Just a SleepOver

Just a SleepOver

In loving memory of Jim Karu

What would you do if you woke up to find the person you slept with dead in bed? I’ve never really asked myself this question. One simply never stops to ponder such a depraved scenario, to sift options in preparation for the day it happens. Except today, it has happened to me. Even worse, it’s neither my bed nor my house – and she wasn’t mine either.

See I haven’t got much in my Roysambu bedsitter house bar a high-density mattress spread across the floor. That doesn’t make it a good romantic destination. So, when I want to impress a girl, I always call in a favour from my longtime university pal, Dan. He has on all occasions come through at my time of need. And Yesterday at around 4p.m., he did again.

Dan’s spacious one-bed-roomed house comes with it everything that makes for a successful one-night Millennial romp; well furnished, a powerful music system, a king-sized bed, and well, Netflix. A law school student with a bon vivant disposition, Sheila would be impressed. She wanted to escape a tough week of classes, first by indulging her roller-skating obsession at the skating rink, and later for a sleepover where I would indulge her in a night to remember.

Only that she would remember it from heaven, or wherever our souls go to after we die.

Sunday, 8.30 a.m., Roysambu, Nairobi

This morning I’m in house number 4B, Greenlands Apartments which sits along a spruce block on Lumumba Drive. For the past ten minutes, I’ve been shaking Sheila to wake her up. At first gently, whispering con-amore to this girl I’m falling in love with, but then something about her cold skin freaks me out. I have never in my life seen a dead body, though I’ve heard about the death chill. Her skin is pale and too cold for someone who has been sleeping under a heavy duvet, next to me.

“Sheila, this isn’t a joke, please wake up.” Nothing.

She seems to be peacefully asleep, her long lashes clutched pretty over her shut eyes. I pull the quilt off her, throwing it on the floor. She is lying on one side, her right leg curled upwards. Her contoured breasts, the ones I caressed last night, glint with sweat. But there’s a lifeless stillness about them. I place a shaky hand on her shoulder and turn her over.

‘My God. She is heavy,’ I think to myself. No response.

My mind races. What if she’s dead? The thought of death almost makes my heart stop. All of a sudden, I’m bolt upright, with a pummeling heart and a mind wildly racing. My face screws up like that of a kid ready to let out a wail. “Sheila, please wake up!”

My mind races back to my last waking memory. Before we fell asleep, Sheila had asked me to play Beyoncé’s “Blow” one more time. She enjoyed the music video’s roller-skate choreography, I enjoyed seeing Beyoncé in tight costume. We kissed to the song. That was only a few hours ago, but it already feels like a distant memory. A cold, unforgiving chill snaps me out of my reverie. At the same time, my phone beeps with a message notification at the foot of the bed.

Dan (8.39a.m.): You should marry that girl. Told u she’s a good one. I hope you had fun. Don’t be in a rush. I’ll come back in the afternoon.

*****

Sunday, 8.30 a.m., Karen, Nairobi

Dan wakes up lazily, jolted by his little brother Jack.

“It’s nine o’clock already, you’re not at your place where you sleep until midday, Mr. Governor.” Jack, 12, flips a switch and the overhead bulb washes the little room with light.

“Hey Jack, I see you now talk just like mum. Can’t you people let someone rest? I’m going back to my place today.”

Dan pulls the quilt over his head to shield his eyes from the light, but his stubborn brother pulls it off.

“I will eat all the breakfast if you don’t get up. Mum has made pancakes.”

“You won’t, just go away and let me sleep. Thirty more minutes, please?”

Jack jumps onto the bed and shakes his brother, screaming “Get up! Get up!”, before their mother’s familiar falsetto comes cutting through the hallway from the kitchen, “What’s going on there, the two of you must shout? You should be getting ready for Church.”

“Just like old times, eh?” Dan says sheepishly as he gets his little brother off him. “Okay, okay. You win,” he adds in resignation. As he swings out of the bed in his sleep-deprived stupor, his right foot steps on his laptop charger adapter. Last night, he stayed up late bingeing on the third season of The Handmaid’s Tale until his hooded eyes couldn’t anymore, at around 3 a.m.

“Can I use your laptop, please?”

“Just take it and go away, Jack. You remember the password, yeah?”

“No, Mr. Governor.”

Dan throws a soft blow into his little brother’s ribcage, and then hugs him.

“I missed you, stubborn one.” He ruffles Jack’s hair and then says, “Dan112233. D in Caps. Now get lost.”

The open laptop, its charger on the keyboard, seems heavy for Jack. He struggles with the door handle and then disappears into the living room.

Dan lets out a sigh as he fetches his phone from under the pillow. He unlocks it with his thumbprint and then does what he always does, first thing in the morning. Checks his WhatsApp. As soon as he switches his data on, his phones vibrates continuously to message notifications streaming in.

Eight new messages

Three are from his longtime friend, Isaac, one from his girlfriend, and the rest from an entrepreneurs’ group he joined one year ago after clearing campus.

Isaac (9.32p.m.): Yoh Bro! Thanks man. I’m with Sheila at your place. It’s a great night and I will tell you all about it.

Isaac: (10.02p.m.): Your neighbours will complain 😂😂. Loud music. Having a good time

Dan smiles, and then types back quickly.

You should marry that girl. Told u she’s a good one. I hope you had fun. Don’t be in a rush. I’ll come back in the afternoon.

He stretches to a prolonged yawn before draping a towel over his shoulder and walking to the bathroom.

******

8.43 a.m., Dan’s house, Roysambu

I have not even the basics of first aid, but I’ve seen tons of movies. I bring my index and middle fingers to the side of Sheila’s neck. Nothing. I bring them to the side of my own neck to try for a difference, but I’m in shock and I can’t feel what I am looking for.

It is then that I notice a dried-up streak of tear running from her left eye down to her cheekbone. We were supposed to have fun. It was a sleepover, Sheila. Please don’t die on me.

“Get up Sheila!” I yell, vigorously shaking her. I keep shaking her, my hands on her shoulders, as hard as I can. Then I collapse on her and break into sobs. Head buried into her scent; I whimper like a little kid.

*****

Roysambu, Mercy

In her bed, Mercy stirs. She feebly opens her eyes but then shuts them. The rays of sun slanting through the cracks of her curtain seer her eyes. Mercy blindly feels for her phone on a bedside table and then checks the time. 8.30 a.m.

She has a 10a.m. class at the United States International University- Africa. Last night she had wine while catching up on a show she swears is the best she has come across this year. One sip after another, refill the glass, one sip after another, refill the glass, and the bottle was empty. Her head still feels light this morning, and she wishes she had the guts to forego this mid-morning class. But she can’t screw up her grades any further. An International Relations student, she has a Humanitarian Law presentation to muck her way through today.

She grudgingly throws feet into her crocks, stands and stretches. A soft whisper of clothes peeling off her skin is heard as she undresses. Naked, she walks to her closet and belts a towel around her body. There’s a three paneled mirror to her right and she takes time to admire herself.

The shapely legs she hopes her next-door neighbour, Dan, will notice someday. A stupid, but handsome man. She has been to his house twice now, a planned movie night, but Dan is always unaware of the hints she drops. The fool makes no move. And, what was the loud music coming from his house last night about? Anyway, she looks forward to seeing him later today.

Mercy goes into the bathroom and eases the towel, hangs it behind the door. She then lifts her face to the tepid showers sprinkling from above, letting it refresh her. It’s going to be a long day at school.

When she comes out ten minutes later, she feels ready to take on anything in the world. She opens her closet and lets the towel fall on her feet, then digs into her clothes neatly arranged, in hangers. She must pick a presentable one, one that stamps authority.

Humanitarian Law.

She clears her throat and runs a palm gently under her neck. “International humanitarian law is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict…” Her hand pushing aside clothes in hangers, she begins a mock presentation. Her way of prepping. And this one, she’s going to kill it and give the professor something to nod to. She picks a black suit, white shirt; the skirt tight and slightly above the knees.

After digging teeth into a sandwich and washing it down with a cup of tea, she brushes her teeth quickly, picks her handbag and keys. She hastily puts on her black heels then works her key into the lock. Stepping out, Mercy smiles to the calendar-beautiful day. She can’t wait to shine in front of the professor.

*****

8.55 a.m., Dan’s house, Roysambu

Death. So many people that I knew, others that I loved, died, but not like this. Not in my presence. Not after sharing an unforgettable night with me. Not after kissing my lips passionately and sleeping with me. Not after sharing their dreams with me.

Sheila is gone, and now I am sure of it. What am I supposed to do?

I walk out of the room, unsure of my legs. A wooziness causes my head to spin and I grab at the door handle for support. I take a deep breath, turn and stare at the dead girl on Dan’s bed, and a hot tear dribbles down my cheek. I twist the handle and pull the door open. I don’t know where I’m headed, but I walk, one step following the other.

My legs make the decision for me and lead me to the bathroom, where I lock myself inside and start crying all over again. I bang the toilet lid close and sit on it, bury my head on my knees. ‘What am I supposed to do?’ Those words ring in my mind over and over again. I can feel a throbbing vein on my temple and I smash my head repeatedly on my knees.

I replay last night in my mind. ‘Think, Isaac, damnit, think.’ I ram my head between my palms and moan, saliva spurting through my trembling lips. ‘You have to think. Is there anything you are missing?’

I don’t know what jars me but I find myself standing in front of the bathroom mirror. The man staring back at me has red, puffy eyes. He looks every bit scared. I cup my hands and splash cold water onto my face but it doesn’t help.

I swear I have never been this scared my entire life. Not even on the night the police hassled us and found weed in my friend’s backpack. Not on the day I lost my entire school fees to a betting firm, third year in campus. Not the day two men attacked me deep into the night as I was walking back home. One of them had placed a cold blade under my neck and asked me to give the other man my phone. I had been in the grip of death, but not even then had I been this scared.

And then like a bolt from the blue, a fragment of information I was missing hit me. I remember Sheila’s listless eyes when I greeted her. A slight headache, she said. I even got her a couple of painkillers.

I yank the bathroom door open and pace along the corridor leading to the bedroom. I think of calling the neighbours, but is that really the good call? Dan, I should call Dan. But then what will I tell him? That there is a dead girl on his bed, and that she might have overdosed on wine and paracetamol at best or been killed at worst. Either way, it doesn’t look good for me.

I dig fingers into my scraggly hair, puff my cheeks and blow out air. The police. Yes, I should call the police. I find my way into the bedroom. When my eyes fixate on Sheila, asleep in her flowery silk gown, my knees buckle. I crumple on the floor like a dropped doll, elbows leaning on the end of the bed. I let out throaty breaths.

You have to be strong, Isaac. Get your phone and call the police.

I let out a pained shriek when it dawns on me. ‘This will be treated as homicide, and I will be the first suspect. My God, I have to run.’

*****

9.05 a.m., Mercy

It is while locking her door that she sees him.

A man in his mid-twenties shoots out of Dan’s door. She has never in her life seen a human being that rattled. He’s holding a phone in his palm as he frantically fights to have his feet in his boots.

Mercy stands still, neck turned towards the man, key in hand, poised to the lock. She can see that something is seriously skew-whiff. The heavy panting, the rush, the panic-stricken face.

The man whizzes past her with a threatening urgency, squeezing between her back and the banister on the fourth floor. He nudges her and she leans in her door, mildly cursing. She can hear his boots clomping down the steps, each step fading away as he gets to the lower floors. What the hell could that be about?

Mercy twists her handle to confirm the door is locked, then hikes her handbag up her shoulder. She notices the man didn’t lock Dan’s door; it is still opened a crack. Her mind races, in two thoughts. Should I poke my nose or go about my business? The terror pasted on the stranger’s face. His rush. The loud music last night. The open door. Is Dan alright?

She proceeds to the door and gently raps on it.

“Dan, are you home? It’s Mercy.” Silence. Another rap, this time harder. Her heart thuds softly, she is unsure of what to say if Dan answers the door. Maybe smile and say hey, I was on my way to class when this crazy, well, troubled man shot out of your house. I thought of you and decided to say hello. And oh, how do I look?

There is no answer the third time she knocks. Just but a grave silence inside. She stretches a hand for the knob, her heart for it, mind against it. When the handle touches her skin, the cold metal sends a hunch inside her and her instincts awaken. A trepidation that makes something in her stomach sink. Nothing is alright here, she thinks, and then pushes the door and steps inside.

******

As I run down the flight of stairs, I don’t know what I’m doing. Running from a scene that will soon be cordoned off by the police as a possible crime scene. Running from my friend, Dan, leaving him with unfathomable questions to answer to. Running from someone I loved, Sheila. I know that I shouldn’t be running, because I’m almost sure I didn’t kill her.

But amidst the confusion I can’t think straight. My chest burns as I approach the last staircase. My legs feel so light, moving swiftly. The gate isn’t closed and just as I fly through it, I see the CCTV camera fixed on the gate. There are some on every floor too. My face will be in the footage, walking in with Sheila last night. I will be seen again, running out in the morning. The girl next door, the one I almost knocked down; she will testify to seeing me too. My God, now I do look like a criminal.

But even with this knowledge, I can’t stop. I need to talk to someone, swear on my life that I’m innocent. The thought of guilty knifes through my chest. Guilty. Innocent. The police. My parents. Probably, the media. It was only a sleepover, I swear. It was just a sleep over.

I signal for a motorcyclist on the other side of the road, hunting for clients. He wheels over to me.

“Everything okay, anyone after you?”

Damn, I must be terrified like a chick in the claws of a hungry eagle. My expression is giving me away. I get on and holler, “everything is just fine, drive!”

The wind whistles against my chest as we skin through Lumumba drive, towards the bus stage. I feel like I’m in one bad dream, and I want to wake up. Sheila’s pale, cold body on Dan’s bed can’t leave my mind. At the stage, I pay the rider and disappear into a bus bound for Nairobi town. I stagger through the aisle to the window seat at the back, pull on my hood over my head and shut my eyes tight.

Should I expect more terror? Will I be wanted by the police? For what, murder? My God, please, no.

My first instinct is to go to church. CITAM, Karen. A likeable pastor there, Pastor Charles, had always preached Jesus to me on the days I showed up. If I explained to him everything, he would help me. I don’t know how. Another instinct tells me that I should travel home to Embu and explain to my parents. Tell them that I was scared and I ran. But how would I face my mother and say, mum I wanted to spend the night with a girl and because my place isn’t presentable, I took her to my friend’s. We kissed and had sex, and in the morning she was dead.

Or maybe I should alight this bus at Muthaiga police station and turn myself in. The police will eventually catch up with me, they can’t sit on their hands and leave the mystery unsolved. Yes, I will stop at Muthaiga police station and turn myself in. That’s the only safe bet. The Rubicon has already been crossed.

*****

Kasarani Police Station, Duty Officer

9.30 a.m.

The duty officer at Kasarani police station wasn’t expecting a crazy day when he reported on duty this morning. But things had changed after the call, from Lumumba Drive, Roysambu. A girl was dead inside the bedroom of a house, Greenfields apartment. The tenant wasn’t around but he had been called. A man, mid-twenties, had been spotted running off.

The duty officer quickly writes a report of the incident to the relevant authorities for documentation. It isn’t the first time he is handling such a case. His years on duty have prepared him for ugly scenarios like this one.

Together with two more officers, they jump into a station Land Rover. The engine revs, kicking up the pebbles outside the administration block as the tyres squeal and take off. On arrival, a crowd of mostly neighbours jostle with each other on the fourth floor, each afraid to go into the house. There’s a girl in a black suit, circled by neigbours and other passersby who have found their way into the apartments.

The police ask a few questions to the man who made the call, who then points them to the young girl in a suit. She identifies herself as Mercy, a next-door neighbour who saw a man flee the house. She went in because the tenant is a friend, found an unresponsive girl in the bedroom, and called the neighbours.

The duty officer goes in with one of the officers, the other remains outside and takes control of the crowd. Shortly after, a call is made to the scene of crime support services.

*****

Dan

9.25 a.m.

Dan, still in shock, sits in a matatu to town, from where he will take another to Roysambu. He feels numb, scared to the bone. Isaac, what happened? Why aren’t you picking my calls? He has tried reaching Isaac at least seven times since Mercy called him. Silently, he says a prayer. He hopes that this is all a bad joke that Mercy has cooked up. A rabbit she has pulled out of a hat, to probably get him home.

“Mercy, I hope you know that your jokes are off-color.”

“I am dead serious, Dan. Neighbours have crowded outside your house. There’s a dead girl inside. The police are on their way, Dan. You need to come.”

She sounded scared, like a little kid huddled somewhere in a dark room, with weird howls coming from outside. The police. Will I be a suspect? He broods. He had left in a hurry after the call, not saying a thing to his single mother, or to his little brother, Jack.

His phone vibrates in his jeans just as the bus starts moving. It jolts him, and he fishes it out with dire urgency. Lighting up the screen are the words Isaac Calling.

It doesn’t ring again. He picks it quickly and says the only words that his mouth can string together.

“Isaac, what the hell is going on?”

Heaves from the other end of the line, and snuffling.

“Are you crying? What’s happening? I got a call from the neighbours. They say there’s a dead…” he can’t bring himself to say the words. He swallows hard over a lump formed in his throat, realizing that this isn’t a joke. He wishes it was different.

“Listen to me Dan,” starts Isaac. His voice is shaky, Dan has never heard his friend so shaken. “I did not do anything to her. I swear. I woke up and Sheila was…”

His voice trails off and he begins crying.

“Where are you? They say you ran off. You need to come back Isaac, please. They say the police…”

Isaac cuts him short.

“The police? Oh my God.” He sobs even more.

“Listen Isaac I know you liked Sheila. Just tell me what happened. All of it. Do you realize we could both be suspects? It’s my house and I don’t even know what I will say to my mum.”

Silence.

“Isaac…”

“Dan, I am so sorry. I want you to know that I am innocent, and that I only ran because I was scared. I need to think. I may get arrested Dan.”

He breaks down. Dan tries to talk him out but Isaac has made up his mind. He isn’t coming in.

“Dan, forgive me. I have to go and think about all this. I am scared, and I don’t know what to do.”

“Isaac…”

The line goes dead.

After talking to Dan, I squeeze the phone tightly in my hand, every nerve inside fluttering. Dan mentioned the police. He mentioned Sheila being dead. All this is real, there is no waking up from it.

A fit of regret grips me. I shouldn’t have run. I’m innocent, I should have stayed. Now it looks like I’m a criminal because I’m on the run. Where do I go to? I had wanted to stop at Muthaiga Police station and turn myself in, but I didn’t. I watched, numb, as the bus sped past the entrance.

I need to call home. I am not thinking straight and the more I run, the more this whole thing looks bad on me. Taking in a deep breath and using the back of my hand to wipe tears from the smudges beneath my eyes, I switch off my phone. Paranoia. They may be tracking me, and I am not ready to face them. Not yet. I need to fall off the map.

*****

Inspector Maxwell Njagi, Directorate of Criminal Investigations

10.49 a.m.

Inspector Maxwell Njagi, a highly trained DCI officer, gets a call while in the police canteen at Central Police station. A probable homicide, and he is needed to accompany the scenes of crime support services. He checks his glock fitted to his side waist, gulps down the tea that has already gone cold, and then puts on his coat. A tall, muscle-bound man who has investigated homicides for 15 years, he stands and moves for the exit. There’s a case, and he must put it to bed.

When he arrives at the scene, the police have cordoned off the fourth floor and taken care of the crowd. Inspector Maxwell Njagi shakes the hand of the duty officer and introduces himself. A toothpick juts from the corner of his mouth.

“Maxwell Njagi, DCI. Now walk me through everything you have.”

Direct. No circumlocutions.

The duty officer, as if wound up, starts speaking. “A dead girl, early twenties, on the bed. A witness, that girl over there,” he points to Mercy who is standing at her door, shaken.

“She found the body. Claims to be a friend of the tenant. She was on her way to class when she saw a terrified man run out of the crime scene and disappear down the steps.”

Maxwell looks at the girl, turning the toothpick in his mouth.

“Any other witnesses who might have seen something?”

“None. Just the girl.”

Inspector Maxwell steps into house 4B and finds that the scene of crime support services have already pulled on their rubber gloves and are at work.

His tall, sinewy outline stands beside an officer who is crouching, taking photos. The room is filled with clicks and shutter releases.

Maxwell is handed rubber gloves. He breaks the toothpick into two and dumps it into his coat pocket. He then wears the gloves.

“What do we have here?”

“Early to tell,” starts one officer. “But here,” he eases Sheila’s head over to the side and points to the back of her neck. “Those two are deep scratches. Someone with long nails would be my guess.”

“Apart from that, there are no signs of a struggle. These streaks on her face also tell that she was crying.”

Maxwell puts his neck on a swivel, takes in the surrounding.

“Pull everything apart. Look for anything unusual. A weapon, drugs. I mean, anything unusual.”

He then walks back to the living room where the duty officer is.

“I want the occupant of this house. You say he wasn’t around when it happened?”

“Yes, that is what I have gathered from the girl. She called him, and I have just talked to him. He is on his way here.”

“Good. Get the girl to the living room, I’ll need to talk to her.”

Moments later, Mercy talks to Inspector Maxwell. Most of it is answering questions. She is scared and feels like she’s in a dream. She has never been this close to the police. As soon as the duty officer had told her that she wasn’t allowed to go anywhere, being a witness, she had called her professor to explain what was happening. She wasn’t showing up for the Humanitarian law presentation. Looks like her black suit was to an interview, with the police.

After interrogating Mercy and jotting down notes for himself, Maxwell informs Mercy that she will accompany the police to the station to record her statement. He then steps out and leans on the banister of the fourth floor, stares downwards. He thinks. What could have happened here? Turning to take stock of the fourth floor surrounding, he notices a CCTV camera fixed on the wall.

He waves for the duty officer, and points towards the camera. “Get me that footage.”

The DCI Inspector then proceeds down the staircase, tracking the way the alleged man ran. At the ground floor near the gate, he spots another CCTV camera. Stepping out of the gate, he realizes that there are motorcycle riders on standby, at the other side of the road.

“Hey guys. I’m with the DCI. There’s a dead body in here and I need your help. Anyone seen anything?”

There is an unconfiding silence. With the Kenyan police, they fear that they might be listed as suspects too. Maxwell begins walking towards them. One of the guys points to another rider.

“Him. He saw a guy run out through that gate. He carried him to the bus stage.”

Maxwell turns his gaze, that of a DCI officer who has seen uncountable ugly scenes, one that is hungry to solve a mystery, and he moves towards the man.

“I swear I didn’t know he was running from a crime scene”

“Relax. What’s your name?”

“Joel.”

“Joel, talk to me. What did you see?”

“A man. He ran out, looked like someone was after him. He called to me and asked that I drive him to the bus stage.”

Maxwell fiercely jots on his notebook, with a pencil. “At what precise time, can you remember?”

“Eight forty-five or nine. I can’t really remember.” Joel is terrified, shuts his eye and tries to remember.

“Can you describe the man?” Same question he had posed to Mercy.

“Dark guy. Mid-twenties, maybe. Shaggy hair, shaven on the sides. Eeeh, blue jeans, cream hoodie.”

When Maxwell returns to the fourth floor, the scene of crimes support services are wrapping up. They have taken photos, done their analysis and scene documentation. But no weapon has been found, or any suspicious thing.

“Find out who the dead girl is. We need to contact her relatives,” he says to another DCI officer who has just joined them.

*****

Dan arrives and climbs up the steps, three at a go. His mind races, his heart threatening to detonate. Outside, he spotted a police Land Rover and a mild crowd. On the fourth floor, he sees activity outside his door. He sees Mercy, her white shirt untucked over the black, tight-hugging skirt. It’s all true. It’s not a dream, it’s not for even one second been a dream.

The next hour or so are the hardest for Dan. He has never been questioned this closely by the police. Maxwell makes him go through every detail, at least twice. A girl is dead in his house.

All of a sudden he’s hit with a slew of questions. Where was he? Who’s the girl and how did she get into his house?

Isaac. He tells all about Isaac.

His voice twitches with fear. He is uneasy. He looks like a suspect, and he knows it. His confidence has abandoned him when he needs it the most. While talking about how Isaac asked for a favour only a day earlier, he’s unsure of what to do with his hands. The palms are sweaty. Clammy and fat, he keeps rubbing them on his laps.

Isaac Kiarie. Twenty four. Junior accountant, Biashara Sacco, Ngong road. Born in Embu town, 1995. Attended the University of Nairobi and graduated with a first class honours degree in commerce. Alleged boyfriend to the dead girl.

For the first time, real information on the ‘running man’ has surfaced. Inspector Maxwell fingers his notebook with his pencil.

Isaac.

‘Where are you, kid?’

His mind spirals to former cases he followed trails to the very end. Criminals he corned and helped bring to justice. Others he cornered and attached evidence to, but the cases were still stalling. The system is slow. It can get extremely dangerous when a case is politically charged. Things can be let go of, in an instant.

But there are days he won. Ken, the pedophile from Rongai, is somewhere jerking off to a lifetime sentence. There was the murderer, Njeri. A girl from the ghetto who went crank and sought revenge against her boyfriend. With the flash of a muzzle, she emptied three bullets into his chest. She’s observing life from behind steel bars too. All because Inspector Maxwell has the chops for this sleuth job. And a healthy ego that never lets him rest when a suspect is on the run.

But one thing haunts him. A killer nanny in Nairobi’s Kilimani estate. He’s convinced she’s a serial killer, posing as a nanny. His boss doesn’t. She has struck twice now in a space of two years and he has never been able to catch her. She mocks him in his nightmares, dares him to find her. Inspector Maxwell’s hunch that she will strike again buzzes every time he closes his eyes to catch a wink. And now, Isaac. From the witnesses so far, Isaac is the real article, and he needs to find him ASAP. This case will not be an incubus for long, he vows.

Inspector Maxwell unconsciously exerts too much pressure with the pencil. The tip breaks.

The scenes of crime support services finishes up. They have done the scene analysis, taken photographs, and now they can release the body and proceed to do the documentation.

As Sheila, in a body bag, is lifted onto the police Land Rover, Dan’s last meal- breakfast, comes to his throat. Onlookers are gathered around, some recording on their phones. The vehicle then speeds off to the morgue. A postmortem will be carried out.

Mercy and Dan have to accompany the police, in a separate white saloon, to record a statement. Inspector Maxwell keeps searching in his mind. Two deep scratches, fresh, behind the dead girl’s neck. Isaac, the only suspect so far, on the run. He wonders what the pathologist will have for him after the postmortem.

******

Uhuru gardens, 2.49p.m.

There are things in life that are unfathomable. One moment you are at the peak of happiness, feels like you woke up inside your idyllic life. Picture perfect days. A girl you like, working her lush lips on yours. Music. You no longer know how stress feels like. All worries drown inside laughter. And then just like that, everything craters and your sense of peace is torpedoed. In a matter of hours you turn into a suspect. Wanted for possible murder. The girl you convulsed with last night, with pleasure, is no more. She is in a body bag. You are on the run and you can’t think straight. That’s my life, squeezed into the last eighteen hours.

I am at Uhuru Gardens, trailing down a deserted path. For some reason, I have been unable to go to pastor Charles, or to call home. This is the place I have for years come when I need to be alone. To decongest. I discovered it years back when I lived with my elder brother in Lang’ata. I keep moving, though I can’t feel my legs. I can, at this point, trade my life with that of an old man whose illness has scripted him into a sedentary life. At least such a man is peaceful, waiting for death to gently loosen his soul. Such a man isn’t on the run.

The sun is no longer tepid, it burns through my forehead as though it has everything against me. Two cyclists ride towards me, and then past me. A boy and a girl, at a pace slow enough to keep conversing. I only notice them when they are next to me.

Their happiness makes me hiccup a muffled cry. For the first time in my life, I can trade places with anyone. As long as the person they slept with last night isn’t dead.

And then she jumps into my head. Sheila.

A passionate skater, she always insisted that I find a passion I could die for. I used to joke that mine, was her lips.

We met through a mutual friend, Kelvin. That was only three months ago. It feels like a lifetime has passed since. Kelvin wanted so badly to skate, and he signed up for some lessons at Sunken Park, Aga Khan Walk, where city skaters come out to play in the weekends.

When I finally gave in to his insisting one Saturday afternoon, I accompanied him over to the park. There she was. Sheila.

I noticed her in a crowd. Her tall frame propped on skating boots. Brown braids pulled backwards, jutting behind her head gear. Red-lipsticked smile. It was love at first blush.

Kelvin would later on give up on skating, but I still had to show up at the park every weekend. To see Sheila. To be with Sheila. The gods smiled on me, bestowed a rainbow upon my dreary world. The girl liked me back and without officially putting a label on our relationship, we became lovers.

Sheila, are you watching me now? Are you peaceful, or is your soul troubled? Honey, you know I could never hurt you. Please help me out. Tell me what happened.

Tears quickly fill my eyes.

******

Sheila, in her last days…

Sheila rattles her bunch of keys, working a single one in the lock. Rongai, Mayor Road. Her bag is lazily hanging on her folded arm. The key twists swiftly and she lets out a relieved sigh as soon as she is inside the serenity of her house.

She kicks out her shoes then carries them to a rack standing on her spacious balcony. It’s Friday, thank heavens! No more classes at the Kenya School of Law. She now has time on her hands, to decongest from the heavy syllabus she has been forcing into her brain. Skating. Oh yes, skating. The thought of that washes her body with a wave of excitement.

Sheila walks into her kitchen and pulls open her fridge. A cold breeze blows right into her torso, the fridge gently humming. She pours herself a glass of mango juice, before walking to the living room and curling legs under herself, on the couch. As she savors the delightful taste unfolding in her mouth, she thinks of the weekend ahead.

She will spend Saturday morning doing laundry. In the afternoon, she will skate at Sunken Park, Aga Khan Walk, and then spend the evening with Isaac. She muses at the thought of him. Falling in love can be crazy, she thinks. She would never have thought she’d be the girl to pack a change of clothes for a weekend with a boy. But Isaac’s charms had won her over.

“Who the hell are you girl?” she talks to herself, and her lips twitch into a coy smile.

******

Uhuru Gardens…

When the thought hits my mind, I don’t give myself a chance to rethink. I pull out my phone, switch it on, and call the one person whose arms I want to be in right now. Mum.

It’s as if she’s expecting my call, because she picks after one ring.

“Hello.”

“Hello, mum.”

“I’ve been wondering why you’re not calling your mum. A big boy now eeeh? How is the going?”

“Listen, mum. I have something to tell you.” I swallow hard, pressing a finger against the corner of my eye as if to stanch tears from flowing.

She knows her son, and something is troubling him.

“Is everything okay, Isaac?” her dwindling tone ferrying the concern of a mother.

The worry she puts in her voice tightens the back of my throat, I have to pull the phone from my ear for a while.

“I love you mum, and I always try to be a good son. Some things have happened and I will be at Central Police Station.”

“My God. Isaac…”

“Don’t worry yourself mum. I am okay, I promise. But I need you here mum. Tell dad too.”

*****

Central Police Station, 5p.m.

Two things happen at the same time, in the evening. Inspector Maxwell straightens in his seat inside DCI offices at Central Police Station, and pores eyes into a sheet in his hand. Data call print out from Safaricom, showing the calls Isaac has made in the last two days. Incoming and outgoing.

Isaac, worn to a frazzle from worrying, running, and crying, drags himself through Central Police Station gates. He has confided in his mum, although having put a gag order, he hasn’t given her much. This is it. He has to do this. It’s his… Hail Mary.

*****

As I crawl into the police station, the vein on my temple throbs. I want so badly to be away from all of this, but I know I have to turn myself in. Mum and dad are probably on their way to Nairobi, I will have their support. And shoulders, because I want to cry so badly.

A lot is racing in my mind. What will I say?

On entering the unfamiliar territory, the air changes. It is depressingly stark. People seated in a file, a lady officer screaming orders from the reception counter; You, where do you think you’re going? Woman, what’s your number! Wait in line. Do you have an OB yet? Hey, you the man who assaulted that campus girl? It’s not helping with my chaotic mind.

“You! What do you want?” she squawks as I lumber towards her and collapse my elbows on the counter.

“To turn myself in. I think I am wanted for a murder I did not commit. The girl found dead in a bedroom, Roysambu, this morning.”

*****

Last Saturday, Sunken Park, 3p.m.

A sea of criss-crossing roller skaters is visible from Aga Khan Walk. The sun is slowly inching further to the west, mingling with a bruised sky. The city under the sun is hot, but an easy breeze makes it bearable for the twenty or so skaters at the park.

Today, Sheila is in black headgear, matching elbow pads and knee pads. She’s paired with cream sweatpants and a white loosely hanging T-shirt branded Holiday across the chest.

Hands behind her back, knees and back gently bent, Sheila moves like a seasoned pro, a foot ahead of the other, interchangeably. She approaches one end of the park and then comfortably, in a sexy turn idiosyncratic to only a pro, proceeds back to the other end. She keeps the loop on and on.

After a few warm up laps, she wants to up the ante. It’s her weekend to feel free in any case. And freedom at this park often spells out one thing, speed. She begins picking up speed between intervals of braking to make cute little three hundred and sixty degree turns. ‘Pick up speed, Sheila. Show me what you’ve got.’

Curiously, her mind flashes with the thought of Isaac. Sweet Isaac. The prince that has charmed her out of her house for the night. But then she quickly gathers her concentration for the task at hand, softly murmuring her skating mantra to herself, ‘Never concentrate on your legs. Focus on where you are going.’

She clenches her fists, lets her lungs swallow in one huge breath, then out through her nostrils. Let’s do this. Just how fast can you move?

Then it happens. Something that has never happened before. She has never felt an impact that massive. A man, heavily built, rams into her while both are at full speed. It is his mistake, she tried to avoid him but…too late. The impact forces her to let out a moan, almost swallowing her tongue. It’s like a doll has been lifted in the muscular arms of a boxer, and rammed full swing on a wall.

Spread your hand and kneel as you fall forward. But she isn’t falling forward. She doesn’t know to what side she is falling. She is flying.

Sheila collapses hard on the floor and everything else is a distant ringing in her ear. She feels tissues crushing and stretching within. Her head spins, for a while everything is a blur.

“You alright?” A voice jolts her. With half open eyes, she sees skaters surrounding her. One of them helps her up and escorts her to the side of the park, as the others check up on the man who collided with Sheila. He is bent, hands on his knees, measuring his breaths.

Thirty minutes later, after the wooziness wears off, Sheila flexes her muscles and decides she is okay. The rest, including scratches behind her neck, deep into her skin by the man’s flying nails, are nothing much but a toe-stub. Taking a deep breath, she grimaces and goes back to skating.

*****

A week later, Inspector Maxwell Njagi

Inspector Njagi gulps a sip off his tea cup and leans back on his station chair. He thinks he has closed the case of the dead campus girl in Roysambu.

The boy turned himself in a week ago, shaken to the bone, and the Inspector had been convinced he had scrutinized him and kicked all rocks as far as the case was concerned. Every information, Isaac’s and that of public witnesses, seemed to corroborate.

His instincts and experience as a sleuth told him that people like Isaac, caught up in such scenarios, always turned themselves in. Most of them didn’t even run, and those who ran it was borne out of fear. Conscience always brought them back.

He had seen it happen in Bomet town three years ago. A man had picked up a girl in a night club. The girl convulsed and died during lovemaking. The man fled before turning himself in three days later. The postmortem report, including tests of vomit at the scene revealed that the woman died of an aneurism.

Inspector Njagi reads the pathologist’s report one more time.

Cause of death: Internal bleeding due to blunt trauma. Blood vessels torn due to sheer forces.

Estimated time of bleeding: Saturday May 25th, between 3p.m. and 5p.m. Slow bleeding around the liver, steadily getting worse Saturday May 25th, between 11p.m. and Sunday May 26th 3a.m.

Estimated time of death: Sunday May 26th, 3.42 a.m.

According to Isaac, Sheila had complained of abdominal pains and a headache on the night of her death. She had asked for painkillers. Roller skaters present on the afternoon of the fall had corroborated the information. From the way Inspector Njagi sees it, the case is open and shut.

A hint of satisfaction registers on his usually stoic face, before his mind trails off to the case that still eats at him – the killer nanny of Kilimani.

Embu, one month later…

I walk towards the river and stop beside it. I’ve been seeing a counsellor for the past two weeks. Mum says I’m traumatized. Whether she is right or wrong, I don’t know. I don’t even know who I am anymore.

Remorse chokes me when I remember that I didn’t even attend her burial. I should have been there to pay my last respects. I should have figured out a way, despite her parents wanting me as far away as possible.

I can’t say the sessions with the counsellor have been helping. I have been clamming up on him. Unbending, he has been giving me a blank page and asking that I take it home with me, to write down my thoughts.

And at the beginning of every session, he’s had just one word written on the paper, from me. A name. Sheila.

About the writer:

Brian Kasaine is a creative writer, currently a content manager at Transread Technology Ltd. He contributes to

NonDoc Media, Oklahoma, U.S.A., and has worked as a content specialist for Scooper News App,

journalist for KenyaBuzz, and freelance writer with FUZU ltd. He has a background in Co-operative

Business (Human Resource Management) from the Co-operative University of Kenya, an institution that

also gave him a creative writing recognition in 2018, just after he had published his debut book ‘Around

the Campfire’.

The fiction writer and poet going by the sobriquet ‘the weaver bard’ is fueled by his undeterred desire

for creative writing. His word wizardry has seen him get temporary jobs to develop web content for

Talanta Institute, MediaBox Advertising, and he has created blog content for Chitral Girls Sports

Development. In 2018 he was selected, on merit, as one of the judges in the NewMan Movement

writing contest for secondary schools, Nigeria (Fiction and Poetry). Through storytelling, Brian has

marketed the brands of Keventers Milkshake Shop, Mango Clothings, and YEN-Africa. He has a passion

for fiction, journalism, film, and creative shuffling of words that captures hearts and minds. Some of his

stories are curated on Ficool- African Webnovel Imprint. During his free time, Brian volunteers as a

teacher of creative writing and personal development in secondary schools and holds book reading

sessions. He has held such sessions at his alma mater, and at Lang’ata Womens Prison, donating books

at both places.

Sometimes he is high on energy, screaming and laughing, yet sometimes reclusive, off the map, alone in

his hidey-hole, staring at an imaginary swaying hypnotist’s pendant. Or just being alone. Mystery

intrigues him.

If you want to chat with him, he surely wants to respond. Email him write2briank@gmail.com

brian k writer

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