Khanji Bhai scrambled from under a lorry, and ran to the latrine at the far
corner of the site. They rarely saw him eat, but he was always running to the toilet.
“What does he shit?” Ben wondered.
Ocholla glanced at Khanji and shrugged. He was more interested in what happened
between Ben and the Gorilla.
“I had an accident soon after meeting the Gorilla,” Ben said.
The car was a write off and he lay in hospital for two months. Lying on a hospital bed,
with nothing to do but think, he made up his mind to quit the army. With the money from
the Gorilla, he could afford another car, buy a house and find another career. It was
about time he did something for myself.
Ocholla picked a handful of gravel and hurled it at the bucket lying on its side a few feet
away. He hit it again and again, while he listened to Ben.
“Onesmus had plans of quitting the army too,” Ben went on. “He talked to the others and
got interested. They too are looking for a way out. Next time we went out on exercise,
they misplaced the arms where the Gorilla and his gang could find them. I thought the
Gorilla had someone who knew how to use the equipment, but they ended up blowing
“They died?” Ocholla asked.
“It took the whole day to gather the pieces,” said Ben. “The mess we were in took longer
to sort out. The Army wanted us hanged, but the thugs had blown themselves up along
with any evidence that they had not stolen the equipment. They fired the lot of us.”
“Crime never pays,” said Ocholla.
“Back then, things were different,” Ben told him. “We were all after the big money and it
didn’t matter how you made it. The leaders sold the whole country to foreigners and got
away with it. A lot of the big cars you see on the road were bought with blood money. I
was a poor salesman, that’s all.”
He took the last puff from his cigarette, hurled it away, and then laid back eyes closed.
Ocholla tossed gravel at the bucket. From the Workers’ Parliament came snippets of
bitter politics as Machore sought to politicize the hands.
“And that assistant minister for trees,” Machore was not one to spare his words, “the
man was a manamba just the other day. He is supposed to represent the fukara from
Shantytown, but he has no idea how. He is never in Parliament, except when needed to
vote for raising MP’s salaries, or asleeping drunk. These nyang’aus we must vote out of
A haggard hand from Shantytown, one who had lunch nearly every day, rose on a point
of order and asked Machore to substantiate. Someone else, also from Shantytown, one
who had not had lunch for almost a month, ordered him to shut up and sit down. The
truth of the Workers Parliament was no one really cared. They attended because it was
lunch break and there was nothing else to do and nowhere to go.
Ben heard them squabble, as he lay thinking about his own predicament. There was no
question of giving up his job to avoid Onesmus. He needed his job, now that Wini had
agreed to marry him, when he raised enough money for a wedding. She would get him a
job at her place of work, but until then he had to hang on to his present job.
“He will kill you, Ben,” Ocholla said.
Ben started back to the present, opened his eyes and squinted up at the sky. He sat up,
flung a handful of gravel at Ocholla’s target and missed it. He lay back and closed his
From the Workers’ Parliament came snatches of scandalous statements, their intensity
rising and falling with the passions
“The rich can do whatever they want with us,” Machore said. “They own everything you
see including the shops, houses, matatus, kiosks and even the roads. Why do you think
they raise the cost of living? To keep us weak and downtrodden, quietly starve to death.
That is what will happen, unless we rise up and say enough is enough. No more
corruption, no more exploitation. We want rights, and we want them now.”
The assembly was suddenly very silent. Then someone cleared his throat and asked
what the hell Machore was talking about, and specifically which rights would protect
workers from exploitation by the Government. It took him the rest of the lunch break to
explain that it was not just about rights, but also about justice and integrity.
After the lunch break, Ben’s gang went back to work sending the steel bars up the crane
to the top floor. Then they sent several tons of concrete up and waited for Yussuf to
come up with more work. The rain fell punctually at five and halted work for the last hour
of the workday.
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|GOING DOWN RIVER ROAD
HM BOOKS 2014