Short stories from Africa

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This is a short story by kenyan writer, Makena Onjerika, an NYU MFA in Creative Writing. She studied under Junot Diaz, Zadie Smith and Aleksandar Hemon, David Lipsky among others

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  • Thisstoryfirstappearedonthestorymojakenyawebsiteandwonamonthlyshortstorycontestin2013

    THEMANWATCHINGOURHOUSEBYMAKENAONJERIKA

    I.

    Thenightmymotherfirstspokeofthedeathofhermother,wehadhadnoelectricityinZimmermanforfourdays.Thehurricanelamponthetablegaveheragiantheadonthewall.Shesaid,ThedayafterweburiedNjerica,wewereinthefarm,meandyourAuntBatha.Wewerediggingandthenwesawamanwalkingacrossourfields.

    Withanopenpalmsheslicedthroughthesharpsmellofkerosenehangingoverourheadsandtookusbacktothatgreen,wetland,pregnantwiththemedicinalsmellofEucalyptus.TheblackandwhiteFriesiancowswhippedtheirtailsatpestilentfliesanddroppedhealthy,warmblobsofdung.NjericaliesinanunweededgraveatthecornerofmygrandfatherscompoundeveryJuneandDecember,ladencoffeetreesbendoverherhead,spottedredwithberries.

    Hewasatallmanwithathinface.Inthatsunhisclothesseemedtobeburning.Wecalledhim.Muugaa,wesaid.Buthewentonwalkingacrossourlandtothemainroad,withoutsayinganythingtous.

    Shewidenedhereyestolookcloselyattheman,standingtallandthin,rightthereinoursittingroom.WhowasthiswalkingonourfieldsthedayafterweputNjericainthesoil?

    IleftBathainthefieldsandranhomeandaskedNtoMukindiaifthemanhadcometoourhomestead.IrantothemainroadandaskedeveryoneImet,haveyouseenthisman?Inthatvillagewithonlyoneroad,noonehadseenhim.

    Mymotherdidntownasinglepairofshoesuntilshejoinedsecondaryschool.Sheraneverywhere:todelivermilktothedairyatsixameverymorning,toschoolbeforethebellstartedtollingandteachersstartedcaningpupilsbuttocksbackhomeforalunchofpoundedpotatoesandnyenifromschooltocutandcarrynapiergrassforthecows.

    ThinkingofNjerica,hereyesbecomewetandglittery.Mybrotherwastooyoungtoseethis.Whenheaskedwhothemanwas,sheheldherselfasthoughshefeltawindwedidnt.

  • Someonebewitchedyourgrandmother.Someonesentthatmantocomeseethatthejobwasfinished.

    Herheadgrewasshemovedforwardtocatchamosquitobuzzingclosetomyface.Njericahaddiedofbreastcancer.Mybloodwasdarkredonmymotherspalm.

    II.

    Thepesticidesmyuncledrunkburneduphisinsidesandmadehimcry.Thedaymymothertoldusabouthissuicide,IsatontheconcretestepsoutsideourhouseafteranafternoondownpourredantsbuzzingelectricallyastheymarchedbytryingtoseethisunclesfaceinasufuriaIhadplacedundertheeavestocollectwater.Ihadmethimonlyonceatmygrandfathershomesteadandhadneverbeensenttohisownhomefortheschoolholidays.

    Somemonthsbeforehisdeath,thissameunclehadburntdownhishouse.InthemorningbeforeshedrovetoNanyukiforthefamilyfundraisingtobuildanewhouse,Iheardmymothertalkingonhermobile.Batha,isthisnotthedevil?Howisitthateverytimeourbrotherharvestshiswheat,everytimehehasmoneyinhispocket,hisheadgoesbad?

    Latermycousinwhohadattendedthefundraisingtoldmethatthegrownupshadcalledaholymantomyunclesfarm.ThisholymanwentroundthefarmprayingandshoutingversesfromtheBible,commandingdevilsinthenameofJesusChrist,andeverywherehepaused,hemadethemdig.Theyhadfoundstrangethingsburiedinmyunclesfarm.Catbonesandpotsfullofrottenliquidsandhumanhair.Strangethings.

    Yousee,thereisacurseinmyfamilynooneknowswhereitcamefrom,butithaseatenallthemen.Eaten,thatshowmymothersaysit.Youtellme,Batha.Noneofourfatherssonshavesucceeded.Theygoteducationsameasusandthefarmsontop,butlook.

    Yearslater,whenIwasalreadyinuniversityintheStates,shetoldmeofthelasttimeshesawhereldestbrother.HervoicecamethroughSkypeinpiecesandscreeches.Isawthathewasrunningaroundinhishead,lookingforhimself,butwhatcouldIdo?ItoldthemtogotochurchItoldthemtoprayItoldthemtoseekGod.Noonelistened.Lookwhathappened.

    III.

    IlostmyfaithasIwatchedPastorJohnWesleyglidingacrossthepodiumofGoodShepherdchurch,sweatingfromtheeffortofdeliveringtheWord.BighattedAfricanAmericanwomenshoutedhalleluias,amensandpreachpreacher.Abannerhangingfromtheblackedrafters

  • wavedslightlyasthoughridingonthehotwavesofbelief.NoEXCUSEvember:Themonthofdestiny.Riseupandclaimtheinheritance.

    Amen!TheshoutsclappedagainstmyearsandIbegantowriteonachurchpamphlet.Wordsandwordsaboutagirlrunningaroundinherhead,lookingforherself.

    ButtheonlypoetrymymotherknowsisinthePsalmsofDavid.Diggingthroughherpursewithasquintforchurchoffering,sheasked,Mukami,whatdayisittoday?

    MyfirstSundaybackinKenya.Arainydaythechalkysmellofwetsoilmademethirsty.Mypyjamaswerestillwarmfrombed.SheslappedherBibleonthetable,saidshewouldnthaveanatheistinherhouse,brokeacup.Mybrotherdidntmakeasoundintheadjoiningroom,hisbedroom.

    Sheasked,Doyouatleastpray?

    PerhapsifIhadsaidIprayed,shewouldnthavetoldmeabouttheman.Shesaid,Iknewit.Fromsixmonthsago,Iknewit,Mukami.DoyouremembermycousinBoronica?

    ShedescribedthisBoronica,herplumpness,herdarkskin,hermanychildren,thetrickleofbloodthroughourfamilytree,butIrefusedtorecallthewoman.Outside,thevariousdenominationswithinakilometresradiusofourhousewereshoutingtheirsermonsateachotherovermegaloudspeakers.Mymotherpinchedherbrowwithconcentration:Boronicacalledmesixmonthsago.Shemetamanonthevillageroad.Amanshedoesnotknow.Hecalledherbyhername,Boronica,andaskeddoyouknowKaretiofNtoMukindia?Shedidnotknowhim,butheknewmeandyourgrandfather.HesaidtellKaretiIhaveamessageforher,aboutMukami.

    Ishouldhavesaid,Shindwe!IshouldquotedPsalms23,butinsteadIsippedmytea,warminmypyjamas,andasked,Whatwasthemessage?

    Icanstillheartheringofhercarkeysasshewentthroughthedoorandletitbangbehindherwithoutaword.Iwonsomethingthatday.Idid.

    MakenaOnjerikaisaKenyanwriterwithanMFAinCreativeWritingfromNYU.