Jasmine is running for her life. She has had to face her mother’s brutal murder and her father’s possible involvement in her mother’s death. Now pursued by a mysterious organisation, Jasmine has to make the most difficult decision in her life.
Smallie sniffed, and looked over his shoulder, then decided that his bladder had had just about enough. The murram road was known as North Creek Road, by the wealthier usually lighter skinned residents or Mtomondoni Road by the kawaidas who lived in the less affluent side of the village. Smallie was one of the beach boys who was born and raised on the Kawaida side and aspired to live on the better side. For that reason he spent a lot of time trying to bangaiza, to find a wealthy foreign tourist, who needed a companion for a few weeks, and if he was lucky someone to finance his needs for a long time.
The financing was just a little further from him today than they usually were. It had been a really bad night. After a very long night without any success at the beach club, and a few joints of a really crude batch of hash, he had given up and hauled himself off towards the village. So here he was walking a length of road that he would rather cruise in a car, preferably a big bold vehicle, like the one his cousin had landed, a Merc, no less.
There was no one else on the road as far as Smallie could see in the 5.30am light. So he slid between the two mwarubaine trees and allowed himself some relief. He was just starting to breathe that relief when his eyes caught on something, forcing his bladder to shut down automatically. He stood rooted to the spot for a few seconds before his brain finally told his legs to jump back.
With some feet between him and the object, he blinked, thinking that the hash might be having a really bad effect on him. The object took shape in his eyes, a bloodied arm, and when he looked more, a familiar face, with eyes that were obviously long dead.
Common sense told him not to touch the body, but it did not stop him from screaming like the cemetery ghosts were after him.
It was not long before the village of Mtomondoni was awake and streaming to see the body. News tricked to North Creek Road, too. Eventually the Police showed up. By the time the news reached the big house at the end of North Creek road, the sun was high, the humid heat rising, and the senior police officers were milling around talking to the squawking radios handed down from a 1988 Soviet Corps Unit, while the Junior officers milled around toiling and soiling the evidence.
Jasmine was the kind of girl you knew as soon as you saw her that she did not belong in the Mukuru Kwa Njenga slums. Her skin was a very light brown, smooth like a healthy young baby’s. Her eye brows were neatly trimmed but there was no eye makeup. She did wear a light pink lip gloss that made a pretty contrast against her skin. She wore clothes that Maria thought looked expensive. Jasmine was just nineteen years old but she came to the slums working amongst the poor, and the sick, and the troubled almost as if she thought if she worked hard enough she could make up for being born rich.
Maria frowned when she caught the taxi driver looking at them through the rear view mirror. She stared at the rear view mirror even after the taxi driver turned and focused on the road. His upper lip was shining; a bead of sweat dancing on the tip of his nose, and his eyes darted around as if he was nervous. Maria’s face lined with worry. She was a small woman, unlike Jasmine who was tall, and slender in the way of an active sportsperson. She was thin, from a tight budget and months of fear. She wore a simple dress that had come with the aid shipment from the American friends of the Mtoto Sema Children’s centre. It was worn out now; it hadn’t been new when she got it. Her shoes were 99 shilling Bata sandals which had spent quite a while on her feet; the part which anchored between her toes was waiting for some kind of impact so that it would fall apart.
“Maria, can I hold the baby?” Jasmine asked holding out her hands, the right one had a slender silver watch fastened at the wrist, and the left had a plain silver ring on the thumb. Her fingers were long and slender, the nails long and painted in a light silver blue colour. Maria did not think Jasmine had ever done her own laundry. Maria held on to her baby tighter. The baby was all she had. Though she had tried to take her mind off the thought, it kept coming back to her that the difference between them was that Jasmine had money, and Maria did not. They were the same age, and Maria seriously doubted that Jasmine was more intelligence than she was.
“Wacha tu, I need to hold him.” The baby in Maria’s arms whimpered. Jasmine leaned back to peek at the baby over his mother’s shoulder. He started to frown, she cooed at him. “Wewe baby, sema toto, sema.” She made faces at him. The baby boy paused in his whimpering to stare at her silly facial movements. His tiny pink-brown lips spread in toothless grin that made her chuckle softly.
Jasmine looked past the baby to the mirror and saw that the driver was still casting jerky looks at them every few seconds. She half expected him to turn the saloon car around and take them back. He probably lived in Mukuru too. It is not easy to hide anything in the slum town with its crammed wooden, mud and sometimes cardboard walled houses; all lined up in haphazard ways that still create narrow streets that criss-cross the valley. The walls are so thin; the joke that if the next door mama is peeling onions, your eyes tear up, true. Conversations are not private, when the young mother next door receives a menacing visit from the slum lord’s men, you could tell your neighbour who sells mboga at the soko all about it and her son who hangs out at the video or pool game hall up near Sami’s shop could overhear you and tell his ‘maboys’ who would confirm the story they heard at Kama’s Wines & Spirits.
The taxi driver had assessed Jasmine, Maria and the baby and immediately changed the previous deal, doubled his price and threatened to drive away. Jasmine relented; 1600 shillings to the city centre, a ride that would have cost 300 shilling if Maria had been on her own.
Maria was not carrying anything except her baby and a baby bag. She looked as if she was heading for the clinic on the other side of Mukuru Kwa Njenga. It was a small government clinic which like all the others provided ante-natal and post-natal care. Everyone knew the choices, to get there very early or stand in line with a screaming baby all day. As a matter of fact, Maria’s baby was due for immunisation today.
Once they picked her up though, the Toyota Corolla, which was new and comfortable inside, headed not inwards into the slums towards the clinic, but outwards towards the Nairobi-Mombasa highway. The driver glanced at Jasmine through the rear view mirror several more times as he drove on the dust road out of the slum district, leaving behind the houses, poorly built with poor materials, and the people who lived there, some of them out on the streets now, faces resolute, bodies denying the resolution in their hearts to survive. Maria bobbed her head down, though she could hardly be seen from inside the car, when she saw Mwende her neighbour. Mwende was a barmaid at a Bar Restaurant built in a place called Cambodia.
Cambodia was so called because one of the original residents of the slum valley loved to read war novels from 70’s and 80’s American writers. The Vietnam and Cambodian wars featured a lot in the novels, so when the valley turned bloody with gang wars, he had been the first to call it Cambodia. The name stuck. Mwende had told Maria of the horror of working as barmaid in Cambodia. The slum lord’s were everywhere, extorting, taxing, and charging even for the filthy air that the slum dwellers breathed. Maria closed her eyes, her breath coming out shakily. Jasmine touched the baby’s tiny foot encased in a rather old but clean sock as they went past Imara Daima Estate’s gated entrance, and the factories where some slum locals could work for 65 shillings a day, and then onto the Mombasa- Nairobi highway, heading into the city.
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