He remembers the sound of the alarm on the fateful day on November 6 1997. In his weirdest dreams, Mike had never envisioned a day when he would have to hurt someone leave alone having to stab them. From his now permanent home in Shimo la Tewa maximum prison, he narrates his ordeal, one he wishes he never had to live through. One he committed once then committed again although he thinks it is he who needs justice. But against whom?
“I should not be here Douglas,” he starts.
He looks happy to be here. Happy that the walls that make the perimeter of this prison keep him safe from the world so rotten that he cannot truly afford to live in it. His face is that of a man who is resigned to his fate. Twelve years ago, he was sentenced to death. He says he repented all his sins and made peace with the fact that he would meet his maker no sooner than the hangman gained the courage to push the switch to the electric chair. Or tighten the noose around his neck. Or inject him with whatever they inject people to terminate their lives. He slept knowing it could be his last, ate knowing he could lose the sense of it, spoke knowing it could be his last word. He lived every single day as though it was his last.
“How are you Mike,” I say, resorting to start the conversation in a more traditional sense.
I was not about to spoil a day in the life of a man who treasures every moment in his life like some golden ticket.
“I am fine my friend. You look incredible.”
His smile is priceless. He looks like a man who is living in paradise. His posture is one that you will see more often for free people enjoying the heat of the sun along the coast of Ukunda. He is tall, at least six-foot-four. He looks healthy and has developed a lot of muscles. The last time I saw mike, nine years ago, he was slightly skinnier and sadder. This is a new man. So we walk together to a shade under the watchful eye of a warden with a finger on the trigger of what looks like a G3 riffle. I sit down with a man I have come to appreciate so much during my visits to this facility.
“You always say you shouldn’t be here. Why is that the case?” I ask, hoping for a simple rather than an elaborate answer.
He picks on something I cannot see from his left eye as though wiping a tear then raises his head. When he finally speaks, his is a story of both horror, revenge, counter revenge, and death.
“I was born in 1987 in Kutus, Kirinyaga County. As a child, I was playful and liked by the neighbours. I did not eat at neighbours’ houses because my mother categorically forbade that. She died in 1990, a year that turned my life on its head. Six months after her death, a woman came home with a large bag of clothes and was received by my uncles and aunts, and of course, my father. I was told that from that day on, she would be my mother. It did not bother me because I did not foresee any problems with my new mother. What trouble would a son who does his chores, cleans, herds, works hard, listens, accepts to be sent to the shop, fetches water from the river, and wakes up early fear? Besides, my father had a shop about 2 kilometres away from home where he slept most of the days. I did not mind someone else helping me to cope with the loneliness of a seven-roomed house. I was confident. I was an excellent student in primary school. As a Firstborn, I felt the need to work hard so that when my younger siblings grew up, they would have someone to emulate. By 1995, my stepmother had two more children. I was happy that finally, I had some brothers.
In order to help her through the home duties while she was still nursing the troubles and wounds from the birth of her first child, my stepmother brought in her younger sister. She was just under twenty five at the time. Again, I was confident and happy because I knew that I could not possibly fall into any trouble with her. My bedroom was the next room to the cowshed. In my village, cows had a certain room on the periphery of the house where they slept. In a way, I was the watchman to the cows. The door to my room was a wooden structure loosely attached to the wall by two rusty hinges and could only close when held in position by a brick behind it. Its window was an open space covered by Kimbo-branded carton pieces. My new auntie, the sister to my stepmother, was always good to me. She made me feel loved and cared for. Little did I know that a python massages its prey before swallowing them.”
Mike poses and looks up, exposing his eyes to the light and swallowing the tears back in. I do not know what he is about to say but it sounds like a bad one. I want to speak but I don’t. I let the silence swallow him, massage him, and bring him back to me. I let the breath around us circulate, cool, and become air for us to breathe in again. I let the plants around us swallow our exhales and supply us with new inhales. The man before me looks shuttered. The muscles I saw moments ago look to be shrinking by the minute. More than before, I want to speak and tell him it is okay. I want to hold his hand and tell him to be strong. I desist and lean back, holding my breath for a moment before leaning back forward. Just when I want to open my mouth to speak, he continues.
“I was in class three when it first happened. On this day, my stepmother had gone to spend the night with my father at his shop. When I blew my paraffin lamp off, the small clock that doubled up as my alarm read 8:45. I had barely fallen asleep when I saw light from what I thought was a torch approaching the door to my room. I was not scared. Slowly, she pushed the door to my room open and stood at the door, shining light from the battery-powered torch over me. I pretended to be dead asleep because what else would a young child be doing at this hour? From the blur of my eyes, I remember seeing her kneel besides my mediocrity of a mattress and slightly uncovering me. She opened the buttons to my shorts and started playing with my private parts. I wish I did not know what she was doing but I did. I knew exactly what she was doing. Three years before that, I had undergone the initiation ceremony and was told all about my manhood. Regardless, I remained still and pretended to be asleep. That night, she played with my little guy for what felt like an eternity then left my room. Honestly, that felt good.
The next night, she came to my room the same way as she did the night before. This time, she woke me up and asked me to come with her. She led me to her room then asked me whether I remembered last night. “No I don’t,” I lied. She then asked me to sit on the bed and proceeded to unbutton my shorts. She was in a yellow dress, clearly visible in the much better light in her room compared to mine. She removed my shorts and started playing with my little guy again. I remember the date. 15th September 1996. That was the first day I was sexually aroused. I did not even know that was arousal until much later in life. Then she laid with her back on the bed and pulled me into her. I lost my virginity that night. The next morning, I did not know what had happened but I felt it was wrong. Guiltily, I went and reported the issue to my stepmother. I felt relief at having reported her because my memory of the teachings during initiation told me that whatever had happened was terribly wrong.
In the evening, my dad came home, visibly enraged. Like the good child I was, I did not think any of that was my fault. How wrong I was. The man descended on me with kicks, blows, sticks, and everything he could find. By the time I knew why I was enduring this beating, I had this injury,” he says, pointing at a black mark, possibly a cut, on his arm. Then he continues, “He cut me with a knife from a nail cutter. Through his legs, I escaped and sped off into the depth of the night. I slept in the bathroom, which was a few metres from the house. The next morning, with the injuries still sour, a swollen arm, a twisted ankle, and stiff neck, I tiptoed into my father’s shop. Beyond anything, I wanted to be taken to hospital. A herbalist was called to treat me from home. His name was Wa Ithe. He was a very close friend to my father. While treating me, he mentioned that I should not do what I had done again. What I had done again? What had I done?
Curious to know what he knew, I asked only to learn that my new auntie, whom I thought was my safe harbour. My closest friend in the family turned my molester. My confidant turned my devil had made a different story up. When asked about the story I had reported to my stepmother, she said I was lying. She then said that she had heard movement in the cowshed and woke up to check what was happening. According to her, when she arrived, she caught me red-handed raping our cow. That I, Mike, was having sexual intercourse with a cow. Can you imagine? She said she had threatened to report me to my father and I reported her as a way of covering for myself. She alleged that I was the one who had made up a story. I did not bother to tell the herbalist the real story because more than anything, I wanted to heal.”
Mike poses again and sinks his head into his hands, attracting the attention of the warden, who motions as though he wants to walk towards us. I raise my hand to him and signal that all is well. He obliges. After what seems like an eternity, Mike raises his head and wipes his entire face with his hands. There is nothing to wipe but he does it anyway. He flashes a pretentious smile at me then continues.
“I had nowhere to run to. Yet this was only the beginning of weekly and at times daily ordeals I would endure. I endured them in silence because when I showed little resistance, my auntie told me she would do like she had done and I would not be so lucky to escape. I feared my father. Daily, weekly, and daily again, I was raped by a woman who knew spot on what she was doing. For more than a year, I slept in fear of the next time she would walk into my room. On November 5 1997, I slept with a kitchen knife in my room. She did not show up that night. I thought I had escaped only to wake up to a feeling of suffocation. She sat her whole weight on me, my helpless manhood sank deep in her flesh. My mind was torn between the pleasure and anger. I reached out for the knife under my mediocre of a pillow and stabbed her in the chest, pushed her aside and ran. I don’t know what story she told but I was picked up by the chief later in the day and after weeks of silence and refusal to speak to the police or anyone, I ended up at the children section at Kamiti Maximum Prison.
Luckily, I was released in 2006. I lived a quiet life, never speaking to my father or stepmother. I never explained to anyone what happened. I farmed a small area that my father allowed me to farm and lived my life. In December 2006, my auntie from hell visited again. She had recovered from the stab pretty fine. She did not seem to have any issues. Still, I did not speak to her. On December 19, I was ploughing a small garden where I had planted vegetables when I heard someone speaking behind me. I raised my head to find her body mass standing there, arms akimbo goading me. She mocked how I had wasted my years in prison when there was no need for it. “You could just have said no,” she said. That lit flames I had struggled to cage in my heart. Blood rushed from my feet to my brain then to my arms and without a thought, I dug a hoe into her head. I finished the job and it felt good.”
As Mike tells the rest of the story, my mind is blocked. I cannot go past the image of a man digging through the head of another person. I sit and wonder whether Mike had a justification but I cannot convince myself because my father taught me that life should be sacred. Yet I wonder whether society pushed Mike a little too far. Then I wonder why God created it, the thing in Mike’s trousers hat sleeps and wakes and has a brain of its own. For now, he sleeps, saved and repented, in his not-so-cold-anymore cell at Shimo la Tewa. He will never get out. He has lost hope of it. In his reflections, he wonders whether there are other small boys pushed to the wall by sexual predators somewhere he does not know. I wonder, too.