THE POPULAR NAME of the estate is ‘Mashimoni’ meaning ‘In the holes’.
That estate is thus named because of the dams filled with dirty water where the locals fetch their daily rations from these dangerous monstrous dug out holes that excavators borrowed sand and soil to build the gated community two miles down the road.
No. There is more. It’s thus named because, holes have purpose definite thought each flows into the other. The furthest one was the communal toilet. The one after it as one came closer to the structure was the dumpster. The third and last one which was closest to this decayed establishment is where folks fetched their drinking water and swam in, that is besides washing of clothes and cooking wares.
To call Mashimoni an estate is a sad laughable euphemism. Each of the holes of Mashimoni generously flows into the other through direct seepage or overflow whenever it rained
First, each room is a patch work of old rusty iron sheets long discarded at the Dumpster and an assortment of cardboard boxes with an occasional plastic sheet either as roofing or as walls, often torn in places. With walls thinner that cobweb thread, conversations, quarrels and love talk were an estate affair. Secrets only existed in the silence of enforced communal call of duty where crimes and hardcore events that so often ended in murder remained within the wall-less confines of Mashimoni. There was a rule that governed the social interactions here.
No one stole from the other. To do so was to end disastrously for the victim. Thieves; and there were many here, could steal and rob elsewhere and the community would cover their crimes from the outside world
There was a constant flow of traffic through out any day and throughout any night. Mashimoni was a 24-hour economy with buying and selling going on without any seen or sensed breaks. Here, anything and everything was available for sale at the drop of a hut and the mention of the right price. Whether it was a dose of ‘love’ for a moment or an overnight lodging, it was about price and prompt payment. Whether it was a gun for hire or recruitment of muscle for bloody missions, it was a matter of the right price.
Then came COVID-19 and something changed. The change was far from good and the effects were so traumatic, not even the security forces wanted to be quoted over recent events
With curfew lasting from dawn to dusk and restrictions of movement beyond the county boarders, Mashimoni and its inhabitants were in for a rough ride. Food was in short supply. Drugs were in short supply and when available, extremely expensive. A foul mood spread over Mashimoni competing with the stench of the open hole that served as toilet spreading its fumes around with careless abandon. Bloody fights had become a daily show.
Children were hardest hit and often were preyed on in terrible ways when their mothers sold them off to moneyed Mashimoni dwellers for a game of adults in bed
On the first day of the third month of enforced curfew and lockdown, there was a crisis meeting at Mashimoni called by the senior most elders. That the oldest man and chairman of the council of elders was only 34-years of age spoke volumes of life expectancy in the estate. Mengi as he was fearfully and respectfully called was a thin tall man with a missing right eye which he did nothing to hide.
An ugly scar and remnants of sutures run like a sisal rope from the empty socket down all the way to the inside of the dark blue turtle neck he wore. His right hand thumb and small finger were also missing.(In the local style a name told the character, Mengi meant Much. And much he was and then some more).
Next to him was the women representatives. A plumb woman with a dirty disheveled weave that stood gently waving on the morning breeze like elephant grass. Her eyes were blood shot and she kept sniffing and wiping the contents of the nostrils with the back of her hands alternating between the right and left. When she coughed, the folds of her rounded tummy rippled as if tickled by an invisible hand. Her name was Mweji. (Mweji in the slum slang meant shaver)
At 28 she was a grandmother twice over as well as the voice of authority in the absence of Mengi, who inherited her bed when the last man there fell to a bullet from a dissatisfied client. Her last two children; twins, were rumored to be Mengi’s. Nothing was the way it appeared in this environs. No one complained. Life was lived fast and slow in equal measure. There was one more woman and two more men.
“This can’t go on. That is inviting the police into our affairs. So I want to know right now. Who is responsible for that mess? Mengi asked calmly as he fished out a short roll of something that the Government frowned upon and proceeded to light it. He let off a thick blue spiral of smoke which hung a little around his head before being picked up by the lazy breeze and flew eastwards. He took one more puff and passed the contraband to Mweji.
“Have you seen Maimuna?” asked Mweji as the thick blue smoke escaped her toothless gum.
“Mine is to check whose stomach paves the way for the owner. Is that it?” Mengi hit back.
Mweji swallowed, passed the piece that was now smoldering red to the woman next to her before she answered.
“She is crying inside” Mweji pointed in the direction of the room where the subject of discussion was. “Who knows the reason for the groans? Could be what you are looking for”
“There was a cry there yesterday night, no, no, the other night” the only other woman added.” A baby’s cry. She hasn’t left the room so…” she shrugged as she took her turn at puffing
“Are you saying she is responsible?” Mengi asked
It can be anybody. That thing there has hair on its head. That means it was born, unless…” one of the other men made his observation but ended up shrugging like the other woman
“Bring her here!” ordered Mengi. He used his chin to indicate the other woman and the last speaker. Silence fell on the other three members and no one broke it till the culprit was brought in, rather the truth is she was dragged in for she could barely walk. She was dumped at the center of the group. The estate residents had taken positions all round to watch this drama to excite their dull lives. Whispers and muffled laughter rose and fell as the young woman turned and curled up into a ball on the dusty ground.
She was roughly sixteen by the look of it or even younger. She wore a shapeless yellow faded dress that had blood spots all around the back. Her skin was drained of all blood and she appeared as if she had generously doused herself with ashes.
“Msororo!” Mengi called the young woman lying at the circle. The girl stirred and struggled to turn to the elder. She knew the consequences of disobeying this man. But she couldn’t do more than turn. Her head buzzed and saliva was filling her mouth fast although she hadn’t eaten for the last two days. Not since darkness enveloped her sight and a certain cold crept up her skeletal body. She let it. For the cold was leaving a certain warmth of a darkness that went on to relieve the terrible stomach clumps that had wracked her body ever since she decided to end the pregnancy. And right before the council of elders of Mashimoni, Msororo slowly stretched out and lay quiet.
Silence fell on the group. Death was as active as life at Mashimoni. They had seen worse and more violent death than many except perhaps those in the war zone. In its own way, Mashimoni was another type of war zone. There was never a guarantee for an afternoon let alone tomorrow. Murder was never far from the residents doors. Sickness always ended most lives. Drug overdose and botched abortions for the youths. In comparison, this one was a quiet affair. The end of a family and lineage. Msoro’s mother had died a year before on a failed mission on the other side of town. Her son, who was aged four suffocated inside the room when Msoro left a charcoal stove burning inside their room as she went out hunting in the city streets.
“Take her back” Mengi ordered. This time, three of the council members carried the inert body of the suspect. Mengi lit up another joint and after two puffs passed it to Mweji
A scream rent the air from the room where the council members had taken Msoro. Another one pealed up sending the residents scampering in a wave of colored voices and torn clothes to the scene. The population of a colored discolored people in all manner of dilapidated personal disrepair and drunkenness stumbled like a river overloaded with plastics debris and dead wood to the front of the room which was the second from the central row from the left. Someone called out a dirge and a woe went up from some of the women who truth be told were children overweighed by early maternity and mental health issues of drug use and abuse.
Regardless of the crowd and the funereal mood fast settling in, Mengi and Mweji were given right of way into the small room. The woman council member who had helped carry Msoro into the room was standing bent over a little bundle covered in an old grey towel. A child; rather a fetus from the swollen closed eyes and unformed eyes. The alpha male and female stood still.
“It wasn’t her. So who is responsible for,” Mengi commented and asked at the same time. He turned to stare at the crowd.
He was greeted by silence that lasted a good ten seconds.
“Have you checked your own house?” a youth with a gawky face full of ripe pimples and swaying on his feet asked Mengi
Someone drew a sharp breath in shock. No one was careless enough to dare answer Mengi in such a brazen manner. Law and order was a matter of life and death. Survivors of any assumed contempt of authority, carried a penalty for life in form of ghastly scars if not a knife in the chest. Mengi pivoted on his right foot as he drew out a knife ready to strike the young man. Before he could, another youth, as high as the first one howled for everyone to hear.
That’s your baby boss. Ask your woman
Mengi stood his hand midair. Someone was to swear that at that moment, Mengis absent right eye moved. He turned to Mweji. She took a step back, then another. The crowd started laughing as others cheered.
“You! Is that your baby? And don’t you know better than that?” Mengi asked Mweji’s retreating figure. The fat woman tripped on a stone brick that residents used as a stool and fell backyards, her feet up revealing a dirty pair of shorts made from a pair of jeans cut at the knees. She started dragging herself backyards as Mengi pursued her slowly but menacingly.
The crowd got excited and started cheering like a wrestling match in the making.
“It’s not me, it’s not mine. I swear!” Mweji finally found a voice to defend herself. She knew how this would end unless she confessed. She regretted not having told Mengi about the case. That she was paid to dump the child that was aborted in her room by a girl Mengi had impregnated. She would not own up to killing the child but she knew Meengi would let her off the hook if she surrendered the money she was paid to procure death of the live child. Shakily she delved into her dirty shorts and pulled out a bundle of dirty notes and threw the money to Mengi.
“There, that is the whole pay for disposing the body. The child was born dead”
Mengi quickly picked the money and pocketed it. He did not even count it.
“The child was not dead you liar!” someone screamed from the crowd.” You smothered it”
And the crowd picked up from this lone accuser. A chant started.
“Killer! Killer! Killer!”
Then someone threw a stone at Mweji. As if the crowd was waiting for this act of deadly entertainment, everyone started pelting the fat woman with stones. Mwji tried to cover her head with both her hands but nothing worked as bigger and heavier stones rained on her. By the time her body movement stopped, what was left of her was a mangled mess of open flesh. To everyone’s surprise, Mengi had lit a joint and sat at the door of Mweji’s room smoking up to the end. Once the excitement of murder had died down, he stood up, this time he had a pistol in his hand. He said.
“You know what to do with the bodies, unless you want to bring the police down here. Come on boys!”
There was no remorse in his voice, not even a little tremor of sadness at the death of a woman he had two children with
The so called boys reluctantly went to work. First retrieving the dead child that had been dumped at the dumpster hole, then the mother who had died after what was a seemingly safe abortion, and finally, Mweljis mangled mess. All were put in Mshoros room awaiting dispersal and disposal into the location known for decimating all traces of the victims within no time. The only internationally known National park close to a big city was the burial grounds for the forgotten people of Mashimoni. There, hynenas did a quick job on the dead complete with cracking of bones. What was left, vultures and red ants quickly cleansed the land before wildlife officers made their rounds at midday. The wild and the tame meeting to cheat life as they fed life. Life conceived in brutality, lived in ambiguity and died in shameless abandon finally interred in secrecy.
Time and timing being of essence, scouts were sent out by Mengi to keep watch over the curfew watchers. And at three o’clock that morning, when police enforcing curfew had retired to their stations, a group of sixteen youths blended into the grey night carrying the crimes of life to feed the already fed wildlife.
A blogger whose brother was a ranger at the National park was to share a story of a lone human head found with its hair gnawed off and its tooth less gums chewed off. The blogger was not interested just like no institution in the land was interested in the lost community of children of bloody existence at Mashimoni.
And life is going on uninterrupted with deep sighs and prayers from everyone with an identity card in this beautiful land where human rights are works of miracles.
To a God that has never visited Mashimoni to lift curfew and lockdown so normalcy can come back
And life is going on in a democracy that holds rallies under heavy masks to preach the need for social distancing and the magic of sanitization. Mashimoni may not be on Google map, neither within the jurisdiction of a local sub chief, but those who live there are a product of society, and deserves better. Don’t let ignorance ask the question of why they can’t go back where they came from. The answer is that these deplorable people came from each of us.
Nancy Ndeke is an acclaimed International Poet and Freelance Writer.