THE AFRICAN SONGBOOK is at heart, a love story. Based in Kenya during the MAU MAU uprising of the 1950's. It is the story of Daniel and Thandie, two star-crossed lovers caught up in the middle of a political turmoil they don't understand.
THE AFRICAN SONGBOOK
A TRAGEDY IN FIVE ACTS
They moved through the shadows as if they were a whisper on the wind. There were six of them. The plantation truck they used for their journey through the Rift Valley safely hidden in the trees, they went the rest of the way on foot. They moved quick, cloaked in silence. A full moon flooded the distant hills and plain below with light, so that the tiny whitewashed walls of the farmhouse and enclosure stood out as though a blemish on the landscape. A dog barked in the distance, perhaps catching the scent of something sinister on the wind.
They stopped on a low rise, overlooking the farmhouse. The leader, a tall man dressed in rags — torn pants and buttonless shirt, his sandals made of old tractor tires and rope — looked at the others as he stood on the rise. Grabbing the long, tight-braided curls of his shoulder length hair and tying them with a rough cord he pulled out of his pocket, he nodded, pulling the machete-like panga out of the rope belt around his waist and murmuring softly to himself as they walked toward the farmhouse.
He chanted an old Kikuyu war cry--“Mau-Mau-Mau-Mau-Mau-Mau,”--the words growing louder with every beat of his heart as he began running down the hill. The others picked up the cry as they followed. The dog promptly killed with a hack of the man’s panga, the six men burst through the door. Their war cries drowned out the screams of the man, woman, and two children inside as the six men quickly fell to the business at hand: slaughter.
7 February 1952
Algernon, Lord Whitney, sat looking across the table from Rheinhold Messner, sipping his wine and thinking how the man was everything he could never be. Messner was unnaturally handsome, his face tanned and still unwrinkled—a youthful man by all appearances, Whitney told himself. His hair was thick, still dark, and unusually long, so that it rested on his broad shoulders. By contrast, Whitney’s hair was thin and balding, and what little he had left, white. Where Messner was tall, Whitney was short; Messner was fit, his body hard, while Whitney was soft and thought of himself as only half a man because of his missing leg. Whitney was feeling his age, and knew he looked it. The worst thing about it, he told himself as he refilled his drink, was that he was only a year or two older than Messner.
Whitney had inherited his wealth, putting most of it to good use, while Messner made his fortune through poaching, leading Big Game hunters into the Savannah where they hunted lions, elephants, and rhinos. Messner’s latest adventure—according to Messner—had involved an American movie director and his quest for a man-eating lion. Whitney would have never publicly called Messner a liar, but he had a difficult time bringing himself to believe the man’s boasting.
It’s his damned national pride, he told himself.
With the war still fresh in the minds of everyone in the room, and a bitter reminder that the war he’d fought in had been for nothing, Whitney found it hard to believe Messner would readily admit the Kaiser’s war was a mistake. And yet, Messner was quick to point out how the imposed peace treaty not only allowed a man like Hitler to assume power, but demanded it. As far as Whitney was aware, Messner had not fought in the Great War. Whitney lost his leg at the Marne and walked on a prosthetic—using a wooden leg like I was a goddamned pirate—a bitter reminder of everything he had lost.
Whitney turned away from Messner, looking about the banquet hall with a sense of indifference. The trappings of the elite—an embarrassment of riches, he thought. One chandelier was worth more than the wages of all the waiters in their stiff white liveries. They looked as if they were little black exclamation marks lost in a sea of chiffon and silk, and sometimes he felt as though he were one of them, living as he did alone out in the Rift.
His daughter-in-law, Natasha, sitting to his right, was lost in conversation with the woman next to her. Nigel, his son—holding a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other—was buzzing about the banquet hall like a bee in a garden, moving from table to table. The room was too warm, stuffy, even with the doors open, and he could feel the sweat slipping between his shoulder blades as well as down his ribcage. He wiped his forehead with a napkin and took another sip of his wine.
God I hate these affairs. Whatever possessed them to think I give a damn if the princess sees me or not--or is she the Queen now that the King’s dead?
Well, long live the Queen!
He took another drink as he made the silent toast.
It took him a moment to realize Messner was talking to him. He turned as the man leaned across the table, looking both ways as he spoke.
“I asked you if there was any trouble up your way.”
“Trouble? What sort of trouble?” Whitney asked, a note of petulance in his voice that caught Natasha’s attention. She turned to look at him briefly and gently patted his leg, knowing Whitney’s dislike for the man.
“You must have heard about the killings?”
Messner sat back in his chair. “You should pay more attention to what’s going on— especially with what’s going on around you. You’re too isolated out there in the Rift.”
Whitney reached into his tuxedo pocket for a cigar. “I pay little attention to what goes on beyond the borders of my fifty thousand.”
“Naturally, no one knows who’s responsible,” Messner went on, “but you know how these people like to talk.”
“And what do they like to say?” Whitney asked, lighting his cigar. “These people?”
“Oh, Poppa!” Natasha said, turning away from the woman she was speaking with. “You’re not going to smoke that now, are you? In here?”
“What? This? Why not? Dinner’s over. I see other people smoking.”
“Cigarettes yes, not stinky old cigars.”
“Perhaps we could go outside for some air?” Messner suggested.
“Would you?” Natasha asked, affecting a smile.
Picking up his cane, Whitney pushed himself up with an effort. The last thing he wanted was to be alone with Messner, but things might be worse if he upset his daughter-in-law; she might withhold the children from him. He looked for Nigel and saw him several seats away chatting with the Governor. Nigel gave out a burst of forced laughter and Whitney looked at Natasha; she was being too obvious in her effort to ignore her husband. He would have to talk to her about that one day.
A good wife should be at her husband’s side, he thought, but who can blame her? I should have stayed home; but then, I wouldn’t see the children, would I?
Outside, Whitney found the night air cool. A soft breeze flowing up from the south stirred through the tall elephant grass growing in the garden below the stone terrace. The acacia trees swayed listlessly, looking like cardboard cut-outs against the night sky. Stars lit up the night and there was a full moon rising over the city to the east. He could almost see Perseus hanging on to the edge of the horizon, trying to get a foothold where the Milky Way disappeared into the south. He loved the night sky; it seemed as if the stars were the one constant thing he still had left in his life that made any sense to him.
Whitney was careful to rest his cane against the balustrade as he turned to face the banquet hall. Suddenly the music seemed too loud, the room too full, and he was glad to get away. His leg had been bothering him for the last week and he began rubbing it gently, kneading the muscles above the thigh—where my thigh would have been, he reminded himself.
The lights of the banquet hall spilled across the balcony floor shimmering like broken glass—dazzling and brilliant—as Messner caught a passing waiter’s attention. He nimbly picked up two glasses of wine from the waiter’s tray, offering one to Whitney.
“What was that you were saying about killings?” Whitney asked, accepting the glass of wine.
“I passed through the Rift on my way here, stopping in at one of the villages along the way. After telling me all their usual woes—”
“Their usual woes?”
“You know...how you Brits have stolen their land; won’t let them sell their coffee for the same price—”
“A moot point,” Whitney said.
“Any point in their favour would be moot I suspect. Anyway, the Chief told me about a secret society located somewhere in the mountains—not too far from your place, from what I understand.”
“A secret society?” he said, somewhat dubiously.
“He said something about blood oaths—animal sacrifices—the whole nine yards. They take their oaths seriously, these people. There’s another group farther south, he said, near Mt. Kenya. They’re the ones creating all the havoc right now. They’ve been killing Loyalists—Police and Home Guards—that sort of thing. They’ve even attacked some Guards posts, and some of the more remote farmhouses.”
“Why haven’t I heard about it?”
“It might be because they haven’t attacked any Settlers yet—”
“Settlers? How long do you have to live in a place before you’re not considered a settler anymore?”
“Perhaps after they take their land back?”
“Take it back? But it’s my land. My father bought it eighty years ago. I was born here. My brother died in the Boer war; I lost my leg at the Marne.”
“Yes, yes, yes,” Messner said, waving the statement off with a lazy hand. “But your father bought his land from a Government that didn’t have the right to sell it to him in the first place.”
“We’ve made this a profitable Colony.”
“Indeed, you have. But profitable for whom?”
“Ah yes, the Empire,” Messner smiled. “Not so mighty now that you’ve lost India, is it? Now it looks like these Zwarten are going to try their hand at independence.”
“You look shocked? Why’s that? You can’t expect me to believe this comes as a surprise? They’re not the ignorant savages of your father’s day—not that they ever were. They’ve grown since then. You’ve given them government, and religion—and they’re good God-fearing Christians they are—but you’ve also given them an education; and with that comes taxation; representation—or should I say, misrepresentation considering you won’t let them have elected representation. Isn’t your son in Parliament?”
“Really? I thought he was in Parliament. Even so, what better way for you to hold onto your monopoly?”
“Whitney Estates isn’t the only coffee plantation in Kenya, and it’s hardly a monopoly.”
Messner stared at him, smiling over his glass.
“What does any of this have to do with these killings you’re talking about?” Whitney asked.
“As I said, it’s a move toward independence. They even have a name for it: Muingi. It’s Swahili.”
“Yes. I know; it means ‘movement’. How original. You don’t seriously expect the tribes to get along, do you?”
“When you British first arrived here, you said you were going to form a government for them—you wanted to replace the tribal governments they had.”
“That’s how these things are done,” Whitney said, agreeing with a nod.
“But unknown to you English, the chiefs never really own the land, did they? It belonged to the people. The chiefs handed it down from family to family—the families owned the land. The land belongs to the people. As far as the people are concerned, you stole their land, and they want it back.”
“They want it back?” Whitney smiled over his drink.
“They’re little more than serfs working their own land. It’s only a matter of time before everything comes to a head.”
“When it does, we’ll deal with it,” Whitney said, putting his wine glass down on the balcony and grabbing his cane.
“And how do you propose to deal with it? By pretending it isn’t happening and hoping it goes away, like you did in India?”
“We’ll fight to keep this Colony; we’ll answer violence with violence. If it’s war they want, we’ll give it to them!” Whitney said, limping back into the banquet hall.
12 October 1952
Whitney sat uncomfortably in the front seat of the Jeep kneading his thigh as he watched Daniel Nk’yassa standing on a rise overlooking Whitney Estates. Daniel was looking through a pair of binoculars surveying the rows of coffee plants cresting the horizon and melting into the distance. To Daniel’s right—to the south—were fields of cotton. The original rail line Whitney’s father built when he first bought the land—a blunt ribbon of steel pointing to the coast—bisected the four thousand hectares. To the east were the new vineyards, while to the west lay the huge palatial estate Whitney called home: Mozambique. Directly below, the new landing strip used for transporting fresh coffee beans to the auction houses of Nairobi. The cotton went overland by rail, to Mombasa on the coast.
Whitney remembered telling Daniel of his plans almost as soon as the Second World War ended seven years earlier—except that his plan originally involved Nigel. When Nigel returned home, he brought Natasha and two children. He insisted on living in the city where he was to take his post in the Civil Service. He wanted nothing to do with Whitney Estates, or Mozambique.
And who can blame him? Whitney asked himself.
“The city. That’s where all the power lies,” Nigel had explained.
Whitney remembered shaking his head at the idea, knowing the power was here, in the land, as long as a person had enough sense to look to the future. That’s why he was building a winery with a planned capacity of five thousand bottles a year; it was a step in a new direction, but it wouldn’t be ready for another three years.
Daniel jumped down from the rocks, walking toward the Jeep. He was tall and thin, wore his shirt open, his undershirt stained with sweat. His khaki shorts were dirty, his heavy boots scuffed, and the wool socks he wore folded over the edges of his boots.
He still looks young, Whitney noted.
There was a touch of grey coming in above the temples, but his black skin was still smooth, with no wrinkles. Whitney wondered if it was the result of a soft life. Daniel had never worked in the fields, not like he and his brother had when they were younger.
His father never had any wrinkles either, right up until the day he died, and he was closer to fifty than Danny’s thirty-eight.
Sitting in the Jeep and massaging the serrated muscles of his thigh, he undid the straps holding the peg leg in place and removed the small towel pressing against his leg. He sat back, dropping his hat down over his eyes and letting the warm air wash over the stump. It felt cool after the closeness of the towel.
“Relax, Inky. They’ll be here soon enough.”
Daniel affected a large smile as he leaned against the side of the Jeep. He was looking up at the clear blue sky, his hands on the binoculars.
“Did you happen to see Tommy out there by any chance?” Whitney asked, pushing his fedora up as he squinted into the sun. “He’s supposed to bring the Land Rover down to pick up the luggage.”
Daniel shook his head.
“How’s the leg today, Sir?”
“My leg? The same as it was yesterday, and the day before; the same it’s been for the last thirty-seven years...itchy.” He smiled.
“Itchy,” Daniel said, looking at the stump of the leg. He’d never known Whitney to have two legs.
Daniel grew up on the Estate. His father had served as Whitney’s unofficial batman until he died, caught unawares by a lion. That was when Daniel was eight years old.
It was the worst year of my life, Whitney thought. His wife had died a suicide that same year, while Nigel was sent to boarding school and wouldn’t return until late in 1947, by then, any chance of having a relationship with his son had slipped away.
Whitney watched Daniel bend down and pick up a handful of red dirt, crushing the dried loam in his hands—letting it sift through his fingers like the memory of a forgotten season.
The rain had better come soon.
Daniel brushed his hands off and then bent down again, picking up several large stones. He began throwing the stones at the trunk of a dead tree, hitting it three times.
“Will you relax?” Whitney said, adding a grin.
“I am relaxed.”
“You are? You’ve been standing at that ledge scanning the horizon for the last ten minutes. Were you watching the coffee plants grow?”
“She’s never been in a plane before.”
“Thandie. She’s never flown before.”
“Nigel’s an experienced pilot.”
“She might be nervous.”
“I suspect she will be. Or she might be excited. Don’t worry. The children will keep her company.”
“All right,” he confessed. “I’m nervous, but I’ve never been in love before—”
“Love? You never said anything about being in love with her.”
“I didn’t know I was until we left Nairobi.”
“But that was eight months ago! We were only there for a month! How can you possibly have fallen in love with her that fast?”
“How long does it take to fall in love?”
“What if she doesn’t feel the same way? My God, man! You can’t just throw yourself at the first woman that comes along!”
“She’s not the first woman I’ve been with,” Daniel said in his defence.
“Believe me, I’m well aware of that!” Whitney laughed. “I had far too many fathers crying to me as to how you deflowered their daughters. I was beginning to think there were more daughters than there were flowers in the fields! But you’re not eighteen years old anymore, and those girls you knew twenty years ago are still here. Only now they’re married, and they have children...”
“It’s not like that!” Daniel said with a laugh.
“They ask me to visit them because their husbands are bad men.”
“Bad men?” Whitney smiled. “Why? Do they beat them?”
Whitney considered it for a moment. “Are they beating them before, or after you visit them?”
The unmistakable sound of an airplane sounded in the distance, coming in low over the horizon and Daniel ran to the rocks with his binoculars, sweeping the skyline. He turned to his right, pointing southeast.
Whitney followed Daniel’s arm, and nodded. Nigel was a good pilot. He’d lived through the Battle of Britain and the Second World War, but to Whitney, there was something about flying that was frightening. As the small Beechcraft Bonanza came in for its final approach—the engine sputtering and coughing like an old man waking up in the morning—Whitney felt his heart skip a beat, knowing that was why he didn’t like Nigel flying.
“Do you see Tommy yet?” Whitney asked, strapping his leg back into place. Daniel jumped into the Jeep, throwing the binoculars on the back seat beside the rifle. He turned the key and grinned, punching the stick shift into gear.
“No. No sign of him anywhere.”
“Damn that man,” Whitney said.
The plane touched down with a small plume of dirt puffing up from under the wheels. Daniel spun the tires of the Jeep at the same time, leaving a cloud of dust behind as he drove down the side of the hill as if a child sliding down a sand dune, both of them screaming.
They were well on their way along the service road when Tommy Omoomu finally arrived in the Land Rover to pick up the luggage. It took a few moments to move everything around, and when they were ready, the children went in the Land Rover with Tommy. Whitney found himself looking at Thandie in the reflection of the outside mirror as he considered everything Daniel said about falling in love with her. He found himself grinning. His sudden happiness for Daniel startled him as he realized he’d never paid attention to the nanny of his grandchildren before.
Perhaps it’s time I did?
She had an undeniable beauty, and he could see she had white blood somewhere in her past.
Now there’s a story I’d like to hear.
“Why are you smiling, Poppa?” Natasha asked from the back seat.
“At times like these, I find myself to be a sentimental old fool,” he surprised himself by saying. “I’m glad you came out.”
He found himself enjoying the moments when Natasha and the children came out to visit. It had taken him years to accept that his efforts at rebuilding the family home had been for naught—his wife’s suicide had taken away whatever pleasure he might have felt in rebuilding Mozambique. But now, there was a resurgence of pride with what he’d done.
Mozambique stood on a gradual rise under the shade of a dozen acacia trees, the gentle climb of the Rift Valley sweeping westward. The mansion stood like a lone sentinel overlooking the landscape. He remembered how Natasha had whistled at her first sight of it seven years ago. She went through each of the twenty-seven rooms with the children, marvelling at the artistry—the lead crystal chandeliers imported from Vienna; the Italian marble sculptures; Egyptian linen wall hangings; the European craftsmanship—and asked Whitney about the French windows leading to the verandah, as well as the floor to ceiling mirrors inside the banquet hall with its parquet floor and table seating twenty guests. She asked if he was planning to entertain.
He turned to look at Natasha in the back seat holding her hair out of her face as the wind whipped it about, and laughed. It was a genuine laugh, and she smiled at him. He reached back and placed his hand on her knee, and she looked at him.
“I’m so glad you could make it.”
“What do you mean you can’t stay?” Whitney asked Nigel.
They were sitting on the verandah and Whitney was pacing back and forth, limping on his peg leg as he leaned on his cane. They were watching Daniel teach Sam how to drive the Jeep in the large circular driveway—there was a lot of grinding gears and sudden stops. Whitney was slapping at flies and bugs with his fedora, more disappointed in his son than he was upset. He paused, leaning on his cane as he watched Sam drive around the circular path.
“Look at Sam, Grandpa!” Elizabeth called out, waving at him and running out to chase the Jeep. Natasha called her back, fearful of what might happen, as Thandie chased her down.
It was close to seven months since he’d last seen Nigel and he was thinking how time was slipping away from him faster now than it ever had before.
My God, didn’t I just have this discussion with Danny?
I should have been a better father; maybe then he wouldn’t be in such a hurry to get back to the city. I should have never sent him away after Theresa died, but kept him here, with me.
He began rubbing his thin hair, and put his hat back on as he began pacing again. He paused with every tenth step when he was forced to turn around, and looking at Nigel waited for an explanation.
“Something’s come up,” Nigel finally said with a shrug. “I can’t believe you haven’t heard about this,” he added. Nigel was dressed in his usual white linen suit, brushing the seat cushion clean before sitting. He was the picture of his father as a young man, with the same brooding shape of the eyes, perfectly sculpted nose, and thin set mouth. His hair was dark, and thick, and had the same part on the right side. The only physical attribute he had of his mother’s was the steel grey colour of his eyes and the dimples in his cheeks.
“You’re a goddamned Civil Servant. What could have possibly come up that would have any effect on you? This is Kenya goddamnit, not Whitehall!”
“It’s these bloody rebels; they’re getting bolder. Cheeky bastards!” Nigel added as he crossed his legs and smiled. “Instead of attacking at night like they have been doing for the last ten months, they’re mucking about in broad daylight now. They’re burning down houses—European houses—and they’re hamstringing livestock.”
“And yet, I’ve heard nothing about any of this. Why is that?”
“He’s chosen to ignore it. He should have taken care of it long ago—when Messner spoke to you about it last February would have been the time to act—”
“Messner. A waste of air, that man,” Whitney said with a contemptuous wave of his hand.
“Well, he won’t be wasting air anymore, will he? He’s dead,” Nigel said, wiping at what he imagined was a spot on his white jacket.
“Dead?” Whitney stopped pacing. He couldn’t believe it; as much as he might not have liked Messner, he couldn’t imagine how the very people Messner had been working to help for the last fifteen years would kill him.
“They found his body somewhere outside of Nairobi. His camp destroyed. Three whites—him and two others—hacked to death with pangas. Seventeen blacks chopped up in total; I think some of them may have turned on him, because there were supposed to be about two dozen blacks with him.”
“How could you let something like this happen?”
“Me? It has nothing to do with me!” Nigel said.
“What about the Colonial police? Are they that useless?”
“All Mitchell was thinking about was his retirement! He couldn’t wait to get out of here. Our hands were tied. We couldn’t do anything until Potter took over in June; but he was just Acting Governor. Oh sure, he handed out fines and levies, and forced some of the leaders to denounce the movement, but there was little he could do. Maybe if we would have acted, instead of always reacting, this thing with Messner’s group could have been prevented. When Baring arrived, he saw the situation right away, and called for a State of Emergency!”
“A State of Emergency? That’s a little drastic, don’t you think?” Whitney said, and began pacing again.
“There’ve been attacks all across the country. Things have started to escalate. Baring’s not taking any chances. He’s already been in contact with London. They’re flying troops in from Uganda to help protect white Settlers here in the Rift.”
“And when is this supposed to happen?”
“It’s already gone into effect. That’s why I want Natasha and the children out here—”
“Have you forgotten Mozambique is in the Rift? Do you think it’s prudent sending them out here?”
“It’s just until we get things sorted out. Anderson’s in the area, so he’ll drop by whenever he can. Do you remember Anderson?”
“We served together in the war. He says he’d be more than happy to keep an eye on things. In the meantime, we’ve started by arresting the leaders. We picked up nearly a hundred on the first day alone. We even managed to grab Jomo Kenyatta—”
“Should I know him?”
“He’s one of the top men, a local politician. Very popular. That should effectively cut the head off this ugly monster.”
“Provided he’s the man in charge. You people have bungled your way through this thing right from the beginning—”
“We’ve arrested eight thousand rebels so far—”
“Eight thousand? How can there possibly be that many natives involved in this?” Whitney asked.
“There’s more than that.”
“How did Mitchell let this get so out of hand?” Whitney said with an absent stare, pausing to look at Sam and Daniel in the Jeep before he started pacing again.
“He was thinking of his legacy.”
“His legacy! The man was a fool! A pompous ass! That’s his legacy!” Whitney stopped pacing long enough to pound his cane on the verandah to make his point. “God only knows why London sent a man like him out here in the first place. We need a man with backbone! Someone who’s not afraid to act. By the sounds of it, we stand a chance of losing this Colony just like we did India!”
“That’s exactly why Evelyn Baring is here.”
“I have a hard time taking any man seriously with a name like that.”
“He’s a good man,” Nigel said, smiling. “He’s firm. He knows what needs to be done, and he’s not afraid to act.”
Whitney nodded. “Good. We’ll match violence with violence if need be. If that’s the only thing these rebels understand, by God, we’ll make them see the error of their ways.”
“You’ve got enough men out here to fight and protect yourselves if you have to. They’re arresting everyone and anyone in the cities they even suspect of being a rebel. I’d feel a lot better knowing Natasha and the children were out here, rather than in the city,” he added.
“Is it really as bad as that?”
“They’re not killing whites yet—with the exception of Messner’s group—but it may only be a matter of time. They’re killing their own right now, and we want it to stay that way—”
“You mean you want to put a stop to it before it escalates,” Whitney said.
“Of course we want it stopped,” Nigel said, flicking a bug off the sleeve of his jacket.
Whitney nodded. “As long as everyone understands the natives are expendable? God forbid a man should have to die a violent death like that—at the hands of these monsters—but if they’re going to kill each other to make their point, I say let them. I’d rather it be someone else than Natasha, or the children. I’ll do whatever it takes to protect them—”
“That’s why I’ve asked Anderson to drop by. He’s the man responsible for rooting out any rebels in this area.”
“And what does that mean?”
“If there are rebels in the area, or suspected rebels, they’ll be packed up and sent to Concentration camps where they’ll be interrogated and dealt with. After that, we’ll send them out to the Reserve Lands, away from everything—and everyone.”
“Good. We can’t afford to tolerate—what was it Messner said they called it—Muingi?”
“That makes more sense than what they’re calling it now.”
“They’re calling it something else now?”
“And what is that supposed to mean? It’s not even a word.”
“I know. Some reporter misquoted a Kikuyu chieftain in court last week. The next day— after they found Messner’s body—there it was in big, black, letters across the top of the page: ‘Mau-Maus Attack White Settlers!’ or something like that. Blew everything all out of proportion. Now the whole world knows it, and Mau-Mau is the new Bogeyman.”
On 24 January, Mau-Mau insurgents brutally murdered Europeans Mr. and Mrs. Ruck, as well as their six-year-old son, on their Settlement farm in the Rift Valley using pangas. All the newspapers had to do was show a photograph of the child’s bedroom where his bloody teddy bear lay on the bed, and the whole world cried out at the graphic nature of the crime. White settlers reacted strongly—overreacting in some cases—dismissing household servants, fearing they might be Mau-Mau sympathizers. Europeans, including women, armed themselves with any weapon they could find, and in some cases, Settlers built full-scale forts on their farms to protect their homes from invasion. Many Europeans also joined auxiliary units, like the Kenya Police Reserve, and the Kenya Regiment, a Territorial Army regiment.
British colonial officials believed the Kikuyu Central Association served as the political wing of the resistance, and arrests quickly followed. They made carrying a gun illegal, and associating with Mau-Mau, a capital offence.
In May of 1953, the Loyalist Home Guard became an official part of the security forces. It became a significant part of the anti-Mau-Mau effort. They organized their own intelligence networks and made punitive sweeps into areas they suspected of harboring or supporting Mau-Mau.
24 May 1953
Daniel was willing accepted the fact that Sam wanted to follow him wherever he went; it was only natural because the boy’s father was never around—and he understood that need more than he wanted to remember—but he felt as though the boy was replacing his father with Daniel in his own mind, and that would never do.
A boy needs his father.
Daniel didn’t mind watching Sam because it gave him an excuse to see Thandie every day. Sometimes he found her waiting at the door for him before he even knocked, wearing her blue kanga—the traditional Kenyan wrap she always wore—her white blouse starched and buttoned halfway up her thin neck, and he would steal kisses from her, hungering after her as if he were a man starved for breakfast. And he was starving for her, he realized. The last eight months together made him realize what it meant to truly love someone.
This morning, Daniel knocked and Thandie met him at the door with a smile.
Sam came bounding out of the door with a quick, “G’bye Thandie!” leaping into the Jeep and honking the horn.
“C’mon Inky! Let’s go!”
Elizabeth came around the corner after him, screaming out of the door—and she would have followed him too, if Thandie didn’t reach out to stop her.
“We have chores to do, Sammy! You can’t just leave! Mommy told him to help me!” she said, looking up at Thandie briefly. “I’m not doing it all myself!” she yelled out of the door at Sam.
“That’s woman’s work. Me an’ Inky have real work to do.”
“I’ll help you,” Thandie said. Her voice was as soft and comforting as her touch was gentle; she stroked Elizabeth’s head, trying to calm her down. “Daniel will put him to work, won’t you Daniel?”
“I’ll be a regular task master.”
“I’m telling Mom!” Elizabeth yelled at Sam one last time, poking her head around Daniel as she did. She looked up at him and forced a smile.
“Good morning, Inky,” she said at last. Inky was the name she called him when she first learned to speak—a mispronunciation of Nk’yassa —it was a name that stuck.
“C’mon Inky!” Sam called out from the Jeep, honking the horn again, and Daniel found himself forced to leave with nothing but Thandie’s smile to keep him company for the rest of the day—until they saw each other again later that night.
Daniel let Sam drive the Jeep whenever they went out for the morning inspection together. There were times they’d drive for hours without seeing anyone, and sometimes they’d chase out the antelope, giraffe, and zebra that pushed their way through the barbed-wire fences. The small line of fencing was something that needed repairs on a daily basis, and Daniel made a note of it in his book for Tommy to look after.
Daniel looked up at the openness of the Rift Valley with its long, rolling hills, and fractured, distant cliffs, and it reminded him of his youth when he drove Lord Whitney around the estate. He told Sam to turn down a well-worn path and follow an old game trail—the same game trail he remembered driving with Lord Whitney twenty-five years ago when he was Sam’s age.
“Stop here,” Daniel said.
Sam pushed in the clutch, stood up on the brake, and shut the engine off. They were on a rise overlooking the Rift. The Suguta River twisted its way through the rocks of nearby Mount Tiata, tumbling over cliff faces in a rush of white water. There were mornings when everything was right—when the stillness was so profound it made him think he could reach out and hold the very soul of Africa in his hands and he could hear the distant falls.
It’s only a matter of time before the river becomes a trickle again.
He looked up at the sky—a clear, pale blue, with light cirrus clouds scattered along the horizon—as he looked for rain clouds above the far away Mau Escarpment. The distant clouds looked like a bruise against the clear blue sky. He was hoping the rainy season wasn’t over yet; he was counting on two more weeks of heavy rain. It was still possible for the crops to suffer.
If it isn’t one thing it’s another; either not enough rain, or too much— if it’s not rain, it’s fire. Or disease.
“What are we doing here?” Sam asked.
“I used to come here with your grandfather when I was younger. He used to show me how much of the land was his and tell me what he hoped to do with it one day.”
“How much of it was his back then?”
“All of it. As far as the eye can see; but all they grew was cotton when he was younger. Your grandfather brought in coffee shortly after he returned from the war.”
“He was in the war with Dad?”
“The other one. The Great War.”
“What did they call that one?”
“The First World War?” Daniel said, turning to look at the boy with a curious knit of his brows. “I thought Thandie was supposed to be your tutor?”
“And you haven’t learned about European history?”
“She doesn’t think it’s important.”
“What does she think is important?”
“Everything around us. Africa. The land and the people. She’s a great one for mathematics, and poetry, too,” he added, dropping his head and mumbling into his chest.
“Well, if you want to run this place, you’d better start learning that much at least—the mathematics, I mean. There’s no need to learn about poetry,” he smiled.
“Is Grandfather as rich as people say he is?” Sam asked unexpectedly.
“And what people are those?”
“People in Nairobi. I heard them talking to Dad.”
“And you listened?”
“Sometimes I can’t help it. They say things in front of me.”
“Then you should turn away.”
Daniel drove down the hillside, telling Sam to hold on tight because it might be a rough ride. He put the Jeep into first gear and drove over the edge of the hill, pushing the clutch in and gathering speed. Sam screamed at the sudden lurch as Daniel shifted into second gear and released the clutch. Daniel screamed, looking at Sam and closing his eyes until they reached the bottom. He screamed as loud as he could, until he and Sam were laughing and exhausted at the bottom of the hill, a choking trail of dust corkscrewing behind them as they slid onto the small service road and Daniel shifted gears again, picking up speed and heading toward the cotton fields.
“Your grandfather’s been encouraging me to take you under my wing,” Daniel said into the wind. “He wants you to know all there is to know about this place.”
“Because one day, all of this will be yours.”
“Mine?” Sam was looking at the blur of cotton plants on his right.
“Aren’t you a Whitney? After your grandfather dies, your father will be Lord, after him, you will. Who did you think is going to run it? Me?” He laughed. “With any luck, I’ll be long dead by then.”
There was a row of huts standing at the north end of the field the workers used at harvest time. One, a supply shack, held open rain barrels of water as well as tools. Daniel drove toward it once he realized he’d forgotten his water canteen. It wasn’t something he was in the habit of doing—he knew it was because he’d been thinking of Thandie.
Still, something like that can get a man killed if he’s trapped in the wilds, or a field, without water. Or a rifle.
Daniel always made sure he had a rifle after his father died under the claws of a man-eating lion. It was after that when Lord Whitney took Daniel into his home. With Lady Whitney dead, and his son at boarding school, Daniel found himself staying in Nigel’s room and standing in his father’s place as Lord Whitney’s batman.
As soon as they approached the hut, Daniel knew something was wrong. He looked at the hard packed dirt and saw the unmistakable sign of footprints. It had rained four nights before and there shouldn’t have been anyone in the area. He reached for the rifle on the back seat of the Jeep. He looked at the tracks as soon as he stepped out of the Jeep, noticing a notch in every second footprint. Sandals made from old tires.
It means nothing. Everyone wears them.
Sam looked down at the prints.
“Who was here?”
Daniel shook his head.
“Look,” Sam said, pointing. “Blood. Do you think there was an animal here?”
“You mean like a lion? That would be so neat if it was a lion.”
Daniel shook his head. “An animal of a different sort. Mau-Maus.”
“Mau-Maus? How do you know?” Sam looked around nervously. “Do you think they’re still here? I’ve heard they wait in the bushes for you—”
“And where did you hear that?”
He shrugged. “I just heard it. You know, stories,” Sam said.
“Look,” Daniel pointed at the tire tracks. “They came that way by truck. And there,” he pointed at the footprints. “I can see maybe five or six different sandals.”
“You can you see all of that?”
“It’s not hard to see if you look closely.”
Daniel was following the prints into the high grass. He began looking through brushes, sweeping the long grass aside with his rifle and then stopped, straightening up. He pointed at the bloody remains of a small goat, the severed head covered in flies and tossed to the side.
“Neat,” Sam said. “But what does it mean?”
Daniel shook his head. Looking about, he felt as if he was being watched.
It couldn’t have been too long ago; everything looks too fresh.
“A blood oath,” he said, and directed Sam back toward the Jeep.
They arrived at Mozambique within an hour. The tall French doors leading out to the verandah mirrored the afternoon light, the bars of light cascading across the verandah. Daniel could see Lord Whitney sitting with Natasha under the shade of an overhang. He followed the circular drive and parked beneath a large acacia.
“Don’t tell anyone about this,” Daniel said to Sam. They were still in the Jeep, and Daniel had his foot on the door panel, half way out before Sam replied.
“I have to think this through. This is not a game, Sam.”
Daniel reached into the backseat for the rifle. He knew there was little he could say or do to stop Sam from speaking to Lord Whitney, but there was more than just a sense of impending danger—although that was uppermost in his mind—there was something else. They were no longer isolated witnesses in a world gone mad, and he knew there was a possibility that soon they might become the victims of madness descending. Daniel sensed he might be caught in the middle of it and suddenly it was a question of whom he could trust.
He walked to the back door, approaching the kitchen where he looked through the open door. Elizabeth stood in front of a sink full of dishes slowly washing them. Thandie kept herself busy sweeping the floor. He watched the gentle sway of her hips for a moment, smiling as she shuffled along in her too-large sandals. At last, he stepped to the door and leaned against the jamb.
“Why are you sweeping the floor? I thought there was a maid who did that sort of thing?”
Thandie looked up at him and smiled.
“Hello Inky!” Elizabeth called out.
“Hello Elizabeth,” he said with a smile. “I see Thandie has put you to work.”
“Mom says I should get used to doing chores; there may come a day when I’ll have to keep my own house.”
“I suppose that may be true.”
“Is Sam back?”
Daniel shook his head. “No. I left him out on the Savannah for the hyenas.”
“What?” Her eyes grew big for a moment; she laughed when she saw him smile.
“Don’t worry, I doubt if they’ll want him; not enough meat.” And then he laughed. “Would you mind if I took Thandie outside for a moment? I need to talk to her.” He took the broom from Thandie’s hands and leaned it against the wall. Thandie followed as Daniel led her outside slowly.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“What makes you think something’s wrong?”
He looked at her for a moment before taking her into his arms and kissing her. She fell back against the side of the house, pulling him with her as she did, returning the kiss. When she let him go, she smiled up at him, laughing softly.
“What brought that on? Not that I didn’t like it,” she added.
“Do I need a reason?”
She shook her head, still smiling. She had unbuttoned her collar during the course of the day, and he found himself looking down at the swell of her breasts where her blouse lay open. She looked up at him from beneath her long lashes and her smile faded as she realized there was something bothering him. She waited, knowing he’d tell her in his own good time.
“We found a dead goat out by a shed on the edge of the cotton fields,” he said at last.
“It’s what they use for their blood oaths.”
“Mau-Mau,” he said with a note of impatience. “I wanted you to know first so that you’d know what’s going on.”
“What does it mean?”
“There are more than a thousand workers here. Some have been here for years, but most of them are migrants. They work the land because their fathers worked it; before that, their fathers worked it; it’s all they know. They used to own this land, and now they want it back—that’s why people believe in Mau-Mau.”
“And you don’t?” She eyed him carefully, and he looked at her for a moment before he shook his head.
“Do you think there are workers here who are Mau-Mau?” she said.
“Some,” he nodded.
“Do you know who?”
He shook his head. “There’s no way of knowing that.”
She seemed relieved to hear that. “What are you going to do?”
“I suppose Lord Whitney will contact the Home Guards, after that, I don’t know what will happen.”
With much of the senior political leadership of the Nairobi Central Committee under arrest, several of the NCC’s military leaders took refuge in the wilderness where fighters allied to them were too entrenched to be uprooted by mass arrests. Under the encouragement of military leadership, local rebel committees made decisions to strike back over the next few weeks, and there was an abrupt rise in the destruction of European property, as well as attacks on African Loyalists. A section of Settlers treated the declaration of Emergency as a license to perpetrate excesses against anyone they suspected of being Mau-Mau.
The Nairobi Central Committee reconstituted its senior ranks and renamed itself the Council of Freedom; they decided to launch a war of liberation. In contrast to other liberation movements of the time, blue-collar workers that lacked a Socialist element dominated the urban Kenyan revolt. The network of secret committees was re-organized into the Passive Wing and tasked with supplying weapons, ammunition, food, money, intelligence, and recruits to the Active Wing, now known as the Land and Freedom Armies. The Armies were mostly equipped with spears, simis (short swords), kibokos (rhino hide whips) and pangas. Some rebels tried making their own guns, but the homemade rifles exploded in their hands when fired. The resistance did not have a national strategy for victory; they had no forces trained in guerilla warfare, few modern weapons—with no arrangements to get more—and had not spread beyond the tribes of the central highlands most affected by the Settler presence.
In March 1953, nearly one thousand rebels attacked the Loyalist village of Lari, where one hundred and seventy-five non-combatants were either hacked, or burnt to death. Most of the victims were the wives and children of the Kikuyu Home Guards. The raid was wildly reported in the British media, understandably contributing to the notion of the Mau-Mau as bloodthirsty savages. In the weeks following, many suspected rebels and other Mau-Mau implicated in the Lari Massacre, were subsequently brought to trial and summarily hanged by police and Loyalist Home Guards.
22 August 1953
Daniel stood beside Sam on the rise overlooking the airstrip, waiting for Nigel’s small Beechcraft Bonanza flying in from Nairobi. He held the binoculars up and focused, scanning the distant horizon. The sky was a clear blue, with faraway cumulus clouds obscuring the outlying hills of the Mau Escarpment.
He turned to look at Lord Whitney sitting in the Land Rover below, the Jeep parked under a shady overhang. Whitney had his head back, his fedora pulled down over his eyes. He looked to be napping, except that Daniel could see him rubbing his leg.
Working that itch, Daniel smiled.
Daniel turned his binoculars on the driver Tommy Omoomu, wearing tattered plaid pants and buttonless shirt, homemade sandals and his long, unkempt braids tied up with a cord. He was standing off to the side smoking a cigarette.
And where was he hiding all this time?
Tommy was staring at Lord Whitney, muttering to himself—which might have been strange had Daniel not known that Tommy always talked to himself—but he watched him all the same, not certain if he could trust him, and inwardly wondering if he could trust anyone. Tommy was someone Daniel had known most of his life—he’d grown up with him on the Estate—but they were never what he’d call close friends.
But would I give his name as a suspect just because he’s different?
The unsteady, hiccupping drone of the Beechcraft came out of the southeast and Daniel turned with the binoculars to meet it. Sam waved his arms crazily as the plane dipped its wings and then banked to the left. The plane touched down a short moment later with a plume of dust that cycloned into a cloud behind it.
Sam jumped into the Jeep and turned the key in the ignition.
“I think you’d better let me drive,” Daniel said.
“Oh, come on, Inky!” Sam whined. “I wanna go over the cliff this time.”
“And let your mother see? I don’t think so,” he added with a laugh. “She gets mad enough when I do it with your grandfather. I don’t need her thinking I encourage this sort of behaviour. Besides, it’s not a cliff.”
“You just want to show off for Thandie,” Sam said, climbing out from behind the wheel and jumping into the passenger seat. He folded his arms across his chest, staring straight ahead.
“And what if I do?” Daniel laughed, popping the clutch. “I haven’t seen her in two months.”
“And what about me? Did you miss me while I was gone?”
The Jeep lurched forward, leapfrogging over the ridge. Sam screamed and Daniel laughed as they bounced down the side of the hill. Sam looked at Daniel and the two of them screamed together as they reached the bottom of the hill and turned onto the service road. Daniel gathered speed, racing toward the airstrip—bouncing over the smaller potholes as if the Jeep were a stone skipping across the water—coming to a sliding skid a dozen feet away from the airplane. Sam jumped out of the Jeep, running to open the door of the plane.
Elizabeth was the first one out of the plane, running as fast as she could and throwing herself at Lord Whitney where he stood leaning against the side of the Land Rover. He hugged her tight for a moment, and it looked to Daniel as if he might pick her up. Natasha and Thandie were out of the plane next. Daniel felt his pulse quicken at the sight of Thandie. As much as he wanted to run to her and sweep her into his arms, he knew he had to restrain himself in front of the others.
Daniel agreed with Lord Whitney after telling him about the goat’s head that it was more practical sending Natasha and the children back to Nairobi. A call from Nigel brought Anderson and the Home Guards out soon after, rooting out suspected Mau-Mau insurgents and arresting two dozen migrant workers as a precaution. The rest of the workers scattered across the countryside before Anderson could do any more damage, Tommy Omoomu among them. Work on the Plantation came to a halt as a result, and Lord Whitney became incensed.
After two months, Sam returned, flown out by his father; Tommy returned a week after Sam’s arrival.
The last ones out of the plane were Nigel and Anderson, each carrying chocks they placed under the plane’s wheels, kicking them firmly into place. Daniel watched the two of them walking toward the Land Rover, and there was something about the way Anderson stared at him that made him feel uncomfortable.
The man suspects anyone who isn’t white, or British.
He wondered if Tommy felt the same way.
Nigel was dressed in his usual white linen suit while Anderson—as a proper member of the Colonial Police—wore khaki shorts, a light blue shirt, with a gun holstered on his hip. He had grey socks pulled up to his knees, and wore heavy military issue boots that kicked up dust with every step he took. A tall, slim man with thinning hair, he tried hiding his premature baldness under his Colonial Police cap after smoothing down his wispy light brown hair.
He pulled a handkerchief out of his back pocket and wiped his hands before he extended his hand to Lord Whitney.
“Good afternoon, my Lord,” Anderson said, trying to sound compliant as he bowed, shaking Lord Whitney’s reluctant hand. “So nice of you to allow us the time to speak to you.”
Whitney released Elizabeth and leaned forward to greet the man.
“Nice has nothing to do with it,” he said quickly, sending Elizabeth off to her mother with a quick rub on her head.
“What have you and your friends done to botch things up for us lately?” Whitney asked, as soon as he released the man’s hand.
He turned to Nigel. “I see you’ve brought the girls back, so I’m assuming things have settled down somewhat. Maybe my workers will start drifting back in to work? Or have you tracked them all down and shipped them off to places unknown?”
“I make no apologies, Father,” Nigel said stiffly. “You may have forgotten about Messner, but I haven’t. European Settlers are under attack with as much frequency as African Loyalists. We’ll be starting Operation Anvil soon, and we’re hoping things will start turning in our favour.” Nigel was sounding confident.
“Operation Anvil?” Whitney asked. There was a note of skepticism in his voice.
“Things have taken a turn for the better since the massacre at Lari,” Nigel said.
“Tommy! Do you think you could get the bags out of the plane instead of simply standing there?” Lord Whitney called. The impatience in his voice sounded magnified by what he considered Tommy’s obvious laziness. “That man has to be told everything.”
Tommy stepped on the cigarette he was smoking and made his way toward the plane.
“The Central Committee members in support of the Land and Freedom Army have turned their backs on them since Lari,” Nigel said quickly.
“Army? They’re calling themselves an army?” Whitney said as he waited for Nigel and Anderson to climb into the Land Rover.
Tommy Omoomu threw four suitcases onto the roof of the Rover, cinching them down tight, then jumped in and started the engine. They were quickly lost behind a thin veil of dust as the Land Rover set off down the service road to Mozambique.
Sam stood silent, watching the dust trail fade away before turning to look at his mother. He forced a smile and went to her as she put her arms around him and kissed the top of his head.
“You’ll see him soon enough,” she said. “Aren’t you at least happy to see me?”
“Ladies,” Daniel said with a polite bow. He picked the rifle up out of the back seat and handed it to Sam, then held the seat forward as he helped each of them into the Jeep.
Lord Whitney asked Nigel and Anderson to join him in the study for brandy. Anderson had never seen the room before, and examined an area map of Whitney Estates that covered the entire south wall. Whitney told him to make himself comfortable while he prepared drinks. The small bar was located within one of the floor to ceiling bookcases along the west wall—one of the book-lined shelves opening to reveal crystal glassware and decanters—and Anderson smiled as he watched Whitney pour himself a liberal helping of brandy.
Nigel sat in one of two winged-back chairs in front of his father’s mammoth desk, his legs crossed as he picked at an imaginary spot on his pant leg. He looked at Anderson standing in front of the map and motioned for him to take the chair beside him. Anderson looked at the two large elephant tusks that rose up behind the desk, framing it, and the zebra skin covering the floor in front of the desk. He looked at what was once an elephant’s foot now used as a table, the two chairs placed around it, and gave a slight shrug. Nigel forced a smile, thinking it was easy to be intimidated in such a room.
Anderson stood examining the map as he waited for Whitney to fill the glasses. He noted the masks and shields showing the location of tribal villages, and crossed spears and swords marking ancient tribal grounds along the length of the map, as well as old battlegrounds. The rest of the room was crammed with artifacts—the largest being a wooden globe in one corner, and a dark, marble plinth with a fat ceramic vase in another.
Lord Whitney gave Anderson a snifter of brandy. He wasn’t in the habit of serving drinks early in the day, but he felt a celebration was in order; the government, it seemed, was finally acting against the rebels.
“And when will this State of Emergency be lifted?” Lord Whitney asked, looking at Nigel as he gave him the brandy.
“Yes. I’m assuming things are somewhat under control now that you’ve brought the children here. And Natasha.”
“We can’t lift the State of Emergency for at least another year.”
“Another year! Do you have any idea what something like that will do to me? I’ll be forced to ask higher prices at next season’s auction. I’ll be forcing my buyers to go elsewhere—South Africa, or South America—it doesn’t matter where if I lose them. I stand to lose a lot more than you realize. And that’s not even considering the cotton.”
“I understand what’s at stake, Father—”
“—but there’s nothing I can do about it,” Nigel said, trying to remain calm. “I’m sure the government will come up with a compensation package of some sort.”
“Compensation? I don’t want compensation! I’m suffering financial hardship now! The price of coffee is increasing because of labor costs! The cost of transporting my product is astronomical as is; not being able to move it at all is killing me! I need guarantees my next coffee crop is going to make it to Nairobi, not compensation! And what’s this I hear about Kamba rebels controlling railroads, and sabotaging things? And I’m told Maasai bands in the Narok—”
“And who’s telling you this?” Nigel interrupted.
“We have a railway here. Have you forgotten? There has to be communication between us, and the rail spur. We have a telegraph. We don’t live in the Dark Ages here; not as much as you might think we do.”
“The rebels have been actively crushed by both Her Majesty’s Army, and the local Constabulary, Sir,” Anderson said, as he took a large swallow of brandy. He made a face as it burned its way down his throat. He could sense the underlying anger between Nigel and his father, and didn’t want to be trapped in the middle of it.
“The local Constabulary being yourself, I assume?” Whitney asked.
“And what about the so-called activities here? On my plantation? Fencing destroyed? Cattle killed? We don’t have a lot of cattle here compared to others, and what little we have is basically used for food, so we can’t afford to have any killed. Have you been able to sort things out here? Have you made any arrests instead of just shipping out detainees you suspect might be Mau-Mau?”
Anderson put the drink down.
“The Aberdares and Mount Kenya area have been declared ‘Prohibited Areas’. Anyone found there without proper Government clearance, will be shot on sight—”
“And what does that have to do with me?”
“We believe most of the migrants have gone there.”
“Why would they go there?”
“It’s a hotbed for Mau-Mau activities. We should be rooting them out soon enough. General Sir George Erskine has taken up the post as Director of Operations, and we hear good things about him,” he added, looking to Nigel for support.
“Good things about him?” Whitney said, the sarcasm in his voice apparent as he turned to look at Nigel.
“A military draft has brought in twenty thousand troops, and we’ve used them aggressively,” Nigel said quickly.
“We’ve had troops in the Aberdare forests, and they’ve captured one hundred and twenty-five guerilla fighters—if you can even call them that with their spears and swords. They found a total of thirteen rifles among them. Thirteen! And they want to start a rebellion?”
“Well, they seem to be doing pretty good from what I can see. They’ve gotten everyone’s attention, from Bali to Brighton. But I want to know what you’re doing here—and now!—at my Estate,” he said, turning back to Anderson.
“We’ve made several arrests of suspected Mau-Mau and their supporters. But it’s difficult. Most of the workers are nomadic, as I said, and while the evidence here points to someone close by, we’ve run into problems.”
“Problems? What kind of problems?”
“It’s Daniel,” Nigel said.
“Daniel? What about him? Is he preventing you from following through with my orders? I find that rather odd.”
“I know he means a lot to you. I know you treat him as if he’s part of the family—and God knows he’s more of a son to you than I’ve ever been—” Nigel began, but Whitney cut him off before he could say any more.
“Are you trying to tell me my Daniel’s a member of the Mau-Mau? I refuse to believe that!”
“Not just a member; one of the leaders,” Nigel said.
“One of the leaders? And how did you come to that brilliant conclusion?” Lord Whitney said, turning around to look at Anderson. His eyes ran up and down the man’s thin frame as he dismissed him out of hand with a set look of his pursed lips, as well as a sneer of contempt.
“You don’t understand the danger you could be in,” Anderson said quickly, defending himself. “People you think are trustworthy because you’ve known them for years and years, are suddenly killing white Settlers just as easily as they’re killing Kikuyu Guardsmen, and police officers. They’re not just attacking at night anymore. They wait in ambush, and step out of the forests. They kill a dozen Guardsmen, and police officers a day. Every day. They burn crops, hamstring cattle, and burn down farmhouses with women and children locked inside. They’re animals. You’ve had a few fences cut, and cattle killed.”
“And you’re saying Daniel’s one of them?”
“We’re saying he’s a suspect. We’re saying he can’t be trusted,” Nigel emphasized.
“Why him? What puts him above anyone else? The way you look at things, they’re all guilty of being Mau-Mau, just for being native.”
“I’ve interrogated hundreds of these Mickeys,” Anderson said hastily. “Not just here, but in the north, and down south in the Abedare, and over to Mount Kenya. It’s always the same with these people. They won’t talk. There’s only so much we can do to make them talk.”
“That being what?”
“Let me put it to you as succinctly as I can. One day I stuck my service revolver into the grinning mouth of one of these Mickeys and asked him something—I can’t say what I asked him exactly—but suffice it to say that I didn’t get what I was after. I pulled the trigger and his brains went all over the station wall. The other two Mickeys that were standing there looked stunned. I said if they didn’t tell me what I wanted to know, I’d do the same thing to them. The next man refused to talk, so I shot him too. The last man told me what I wanted to know. He gave me the name.”
“Daniel’s name?” Whitney said, looking into the bottom of his glass before draining it.
“And this man? What was his name?”
“His name? I don’t remember,” Anderson said.
“You don’t remember? So you don’t know if this man gave up Daniel’s name because he found out Daniel was sleeping with his wife way back in the once upon a time—”
“We’re arresting everyone we suspect of being Mau-Mau, Father. Regardless of who they are,” Nigel interrupted.
“And it never occurred to you that this man might have been motivated by simple revenge? He does have a reputation as a Lothario, our Danny boy.”
“Is that what you believe?” Nigel asked. “Because to be quite honest, I think the right thing to do is to lock him up in one of the Camps. If he is Mau-Mau, we’ll have saved you, Natasha, the children, and everyone else here; if he isn’t, he can always come back when it’s over.”
“And when do you suppose that will be? In a month? A year? You have no way of knowing how long it will be.”
Tommy Omoomu sat in one of the worker’s huts on the north end of the cotton fields, sharpening the bloodstained panga he kept hidden in a small hole dug into the dirt floor of the shack. A small table usually sat on top of the hole, with a long piece of wood for a cover to keep the dirt out. The handle heavily taped, and the blade stained with the blood he let dry on it, he ground the whetstone against the blade without thinking about it—like a man whittling a piece of wood. He’d managed to stay one step ahead of the Guards and police by staying in plain sight and pointing whatever evidence there might be against him, in Daniel’s direction.
It was only a matter of time before he moved against Lord Whitney—he was waiting for word from Nairobi—but he wanted to kill Nigel more than he wanted to kill the old man. He relished the idea of hacking Nigel’s wife and children up in front of him. As he slid the whetstone up and down the length of the great blade, he murmured to himself, “Mau-Mau-Mau-Mau-Mau-Mau-Mau-Mau.”
Daniel lay in bed with one arm behind his head, the light of the lantern on the bed stand casting the room into shadows, making his shadow a caricature of itself. He watched Thandie’s reflection in small mirror hanging on the wall, her dark features a shadow among the shadows. He could easily make out the shape of her breasts, her slim waist, and her wide flowing hips as she washed herself with a hand towel at the washstand across the room. The memory of her lips against his made him smile, the salty taste of her skin a reminder of their lovemaking.
The room filled with light, chutes of illumination that spread across the walls coming in through the window, catching the mirror and reflecting against the ceiling. The light bounced, flooding the room and just as quickly dissolving as Daniel leaped out of bed, running to the window. He pushed the heavy curtain aside and looked out, seeing four trucks pull into the yard.
“What’s going on? Who is it?” Thandie asked, peering over his shoulder.
“I don’t know,” he said, quickly pulling on his pants. “Stay here,” he added, slipping out of the room. “And lock the door.”
Making his way down the hall on his way to the stairs, he met Sam, telling him to stay in the room and lock the door as well. He could hear voices downstairs, and breathed a sigh of relief as he realized they were Kikuyu Guardsmen, and not Mau-Mau raiders.
Anderson was standing at the foot of the stairs, along with Nigel; Lord Whitney was at the front door.
“Daniel?” Lord Whitney called out. “These men have some questions they want to ask you.”
“Questions?” Daniel asked, suddenly wary as he made his was down the stairs.
Several of the Guardsmen ran up the stairs and quickly subdued him. They forced him to his knees, bending his arms behind his back as he tried to resist.
“What are you doing! I’ve done nothing!” Daniel screamed up at them.
“There’s no need for that!” Lord Whitney said, suddenly angry as he turned toward Anderson.
“Please, Sir,” Anderson said as he followed the Guardsmen out the door, “these men are trained to handle this sort of situation.”
“Trained? To do what? There’s no situation here. You said you wanted to ask him some questions.”
“Inky!” Sam called from the top of the stairs. Elizabeth came running out of her room, as well as Natasha, who quickly reached a hand out to hold the children back. Thandie came out of her room wrapped in her kanga; she paused for a moment, looking at Natasha and seeing the fear in her eyes. She watched the Guards pushing Daniel down on his knees in the middle of the floor, and ran down the stairs.
“No! Go back!” Daniel called out at her. A Guardsman punched him viciously, and Thandie screamed.
“What are they doing?” she cried out to Lord Whitney. “What do they want with him?” She ran for the door, but Nigel grabbed her around the waist, holding her back.
The Guards dragged Daniel out of the house and into the courtyard; he tried to resist. They quickly beat him into submission and threw him into the back of a truck as Anderson pulled the tailgate down. He waited for three of the Guards to climb in and then closed the tailgate behind them, slapping the side of the truck. Anderson jumped into the cab of the first truck, and the four trucks roared off into the night as Thandie, finally freeing herself from Nigel’s grasp, ran outside.
She stood in the middle of the courtyard, stunned, watching the taillights of the trucks disappear into the distance. And then she screamed. It was loud, and primal; it echoed in the tight courtyard and ended with sobs that seemed to take the strength out of her. She fell to the ground. Natasha ran to her and put her arms around her, comforting her as she helped her to her feet.
“Why did they take Inky, Grandpa?” Elizabeth asked from the top of the landing.
Whitney looked at his son. “Yes. Why did they?”
Not until the British realized the full extent of the rebel’s organization and the importance of the urban Committees did they gain any strategic success. On April 24 1954, the Army launched Operation Anvil in Nairobi, and the city came under military control. Security forces screened over 30,000 Africans and arrested another 17,000 on suspicion of complicity. The entire Passive Wing leadership, including the Council for Freedom, was swept away with the arrests; the most important source of supplies and recruits for resistance evaporated.
The city remained under military rule for the rest of the year. About 15,000 Kikuyu were interned in concentration camps near the city, while thousands more were deported to the Kikuyu Land Reserves, in the highlands west of Mount Kenya.
Having cleared Nairobi, the authorities repeated the exercise in other areas, so that by the end of 1954, there were 77,000 Kikuyu locked up in local concentration camps, while almost 100,000 Kikuyu were deported to the Land Reserves in outlying areas. In June of 1954, a policy of compulsory villagization began—it was supposed to allow for a more effective control and surveillance of civilians they said, but in reality, it was to protect pro-government Loyalists.
Conditions in detention and labor camps in the Reservation Lands were grim, due to the sheer number of detainees and the lack of money budgeted for dealing with such great numbers. Sanitation was almost non-existent, and epidemics swept through the camps. Official medical reports detailing the shortcomings of the camps and their recommendations were ignored, and conditions being endured by the detainees lied about to the outside world.
15 August 1954
The journey to Lesatima proved endless. Along the way, the small convoy stopped to pick up more prisoners, until the four trucks were full and there was no room to sit. The close air was rank with the stench of bodies while dust motes filtered through the canvas tarps covering the trucks, dancing in pinholes of light and appearing as plentiful as the stars. The hi-way was a gnarly path that may have been a road once, or may have been an animal track; it was at times soft, threatening to bog them down, and at other times solid—an endless trail of volcanic rock that threw the trucks about as easily as if they were a cork in a storm. The heat was stifling as they made their way down to the floor of the Rift Valley where the forest thickened along with the humidity, game was plentiful, and the driving was easier. The forest slowly gave way to Savannah, and when they finally passed through the Rift, they began the long climb up the other side, the trucks bouncing over the rocks once again.
The Reserve Lands around Mt. Kenya were first established in 1949. From the top, on a clear day, one would almost think he could see forever. With the snow-capped peak of Kilimanjaro to the south, and the vastness of the Indian Ocean to the east, one could almost sense freedom; it was home to the Kikuyu god, Ngai, god of all a man could see. Towering forests of podo, cedar, and dense bamboo gave way to shrubbery and plants as they followed the road up into the mountains.
Lesatima was nothing more than a barbed wire enclosure with land mines surrounding what officials said was a village. It didn’t deserve being called it a village. There was no latrine; instead, a communal ditch ran through the center of the compound. When the rains came in April and May, the ditch overflowed its narrow banks. There were huts, with walls that were paper thin, and when the wind came down from the mountains it made a man wonder how he could escape the cold. The food they got was less than they could survive on, the drinking water collected in rusty barrels whenever the rain came. It was usually stagnate and sour, with a film of oil floating on top— a rainbow of colours that served as a bleak reminder of God’s covenant with Man.
Daniel was sick. As well as being cold and wet, he was sore. His body ached in places he’d never felt before as he squatted in the mud of the common ditch with his pants pulled down around his ankles, clearing his bowels again.
Is that the fourth time today? Or was that yesterday?
His teeth chattered as he shivered with fever, looking up at a half-full moon that disappeared behind rain clouds sweeping northwestward toward the Mau Escarpment. He could see the moon through open patches in the clouds, the stars beyond fading through a halo of mist. He didn’t know if the mist was real, or part of the fever, but the stars reminded him of Mozambique—of home, and Thandie—and the fever helped him dream; for the moment, that was all that mattered.
Lesatima had a population of more than twenty-five hundred men and women, and while the men were always fighting over the women—as much as the women were fighting among themselves—it was the women who prospered, selling themselves for food. In the year since he’d been there, Daniel watched the women weaken and falter—eventually falling under the influence of men who bought and sold them for their own gains among the Kikuyu Guardsmen. While everyone’s bellies were empty, swollen, and growling with the pain of starvation, these few prospered. It was humanity at its worst, Daniel knew, and he was quick to sink to its levels.
He tried thinking of Thandie and the last night they spent together, but it was hard. He held onto the memory of her nakedness, and how they’d made love, trying to remember how she had thrust herself against him with all her passion; and oh, how she’d cried into his shoulder within the depths of that passion. It made him think of everything he’d had, and everything he’d lost, and he sank deeper into his depression. Though he tried to be strong, and tried to resist the call of his lesser self, he failed, and like hundreds of other men, sold little handfuls of food for the momentary pleasure of a woman’s soft center. He would always weep to himself after, as if being with another woman was punishment for having once loved. It was a loss greater than the loss of his freedom; it was nostalgia for the life that was.
4 September 1954
“When the missionaries first arrived,” Thandie said, forcing a smile, “we had the land, and they had the Bible. They taught us to pray properly, with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had our land, and we had the Bible.”
“What was done a hundred years ago is past,” Nigel said with a slow, steady, shake of his head. “You can’t change the past, and why would we want to?” He stubbed the cigarette he was smoking into an overflowing ashtray perching on the edge of his desk, and resumed typing.
They were in his office. The desk he sat behind, and the filing cabinets behind him, took up most of the room. His desk was lost under open file folders, and stacks of papers, books, and magazines, as well as the large Remington typewriter in the middle he was slowly pecking at. There was a pack of cigarettes beside the too-full ashtray balancing on one edge of the desk, as well as a plate with a partially eaten ham sandwich folding up along the edges, balanced on the other side. He was trying to type a form, pecking away at the keys with the uncertainty of a bird scratching for feed.
“We’re not trying to change the past. We don’t look at the past and say it has to be righted; we’re looking to the future and saying we won’t let ourselves be wronged. Again.”
“Of course. Everyone’s been wronged at one time or another, haven’t they?”
“Have you forgotten the reason I’m here? Your wife and children haven’t; your father hasn’t. How is it that you can dismiss this and go about your business as if nothing matters but a quick resolution to the country’s problems?”
“Because it is all that matters,” he said, pushing hard on the last key and pulling the form out of the typewriter as though he were ripping off a Band-Aid. He dropped the form on a pile of papers near the front of the desk.
“This can all be resolved quite easily. End the State of Emergency; release the prisoners locked up in the villages, and work camps, and leave. Go. Give us the independence we want. Give us the land you stole.”
“Just like that?” he said with a laugh, sitting back in his chair and putting a foot up on a partially open drawer. He reached for his pack of cigarettes on the edge of the desk and sat back again, lighting one and blowing the smoke up at the ceiling fan.
“Do you think the British Empire wants to give Kenya to a group of rebels fighting a war they can’t possibly win?”
“Is that not what they said about America?”
“This is not America! This is Africa; things are different here,” Nigel pointed out.
“I fail to see what is so different. Or is it that as a people you’ve always thought of us as contemptible? What did Kipling call it? The White Man’s Burden? Remember, it doesn’t matter how a man dies, it’s how he lives, and what he does with his life that matters. It’s a truth unbeknownst to man,” she added.
“Who even talks like that? ‘Unbeknownst to man’? What’s that supposed to mean? Anyway, it’s all moot; the world doesn’t want to know the truth.”
“The truth?” she laughed. “Would that be the truth as you see it, or the truth as we know it? If you want the truth, look at Congo. You’ll see it’s something hidden; it’s dark, and sinister.”
“You’ve read Conrad I see,” he smiled.
She was unfazed.
“I know. We have natural resources that still need exploiting,” she said with a sarcastic tone he couldn’t help noticing. “Gold, diamonds, tea or coffee—take your pick.Wheat? There’s still lots of money to be made there. Maybe that’s the truth the world can never know. You forget that the truth we hold to is peace. Not peace at any price; peace in chains is not peace,” she said, standing up and holding her hand out. He looked at the form on his desk, nodding, and she reached for it slowly.
“What will you do when you get there?”
“Pray that he’s alive,” she said as she opened the door. “That’s the one truth I was taught that I’ve let myself believe.”
31 August 1954
Tommy Omoomu sat on his cot looking out through the dirty window. He stood up, slipping his panga into his rope belt before stepping outside. The other huts were lost in the shadows—empty—the migrant workers scattering months ago with the Guardsmen coming to round them up. The moon was full and bright, fistfuls of stars filling the darkness, the Milky Way fading across the night like the wake of a distant ship. The air was clear, and felt crisp, and he could see his breath in the moonlight. He tied his long, tight braids with the cord he pulled out of his pocket, cinching it tight with a grimace.
He’d waited the better part of a year for this night, and wasn’t about to let anything stand in his way.
Not now; not after all the waiting, planning, and delays.
It’s a good night for it.
Lights flashed up and down in the distance as a truck made its way down the service road, splashing his shadow against the wall of the hut. He could hear the old truck bouncing across the potholes of the road, kicking up the dust it gathered around itself, the five men in the back holding on to whatever they could—one part worry, another part fear. The truck ground to a stop in a shower of dust and lights, and Tommy watched the dust dancing in the headlights.
The five men standing up in the back of the truck looked sullen; the business at hand was simply the business at hand now.
There can’t be any emotion in it—not anymore; it’s better to keep yourself removed from everything that happens. That’s the only way you can expect to survive what you were doing.
The patriotic fervour of the early, heady days had resolved itself around the realization that things weren’t going the way they’d planned.
You can’t chop up people and think it won’t bother you. You can’t chop up people and expect the world to understand.
He wondered if that was true.
He could feel his heart racing, his palms sweating, as he opened the front door of the truck, pulling the passenger out and throwing him to the ground.
“You stand in the back with the others,” he said to the man. He pulled the panga halfway out of his belt, slowly, and the man scurried away from him as he pushed it back into place.
“If I find you up front again, I’ll cut you open.”
They drove down the service road—the only road—with no lights on. When they were a distance away still, Tommy told the driver to pull off to the side; they’d go the rest of the way on foot.
“Lights!” Tommy said, and the six men behind him melted into the shadows. They stood off to the side waiting as the Land Rover approached.
“Should we stop them?” one of the men asked, and Tommy shook his head as he said no.
“Let them be the ones to find the bodies,” Tommy smiled.
He watched Sam driving by, Thandie nodding off in the seat beside him, and shook his head slowly. He’d have liked to do more than just torture her.
It’ll just have to wait.
“How long before they come back?” the man asked.
“Where can they go?” Tommy laughed.
He turned up the road again as the lights of the Land Rover faded into the distance, slowly swallowed by the night. Ahead, the lights of Mozambique rose up like an invitation, and he pulled the panga out of his belt, murmuring the war cry on his lips as they ran toward the house, chanting.
The business at hand was at hand.
In spite of the fact that the British won a clear military victory, Kenyans were granted nearly all of the demands made by the KAU back in 1951. In June 1956, a program of villigization and land reform consolidated the land holdings of the Kikuyu, increasing the number of Kikuyu allies within the colonial government. This was coupled with a relaxation of the ban preventing Africans from growing coffee, now a primary cash crop, which would quickly lead to a dramatic rise in the income of small farmers over the next ten years.
In the cities, the colonial authorities decided to dispel tensions after Operation Anvil by raising urban wages, which strengthened the hand of moderate Union organizations. By 1956, the British had granted direct election of African members to the Legislative Assembly, followed shortly after that by an increase in the number of African seats to fourteen. A Parliamentary conference held in January 1960, indicated that the British would accept a “One person-One vote” majority rule.
These political measures became a means to end the instability caused by the Uprising, appeasing Africans both in the cities and in the country, while encouraging the creation of a stable African middle class—which also required the abandonment of Settler interests. This was possible because while the Settlers dominated the colony politically, they owned less than 20% of the assets invested in Kenya. The remainder of Kenya’s assets belonged to various corporations willing to deal with an African Majority government as long as the security situation stabilized. The choice that the authorities in London faced was one between an unstable colony—which was costing a fortune in military expenses—run by Settlers who contributed little to the economic growth of the Empire, or a stable colony run by Africans that contributed to the coffers of the Empire. The latter option was taken.
3 September 1954
The Rift Valley,
As dawn came up on the third day out of Mozambique, Thandie allowed herself a moment of reflection. She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself, knowing she had to control her feelings; breaking down now would be the worst thing she could do. She looked at Sam sleeping with his face pressed up against the side window, and stared out at the rising sun gilding the landscape in front of her. There was game about. She saw giraffes, and marvelled at their silhouettes moving about as if they were stick animals in a puppet show. She smiled to herself; she needed the time alone to reach into herself so she could find the strength to go on. Too many times since they’d left, she’d wanted to turn back, afraid of what lay ahead, and almost willing to accept what was behind her.
What kind of person is willing to sacrifice the man she says she loves? What kind of a person does that make me, thinking like that?
The night they left, she felt full of apprehension. She’d packed a small bag—bringing clothes for Daniel as well as herself—but her fears of what could go wrong weighed heavily on her mind, and she had to sit on her cot to collect her thoughts. Her hands shook—even as they shook now—and she wondered if it was fear of where she had come from, or fear of where she was going.
She would have taken the train from Nairobi—she should have taken the train from Nairobi—but there was a riot in the city and the crowd at the train station terrified her as she tried to purchase her tickets. She meant to buy two, but there were too many soldiers, and too much confusion, so she left. She had to leave; large crowds frightened her of late—the very people she so righteously supported—now frightened her, with her never knowing who was dead and who wasn’t as they lay in the streets, on the sidewalks, and in the alleys. They looked to be a defeated people, full of hatred, and all the while she was wondering who, if any in that crowd of rioters near the station, were Mau-Mau supporters.
At first, she thought there’d be little difficulty leaving Nairobi, but the next day the railroad union called a strike and the trains came to a halt. They didn’t run for a week. When Nigel said he was flying up to the Plantation he begged her to come because Natasha and Elizabeth needed her. Thandie agreed, on the understanding that he’d have someone drive her to Lesatima. Nigel said Tommy Omoomu would drive her within the week, and for some reason she hesitated at the idea of making the trip with him.
So she went with Sam instead, him thinking it was a great adventure—no doubt influenced by something out of a fantasy novel he’d read—while she held on to the door of the Land Rover, fearing for her life at every turn.
Leaving in the still of the night with nothing more than a set of headlights and a full moon to light their way, she closed her eyes and let the road lull her to sleep. She was exhausted; the weeks leading up to that night had finally taken their toll on her. She knew she’d never breathe easy again until she knew for certain—one way or the other—that Daniel was safe.
Looking out at the rising sun she found it hard to believe that she wouldn’t find him alive —that she would find him waiting for her with a certain degree of expectancy—and all the while wondering at his betrayal.
It’s easier to believe in love.
She watched the sun breaking across the Savannah, her mind a million miles away as she traced the months and months of effort it took to finally track him down. She found herself being befriended by Natasha in the year since Daniel’s arrest. It was Natasha who discovered which camp Daniel was in.
Out of the ashes of a love betrayed.
Thandie thought and felt there was still hope for her and Daniel.
As long as I pray for him.
Daniel’s arrest and detention in one of the camps to the south devastated Natasha. She felt responsible for what Nigel had done. Thandie felt convinced that Nigel had deceived them all. She saw what he was like; she saw to what ends he would go. His secret okay for the Loyalist retaliation against the Mau-Mau sympathizers at Lari made him responsible for one hundred and fifty deaths. She knew this as a secret member of the Passive Wing. But the Passive Wing was gone now, with his name on the document calling for the arrests of innocent men and women along with everyone else.
But why, she kept asking herself.
Natasha provided her with the answer.
“When Nigel’s mother died—you do know she hanged herself? Right? I wasn’t sure if you’d heard—but it was Nigel who found her,” she said.
They were sitting outside on the verandah. The night was cool, overcast. The mosquito netting made it as if they were looking through a gauze curtain at the clouds skirting across the sky; the stars poking out between them as if tiny beacons on a distant shore. A breeze came down from Lake Rudolf—the Jade Sea—and Natasha shivered, pulling the wrap around her shoulders tighter.
“He’s never told anyone else about that day, and it frightens me to the very core just thinking about it...but he was sent to Boarding school shortly after, and I think he feels he was being punished because I think she was still alive when he found her. I don’t know; if she was, I doubt if he realized it at the time. Bad enough being haunted just by that idea.
“He never fully understood, and then the war came along when it did. How do you get out of something like that when you’re stuck in the middle of it? You don’t. So, he volunteered. It was a long war, and before you knew it, he was never able to explain himself.
“I guess that’s the kind of thing you can only understand in hindsight. But it’s haunted him ever since. I know that. They might have saved her had he said something.
“And when we got here? It was as if Daniel had taken his place in his father’s mind, as much as he had his heart. I could almost feel sorry for him if he hadn’t acted the way he did.”
I suppose in its own strange way, it makes sense. Do I want to believe it?
It made so much more sense now that there was a reason, but it made seeing Nigel for the proper government papers that much more difficult—and the flight to the plantation with him, almost unbearable.
The drive through the Rift had been frightening; too many times she thought they might become stuck, or that the Land Rover would tip over, or break down in the middle of nowhere. Sam drove over cliffs he called hills, the Rover sliding left and right as he tried gearing down, a look of panic crossing his face that made her gasp. And she screamed, just as he screamed along with her—but his screams were a mockery of hers—with him laughing at the bottom as the bumper hit the dirt and dug up the hard ground.
He was slow to find first gear, then he’d pop the clutch and lurch ahead, sputtering across the vista with a cloud of blue smoke behind them.
It was a four hundred kilometre journey from the plantation to Lesatima, something they should have been able to do in a day had they followed the rudimentary roads. Sam kept to game trails that seemed to take them in the opposite direction, always saying that everything was fine, and that they had to keep to the high ground because he didn’t want to chance getting stuck in the mud. Besides, he added, they were less likely to run into anyone on the game trails—Kikuyu Guardsmen, or rebels.
At the end of the first day, they stopped outside of Maralal. Sam filled up the gas tank from three of the six extra gas cans he brought, and she was thankful that he’d thought about it, because she hadn’t. She hadn’t thought about a lot of things.
Maralal was a village of ten dome-shaped huts made of scrub brush. A single dust path led through the center of the village, with less than a dozen chickens scattering at their approach. Thandie couldn’t help staring at the people standing on the side of the road as they passed, each of them with a look of hatred that seemed to burn from within.
“It’s me they hate,” Sam said to her.
“I’m the wrong colour. I’ve seen that look lots of times, back in Nairobi.”
“But why should these people hate you? They’re unaffected by anything going on around them.”
“You don’t really believe that, do you?”
She looked in the side mirror at the retreating village, wondering what hope there was for a country that understood nothing but how to hate.
They found a small road that was little more than a path leading into the hills. Sam looked at the map he had stuffed in beside the seat, looking down as he read, and looking up occasionally to make certain he was still on the path. He glanced at her and smiled.
“Next stop—we won’t stop actually—Kisima, and then on to Nyahururu,” he said.
She was beginning to think maybe Sam wasn’t as much of a dreamer as she thought he was. When they stopped because he said he was tired and needed to rest, she discovered that one of the gas cans actually had water. She never thought water could taste as good as it did at that moment; she remembered how Daniel always said that a man couldn’t afford to drive about Whitney Estates without water, or a rifle. She looked in the back seat and saw the.303 laying across the seat, along with binoculars, and a bag of food.
“You brought food?”
“Of course. What did you think I was doing when you went up to pack? I remembered everything Daniel ever told me about leaving the Estate for the night. I brought food and water, a rifle, binoculars, the first aid kit, gas; I even brought money.”
“Money? Where did you get that?”
“I took it out of Dad’s wallet when he was sleeping.”
“Why did you think we’d need money?”
“How else do you think we’re going to get in to see Daniel? We’ll probably have to bribe someone.”
“How much did you bring?”
“Everything he had, and everything I saved up as well.”
“Grandpa’s always giving us money.”
“So how much is there?”
“About five hundred shillings.”
They arrived at Nyahururu just as the sun was going down, passing through the village without stopping, or slowing down. It lay fifty kilometers from the Detention camp. Rather than parking the Land Rover near the village—and they really were villages she thought, not the towns the map labelled them as—they parked on a lone bluff overlooking the Rift and ate what little food Sam had brought. She smiled to herself as she looked over at Sam sleeping beside her. His idea of food consisted of everything he liked—cookies, cake, peanut butter sandwiches, and fruit. She would have liked something a little more substantial.
Sam woke up and stretched slowly, smiling at her.
“I wish I brought my toothbrush,” he said with a sheepish grin.
Almost as soon as they were on the road to Lesatima, they came across a small patrol of Kikuyu Guardsman. Thandie was quick to bring out her pass, watching nervously as one of the soldiers looked at it. He turned to his comrades, and there were nods and a discussion, as one of the soldiers finally went to the truck where he spoke into the radio. That was when she realized the soldier wasn’t reading the pass; he couldn’t read. She smiled politely as he approached and quickly explained that the pass had come from the Governor’s office in Nairobi; she was on official State business. The man knit his brows as he handed the pass to her, looking at the soldier talking into the radio, who nodded.
The man looked at Sam staring at the road ahead of him.
He looked into the back of the Land Rover, shielding his eyes against the glare of the window. “Are you here for the quarantine?” he asked when he saw the medical kit.
“There’s been a cholera outbreak. I hear it’s very bad. Many deaths.”
“No. We’ve come from Nairobi,” she said, and seeing Sam about to say something, put her hand on his knee.
“Why is the boy driving?” the soldier asked, changing the subject.
“Because I don’t drive and no one else would chance it. They were afraid of the rebels. He volunteered to take me.”
“The rebels are to the south, near Nyeri. It’s Kimathi. Do you know him?”
She shook her head. “Should I?”
“He’s the last of the rebel leaders. It’s only a matter of time before we capture him. I don’t see how you avoided them, or our patrols, coming from Nairobi as you say.”
“We just did,” she said with a shrug and a smile.
She breathed a huge sigh of relief when the Guards let them go on, and waited until their truck was out of sight before she looked at Sam, who turned to her with a smile.
The first thing she noticed as they approached the Camp was the smell. She rolled her window up, thinking that would keep it out. It didn’t. She held back a gag, pressing her hand to her mouth. She found a small handkerchief in the glove box and quickly covered her nose with it, almost certain she’d be sick. She looked up at the sky, saw a collection of carrion birds circling overhead, and voiced a silent prayer.
That must be what they mean by a murder of crows.
“We must be getting closer,” Sam said, noticing the birds at the same time. He was covering his mouth with his hand.
There was a small guard shack off to the right, and they stopped once more. Thandie held her pass out to the guard, moving the handkerchief long enough to say that she needed to talk to whoever was in charge. The Guard looked at the pass and went into the shack where he picked up a telephone receiver.
She could see him on the telephone looking up the hill and followed his gaze, not seeing anything. There was a haze of smoke farther up, and she wondered if they were burning the bodies. At last, the man hung up the phone and came back to the Land Rover, returning the pass to her.
“I’m sure you’re aware the camp’s in quarantine, but they say it’s safe enough for you to go up. If you follow this road, you’ll come to a small camp just over the rise—that’s where the doctors are. Someone will meet you.”
She nodded, and quickly rolling the window up thanked him with a smile.
Sam released the clutch and the Land Rover rolled back several feet before he put it in gear. The guard stood aside patiently and the truck lurched ahead, leapfrogging up the hill and leaving a cloud of blue smoke behind.
“You’d think you’d get better as we went along,” she said with a smile.
As they crested the rise, Thandie saw the doctor’s camp. There were guards standing about with machine guns, and half a dozen trucks pulled off to the left side of the road. It was a collection of large military tents— the red crosses on them worn and faded—with small fires smouldering in front of half a dozen of the tents, a miasma of smoke hanging over the camp as though it were a funeral pyre. A dozen ambulances stood on the opposite side of the road, the red crosses on the side panels brown with age, the white circles streaked with dirt.
Thandie told Sam to pull in behind the ambulances and quickly opened the door.
“Wait here,” she said, putting the rag over her mouth, afraid she was going to gag as she slammed the door shut behind her.
There were sixteen doctors in all, as well as fourteen nurses, all of them dressed in dirty coveralls wearing heavy, mud-caked boots. One of the doctors—a tall, heavyset white man, wearing a surgical mask with a stethoscope hanging around his neck—had black horn-rimmed glasses that flashed at her in the morning light. He waited as she approached.
“I’m Doctor Jepsen. I understand you’re here from Nairobi?” he asked. “Are you from the IRC? If you are, we were expecting you days ago.”
She shook her head.
“I’m looking for someone,” she said, speaking through the rag and handing him her pass.
“You’re looking for someone? I can’t help you with that,” he said with a shake of his head as he handed the pass back to her and turned away. “We’re dealing with a cholera outbreak —come on, keep up—and the big camp’s under quarantine. I don’t have time to go about looking for one person, and to be quite honest, I wouldn’t know where to start. But you’re free to look around here if you want.”
They were walking toward one of the large tents, and Thandie was trying to keep up as she followed him. The ground was slick with mud that sucked at her boots—she could feel it caressing her calves in places.
“I thought you said the camp was under quarantine?”
“The main camp is, but that’s because we don’t want it spreading any farther than it already has. It’s cholera, not the plague. You can’t get sick by coming into contact with a cholera patient, that’s not how it spreads. As long as you don’t drink any untreated water, and you wash your hands before you eat, you’ll be fine. Cholera’s all about hygiene, of which these people know nothing.”
“What happened?” Thandie asked.
“What happened? Just look around. You can’t have people living in squalid conditions like this and not expect to have disease break out. Right now, it’s contained, and we want to keep it that way. We bring in the ones who show symptoms, and do what we can for them. We try to keep them hydrated, but our resources are limited. We only have a hundred beds. Luckily, it’s a disease we can control once it’s isolated.”
“Is there a registry?”
He stopped outside a large tent, looking down at her and shaking his head.
“This isn’t a hotel. I suppose there may be some sort of a system in place for keeping track of who’s who, but since this has happened, things have become more than a little confused.”
He opened the door of the tent and moved aside, letting Thandie walk in ahead of him. The tent was larger than any she’d ever been in before, well-lit and orderly, with more than twenty patients inside laying on cots with plastic tarps underneath them and large, five gallon buckets under the cots. Several of the beds were empty, and she saw how they each had a hole in the center where the patient’s effluence drained into the buckets. The first thing that struck her was the smell—vomit, feces, urine—and she felt an overwhelming sense of revulsion.
“You have five of these tents?”
She looked at the emaciated figures of the detainees who appeared as little more than shadow puppets on the cots—they look like the stick men Elizabeth used to draw for me—and wondered if Daniel was among them.
“Most of these people will probably die. If we don’t get them properly hydrated within a day or two, there’s not much we can do for them. They lose about five litres of liquid a day, and if we can’t replace it quick enough, we move them to another tent. We call it St. Jude’s.”
“Patron saint of lost causes.”
After being in the camp hospital several hours, Thandie tried convincing herself she was used to the sights and smells; it was the sound of emptying bowels she found the most disturbing The first time she heard it, she was afraid she might be ill—but she found herself watching anyway, a sense of morbid fascination gripping her as the liquid drained into the bucket under the cot.
That explains the plastic sheets.
She told Sam he could either wait in the Land Rover while she searched for Daniel, or he could help her. She warned him that it was a hospital—the patients were dying of cholera, and he might not like what he saw.
“How bad can it be?” he asked.
Thandie smiled, and hugged him close to her.
“I wasn’t expecting this. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I certainly wasn’t expecting this. Look, we have to accept that he might not be alive. That doesn’t mean he isn’t-—we have to believe he is. It’s just that if we don’t find him here, we can’t lose heart. tHe might still up in one of the main camps, and we have to hold on to that hope.”
She let go and looked at Sam closely as he tried to smile, but she could see he was forcing himself.
“We have to believe he’s alive, okay?” she said.
By the end of the day, they were exhausted. Dr. Jepsen offered both of them food and water, as well as a cot in one of the small tents. As exhausted as Thandie was, she found it impossible to sleep and stepped outside where she found a small pail she turned upside down and sat on. She watched the soldiers and an endless parade of stretchers coming down the hill—empty now— and she wondered what time they started bringing the bodies down in the morning.
And how many will die tonight?
She looked across the way to the other, larger tent—St. Jude’s—and told herself she didn’t want to go there. It would be the same as admitting defeat, knowing the patients who went in there, went in there to die.
She found Daniel on the third day as two soldiers carried him out of a smaller tent and made their way to St. Jude’s. She only caught sight of him for a moment. He lay on a stretcher, his head flopping from side to side as the soldiers stopped to open the doors—it was the same moment Thandie stood up, stretching to ease the pain in her back. She looked at Sam across the tent.
“Sam!” she called out, running out of the tent and standing in the muddy yard watching the soldiers enter St. Jude’s with the stretcher.
Sam turned as he heard his name, and saw Thandie running outside. He stood unmoving for an instant as he realized why she was running. He followed a moment later and he saw her peering inside St. Jude’s before she turned her head and looked at him, looking as if she wished she’d made a mistake—that the man she saw was not Daniel.
Sam ran across the yard as Thandie stumbled back against the door of the tent. Losing her balance, she fell against the side, sliding to the ground before Sam caught her. He sat down beside her and held her as she cried into his heart.
“Please. Please,” she whispered as she pressed herself against him. “Don’t let him die! Not now. Not like this.”
And then she steeled herself, suddenly. “You hold on for me, Daniel!”
Oh God, don’t let him die. This is not how it’s supposed to end.
She forced herself to go on, stood up and went inside; willing herself to be strong—that’s what he’ll expect from me—telling herself she had to be strong or she wouldn’t be able to go on.
“Are we too late?” Sam asked.
“I don’t know,” she said at last.
“Tell me he’s going to be all right,” Sam said, wiping his nose with his sleeve.
A part of her wanted to cry when she looked down at Sam, and another part of her wanted to hold him because she could feel the pain through his voice. And then she looked down at Daniel.
“Tell me we’re not too late,” Sam said again.
“I said I don’t know!” she said irritably, and Sam fell silent, sitting on a small bench and trying to regain his composure as he wept.
Even he can see it isn’t going to happen.
She reached for Daniel’s hand, feeling for his pulse; it felt slow and weak. She kissed his hand, holding them to her cheeks. His skin felt cold to her touch.
“Please, Daniel, say something. Tell me you want to live! Show me that you want to live!”
“I’m sorry, Thandie,” he said in a whisper. “I can’t...”
She put her head to his chest, listening to his heartbeat and heard it falter—one moment it was there, and the next moment it was gone—like a shadow, or a whisper, and she looked up at Sam with tears in her eyes. She shook her head slowly, and Sam cocked his head.
The wind came down from the mountains whipping the tent flaps, and Thandie shivered as she sat on the bucket watching the sun sink behind the distant hills of Mt. Elgon to the west. Her soul felt empty; her heart dry and sere, as if it had turned to dust. She turned, looking at the tent where Daniel’s body had lay before the soldiers buried him in the common grave.
A part of her died with him she knew, a large part. It would take time for her to heal. It was something she’d heard other people saying at different times in her life, and she thought—as she was sure others had before her—that nothing would take the pain away.
The wind picked up and she shivered again.
She turned away from the cold and saw the doctor walking toward her. He looked a mess. He popped his mask on top of his head, wiping the sweat from around his mouth. His unshaven cheeks were black with stubble, his sunken red-rimmed eyes appeared magnified behind his glasses. He stood beside her as he pulled out a cigarette, lighting it and enjoying the taste of it as he watched the sun go down.
“I’m sorry about your friend,” he said at last.
“He should have never been here.”
“None of them should be here,” the man sighed. “Victims of circumstance. That’s all anybody is in a place like this—all of us. You can never do enough.”
“Do you believe that?” she asked, a note of bitterness creeping into her voice.
“It’s all you have left after a while,” he said, looking down at her and searching her face. “The man you were looking for? Was he a relative, or did you love him?”
“I loved him with all my heart,” she said at last, tears flooding her eyes. The man nodded.
“Did you ever think it would be enough just to love someone? Do you think you can ever love someone enough? I don’t think it’s possible,” he said with a slow shake of his head. “Not until it’s too late.”
He threw the cigarette into the mud, grinding it down with his foot as he looked at her and snapped his mask back into place.
“I still have more to do here,” he said, walking back toward the tents. “And miles to go before I sleep.”