The Grave Next to the Empty Coffin

He lives on an isolated ranch in the outskirts of Mathagiro town. I wonder why this is called a town. At best, it should be called a market. A general shop that bears the name “supermarket” is the main landmark here. I left Nanyuki town and headed for Mathagiro at 10am. The road is smooth and calm, one that invites you to drive fast if you are on the wheel. The driver seems lazy and drives as slow as they come. So I sleep in the backseat of the eleven passenger vehicle. I am not sure how long it has been but I wake up when I suddenly hit my head on the roof of the vehicle. It is a painful wake-up call, one that seems to have been suffered by every one of the passengers as evidenced by the complaints in the vehicle. The driver hit a bump at full speed and woke all of us up. “He is not so lazy after all,” I tell myself. I scramble for my seat-belt and tighten it as though I was waiting for some kind of shock to belt up. Twenty minutes later, I alight in a “town” that looks nothing like it.

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I feel like I could easily get lost here. So I suggest that he comes to pick me from the stage but he is not having any of that. “Take a motorbike and come. I am sending you the pin on WhatsApp,” he says. I quickly check my WhatsApp and realize I am in trouble. My Samsung phone is trying to get a 4G connection that is not available in this area. I switch to 3G and voila! When the pin comes through, I am left with questions. I wonder whether I am in Laikipia County or Meru County or somewhere in the middle. “We are on the border. When elections happen, we choose which county we want to vote in,” the boda boda guy says. Si unajua sisi ni serikali buda. Tunafanya vile inaweza. I wonder whether I should also be part of this government but then I remember I did not vote in the repeat elections to give the president a birthday present. I make a mental note to look up the birthday of the vice president and why he was never given a present on his birthday. Call them relationship issues. About 5 minutes in, we take a dusty road that looks like it is heading to some jungle. The boda boda guy indicated that he knew the place and even told me the name of the man who lives there (for the sake of his own security, I will call him Allan). I trust him.

“How are you Douglas,” Allan says when we arrive. I have been seated on the bike for about twelve minutes and paid four hundred shillings to get to Allan’s home. My face feels dusty and my black shoes are now brown. I use my handkerchief to beat dust off my black t-shirt then look at the man before me. “Welcome to Mathagiro.” I say thank you and follow him as he leads the way into a decent looking house.

We sit and talk about ourselves for a minute. I introduce myself to him. “Thanks for accepting to talk to me. I am sure Kelvin told you enough about me.” He does not seem content with my answer. So I introduce myself well and tell him that I bumped into his story while collecting information about my book, Chasing a Bullet. He knows that already so he listens routinely. I get a copy of the book from my bag and autograph one for him. He asks that we speak from outside because it is too hot in the house. I accept.

“Did you do it?” I ask when we sit in a shade made by a certain plant that he calls a flower but I think it is a tree. It is short and its branches are spread wide with so many leave to leave a beautiful shade. The breeze is just fine. He looks at me and smiles.

“It depends on what you are asking son,” he says.

“Did you fake your own death?” He looks at me, visibly perplexed then nods in disapproval with a wry smile on his face.

On 4th April 2006, Allan woke up well in his home in Limuru. He had been working together with a man named Rashid with whom they imported and sold sugar. In one of those missions, Allan met a woman named Phelistus and decided to get down with her. “It was a good relationship. We agreed that this was leading none of us anywhere and we would just meet for sex. And so we did,” he says. The woman was introduced to him by Rashid. “I should probably tell you that the sugar we were selling was contraband. We were stealing from the state and giving the stolen cake back. The Managing Director of Mumias Sugar organized for a lorry to move from the company marked as export to Uganda. The lorry simply crossed the border and the cargo was marked as export to Kenya. We would repackage it in our small base in Limuru and sell it as Kwanza Sugar. Business was great.”

At this point, I am unsure whether I am collecting information on a business crime or a murder crime. I have not touched my tea and his is over. He pours himself another cup. The tea is good, made with love and milk straight from a cow. As a matter of fact, I can see the cow from a distance, grazing.

Phelistus was not part of the sugar business. She was simply a friend to Rashid or at least she was introduced as such. For Allan, the sex was good and he was willing to pull strings for her to hang onto it. He was engaged to a woman and broke the engagement because he didn’t see the use for it. After about six months together, Allan was happy to let her in on his business without giving out too much detail. Phelistus also let him in on hers. She was exporting jewelry. Allan did not think too much about it. In retrospect, he wonders whether jewelry should be exported into or out of Dubai. Everything was working well until a day Allan describes as his reckoning.

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“I received a call from Phelistus who told me that she had forgotten some cargo at her house. She needed to send them as a parcel to France. I had the keys to her house so I felt no problem with picking the cargo and sending it for her. My instructions were to drop the cargo at the Kenya Airways Cargo Centre.” Allan stops as though waiting for me to speak. I want to avoid the bait but I take it anyway.

“What was the cargo containing?” I ask. Allan looks at me for a moment then says that he was convinced the cargo had jewelry that was for export.

“It was heavy. So I was solidly convinced that it was jewelry. At the cargo centre, the package was put through a scanner and as though it was a movie, calls were made and police officers, no they were military people, arrived and arrested me.” Apparently, the package contained metal components and drugs. Allan says he tried to explain the situation to the police but it did not work. He was due in court on terrorism and drug trafficking charges. Rashid visited him before his day in court and the situation turned worse. Apparently, Phelistus had been dating Rashid the whole time. In his mind, Rashid believed that Allan had slept with his lady knowingly. “I did not have a way of convincing him otherwise. I don’t think anything I said would have changed the situation in his mind. Take that along with the fact that he did not believe my story about the drugs and metal components belonging to the Phelistus that he knew and you find a real mess of a situation for me.” Allan looks so relaxed as he says this. By this moment, the tea in my cup is cold. I pour some more from the flask to warm it up as I listen to him.

“I still don’t understand how this links to the story that my friend gave me. He said you had to fake your death,” I probe. In a period which Allan remembers was the moment he lost his life, he says Rashid agreed to smuggle him out of the police custody, pay off the police, and have him free. However, this meant he would have to disappear. He would never own a bank account, vote, use his ID card, drive, or own anything. Instead, everything he owned would be transferred to his son, who was living with a foster family. “Did the foster family know he was your son?”

“No. But I knew. And before you ask it, even he did not know that he owned so much. I had money and property worth about two or three Billion. So I worked with Rashid and I was “killed”, not literally but just erased from the system. There is a grave at Lang’ata cemetery that bears my name.” He gives me the details of the grave and I make a note to visit it when I finally travel back to Nairobi. So a week after he was smuggled out of police custody, an empty coffin was buried and Allan moved to Kilifi for six months. His business in sugar was over but he retained a shareholder’s role in the name of his son, the next-of-kin. When the dust had settled, he moved back to Nairobi where he met Martha. “She is the most beautiful woman I ever met and was so kind at the time we met,” he says. Though not officially, he married Martha and stayed with her in Lavington.

After being married for about two years, he heard from Rashid for the first time since they had agreed never to speak again after his smuggling from Prison. “I was surprised that he found my contact and more surprised that he decided to reach out. The most surprising part was that he wanted to meet with me. He asked me not to inform anyone about the meeting and that I do not use a taxi I used all the time. I did not understand why but I trusted him so I obeyed. I picked a motorbike from the gate of my house and travelled to Yaya Centre where I picked a taxi and met at him in a shady restaurant in Kangemi. It was empty, just the two of us. We sat at the furthest end, ordered whatever we ordered and got straight to business,” he says.

He stands up and walks into the house. I feel utterly wasted because I cannot see anything linked to my book in this story. I notice that he left his keys on the table and conclude that may be he will be back. When he sits back at the table after about seven minutes of waiting, I ask him whether Rashid was recruiting him back to the sugar business and he says no.

“He was warning me. He was not in the sugar business any more. He ran a private investigations company and at times, he did clean-up for his clients. I must confess I always thought he could be a murderer. Even while working with him, he looked every part like a hit man. And yet the gig on his table was to eliminate someone who looked every part like me. Someone had hired him to kill me. Someone I should have suspected all along but I did not.”

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As I continue listening, a woman brings a dish full of chicken and another with rice. She walks back to the house and comes with a couple of other bowls, which I do not bother to check their contents. I watch her as she walks into the house and back on several trips, bringing bowls and jugs with food and drinks. When she finally welcomes us to the meal, Allan serves and starts eating as if there was no story he was telling. He seems so happy with this story that he is not bothered by it. I make a mental note of where the story has reached and serve food for myself as well.

“Who paid Rashid to kill you?” I ask amidst the chewing and swallowing. He almost chokes on a piece of chicken at the sound of my question.

“My wife,” he says without flinching when he finally settles. Allan has a file with printed messages of the communication between Rashid and Martha. Martha wanted a clean job. She had figured out that Allan did not exist in the first place as his own death had been faked with the help of Rashid to protect him from going to prison for the rest of his life or worse. Everything was set out so well and Rashid was good at his “job”. Allan gives me a few names that Rashid dealt with and I make more notes of assignments I will do in Nairobi.

Prior to hiring Rashid, Martha had found a withdrawal slip in Allan’s pockets while putting his shirts into the laundry machine that blew up his secrets. She discovered that Allan owned a bank account in the name of a man she did not know and that the balance in the bank was ridiculously high. “I concluded that she might have decided to look into my wealth and realized the amount of wealth I controlled. I think she started a mission to find all the documents and take possession before she could execute her mission. By the time I spoke to Rashid, she had everything and what she did not have, she knew where to find it.”

Allan had five days from the day he spoke to Rashid to come up with a plan failure to which he would be eliminated on the sixth day. So he sat in his study for two days, drawing charts and potential escape routes. Rashid always did a clean job so he knew he would not run away from him. His alternative was to turn himself in or report the incident. He could not do that because, well, technically, he was dead. “So I made a plan that I am not proud of but it was a plan anyway,” he says.

I don’t know what is coming because this story has already taken so many layers of my heart. But I want to become a good listener so I pay attention. The woman who brought food comes back to collect the utensils and looks disappointed because we have not done much eating here. She clears the table then starts bringing some other bowls with fruits and some other jugs with other drinks. She brings a bottle of wine with two glasses. When I signal that I do not take wine, she looks even more disappointed. I fix my gaze firmly on Allan and he knows exactly what I am communicating.

“On the night that Rashid was supposed to take me out, I called him and told him to use a gun. I also told him to dispose the bodies well when he was done. He knew the vehicle I would be using. I pitied the taxi driver of the car because he was about to be collateral damage in a case he never knew about. So I called him and asked him to bring me my son. I had paid someone to abduct him and ensure he gets in the car. He sat in my usual seat, back left, hands tied behind him and a manually tied belt restricting him to the seat. That night, Martha had strategically indicated that she would stay out late drinking with friends. It was all part of the plan. I heard gun shots near the gate of my home and knew right away that I had sacrificed my own son.”

For the first time since he started talking to me, Allan looks emotional. He looks like a man in regret yet he doesn’t look like he wants to stop talking about it. That night, he hid in the parking lot and when his wife arrived, she packed in front of the house and ran into the house. She made a call to someone, who told her something that made her to continually thank him or her. When she walked to the bedroom, Allan crept into the house and tiptoed to the bedroom door to find her entering the combination of his fireproof safe. “I coughed and on the turn, she let out a scream. I did not panic because our house was isolated and that scream would not be heard by anyone.”

Allan tells me that the next morning, he woke up and packed his documents and anything he would need to access his vast wealth then moved to Molo for eight months before he bought this property. I figure out that he is done with his story but there are grey patches.

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“Where is Martha now?” I ask, hoping for an answer that would help me to collect more information from her from wherever she is.

“She is lying peacefully besides my grave at Lang’ata,” he says, then sips on his wine with a smile.

“Did you kill her?” He does not answer my question but twists his head in a manner to ask me whether he had any other choice. With the help of Rashid, his son’s foster family was killed and the death of his son was never reported. I distract myself from this story and we speak about a lot of other crimes that Rashid has committed over time and the people he has possibly killed. We speak about Allan’s plans and how he wants to live.

“Why did you accept to speak to me?” I ask.

“Because I want Rashid to know I am still alive.”

I wonder what that means. Perhaps he wants Rashid to find him. Perhaps he wants Rashid to kill him. I don’t know what he wants but I have a feeling this is not the end of his relationship with Rashid. Allan suggests that we take a walk around his ranch and I accept. It is a large piece of property and we walk around for about an hour. When we return, we take more drinks. It is getting late for me and I have to catch a bus back to Nairobi. He makes a call for a motorbike to come and pick me and a young man arrives about twenty-five minutes later. Allan walks me to the motorbike and just before we take off, the woman who served us comes back to collect the utensils. A question springs into my head and I ask him straight away. “What is her name?” I ask.

“Her? She is Phelistus. And before you ask, yes, that Phelistus.”

I nod and wave Allan goodbye. Along the way, I wonder why Allan wants Rashid to know he is alive and he is living with Phelistus who got him arrested on drugs and terrorism counts and was a fiancee to Rashid.

However, I have a trip to Lang’ata cemetery to make so I will think about that later.