Inherited Danger

EXTRACT:


NYABOLA. The Black Pearl. Like her name, this woman has a cranked head. Odongo knows for sure her mother dropped her on the head during her birth. Nyabola (female) and Obola (male) are children born while the mother is standing, hence they are dropped like poop.

A week passes before they get together not for another session wicked debauchery that would end with once more talking into the wee hours. But this time at a more sublime (and comfortable) place—a restaurant. Kisumu’s finest. Mona Lisa. Of course, in the wee hours of the morn there aren’t a lot of patrons and the two warriors choose a booth “out of the way” and ear shot of anyone else, including staff.

Judgement time. “Tell me the truth: what killed Opiyo?”

Nyabola looks at him fiercely, her evil eye fiery. She takes a cigarette from her purse, puts it on her lips, takes out a matchbox, strikes a matchstick and lights it. She pushes out her lower lip stylishly to one side to blow out smoke. In her head, it feels like when she
dove to the bottom of the lake to her demon world; the pressure was great—tremendous even. The confusion and panic (and sickness) had gone beyond their levels to a new level.

She clears her voice. “I think you know. I think the question is why we separated.” Her voice is low, strained and whispery; a sore throat. Her guiltless courage makes him guess. He remembers how many K1 combatants got ill. The disease had killed them by breaking their spirits and making them weak, and then intoxicating them with the death gun or knives with booze and drugs and stupidity and giving up and in and pretending when there was nothing to pretend with anymore. One person passed it on to another; a husband to his wife, a wife to her husband, an adulterous wife to her husband, an adulterous husband to an innocent wife, a man to his girlfriend, a woman to
her boyfriend, a prostitute to her client, a vengeful infected man to a prostitute. It was cyclical.

She takes in Odongo’s gaze boldly. Coldly. Her evil eye narrows. She is usually stoic, but now she is suddenly fighting shame. “I was raped.

And infected. In prison. Your brother couldn’t take it. It was not easy.”

His mind goes ballistic. He tries in vain to make logical arguments about it, doesn’t make sense. Black pearls are a what they are—black.

“If you have it...?”

“You have it too...”

“Sorry about that but why me? Are you going to fuck around to death and take me with you? It’s selfish.”

There are tons of questions he wants to ask; how much time does she have left, how effective are ARVs, shit like that. She watches him with interest. Opening lines, she muses, should always be sublime. If not-the whole piece is a crime. He forgoes those pesky intrusive inquiries and goes into panic—then he gets up, goes out, and comes back, faces her. To bash her head. To drag her out onto the street and kick her naked buttocks in the dirt and shout, “This woman has
infected me!” He unfurls more questions, more hysteria. Why?Why ?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why?Why? Why?Why?Why?Why?

But the woman with a heart of stone does not answer his questions; does not flinch. He seethes. His breath quickens, his tears fall, he’s now speed-talking. His nose runs, he hacks boogie in his throat. He’s sniffling, teeth grinding, practically shooting hot air. The intrusive questions do not take the woman’s breath away.
She is overwhelmed and compelled to listen to his diatribes. She feels some sadness, some emotion. She fights her tears. Her nose clogs up. She presses her nostrils and tilts her head back and makes a snorting sound like she is sucking the snot from her nasal passages into her throat, wipes her eyes. When he runs out of words, she has some few simple questions. Soldier, comrade, are you afraid of death? she almost shouts. Didn’t we all die and rise again in 1969 at Russia when we were shot? Didn’t we declare, No fear for death, when we started K1. Didn’t we have a prescription? From Prof? Haven’t we all nearly perished?

Silence. His eyes flutter. His throat is dry. His heat beats.

The smell of his sweat and cigarette smoke fills the space.

She puffs, sucks her teeth, clears her throat. “Okay. I am HIV positive. And it destroyed my marriage. So? Don’t I not live? Do I look sick? Look, Odongo, this is a family affair. We are family. I got it from your brother. And it nearly broke our marriage. I forgave him. Now, let me assure you that since you broke my chola, you inherited me. I’m your wife, even not a proper one. Even if I’m your inherited danger. I was married once and my bride price was paid... the six cows my parents received from your parents. The marriage was sealed in the family and I am locked up in this family even if it’s my private hell. Go and test. Then start taking medicine. Like we all do.”

“That’s coldhearted and mean?”

“Good. Maybe it is. But—it is what it is.” Slight pause. Then,

“Who said I’m an angel. I’m just a victim and a survivor. Like you. Like I said, we died a long- long time ago, bwana. We have been living on borrowed time ever since. That’s why none—I mean—none of us ever had a good life. Those who married like me never had kids. Yes; buddy. We are the children of Kisumo, cursed and damned to the grave. Our world was turned upside down in 1969. But while we live, we have to do what we have to do. Like you and me now. Together.
Forever. Let’s work now. For our people.”

He’s floored. Speechless. Confusion besieges him. He makes a scowl but he is too confused to fuss. So, it is thusly clarified. He remembers their night of love, her demanding love like a deep sucking hole. Her tears and her grip, wild and unrelenting. He closes his eyes.Suddenly there is fire in him. He struggles with his fury. His face keeps calm. Don’t fight with this woman. Calm does it. See what’s going on. But he is a jumping bean inside. He doesn’t really want to believe
it; Opiyo had not been murdered, he had not been eliminated, he was consumed by the disease of the century.

Odongo sighs and leans in licking his lips. Nyabola had always been what she was: a woman dangerous to love. A killer of men. La femme fatale. A reincarnated Ajwang daughter of Kadem. It comes to him at this point, he shudders. He pulls back. He holds on. He is rooted. Since 1969, life had always been scary for him. People had always frightened him. He kept waiting for danger to come. In this, he’s not too disappointed. Nyabola’s order is a double-edged sword.

Join me or oppose me.

Some choice. In other words her position as the bonafide leader of K1 is uncontestable. The choices are slim, of course. To oppose the government and try to escape. Or continue with K1. And? An emasculated organization that is merely a shadow of its former self.

Nyabola has put in a condition. She is a sick and dying woman? Far from it. She wants to work for the Politician for the remaining years of her life. Their war with the Government was and is a waste of time.

Through the cigarette smoke, Nyabola smiles. It is not a friendly smile. “Let’s go in and change things from the inside. But firstly—”

She looks at him. Her eyes are no longer kind. They flame a like a witch’s. She throws away the butt, takes out her cutex and starts to paint her nails. “Firstly, we are married.” She sniffs. “Emotions don’t count. Sex a brutally demanding sport. I’m not always a finely tuned athlete—not for sex. So do not worry yourself too much.”

Slap. “Ai!.” She looks at him with those mysterious eyes, one rouged and hollow, the other pinched, slanting. She sniffs. “We are married.”

Shut up, Nyabola! Just let me alone.

She winks the evil eye. A tear drops. “We are married.”

It is a decree, more than betrayal. He stands there for a moment not responding. She has taken the breath out of him with the last few facts that hurts like barbs in his skin. He had resisted her for the longest time. He was resistant and knew that it was more than simple politics. Now. The relationship (sexually) between them is wrong and she knows it. But the politician she is working for has promised her a government job which bring her into a new world of political power and that is all there was to it. No conditioning—pure acceptance.

Then the bombshell. “Gonza is out of prison.”

Her stomach tightens, she blinks her eyes and turns from staring at the street. She chews her lips in rage. In her mind she is screaming, “NO! NOOOOO-oooo!”

The better reason why we have to hurry things, bitch. He had two cans of Tusker. He gives her one. They sit. Nyabola speaks as if to herself. “He will be harder to convince, his militant nature allows no room for reasoning. Only you can convince him.”

“You can say that again. He is a big bad predator—and nasty enough. You want to remove yourself from this habitat.”

“My God, I thought he was not due for another year.”

“Presidential pardon on Madaraka Day.”

This is a forced life-altering moment. It is, and it a joyous moment confirmed by the Congolese music that is blaring with the lights all flickering on and off with the other indicators going off-line, too.

Odongo is not afraid of anything. Not even of dying. Like a battle- hardened soldier, he’s always brave. Capable of putting up a good fight. He often doesn’t feel remorse, or have any emotions whatsoever. But for one of the few times in his life, there is something amiss. It’s time to let go. “I don’t want you to...,” he starts.
But he doesn’t finish. He doesn’t care. He is pretending. It is easy to see. Nyabola is not chaffed. She lights a cigarette. Her mind quickens.

“Odongo I’m worried.”

And now what is Odongo to do other than spew out hollow platitudes? How can he distinguish himself from his “wife” when he is set against a bland wall of solidarity that abhors the tragedy of a near distant apocalypse and pledge to help her in every way possible? He is worried too. Of the world outside those windows. It is an awfully scary old messed-up world that is obviously ending soon, in which it is futile to be in alliance with this calculating woman, a danger that he has now inherited. Well, maybe not calculating, as such, maybe confused, really. Maybe a lonely woman who needs love and empowerment.
Maybe a despised piece of vegetable that can actually help finish a plate of ugali on a meal table.

“Tell me what I need to know.”

“Next year is Election year. Hon. Dr. Buk is vying on a Galamoro Party ticket, backed by Kanu. He’s going up for re-election and Kanu needs him to win. But with NDP, he’s facing serious odds. Now, we in K1 need him to bring power to the people, all comrades and freedom fighters. He’s even ready to bring guns. He wants to win the election and retain his seat so bad that he will do anything.”

An arch to one eyebrow. “What about Ondiek Chilo?”

Nyabola nods, taps cigarette ash on the table. “The motherfucker,” she emits from between tight lips.

Ondiek Chilo Omin Alila was a greedy politician who had, in the past years, used K1 to become Kisumu Town member of parliament and later set them up.
Odongo looks at her with his mouth open. “He set us up!”

Nyabola smiles. “He’s did. 1993. We should kill him but we need him. He’s a cokehead in a suit, yes, but which politician isn’t?”

“Remember what Prof used to say about never letting a politician do you a favor lest you become his puppet and machine gun forever.”

“Prof was not a politician but a freedom fighter. He was a Joshua.”

She casually slides her can of Tusker off the table. She opens it. Sucks down a slug. “Raila Odinga tells us every day on the TV and the radio that our town is now a city and a cosmopolitan hub of the lake region. He brings development here and removes Triple-K thieves from Town Hall and gives us our first big break by putting an Indian mayor in the seat. He gets rid of Kanu from our town and gives us our own party. What does that tell you? Times have changed. We have always been the voice of the downtrodden, the comrades in the struggle. Like Raila. Let’s be smart, drop the guns and work with the government. The world has moved. Let’s reform K1. The new K1.”

Odongo looks at her. Suddenly it’s clear like Lake Victoria on a sunny morning. “You can try. But you can be sure Gonza wouldn’t budge. He will launch a charm offensive, so we have to act fast. But first of all, how do we raise money?”

Nyabola drifts her gaze away. Gurgles. Plays with her matuta hair as if annoyed with it. She has an idea. She lights another cigarette, takes a deep puff, smiles inwardly. If you have a brain, you can be somebody in this world. I have no education. But I have a brain. Plus I’m street-smart. I am only thirty-four years. This is Kisumu for me too.

It is a decree: she will wear the tag of freedom fighter and she will represent the unapologetic terror child who used violence in the
formidable streets of Kisumu to make the voice of the voiceless heard. She will accept no guilt; she will play the victim always, document a constant reminder of her six years in prison and the circumstances leading to the destruction of her childbearing womb, become a celebrity in the fight for women’s rights, become a heroin, claim her own freedom. And she will legitimise K1, transform it into a political party, vie for a political seat. As a married woman. Then she will agitate
for the the release fo Kaunda and all the detained K1 fighters.

She raises the can and pours the remains of the beer, mostly her backwash from previous sips, into her mouth. Breathes down a cottony ball of bubbly into her craw. Until the can is empty. She comes into his arms. He holds her tight. They are each other’s suns. He is Lwanda Magere, rock-tough, she is the cunning princess from the enemy land, treacherous, destroying him through his shadows. Like mythical beings engaged in an eternal battle, they are locked
in a struggle between men and gods. They shape their lives through intimate connections, through sex and torture, moving closer to the end. Yet, deep down, they fear being exposed as impostors, concealing their true selves within the recesses of their minds, like timid animals. They doubt whether those consumed by their own deceit would ever take the time to uncover their charade...

Fear? Trepidation? Inherited danger?

All little of all the above plus.

Their hands touch, lock, tighten.

Nyabola grins like a gunman.

Edgy and tough.




 

Stories, 402 pages
Published in August 2023
Published by Oba Kunta Octopus