The field is dusty, the effect of several weeks without rain, and the players running up and down are choking on the rising dust. A man in a cap stands away from the sweating group of adolescents, watching, and every few minutes, whistling and shouting instructions. He checks his watch, looks at the disappearing sun and calls the group together, and after they huddle up, he gives a set of instructions.

The boys disperse, and as they start walking home, one young man stays behind. He approaches the man in a cap timidly,”Yes Kamaa, whats wrong this time?”, “Coach, i don’t think my mum can afford the trip, but I would really like to go”, the man in a cap, his coach, tells him not to worry, and to make sure he is ready for the trip. The young man breathes an audible sigh of relief, smiles and walks away with a spring in his step.

The Coach walks to his car, it’s an ageing Mazda, a car that is still on the road because of traffic cops that deem it roadworthy for a small fee, he opens the door and steps inside. As he waits for the engine to fire up, he receives a call which turns his face from one of indifference to one of a frown. It’s his wife, the landlord has just issued another warning about the rent that was due last month. The car moves out of the dusty pitch noisily, drowning out the curses directed at his thankless job.

The man drives into a petrol station, the fuel gage is flashing red, an indication that the fuel tank is empty, he restrains himself from hitting the indicator, as he feels it is mocking him with its incessant blinking. An attendant approaches, greets him in Swahili, the man grunts in approval, he hands the attendant a two hundred shilling note, and he disappears behind the car, and the only sounds audible are the diesel pouring into the near empty tank, the engine recieves it like a greedy, hungry man, eating his dinner after a three day fast. The attendant re-appears with a receipt, but the man in a cap is already leaving, thick black smoke the only proof that he was ever there.

The old Mazda approaches the gate, the man flashes his headlights to signal the gate’s opening. He eases the car into the washing bay, which is no easy task as he has to avoid the basins and clothes left out to dry. The landlord did not think any of his tenants would afford a car, so no parking lot was built, and leaving the car outside, no matter how cheap and ancient it is, is an invite to the vandals that roam the neighborhood. He greets the ‘askari’, and declines a helping hand with the balls and the luggage he is carrying, as that would mean a tip to the ‘askari’, and money is something he cannot afford to be dishing out at the moment.

His wife opens the door, she walks slowly as her ankles are swollen, the effects of a seven month pregnancy. He brings in the balls and the bags that contain his training kit and shoes, he sniffs the bag, contorts his face and leaves it out on the doorway. He heads into the kitchen and the sight of the dirty utensils and empty frying pans almost has him shouting obscenities at Halima, his wife. He reminds himself that the doctor warned him against it, he stops himself and clenches his jaw. He soaks one ‘sufuria’ and starts peeling an onion. He is bruising potatoes when the phone rings, he looks at his dirty hands and shouts at Halima to pick it up from the verandah. She shouts back, feebly this time, that she is in bed, and unwell. “I’ll call back when I’m done cooking”, tells himself as he breaks the spaghetti sticks into edible portions.

Twenty minutes later, the food is ready, he bends down to wipe a stain on the floor, he shakes his head and gets a mop and a bucket of water. It is not until an hour later that the house is clean, and the dishes are dried. He reheats the food, and unable to wake up Halima from her nap, he decides that yet again, he’ll have to eat his dinner alone. He switches on the t.v just as the nine o’clock news highlights are being announced, the Health minister and his assistant are being accused of inflating the cost of drugs for self-profit. He thinks of Halima’s pregnancy, and how expensive it already is, the baby will surely cripple him financially. He sighs and goes out into the verandah to pick up his bag, as he is about to close his door, his ears are drawn to a commotion at the gate, which is open, and Meto’o, the ‘askari’, is missing from his booth.

He fishes the phone out of the bag, and throws it inside the house. He can hear Halima talking in her sleep, he closes the door slowly and descends down the stairs, the noises are getting louder now, with screams from an obviously terrified woman. He leaves the gate to a spectacle outside, a small crowd is beating a young man, and he is for whatever reason, not screaming and begging for mercy as expected, the only reaction being an occasional whimper. A woman stands in a corner, clutching at her handbag, which was obviously the target of the short-lived robbery, going by the torn strap and dusty appearance, she is explaining the robbery to Meto’o and a few other people. The man shakes his head and starts walking away.

The young thief, in a final act of desperation, attempts to take off, but a few blows to the head mean that he cannot keep his sense of direction. He runs into the gate, and the angry crowd advances menacingly, circling him, his eyes dart around for an escape route, any escape route, but he knows that he cannot escape. Meto’o raises a club to strike the cornered vandal.

“Coach, save me!!”

The man in a cap holds Meto’o’s hand in mid-air, the club threatening to come down on the young man if the man weakens his grip on Meto’o’s hand. He looks at the young man, he cannot believe what he sees. ‘’Kamaa!!’’ he shouts, more in shock than in acclamation. He motions to Meto’o to put the club down. He lifts up the young man in a sweeping move, he looks at him disbelievingly, “unafanya nini apa, nilidhania ulienda mtaani?” he asks, “Coach, si kutaka kwangu, matha amefungiwa nyumba na sikua na form ingine ya kupata kakitu, nielewe” he implores. The man in a cap motions to the crowd to disperse, they do so grumblingly, some accuse him of harboring a criminal, he apologizes to the woman who was a victim of Kamaa’s ingenious plan to pay his mum’s rent, and to avoid the stares of the crowd, he and Kamaa walk into the compound, Kamaa hobbling more than walking.

The man takes off his cap to reveal a scar on his parietal bone, “you see this? I was a young man like you, with every reason you had, to do what you did, and I am lucky those guys thought I was dead when they were done with me”, he says, his voice shaking with rage. The young man stands with his head bowed as his coach tears into him, a door opens, a curious neighbour peeps out, the man waves at his neighbour, lowers his voice and asks the young man to follow him upstairs. He hands the young man a basin of water, a piece of cloth and some dinfectant. He reheats the now-cold food as the young man winces from washing his cuts and bruises. The young man stands at the door unsure of what to do, the man in a cap looks at him, shakes his head, and asks him to come in. Over a plate of steaming spaghetti, the two men talk into the night, and when the young man will leave house in the morning, the man in a cap doesn’t act like it, but he saved the young mans life.

Categories: Fiction

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