I Did It God’s Way

Perhaps this is my most important birthday yet. At 32 years, I perceive I have truly come of age.

In the recent past, I was involuntarily unemployed. Now, anyone who has experienced unemployment knows very well how utterly frustrating it can be. There is no glory in sleeping in; nothing to wake up to; nowhere to go, nothing to do. I went through the motions of unemployment for quite a while; throwing a pity party here, taking all conceivable measures to avoid the public eye. I became a self-imposed misanthrope. I tried to fight it but more often than not, I was the one licking the dust while the shadow of unemployment gloated over me. Perhaps this was my fault. Several jobs came my way. However, they were all ‘arranged’. An invisible hand had played in my favour and somehow, a job was offered. These I turned away. I was not prepared to work under such arrangements. My conscious would have none of it.  Nonetheless, not every day was as gloomy. It is during my stay in this valley that I truly found myself. I am not certain when but as night slowly gives way to day, so it was I realised am not defined by what I do. Nay, I am not a human doing. I am a human being. Since that realisation, my worldview completely changed.

I took up writing once again, an art I thought I had completely lost. Now two short stories of mine have appeared in The East African, a newspaper with distribution in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda (The Morning of an Important man to be and Madness as a refuge from the world) Furthermore, I have started work on a novel. By God’s good grace, the manuscript should be ready by the end of this year.

I also became acutely aware of the beauty around me. This led me to try my hands on photography. I visited wetlands around my neighbourhood in an effort to take photographs of the birdlife around me. I could be seen in a pair of gumboots wading through long papyrus reeds for a closer shot of one or another beautiful bird. One photo has been considered for publication with the Kenya Birding magazine 2015. Indeed, looking back, I now realise that God was with me during those escapades. I felt His presence. In fact, the call from Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital confirming me for a Nutritionist position came through when I was birding. I recall standing for a while with an absent-minded look on my face after that call. I did not bribe for this job. I did not have a godfather greasing a few hands here and there in my favour. It was all the hand of the good Lord and the resignation of a tired son to His will whatever it may be. Yes, it has taken a long while but it has been worth it. I now work with the most brilliant minds in East and Central Africa when it comes to Children’s healthcare.

This birthday is also very important to me because I am now married. Lucy Wanjiku Kibuthi is her name and she is a pillar in my life. I shudder to think how I would have survived those days when I was at my worst. Depressed, melancholy, sullen…are just but a few words that she never used on me even though there were moments she would have been justified to do so. Some battles are never meant to be fought alone. I am glad that in this slough of despond called earth, I am not alone. God has given me a witty, compassionate friend with whom I can trudge through it and come out victorious at the finishing line.

And now to conclude this matter, I refer to Frank Sinatra. I enjoy listening to the man. One of my favourites is his collaboration with Louis Pavarotti in My Way. At 32 years (by God’s grace many more to come) this song pretty much sums up how I feel today. I have taken the liberty to make a few changes here and there to reflect my walk with God. Here it is in its entirety.

And now, the end is near [hope not];
And so I face the final curtain [of single-hood]
My friend, I’ll say it clear,
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain.

I’ve lived a life that’s full [almost].
I’ve travelled each and every highway [almost];
And more, much more than this,
I did it God’s way.

Regrets, I’ve had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.

I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
And more, much more than this,
I did it God’s way.

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall;
And did it God’s way.

I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried.
I’ve had my fill; my share of losing.
And now, as tears subside,
I find it all so amusing.

To think I did all that;
And may I say – not in a shy way,
“Oh no, oh no not me,
I did it God’s way”.

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows –
And did it God’s way!

Yes, it was God’s way.


The First Encounter

Irunya’s memory never fails him whenever he contemplates the day he first met Rege. He was in class four and rumours had it that there were new admissions in school. The bullies were very much elated. They viewed new admissions as a new supply of pleasantries during break time. Their eyes gleamed with pleasure whenever the subject of new comers was brought up. It was during Miss Waihenya’s class that the newcomers were introduced to the class. Irunya liked Miss Waihenya. Her skin was dotted with black spots. On any other person they would not have been noticeable. However, on the five footed, light skinned Miss Waihenya, one could not miss them. Other women would probably recoil at the thought of black dots all over their face but not Miss Waihenya. She walked with her head held up high. This air of confidence left quite an impression on all who crossed her path. Among those who were quite impressed was Irunya. Nonetheless, Irunya liked her more because she taught literature. It was the only subject that allowed his mind to roam beyond the four walls of the classroom. Nothing excited Irunya more than creating characters every time they were required to write compositions. Furthermore, Miss Waihenya had a way of bringing fictional characters to life. Besides she was kind. She treated the students equally irrespective of their backgrounds. No student got special favours because they were children of the local Chief. Yes, Irunya liked her very much. It only seemed fit that she would introduce the newcomers, add colour to an otherwise dull ceremony.

‘Class. As you are aware we have some newcomers joining us today.  I would like to introduce them. I hope you make them feel welcome’ said Miss Waihenya bringing the class to a pin-drop silence.

The students sat up straight in the chairs. The bullies were almost standing. They surveyed the newcomers as a Cheetah surveys a herd of Impalas; sizing them up, wondering who would make for easy picking. Irunya felt sorry for the newcomers but he was also excited at the thought of making new friends.

There were four newcomers in all; three boys and one girl. One boy towered over the others. He was restless. He fidgeted with his scrawny schoolbag. His sweater sat awry on his shoulders. His eyes shimmered with wonder as he passed them over the heads of the seated students He had a smile stuck on his face that remained unfazed even at the jeering look of the bullies seated at the back of the class. Irunya could not help wonder at this new boy. It wasn’t natural for newcomers to appear bright on their first day. In fact, if he was on the verge of shedding a bucket full of tears, Irunya would have been at ease. This was natural. However, this new boy beamed that everything and nothing. When Miss Waihenya asked the newcomers to state their names, he almost burst with joy. He should be trembling at the thought of speaking in a room with forty strangers, so thought Irunya. Irunya was intrigued by the new boy. It seemed there was something peculiar about him and Irunya had the peculiar feeling they would become very good friends. It was now his turn to introduce himself. While the other newcomers were shy and withdrawn, the new boy was loud and extroverted.

‘The name is Irege but my friends just call me Rege. It sounds easy to the ear’, said the new boy.

‘Well, Rege, we are not animals, are we now? I am sure you have two names. Out with the first.’ retorted Miss Waihenya while blessing the boy with the most genteel of smiles.

‘Why Madam, I believe it is James. I have not used it in the longest time that I thought I had forgotten it completely.’ the new boy rejoined with a slight bow of the head and that infectious smile still stuck on his face.

The class could not help bursting out with laughter. He was a charmer alright. Such fine English he spoke for a boy in class four. And with that single rejoinder he became the darling of the class including the gracious Miss Waihenya. As she showed the newcomers to their seats, all eyes were fixed on Rege. James Rege. He walked with an aura of confidence never before exhibited in the class nor the school at large. The girls giggled in a most silly manner. The boys beheld him with wide eyes. They worshipped him. Miss Waihenya allowed the performance to continue for a while before bringing the class to attention.

‘Right, let us now turn to Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Weep Not Child’

Irunya fondled the novel while still eying Rege who now sat a few desks to his left front. Irunya could not help smiling. He foresaw interesting times ahead with Rege around. And indeed he was right.

Rege and Irunya at Mama Pima

...they simultaneously lifted the glasses to their lips and knocked back the contents in one single gulp Illustration/John Nyagah

…they simultaneously lifted the glasses to their lips and knocked back the contents in one single gulp
Illustration/John Nyagah

It hit me again, that old malady better known as insomnia. Is it not Charles Dickens who once suffered under its heavy hand and described it as thus- ‘a disagreeable state of mind in which a sensation of bodily weariness in vain contends against an inability to sleep’?

It is seven minutes shy of four O’clock on Saturday morning. While most people are recovering sleep lost in pursuit of happiness through Monday to Friday, I am tapping away at my computer, all thanks to a few exceedingly nagging mosquitoes whose inner contents are now a form of miniature abstract paintings on my bedroom wall.

However, I am not mad at those tiny creatures for they have given me an opportunity to consider resurrecting two characters that I created and killed in the Mediterranean Sea. While on paper they died, in my mind they are still very much alive. They crave to roam the literary world again. Hence, I am obliged to raise them up. Whether they will meet death again in the Mediterranean Sea I cannot determine with certainty. Only the hands of time will tell the fate of Rege and Irunya. Here goes…

There in Kiplabai village, atop one of its ubiquitous green undulating hills, stood a mud hut roofed with thatch. Inside it, sat two young men staring at two glasses that held a clear liquid known to the locals as Mayek. Although they did not utter a syllable to each other, they simultaneously lifted the glasses to their lips and knocked back the contents in one single gulp. Thereafter, they wiped their lips with the back of their hands, looked into each other’s eyes and burst out in a long raucous laughter. Momentarily, the choir practise next door ceased. Rege and Irunya continued laughing.

Mama Pima did not know what amused them so much neither did she care. All she was interested in was the money Rege owed her. It had been three days since he last paid her for the many drinks he imbibed. She had made up her mind. Rege will no longer be a drinking resident at her house. She planted her bulky self at the door when she saw him approaching her hut. However, she could not resist his charms. The boy was blest with the gift of the gab. Whenever, he found himself in a fix, all he had to do is tilt his head slightly to the left, bend slightly towards his victim, smile broadly and open his mouth to let out a load of gibberish about how good his victim is and how his world would be utterly dull without his or her presence in it. It worked every time. More often than not, his debtors cancelled the debt. Unless it was maize harvesting season, Rege had no way of paying his debts. He quit high school. He figured his mother’s money would be better spent farming maize. His mother a staunch Christian washed her hands. She had seven other children to worry about. She left Rege in the hands of Jehovah.

While Rege esteemed not the value of education, Irunya held it in the highest regard. His nights were filled with dreams of exotic places. He longed to learn other languages and be known for his travels around the world. He craved the praises of young women in the village and the envy of the young men.Yes, Irunya was ambitious. It was the only reason one could explain his admission to the university in the city, the first in Kiplabai.

Mama Pima always wondered what Irunya was doing keeping company with the likes of Rege. He did not belong in her house. Although she needed money to take care of her siblings and her ailing mother, she did not like taking it from Irunya. He did not belong in her house. Hers was the house of men with calloused hands and wrinkled faces wrought not by the passage of time but disillusionment. Irunya was educated. He need not be here. He should be out there making his mark in the world. However, Mama Pima saw something in his eyes that she has seen in the eyes of every man that passed through her house. There was no mistaking it.

There comes a point in every man’s journey when the eyes no longer glint with wonder; when his heart is no longer restless with ambition. Beyond this point, men give themselves over to fate. They plod through life longing for the angel of death to knock on their doors. Many contemplate the means to hasten his coming but lack the courage to act on them. Hence, they plod on. They laugh when others do but with a hollow streak. They cry when others do but without emotion. Sometimes they have to be reminded it is time to eat, it is time to take a bath, it is time to do this or that, things of which come naturally to the everyday man but not to the utterly hopeless.

Irunya was not yet there but Mama Pima could tell he was walking on a slippery slope.

It is a mystery how the paths of men’s lives cross each other. These pages will not seek to unravel such profound mysteries, they are beyond us. However, the lives of Rege and Irunya are not and on these, we will dwell much upon.

A Tribute to a Queen

It finally sunk in. We denied for a while, but it finally dawned on us that Esther, nay Queen Esther, has given her last bow. She has exited the stage. While usually, the last performance of any great actor is received with much celebration and ululation; on this one, we were stunned. We were still seated perhaps in anticipation that the performance will be resumed shortly. Minutes evolved into hours, hours into days but nothing. Then slowly, as the sun receding at the advancing of dark clouds, the truth settled in. She has crossed over to the other side. Beyond the river, beyond the iron curtain and there is nothing we can do about it.

You see we always know that death will come knocking on our doors. However, we hope that when he does, we will want to open the door. Yes, we hope that when he comes, he will find our backs bent, our hairs grey, our teeth missing, our skins wrinkled and possessing a peculiar ability to hug tight to our brittle bones. Indeed, we hope that death comes knocking when we are done with earth and all its sorrows. So you can imagine the anger when he knocks at the prime of our lives; when our families are still infants; when our careers are on the take-off, when our children are still absolutely dependant on us. Oh, death, you rude interrupter! Momentarily, it seemed we were justified in shaking our fists at God. Yet, as we considered the life of Esther, we found that we had very little reason to do so.

Esther was a flower, a most tender flower. She was the kind that the Gardener paid special attention. Quite often, you would find Him pruning Esther here and there; removing the weeds around her and in their place, depositing nutrients necessary for her flourishing. And  flourish she did, so much so that there was no mistaking that she was the Gardener’s flower and not some random occurrence of beauty in the wild. Whoever saw her became glad of heart. Indeed, to those that dared come closer; her fragrances were tender to the soul. While some admired her and moved on, there is one who decided to spend the rest of his life with her-her husband. We can never for a moment, place ourselves in his shoes, unless we have experienced the pain of losing a partner in life. Perhaps, we can try and borrow from others before him who lost their dear ones. C.S Lewis comes to mind and in his own words, he felt shut out by God.

Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?’ (A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis)

Yes, C.S Lewis felt shut out. Yet, he admitted that ‘the best is perhaps what we understand least’. We do not understand why the Gardener would uproot Esther from amongst us, denying us her beauty, her grace and her lifting fragrance. However, we do know that the Gardener is good and Esther now bathes in the eternal pleasures that come with His goodness. How selfish it would be for us to ask Him to bring her back. The best we can do is hope that when our lives are interrupted by that grim reaper, the Gardener will find us in full bloom as I am positively certain He found Esther.

The Convict’s Return

As I continue enjoying Charles Dickens novel, The Pickwick Papers, I thought it jolly good to whet your appetite with the short stories therein. Here goes the first…

Excuse me, sir, for making the remark on so short an acquaintance; but a gentleman like yourself cannot fail, I should think, to have observed many scenes and incidents worth recording, in the course of your experience as a minister of the Gospel.’

‘I have witnessed some certainly,’ replied the old gentleman, ‘but the incidents and characters have been of a homely and ordinary nature, my sphere of action being so very limited.’

‘You did make some notes, I think, about John Edmunds, did you not?’ inquired Mr. Wardle, who appeared very desirous to draw his friend out, for the edification of his new visitors.

The old gentleman slightly nodded his head in token of assent, and was proceeding to change the subject, when Mr. Pickwick said—

‘I beg your pardon, sir, but pray, if I may venture to inquire, who was John Edmunds?’

‘The very thing I was about to ask,’ said Mr. Snodgrass eagerly.

‘You are fairly in for it,’ said the jolly host. ‘You must satisfy the curiosity of these gentlemen, sooner or later; so you had better take advantage of this favourable opportunity, and do so at once.’

The old gentleman smiled good-humouredly as he drew his chair forward—the remainder of the party drew their chairs closer together, especially Mr. Tupman and the spinster aunt, who were possibly rather hard of hearing; and the old lady’s ear-trumpet having been duly adjusted, and Mr. Miller (who had fallen asleep during the recital of the verses) roused from his slumbers by an admonitory pinch, administered beneath the table by his ex-partner the solemn fat man, the old gentleman, without further preface, commenced the following tale, to which we have taken the liberty of prefixing the title of


‘When I first settled in this village,’ said the old gentleman, ‘which is now just five-and-twenty years ago, the most notorious person among my parishioners was a man of the name of Edmunds, who leased a small farm near this spot. He was a morose, savage-hearted, bad man; idle and dissolute in his habits; cruel and ferocious in his disposition. Beyond the few lazy and reckless vagabonds with whom he sauntered away his time in the fields, or sotted in the ale-house, he had not a single friend or acquaintance; no one cared to speak to the man whom many feared, and every one detested—and Edmunds was shunned by all.

‘This man had a wife and one son, who, when I first came here, was about twelve years old. Of the acuteness of that woman’s sufferings, of the gentle and enduring manner in which she bore them, of the agony of solicitude with which she reared that boy, no one can form an adequate conception. Heaven forgive me the supposition, if it be an uncharitable one, but I do firmly and in my soul believe, that the man systematically tried for many years to break her heart; but she bore it all for her child’s sake, and, however strange it may seem to many, for his father’s too; for brute as he was, and cruelly as he had treated her, she had loved him once; and the recollection of what he had been to her, awakened feelings of forbearance and meekness under suffering in her bosom, to which all God’s creatures, but women, are strangers.

‘They were poor—they could not be otherwise when the man pursued such courses; but the woman’s unceasing and unwearied exertions, early and late, morning, noon, and night, kept them above actual want. These exertions were but ill repaid. People who passed the spot in the evening—sometimes at a late hour of the night—reported that they had heard the moans and sobs of a woman in distress, and the sound of blows; and more than once, when it was past midnight, the boy knocked softly at the door of a neighbour’s house, whither he had been sent, to escape the drunken fury of his unnatural father.

‘During the whole of this time, and when the poor creature often bore about her marks of ill-usage and violence which she could not wholly conceal, she was a constant attendant at our little church. Regularly every Sunday, morning and afternoon, she occupied the same seat with the boy at her side; and though they were both poorly dressed—much more so than many of their neighbours who were in a lower station—they were always neat and clean. Every one had a friendly nod and a kind word for “poor Mrs. Edmunds”; and sometimes, when she stopped to exchange a few words with a neighbour at the conclusion of the service in the little row of elm-trees which leads to the church porch, or lingered behind to gaze with a mother’s pride and fondness upon her healthy boy, as he sported before her with some little companions, her careworn face would lighten up with an expression of heartfelt gratitude; and she would look, if not cheerful and happy, at least tranquil and contented.

‘Five or six years passed away; the boy had become a robust and well-grown youth. The time that had strengthened the child’s slight frame and knit his weak limbs into the strength of manhood had bowed his mother’s form, and enfeebled her steps; but the arm that should have supported her was no longer locked in hers; the face that should have cheered her, no more looked upon her own. She occupied her old seat, but there was a vacant one beside her. The Bible was kept as carefully as ever, the places were found and folded down as they used to be: but there was no one to read it with her; and the tears fell thick and fast upon the book, and blotted the words from her eyes. Neighbours were as kind as they were wont to be of old, but she shunned their greetings with averted head. There was no lingering among the old elm-trees now-no cheering anticipations of happiness yet in store. The desolate woman drew her bonnet closer over her face, and walked hurriedly away.

‘Shall I tell you that the young man, who, looking back to the earliest of his childhood’s days to which memory and consciousness extended, and carrying his recollection down to that moment, could remember nothing which was not in some way connected with a long series of voluntary privations suffered by his mother for his sake, with ill-usage, and insult, and violence, and all endured for him—shall I tell you, that he, with a reckless disregard for her breaking heart, and a sullen, wilful forgetfulness of all she had done and borne for him, had linked himself with depraved and abandoned men, and was madly pursuing a headlong career, which must bring death to him, and shame to her? Alas for human nature! You have anticipated it long since.

‘The measure of the unhappy woman’s misery and misfortune was about to be completed. Numerous offences had been committed in the neighbourhood; the perpetrators remained undiscovered, and their boldness increased. A robbery of a daring and aggravated nature occasioned a vigilance of pursuit, and a strictness of search, they had not calculated on. Young Edmunds was suspected, with three companions. He was apprehended—committed—tried—condemned—to die. ‘The wild and piercing shriek from a woman’s voice, which resounded through the court when the solemn sentence was pronounced, rings in my ears at this moment. That cry struck a terror to the culprit’s heart, which trial, condemnation—the approach of death itself, had failed to awaken. The lips which had been compressed in dogged sullenness throughout, quivered and parted involuntarily; the face turned ashy pale as the cold perspiration broke forth from every pore; the sturdy limbs of the felon trembled, and he staggered in the dock.

‘In the first transports of her mental anguish, the suffering mother threw herself on her knees at my feet, and fervently sought the Almighty Being who had hitherto supported her in all her troubles to release her from a world of woe and misery, and to spare the life of her only child. A burst of grief, and a violent struggle, such as I hope I may never have to witness again, succeeded. I knew that her heart was breaking from that hour; but I never once heard complaint or murmur escape her lips. ‘It was a piteous spectacle to see that woman in the prison-yard from day to day, eagerly and fervently attempting, by affection and entreaty, to soften the hard heart of her obdurate son. It was in vain. He remained moody, obstinate, and unmoved. Not even the unlooked-for commutation of his sentence to transportation for fourteen years, softened for an instant the sullen hardihood of his demeanour.

‘But the spirit of resignation and endurance that had so long upheld her, was unable to contend against bodily weakness and infirmity. She fell sick. She dragged her tottering limbs from the bed to visit her son once more, but her strength failed her, and she sank powerless on the ground.

‘And now the boasted coldness and indifference of the young man were tested indeed; and the retribution that fell heavily upon him nearly drove him mad. A day passed away and his mother was not there; another flew by, and she came not near him; a third evening arrived, and yet he had not seen her—, and in four-and-twenty hours he was to be separated from her, perhaps for ever. Oh! how the long-forgotten thoughts of former days rushed upon his mind, as he almost ran up and down the narrow yard—as if intelligence would arrive the sooner for his hurrying—and how bitterly a sense of his helplessness and desolation rushed upon him, when he heard the truth! His mother, the only parent he had ever known, lay ill—it might be, dying—within one mile of the ground he stood on; were he free and unfettered, a few minutes would place him by her side. He rushed to the gate, and grasping the iron rails with the energy of desperation, shook it till it rang again, and threw himself against the thick wall as if to force a passage through the stone; but the strong building mocked his feeble efforts, and he beat his hands together and wept like a child.

‘I bore the mother’s forgiveness and blessing to her son in prison; and I carried the solemn assurance of repentance, and his fervent supplication for pardon, to her sick-bed. I heard, with pity and compassion, the repentant man devise a thousand little plans for her comfort and support when he returned; but I knew that many months before he could reach his place of destination, his mother would be no longer of this world. ‘He was removed by night. A few weeks afterwards the poor woman’s soul took its flight, I confidently hope, and solemnly believe, to a place of eternal happiness and rest. I performed the burial service over her remains. She lies in our little churchyard. There is no stone at her grave’s head. Her sorrows were known to man; her virtues to God. ‘it had been arranged previously to the convict’s departure, that he should write to his mother as soon as he could obtain permission, and that the letter should be addressed to me. The father had positively refused to see his son from the moment of his apprehension; and it was a matter of indifference to him whether he lived or died. Many years passed over without any intelligence of him; and when more than half his term of transportation had expired, and I had received no letter, I concluded him to be dead, as, indeed, I almost hoped he might be.

‘Edmunds, however, had been sent a considerable distance up the country on his arrival at the settlement; and to this circumstance, perhaps, may be attributed the fact, that though several letters were despatched, none of them ever reached my hands. He remained in the same place during the whole fourteen years. At the expiration of the term, steadily adhering to his old resolution and the pledge he gave his mother, he made his way back to England amidst innumerable difficulties, and returned, on foot, to his native place.

‘On a fine Sunday evening, in the month of August, John Edmunds set foot in the village he had left with shame and disgrace seventeen years before. His nearest way lay through the churchyard. The man’s heart swelled as he crossed the stile. The tall old elms, through whose branches the declining sun cast here and there a rich ray of light upon the shady part, awakened the associations of his earliest days. He pictured himself as he was then, clinging to his mother’s hand, and walking peacefully to church. He remembered how he used to look up into her pale face; and how her eyes would sometimes fill with tears as she gazed upon his features—tears which fell hot upon his forehead as she stooped to kiss him, and made him weep too, although he little knew then what bitter tears hers were. He thought how often he had run merrily down that path with some childish playfellow, looking back, ever and again, to catch his mother’s smile, or hear her gentle voice; and then a veil seemed lifted from his memory, and words of kindness unrequited, and warnings despised, and promises broken, thronged upon his recollection till his heart failed him, and he could bear it no longer. ‘He entered the church. The evening service was concluded and the congregation had dispersed, but it was not yet closed. His steps echoed through the low building with a hollow sound, and he almost feared to be alone, it was so still and quiet. He looked round him. Nothing was changed. The place seemed smaller than it used to be; but there were the old monuments on which he had gazed with childish awe a thousand times; the little pulpit with its faded cushion; the Communion table before which he had so often repeated the Commandments he had reverenced as a child, and forgotten as a man. He approached the old seat; it looked cold and desolate. The cushion had been removed, and the Bible was not there. Perhaps his mother now occupied a poorer seat, or possibly she had grown infirm and could not reach the church alone. He dared not think of what he feared. A cold feeling crept over him, and he trembled violently as he turned away. ‘An old man entered the porch just as he reached it. Edmunds started back, for he knew him well; many a time he had watched him digging graves in the churchyard. What would he say to the returned convict?

‘The old man raised his eyes to the stranger’s face, bade him “good-evening,” and walked slowly on. He had forgotten him.

‘He walked down the hill, and through the village. The weather was warm, and the people were sitting at their doors, or strolling in their little gardens as he passed, enjoying the serenity of the evening, and their rest from labour. Many a look was turned towards him, and many a doubtful glance he cast on either side to see whether any knew and shunned him. There were strange faces in almost every house; in some he recognised the burly form of some old schoolfellow—a boy when he last saw him—surrounded by a troop of merry children; in others he saw, seated in an easy-chair at a cottage door, a feeble and infirm old man, whom he only remembered as a hale and hearty labourer; but they had all forgotten him, and he passed on unknown.

‘The last soft light of the setting sun had fallen on the earth, casting a rich glow on the yellow corn sheaves, and lengthening the shadows of the orchard trees, as he stood before the old house—the home of his infancy—to which his heart had yearned with an intensity of affection not to be described, through long and weary years of captivity and sorrow. The paling was low, though he well remembered the time that it had seemed a high wall to him; and he looked over into the old garden. There were more seeds and gayer flowers than there used to be, but there were the old trees still—the very tree under which he had lain a thousand times when tired of playing in the sun, and felt the soft, mild sleep of happy boyhood steal gently upon him. There were voices within the house. He listened, but they fell strangely upon his ear; he knew them not. They were merry too; and he well knew that his poor old mother could not be cheerful, and he away. The door opened, and a group of little children bounded out, shouting and romping. The father, with a little boy in his arms, appeared at the door, and they crowded round him, clapping their tiny hands, and dragging him out, to join their joyous sports. The convict thought on the many times he had shrunk from his father’s sight in that very place. He remembered how often he had buried his trembling head beneath the bedclothes, and heard the harsh word, and the hard stripe, and his mother’s wailing; and though the man sobbed aloud with agony of mind as he left the spot, his fist was clenched, and his teeth were set, in a fierce and deadly passion.

‘And such was the return to which he had looked through the weary perspective of many years, and for which he had undergone so much suffering! No face of welcome, no look of forgiveness, no house to receive, no hand to help him—and this too in the old village. What was his loneliness in the wild, thick woods, where man was never seen, to this!

‘He felt that in the distant land of his bondage and infamy, he had thought of his native place as it was when he left it; and not as it would be when he returned. The sad reality struck coldly at his heart, and his spirit sank within him. He had not courage to make inquiries, or to present himself to the only person who was likely to receive him with kindness and compassion. He walked slowly on; and shunning the roadside like a guilty man, turned into a meadow he well remembered; and covering his face with his hands, threw himself upon the grass.

‘He had not observed that a man was lying on the bank beside him; his garments rustled as he turned round to steal a look at the new-comer; and Edmunds raised his head.

‘The man had moved into a sitting posture. His body was much bent, and his face was wrinkled and yellow. His dress denoted him an inmate of the workhouse: he had the appearance of being very old, but it looked more the effect of dissipation or disease, than the length of years. He was staring hard at the stranger, and though his eyes were lustreless and heavy at first, they appeared to glow with an unnatural and alarmed expression after they had been fixed upon him for a short time, until they seemed to be starting from their sockets. Edmunds gradually raised himself to his knees, and looked more and more earnestly on the old man’s face. They gazed upon each other in silence.

‘The old man was ghastly pale. He shuddered and tottered to his feet. Edmunds sprang to his. He stepped back a pace or two. Edmunds advanced.

‘”Let me hear you speak,” said the convict, in a thick, broken voice.

‘”Stand off!” cried the old man, with a dreadful oath. The convict drew closer to him.

‘”Stand off!” shrieked the old man. Furious with terror, he raised his stick, and struck Edmunds a heavy blow across the face.

‘”Father—devil!” murmured the convict between his set teeth. He rushed wildly forward, and clenched the old man by the throat—but he was his father; and his arm fell powerless by his side.

‘The old man uttered a loud yell which rang through the lonely fields like the howl of an evil spirit. His face turned black, the gore rushed from his mouth and nose, and dyed the grass a deep, dark red, as he staggered and fell. He had ruptured a blood-vessel, and he was a dead man before his son could raise him. ‘In that corner of the churchyard,’ said the old gentleman, after a silence of a few moments, ‘in that corner of the churchyard of which I have before spoken, there lies buried a man who was in my employment for three years after this event, and who was truly contrite, penitent, and humbled, if ever man was. No one save myself knew in that man’s lifetime who he was, or whence he came—it was John Edmunds, the returned convict.’

Room 13

He was warned a storm was coming. Nonetheless, Rick was bent on reaching the city by midnight. En route, he wished he had heeded them. Dark, shapeless and menacing clouds drifted into each other. Soon raindrops hit Rick’s car with such force that it seemed they might pierce through. Along the snaky road, trees involuntarily waved their arms to the strong wind’s erratic ways. Several yielded and landed on the road, right in front of the car. Rick swerved to the right and then to the left just in time to avoid plunging into the valley below. He brought the car to a sudden stop; driving in such weather was more akin to taunting the angel of death than bravery. Up ahead he descried a sign that wrought him much relief.

Bermuda Hotel

Safe Haven for the weary traveller

Turn left 50 meters ahead

 An all-weather road led him through the hotel’s humongous wrought iron gate. There, on each of the gate’s pillar, sat a lion with its mouth ajar and inside the hotel, at the heart of a luxurious lawn, stood an ancient moss-draped oak tree whereupon an owl perched one of its thick lowly branches.

A man, probably in his late sixties, sat at the reception. Another, considerably older, sat by the fire, lost in the pages of a book. The man at the reception greeted Rick heartily, all the while apologising profusely for the foul weather as if he was somewhat to blame for it.

‘Do you have any rooms left for the night?’Rick politely asked

The man explored the register while muttering, ‘Not room 13. Not room 13’. He then looked up and said in a loud voice as if speaking to another, not Rick.

‘Sir, I am afraid we have only one room left-room 13’

The man by the fire stirred.

‘Well, as long as it has a bed and the windows shut tight, I’ll take it’, Rick retorted.

He made as if to hand over the key but hesitated in mid-air. A quick glance exchanged with the man by the fire, followed by a surreptitious nod removed this hesitation. As Rick mounted the stairs, he felt the eyes of the man by the fire mount with him. The room was at the far end of the hallway. As Rick walked towards it, he still felt those eyes hovering over him.

It was not long before sleep overtook Rick.  Later, he was awakened by a draft that swept into the room. Thinking he must have left the window open, he plodded towards it to do the needful. It was tight shut. He was about to call for an extra blanket when he heard a low whimper. He stopped dead in his tracks. The whimper got louder with each passing second. Momentarily, it was punctuated with sobs and sighs. Rick turned around just as a flash of lighting tore through the dark night. What he saw made the hair at the back of his head stand on its end. There, on the main beam, a teenage girl hung with a noose round her neck.

He tried to scream but no sound proceeded from his mouth. He stepped back hastily towards the door, opened it and fled downstairs. Therein, the old man still sat by the fire, engrossed in his reading. Upon seeing Rick, he looked at his wrist watch to ascertain the time-ten past midnight. It seemed he expected Rick at that precise time. A steaming tea-pot, two cups and some biscuits were laid on the table. A blanket was thrown on the other chair by the fire. The old man eyed Rick for a while before beckoning him to take the seat. Trembling at what he had just seen, Rick mechanically obeyed. The old man threw the blanket over Rick then poured tea into the cups. Rick stared blankly into the fire. He nearly screamed when the old man tapped him and placed the cup of tea in his hands.

‘Lisa’ The old man whispered.

‘Pardon? ’

‘The girl you saw. Her name is Lisa Turner’

Rick returned his gaze to the fire. As he warmed up so did his curiosity typical of investigative journalists.

‘What happened to her?’

The old man looked at him over his reading glasses that sat awry on the bridge of his nose. He languidly removed them in anticipation of what might be the telling of an unwanted narrative.

‘Love son, forbidden love. You see, Lisa fell in love with the wrong kind if you know what I mean.’

‘I am sorry sir. I don’t follow’

‘Nigger! Lisa fell in love with a nigger!’ The word was hissed through clenched teeth.

‘I see.’

‘When his father got wind of the affair, he forbade her to see him again but she wouldn’t listen. So he arranged for the boy to be conscripted into the army. It was during that time when able bodied Africans came in handy in the war effort. Lisa did not speak to her father for weeks on end. The boy died in war. Lisa did not utter a single word to her father after that. One night, a loud commotion could be heard coming from Lisa’s room. The father went to find out what was happening. Horror of horrors!  There dangling from the ceiling was Lisa. She died at exactly midnight. On her bed was a note addressed to the father. It read…

 You took my love from me. Now, I take yours. We’re even.


While Rick was taking in the story, the old man put on his glasses and resumed his reading. The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe was the book and the face of the author with that characteristic moustache filled the front cover.

‘I suspect you would not want to go back to your room. You may sleep on the couch over there. You will be given half your money back at checkout’

‘Thank you’

Rick proceeded to the couch then turned back upon realising he had not introduced himself properly.

‘My apologies Sir, I do not believe I introduced myself. My name is Rick Wallace.’



‘Just John’

Years of experience told Rick there was no more he could get from Old John. Hence he bade him goodnight and had himself some shut-eye.

The next day, Rick woke up to a beautiful morning; the sun was out, sunbirds could be seen darting here and there, sucking nectar and chirping in their characteristic staccato manner. It almost felt like God was compensating him for the previous eerie night. He checked out without any hitches and was soon on his way out of the hotel. As he approached the gate, he noticed a white cross on the far end of the lawn. Across its arm were words he could not make out clearly. Once again, curiosity got the best of him. As he approached the cross he could see the mould of earth upon which it rested and the wreath of flower around its foot. It was a grave. He could now read the words clearly. He shuddered at their import.

Here lies Lisa Turner

Daughter to John and Mary Turner





Yes. I love Christmas.

I love that charity- a supposedly private affair-is reserved for this time of the year, and of course in full glare of the cameras. I love that on this day we somehow recover from our collective amnesia that conveniently allow us to overlook the poor among us for the better part of the year. At the sight of these well choreographed acts of Charity, I cannot help but recall the British and German soldiers, who made a Christmas truce in December, 1914; soldiers from opposing armies who sang Carols together, exchanged gifts and even played soccer in no man’s land only to resume war after Christmas. At the surface, it seems like a good Christmas story but underneath lies a very disturbing truth; that life is so casual a thing that killing can be paused momentarily only to be resumed thereafter. I find very little difference between Christmas-do-gooders and the World War I soldiers aforementioned; of these, it is the former I love the most.

I also love the Christmas songs. Not because they are suited to the occasion. No, I love the songs because of those who sing it. Somehow, it is okay for them to sing songs that would make the devil blush throughout the year and then go ahead to belt out a carol to the Son of God during Christmas. Moreover, there is no other time of the year wherein licentiousness is unbound like Christmas. The things people do during Christmas; even the most atheistic of men find them appalling.

I love that the line between need and want is blurred most during Christmas. We buy, buy and buy some more. The consumer is lured by endless promotions, discounts and other marketing gimmicks aimed at emptying the dear one’s shallow pockets. It could not get more ironical than this-that on the day a Man-God was born in a manger, consumerism is at its peak; that December, the month we celebrate the birth of one who foxes had better comfort, we chose to buy a ticket to the Vanity Fair. Ah, I love Christmas.

I love that all the above block out the One whose birth Christians are supposed to be celebrating. Jesus is so much on the periphery of celebrations that we have to be constantly reminded through tired clichés such us ‘remember the reason for the season’ or ‘Let Jesus be born in your heart’. I am yet to find one person who gave his or her life to the Lord on Christmas day. Most meet the Lord on odd days, say 10th July (like yours truly). I love that the truth is exchanged for political correctness. Pray, tell me why should we great ‘Happy Holidays’ or ’Season’s’ Greetings’ instead of the traditional ‘Merry Christmas’. Perhaps every time we celebrate Christmas, God shakes his head saying, “They are at it again.’’

I love the gluttony and indigestion during Christmas. Eat and be merry for tomorrow, you never know where you might me. As the Kenyans put it, Christmas is a time to ‘rudishia mwili shukrani’ (Loosely translated-Give thanks to the body for the hard work during the year).

Yes, I love Christmas.