The Great Leveller

 

William and Omondi were residents of Nairobi. They lived a stone’s throw away from each other yet led very different lives.
It was unusually silent that dull and cloudy morning. William’s family had travelled upcountry to visit grandmother. She had been ailing for some time. He had planned to visit but something came up. An attempt to explain to her what was met by a sharp retort that something always does come up. Reluctantly, he woke up and plodded his way to the showers. An eerie foreboding engulfed him. He could tell his chauffeur was in the driveway. Rather than honking at six in the morning, David preferred to whistle church tunes at a very high pitch. William always thought that in another life, David would have been a game warden; his whistle calmed the neighbourhood barking dogs. He tried once to imitate him but the dogs could tell he was an imposter. They barked the more. Quarter to seven and they were whizzing through the city to William’s office. Therein, he nonchalantly flipped through the local dailies. Nothing interested him. That eerie foreboding still gnawed at him. A coffee aroma permeated the lush office. Since his family’s departure, he had formed a habit of taking breakfast at the office. Sarah, the office cook had outdone herself that morning. A croissant and poached eggs were for the offering. He nibbled at the pleasantries and for a while, felt at his usual bubbly self. Later, when lunch beckoned, his secretary reminded him of his appointment at two with Mr. Patel.
William took his lunch at his usual place, cordon bleu. Their service was impeccable-especially when it was Laura waiting on him. She had the beauty and the brains to go with it. She approached his table and for a while, he got the jitters typical of infatuated teenagers.
“Well, we seem anxious today”, she quipped while twirling a strand of her long black hair
“Is it that obvious?”
“No. Just to one familiar with your usual demeanour”
“Oh, so you know me that well?”
“Nope, just enough to keep you a…a satisfied customer”
Satisfied customer-the words rang a long time in his ears. An uneasy smile formed across her lips, the twirling continued, this time, more suggestively. The cue had been given. Every bone within him wanted to take it. A more opportune time he could not find; he had the house all to himself, it was the coldest month of the year and lately, he was not on the best of terms with his wife. The seconds that passed between them seemed like eternity. All he had to do was lead the conversation down that lascivious path. Judging by the look in her eyes, she was sure to follow. It is a thin line between fidelity and infidelity. At that precise moment, William had all the intentions to cross it. However, the image of a portrait of his wife and kids hanging on the office wall held him back. Laura was something but his family was everything. He quickly gave her his order and pretended to attend to an important message on his phone. A few minutes later, he was on his way to Patel’s.
Meanwhile Omondi was out of work again. Construction on the building he was working on down town had been temporarily stopped. Something about the land being the community’s and not Patel’s. The face of hunger that Sheila, his daughter, usually has in the evening prompted him to struggle out of bed earlier that day. It was on such days that the angelic smile from her mother would brighten things up. However, it had been six years since he had to learn to do without it. His sweet angel robbed from him by a senseless mugger! Now Sheila, seven years old, had to grow without the love of a mother but she was a strong one. She could tell when Papa needed a hug. And she gave it ever so tenderly. He skipped breakfast that day. Yesterday’s left over was not enough for father and daughter. As he walked out of their single room in Kibera, he glanced back to watch Sheila sleeping. He whispered a prayer that God may protect her and left her in the able hands of his neighbour. Clutching at his tattered jacket, Omondi joined the throng of masses making their way to the city’s industrial area. Each throbbing heart, hoped that when the sun set, it would have something to take back home. He got a job as a stone mason on one of the construction sites. It wasn’t much but it was far much better than nothing. Time flies fast when occupied and before long, construction was paused to allow the workers grab a bite. They all headed to Mama Mbuta’s except for Omondi, who somehow having gained the foreman’s trust, was sent on a small errand. Mama Mbuta was the cook and waitress. One had to shout his order while stepping inside. The twenty or so men crammed in the food kiosk liked it that way. It was a raucous but jovial lot.  Meals were served hastily and gobbled down in the same manner. Decorum was foreign to the men. Food remains stuck between the teeth was removed using the tongue. The smacking sounds produced thereof were drowned by arguments between Mama Mbuta and a regular customer with a habit of not paying up. No one paid attention to the two. They had their own way of settling such debts outside the food kiosk. It involved throwing a fist or two at each other.
Amidst the scuffle between Mama Mbuta and the rogue customer, loud tyre screeches were heard nearby. The rowdy lot’s attention shifted to a lifeless figure lying beneath the hood of a Mercedes Benz. As they drew closer, they realized it was wearing a dirty blue overall. It was one of their own-Omondi. Inside the car, a handsome man clutched at the steering wheel. His hands trembled. He had just killed a man. The frantic voice of his wife could still be heard on the other end of the phone, once in his hand, now fallen on his lap. The crowd surveyed the man. He reminded them of everything they were not. His head buzzed with stories of hit and run. Having hit, he contemplated running. Sliding his left hand to the gear lever, he engaged the reverse gear. Just as he was about to release the clutch and step on the gas, a large stone came through the windscreen and landed heavily on his chest. An oil smeared hand yanked him out of the car. By this time, the moral strands that had held back the crowd from committing murder had been loosened. Every kick, every blow, every stone, was delivered with the intention to kill. And killed they did. His body now lay next to Omondi’s. The twitching had stopped. The crowd had dispersed. Police sirens blared through the still air. The mountains and valleys of differences between William and Omondi had been levelled by that great and grim leveller.
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