Amazing Grace
Fiction

 

tall tales and all

Fiction

Poetry

A Tale of Exile

Literary Monuments

Thotlines

Audience Response

"I am a child of God, a child of God, a child of God..."
he chanted, keeping an absent mind on the familiar route that took him every morning from his Eastlands home through the city and across to Nairobi West. He repositioned his hands around the steering wheel so the skin around the little domes of his knuckles tightening to form silky creases on his dark skin. He chanted on until the impinging thought of wretchedness was sufficiently quelled. Sometimes the thought crept up like unwanted in-laws, slowly growing roots where they were not welcome, refusing to leave until they were scandalously evicted. Pastor Moses Kiereini had learnt to expunge of the unwanted thought of wretchedness from his mind with words that held the power to pulverize toxic untruths picked up along the path of his life. The lights turned red right at the city limits.

He rolled down his car window and breathed in the crisp morning Nairobi air, filling up his lungs with a good dose before the rush- hour traffic dumped its share of carbon footprint into it. The traffic was relatively light, and it was still dark outside, just after five. In another hour, it would be near-impossible to navigate through the insanity of metal beings on rubber racing their human cargo towards illusive dreams. He liked getting to his office before six.

At exactly ten minutes to six, Moses parked his car at the church compound, grabbed his briefcase, and made his way towards the sanctuary doors.

"Habari ya asubuhi, Pastor!" Mambo, the watchman shouted out an enthusiastic greeting to Moses.

"Nzuri ndugu. Chai?" Moses returned the greeting and welcomed Mambo to a cup of tea in the office.

"A-a, asante." Mambo graciously declined the offer. He needed to get home and take his children to school. Moses watched him walk briskly to the bus stop across the street. He made a mental note to remember Mambo in prayer.

Mambo had lost his wife about a month ago after a speeding matatu ran her over and dragged her several feet right outside her house. His seven year-old twin girls depended on him to get back home every morning after work, make them breakfast, and take them to school. In spite of it all, the watchman greeted Moses with enthusiasm and a smile every morning. Silently, Moses wished Mambo wouldn't be so consistently gracious. It was alright if he groaned out an ice-cold greeting sometimes. He was aware that Mambo had not mourned yet, and he knew that the day would soon come when the bereaved watchman would start questioning God, growing bitter, and withdraw his warm greetings all together. Moses decided that his prayer that morning would be for Mambo to come through it all a stronger and wiser man, for he believed that at the bottom of the well, grace always rose up to fill up aching hearts gouged dry by sorrow.

Once inside the sanctuary, Moses paused before the altar then slowly went up the three steps that led to the glass-topped pulpit with the wooden cross hanging over it. He cautiously went down on his knees, facing the vast space across the empty sanctuary. He allowed that familiar feeling of belonging to envelope him, causing him to close his eyes and savour it for a moment.

"Thank you, Lord..." he started, and spent time in conversation with his maker for a while. How he enjoyed this moment.

This morning, he particularly felt overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude. For six years, he had been a Pastor at the Harvest Baptist Church in Nairobi West, better known around town as Harvest. His life was never more perfect than when he was ministering or meditating as he now was. God had been good to him, he thought. The congregation loved him, and he loved them back with all the sincerity his heart could master.

He veered off his prayer trail for a moment and indulged in the memory of his ordination six years ago, right before this very altar. His life's purpose as a minister had solidified while in high school, and thereafter, never once fallen into doubt. After he was ordained, he was made the Youth Pastor. Pastor Moses attracted many young people - and yes, ladies - to the church by his charisma and his killing-me-softly looks. The man was sinfully handsome. He had smote many a damsel with the innocent flash of his smile. After three years as a Youth Pastor, the church put him in charge of Visitation Ministry. This meant he organized visits to the sick in hospitals and those in prison. And he took on these added responsibilities with ease and excellence.

This is how it came about. One day the senior Pastor had taken Pastor Moses with him to visit the sick in hospital, as was routine. He had watched the Youth Pastor hold an ailing new-born babe in the cupped palm of his hand and pray over that little life as if God himself were breathing upon it. Something about the delicacy with which Moses handled life seemed completely natural and all together rare. There and then the senior Pastor had decided to give the Youth Pastor the added responsibilities of Visitation Ministry. Truth be told, the deacons of the church had also been looking for a way to curtail the potentially scandalous attention Pastor Moses was receiving from the ladies, and the senior Pastor had just been presented with the perfect opportunity. God worked in mysterious ways. That was three years ago, and to the best of their knowledge, the deacons had succeeded in maintaining the sanctity of their popular Youth Pastor.

Moses had taken to the challenge like a duck to water, always seeming to restore a certain dignity to those he prayed for; convicts in prison, rejected relatives sick with stigmatized diseases, and anyone who came to him for prayers; he brought them to God with humility and gratitude, as the pure souls he considered them to be. At the point of prayer, they were all children of God, and all they wanted was healing grace.

As he continued to kneel at the altar, Moses also recalled that some of the most ungracious behaviour had happened within the church family; passing judgment against another with sledge hammer, hateful words spoken through petty jealousies, vengeful hearts seeking to draw blood, and bigoted minds crushing the dignity of others to the ground. He had tried his best to intervene in the worst cases, sometimes earning himself a temporary enemy here and there, but always being sought after later for words of wisdom. To dignify, rather than deface, was a conscious choice he made. After all, he prayed everyday that no one would ever deface him; that his veil would stay in place to the day he died.

"Amen." He said, quickly getting back to the present. He got up and made his way to the church office through the doors facing the sanctuary. Sitting at his desk, he went over his schedule for the day while seeping at a fresh cup of tea he had just fixed. Normal day, he thought, peering into the scribble in his diary. Evening... Kenyatta Hospital, visit with Mama Okoth, eighty-seven years old... Alzheimer's... Yeah, he remembered meeting her three weeks ago and promising to see her again. For a brief moment of human weakness which he perished as quickly as it came, he wondered if he shouldn't cancel that appointment, considering she may not remember him at all. Moses remembered that the only relative who visited the old lady was her twelve year-old grandson whose parents had died of AIDS. He would keep his appointment with Mama Okoth. Another scribble in his diary: meet Judith at eight. He looked up and knit his eyebrows, wondering what he was meeting his mouthy cousin, Judith, about. Then it came to him.

The reminding came to him like the shadow of a veiled woman disappearing round the bend. He quickly ignored the shadow and turned to his keyboard. Only the veil floated back and delicately shrouded his face like a spider's web. The shadow conveniently faded out of sight. He had a sermon for tomorrow's midweek youth service to work on.

His phone rang. He looked at it and let it ring. A short while later, the message alert beeped. He would call her back later. There was no urgency. After all, he had a lifetime to spend with her.

It so happened that Moses Kiereini was about to get married. In five days.

He sighed. His bride-to-be was one gift he wished he could shove right back to God, forget he had ever met her. And then, he loved her truly.

"Lord... why?" He knew the answer as clear as he knew God's unconditional love for him. Many years ago, the truth had made itself known to him as naturally as the rising of the sun. The truth had knocked softly against the mind of a young boy awakening to puberty. He had known the truth for a long time, and all his life, even when the truth sat well with him, he was a chrysalis waiting to break out of its delicate cocoon and fly free like the butterflies he so loved to watch as a young boy in Kajiado walking home from school. Who was he that God should have brought the beautiful Mueni his way?

Mueni Xhamela was a pleasant and quiet young lady, born of a South African father and a Kenyan mother, fiercely protected by her only sibling, Themba. While Moses anguished over her, she sat in her office located on the fifth floor of Fedha Towers and contemplated calling it a day. She flipped open her phone restlessly.

"O, well." She said, disappointed that her fiancé had not called her back. He was busy, she knew, and she did not want to be a pest. She looked at his smiling face staring at her from the picture frame on her desk, and for a moment, she indulged her mind to a quick visit down reminisce lane, almost a year ago when she met Moses...

"Run, ladies, run!" Mueni shouted to her two girlfriends as they tried to make their way through the helter-skelter crowd. The air around the Nairobi West bus stop was thick with tear gas. Across the street, riot police ran gun battles with a crowd running wildly in all directions. For the second day in a row, there had been strikes all over the city. The country had been growing restless over the strange case of a full sack of maize that had been found sitting outside parliament buildings, all by itself. It had gone unclaimed, questions had gone unanswered, and no one wanted to touch it. It was all together mysterious, spooky, almost immoral. In the face of rising prices of unga and accompanying food rationing, the mindboggling sight had let loose all sorts of speculation and eventually, an explosion of outrage that spilt out to the street in riots. It was in one of these riots that Mueni and her friends had found themselves engulfed after they got off a matatu in Nairobi West. They were on their way to spend a girls-only Friday evening in Mueni's apartment not too far from Harvest Baptist. Suddenly, they were chocking and struggling to keep the blinding acid fumes off their eyes.

"Let's head to the church!" Shouted one of Mueni's friends.

"No, let's just run home; we're almost there," said Mueni. And as they moved faster, a sudden wall of humanity running the opposite direction was upon them.

"Wameua mtu! Wameua mtu!" A young man was shouting that they had killed someone. The excited lad ran directly into Mueni, knocking her down to the ground. Mueni's friends quickly helped her up and without any more discussions, they turned around and ran across the street towards the church.

Moses watched from the window of the church office as the chaos unfolded, saw the young ladies running towards the sanctuary doors, one of them with a bloody knee, and quickly ran to let them in.

"Here, sit here. I'll get a wet cloth. Let's take care of that." Pastor Moses got busy as the three girls tried to catch their breath. He soon came back with a first aid kit and a wet cloth that he started dabbing on Mueni's knee.

"It's not too bad..." He said, cleaning away the gravel stuck on her skin. She winced.

"Sorry about that."

Mueni shut her eyes tight as Moses finished tending to her. Her friends sat quietly, too absorbed in their own growing anger. This sudden intrusion into a Friday evening they were so looking forward to was completely uncalled for. They always enjoyed the gossip about their boyfriends as if they were watching and starring in their own blockbuster movie. Now this!

"I think it's cleared." One of the girls said. "Let's go before it gets dark."

"Thank you," Mueni said, and for the first time, looked up at Moses' face. Things had happened so quickly she had not had time to notice him at all. He smiled, nodded, and there, right before her, she saw the most calming, gentle eyes she'd ever seen on a human face. For a moment, nothing around mattered anymore. In that moment, she knew something had shifted in her. She couldn't explain it. Something wonderful, and fearful, and... she could not find the word for that other thing. Perhaps she never would.

"Pastor Moses, sorry, I did not introduce myself."

"My name is Mueni," she responded.

"Mueni," Moses repeated, and turned to the other ladies, "and your friends here?"

"I know you. I come to this church sometimes." The nonchalant one replied while looking out the window.

"O, well then, you're home! It's a big church, I'm sorry I don't get to meet everyone who comes to worship here." Moses said apologetically.

"That's ok, a Pastor is not a little god capable of knowing everyone. I'm Chebet. And this is Rispa. She's Catholic, goes to Holy Family Basilica. Lakini don't try to save her; she's not interested." Moses almost winced at that introduction.

"Hello, Rispa. No matter; you're still welcome to worship with us anytime, no strings attached." After the introductions, Moses asked them if they wanted to wait in the office for a while longer. He noticed that Chebet was particularly eager to leave. She was rather talkative, a bit... brash. Moses looked away from her, almost afraid that she might have heard his critical thoughts about her, then insisted again, "Stay longer until it's safe to leave."

"Heh, Pastor. You think we live here?" Chebet meant to be funny, but somehow her jokes had a way of taking off in the opposite direction. The tragedy of it all is that she never noticed her jokes run amok and leave her audience perplexed. She turned to the other girls as she picked up her handbag. "You guys, hebu si we go."

"Thank you again, Pastor. We really appreciate." Mueni said, once again feeling that odd shift inside her when she looked at him.

"Stay safe." Moses said as he opened the door for them.

After that first encounter, Mueni spent a week thinking about Pastor Moses; not as one smitten, but as one moved. Moved towards a destiny she had no clear grasp of. After two weeks, she decided to start attending Harvest Baptist Church. She needed to meet him again, as if her life depended on it. Mueni had not been much of a card-holding Christian, and when she attended church, she worshipped at the Anglican church where her parents went.

Pastor Moses remembered her. Slowly, they began to meet more often as Mueni became a regular at Harvest. Over time, she became quite involved in the Youth Ministry as well, and quite often joined the Visitation committee that Moses led to hospitals and prisons. They became great friends. Everyone noticed. The older married ladies and the church elders approved. They needed their Youth Pastor to settle down with a good wife and children as was the will of God. The single ladies who'd been waiting in line now fought off the green-eyed monster.

While Mueni grew to love Moses deeper every day, Moses grew deeper in love with his ministry. Silently, she worried that he was taking too long to make a meaningful move. Did he secretly have his heart in the clutches of another woman? She needed to know, but did not know how to ask, so she suffered silently. Moses felt her withdraw from him. More and more, whenever they were in a group, she quickly left before Moses had a chance to ask how her day was.

Then one day, right after ministering to patients at Pumwani Hospital, Moses felt a pang of guilt tear through his heart. Once again, here was Mueni, ever so faithfully lending him support and company, never asking for anything more. Yet he knew she was waiting. He was not blind. He caught up with her as she quickly left to catch the bus home.

"Eer... Mueni, please, may I give you a ride home?" he asked. It was the first time he had ever offered her a ride home since they first met seven months ago. Her heart pumped pure music through her veins.

Moses let her in his car and they started driving towards the city. He was quiet for what seemed an eternity. She did not move, did not want him to hear her breathe. She feared the music from her heart might be a tad too loud and would betray her sheer excitement. He cleared his throat.

"You know... I think you're a great girl," he started, "and I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your friendship and support." He went on. She sat quietly as he navigated through the traffic and the thick mesh of his emotions.

"You've been there for me like no friend I've ever known, and I wanted to say thank you. Thank you for getting tear-gassed into the church." She laughed out loud, and suddenly felt at ease. He joined her in the laughter, and their conversation became a river passing through a bed of silky sand, sometimes tumbling over rocks that made it bubble over in silvery ribbons, then the conversation was a surprise waterfall over a cliff of unexpected information, running into plunge pools of swirling laughter, then moving towards the meanders of what might be, what is hoped for, what was left unspoken.

She loved him. She loved him achingly.

After that night, giving Mueni a ride home became something Moses looked forward to. He needed the friend she was. True, unpretentious, unafraid to be vulnerable. He began to feel free to speak his mind with her. Laughed a lot, even cried with ease when he told her about his father's death, and how little he knew him. Mzee Kiereini, a man's man, he had said to Mueni; husband to two wives, father to six daughters and one son, Moses, in whom he felt quite disappointed. Moses had failed his father by going into church ministry for a career when the village clearly needed a doctor. Mueni had hugged Moses as he cried out his aching for his father's pride and acceptance. She had loved him then with the intensity of virgin embers with their thin veil of ashes barely visible. In her presence, Moses felt truly comfortable, easily forgetting the shroud that delicately veiled his face.

It was during one of these rides home that Mueni had asked Moses to come up to her apartment. She had remembered that her brother, Themba, was visiting, and she wanted them to meet.

"Well, I'll walk you up, but I can't stay. Need to prepare for tomorrow." He saw nothing calculated about the invitation.

"That's alright. You can say hello to him and be on your way. We should do dinner at my place soon." She hadn't meant to make this last suggestion. She quickly shrunk into her petite self and hoped she had not sounded like some desperately shameless female. Moses completely failed to notice Mueni's flash of feminine insecurity.

"Sure, we should do dinner soon. How long is Themba staying?" From previous conversations, Moses was aware that Mueni's only brother worked in Maseno as an accountant at the university.

"He's leaving tomorrow morning. Came to do some auditing for a friend's business." She said.

"Ok." There was nothing for Moses to relate to. Accounting seemed all rather dull.

"Come on, I'll take you to the door." Mueni led Moses up the stairs to her third-floor apartment. Just as she jiggled the keys into the keyhole, her brother opened the door.

"Hey, Nini! Just making sure it's not a burglar." Themba Xhamela was the effervescent side of Mueni. He had always called his sister Nini, meaning 'small' in their mother's mother-tongue. Mueni had no problem with her petite size. She loved her brother's protective five-eleven towering figure when he walked with her. He was thirty-five; she was thirty-one. Just then, he noticed Moses.

"Oh... you have company. I'll just retreat to bed," Themba said, looking directly at Moses.

"This is my brother, Themba. Themba, this is Moses, Pastor Moses." Mueni made the quick introductions and added, "He's only seeing me safely home."

"Glad to meet you," Moses said, looking straight into Themba's eyes.

They did not shake hands, and Mueni did not notice anything worth noticing. She was in her own cloud, grinning from ear to ear. Moses had agreed to dinner at her apartment.

"Well, I suppose I'll see you on Sunday." Moses said to Mueni, giving her a warm hug while Themba looked on. He disappeared down the stairwell while the Xhamela sibling locked the door behind them. It was one sleepless night for both of them. The sister, excited beyond measure; the brother, blindsided. He didn't know what hit him.

Mueni had all but forgotten that evening of quick introductions. As the weeks went by, nothing significant had progressed between Mueni and Moses. The Pastor went on with his ministry, loving every new day that he walked in through the doors of the sanctuary at Harvest Baptist Church.

Then one day, several weeks after he had met Themba, Moses received a call from his mother. Usually, he called her. When he heard her voice, he braced himself for some bad news. His mind quickly scanned through faces of relatives who might have had one leg already in the ancestral realm. He zeroed in on his father's brother who had a festering wound on his shin that had refused to heal. Moses suspected it was cancerous.

"Mother, is it uncle-- ?" Before he could finish, his mother cut him off.

"Son, I don't have much time, your uncle is fine. Now, you listen to me. Before your father went to be with the Lord, he said directly to you, marry quickly, like that. Find a good girl and marry. A man is empty without a family. I'm saying to you now, you're old and your uncles are angry with me. Marry quickly!"

At the age of thirty-eight, Moses hardly felt old, but he was aware that in the eyes of his people, he should have been a father to several children by now.

"Mother..."

"I hear there is a good girl you have met. I hear everyone in your church is waiting for you to bring her home. What are you waiting for?"

"Mother..."

"You must bring to birth your late father and continue the family line before it's too late." Moses knew that was a serious charge. He was the only son. He wanted to protest out loud to the ancestors, the living, the unborn, the tribe.

"Mother, please..." He started meekly.

"What is it, son? Eh? What is the matter? Is it money? The church will help you put the wedding together, and we shall have the feast ready for you here in Kajiado. You hear me, eh?"

"Mother." Moses paused, his mother listened. "You gave birth to me, held me in your arms, raised me until I became a man. Don't you know your son?"

"Moses, what are you talking about? Do you have a secret family, eh?" His mother's voice was both distressed and puzzled. Moses massaged his temple and attempted to end the conversation as positively as he could.

"Mother, I'm sorry I have disappointed you. You and father. I have not made you happy."

"Well, now is your chance. Do the right thing. Soon, I too shall join your father. All I want is for you to do the right thing." Mama Moses was almost begging.

"I understand..." He sighed.

"Yes, son. Do the right thing. You understand?" She pressed on.

He understood. He knew his uncles had sat his mother down and demanded to know why Mzee Kiereini's only son was shaming the family by staying single so long. Did he not know that was against custom, irksome to the ancestors, and insulting to his people's belief in a man's duty to see to the perpetuation of life.

Moses knew that his mother had spent sleepless nights agonizing over this matter, and had eventually gathered the guts to tell him exactly what was at stake. He hurt for his mother. She did not deserve an only son who did not seem to bring her pride. She deserved every bit of joy that her children could afford her. Guilt now overwhelmed Moses, and his shoulders caved in under the weight of a fresh wave of remorse. She is the only mother he had.

"Ok. I will. I'll do the right thing" He said to his mother and bid her goodbye.

He walked out of the office and into the sanctuary. This was the place where he was able to talk to God and find peace. He spent the next three hours agonizing over that phone call. He knew the church members that had a stake in his marital status were growing equally restless. He was also aware that the deacons were contemplating making him the Associate Pastor, next in line to take up the church's leadership should the senior Pastor retire, a likely event, considering the senior Pastor was already a septuagenarian and showing wear-and-tear. They were not about to give such an honored position to a bachelor.

Moses sat in the silence and searched God deeply. The big man was silent. He knew this place; this realm of no-answers. It was that chthonic zone that held explosive dichotomies of life; the zone of neither right nor wrong; neither war nor peace; neither good nor evil. He recognized it as a place he must walk through, splinter into pieces as he raked through the cosmos for answers, and hopefully, if miracle permit, come out resurrected.

He drove home, thinking about Mueni, and what a wonderful friend she was. She could have any good man she wanted, but he knew she wanted him. And why wouldn't I want her for a wife? He knew the answer to that question, so he rephrased it. Why shouldn't she get what her heart yearns for? Once, he suffered tremendous amount of guilt for not returning her love in similar measure. He had known she had been utterly selfless, being there for him without ever a complaint. Then he had started returning gratitude and affection in the best way he knew, by taking her home and indulging her in conversation. That had resulted in the treasure of the friendship they now shared. Then there was her brother Themba... He would save those thoughts for later.

Suddenly, it came to him.

"I must be the sacrifice God is calling me to be. I must die that another might live." He thought about Christ and the ultimate sacrifice he had made on the cross. Giving of himself to Mueni through the covenant of marriage would be the ultimate sacrifice. She deserved to be treasured, cherished, protected, and loved by the one her heart had gone out to. He would be there for her, to the last mile.

He got home, took a shower, warmed up some food, and sat down at table like one about to have his last supper before heading for the gallows. He said grace, then picked up his phone and dialed Mueni's number. It was almost nine in the evening.

"Moses?" Mueni answered.

"Mueni, this is Moses... of course, you know."

"Hey... is everything alright?" She could hear him breath.

"Eer... Sure, I'm alright." He cleared his throat. "Do you think I could see you tomorrow? There's something I'd like to ask you."

Her heart was pounding.

"Sure. I can make time tomorrow."

"Well, how about after work, I'll pick you up."

And so the next morning, Moses purchased a ring, and in the evening, popped the question to Mueni during a quiet dinner. It was the kind of experience Mueni would never have words to describe. She had craved this moment, but had not quite expected it. When she got home, the first person she called was Themba, the brother who had met Moses ever so briefly almost three months ago.

"Got some news, Tex!"

"What now?" Themba knew if Mueni called him by his childhood nickname, it was something big.

"Getting married!"

"What?!"

"What do you mean, what?"

"You never told me you were seeing anyone! Who is he?"

"Oh, Tex, Tex. You met him already."

"I have? When, where?"

"It's Moses. Remember the guy who brought me home some months back?"

There was complete silence on the other end of the line.

"Themba?"

He finally found his voice. "Mueni, listen to me."

"Ok, listening." Here comes the quizzing from big brother, she thought.

"Run" He said.

"What did you say?"

"I said run." Themba repeated.

"What do you mean, run?"

"Nini, I don't know how to explain this, and I will not do it over the phone. Just listen to me. Break off that engagement, for your own good."

"I love him, Themba! I love him! Don't you know what that is??"

She knew her brother was a different kind of man, and she hoped he was not ignorant about what it felt like to fall in love so bad that your heart yo-yoed inside you at every thought of him.

"I know, I know. I'm just trying to protect you." He said calmly.

"Protect me from what??" She was getting annoyed.

"From a life of emptiness, pretentiousness, lies, lovelessness... all that. Believe me, I know what I'm talking about."

"How can you know? You met him only once, for five seconds! What could you possibly know about him?"

"A lot, Mueni. A lot." He paused. "Listen, I'll be in Nairobi in a week. Can we talk then? Meanwhile, don't start making any plans. If you can, please don't see him until you and I talk."

"You're asking impossible things of me."

"Try, Nini, try. Remember, marriage is for a lifetime"

"It had better be!" She said.

"I'll see you in a week." He said goodnight and hung up.

That night, the night of her engagement, Mueni slept fitfully. Themba did not make sense at all, and she was not going to wait a week for someone who was not on her side.

The next day, she called Themba and told him she did not want to see him unless he had something good to say. He would not steal her joy nor trample on her blessings.

"I have already called mum and dad," she told him, "and they are ecstatic. The wedding is in three months."

"Don't dismiss me, Nini." He insisted.

"I won't, if you give me your unconditional support. I've always been on your side, remember?" Mueni said.

There was silence. Then Themba curtly said ok, and hung up.

That week, the entire church learnt of the engagement. Mama Moses and all of Kajiado prepared to receive the bride and her parents. A certain newspaper even published the nuptials between a South African diplomat's daughter and a well-known Youth Pastor. For a moment, it seemed as if the Christian community was coming to a standstill over the news. Moses drunk in the attention, even allowed himself to enjoy it all. Mueni was somewhere beyond the clouds and in no hurry to find her way back to solid ground. In three months, she would be Mueni Xhamela Kiereini.

With so much to do, time had flown by, and Themba had maintained absence and silence...

As Mueni wove her way back to the present, she took her eyes off her fiancé's photo and glanced at the calendar on the wall. Five days to go. Themba's silence bothered her greatly. She needed him by her side. She had dismissed his reaction as a brother's overzealous protectiveness. She needed him to snap out of it and join the party. Maybe she should arrange another meeting between her brother and Moses. Yes! That's what she will do. Tonight, Moses was going to meet his cousin Judith about the flowers for the church, so she had the evening to herself. She would call Themba and tell him she could not get married without him there and that she needed him to get to know Moses better.

Just as she left her office, her phone rang. It was Themba.

"What is this, telepathy?" She said.

"Why, were you about to call?" Themba asked.

"Yup. When are you coming to town?" She asked.

"I'm in town. I know you're about to leave the office. Meet me at the coffee house across the street."

'I'll be there in three minutes."

They found each other, hugged warmly, and sat down at a corner table.

"You look good." Themba started, studying her closely. She smiled.

"I feel good. Except..." She paused.

"Except what?" He searched her face.

"Except it's not right without my brother's support." She said.

"I'm sorry." Themba was sincere.

"It's ok. I suppose it's hard losing a sister."

Themba smiled, then looked away from her briefly.

"What is it?" She asked, studying his face.

"Nini, it's not that I'm afraid of losing a sister..."

She waited.

"I thought you deserve to know the truth."

He shifted in his chair.

"You know me, don't you?" He said cautiously.

"Of course." She said, puzzled.

"No, I mean, you know everything you need to know about me." He looked at her directly. She shifted uneasily.

"Themba, if you mean... "

"Yes, that's what I mean."

"Of course I know, and you know I've never had any problem with it, thanks to you for all the talking you took me through." She said, not quite sure where this was going.

"Mum and Dad may never really come to terms with it, but I'm glad I have a sister who accepts me for who I am." He went on.

"Actually, I think they did come around somewhat. Remember when mum gave uncle Muli a lashing for calling you a kiveti?

Themba giggled. "If it wasn't so insulting it would be funny. Not that there's anything wrong with being called a woman, if you are one. Thanks for reminding me. What would we do without mothers."

"Ok, now, what does any of that have to do with my getting married?" Mueni asked.

"Tell me the truth, haven't you ever wondered? I mean, has Moses ever kissed you?"

"Of course he has! On the cheek, like a gentleman. He's a Pastor for crying out loud. Why?" She asked defensively.

"Hmmm.." Themba threw her that uh-huh look. Mueni watched him closely. Then, suddenly, she saw the light. It struck her like a ton of bricks.

"Noooo!" She half-shouted, half-wept, half-protested, her heart sinking to the bottom of her feet. Themba realized the truth had just sunk in.

Yes... I'm so sorry, sis. I'm so very sorry. You've been so in love with him you refused to see the truth, even when I know you probably suspected it. You shut it away and willed him to be who he is not. Somehow, God answered your prayers. Strange, huh? You're in a desert dying of thirst, you pray hard enough, and you scoop up a handful of sand believing it's water, and you drink it gratefully. Only it's still sand."

Mueni was crying, shaking, intense waves of pain tearing into her heart. She let the tears flow and watched her world crumble at the foot of the coffee table. Themba moved his seat close to hers, not caring who was watching, and held her close. He let her cry it out for a long, long time. After she was done, she asked him the question he knew was coming.

"How did you know? Had you met him before I introduced him to you?"

"No. I never knew Moses before the night he brought you home. When you introduced us, our eyes met, and we both knew." Themba said.

"Just like that?" Mueni was puzzled. Themba nodded.

"Yup, just like that. I can't explain it, but it happens that way sometimes, you know. You look into someone's eyes and you know."

Mueni was lost for words. She blew her nose again, exhausting the last bit of tissue paper she had with her.

"And there's something else I'd like to tell you." He went on. Mueni didn't think there was any news left more shocking that what she had just learnt.

"I called him a week after you introduced us. It was easy getting his number, him being a Pastor and all, and we talked for hours on end. After that, we called each other often. He's an easy man to fall in love with." Mueni listened, feeling as if she was buried in a time capsule, waiting on the future to unearth her to another universe. Themba went on.

"After you called to tell me he had proposed to you, I asked him why he did it. He said it was a sacrifice he believed he had to make. For you, his mother, and for the church. I understood his faith, but did not support his decision to marry you. But believe me, odd as it was, I thought the way he had stacked up his argument was quite expedient, almost genius, blending faith and logic like that to justify marrying you. I told him so and he laughed. He's a tormented man, I know, but he has been clear that this is the way he wants it to be. Now I too am tormented by it all."

Mueni continued to listen, still feeling detached from the present reality. How could she have missed it? Moses was the gayest man she had ever met! The zero-interest in any testosterone-driven activities, never made any romantic overtures towards her. His hugs and kisses on the cheek were nothing but brotherly. Why, she remembered thinking how much he felt like a girlfriend. She suddenly burst out laughing uncontrollably.

Themba watched. It was a good sign. The laughter after the tears. She would heal. It would take time, but she would heal.

"So, are you two now dating?" She asked Themba.

"Who, Moses and I? Of course not! I couldn't do that to you, and I know Moses wouldn't. All I know is that the two of you are making a mistake. He loves you very much, like a brother loves a sister, and that's just not the way the woman in you deserves to be loved." He said in protest.

"But you two talk almost everyday." She pressed on.

"Yes. I know he's going to go through with the wedding and live the best life he can afford with you. Inside, he will diminish and ache, longing everyday to be what God made him to be. It's a sacrifice he was willing to make. Everyone expects it of him."

"Unless I stop it," Mueni said.

"Unless you stop it," he agreed. "You have five days. I will not come between you and your decision. Whatever you decide, I promise, I will stand by you all the way. I will not tell Moses that I have talked to you either."

Mueni went home, carefully dug a comfortable hole in the sand, and slowly buried her head in it so it fit snuggly, her ears hearing nothing, her eyes seeing nothing, her mouth saying nothing. In this hiding place, there was peace, and if she could make it last a lifetime, she would be alright.

As for Moses, he kept on marching steadily to the altar where he would lay himself down; body, mind and soul, offering up the creation that he was as a fitting sacrifice for the joy of another. After all, was marriage not a sacrifice? Everyday would be a charring of his being upon the burning coals of absolute surrender. It was his calling. He hoped that God would be pleased.

Moses and Mueni continued to meet and talk, neither one letting the other in on anything. The huge wedding committee formed by well-wishing friends from church was going about the arrangements, gathering up a storm of excitement as the day drew neigh. Two days to the wedding, the Kajiado people had their big day, and Mama Moses sang her heart out and danced up a storm. She and the women of the village all had their new dresses ready for the coming of the long awaited day.

A day before the wedding, Moses called Mueni.

"Hey, could I please see you tonight." Moses said.

"Now, you know I'm not supposed to see you until we meet at the altar." She tried to smile as she said this.

"I know... I need to see you. Really. I'll pick you up and we can go somewhere quiet." He pressed on.

Mueni did not like this. She meant to walk down that aisle. He wasn't about to chicken out now.

"Moses, it's not a good idea. The wedding is tomorrow. Let it wait."

"No, it can't wait." Moses was getting irritated, quite uncharacteristic of him.

"I'm getting my hair done tonight." Mueni went on.

"Get it done tomorrow morning. I need to see you tonight."

She hesitated. He said get it done tomorrow morning, which meant he still planned on going through with the wedding. Perhaps it was safe to see him.

"Ok, well, pick me up at the nail salon on Kimathi Street. I should be done by six."

"I'll be there."

Moses drove Mueni out to a quiet outdoor restaurant facing a park in the outskirts of Nairobi. There was no one out on the porch but them. A pot of tea and samosas sat in the middle of the table.

"I know you know." Moses started, softly. "I figured if you've had a gay brother all your life, there's no way you could not know that I too was gay."

"Had I not fallen so in love with you, I'm sure I would have figured it out much earlier. Themba brought it to my attention," she said.

Moses laughed softly, then looked out into the creeping nightfall across the park. "Themba..."

Mueni hesitated, then asked, "Do you love him?"

Moses contemplated the question, then answered, "He's an easy man to love."

Mueni was not going to pin him down for a yes-or-no answer. It didn't matter.

"Have you ever fallen in love before?" She asked.

"Yes. I was in a relationship that lasted seven years before I joined Harvest Baptist."

"What happened?"

"He left the country to study in Botswana. When he came back, we had grown apart. He now lives with his partner in Nakuru."

"One just never knows," she said.

"Everyone pretends we don't exist. So we play along."

"That's sad. But what's sadder is that girls like me have to fall in love with one of you because you don't come with a label."

"I'm truly sorry." He said, feeling as if he was putting band-aid on a third-degree burn.

"I suppose there's still something you haven't told me" She asked, realizing she had not touched her cup of tea.

He paused. "I wanted to tell you that I spoke to the Senior Pastor, and now he knows. I did not want him to officiate at the wedding without the benefit of full disclosure."

"Well! What did he say?"

"He said he would not do it, that nothing that ungodly would happen in his church. He was shaking with anger, saying I betrayed him, the church, and God almighty. He said a lot of other things, hurtful mostly, you know... those sorts of things." Moses had learnt to shut off the bigotry and ignorance against his kind. It kept him free of pointless rage.

"But you never had to deal with those sorts of things! You wore a veil all along!" She was angry. "You pretended to be some saint, carrying on like you never sinned, getting loved for being a fraud!" She was really angry. "God did not look on you with pleasure. You lied your way through life, afraid of being who you are and insulted all of us as a result, Pastor Moses!" She spat that one out with venom.

"Mueni, please know something. I knew I was different from most boys quite early in life. When my feelings were obvious to me in my teenage years, I took to the library and read books no one ever reads. God brought angels my way who helped me understand myself; men and women who live in the shadows. But my turning point was when I met an elderly gentleman - he was a Reverend from the Wamanyire people - at a retreat at Brackenhurst Conference Centre. He told me things a lot of us Africans would be shocked to know."

"Like what, gay Reverends in the church?"

"I know you're still angry, but please hear me out."

Mueni was defiantly silent. Moses took that as an indication that he can go on.

"Have you ever read the book, Lost Spirituality?" Mueni mumbled a response in the negative. Sometimes their richest conversations revolved around books they had read, and she loved to hear about things Moses had uncovered between the pages of books he picked up from the MacMillan Library, Goethe Institute or the library at the All African Conference of Churches. He had her attention, offered a tad grudgingly.

"The Reverend I met gave me a copy after we had a long talk. Did you ever wonder why some of our communities had so-called secret societies dedicated to divination and other pursuits that allowed them to stay celibate, keep apprentices of the same sex who never married, or went off into seclusion for lengthy period of time?" Mueni listened. "Gay is not an African definition, you know. Most African communities did not have a word for people who felt a sexual attraction to others of the same gender."

"Why? How could they not have a word for something if it existed?"

"Because their existence was defined from a spiritual perspective, you see, from the point of view of their life's purpose. Among the Wamanyire, so-called gay people were referred to as doorkeepers, those that stood guard between the living world and the realm of the spirits. They were believed to come into this world bearing a different level of cosmic perception that for some vibrated as a sexual attraction for the same gender. Destroying them would have meant destroying the community's cosmic balance. As it is, it's already out of balance. The Wamanyire have totally embraced Christianity and lost a place for their doorkeepers, some of who now live like mice scuttling through life for lack of acceptance in society. In the western culture, people are also defined from a sexual perspective, because for them, sexuality is an important part of human identity, see? Now we are confronted with a western perspective that is slanted more towards a physical emphasis. Truth is, a lot of their gay people have made exceptional contributions to society that no one talks about. All I hear these days is how they are destroying society and ought to be expunged."

"No one is out to expunge you, so don't start up a pity-party with me."

"Oh... well, that's not what I meant to do. But just to let you know, there are mean people out there. Don't forget that in the purity of our Africanness, we persecuted those we considered an abomination. Killed albino children upon birth, left new-born twin in the forest for hyenas to feast on, buried unmarried and barren women in no-man's land together with dogs..."

"Alright! You made your point." Mueni had many questions, but she couldn't keep her mind on the convoluted subject of African cosmology and sexuality too long. She had her shattered future to start fixing. She sighed.

"I just need a friend right now."

"I'm sorry. I'm truly sorry."

"One question though. You are going right back to ministry after all this. How will you reconcile your identity with your Christian faith?"

"I don't need to. Jesus never condemned me."

Mueni smiled.

"Mueni, thank you for loving me so earnestly. I know I do not deserve it. Now I don't know what to do." Moses sounded utterly hopeless, exhausted. At his most vulnerable moment, Mueni found her strength, and slowly begun to pull her head out of the sand.

"We need to call everyone we can and begin to undo this mess." She said.

"Agreed. Let us go to my office. I have a list of all guests and their contacts on my computer. We can start off with those tonight." He offered.

They left the restaurant and quietly headed on to the church. Their plan was to spend some time in Moses' office sending off the wedding cancellation notices, drop Mueni home, and be prepared for the fall-out that was sure to come. They arrived at the church, and as was a habit, Moses went in through the sanctuary doors first. Inside, he was faced with the members of the wedding committee who had drawn up chairs in a circle at a corner of the sanctuary. They all turned around at the sound of the doors opening, noticed Moses and Mueni, and fell deathly silent.

Moses' greeting failed to slice through the tension. Some mumbled back a response, some simply turned away, a few kept a cold gaze on them. He knew that they knew, so he quickly guided Mueni through the doors leading to the office. He had never known rejection from those he ministered to. Hell must be an ice-cold place, he thought, a shiver running down his spine.

Once in the office, they worked as efficiently as they could, each lost in their own fearful thoughts, the impending storm too terrifying to talk about. There would be questions, explanations to give, gloating from those that had envied Mueni, shock and disbelief at the exposure of Pastor Moses Kiereini. Everything but mercy. The storm would rage, gather greater winds with each new day until everyone was a speck of dust floating violently within, their necks snapping here and there like twigs while trying to catch the latest piece of gossip, mouths running adrible with exaggerated tit-bits of rotten truths clogging over-stimulated throats. The storm would come, and perhaps, if they survive it, a calm. They worked into the night, sending out emails to at least four hundred persons, each individually addressed, with heartfelt apologies. It was way past midnight when Moses dropped Mueni off at her apartment, making sure she was safely home.

She slept a dreamless sleep, a sleep that passed before her shut eyes white as a ghost, oduorless as the breath of a newborn babe, colourless as the fleeting imagination of an idle mind. For years later, she would remember this dream emptily for what it was not.

That Saturday morning, as was the norm, the newspaper had its special edition, printed around two in the morning. Mueni had woken up late, made a quick dash to the kiosk, picked up a copy of the paper and dashed back to the house. She leafed through it lazily, reading the special edition's loud headline, "Sack of Maize Mystery Solved!" Something about that headline scratched at a distant memory... Oh! That's the sack of maize that was found sitting outside parliament buildings, leading to riots that found her taking cover at the Harvest Baptist Church, the day she met Moses... Mueni turned to the next page of the special edition and saw the macabre sight of a mutilated body, so brutally murdered it could have been an animal sliced up by ten butchers then run over by a truck. Mueni peered into the caption, "Unidentified victim of an early morning murder found in city street." Mueni threw the newspaper on her kitchen table and started to make a cup of tea. Her apartment was quiet. She had turned off her phone. She was not prepared to handle the coming chaos. She took her cup of tea and went back to bed. This is how she wanted to remember what was supposed to be her wedding day; a blank day that she could later in life draw in any memory she chose. She shut her eyes and drifted off to a light sleep. Right at the place between wake and sleep where time and space warped into eternity, she saw Moses...

After Moses dropped Mueni home, he turned around and headed towards his own house, taking the familiar route he liked through the city. He drove slowly, allowing his mind to start feeling the pain. It was better this way; begin hurting now so that when the storm reached its peak, he will be better placed to handle it. He was a captain, steering a ship in the middle of the sea, but his faithful passengers had started to turn against him. The one who had loved him unconditionally had just started her life's journey without him. He was alone. The thought begun to torment him and he fought back the tears. He needed to see the road ahead. Then he started noticing a car that had kept a trail on him for a while, and before he knew it, the car pulled up and blocked him. He stopped and felt a cold sweat trickle down his armpits. Instinctively, he looked at the clock on the dashboard. It was almost one-thirty.

Two men jumped out of the car that blocked Moses and moved towards him. Immediately, he recognized them, and for a moment, he relaxed his flesh-tearing grip on the steering wheel. He remembered that they had been at the church as part of the wedding committee when he and Mueni walked in. He sighed with relief; they probably wanted to ask him not to cancel the wedding... A loud crash and flying shards of glass rudely interrupted his train of thought. The two men had smashed into his car window, reached over and yanked him right out. Before he could utter a word, they gagged him and dragged him to a dark corner of the street. The streets were quiet, and the men were efficient.

"Shoga wewe! Pumbavu! You lived among us and all the while you were contaminating the church like a cancer. Tonight we'll fix that. Shenzi. Fala sana wewe! You sodomite calling yourself a Pastor. Eeh? What does the bible say? You filthy pig!" The kicks and blows started raining on him.

The storm had come too soon, Moses thought. His screams, blocked by the gag, raced back down his throat and rose up again to escape through his ears with a burning sting. The men kept up the attack with a vicious zeal. Moses threw up and swallowed his own vomit. An ammoniac river gushed out from between his legs. A sewage drain let lose its contents and flowed out through his pants. Blood rushed up his nostrils and clotted on its way down his cheeks in traumatic surrender. Too soon... He struggled not to black out. He wanted to keep his eyes open. He wanted to survive this. He wanted to live. He loved his ministry, the church, the people he touched. He clung desperately for dear life.

"Let me live, Lord, let me live." The blows rained harder. Tons of bilious hate spewed out of his attackers' mouths. Somewhere between the sludge from their hearts and the struggle of his soul to cling to his body, he heard John Newton's Amazing Grace as clear as day. Moses had preached many a sermon on the slave master's salvation. Now he saw Newton struggling to still his slave ship against a sudden storm out at sea while transporting his human cargo, and right before capsizing, God stilled the storm. Moses saw the slave master kneel down on the deck and lift up his voice to the heavens. The words raced up to Moses, dissolving the gag that held him captive, and he released a groan that rose up in octaves of grace-

Yea,when this fleash and heart shal fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

When it all seemed calm, Moses opened his eyes, ever so slightly, and right there, he saw Mueni's face looking down on him while she cradled him gently. Her arms enveloped him with ethereal comfort. But his mind was only projecting that which was familiar, for the face he saw and the comforting arms were in reality those of a street boy. The boy had been disturbed from his sleep by the sound of heavy thuds and muffled screams. He had gone towards the direction of the noise, found Moses barely breathing, removed the gag from his mouth, and knelt down to cradle the dying man in his little arms. At the bottom of Moses' well, grace rose up in song from the boy's mouth, a song the boy learnt from a Pastor who had once prayed by his late grandmother's bedside - Mama Okoth - as she battled Alzheimer's at Kenyatta Hospital. Moses closed his eyes and gave up his spirit to his maker.

A short while later, a journalist on a midnight hunt for a special edition story had come upon the mutilated body of Moses Kiereini, his head lying on the lap of a street boy who snored away peacefully.

 

Mkawasi Mcharo Hall
© mkmc dec 2009, baltimore, md

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