. “Eeeeeiih!” a woman screamed like a banshee and started jumping around with one of her legs in the air. “Eeeeeiih!” The drums thumped and she thrust herself onto the dirt. “Roboboshanti shintarababoshi.” She rolled around speaking her gibberish. “Roboboshanti shintarababoshi.”
It was almost midnight when the worship quieted. Eva came out with cups of tea, a thermos and loaves of bread. After the refreshments, the believers dispersed but three of them stayed behind. Two bulky men and a thin woman. Simiyu, Kim and Njeri.
“Simiyu, you continue worshipping like that and the white smoke will go up at the Vatican and you will be our new pope,” Kim japed and the group that was huddled together broke into a laugh. All their chatter was drowned by Njeri who was now walking around the compound hitting her drum while singing her kigoco loudly.
“Did you bring everything we need for the operation?” Makau eyed Kim after the laughter ebbed.
Kim unzipped a small, white bag that he had been dancing with all night and revealed three pistols with the serial numbers cleaned off.
“Right here, boss.”
“Where do we stand with the ambassador? Have you gotten hold of his schedule?” He was looking at Simiyu. He had always been uneasy around him and had made a point to keep him close.
“I managed to tap his secretary’s phone. He is scheduled to leave the country this coming weekend. That’s when we hit the house.”
“One last job, boys. Let’s do it right.” The three big men adjourned their meeting. Njeri, her drum and her kigoco went on for another ten minutes before quieting.
Makau entered his house. Eva warmed some food for him, brought it to the table and stared at him with sad, brown eyes. “This is a small town and people talk,” she said. Makau untied his white turban without a word, revealing a bald head. He had shaved his hair to the bone. He was in an industry that required agility and he did not need his hair weighing him down. He placed the turban beside him. His wife disappeared into the kitchen and came back with warm water and a clean towel for his hands.
She looked at him with those sad, big, brown eyes and Makau remembered when they began dating. The one thing he loved most about her was that she was a throwback. She dressed the way the women of his mother’s era did. Long frocks and a kamisi underneath. He had gasped the first time he saw her naked. Such a beautiful body hidden under so much fabric. She was a throwback even as a wife; meeting him at the door with hot food, washing his hands, making sure the kids were clean and fed before bedtime—and she did it all without complaining or reminding him about changing times.
“Makau, this is a very small town,” she repeated herself with a voice full of concern. Makau pinched a big chunk of ugali with his fat hand and scooped some sukuma and meat from his plate. He chewed and swallowed. His Adam’s apple doing a jig.
“It’s a small town and we provide religious services for it,” he boomed mid-chew.
“How long will they be fooled?” His wife reduced her voice to a whisper. “What about our ki…” She stopped herself. The message was home.
Makau wiped his plate clean. Eva handed him a damp towel and he wiped his hands. He was not annoyed or irritated by his wife’s questions. They had the conversation every week. She was just a concerned woman. He got up and walked through the thin corridor to his kids’ bedroom, opened the door and sat on the plastic Kenpoly chair he sat on every day of the week to read them a bedtime story. It was only on Sundays that he would find them asleep and it ate him inside.
He picked the Ladybird storybook and read it slowly. His eyes turned glassy and he closed the book momentarily before opening it again. When he was done he kissed both his seven-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter on the forehead and headed towards his wife’s bed.
“One last job and I’m done,” he said. He kissed her on the lips then turned on his side and pulled the covers to his head.
Eva did not ask about the details of the job. When she stayed up at night she tried to imagine that her husband did an honorable job. That he was an engineer in an electric company and he was working a night shift. But even then her mind usually wandered and she saw blood and bullet holes. The only solace she had was that she knew her husband was good at what he did. They called him sharpshooter for a reason and perhaps it was why they had survived this long. But she also knew that every dog had its day. ‘One last job.’ She clutched the words like sand in her hands as sleep took her.
“Roboboshanti shintarababoshi!” a woman screamed like a banshee and thrust herself onto the floor. “Shintarababoshi,” a man echoed the gibberish. The drums rose higher. The congregation sang, danced and prayed in their white akorino garb. The hour hand struck midnight. Makau’s wife came out with cups of tea, a thermos and loaves of bread. The believers dispersed and Njeri hit her drum and sang her kigoco loudly.
“We hit the ambassador’s house tonight. He left on Friday for dignitary work,” Simiyu started.
“Did you get the blueprints?”
“The safe is upstairs in his study.”
“The vests and masks?”
“Everything we need is in the car, a kilometer from here.”
Makau turned his gaze to Kim.
“I will cut the power and the entire Runda suburb will go dead. You will have fifteen maybe twenty seconds to break into the house before the backup generator comes on. From within the house, you can disconnect the alarm and the surveillance cameras.”
“And the guards?” Simiyu asked.
“They won’t even know we are there but if they do…” Kim folded his hand into the shape of a gun and pulled the trigger twice, then puckered his lips and blew the tips of his fore and middle finger.
Makau got up and entered his house as Njeri’s drums and kigoco filled the air. He went straight to his kids’ bedroom, sat on his usual Kenpoly chair and read them the Ladybird storybook. Two silver rivers trickled down his cheeks. He wiped them with the back of his hands and closed the book. He went to return it to the shelf then thought otherwise and put it in his pocket. He then kissed his seven-year-old and nine-year-old on the forehead. He did not know it then but it would be a long time before he was able to kiss them again. He got his coat and looked at his wife’s sad, brown eyes. “One last job,” he whispered, then he kissed her on the lips and rushed out of the house.
The trio walked under the moonlight to a Mazda Demio parked by the side of an empty road. Kim got into the drivers’ seat. Simiyu opened the back left door for Makau then got into the passenger seat next to Kim. The engine and the lights came on and the Demio receded into the distance.
The car slowed down next to an electric transformer in Runda Estate. “Simiyu, you’re coming with me. Kim, take care of things and be our lookout.” Makau always reserved the final operation details for the very last minute to avoid betrayal. They tucked their Glocks into their waistbands, rolled out of the car, opened the boot and came out with masks, gloves and two pull-up ladders. Within five minutes they were waiting behind the wall of the ambassador’s house for the signal.
The lights went off and within a split-second, they were over the wall. “Hurry.” Makau gestured to Simiyu after he opened the lock to the back door. Simiyu hesitated. Makau proceeded inside the house, deciding that he would deal with Simiyu’s insolence later. He climbed the stairs quickly and stealthily toward the ambassador’s study where the safe was. Immediately he turned the lock and pushed open the door, the lights came on and a policeman had a gun to his temples. The ambassador was behind him, seated behind his mahogany desk on his plush leather seat.
It was a reflex action more than anything. Before the policeman could decide whether to kill him or allow him to answer for his crimes, Makau reached for his Glock and pulled the trigger. The bullet caught the policeman on his neck. He dropped his gun and held the wound that was spurting blood as he crashed on the floor. The ambassador made to reach for his gun in the drawer. Before he could even open it his brains were splattered all over his mahogany desk.
The alarm went off. Makau ran out the back door and took out the policeman who was there. He jumped over the fence and proceeded towards the Demio. Kim lay lifeless on the steering wheel. Simiyu was nowhere to be seen and Makau knew he had to vanish from the face of the earth.
Six years passed…
Nobody else recognized Makau but his wife did. He had grown a mane of hair where his bald scalp had been. The bulky man had become slender. It was the result of always being on the run. After the news of the ambassador’s and two policemen deaths hit the media, there was nowhere he could hide. Things got worse after a bounty was placed on his head and he was forced to cross the border to Somalia.
He became a fisherman and rented a single-room house. He had thought of starting a new family but every time he tried his wife and kids swam in front of his eyes and he couldn’t. Every night before going to sleep he sat on his bed, opened the Ladybird storybook and read it, imagining his kids next to him. He would kiss the pillowcase twice when he was done.
The first thing he did when he entered his house was walk through the thin corridor towards his kids’ room. He had missed them and the warmth of his family. He had even missed the Sunday evening congregants. Roboboshanti shintarababoshi. He remembered the gibberish and he smiled with his whole face. He held the lock to the bedroom and pushed open the door.
“They are in boarding school.” His wife was behind him, trying to keep him from the inevitable truth that was sleeping in the room.
Things had changed yet they felt the same. Next to the two beds his kids slept in was a baby cot. Inside the cot was a child who could not have been older than three years. The toddler giggled the moment Makau got close. “I’m sorry, Makau. I was lonely… I thought… I thought I would never see you again. I swear, if I knew you would come back I wouldn’t have…”
He reached into his coat pocket and came out with the Ladybird storybook. The Kenpoly chair was still where he had left it. “The kids did not want it removed,” Eva said. Makau sat on the chair and started reading the Ladybird storybook. His eyes turned glassy and tributaries of silver ran down his cheeks. He hadn’t gotten halfway through the story when there was a loud bang on the door. His wife opened her mouth to scream. Before the sound could escape her lungs five military soldiers surrounded them.
“We are here for the sharpshooter,” one of them boomed. Makau did not resist. After six years of looking over his shoulder, he was tired. He closed the Ladybird storybook, put it in his coat pocket then got up with his hands in the air. He kissed the kid in the cradle on the forehead and kissed his wife on the lips as the soldiers cuffed him and took him away.
He sat in his cell waiting for his death sentence but it never came. Instead, a fat policeman appeared. He opened the cell. He had a dark briefcase with him. He handed it to Makau. Makau opened the briefcase. Inside there was a pistol and a piece of paper that had the name of the opposition leader. The fat policeman looked at him. “Nod your head if you understand.”
Makau nodded his head.
The sun had gone down and the police station was lit by fluorescent tubes. They proceeded to the police station’s parking lot and came to a stop next to a dark Toyota Noah without number plates. The fat policeman handed him the keys. “I will expect you back here tomorrow morning with the job done or there will be four bullets with your family’s names on them.”
He came back to new cell quarters. There was a comfortable bed, a small fridge with refreshments, a sofa and a TV. The 9 o’clock news came on the TV: OPPOSITION LEADER GUNNED DOWN BY UNKNOWN GUNMEN. The news anchor with a heavily caked face and long fake eyelashes spoke somberly. Makau sighed and switched off the TV. He had a midday visit with his family.
“Where is the other child?” he asked his wife after hugging his two kids.
“I thought… I didn’t think you would like it.”
“Come with him next time.”
He reached into his pocket and came out with the Ladybird storybook. After he was done reading, he kissed his kids on the forehead and his wife on the lips.
“Makau, I received a lot of cash in my account. It came from an unknown name. What’s happening?” Eva stammered.
The government must have been paying him for the jobs he was doing for them. He decided. “Eva. I can feel my time coming soon. Take care of my kids. Take care of yourself.”
There were minor jobs that didn’t make headlines. A city council man who was making trouble disappeared. A civilian who was set to testify in a rich man’s case drowned in Nairobi River a day before the court case. A government whistleblower fell and broke her neck while ziplining.
Eva sometimes came alone and they were together in the cell quarters as husband and wife. “I can feel my time coming soon. Take care of my kids. Take care of yourself,” Makau always reminded her. When she came with the kids, he read them the Ladybird storybook then kissed them on the forehead and kissed her on the lips.
A year had not lapsed. The fat policeman appeared at his cell again carrying the same dark briefcase. Inside there was a rope tied in the shape of a noose and a note. They proceeded to the parking lot. There was a navy blue Nissan without number plates. The fat policeman handed him the keys. While in the Nissan, Makau stared at the note. He couldn’t shake off the name that was written there.
The following morning, he ate his breakfast as usual even though he thought it tasted funny. There was a lot of hue and noise in the prison. The headlines on the news read: THE PRIME MINISTER COMMITS SUICIDE IN HIS KITUSURU HOME. Makau proceeded to his cell. He had developed a slight headache and nausea. By midday, the headache had turned to a migraine and he had vomited all his breakfast to the point where he was now vomiting blood.
“GUARDS!” he screamed while holding the cell bars. Nobody answered. He hemorrhaged and vomited a spurt of blood one last time before falling lifeless on the bed. His head hit the Ladybird storybook that he had read so fondly to his kids.
“Roboboshanti shintarababoshi!” a woman screamed like a banshee. “Shintarababoshi,” a man echoed the gibberish. The drums rose higher in Makau’s compound. The congregation sang, danced and prayed in their white akorino garb and Eva led them through the worship as the midnight moon burnt in the sky.
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