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What! Christmas blackout in Last Man’s village

In my village, Christmas was never about the birth of Christ. We called it Wasikukuu, the great day, without attaching any particular greatness to it. But on this Christmas, something was going to happen. That was certain. You could tell from the gaiety in our faces. Everyone seemed excited about something. Only we didn’t know what.

Apart from the buzz about new clothes and a change of diet at home, mostly chapati and chicken, we boys got some pocket money from uncles and aunties. We called them Wasikukuu presents. We bought candies and mandazi as we did numerous catwalks up and down the local market.

Wasikukuu was not complete without partaking in a kind of gambling we called kyuthi. We dug a coin-sized hole and stood three meters away. Then we aimed at the hole with a coin each. The person whose coin was closest to the hole had the first chance to collect all the coins and throw them again towards the hole from three meters away. If any coin entered the hole, it belonged to the thrower. Then the same thrower was assigned a coin to hit. It was usually the one most difficult to aim for. If he succeeded in hitting it, he’d pocket all the coins. If not, the person whose coin was next in distance from the hole would have his chance to throw the coins and try his luck. As the game progressed, the stakes would rise, and you would risk more shillings and bigger wins.

This game was illegal as far as the local school and church were concerned. It was gambling and addictive. The local chief would occasionally raid boys as they played. On Christmas, he pretended not to see. I looked forward to this illegality.

My uncle invited me to play the gamble with him in the morning. He allowed me to win several rounds. I got excited and staked more of my pocket money. Uncle equalled my stake. Then when he knew that I had staked a considerable amount, he did a trick and won the jackpot. He took all the money and, to my surprise, became hostile.

“Uncle, could you return my money so we can play, again?”I asked.

“That was gambling, not play.  You have lost.” He said as he left.

I had no pocket money to buy anything at the market.

In the evening, my friends sneaked to Machakos town, and joined cool kids and urbanised folk at discos allowing anyone with money. I had no choice but to go to the once-in-a-year village disco.

My uncle had assembled a jukebox disco outside his boy hut and charged everyone who entered. Huge speakers screeched and screamed Dholuo benga tunes. There was an ecstatic atmosphere as revellers demanded Dholuo Hundwe Kundi’s music after paying the deejay for the song. My uncle was collecting the charges and only the purchaser was allowed to dance with the people he selected.

I tried to get into the compound only to be blocked by callous khat-chewing bouncers whom Uncle had brought to man the disco. Coming from a neighbouring village, they didn’t know any local boys, let alone Last Man.

With no money to pay for entry, I spied on the dancing team from spaces on the fence. They looked mean and privileged. The only group having light and music in the darkness of the village. Music and dance now belonged to the one who could pay.  The entitled tyrants were dancing with liberal girls who had travelled from far-flung villages. They held the girls’ twisting waists and ground their loins on their buttocks as they went round the table.

My uncle sat at the side, enjoying his beer and cigarettes, looking like a drug load in his den.

As I lurked forlorn behind the fence, the cold and mosquitoes stung my ears. Looking at the dancing party, my misery made me see birds chirping on a tree around a yellow flower. I decided to have some fun with the birds. A lantern blackout would do, I thought, unable to bear the taunting. Running back home, I went for my catapult sling that I had been using to hunt birds for fun. I collected a sizeable pebble and loaded it. The music paused as I aimed at the lantern in the middle of the dancing party. Then I released the missile.

The lantern glass had been hot for several hours. It exploded. The lantern flew in all directions, scattering flames on the dancers and the grass thatch of my uncle’s mud cube.

Immediately, there were shouts and screams as the partygoers took advantage of the darkness. Kaluki, the twerking queen, was pulled by Kieti, who had been amorously eying her during the dance. She screamed horribly as he dragged her towards the banana plantation.

Rising from the spectators, Munyoki snatched my uncle’s beer and took off into the coffee plantation. In a moment, the makeshift shop Uncle had set up was empty as partygoers became looters. All the sodas, beers, khat, and even the table itself were snatched by fleeing revellers.

Uncle and his bullies pulled out their sheathed swords for murder. The party was converted into a battlefield as fights ensued in earnest. Uncle’s burning roof now lit the village sky. Nobody wanted to be seen in this new light. Any boy who wanted to see tomorrow sprinted towards home. And along the muddy paths, bullies with whips waited to lash your back.

I sprinted to the house of the local administration policeman camp and found Muteti the AP dead drunk.

“The village is burning,” I managed to shout.

The AP staggered to the village and cracked a single shot that reverberated through the village night. All went quiet as the orgy stopped.

As the first rays of the sun struck, the whole village gathered at my uncle’s compound to survey the damage. The local chief and his now sober policeman were doing investigations amongst us.

“Last Man you reported the fire”, chief asked me, kicking away the now charred lantern lamp. “Do you have any idea how this happened?’’

As I kicked the shell of the lantern further, I responded, “Chief, I wish I knew. But the party looked really good before the blackout.”

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