The man_Betty Anne Ndwaru
He had been lying there since the previous afternoon. At first no one
had paid any attention to him, after all, a man lying down under a tree
on an idyllic Saturday afternoon was not an uncommon thing. In fact,
in these harsh economic times, a man lying down under a tree in a
public field was not likely to draw any attention, if he was, it
probably meant that he was tired of walking around looking for a
non-existent job and in the bid to silence his hunger pangs had lain
down and gone to sleep. The man was lying under the last jacaranda
tree in the row of trees that separated the dirt path from the sports
field in Nyumbani estate. He was partly hidden by the long grass in
that corner of the field but he was not completely invisible. A person
with normal vision could easily have seen him. No one however, had
taken any notice of him. He had managed to draw a few curious
glances on account of the bad coughs that had wracked his body, but
they had all ignored him and walked on, minding their own business.
It was Sunday morning. Pastor Mwema walked hurriedly along the
dirt path. He glanced at his watch. It read 6.30 a.m. He quickened his
pace. He was going to be late for the service again if he did not hurry.
He had been late the previous Sunday and although his congregation
had seemed to understand he knew that if he made it a habit, he
would revert to preaching to a half empty church which had been the
situation when he had first joined the Church. However, his
popularity had grown quickly when the people had discovered that he
was always punctual and his ability to speak to them in a practical
manner, straight from his heart. Soon the 7.00 a.m. service, in spite of
being the earliest service of the day, was drawing the largest crowd.
Pastor Mwema did not want that popularity to wane, especially not
now when there was an opportunity to fill in for the senior Pastor,
who was leaving on a one month vacation to his home in the
countryside. Pastor Mwema decided to use the shortcut through the
field which would save him five minutes. It was too early in the
morning for the football team that trained in the field to be out so he
was not be likely to be knocked unconscious by a flying ball or a
charging player. As he stepped into the field, he almost trod on the
man who was lying in his path.
I am sor… He started to say, and stopped. The man looked very
strange. He was very stiff.
He cannot possibly be… thought Pastor Mwema. He dismissed the
thought. He was probably just another unconscious drunk man. There
were many of them nowadays. Pastor Mwema looked at his watch
again. It was 6.40 a.m. If he did not hurry, he would definitely be late.
He looked at the man again. He could not possibly be dead he
concluded. “Besides, there is nothing I can do now”. He thought of
the waiting congregation and the waiting post. I am pressed for time.
Someone else is bound to come along who will have time. He said a
prayer to this effect. He hurried on across the field.
Doctor Juma kicked his car in frustration. The car had given out five
minutes after he had left his home, just next to the sports field. He
looked at his watch. It was fifteen minutes to seven. He would be late
for church if he did not hurry. Trying to fix the car or calling someone
to fix it would take too much time, and he would soil his new suit, the
one he had bought just a few weeks ago for today’s occasion. Today
was the day he was going to be dedicated as a church elder. He could
not afford to appear in front of the congregation with black specks of
grease on his shirt, or be late. He felt he owed that much to the church
elders who had found him upright enough and respected him enough
to bestow the honour upon him. He could not embarrass them by
looking dishrevilled or coming in late. He decided to use the shortcut
across the field, it was dusty and his shoes would bear the full brunt
of it, but it was better than oil specks anyway he thought.
He saw the man as soon as he passed in between the two trees. He
was lying face down, his arms limp by his side. He was dressed in
patched brown trousers and an old grey sweater. He had a dirty black
hat on his head and old canvas shoes that had no laces. He was dead.
Doctor Juma’s trained physician’s eye could determine that much. He
had been dead for at least 24 hours. He was in a dilemma over what
to do. A dead man in a public field was probably none of his business,
but as a man who was about to be dedicated as a church elder, as a
good man, he felt that he ought to do something. His conscience
dictated that he put the man in his car , drive him to the nearest
mortuary and then call the police, or at least call the police. On the
other hand, putting an unknown dead man in your car, touching him,
had great complications, as did calling the police. He could already
see in his mind’s eye the long bureaucratic process that he would
have to go through if he went to the police with such a story or even
if he just called them to inform them of the death. He thought of
something that had not crossed his mind before. The man was dead
and lying in a public field. That really narrowed down the guesses as
to what the cause of his death was. People had been murdered and
dumped in fields especially people who walked alone in the dark in
deserted fields, people who had a lot to lose. Dr Juma looked at the
sky. It was not dark, but the sun had not yet come up. The field was
deserted and he was a man with a lot to lose; car keys, a new suit, a
wallet packed with wads of notes, a gold watch, his life which at the
moment was at its peak. He looked at the man again. He was sorry for
him, but there was nothing he could do. He hurried on across the
John stubbed out his cigarette and looked at the Doctor’s retreating
back. He had been watching him ever since he had seen him get out
of his car and kick it in frustration. He had seen him leave his car and
decide to walk across the field. He had seen him disappear between
the last two trees in the row and not reappear for quite a while. Then,
he had seen him emerge with a troubled expression on his face and
walk off shaking his head. Earlier on, he had seen Pastor Mwema, the
pastor of the church that he went to do the same thing. Neither of
them had known that he was watching them. John had been sitting up
in one of the trees smoking and thinking about his life. He was home
on suspension from the University for inciting other students and
leading a strike. He was a law student in his second year at the
university who had had the misfortune of leading a demonstration
against non-teaching by lecturers. A demonstration that had turned
into a violent riot that had resulted in a lot of property being
destroyed and all the law students being suspended indefinitely. It
was now two weeks later. The last two weeks had been unpleasant,
beginning from the moment he had arrived home, suitcase in hand to
explain to his disappointed father that he had been suspended from
school for striking. His father who had sold the family’s piece of
land to ensure that his first born son’s university fees were paid. The
days that had followed had been full of tension. He and his father
were barely speaking to each other and in that atmosphere he had to
put his life back in order. However at this moment, his greatest cause
of misery was Stella, his girlfriend. He had gone to see her yesterday
and had arrived at her home just in time to see her walking off in the
opposite direction, hand in hand with Muiruri, his best friend. Today,
he was going to confront her. He knew she always went for the
morning service and that she passed through the field on her way to
church. He was waiting for her to show up but in the meantime, he
decided to go and see what had caused the Pastor and the Doctor
who were both his neighbours and good friends of his father, to act
in such a strange manner. He jumped down from the branch he had
been sitting on.
There was something lying under the last tree. At first he thought it
was a dog but as he got closer, he could make out the distinctive
figure of a man. He moved closer. The man was lying deathly still.
The rhythmic rise and fall of the chest that characterises sleep was
missing. He leaned over to get a closer look. He shook the man.
There was no reaction. The man was dead, John was certain of it.
He wondered how long he had been lying there. Probably not very
long because someone would have notified the police if he had, or
would they? He thought. The Pastor and Doctor had walked on and
left him there. If they had wanted to notify the police, they would
have gone back the way they had come, to their homes or to the
telephone booths at the shops because these were much nearer than
the Church phone. As it was, they had just walked on. They probably
do not want to get involved, he started to think but then checked
himself. He should not judge because he did not know the full facts
he thought. Still someone ought to inform the police. The body could
not go on lying there. Soon, children would come out to the field to
play and they would see the body. He knew he had a lot to risk if he
called the police himself. To begin with, he was a student on
suspension, that did not say much for his character, if he identified
himself, they might even think he had killed the man. There were a
myriad of excuses to walk away, but he could not in good conscience
leave the body there without doing something. He suspected that most
people would walk off in the opposite direction and hope that someone
else would inform the police because, they felt it was none of their
business. There was another reason why he could not leave the
responsibility of informing the police to fate, the man looked a lot like
his father. The build was the same and if it were not for the fact that he
had left his father asleep at home, he would have been convinced it
was him. He walked back along the path and called the police.
“If you people are not ready and out of the house in five minutes, I
am going to leave you and you will have to find your own means of
getting to church!” Mrs. Mwenda heard her husband call from the
front yard honking furiously. She was upstairs trying to change her
five year old daughter Mary’s dress which was soiled after Mary had
split dark brown chocolate on the white chiffon. “Mary, stop
squirming and put this on or daddy will leave without us”, she
reprimanded, trying to force a green dress over Mary’s head.
“I don’t want this dress, I want the pink one” said Mary pulling away.
Mrs. Mwenda sighed. She knew they would get nowhere if Mary did
not get what she wanted and wear her pink dress. It was Mary’s
birthday and such an occasion called for a pink dress in Mary’s
opinion. Mrs. Mwenda had no doubt that the chocolate incident had
been intentional. Mary had been in a highly excited state all morning
and it had taken all of Mrs. Mwenda’s arguing skills just to convince
her to sit down and have her breakfast. Now Mrs. Mwenda was still
in her rollers and bathrobe and Mary was in her petticoats and neither
of them was ready for church. She went down the stairs and out the
front door to the yard where her husband was leaning against the car
and scowling at the dog.
“Marcus, you will have to go without us” She said to her husband. I
have to change Mary’s dress and get dressed myself and I know I
need more than five minutes for that.” “Are you sure? I don’t mind
waiting. I have just remembered that Mary can be quite a handful on
her birthday” he said.
“No. You go and save seats for us. If you wait, we will all be late and
we won’t get a good seat” she said.
“All right,” he said getting into the car but please hurry up or you will
miss the elders’ dedication service.
Mrs. Mwenda went back into the house.
“Waithera!” she called to the maid who was in the kitchen cleaning
the breakfast dishes.
“Would you iron Mary’s pink dress and help her get into it please?
We are running late” she said.
“Yes mama” said Waithera.
Mrs. Mwenda noticed that she looked sad, her eyes were bloodshot
and she looked like she had been crying.
“Waithera are you alright?” She asked concernedly. Waithera burst
into fresh tears, alarming Mrs. Mwenda and making her wonder what
could be upsetting the 20 year old girl who had been working for her
for the last two years who was normally cheery and bubbly. She took
her arm and led her to a seat.
“Waithera, what is wrong?” She asked.
“I am sorry for alarming you mama, but it is my father. I received
news yesterday that he has been sick and that he had travelled from
Nyeri to Nairobi to look for me so that I could take him to the
hospital. He started the journey on Monday and should have been
here on the same day seen a doctor and gone home by Tuesday. When
he did not return, my mother became worried and sent a neighbour to
come and find out what was wrong especially since my father had
insisted on travelling to the city alone” she said.
“And you haven’t seen him?” Asked Mrs. Mwenda.
“No, I did not even know that he was sick until yesterday” she said.
“Oh dear, that is distressing” said Mrs. Mwendo. Look, I’ll tell you
what we’ll do. Get Mary ready for church while I go and get dressed.
When I get to church I will discuss this with Mr. Mwenda while you
stay here and wait in case your father turns up. If he is not here by the
time we return from the church, Mr. Mwenda will drive you to the
Police Station where you can file a missing person’s report. Is that
alright with you?”
“Yes mama, thank you” she said.
At 7.30 a.m. Mrs. Mwenda left the house propelling a finally subdued
Mary ahead of her. They would have to use the short cut through the
“Mummy there is a dead man over here” said Mary who had run
Mrs. Mwenda’s heart gave a lurch. She ran to the place where her
Mary was kneeling on the ground staring at the body of a man.
“Mary get away from there” she said snatching her up. She stared at
the man. He did indeed look dead, but one could not be sure, for all
she knew, he could be feigning death and then when an unsuspecting
concerned person moved closer to inspect, he would jump up and do
God-knew-what. If he was dead, there was nothing she could do, at
least not right then. She had to get to church. She could call the police
later on, she decided. She hurried on across the field.
The small church was packed almost to capacity . Pastor Mwema
stood at the pulpit. He had been dreading this moment ever since he
had entered the church and remembered what the day’s sermon was.
He had been early, with ten minutes to spare. He had practised the
sermon for the whole of last night and had forgotten the lesson, until
he had entered the church and gone through his notes.
He opened his bible;
Luke 10:25-37: The Good Samaritan.
He covered his face with his hands. In the congregation, Dr. Juma
squirmed uneasily in his seat. John, who had just walked in, walked
out. Mrs. Mwenda had a sudden revelation.
A large crowd had gathered by the time they got to the field after the
service. In the middle of the crowd, two policemen carried the body
on a stretcher. Two more held the crowd that was pressing closer to
look at the man, at bay. The man had been covered in a white sheet
but a gust of wind blew it off the man’s face exposing it. A girl’s wail
came from the back of the crowd. Mrs. Mwenda saw a girl push
through the crowd, run to the stretcher and launch herself on top of
the body, sobbing wildly. It was Waithera.