Shirt Of Guilt

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Let’s say your buddy tells you that his friend is throwing a birthday party for his wife’s 35th. He asks if you want to go. “It will be an Italian Job,” He says. “We won’t stay.” You don’t really do parties, much less parties of people you don’t know. You met this guy once in a bar, through your buddy. He seemed like a decent fellow. A guy whose wife’s party you wouldn’t mind attending.

Your buddy picks you up outside your gate. You turn in your seat and see a wrapped gift on the backseat.

“What’d you get?”

“A humidifier.” He says.

Lying between your legs is a bottle of wine. You don’t know shit about wine, but chose it purely on the merit of the price and the design of the label. His friend lives along Mombasa Road, in a maisonette with heavily grilled windows. Children scuttle about in the front yard. A few people sit laughing from white plastic chairs on a patch of grass. Nobody has a mask on because this is pre-Covid, so you can see the honesty or the reverse from the corner of their mouths.

The man of the house hugs and affectionately slaps your buddy on the back.

Your buddy turns to point at you with the wrapped box. “You remember [insert your name here], don’t you?”

“Of course.” The guy says. He could be lying but he’s polite. You don’t remember him having a moustache. He’s wearing a shirt you can only see in the Narcos series. You call it the Shirt Of Guilt. It’s untucked. He doesn’t hug you, that would be awkward. He grabs your hand firmly in handshake. “Karibu sana, boss.” He says. “Here, this way.” He leads the way into the digs. Parquet floors. One red-bricked wall, or it could be wallpaper, you never know – a wall could be a cake. There is a big, proud framed picture of his family. Everybody looks happy and centered. And then there is a picture of him on graduation day. You never understand why people put up graduation pictures on their walls. Oh, and that was me, with a degree in animal husbandry. I love poultry. Did you know that a chicken can remember 100 faces? Would you like more ice on that?

The few people in the sitting room who kept time all turn to look at you guys. Some try to smile. A man rattles ice cubes in his glass. Your buddy dashes off to the washroom because he was pressed the whole time. There is a loud knock on the gate and the man of the house excuses himself to go look. You stand there not knowing where to sit. The burden of that decision is soon taken away from you when the lady of the house shows up.

She’s very warm and homely and welcoming. She has a bunched up kitchen cloth in her hand, so she might have been polishing drinking glasses. Or plates. You hand her the wine, holding it like a newborn baby. If you can hold a newborn with one hand like a pair of pliers. “Happy 21st birthday.” You say and she beams. “Awww, you are so kind. I’m [insert her name].”

“I’m [insert your name]” You say.

“Please, come sit here.” She sits you on a chair on the dining table, a sturdy mahogany with wooden chairs. “Can I get you a drink?”

“Might you have some whisky?”

“Of course. Although I know nothing about whisky – that’s [insert the man of the house’s name] thing.”

“Oh don’t stress. I will drink whatever you pour.”

She leaves.

When you look up you see a child, a boy of about 7, just standing at the entrance of the corridor just staring at you. He isn’t even blinking. He looks pissed off. Maybe you sat on his favourite chair, you think to yourself. If he wants his chair he will have to come and drag you out of it kicking and screaming.

Your buddy comes from the washrooms. He doesn’t look like he washed his hands. A good number of men don’t wash their hands after peeing. You have a responsible man who tithes and all but they won’t bother washing their hands after peeing.

“Time for a drink?” He says looking around.

Across the room that damn child is still staring at you. Now he’s beginning to spook you but you ignore him as the lady of the house brings your whisky and goes back for your buddy’s. As he pulls a chair next to you a curvaceous and attractive lady walks past in those things that look like dungarees but are shorts. You wear them like trousers then you zip them at the back. You know what I’m talking about. Are they bodysuits? Anyway, she looks very nice in them. We follow her with your eyes. We think we are being discreet but someone looking at you might just see two ex-jailbirds who just got out. You look at each other when she’s gone and without saying a word you both know exactly the same word you are both thinking; Jeesus! With a double ‘e’.

“Why didn’t you tell me, man.” You lean in and whisper to your friend.

“What?”

“That your pal’s wife is one-legged.”

“Oh, yeah..” He says shrugs.

“I wish you would have told me.”

“Why the hell for?!”

“I don’t know man,” you say. “I mean, I would have mentioned it. It just seems like something you don’t omit.”

“Because you would have brought her a new leg for her birthday.”

Before you say anything the man of the house shows up and they catch up with your pal for a bit; business, work, things. He says, “feel free guys, let me run around a bit. Gas has kwishad, I need to organise for it.”

“I hope I didn’t look shocked!” You say.

He grins.

“How did she lose her leg?” You whisper after he leaves.

“She works for some NGO. I think she lost it in Syria or Iraq, I can’t remember. A landmine.”

“Damn.” You say. “That’s shit.”

“Yeah, but it’s been many years. She normally has a prosthetic but I think it had a problem that’s why she isn’t using one today. Normally she does. Do you find that whisky too smoky? I can smell it from here.”

“Yeah, sana.” You bring the glass to your nose. “That leg thing has shocked me. I still think you should have mentioned that she has one leg.”

“It’s no biggie.”

“Do you know why the hell that kid is staring at me?” You ask him. He turns to look at the kid who is still standing there staring at you. “He’s been staring at me since I sat here. I think he has beef with me.”

He chuckles. “That’s [insert man of the house’s name] kid.”

“Is he a hundred?”

“Gary, come…come Gary” He calls out to the kid who reluctantly walks over to your table, a wary eye on you. Your buddy pulls him into a tight playful hug. “What’s wrong?”

“He stepped on my toy!” Gary pouts pointing a small fish-finger like finger at you.

“I did, Oh, no, where?” You are genuinely taken back.

“Outside there,” Gary points at the entrance.

“Oh crap, I did?? I…I….I haven’t stepped on anything.”

“You did!” he says.

That little weasel is lying.

Your buddy looks. You know you didn’t step on a toy. You would have felt it surely. But it’s Gary’s house, and he’s 7, surely, who will believe you. Your buddy tells him to bring the toy and Gary doesn’t, instead he just goes and sits in the living room and stares at you.

You want to go home. The party is no longer fun; Gary over there is setting you up, the whisky is too smoky and you can’t stop thinking about the fact that your pal forgot to tell you that the birthday girl had one leg. Suddenly, a promising party now seems like a bad idea. This is exactly why you don’t do parties; conniving kids will accuse you of grave ills and the people you trust will leave an important detail out; like a missing leg! Who doesn’t give you a heads up on something like that? After an hour, you will abandon the party. You will call an Uber and sneak out.

That’s what happened to my story for this week. I abandoned it. I liked it at the beginning but halfway through I just lost the heart for it, so I stopped writing it. Maybe I will revisit it next week. Maybe I will write another one.

This is my long explanation for no post today. I guess sometimes it’s easier to just say the dog ate my homework, huh?

I have been writing this thing since Saturday. It seemed like a good idea.

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93 Comments
    1. I had a gut feeling this was Biko’s true experience mid-way through. Intuition maybe? Or it’s just a thing that comes with washing your hands after peeing.
      Either way, fact: only you can turn a no story day into a story day.

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  1. This is exactly why you don’t do parties; conniving kids will accuse you of grave ills and the people you trust will leave an important detail out; like a missing leg!
    Then the story ended like that

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  2. Oh, it was going so well……..You could have just finished this. I feel like there is a story in this bash! After all, ain’t everything a story? But I guess, I sense how you feel! Interesting nonetheless. Oh, at least you should have apologised to Gary, if for nothing else, to be polite……you know, be the big man, ‘when they go low, you go high’…. thing!

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  3. Surely Biko.

    On another note, that men do not wash their hands after peeing is why I hate shaking people’s hands, . COVID19 has now excused me from this. One positive thing about it. But ease men, wash your hands after peeing!

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  4. But you got it flowing man! Now we wont know how Gary of the house will weave his little fib about a toy you stepped on. not fair one bit.

  5. At least I’ve learnt that those floors I usually refer to as “floor za mbao” are actually called parquet. So Biko, your post isn’t entirely “useless” 🙂

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  6. You would have thought of a better name. Gary! As in Sponge bob’s snail. Hehehee… Finish the narrative Biko. And please let us read how Gary made your day hell.

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  7. I swear your the best writer av ever come across you mean you made that all up just to explain you dint have a story today. Pure pliss.

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  8. A nice partial read !That’s why some of us require rehearsals before showing up in the world of party in case alien stuff is part of it’s ingredients we don’t feel disassociated.

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  9. You are my inspiration,and the dog eats my homework more times than I have the words to explain. Before I forget,that piece you did on a former Captain (forgive me ,I’m poor with names) reminded me of the fact that I started writing because of you. We appreciate the good that you are doing.

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  10. “Is he a hundred?” hahaha!
    I really find you funny especially where you create up those conversations.

  11. I was there at this party.

    Remember the girl with a jumpsuit (or what Biko called a Dungaree) who sashayed past the dining table while our friend and his buddy were watching? Yes, her. She strutted back in the house with a glass of wine in her hands. And changed the whole mood.

    She had noticed that he was looking. So as she made her way back to the living room, she made sure to acknowledge his attention. She stopped by the dining table and asked if they too, wanted a glass of wine.

    “I’m Leila by the way,” she offered.

    “Oh Jack. Just, Jack.”

    “Jack like Jackson, or Jack, like, Jack?”

    “No. Like Jackie. Of course, like Jackson”.

    She joked that Jackson was the name of a married man. But that she didn’t mind. And then walked away; this time giving Jackson a proper view of her posterior; a pure work of art. The linen jumpsuit danced playfully on her curvaceous thighs, as his gaze, in ultimate hypnosis, traced it up to her thick butt, all the way up her wasp-esque waist and the exposed Nutella skin of her back.

    He knew, and resolved right then that he wasn’t abandoning the party. To go back to what? His wife who thought lingerie was a bit too dramatic. A woman who together with the kids, owned both the TV in the living room and that in the bedroom. And why was he already thinking about lingerie when the lady, Leila, had only but just mumbled a greeting?

    Pause.

    I thought the story was taking this route. I’m heart broken.

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  12. I like you honesty because it’s littered with humour. But I’m left wondering about the toy you stepped on….. and also, I can’t get the image of a beautiful one-legged lady carrying a tumbler of whisky! Was she hopping? Did the whisky spill as she hopped from spot a to b? Truly I say unto you…. the things I hear…

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  13. Woooi.. I have been emotionally defrauded by this story… I was just getting buckled up, warm, comfortable and excited about where the story was going then boom….we have to leave the party….
    Aaaaah Bikooo…
    “Because you would have brought her a new leg for her birthday”…Haha

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  14. Apologise to the kid, you must have stepped on and crashed his toy . I would like to know how the birthday girl lost her log (details).

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  15. CONTINUATION

    You want to go home. The party is no longer fun; Gary over there is setting you up, the whisky is too smoky and you can’t stop thinking about the fact that your pal forgot to tell you that the birthday girl had one leg. Suddenly, a promising party now seems like a bad idea. This is exactly why you don’t do parties; conniving kids will accuse you of grave ills and the people you trust will leave an important detail out; like a missing leg! Who doesn’t give you a heads up on something like that? After an hour, you will abandon the party. You will call an Uber and sneak out.
    You pull out your phone from your pocket, unlock the screen and click on the Uber app. It takes a while to load. It does not show any available vehicles. You sign and look up. The kid stands still as he looks at you. None of the guests notice his cold stare. You might as well distract yourself, you think. You shove up with a grunt and walk to him. He stands his ground. His eyes follow you as you are approaching like the eyes of a predator watching its prey. He doesn’t smile.
    But he is just a kid. You’re sure you can talk him out of his little emotional storm. Promise to buy him another toy, show him a cool game on your phone, whatever. You bend down so that you are eye level with him.
    His hair is curly. His skin is chocolate brown and he has a firm mouth set in a pout. You look into his eyes and begin to speak. But the words don’t leave your mouth. His eyes lock with yours. In them, you don’t see a kid’s anger. Something deadly flashes in them. His eyes shine with startling intelligence as he speaks.
    “Your house is on fire,” he says. His tone is deadly. As the words tumble out, his lips move like he is excavating the words.
    You touch his arm and smile to break the tension.
    He pulls away like your hand is diseased.
    “If you don’t go now, Susan will die,” he says and walks away.
    “Hey!” you say. But he is gone. You don’t want to be dramatic. You straighten up; feeling like a brick had dropped in your gut. You hear your spinal discs aligning as you rise. Something tightens in your chest. Susan is your girlfriend. You left her watching a movie on Netflix. You picture her asleep on the couch, clouds of smoke billowing from the kitchen.
    You call Susan. She doesn’t pick. You call her three times and she does not pick.
    Fear laces through you. “How did he know about Susan?” You ask yourself as your palms start sweating.
    You look around for your friend. He turns to look at you. He is standing with some other two guys. They look like former rugby players. Broad shoulders, thick necks, muscular arms. With them is a short suburban lady in a huge, Diana Ross wig. It’s a wig because that cannot be her hair. She is chewing gum. She takes a glance at you in the space between the towering men. She reminds you of a soccer mom that grew up as a tom boy.
    “Hey [insert your name here], come meet my friends!” he says cheerfully.
    Then he sees the look on your face. It wipes the smile from his face.
    He peels from the group and approaches you, his brow creased in worry. Even with his worried look, his caveman swagger is still discernible in his gait as he closes the distance..
    “Hey man, what’s wrong?” he asks, head angled in worry.
    “I need your car keys. I need to go home urgently”
    “[insert your name here]…”he is about to cajole you. You cut him off, your expression grave as that of a mortician.
    “Just give me the car keys. I will explain later.” He picks up the steel in your voice. A hand disappears into his pocket like a startled snake and comes out spitting the keys into your outstretched hand.
    “Sawa. Drive carefully,” he says. He swallows spit as he looks at you, clearly shaken. You mumble some thanks and spin round. Your heart thuds in your ears as sweat beads on your brow.
    You weave between the guests, half sprint to the parking, and get into his car. Within minutes, you are on Mombasa road heading home, your mind racing as you weave through the evening traffic.

    NIENDELEE?

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  16. This is a fill-in? Why didnt you go all the way and write a fitting end to it? I like it. Strings you along like Biko!

  17. I love coming across comments from the old timers here. When we were a small clique in High School and “knew” each other.

    I haven’t seen Mufasa in a while…

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  18. You have spoken for all of us, kama chairman of the readers consortium. I concur with you, these are the ones that go viral mpaka unashikua na butua.

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  19. I laughed through the read.
    Gary is one weasle.
    Oh, its stable enough to represent a weeks work, not one legged as you purport.

  20. Italian job, Irish exit, French kiss, Indian summer, Going Dutch, Russian roulette. Happy that my list of geographic idioms is expanding.

    I’m inspired. Reminds me of the Biblical story of two sons. One told his dad, ‘Zii!’ ‘I’m not going to work in the vineyard, but he went. The other son said said he will go to the vineyard, but ended up not going. Even when Biko did not write a story for this week, he wrote one. Biko knows it is 2020, and people are in a tight spot and the last thing that readers need to be told is that there’s no post. Biko is like the good son.

    Also, thank you for mentioning that some guys are nonchalant about handwashing, even after visiting the urinals! Going forward, we will intentionally avoid shaking people’s hands. Personally, I’ve always been a little iffy of peoples sweaty, clammy palms firmly grasping my own in a handshake, so much so that even pre-Covid, I always washed my hands thoroughly with water and soap after such encounters.

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  21. CONTINUATION

    You want to go home. The party is no longer fun; Gary over there is setting you up, the whisky is too smoky and you can’t stop thinking about the fact that your pal forgot to tell you that the birthday girl had one leg. Suddenly, a promising party now seems like a bad idea. This is exactly why you don’t do parties; conniving kids will accuse you of grave ills and the people you trust will leave an important detail out; like a missing leg! Who doesn’t give you a heads up on something like that? After an hour, you will abandon the party. You will call an Uber and sneak out.
    You pull out your phone from your pocket, unlock the screen and click on the Uber app. It takes a while to load. It does not show any available vehicles. You sigh and look up. The kid stands still as he looks at you. None of the guests notice his cold stare. You might as well distract yourself, you think. You shove up with a grunt and walk to him. He stands his ground. His eyes follow you as you are approaching like the eyes of a predator watching its prey. He doesn’t smile.
    But he is just a kid, you tell yourself. You’re sure you can talk him out of the little emotional storm he has worked himself into. Promise to buy him another toy, show him a cool game on your phone, make a funny face, whatever. You bend down so that you are eye level with him. You read somewhere that it sets the tone for a friendly conversation.
    His hair is curly. His skin is chocolate brown and he has a firm mouth set in a pout. You look into his eyes and begin to speak. But the words don’t leave your mouth. His eyes clamp on yours. In them, you don’t see a kid’s anger. Something deadly flashes in them.
    His lips move like he is excavating the words that stumble forth. “Your house is on fire,” he says. His tone is deadly. You feel something cold crawl down your spine. As the words tumble out, Saliva sprays from his mouth.
    You touch his arm and smile to break the tension.
    He pulls away like your hand is diseased.
    “If you don’t go now, Susan will die,” he says with great sanctity and walks away.
    “Hey!” you stutter in disbelief.
    But he is gone. You don’t want to be dramatic. You straighten up; feeling like a brick had dropped in your gut. You hear your spinal discs aligning as you rise.
    Something tightens in your chest. Susan is your girlfriend. You left her watching a movie on Netflix. You picture her asleep on the couch, clouds of smoke billowing from the kitchen followed by a consuming inferno.
    You call Susan. She doesn’t pick. You call her three times and she does not pick.
    Fear laces through you. “How did he know about Susan?” You ask yourself as your palms start sweating. You look back at where you last saw the kid but he is gone. And you are a guest in this house. You don’t want to be accused of harassing the kid. It is bad enough that he says you crushed his toy.
    You look around for your friend. He turns. His eyes find you. He is standing with some other two guys. They look like former rugby players. Broad shoulders, thick necks, muscular arms throaty laughs. With them is a short suburban lady in a huge, Diana Ross wig. It’s a wig because that cannot be her hair. She is chewing gum and her eyes have a fascinating sparkle, like she just saw the birth of a sun moments ago. She glances at you in the space between the towering men. Your eyes linger on hers. You feel drawn to her.
    “Hey [insert your name here], come meet my friends!” your friend says cheerfully.
    Then he sees the look on your face. It wipes the smile from his face. His gaze sharpens at what he sees.
    He peels from the group and approaches you, his brow creased in worry. Even with his worried look, his caveman swagger is still discernible in his gait as he closes the distance..
    “Hey man, what’s wrong?” he asks, head angled in worry.
    “I need your car keys. I need to go home urgently” you extend an open hand in his direction.
    “[insert your name here]…”he says. He is about to cajole you. You cut him off, your expression grave as that of a mortician.
    “Just give me your [expletive] car keys. I will explain later.” He picks up the steel in your voice and is visibly jolted. A hand disappears into his pocket like a startled snake and comes out spitting the keys into your outstretched hand.
    “Sawa. Drive carefully,” he says, visibly taken aback. He swallows spit as he looks at you, clearly shaken. You mumble some thanks and spin round. Your heart slams against your ribcage as sweat beads on your brow.
    You weave between the guests, half sprint to the parking, and get into his car.
    Within minutes, you are on Mombasa road heading home, your mind racing as you weave through the evening traffic.
    Who was that kid? you ask myself as you slow down to a stop at Nyayo stadium roundabout. Traffic zoom past the roundabout like vermin. The matatus hoot as they lurch past in a wide arc. You look at the nearest matatu driver. His veins are popping, teeth clenched. His skin is tight on his bones as he holds the steering tightly. He reminds you of a warrior in the battlefield. A traffic cop sees you and approaches. You exhale and try to look relaxed. You don’t want him to see him to see you tense and think that you are carrying contraband. Hooded eyes study you. you look away.
    He leans on the bonnet of the car as glinting eyes slide beneath heavy eyelids. He peers silently at the insurance sticker. Sausage-thick fingers support his frame as he leans forward. His threadbare uniform fits tightly on his body. You can hear the threads shear under the onslaught. He circles the car like a cat as you try to think happy thoughts. You fail.
    He probably has a square-ass name like Limo, you think. His eyes dart to and fro, a predator at the entrance of a new cave. Curious, investigating. He leans back, satisfied. He squints in the sun pensively, probably thinking about his cattle back in the village. Then he walks out of the way and waves us on.
    You step on the pedal. The car jerks forward. You are flung backwards on the seat as you manoeuvre the car onto Langata road. The tyres squeal as you torch through the traffic like a maniac.
    KFC, the Shell station, Tmall, Wilson Airport and the traffic you are overtaking are a blur as you race home. Someone hoots at you near Wilson Airport. You do not turn to look. Your mind is feverish with the idea of Susan dying in an inferno in my house. You can now see the gate. But rather than feel relief, tension mounts in your stomach. The noise in your head is reaching a crescendo. You grab the steering tightly. Your hands are now shaking. You drive past a neighbour who also hoots at you. It’s a heavyset woman in a black Harrier. She shouts something. You are sure it’s not something nice. But you don’t care.
    You see people running away from you towards your apartment block. There is some pandemonium. Tension hangs in the air. You hear distant screams. You look up and see a crowd milling near your apartment block. Smoke is billowing from the area near your apartment where a flurry of activity is roiling like the surface of boiling water.
    Tyres screech as you stop the car. You hurtle out of it. The tension in your stomach is now sickening. Bile rushes up your throat. You swallow it and it scorches your insides. As you rush towards your apartment in a daze, you forget to turn off the car.
    Without thinking, you elbow your way through the crowd, blood pounding in your ears. You ignore the disapproving noises. You inhale the smoke. It meets the dread etched inside you and explodes in form of a racking cough that tears through you as you stumble forth.
    Nothing in life has prepared you for what you find waiting beyond the smoke.

    NIENDELEE?

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  22. A romper, that is the word. The thing that looks like dungaree but they are shorts with a zip at the back. Some have front zips

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      1. @Kenneth Nzomo Lol. A prolonged false orgasm is the most ingenious thing I have heard today. Hahahaha Biko please post stories not semi stories.

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  23. I feel you! Sometimes you start writing and it seems like you have it all together and that story will be up in no second. And then boom, it all disappears!

    That was a nice sudden ending. Haha

  24. Yaani I was here waiting to hear the wife was a soldier,and the girl in dungarees ends up in your house only for Biko to say he forgot his story.
    But why???