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The East African : March 17th 2014
The EastAfrican MAGAZINE MARCH 15-21,2014 sho≥t sto≥y His cheeks and forehead had turned ashy, either from fright or from the thought that death was imminent. Everyone in the yard was alert but they stayed away. They could not help because if the guards walked in, the nearest person would be answerable. So they watched life ebb slowly out of him. It was Wednesday evening, the next The sho≥t life of Joey H By STEPHEN OTIENO e lay writhing in pain on the ground in the open field at Kamiti Maximum Prison in Nairobi. There were no tears in his eyes. would be Friday and then Monday, when inmates walked out of their cells into the open field to stretch their legs and catch up on prison gossip. This was also the most dangerous time for inmates. It was time for settling grudges and other social issues. There were fights and quarrels. The guards knew this too and most of the time, they kept their distance. They all saw him being stabbed, but they’d never say who did it. Blood splurged out of the veins on his neck, wetting the grass and soaking the soil. He had two fresh wounds. One on the neck and one on the side of his chest which now softly hissed and sputtered blood out. He was dying. There was no way he could make it. Not with the terrible prison health facility. Plus, the guards hated paperwork; it was easier working with a dead body than a living one; less paper work involved. Gody (short for Godfrey) Matere was his cell-mate, a mature man. About 58 years of age and had been in prison for the past seven years for robbery with violence. The same crime the young man who now lay dying had been brought in for. Gody walked across the yard to his dying young cell mate. He knelt on one knee and pushed his right hand under the neck of the young man, raised his head and cradled him as one would cradle a baby. Joey his name was. He had refused to tell his cell mate his second name. He was 29 years old. Once strong and athletic, two years in prison had now given him the mold and look of a man in his forties. Gody wanted to wail. Tears rolled down his dark face in the evening sunlight. He sobbed softly and honourably as a man in his fifties was expected to. A bloodied hand reached up to his face and touched his chin. The young man had opened his eyes and was smiling. It was a warm free and final smile. The smile froze on his face. He was dead. Gody howled, with his head staring at the sky cursing God or whoever it was that lived beyond the clouds. The guards came, and took the body out of the yard. Gody knelt there and cried, touching the bloodied grass and wet soil. The other prisoners were shocked; no inmate had ever grieved so much for another. If only they knew why Gody was wail- ing…if only they knew what Gody knew… Two years before this prison yard death, a young man had been escorted into Gody’s cell. He was grim, subdued and timid. But his timidity was not that of had two wounds, one on the neck and one on the side of his chest which now softly hissed and sputtered blood out.” ‘‘ Illustration: John Nyagah a man who was afraid of prison. His fear looked like it was an external fear. Like he feared something outside the walls of prison. They addressed each other as wewe (you) or “hey.” After staying together for three weeks, he finally told Gody his name; “Joey. Just Joey. Not Joseph or Josphat or Joel or Joe or Joachim. Just Joey. No second name.” He had the voice and self-assurance of a learned man. Gody told him his name. One name. Three months later, in the dead of the He night, he jumped down from the upper bunker and sat on Gody’s bed and asked him if he wanted to hear a tragically good story. Sleep was not forthcoming, so they sat on the bed in pitch darkness, listening to the snores, grunts and loud farts of other inmates. Joey told his story. He’d been born in a village somewhere in Vihiga. One of three children to a farming father and mother. He worked hard at school and eventually landed at the university where he studied for a Bachelors degree in Business Administration. He was confident of a good future and better life for his father. Being a fast learner, he graduated at the age of 24 and was out looking for a job almost immediately. A job would come, he knew it. That is what he told himself at the start. One year later, walking the streets of Nairobi, having been kicked out by the friend he was living with, he was not sure anymore. No job was forthcoming. Being a practical man, he took up a job as a teller in one of the Supermarkets in town. He wasn’t trained in such but he learnt quickly. The money was little but he lived alone in a house that cost Ksh5,000. He walked to town daily from the surburbs and had to forgo lunch. When he turned 26, his girlfriend told him that she was expectant. He decided to look for a better paying job while still working at the supermarket. The lady moved in with him and his bedsitter became even smaller. They barely got by. All his attempts at getting a better job were met by refusals and rejections. Onset of problems And as if to make his world more diffi- cult his only surviving parent — his father — died, forcing his three siblings to come and live with him in the city. The three of them, and his girlfriend shared the small house. The bedsitter grew smaller and when the baby was born it seemed suddenly too full. He asked for a pay rise, explaining his position to his supervisor but the man told him to put up or ship out. Two days after he turned 27 years old, he went to work as usual but during his lunch break, his girlfriend called to tell him that the baby had been suddenly taken ill. That the baby had been rushed to Kenyatta National Hospital and was admitted. A minor surgical procedure was needed to save the young boy’s life. But the father had no savings. Nothing at all. He sat out on the supermarket stairs for half an hour, sweating in the sun. There was money in his till, but he could not take it without being apprehended right there. He walked back in, went to the jewelry section, broke the glass and took all the rings and necklaces and bracelets. He wrapped them in his handkerchief and ran out. The streets are good, filled with people and he quickly blended in. One-two-three corners down the street, he found a pawn shop and dealt almost half what he had. He went to Kenyatta National Hospital, paid his son’s bill and ran to a friend, gave him the remaining jewelry, told him what happened and instructed him sell them and keep his family a float. Then he turned himself in at Central Police station. He had hoped to get a relaxed sentence but instead, they slapped him with 16 years. His son had survived and the friend sold the remaining jewelry and gave the money to his wife but Joey was jailed and after two years, there he lay, dying on the grass. The old man wailed and cursed God. IX Send in your previously unpublished 1,200word fictional short story to eastafrican@ ke.nationmedia.com with “Magazine Short Story” as the subject.
March 10th 2014
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