They looked at the short bespectacled boy muttering to himself. He was dressed in a green pair of official trousers a plain black t-shirt and a grey pair of plastic cogs. He passed the three girls very quickly. They laughed seconds later and he heard them well.
‘Imagine that!’ one girl said. She was medium in both height and girth. Her skin was golden brown in colour like the doughnuts bought at Bakers Inn. Her hair, had just been freshly done for the event, just like her dainty manicured fingernails and pedicured toenails visible from the pink peep-toe heels. She was dressed in pink dress top and blue skinny jeans. She had a pink and silver scarf around her neck that matched with her bracelets and hoops.
The other two were also dressed in skinny jeans. One of them who was the tallest of the three was clad in a white over the shoulder and tiger print espadrilles. The last of the three who was the shortest, looked on after the boy. Unlike her two friends, she was the shy one; the smartest; had her hair shoulder length and wore a pair of frameless specs. She was dressed in a polo neck sweater and blue Roman sandals.
‘They should ban paupers coming to such events. Don’t you agree Milkah?’
Milkah made a non-committal sound and busied herself with searching for a lip balm in her white Chloe handbag. The three waited before passing through the turnstile flashing their VIP tickets for all and sundry to see. They went up the steps on the red carpet and stopped at the door where a bouncer with bulging muscles stood in their way. He was completely dressed in black from his Aviator shades down to his sharp shooters.
‘Tickets?’ he asked holding out his hand. Milkah gave them to him and after scrutiny; he stepped aside and said, ‘Welcome ladies.’
They stepped in and headed straight for the foremost row. The VIP section had red seats just like the carpet covering the floor. It was also just the below the proscenium, unlike the other section that was about four feet away from the stage. There were vending machines at every corner of the section to buy snacks. Tina stood up and went to one of them. She opened her DnG clutch bag and pulled out a brown note which she fed into the machine. She punched in some digits and waited as her purchases fell down to the out-tray. She collected them and her change then headed back to the seats where she distributed the canned sodas, Mars and Kitkats, Skittles and Krackles.
‘Milkah you made us arrive an hour early. What are we supposed to do now?’ Monique grumbled watching as people arrived, ‘I mean it isn’t as if we are scrambling for space. We are VIP, look around its only us and that couple back there who’ve arrived!’
‘Update your Facebook status to-‘
‘I have already done that!’ Monique cut her short and held up her Sony Ericsson Xperia.
‘I was being sarcastic,’ Milkah muttered to herself and pulled out her Zylo.
‘Girl!’ Tina exclaimed pointing at the phone, ‘I thought you agreed to buy a smart phone. What are you still doing with that sorry excuse for a phone?’
Milkah sighed, ‘I love my Zylo and I don’t need a new phone- I just bought this phone last month.’
The other two shook their heads in pity. Milkah rolled her eyes and continued texting. The spotlights in the VIP section went off as coloured strobe lights played around the room. Slowly people started trickling into the VIP though the other section was half-full.
Fifteen minutes before time, the rest saw the celebrated foreign artistes arrive. Monique and Tina joined in the general furore by screaming their lungs out. Milkah turned to face the two Jamaicans with a bored expression on her face.
The performance begun with two local celebrities curtain raising the event. They were followed by UK based Intricel Madness & The Psychopaths a group under the Dax Fix City label. The five drove the crowd wild into frenzy with their smooth flowing lyrics and perfectly synchronised dance styles that were undisputably the best. They reached a climax with their hit singles Lemonade and Around the World. The lights went off for a few seconds and when they came back on the stage was empty.
‘There go our lovable mad teens. Give it up for I.M & The Psychopaths!’ the female MC shouted. After the cheering had stopped, she announced the next musician. The next performances were cheered but not as highly as I.M.
By now, the venue was packed and almost bursting its seam causing people to spill over into the VIP. The three girls found themselves surrounded and hemmed in much to their displeasure. The bouncers tried their best but there was only so much they could do. Milkah felt somebody grope her but she kept quiet and just held on tighter to her handbag.
Tina screamed and those nearest to her heard a slap. Monique was much more fortunate since she was next to one of the bouncers and though the horny cockerels eyed her, none was willing to become a boneless chicken.
Finally, the din reached its highest- and it was heard from kilometres away as the papers would report later- when the Jamaicans took the stage. At once, one and all in accord began to ‘skip to my Lou.’ The crowd was whipped into frenzy when the ‘daggering’ began.
The three girls stuck together and watched as their counterparts jumped onto the stage to be with the superstars.
‘We have to leave,’ Tina voiced their thoughts. Monique quickly agreed but wondered how they would pass unscathed and ‘undaggered’ by the hungry vultures. Even as she thought, she was pushed over but a little trick and she regained her balance.
‘Grab onto your bags tightly and grab each other’s hand,’ Milkah heard a voice next to her ear. A cold, clammy hand grabbed her arm. She could not see who it was for all the lights had been dimmed and only the strobe lights flashed all over. She grabbed Tina and told her to get Monique. The figure led them through the crowd for a short while before she was rudely detached. She felt her bag being pulled away and though she resisted, it was futile. Her bag vanished and a scream from the back told her that Monique’s Gucci bag was taken too.
Milkah pushed her way through the crowd baring the sexual assault bravely. She was grasped one more time by the cold clammy hand which led her undisturbed up till the door, where it vanished though she tried to look for her saviour.
Monique was crying helplessly on Tina’s shoulder. ‘I’ll surely be killed. I’ve lost my Xperia X10, fifteen k, my two ATM cards, dad’s credit card and the damn expensive handbag.’ Tina comforted her and looked at Milkah. Out of foresight, Milkah only had her Zylo, five k and a few cosmetics. She’d tried to talk out her friends from carrying all those valuables but only Tina heeded her advice- she still had her clutch bag though it contained a lot of money.
‘We might as well go, there is no need to stand here,’ Milkah said leading the way to the car park where the car was. She took out the car keys from her jeans pocket and pointed it at the BMW X6 which was disarmed and they got in.
‘We should go and report the loss of the cards now,’ Milkah suggested, ‘As for the Xperia we better call customer care to inform them. That is all we can do.’
‘What if we go and buy a new Xpe-’
‘Monique!’ Milkah shouted, ‘That is about thirty thousand and may I remind you, both of us have lost our bags and in your case your two ATM cards-’
Tina interjected, ‘I still have my cards I can get-’
‘NO!’ Milkah snapped, ‘Arghh! You two are impossible to reason with.’ She got out of the car and banged the door. She went to the gate muttering angrily to herself. When her anger had ebbed away she went back to the parking lot and stopped suddenly. She saw Monique shouting her head off as two bouncers stood on either side of a teenage boy- holding two familiar bags. He was badly bruised though the men held him roughly. Tina saw Milkah, and went to her.
‘I told you they should ban paupers from concerts. Apparently, that’s the thief. Fortunately Monique saw him heading to the gate with the bags.’
Milkah winced as the youth was punched in his stomach by the officers. A blue police van pulled up and he was thrown into it. A constable walked to the girls and asked them to come down to the station to record a statement. They followed the van in their X6 up till the police station. Milkah then checked her bag and confirmed everything was intact. Monique though frowned and said:
‘Yes everything is intact except seven thousand that was in my bag.’
‘We’ll ask him but I doubt you’ll recover them. I think a few nights in cell should teach him a lesson,’ the officer said. The girls nodded and went back to the car- as Monique switched between temperaments like an oscillating pendulum. One moment she was seraphic, praising the return of her bag, the next she was uttering unprintable words about the thief.
‘So Tina and Monique how about we still go and buy a new Xperia,’ Milkah said sarcastically. Tina curled her upper lip, however Monique smiled, and ‘Well if you want to top me up with another fifteen I can go buy another.’
‘I’m being sarc-’ she let that hung then looked back at Monique, ‘I thought you said you lost seven thousand.’
‘Did I? Slip of the tongue I suppose no harm done.’
‘Slip of- No harm done!!! Are you for real!!! You just claimed that you lost the cash and put him in deeper trouble. Monique where is your heart!’ She cried out. Monique sneered and picked up her phone. Milkah faced Tina at the front seat who shrugged, shaking her head. In the end she started the engine and drove out of the police station.
Three months later, as schools were approaching their final days before the August holidays. It was Tuesday morning, the day that the students of St. Xaviers High School, usually went for their house meetings. So all the students wondered why they were told to wait in their halls. If there was any meeting that was never to be taken lightly, were the house meetings. St. Xaviers had a long standing tradition that withstood the test of time and change, started about sixty years back by missionaries- young adventurous and open-minded. The school started off as a primary institution before it was elevated to a high school three years later. The then B.O.G. and P.T.A. decided on a system to make it a known school with a hallmark. To bring out the best of all, the teaching fraternity and students’ body were divided amongst four Orders: Order of The Mountains, Order of The Valleys, Order of The Rivers and Order of The Plains.
Each Order had its own motto, colour and symbol. The Mountains were snow-white with the Alpine Peaks chosen as its symbol. The Rivers were blue and a mighty waterfall symbolised them. Order of The Valley was red-brown in colour and had a steep V as its symbol. The Plains were green but unlike the other three, its symbol was a simple stick man and stick animal.
Internally the students nicknamed the Orders as The Four Elements; Mountains was air as it led up to the sky, Rivers was water, Valley was fire as it pointed and led downwards to the hot molten bowels of the earth and plains was earth. The four Orders tried to outdo each other though competition was high between Mountains and Valleys. The Mountains were a class of hardy students who persevered to attain their goals. Rivers was for those who went with the flow. Valleys, the Order for those who dared get down and dirty to prove a point. Plains were ground zero though they viewed themselves as the mother of the rest.
The four Marshalls nodded and each went to his order to relay the instructions. Minutes later, the whole school assembled in the Hall of Halls. Two students, a boy and girl stood together among their white coat counterpart.
‘Well, what do you think the Principal has to tell us William?’ the girl asked the boy. He shrugged pushing up his spectacles further up his nose; he looked at the shorter girl and said, ‘You do know, don’t you?’
‘I haven’t confirmed it though,’ she agreed taking his hand, ‘But, I suppose it has something to do with that whatchamacallit… yeah that Isle of Lotus Eaters trip for students chosen from the uhm… euphemistically private academies.’
‘Kate!! You mean that useless island that our ever ‘citizen friendly, tax-friendly, loving’ government of ours own? Tha-’
‘Actually Mr. Think-you-know-all,’ she chided, ‘Isle of Lotus Eaters is a private island-’
‘Owned by a politician, who works in the government- so it is the government’s by extension,’ he cut in as the Principal took to the stage, ‘Anyway none of us can qualify for that trip.’ The two kept quiet as the principal started talking. He then introduced to the stage a middle-aged platinum-blonde European lady. Miss Chandler smiled down to the school and in a heavy British accent begun:
‘It is such a pleasure to be here in front of you all. Glad to be back here at St. Xaviers. Yes I too schooled. I was a Neverest’ -cheers arose from the white coats- ‘as Mrs. Kiema very well knows. If I remember well, you have just completed your exams and they will be announced today evening. Today I have come with four prizes to give out regardless of which Order you are in. I suppose you have all heard of the seven star hotel built on the Isle of Lotus Eaters? Well, whomever scores the highest score overall regardless of form will join a small group of students who will head there. The second prize will be for the best boy or girl depending on who will win the first, and it will be a week at the Coast. The third prize will be for the most improved, by the biggest range between last term and this term. The final prize will be for the one who was the most active in extra-curricular activities- depending on the sport or club- that one will join a talent academy for the whole month. Any questions?’
Everybody was abuzz with excitement and even if they’d heard her, no one asked a question. She looked around and stopped at the centre of her former order where a hand was waving at her.
‘You never mentioned what the third prize was?’ the bespectacled boy shouted. She smiled mysteriously and replied, ‘I didn’t. Whoever wins it will find out. ’
The school was abuzz with excitement; the final order points for the term were being tallied up by the four Marshalls
‘Think we will win this term again?’ Kate asked William as they headed to the dining hall with their lunch trays. The two friends sat down at an empty table across each other. William took a spoonful of the rice and beans before speaking:
‘It doesn’t make a difference to me. It will not affect my life.’
Kate looked at him, sensing the bitterness somewhere. She clasped his hands and asked, ‘What happened to you? Ever since we re-opened you’ve been too serious- even for you.’
William pulled his hand away slowly, shaking his head. She sighed knowing only too well he wouldn’t tell her no matter how many times she asked. The two were very close friends- or as far as William would let her she thought ruefully.
‘If you win the Lotus trip will you go?’ she asked munching on her fruit salad.
‘We both know who is more likely to win it between the two of us,’ William replied, ‘I am nothing but a poor man’s child who landed in this institution by mistake. But to answer you I don’t really know.’
She smiled knowing that he would go, no matter how much he pretended not to care. She knew him better than anyone. William was a quiet, introverted teenager who only smiled when a book was in his hands- in short he was a nerd. He always thought before taking any actions and made sure the benefits outweighed the risks. He was always smart and second to only one in academics. As for his social life, she only knew titbits. He came from a slum area and lived with his father whose meagre earnings as a carpenter could barely sustain them both. The only reason he was at St. Xaviers High School was because as he had said, a mistake. He had been called to the school due to a computer mistake that had chosen him instead of another boy with the same names. When it was realised the school after seeing his academic transcripts, decided to award him with a full scholarship.
Kate on the other hand, was an amiable, extroverted girl, who just like William, loved books and the only person who stood in his way of clutching the number one position for the second formers. Once he’d worked so hard that her usual five to seven points range was reduced to a point two five- and that was last year. Had the two been in different Orders they would most probably have been arch-enemies, as is the case with the Order of The Mountains and Order of The Valleys. Her family was well to do and much more than that. She was also the lastborn. As she had been in St. Xaviers Primary, she had automatically qualified to join the high school.
After lunch they headed to the library that was almost empty. The motherly librarian pushed up her round spectacles and smiled at them.
‘By the way Wanjala you still have my book.’
‘If you mean War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy I returned it two days ago.’ He told her.
‘Yes you did, but I meant the special permit I gave you to borrow books the last week of school for each term,’ she reminded him.
He face-palmed himself and smiled, ‘Oh! I’m sorry I had almost forgotten but I will bring it before we close.’
‘You better, I wouldn’t want to fine my regular bookworm,’ she said and waved them through. He nodded as they headed for the Historical section which was the least visited hence the most silent. There was one blue-coat though who smiled at the two before continuing with her reading.
Three hours later the two joined the rest in the Hall of Halls for the tallying up. Everyone kept their fingers crossed as the principal walked to the podium. He coughed then spoke to the microphone as four envelopes were given to him by each of the Marshalls.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,’ he shouted forgetting he was using the mic as he opened the sealed coloured envelopes, ‘This term’s winner is- drum rolls please’ a few chuckles, he waited watching his students holding their breath-‘Order of The Valleys.’ His words were lost in the cheers that erupted from the brown coats. When it had died down minutes later:
‘They are followed by Order of The Plains and a tie between Order of The Mountains and Order of The Rivers. So this term we have no losers. Congratulations to the winning Order. May the vice Marshalls please step on stage and shake hands.’
Four senior students got on the stage and shook each other’s hand, though only the keen noticed that Paula- winced slightly when Njenga squeezed her hand. Paula walked back to her white coats as Njenga was patted on the back by the brown coats. Miss Chandler took the stage:
‘I cannot say that I am not disappointed but congratulations Order of The Valleys. Now which house will be represented at the Isle of Lotus Eaters? I must commend you all for your hard work, you all are talented. After conferring with the four Marshalls I have my list of four names, just remember though you may not all attain the prize, no one is a loser. When I call your name please step onto the stage.’
She kept quiet as she was handed a sealed envelope by the principal, which she opened, ‘First prize goes to someone who scored a straight A of 98 points this term, Kate Safari- Order of The Mountains, second former. Second prize and third prize have both been taken by one person and that leaves us with a small problem. So we move on to fourth prize which goes to athlete and tracks event Linda Ouma of Order of The Rivers, third form.’
The two girls went on stage and waited, ‘Can the following students please come on stage, Penelope Juma and William Wanjala.’
William started as his name was called. He joined the green coat between the aisle to the stage. ‘I remember saying that the opposite sex would clinch the second title. Now William Wanjala Order of The Mountains had an A of 97.5and was the best improved overall from an A of 89.5 to 97.5 and that is that is a whooping eight points. Penelope Juma Order of The Plains was first in her form- that being form four. Now the million dollar question is, which prize will William take?’
William became conscious as the sea of eyes gazed at him. A trip to the Coast or that mysterious third prize, he thought wryly. All that humidity and who will he go with? Already Kate had a prize and his dad could not take time off. Yet again, that third prize, he had no clue as to what it was. He looked at Penelope and told himself that since she was in her last lap, she needed something to relieve her overworked brain cells. He hated making blind guesses.
‘I think Penelope deserves the trip to Coast more than I do. Si I will settle for the unknown third prize,’ he finally decided. He heard the green coats clap wildly and some whistled and smiled at him.
‘Are you certain Mr. Williams?’ Miss Chandler asked him. William nodded and let Penelope move besides Kate and he nestled between her and Linda. The rest applauded as sealed envelopes were handed to the three- William was left out deliberately.
‘Now William, isn’t it a coincidence that it was you who asked what the third prize was? Well now you will know. You have the choice of choosing one of the other three prizes,’ Miss Chandler told him. His eyes widened slightly for a moment as he made his choice. Kate warmed inwardly as their eyes made contact and she knew his choice.
Kate dressed in outdoors clothes- black dungarees, a white and black tee shirt and a brown pair of sandals- got out of the car. She looked around the mall and found what she wanted. She hugged the short figure and pulled at his trolley bag as he followed close behind. Her mother, an enlargement of Kate got out and greeted him as Kate put the bag in the boot of the Mitsubishi Cedia.
After the two had got in the car, Kate’s mother started up the car and said, ‘Finally I meet the famous William. It’s a pleasure to meet you.’
William blushed, ‘Not famous ma’am after all I’m just a-’
‘Poor man’s child,’ mother and daughter finished for him, ‘I can see why you like him Kate.’
‘Mum!’ Kate groaned then turned to face William, ‘Excited? Waiting in apprehension?’
‘Actually I am hoping that the whole thing will be cancelled,’ he muttered to himself, ‘In a way.’ He buckled himself and looked out as they left Argwings Kodhek road joining Valley Road. As they passed Panafric Hotel he asked Kate, ‘Where are we meeting up with the rest?’
‘Miss Chandler said we congregate at Safari Park Hotel. We should all be there by ten a.m.’ Kate replied. William fiddled with his belt buckle as he boarded the Memory Cruise.
[He went home walking slowly along the main road, as matatus whizzed past him. In his bag he kept the envelope that contained his prize. He was wondering whether his father would let him go, as the holidays was the time that he helped his father at the workshop.
He turned left as he left Ngong road to Mugo Kibiru Drive. He then walked along the tarmac road for twenty minutes before branching away to a dusty footpath and entering the first gate to his right. He headed for his home and was surprised to find the wooden door unbolted. After removing his shoes he stepped into the semi-dark house to find his father lying on the bed. Fear gripped his heart as wild thoughts rushed through his brain.
‘Is something wrong?’ he asked calmly, sitting on the sole bed. The wizened old face, creased with worry and age turned to face him. The deep black eyes opened to look at the boy. His mouth formed a cracked smile as frail hands rose up and patted the smooth young hands by his side.
‘Nothing to worry about my sob,’ the voice croaked. William got up and went to the black 200 litre super-drum that was way past the halfway mark and using a jug drew up water which he poured into a plastic cup before handing it to his father. The old man drank the water noisily and smacked his wet lips then let out a deep long sigh.
‘I’m afraid my days draw near, my final act before the curtain falls. I couldn’t do any work today. I tried to wake up in the morning but my old bones refused to cooperate with my mind. As for my heart, well today it behaved itself but I suppose this is the calm before the storm. But how about you, was your day at the school for the rich?’
William looked worryingly at his father, wondering whether it was the right time to tell him the news he had.
‘Don’t hide it from me. I know there is something, I can read the shine in your first pair of eyes, you know.’ William afforded a half smile and removed his white coat which he carefully hung on a nail. He then removed his black uniform and changed into ordinary clothes before he took out the golden envelope and handed it to his father who took a pair of reading glasses and put them on.
‘I wonder what mischief you have been up to,’ his father said but William could see the sparkle in his eyes. He opened the envelope and read through it as William prepared tea.
‘You know there is a Luhyia proverb which goes like this: Esia wima omukhulundu aba yasilia and a second which says: Esia wima omuyele aba yakhasilia. Congratulations my so-’
‘But I will not go. We do not have the money to wast-’
‘Let me worry about that. Remember the second proverb?’
‘You have not denied me anything-’
‘And I am not about to start now either,’ his father said. William kept quiet as the tea rose up in the sufuria. He took out the stove and put it off before coming back into serve the tea.
‘Why don’t you want to go?’ his father asked taking the tin mug with shaky hands.
‘Well for one, you are sick and two we do not have the money. There, two very good reasons for me not to go,’ William pointed out pulling a plastic chairs towards the bed and sitting on it.
‘But your, staying here will it make me recuperate, will it?’ he asked then kept quiet. The two sipped their black tea in silence. It was his father who broke the silence, ‘Just as I thought. Promise me you will go no matter what happens. Because I may not be a Sybil but I foresee a good future for you and that will only happen if you go to this Isle of Lotus Eaters.’
William sighed then solemnly promised at which his father took his hand and patted it, ‘So if I may ask what is a Lotus Eater?’
William smiled warmly and begun, ‘It is from Greek Mythology where a certain land grew some lotuses that made you forget about everything else.’
‘Interesting, tell me more about this Greek Mythology but first,’ he let that hang as he fumbled for something in between his sheets. He pulled out a black bag and placed it besides his cup.
“I have a feeling if I do not tell you this today, I never will. We both know I am in the sunset of my life even as we speak I hear them crying out for my soul and tonight I might sleep the sleep of no waking-’ he trailed and coughed weakly, ‘You will know who you really are-]
‘William, are you okay?’
He was thrown overboard into the Sea of Reality by Kate’s voice. He opened his eyes and nodded mostly to himself. She looked at him once more before telling him that they had arrived at Safari Park Hotel. As Kate got out of the car, her mother turned to face William who was unbuckling his seat belt. She took her Prada bag and stuffed some notes in his hand.
‘You will need that money for your upkeep,’ she told the surprised youth. Then the look on her face was ‘copy-pasted’ on to her face for just, but a moment, however William had already seen it. He reluctantly the money and got out mumbling his thanks. The two then walked up to the signpost giving directions to different areas. A white tent had been erected just outside the reception hall and the two were the first to arrive. A waitress clad in black and white uniform walked to them, welcomed them and invited the two to take a seat anywhere.
‘Name and school?’ she asked flipping papers on a clipboard. Kate rummaged in her handbag and pulled out a golden envelope which she handed to the waiter.
‘Ahh! So you are Kate Safari, the representative of St. Xaviers High School. And you my dear?’
William looked at Kate and handed over his golden envelope to the waitress. She opened and a small frown formed on her face. She then looked up at William before checking at the list. Finally she looked at Kate then said, ‘Pardon me but I was told it was only one per school and Kate you are written down but as for William I don’t see your name on this list.’
Kate said quickly, ‘Is Miss Chandler around?’ when the waitress nodded, she continued, ‘Please could you tell her that the St. Xaviers-’
‘I am not your messenger,’ she snapped, ‘And just for the record I will not wake her up. Young man, I am afraid you will have to leave.’
William stood up all too quickly but Kate grabbed his hand and pulled him down. She herself stood up and faced the waitress, ‘He leaves and I follow suit. We will wait for Miss Chandler to arrive. Now unless you have something to say or do…’
The waitress backed up a little and left the two students. Kate took out her LG phone and busied herself on it. William sighed and watched as a Chrysler Limousine entered the compound. Two boys and a girl got out of it and pulled their bags towards the tent. They gave out there envelopes which were returned to them as they entered the tent.
William couldn’t help noticing the cars that dropped off the students- as he had nothing else to do- from Audis to Volvos to the customised Isuzu Trooper limo. A few were dropped by Mercedes Kompressors. By now the tent was almost filled up and noisy at that too. Kate had been pulled into a discussion with four other youths but William was oblivious to it as he kept to himself.
A BMW X6 rolled into the compound and two girls – one tall and the other short- demurely stepped out. The driver got out and pulled out their luggage as two men bade farewell to them with hugs and kisses. The girls finally got loose and with their luggage approached the tent.
‘Milkah from St. Austin’s and Tina from St. Mary’s,’ William heard the waitress say. They entered the tent and made straight for him where the last empty seats were.
‘Is Monique on her way?’ Tina asked as she sat down next to Milkah. Milkah, who was dressed in a black cocktail dress and sandals, holding a Louis Vuitton bag, nodded and turned to greet her neighbour.
William smiled at her then looked away quickly. Tina straightened her floral dress causing the countless bangles to bang against each other. She took out her Galaxy Pro and tried to call Monique.
‘She is not picking up.’
It was now heading to nine O’clock. A food trolley was pushed to the tent and one by one the names of those present were called to take breakfast. The only person not called was William and Kate had waited for his name, but when it wasn’t called she sat down.
‘Kate Safari,’ the waitress called out again but Kate feigned deafness.
‘Just go and take I am not hungry anyhow,’ William insisted but his stomach rumbled loudly. She shook her head and opened her mouth to speak but never did as the wind suddenly picked up speed and the whirring vanes of a helicopter were heard. Everyone watched as the silver and blue helicopter landed just outside the gate. A medium height girl dressed in a brown trench coat that covered her bubble dress and kitten heels stepped out. She pulled out her two Samsonite trolley bags from the chopper and bowed as she got clear of the vanes’ radius.
‘Miss Monique,’ the waitress acknowledged, ‘Just in time for breakfast. You are the last one.’
‘Talk about Miss Showstopper saving the best for last with her windy dramatic entry,’ Milkah heard William mutter under his breath. Monique took her food and made her way over to the girls where Tina had saved her a seat.
‘Grand entrance huh!’ Milkah told her. Monique showed her set of milk-white teeth noddding.
‘Once again my sarcasm has been lost on you as usual,’ she muttered but William heard her. He looked up to see the waitress pointing out at Kate and him to a bell boy. The bell boy, who was slightly built with a rotund face and dressed in green-grey trench coat beckoned for the two to follow him. They entered the hall and stopped just at the reception, where he vanished through a door.
He reappeared minutes later then led them once again outside, back to the tent and through the covered archway William had spotted to his right that had a notice: HOTEL RESIDENTS ONLY. They were led up to the building and straight to a door. He knocked on the numbered door and waited. The door was opened by Miss Chandler who invited the two in and thanked the bell boy.
‘have you had breakfast?’ she rhetorically asked pointing at her food trolley. Kate helped herself to a pitcher of apple juice and a large slice of cake. William just took a cup of coffee and sipped at it. Miss Chandler watched him closely for a while.
‘You do realise we are in for a long trip, Mister Williams? I strongly advise you to eat to your fill,’ she finally said.
Kate cleared her throat, ‘He would if only someone and I will not mention who, was not so inhospitable towards him. When are we leaving, I think all the students have arrived.’
‘I am waiting for two of my colleagues and the bus. As soon as they arrive we can leave. Ah! Yes! William, you were not on the original list that was emailed. After all, I am the one covering all your costs, not the organisation. But not to worry, I have already informed the other parties, so I trust there will be no other hitches.’ Miss Chandler said as she poured herself a glass of apple juice which she all but drunk in one gulp, ‘Excuse me but I must admit I am addicted to apple juice. It is a pleasure to be with fellow Order of The Mountains. So, tell me which order usually takes the yearly cup?’
‘Well since we begun high school, we have only clinched the title thrice. Two were termly and the other was yearly. It is really hard to guesstimate which Order will win.’ Kate spoke up.
‘Well in my days competition was high between Mountains and Valleys. It went all the way to the Marshalls-’
‘But now the Marshalls are rotated yearly among the four Orders. So it is only the principal who has no Order,’ Williams said taking a chapatti and smokie, ‘If it were my wish and I had the means, I would reshuffle the whole school and then have Mountains and Valleys for academic competitions. Plains would be for sports and Rivers for talents discovery and exploration.’
A knock at the door interrupted them. Miss Chandler got up then excused herself. The two were left in her VIP suite.
‘Do you know that girl who came with the?’ Kate asked him. William stopped looking up at the golden chandelier:
‘wrong usage you mean ‘who came by’ or ‘in’ not ‘with’. To answer you, what makes you think I do?’
‘Sorry for breaking English Grammar laws William Shakespeare. Let me just say I read surprise on your face-’
‘Of course you did,’ he scoffed pushing up his spectacles, ‘After all only the poor man’s child didn’t arrive in a private chopper.’
‘Drop the sarcasm,’ Kate smiled sweetly. William stuck out his tongue and gazed dreamily at the white wall.
[He woke up still clasping the cold hand. He had drained all his tears that night. He kissed the cold forehead then covered the body with the blanket before standing up and stretching, ignoring the complaints of his cold-soaked joints.
It was now time to fulfil his father’s last wishes. He lit the paraffin stove and prepared black tea. As it cooked he pulled down the Samsonite trolley bag that was well hidden in the blue metallic box he had seen occasionally and he had then wondered where the money to buy it had come from. Now though, he did not as he unzipped it. In one of its hidden pockets, he pulled out a brown parcel and whistled in amazement.
The bundles of brown notes mesmerized him throwing him into a trance. His heart pounded loudly as he breathed in a shallow manner. He pulled himself together and counted the notes. By the time he had finished he wiped his sweaty forehead though outside it was still fairly dark and as cold as ice.
The kettle whistled as the tea boiled. He removed the tea and put water for Ugali when his stomach rumbled reminding him he had not eaten supper at all. He fingered one of the brown notes as he debated within himself. He made up his mind, took it, and made sure he had truly locked the door as he went to the kiosk.
The female shopkeeper with the gamine hairstyle was just opening up. When she saw William approaching she smiled. He was her usual customer and ad a good credit history always paying back on time.
‘Morning you are up very early today.’
‘Morning to you, it will be a long day. Give me milk and sugar.’ She took the note, checked the watermark and gave him his items, ‘Do you want to settle the debt now or later?’
‘Take your due, he said. She handed him the remaining money. He thanked her and went back to the house where he then made his maize meal, fried two eggs and sat down to eat his meal. He washed up then returned the Samsonite to its right place after taking five thousand. He pocketed the money and went back to the shop. He rapped on the counter and she popped up her head.
‘Did I overcharge you?’
William shook his head, ‘Dad told me to only talk to you. I need your help to bury him.’ She gasped and clutched at her chest, ‘Passed away at the stroke of midnight. He does- did not want a stretched out affair. Just wanted to be laid to rest at Lang’ata Cemetery.’
‘My dear you should have told me soonest. Let me close up the shop then.’
‘Here he said I give you this to cover any losses you will incur today,’ he said pushing the notes in her hand but she firmly refused, ‘Your father was my friend and I cannot accept the money. In fact I should return the money I took from you. That is the least I can do.’
It was Williams turn to shake his head. He waited for her to close.]
He blinked rapidly fighting to hold back the tears that were threatening to spill. He then realized that Kate was looking at him, but she better than to ask and he was not going to volunteer any information either. He took three sausages and a big slice of chocolate cake.
An hour later, Kate and William were with the rest of the thirty-five students. The sleek red ultra-modern bus gleamed in the eleven O’clock sun. Miss Chandler stood with two other men whispering to each other. William had finally been given an ID just like the rest. Four vehicles were also in the compound. Two of them were clearly police vehicles.
‘For those who do not know me, I am Miss Fiona Chandler. Finally, the big day is here,’ she said walking to the group a big smile on her face, ‘Before we enter the bus, please leave your luggage which will be put in the compartments after being screened for security reasons. However if you have light bags you can remain with them as for the case of the ladies with their handbags.’
A third man dressed in a cream suit joined Chandler’s two colleagues carrying a scanner. One of Chandler’s men took the luggage and helped in scanning. When the entire luggage was screened, the students stood near the bus and after showing their ID they were scanned and allowed to enter the vehicle. Kate with her black hand stitched sling bag stepped through the automatic door closely followed by William.
The interior was carpeted and the bus’ capacity could comfortably accommodate sixty-six people but it only had forty evenly spaced seats. The windows were tinted so it was semi dark but Kate could make out a ninety inch plasma LED screen, a small fridge and a door at the extreme back that she assumed led to the WC. William went to the back and chose the two seat side for him and Kate where they had full exclusive control of the windows.
It was then that he noticed behind each seat was a small LED screen and a set of headphones. He sat at the window and Kate slumped down beside him. They waited for the others to come in and fifteen minutes later after a head count, the bus hit the road. William pulled out a book from his pocket: The Iliad by Homer and picked up from where he had left. Kate was conversing with the teenagers behind her.
‘Look at that!’ Monique exclaimed pointing to her extreme left, ‘Reading a book. Nerds should be banned from leisure trips such as this if all they are going to do is read.’ Tina who was seated in the middle chuckled. Milkah shook her head and watched as the youth looked away quickly and took his headphones.
‘It is a good thing then that you do not make that call,’ Milkah said, ‘Let us enjoy the trip without you rating anything and everything.’
‘What is there to rate?’ Monique wondered, ‘For crying out loud we are travelling by road yet there is air.’
‘Cry me a river,’ Milkah said indignantly and took her headphones. She switched on the screen and logged on into the library where she chose a movie.
‘Mind if I sit here?’
William looked up from his book to the speaker who was a girl dressed in a black cocktail dress. On her head she had a silver tiara that had a few glistening stones in it. Somewhere at the front he could here quite a number of people laughing as one of them delivered a punch line.
‘It is a free world,’ William said curtly flipping the page of his book. He had not even noticed that Kate had left him. But what right had he to complain, he thought, after all he was a poor man’s child. The girl sat down and placed her black silk shawl on her laps.
‘Hi I’m Milkah.’
‘They call me William, pleasure,’ he responded shaking her outstretched hand. Milkah frowned as they made contact and she asked, ‘Have we met before?’
‘What do you think?’
‘I cannot really say,’ she answered, ‘But I think we’ve met, where I don’t know?’
‘Uhm, my hand,’ he reminded. She released his hand that was starting to sweat. He mumbled his apology and picked up the book.
‘The Iliad, very interesting book-’
‘Pshaw! What do you know about it?’
‘The Iliad is about the war between Greece and Troy. It is about King Menelaus who wants Helen of the Argives returned to him after Prince Paris steals her away from Troy.’
‘Every Tom, Dick and Harry who has watched the mov-’
‘High King Agamemnon, Menelaus, Nestor, Teucer, Diomedes, Odysseus, Achilles, Idomeneus, the two Aiantes, Patroclus are some of the Greek leaders. King Priam, Hector, Paris, Sarpedon and others like King Rhesus make up the Trojans and allies. The Olympians too take sides with Queen Here Poseidon and Pallas Athene being the Greek main supporters. Apollo, Ares, Aphrodite, supporting the Trojans. In this book, Zeus is requested by Achilles mother who is the sea nymph Thetis-’
‘Okay that is enough. You know the story.’ William cut her short and she smiled, ‘I never thought ladies read Greek mythology. Kate herself will not even touch the book. So who is your favourite Olympian?’
‘I am a wide reader. I like Poseidon earth girder and shaker. God of the sea too. He isn’t too biased like when he saved Aeneas from I think Achilles. You?’
‘Aegis bearing Athene of The Flashing Eyes. I consider her the fourth most powerful Olympian after the three sons of Cronos and Rhea- Hades, Poseidon and Zeus. After all her mother was a Titan.’
‘Mother a Titan and father and Olympian you are right,’ Milkah said then changing the topic she asked, ‘You are from which school?’
‘St. Xaviers,’ he said looking out uninterestedly, ‘I know you are from St. Austins, I heard the waitress.’
‘I can sense contempt from your tone,’ Milkah pointed out.
‘Excuse him; he is like that most of the time. That is his nature.’ A voice said. Milkah turned and faced Kate who introduced herself.
‘The two of you are both from the same school? I thought it was one student per school.’ She said surprised.
Kate heard William exclaim, ‘Oh please! Not you too.’ She quickly said, ‘Yes but one of us was awarded the trip for a different category.’
‘Do not get me wrong,’ Milkah defended herself, ‘At least you did not buy your way in. Nice to meet you Kate, talk later William.’ She stood up and went to talk to someone else. Kate sat down and handed him a bottle of blackcurrant soda.
‘You are welcome. We are about to reach Nakuru where we will get a chance to stretch and shop. That’s what Miss Chandler has just told me,’ she told him sipping on her Fanta pineapple. You should mingle with the rest.’
‘If someone wants to talk to the poor man’s child, I’m here aren’t I? Nope I am not going to intrude where I am not wanted.’
Kate patted his back and watched as one by one people slowly dozed off. It had a hypnotic effect for she too soon joined them. William wanted to get up and go to the front but he couldn’t as Kate was sleeping on his shoulder. He sighed and instead picked up the headphones. He logged on and searched for classical music in the library. He hummed to Beethoven’s Fur Elise as he continued reading.
Forty minutes later, the bus slowed down and came to a grinding halt. Everyone- except William who was still reading- woke up. Miss Chandler stood up and told the travellers they could either stay in the bus or go out for a thirty minute break. Kate went with a group of girls. William was feeling very hungry; so he took his worn wallet and counted the money in it- two thousand. It was when he checked his pockets that he pulled out the wad of notes that Kate’s mum had given him. He counted a total of ten thousand and put them in his socks before he left the bus. Outside, he bumped into Milkah and Monique who were arguing as Tina tried to mediate.
Monique and Tina walked away leaving Milkah who spotted William. He told her, ‘I’d ask you if everything is okay, but I won’t.’
‘Nothing serious just minor girl quarrels. Where are you headed to?’
‘Looking for a place to eat, I’m starving.’
‘Mind if I join you? And don’t “it’s a free world” me.’
‘Nothing fancy mind you. Just a simple food kiosk. I doubt you will enjoy the food leave alone handle it.’
‘Let me be the judge of that,’ she said. They walked along the road and stopped outside a stone building with a clean restaurant. They entered and took seats next to the wall. A waitress came over instantly and handed them menus.
After poring over it and trying to balance his expenditure with a truly filling meal, William said, ‘I will have a cold sprite, chapatti, chicken and masala chips.’ The waitress nodded and turned to face Milkah, ‘Warm Krest, two chapattis, masala chips and I will have the rice and chicken please.’
Their sodas were brought first. ‘You so far seem different from the rest.’
‘I will take that as a compliment,’ Milkah said, ‘You too’ I must say act different. You keep to yourself.’
William acknowledged that fact silently and looked around the fairly busy hotel. The bar was almost full wondering whether the Mtutho laws had been heard of because he definitely knew it was not yet five pm. To make matters worse he could see three law enforcers in the hotel eating though not at the bar. The three television sets in around the hotel were all playing the lunchtime news from different stations. The waitress delivered their orders and placed the bill in a glass then left.
After a short silent prayer, William begun with his chips before attacking the main course.
‘Wow! Nice stud,’ Milkah complimented looking at his left ear.
‘It is just a clip on,’ he said removing it, ‘I can’t pierce my ears. Who knows I may be the next CJ and he last thing I will need is talk about my choice of jewellery.’
She chuckled and looked it over, ‘Rhinestone or diamante surrounded by ruby and emeralds set in pure silver. This if I am not wrong comes with a second stud and a similar pair of rings and a locket.’
‘How do you know?’
“my uncle was obsessed with these set but he original mind you. The original has real diamonds in place of the rhinestone. Some jewellers put ordinary glass and you can be fooled unless you know your stones well. This is not the original set but it is still valuable- this stud can go for hundred US dollars but the complete set can go as high as two thousand. The real set I can’t tell you though,’ she told him handing back the stud. They finished eating and Milkah took the bill before he could. She took out her Guess wallet and took out a thousand. She was given the change and as they left, she dropped a tip in the glass.
William thanked her once outside. She smiled and said, ‘we still have some time. We could go exploring.’
‘What if we are left behind,’ he shook his head, ‘I don’t own a phone.’
‘I have a phone, Tina or Monique will call me.’
‘Of course, you have your Zyl-,’ he kept quiet.
‘How did you know I have a Zylo?’ she wondered
‘I saw you pull it out back in the bus.’
‘Sure,’ she said but she knew that at no point had she used her phone that day. William headed back to the bus. He relieved the driver who smiled gratefully and went to look for place to eat lunch. He went to his seat and pulled down the bag he had placed on the luggage rack- his bag had been allowed in with him as it was not heavy as the others. He took out the brown paper bag and his eyes glowed with the jewels that sparkled and scintillated inside.
[News spread fast like a wildfire on the American prairies during a hot summer. Everyone in the precinct by ten am had known that the carpenter had kicked the bucket. Fortunately for him, William was not around as he had gone to arrange the shot gun funeral.
Two hours later, a Montezuma and Monalisa hearse collected the body and took it to the allocated burial site at Lang’ata. He had to grease many hands before his father could be buried. With that done he headed home and burned all his father’s clothes and belongings. The toolbox he gave to the shopkeeper along with all the furniture.
; That is what my father bequeath to you was,’ he said in response to her protests.
‘What about you?’
‘I am to start anew life away from here. That was one of his last wishes,’ he answered, ‘You will inform the caretaker I have left the plot, that is if he does not already know.’
‘Where are you going to?’ she asked him.
He shook his head and hugged her before pulling at his goods and chattel. As he walked towards Nakumatt Prestige he wondered where he would go. The touts and callers seeing him all tried to convince him to enter their vehicles but he firmly declined. He made up his mind and crossed Ngong Road, went down Ring Road Kilimani all the way to Lenana Road where he turned to his right.
After ten minutes of walking he came upon a compound that looked deserted as Mother Nature had been allowed a free hand. The grass was long and growing knee-length even growing among the cracks of the tarmac surface. A few trees had decided that their branches were too heavy to hold up. The live fence too was not spared.
In the middle of it all was a red-tiled bungalow that fared slightly better. He knocked on the black metallic door and waited though he strongly suspected no one was around. Two monkeys swung overhead chattering to themselves. He placed the bag out of sight in the dilapidated garage then took a seat on a huge rock. He sat there like Rhodin’s Statue, thinking not moving. The sun beat down on him but still he remained motionless that even the sparrows dared land on his foot .the monkeys too jumped down to the ground but they did not trust the motionless human. They knew better than the birds after all, hadn’t the human Charles Darwin implied that they had a common ancestor?
It was late afternoon that his patience paid off. A young lady strolled into the compound and gave a small scream when she spotted the body lying in the grass. He opened his eyes and jumped to his feet.
‘Will is that you?’ she asked though she kept her distance. He dusted himself and nodded to his cousin. She smiled and unlocked the door. She removed her doll shoes and stepped inside. William pulled his bag in went to the sitting room. He sat on a brown couch and looked around the room.
A fourteen inch telly stood on a small mahogany cabinet. A DVD player was also visible and besides it was a case full of CDs. The floor was covered by a pink plastic carpet, a wooden table three stools and two armchairs. The faded pink curtains were opened, exposing the cracked windows. Two energy saving bulbs hung down from the roof. There was a door visible to his left. He also noted he drops of wax on one of the stools.
‘It has been long Will, like about two years?’ she commented coming back in dressed in a green Safaricom t-shirt and black pants, ‘When did you come?’
‘I think it was around two. I have been quite busy with school and helping Dad.’
She left and came back with a bottle of squash, water and two glasses, ‘I am sorry. I wish I could give you something cold but the electricity has been cut.’
‘You mean disconnected. It’s okay after all I’m but a poor man’s child.’
‘You’ve not changed a bit,’ she chuckled, ‘What brings you this side today? By the way aren’t you supposed to be in school?’
‘I need a place to stay,’ he said simply. A frown crossed her face, ‘Have you been chased away or something? Right now I am running on a very tight financial plan. I use my salary for my college fees, the house rent, transport and food -which is never enough. That is why I have not paid the electricity for the past two months.’
‘I can survive with just one meal a day, after all dad did not always have enough for full-board basis. But if it helps I can find a job and be paying you for my food and shelt-’
‘Wait a minute. First tell me why you want to stay here,’ she interrupted.
William let out a deep breath then brought her up to date. She got up and put her hands around him as he fought back his tears that threatened to overflow. She gave him her shoulder to cry on as his eyes welled with unshed tears. After a while he stopped sobbing but the hiccup that usually follow after stubbornly remained. She pulled out her perfumed handkerchief and wiped his tears.
It was a while before she spoke, ‘Yes that’s uncle Rupert alright. Always curt and straight to the point. I know his family will cause hullabaloo about the funeral- you know all the customs. It was a wise decision and smart of you to follow it.’
‘It was his wishes though with all the palm greasing I had to do I wonder whether the customary funeral would have been so much in expenses.’
‘It would have. I attended one and it stretched for a week and the costs; paying the elders, funeral rites providing food for the mourners, some who just came for the food, costs of transporting the body back- trust me you’d pay an arm and a leg. Now as for you, I will not charge you a cent. You are a family and I owe your uncle a lot so this is the least I can do. Make yourself at home. I have an empty room that I never use.’
‘Thank you Samantha.’
“call me Sam; I don’t like my full name.’
After he’d been shown his room and a mattress procured, he excused himself and disappeared. He later came back at six and did a few chores around the house. They ate supper at seven and he hit the hay as Sam read late into the night using candle-light.
He woke up early the next day and went to a kiosk he’d seen earlier and bought milk and bread. He prepared breakfast then went out and slashed the grass using a slasher he had found. He slashed for two hours as the monkeys watched from the trees. Twice, he disturbed snakes and after that he was very cautious and armed with a stick. When every blade of grass was cut down to size, he raked the grass into one big mound then went back indoors to wash up. He was surprised to find Sam still in the house.
‘Thursday’s my day off. I have classes in the afternoon though,’ she explained, ‘Thanks for the tea, the slashing and I am just wondering how you managed to pay my bill?’
It was then that he noticed the telly was on as he devoured the bread. He zipped his mouth as he swallowed. He then spent the rest of the day renovating the place and doing the equivalent of spring cleaning.
On Friday he went shopping for clothes using the money that his father had allocated for the trip and also from his cousin who chipped in.
‘So how will you get there?’ she asked that night as they watched the prime time news.
‘I am to meet a friend at Yaya Centre in the morning. She will drop me or rather her mother will drop us.]
Kate took her seat and he snapped back into reality, hastily putting away the bag before she saw it.
‘Do not lie to me you have been crying. I see the tear marks on your face and your eyes are puffy and red.’
William removed his specs and wiped his eyes, ‘It’s nothing.’ He put on the headphones to deter further questioning. He decided to watch a movie as the journey was resumed after a head count.
The overhead speakers jumped alive as Miss Chandlers voice issued forth from them:
‘I hope you are all enjoying the trip so far. For those of you who don’t know where the Isle of Lotus Eaters is, it is on Lake Victoria. So from here we head to the lakeside city Kisumu where we will catch the ferry to the island. We should be there by night fall latest.’
‘I’m wondering when the Ugandan government will claim that the island is Kenyan but on Ugandan waters,’ Milkah said. Kate heard her and turned to face her, ‘I am sure they are cooking up something.’
‘Tell me about it,’ she agreed. Tina sighed in her sleep as Monique continued texting while plugged to her earphones.
‘Your friends bore easily.’
‘I know but don’t be too hard on them. After all they have lived in that bubble all their lives. Your friend keeps to himself.’
Kate sighed ruefully, ‘He never feels comfortable around people of a certain social class. Especially since last holidays. I suppose that was when he changed. You seem different from them.’
‘The three of us were in the same kindergarten and elementary school back in the States. Our parents knew each other well since they were working in the same departments. They all got transferred to Kenya.’
‘So you aren’t Kenyans?’
‘We are. My mum is Kenyan while dad is half Kenyan and half American. Tina and Monique are Kenyan because of their fathers who are best buddies. Tina’s mum is Italian and Monique’s is French. Unlike the two I have spent some time in Kenya with my Grandparents from both sides so I am really not that much of a foreigner. What about you? You do not look like a pure blood Kenyan- been reading Harry Potter too much.’
Kate chuckled and said, ‘No offense taken. I am the lastborn so I am kind of spoilt by my five elder siblings and my mum. Dad is British but he moved on to the afterlife. But he made sure that he left us in a good state by writing a will to bequest all his property to us though even he hadn’t it wouldn’t have mattered because his family is supportive.’
‘Sorry about the loss. I have a younger brother. Tina is the second born and Monique is the only child. That explains a lot to you I hope.’
‘William here is the only child but he is so down to earth. Of course there are reasons as to that but I assume had he been in Monique’s shoes he wouldn’t act like the way she does.’
‘Maybe,’ Milkah said, ‘I doubt he’d have put an innocent person behind bars by lying. Anyway it is not for us to judge others. William seems familiar to me but I can’t remember where we met.
Kate shrugged looking back at William who was watching Fast Five. He turned to face her momentarily before resuming his watching.
‘didn’t he have a stud on?’ she wondered. Milkah nodded and took down her treasured Chloe bag. She pulled out two packets of Skittles and gave one to Kate.
It was at seven pm that the bus along with its escort got onto the ferry and thirty minutes later that it docked at the pier-cum-port. The vehicles drove up the ramps and onto the new tarmac road for another half hour before the first building loomed in sight. The gate and the three automatic barriers opened up to grant entry to the motorcade. It was too dark to see anything no matter how hard they tried.