An Hour to Go

Photo by Charles Nyiha

Two old men are sitting on the benches on Loita Street. They will both die in an hour. One will be hit by a car, another will be shot.

Ogello came back from Marachi yesterday. He had gone there to bury his daughter—the eighth born.  He asked Mariama to marry him just before she left the burial. He had not planned to, but he had seen the soil heaped on the coffin. He had asked quietly, as the people left, and Mariama could barely hear him. She turned and squeezed his hand gently and whispered that she would, and they sat by the grave until twilight. 

Suleiman met his son for the first time earlier today. The son is twenty five, and he is blind. He is called Juma. He is mostly quiet, but witty when he speaks. Suleiman is proud of him, and at the café for breakfast he had searched him, excited to see what of himself resided in his son. 

Ogello looks at Suleiman now. “Trump?” He asks—or says.

“I’ve heard,” Suleiman says. 

They laugh a small laugh. 

Ogello and Suleiman met in the University of Nairobi, when they were young and too energetic. Ogello had got a scholarship to study French in France, but his brother told him that he needed to be more useful than that, and so there he was studying law and falling in love every chance he got. Suleiman was serious and studious, but there was something refreshing in Ogello, and he allowed himself to have boisterous Friday nights with him, talking politics when it was dangerous to and drinking beer (soda for Suleiman) and meeting girls. 

Suleiman had not seen Ogello much after university, but he saw him again on the  news fifteen years ago when he had gone to jail after the corruption scandal. Ogello became a singer after that, and Suleiman thought it odd, but unsurprising. Today he was heading to the supermarket for a pack of cigarettes – he smokes nowadays – when he saw Ogello on the bench. He hadn’t known what to say – he was happy and sad and relieved and thankful but he just stood before Ogello. Ogello laughed and hugged Suleiman and told him to sit.

To Ogello, Suleiman lives what an ideal life might be. He has a wife and four children. Ogello does not know about this fifth one that Suleiman met today. Suleiman is also a golfer. He is the managing partner at one of those fancy law firms. He is trustworthy and kind and has many friends.

“Do you want to go for ice cream?” Ogello asks.

“What?” Suleiman furrows his eyebrow.

“Ice cream,” Ogello’s smile is real wide, like it used to be when Margaret Onyancha of the School of Medicine would pass by them in the halls in that skirt of hers with the butterflies.

“Alright,” Suleiman says. 

They go and order ice cream at Snow-Capped and Ogello tells Suleiman about his daughter and Mariama. Suleiman tells him of a green carpet he wants to buy. They laugh at how depressing life has been and start to sing the song they used to sing during university strikes. Suleiman hits the table and begins to laugh and do a bit of a dance.  Ogello has never seen Suleiman so light on his feet, and so light of burden as he is in this moment. For some reason, Ogello wants to cry. 

Ogello looks at his watch. It is time to go and check if the chicken he had ordered from Maiko’s has been slaughtered. He shakes Suleiman’s hands, holds on, and says thank you. Suleiman hugs him.

“Keep in touch, brother,” Suleiman says.

“You too!” Ogello says.

At 2:38pm, Suleiman sees a shiny blue car coming down Kenyatta Avenue, and Ogello sees a rough looking man reaching into his back pocket.

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