By Kemboi Victor, Eldoret, Kenya
When Benjamin Mugeni woke up, he was perturbed. For so many hours he had been sleeping and he could not reckon where he was. He thought he was going through his normal hangovers but one blink of an eye told him he was not in his usual bed. And this bed was more comfortable than his which he could feel the cut slats through his aging mattress whenever he slept, the bed he had slept for the three years he had been in Eldoret.
And where the hell was he? He asked himself, abashed by the smell that radiated in the room. He detected that it was that of medicine. And why had he overslept? He wondered. For a moment he thought something was wrong with him, and perhaps his hangover was treating him abnormally that morning. Certainly he had imbibed too much last night. Since he came to Eldoret beer had rooted deep in his nerves, and he could count it in the list of his basic needs.
As he attempted to sit he felt some pain, an excruciating pain that really brought him back to reality. Looking around, his eyes met with someone in a white coat. It was a nurse standing next to him and forcing him to lie on his bed. He also noticed that on his hand was a drip needle, and he was in hospital.
Quickly he remembered where he was last. He was at Mambo Leo Bar where he had always come every evening with friends to imbibe a beer or two thereabout 7pm after job. Even though the corona virus curfew had been in place recently, and dire consequences had been put against those that went against, they would secretly partake until midnight and stagger away to their houses unnoticed.
Unfortunately the previous night was different. They had come to meet with the proverbial forty days of a thief. As they were taking their drinks as usual, a car had stopped near the bar a few minutes after seven in the evening and before long the bar door came flying towards them after a strong kick from outside. Before they could think some police officers entered flashing their powerful torches towards them. Panic and dismay engulfed the bar and there was disarray. Even though beer had started taking effect, the long coats and boots of the officers alerted the partakers and restored them to near soberness that they broke into a sudden run as they evaded capture.
There he knew he had been cornered
Benjamin was not so much drunk like others and he felt light as he dashed away. He managed to find a gap between the officers to run through.
But just as he had started sprinting outside, celebrating the breakthrough, another flashlight beamed on his face in front of him and a voice spoke.
“Stop running,” the voice outside shouted in Swahili. There he knew he had been cornered. He felt like fainting but still managed to support himself when he thought about the consequences of his arrest. His mind quickly flashed on the corona virus containment measures which the government had put and quickly he remembered the compulsory fourteen days quarantine at his own cost, before being taken to court for breaching the dusk to dawn curfew rules.
He had to do something, he decided as the beaming officer edged towards him hurriedly. Despite the darkness he ran like a short race runner. Beer seemed to have cleared in his mind and if you happened to have met him you could think he had taken energy drinks. From behind he could hear the officer following him, even as he increased his speed.
And then a bang and a grueling pain that followed. He had hit so hard on something he did not understand as he crossed to the nearest alley, where he thought he would confuse the officers from there. Next he fell on the ground unconscious. He had hit an electricity pole. And what happened from then he could not remember. He only woke up in this smelling hospital being treated of a stitched wound on his head. And most definitely, he thought he was being guarded by police.
Now he tried to think. Escaping was the solution or he got himself to the cells. The first thing he had to do was gathering information of how he came here from the nurse. And the next plan was to leave the ward.
“Wasn’t I at home?”
“What happened to me?” he asked as if he didn’t know.
“Do you remember anything as to what happened to you last night?” the nurse asked him instead. And he tried to flashback. For several seconds to which the nurse remained patient.
“Wasn’t I at home?” He said. “And how did I come here?” He pretended to be unaware.
“Someone brought you here last evening when you had passed out,” the nurse said trying so hard to hide whoever came with him.
“Who?” he asked. The nurse didn’t want to tell him whoever had brought him. She had instructions not to.
But even before the nurse answered the door to this ward opened and two men entered. It was Nyingi, his father; and a police officer. The last time he was with him was three years ago when he had run away from his Meru home, as a fugitive.
After coming out of the university with a clean second class upper division in economics, Benjamin had had a lot of expectations. He had thought that he would find a job, or better still, Mr. Nyingi his father; a police officer in Nakuru would secure him some work from his prominent friends.
But it was not long before things started getting out of way. He attended so many interviews and never got any job and to his disappointment his father never cared to talk to his friends like he had thought. The first year lapsed, and soon Benjamin got desperate.
After giving it a lot of thought he decided to start a business. Many ideas came to his mind. After a serious meditation and consultations from friends he settled at opening a hardware shop, as many people were building houses in his village, and he thought he could supply them with materials.
One day, when his father was on leave, he sought capital from him. Nyingi was happy about the idea. However, he was going to give him a test. He decided to relieve Kariuki his shop attendant for a few months and replace him with Benjamin, to see his financial skills. If he made profits, or maintained the trend, he would give him the capital but if he made loses he would not.
Benjamin had a way of making people like him and soon, the shop was filled with so many customers. Profits increased too and his father was happy.
But there is one girl that amazed Benjamin so much. Despite that she was a student at a local secondary school in form four, Poline, Nduku’s daughter from the other side of his village frequented the shop to just exchange stories with him. She would pass by his shop daily as she returned from school to say hi, and visited him during the weekend to buy time when her parents had gone to work. Being sociable, Benjamin developed acquaintance with her.
From then the rift between him and his father started
But the tragedy hit when Poline disappeared from home and school after claims that she was pregnant. Every villager guessed that Benjamin was responsible for Poline’s pregnancy. Friends mocked him and news spread that Benjamin had impregnated a minor. People even said Benjamin knew where Poline was hiding, which made Nduku, Poline’s father to report the matter to the chief who summoned Benjamin and his father to shed light. Benjamin denied the pregnancy and knowledge of her whereabouts.
With the chief, Nduku and Poline’s father getting angry, Benjamin was given a week to bring Poline back or he would be charged at the court for defiling a minor. Surprising for Benjamin, as if he was already guilty, his father supported the verdict.
At home his mother Patricia tried giving him hope, after he consistently continued to deny the allegation, but his father seemed to have believed strongly that he was guilty.
From then the rift between him and his father started. And whenever they met, Nyingi always insulted him for turning his shop to lodging, wishing Benjamin left his house for the embarrassments he had caused him.
And Benjamin decided it was getting too much for him to hold. One day when he was home he resolved to escape and leave home. He decided to steal some money from his father and run away before he was taken. He knew that his father’s room was always left unlocked, and he knew he at times kept his money there before taking it to bank.
That day Nyingi wasn’t home. Neither was Patricia. For the first time after so many years Benjamin entered the bedroom, hoping to take every penny he found. He opened the first bed drawer and found nothing. The second too had none. He sat and thought regretfully. He was about to give up when he decided to search under the mattress. There lay two average sized envelopes. Smiling, he picked the first one hoping it contained something. It had some cool twenty five thousand shillings. The second had thirty thousand shillings.
He had a friend in Eldoret selling shoes
Benjamin took the money and smiled as he left, knowing it would be the end of him if he was caught. And that night he slept at the lodging where he considered several things. In his head he wanted a reasonable business to do in his runaway. Now that he knew he had left home with two offences, returning there would be a death sentence. Nyingi was a brutal soldier, and he knew it.
Eventually he decided to involve himself in second hand clothes, after feeling that his dream hardware business required more capital to start. He had a friend in Eldoret selling shoes and clothes and he offered to show him how business was done, apart from offering him space to install his shop in one of his rented shops, until he was ready to survive alone. He knew he had little experience and under normal circumstances he wouldn’t have wished to travel far away from home if not for his father and Nduku, who could find him easily.
So the following day he travelled to Eldoret, far from his Meru home.
A few days later he was in a second hand clothes business. The business had started well and was flourishing until one night when his shop burned, for what people said was electricity fault. Every item in his shop was reduced to ashes. From then things started going south again and he wished he hadn’t stolen the money as he would have returned home easily. He thought he was being punished by gods for stealing from his parents despite the good things they had done to him.
The little profits he had saved could not revive his business. Yet he needed money to sustain himself on the other hand. He resolved to find other jobs. He tried a waiter job in one of the hotels but dropped it before a week ended because of the excess work and very little pay. Soon he would work as salesman in his friend’s shoes stall.
The pay was not bad and he even remained with something to swig a bottle or two at the end of the day to suppress his depressing thoughts.
And little did he know that his father had then been transferred to Eldoret a year later. The previous night, it was him that had arrested Benjamin.
Nyingi, after debating with himself, and after seeing the state of Benjamin as he remained unconscious, felt pity for him. He knew desperation had driven his son there and being his only child he decided against charging him. His son needed help.
The allegations about him impregnating Poline had come out to be untrue, after Poline returned few days after Benjamin disappeared, and Poline’s pregnancy tests showing she was not pregnant. It is claimed that she had disappeared with a friend to another boyfriend of hers in the same school and class. They were punished. Even Mr. Nduku and the chief regretted their actions.
That night to avoid being regarded as unfair Nyingi had decided to let all partakers free, but with warning, before taking Benjamin to hospital. It was the first time he was addressing him.
“Thank God you are back to this other world son,” Nyingi said the moment his eyes met Benjamin’s. “How do you feel now?”
“Who brought me here?” was Benjamin’s first question.
Nobody is taking you to court son
“I brought you,” Nyingi replied.
“And where will you take me after here?”
“We are going home,” he said. “You have to come with me, your mother and I have been unhappy since you left home. I let you down but I want to take you home.”
Benjamin was unsure of his father’s sentiments. He had known his craftiness but today he seemed different and truthful. But even if he was genuine, the sins he had committed at home rang in his mind.
“I cannot go home, I have a case awaiting me there,” he said. “Aren’t you waiting me to heal to take me to court?” he said.
“Nobody is taking you to court son, Poline was not pregnant; I will explain to you more. Please return home, you could help me there run things and save your mother stress. I am sure she will be happy to see you too.”
There was silence a few minutes later.
That day after Benjamin was discharged he had a lengthy period of discourse with his father. Nyingi promised to get him capital to begin the business he had requested him before his leaving. And again, Benjamin would also be in charge of home businesses. However, he was to be overseen by his mother. Because of the difficulty in accessing alcohol Benjamin slowly reformed. They both agreed to go home the following day. Benjamin sighed for relief when he heard Nduku and Poline were regretting his disappearance. He was even happier when Nyingi told him he had forgiven him for stealing his money.
It was a wonderful reunion when they arrived home the following evening. True to his word Mr. Nyingi gave Benjamin some money to start his hardware business a few weeks later. Desperation left him and he felt happy again.
© Kemboi Victor