To live and die in the dews of Shakahola

They say in Mumias that the newly dead can hear

In Summary

• Musings from before and beyond the grave envisaged with the power of imagination

Skull in the ground
Skull in the ground

You have walked slowly in a zoo. You have sat down after the walk, too. You have sat on a bench and taken water or a break. You have done so as your thoughts review the landscape of your walk. You have seen each sight as a new memory. You have heard every sound in replay. In your mind, you have done what your feet did. Walked backwards but slowly, each step a memory, a vision, an experience. 

Now. You remember the meshwire locking lions in. It is the one square you recall the most. The one wired around cubs of lions. You remember firming your palm around the tinier one. You and your child, hand in hand, watching cubs.

You remember the joy of your child and a cub eyeing each other. You remember the twitch of your eyelid as you assessed the distance between the lad and the cub. The meshwire gave you a sense of safety. Yet your spine counted beads of sweat as each went up and down bones of your back.

You remember now how the tail switch of the cub was restless. The eyes, locked on your lad, ignoring you altogether. Your lad, unaware of the nature of violence and the meaning of nature. You remember the cub pacing the width of the square, eyes perpetually locked on the little human. You saw the ripple of muscles as it walked helter-skelter in majesty, in tune with the joy of your excited lad. Now it comes back to you. It does.

Here, where you rest on the brown baobab sand under a makuti roof. Here where the sky is a slit of light between the fingers of palm thatches. Here in this wattle and leaves affair. Here, alone, you see it all. You see the ant column struggle a centimetre from your eyeball with prey. You see the dead beetle not so dead. It writhes as it is carried by ant pincers. Soldier ants run back and forth, keeping the column moving and straight. Your eyeball closes for a moment. 

It opens again and a daring ant, with eyes the size of Christ, now stands at the steps of your very eyes. You attempt to lift your fingers. You can't. You are hungry. You are empty. You have no energy. You are here. You are alone. You are in Shakahola. 

A cat is not a rat. It is not a lion, too. Now he thought these thoughts. The incessant meeaouw of a weak cat assailed his ear facing the sky. He adjusted his weight, resting on its length on the sandy earth here. The voice of the feline knocked politely and unstoppable on this right ear. It did so at intervals of 14 minutes or so. Silence sat between the voices as he lay spread, his backbone feeling the weight of his emaciated bowel. The belly button that used to show whenever he tucked T-shirts or shirts, now deflated, was a knot of hunger, too. 

He remembered the proverb. No human can pay the cost of being born. It came to him in vernacular again. The voice that brought it was that of his wise mother. Her dead face had faded over the years. Yet it is the only memory he carried of his orphanage. His life on earth here in Kenya minus parents is another story of other days. In heaven. For now, his time here on earth was about to end.

The last sermon in the coastal town before he came here to the bush was an echo. Each time he eyed the wild cashew bush across the patch where he rested in this eerie bush, he confessed his sin of need to his invisible prophet. Had he not warned of the demons of the bush that taunt one to eat? How can you eat, yet to do so is to block the long road to heaven?

The ant that had stood for half an hour before his weak iris finally backed off and left. He tasted the stale ceiling of his mouth cavity with his cracked tongue. It produced a texture the same as the sand particles pinching his shirtless body. He missed his mother and the whole of Mumias with her. He thought he heard a sugarcane tractor roar only to close his eyes and remember it was the cat without a body.

DCI Homicide and Forensic units exhume bodies of the Shakahola cult victims on April 24
DCI Homicide and Forensic units exhume bodies of the Shakahola cult victims on April 24
Image: FILE

They say in Mumias that the newly dead hear. Okay, they listen. He could still hear the voices clearly on the day his emaciated body was discovered three days after he left it. His soul had first turned into dew, like many other of Shakahola. Then he had noted the rising sun and temperature. He had attached himself on the wing of a dragonfly. He would later drop off onto the buds of the cashew bush.

It is from here that he saw his body being picked. He heard what they said. In unison, dog-eared Bibles in armpits, the threesome, one a female without worldly beauty marks: take him to the grave dug yesterday near that of the mother of twins. 

No pain in the entire of Kenya, none, explains the pain of a soul seeing the body it owned taken away for burial where it can't go. At that point, the sermon of Jeremiah 33:3 returned in the Ukambani accent of the prophet. His voice was clear. Seek the kingdom of beyond and peace will finally find in you a nest. 

Then all went black. All became blank. Like a good word whose meaning has finally evaporated, like a hollow word, perhaps one related to religion, the man from Mumias, whose soul was now an elongated dew drop, atop the bud of a cashew bush, in the middle of a beige thicket in Shakahola, accepted the power of the sun, and within one of its noon rays, dripped in a kaleidoscopic beam, delicate and dry, then became null.


Is it the economy and retrenchment or the ecstasy of religion that stalks life out here in Kenya? 

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