He stood there, looking up at the friend who came to visit him. The forced smile on his lips was crooked, like his yellowing teeth. Standing beside his caller, he looked like a small boy standing beside a gigantic father. These visits had become frequent since word of his ailment went around. Kimani enjoyed the amount of attention he had been receiving since he was diagnosed with the dreaded cancer. It was more attention than he had gotten in his fifty-five years. Rumour had it that his disease was deadlier than AIDs, and either out of pity or curiosity, people wanted to see its effects firsthand.

This particular caller was a former classmate. A man he had shared youthful dreams with, and religiously teased for his squinted eye on their four-kilometer barefooted walk to school. Now the man drove the newest Range Rover and had a pretty lady on his arm. The lady wore four-inch heels and occasionally lost her balance as she walked the muddy path toward Kimani’s small house. Kimani stood at the door observing them. Noticing how his friend tightened the grip on the lady’s arm each time she stumbled. He waved them closer, all the while maintaining a wide smile that now made the edge of his mouth ache. The lady looked young, maybe too young.

His classmate finally standing beside him, Kimani felt every ounce of energy leave his body. He felt small. He literally was small. The loss of appetite from his medications and the constant body aches had left him with little desire for food, and when he was really hungry and tried to eat, his gums hurt. But the smallness he felt had nothing to do with body size but rather his position in society. Kimani was not what people considered rich or even middle class. He had no money or any other kind of significant wealth to his name. Now, he could not even boast of good health when he found himself defensive about his financial status. He had no property other than the small iron sheet house with a thatched roof he had built in his young adult years, and even that had no toilet. He had to borrow toilet from the neighbors. His small piece of land was only enough to grow about thirty head of kale and maize, enough to feed him only. But even that looked unhealthy from the lack of fertilizer and manure. Men his age had large pieces of land, and those who had small pieces at least had fertile pieces. Men his age had stable sources of income from employment or entrepreneurship. Most importantly, men his age had children, a wife, and maybe a girlfriend. His unmarried status was the great thorn to his side on a day too many now. This, above everything else, made him feel even smaller.

But his lack of a wife to order around and children to claim did not always make Kimani feel small. He had for a long time grown into his singleness. He enjoyed his senior bachelor’s existence and the freedoms he saw married people only dream of. But on days like this, when he met his childhood friends and men his age, especially those with a sharp tongue and a boastful ego to accompany ignorant questions, he felt his marital status was magnified.

That night as he lay on his squeaky bed, Kimani pondered over his choice not to marry. It was a decision he made in his late twenties. But if he was being honest with himself, he had made a subconscious decision not to marry in his teen years. His decision was not influenced by any of the reasons people often whispered about, like his purported lack of libido or the popular claims of impotence, and certainly not a preference for men as some people would have it. The subject of a man sexually entertaining another man was taboo in his culture. It was something that was rarely talked about, and when it was, mostly among the younger generations, it was discussed in hushed tones. Kimani was baffled by the naivety of these people who considered themselves to be modern and educated. A week before, he had read an article about how the United States government had passed a Bill that protected the LGBTQ community from discrimination. The thought of the amount of upheaval such a bill would cause in his country made him grin, an evil grin that craved the discomfort the legal tolerance for the LGBTQ would arouse in his community. But Kimani’s decision to remain unmarried had nothing to do with any of the said externalities. It was a personal decision that he could not explain in any satisfactory way to nagging relatives or the ever eager rumor mongers. He was simply among the very small percentage of men who, for no tangible reason, had no interest in ever marrying.

Kimani was not alone in the senior bachelor boat. His friend Mark, albeit five years younger, received similar scrutiny and speculation over his bachelorhood. Mark was a commendable hustler who worked too hard but drank too much muratina and cheap liquor, the kind that could, on a bad day make you lose your eyesight. He took great pride in caring for his aged mother, a role he embraced as his life’s sole purpose. The house he was bound to inherit after his mother passed on was fancier than Kimani’s, with stone walls and tiled floors. His land was also bigger, and he enjoyed fresh milk from his mother’s Zebu cow. The ten chickens roaming the compound, only stopping to bury their beaks in the grass in search of worms, were more than most people could wish for. Still, Mark was unmarried. Kimani remembered something Mark had once mentioned to him in passing, something about how parents can mess up their children. This was after the village witnessed the chief beat up his wife, resulting in a broken leg, and no one dared report him at the police station. After all, matters between people who covered themselves with the same blanket were none of their business. They would work out their issues behind closed doors. Moreover, the chief signed their children’s bursary papers. A chief with a wounded ego meant no signature on the bursary papers, which meant the children would be sent home for school fees, so no one dared anger the chief.

On that particular day, women famed for their closeness to the chief’s wife stood the furthest from the watching crowd. They murmured amongst themselves, their kangas tied hastily around fat waists, only stopping their chatter when their friend screamed from a fresh kick to the ribs or the stomach.  One woman was overheard asking rather ignorantly, “Why does she stay when he beats her like a dog?”

In all the ensuing commotion, the heart-wrenching sight was the chief’s children frantically hovering around their mother. The older siblings trying to pull their father away, to no avail, while the younger ones watched in bewilderment at the man they were expected to respect.

“See, now this stupid man has really messed up the children,” Mark had said in anger, his fists clutched. “Violence is imprinted in their young minds, and the grisly picture of their father beating their mother will never leave them. They are messed up.”

Mark was now staring straight into Kimani’s eyes, his blank face revealing no emotion, the anger that previously overcame him now long gone.

“Kim,” Mark started to say something but suddenly stopped, like someone cautiously picking out his next words, “This is why I will never marry,” he finally stated.

A part of Kimani understood Mark, but he wanted to be sure.

“So you will never marry because the chief beat up his wife?” he asked avoiding Mark’s eyes.

Mark was silent. Maybe, he had not heard the question. His eyes were fixed on the youngest of the chief’s children. A young girl now seated at the front door to the house she called home, unbothered. Her calmness exuded a sense of normalcy, like everything that just happened did not actually happen. Her eyes darted between the people helping lift her mother from the ground and the dispersing crowd. She caught a glimpse of her father disappearing behind the house and her eyes began to water.

  “Mark, did you hear me?”

“I heard you the first time, Kim,” his voice was hoarse, “Men beat up their wives, and children watch. Everyone watches. And no one does anything about it. That is why I will never marry,” Mark was now walking away from the scene.

“But you are not this man, Mark.”

Kimani wanted to keep this conversation going. He, like everyone else, wanted to understand the psychology of unmarried men. Maybe he could better understand himself.

“But I am my father’s son,” Mark retorted impatiently, “And you know what they say about the apple and the tree.”

“What has your father got to do with anything? He was a good man. God rest his soul.”

“Sure, God rest his soul, somewhere deep in hell, with his fellow ‘good’ men.”

The air quotes at the mention of “good” were accompanied by a wobbling head, ogling eyes, and a tongue sticking out. The way children did it when teasing an adult while hiding behind their mothers’ skirts.

“You see that limp on my mother’s left leg? She got that while running away from my father. The man was chasing her with an axe, mama fell and sprained her ankle, and it never healed.” Mark was now walking faster. Like someone hoping that his brisk pace would somehow leave this memory of violence behind.

“Kim, all these people with their perfect marriages are hypocrites. You should witness the monstrosities that happen behind closed doors. Do not let the smiles of these women and their chubby babies fool you. Marriage is a den of lions, and by God, I am not jumping into that trap with my eyes open.”

“But Mark, you can choose to be different.”

“Or I can be exactly the same, maybe worse. I am not about to find out.” Mark suddenly stopped, “What about you? What’s your excuse?” he was staring at Kimani with those piercing eyes.

“My reason will never be as convincing as yours. I simply do not want a wife, children, or anything to do with the institution of marriage for that matter.”

Kimani was now walking away, taking long steps in the direction of his house. Mark did not ask any further. The men walked home, trying to comprehend the reasoning of their unmarried fellow man.

It was half-past ten. Kimani had stayed up too late. He needed to be well-rested when he took his cancer medicine in the morning. Sometimes he forgot how he was required to take the pills. Those pills confused him. Which pills did he take before meals, and which ones were after meals? Which tablets made him nauseous that he had to lick sugar after, and which pill made him feel drowsy? The drowsy pill was particularly important because he could only take it after lunch and at night, but never in the morning. At that point in his life, maybe a wife and children would be good. They would help with the pills.

That woman in four-inch heels he had seen earlier crossed his mind. She had bothered him, and suddenly he knew why. She was the unmarried woman from a nearby town who the village women had begun to talk about.  The lady was almost in her thirties with nothing noteworthy to show for her advancing age other than her two university degrees. Not even a child, leave alone a husband of her own. Kimani knew the women would devour gossip over her visit for a long time to come. Had she no shame parading with a married man like that? But Kimani wondered who was at fault. Was it the married man who took an oath or the woman suffocating under society’s expectations? No, marriage was not for him. Kimani slowly closed his eyes and wished for a sunny day come morning. Today had been cold.


Linda Thotho is an aspiring writer living in Nairobi, Kenya. She writes fiction borrowed from true stories of her life. Linda enjoys reading African stories by African authors. She holds a degree in Natural Resources Management from Egerton University, Kenya. She can be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/thotho_linda and on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/linda_tho_tho/

Dear Descendants:

     Tonight, I cannot stay in my bed.

     Like an oversized morsel of solid amala coated in films of steaming ewedu, burning the mouth, I’ve rolled these thoughts all around the corners of my head all day, but I have yet to make sense of them. Strange things do happen in this world of ours. Stranger things even now, with all the unfamiliarity our traveller friends are bringing home with them.

     If what my friend Samieli tells me is true, then norm is soon to dissipate into obsoleteness, and strange will morph up to take its place; only I’m born too early to witness it.

     You see, Samieli hasn’t always been Samieli, and he hasn’t always known so much about the future. Tragedy visited our small village of Osogun one notorious afternoon—a day rarely mentioned, but neatly tucked away in the shadows of our memory—and took everyone it met away with it.

     Back then, he was Ajayi, my playmate. Together we hounded the thorny trees that taunted our long throats with high-hanging oranges. We took them for all their ripe fruits and left the dark-green ones hanging among the leaves, until the ripening of their backs betrayed them too. On that fateful day, however, I had gone with my mother to collect ajo—thrift savings—in a neighbouring village, so Ajayi had to do the plucking alone.

     When we returned, a hair-raising emptiness welcomed us. There were prints in the soil that showed plenty of hooves, plenty of dragging and a lot of blood. Doors and windows were left ajar, and from outside one could see they had all been ransacked. I remember seeing the oranges scattered around in Ajayi’s compound and the silence in the village being almost as tangible as they were. That was before my mother’s piercing scream confirmed to me that the worst had happened. I would never see most of the villagers again, most painfully, my father.

     When this thing happened, my hand on one side could barely go over my head to touch my ear on the other. My mother could swear I only just stopped suckling. That was decades ago, years have folded into years, etching their passing on our faces. Now, our mothers are no more, and we ourselves are preparing to become grandparents. The tragedy of then had shown a different side to itself, taking away young Ajayi, my playmate, and bringing back Samieli, the bright, learned, and widely travelled man who is among many bringing some colour to our black and white.

     As I grow older, I’ve found very few things are as valuable as wisdom. It has also been easily recognisable. I lay in my earthen bed at night, with closed eyes and a lively mind, playing back all Samieli has been teaching me. I have found wisdom in him, and every morning I count the seconds until the cocks crow so I can resume again.

     There’s not much more to do since the cruel hands of death snatched the love of my life, Abeke Okin, oju loge t’in wo ewa bi aso.[i]  I have died a hundred times since she’s been gone, in my tears and in the nights I spent questioning Eledua—almighty God—, hoping for day to break so that the sun could snap me out of my bad dream.

     I have since accepted my fate. Even Adisa, our son who jumped into her grave asking to be buried with her, has moved on, showing strength and maturity everyone has asked me to emulate. So, when my old friend returned and showed me a new world on the pages of his books, and in the stories from his many travels, I found a new purpose.

     Plenty has changed since my friend has been back. Ojo is now Maikeli. Ogidan is Gabreli, and Talabi is Esikieli.

     These are names of a new faith, but it is more about the “-eli” than it is about attending lengthy church-services. Even Dauda who is Musulumi, and Falana the Ifa-diviner’s son, both attempted the suffix, but Daudaeli and Falanaeli didn’t exactly sound right.

     Some of the new Kristeni converts themselves rejected names like Pita, Abraam and Mosis. Ajayi is Samieli, and we too must eli-lise. Give us new names only if they’re suffixed -eli.

     Eli-lise?

     It sometimes amazes me how much I’ve learned in such little time. My hair had started to grey out by the time I began, but I have not only mastered the entire language, I can even invent my own words. Samieli says I’m the smartest person he has taught English, and that weighs more to me than a bountiful harvest from my cocoa farms.

     He thinks me smart for many whys. I’m of the few who cared more about the things that happened on his journey than the goodies he brought back from almost becoming a slave.

     “The ship was like a haunted house,” he says. “Haunted not by the mercilessness of the masters, but the hopelessness of the chained, lying on their backs and sides through the length of the gruesome journey—the Middle Passage. Souls lifted off bodies like steam from a boiling pot, leaving the bodies heavier but completely empty.”

     “There are three things I will never forget,” Samieli always says: “the ship that rescued us away from that hell—the HMS Black Joke; the captain of the ship—Henry Leeke; and the place it took us to—Freetown.”

            It’s with these three that he tells the story of his freedom every time.

     The HMS Black Joke being the miracle that ended what seemed like a cruel joke, a horror he had to bear for being black-skinned; Henry Leeke’s name being close to the Yoruba expression e’n ri, which translates to ‘you all can see it’ as the horror played out in real life for all to see; and Freetown being the place he and the others became free again, with the name of the place wearing a constant reminder that it was all over.

     His journey wasn’t entirely a nightmare, and the part where he says this to me is usually the bridge between the horror and the glorious part—the part that is my favourite.

     Samieli soaks me in intense euphoria this way, seizing the canvas of my mind to paint vivid pictures of the dingy pits on the slave ships and the harsh sufferings vested on the unlucky ones in there; the experience of breathing clean air that didn’t threaten to choke and good food that didn’t provoke a puke in his new life in Freetown; the new worlds he discovered on the pages of books taught to him in the Queen’s country; and so much more.

     The irony of it all is how you cannot feel bad for him. It’s hard to feel bad for a man whose lemonade you are sipping on, made from the sour fruits life has thrown at him.

     As we sit together, breaking kolanut and drinking this sweet and sour lemon water, I take in how similar I am to my friend, yet how different. I wear my hair on my head while he spreads his to the sides of his face and the top of his upper lip like the white man. It’s also the white man’s clothes he wears now. I tried them once but since decided nothing compares to my buba and soro, with a fila abeti-aja—traditional shirt and trousers, with a fitting cap—to match.

     The English rolls off Samieli’s tongue with such perfection, it is easy to forget how much of a traditional Yoruba man he is. I’m reminded when he chants my oriki—eulogy—in admiration of how fast I have mastered these languages—English, Nupe and Igbo: Omo ologbon ti’n fogbon s’omimu. Ologbon lo laiye, eni ti ogbon oya ju eni to ti kulo.[ii]

     Truly, he who doesn’t seek knowledge is no better than a dead person. This has been in my oriki, but until he sang it to me, it didn’t really mean more than mere praises. With renewed clarity to these words, I decide to start to live afresh. After all, my son, Adisa has taken a wife and showed himself capable of taking over my cocoa farm. This is surely a better way to spend my time than to continue wallowing in self-pity over my Abeke’s demise.

     So, I bid my friend goodbye and set out on a quest for more knowledge. With each figment of it came a new splash of colour. My footprints can bear witness to the expanse of my quest across the continent of Africa. I’ve fed on written words within the walls of Timbuktu, and I’ve been taught in a place called yunifasiti in Karueein, Morocco.

     Trotting from place to place across Africa showed me more of her beauty and the abundance of wealth tucked within her. I still lay with closed eyes at night, closed eyes attached to a lively mind. The “lively” was in black and white, but now I see in colours. The greying has eaten up all of the black strands on my head, but you should see it, shiny and sitting pretty like a silver crown.

     My friend published a book in Yoruba many years before. By the time I’m back, he has written more in Nupe, Igbo, as well as English. He is even writing the entire Kristeni book – the Bibeli – from English into Yoruba. I know I’ll likely never publish, but I took inspiration from him to start writing in this, my book.

     Among the things I’ve written is a burning question I carried all the way home with me from my travels. Samieli hardly heard it in full before giving me a knowing nod. The mention of Ali Quam, the alchemist from Dar-es-Salam, was all it took. Apparently, they met a while ago and rubbed minds extensively on the issue.

     While I was being taught Swahili by Ali Quam in a lonely settlement along the River Nile, he told me about this Vibranium. He said it’s believed to only be available in Africa. He said it’s powerful enough to transform the world. But he also said it could take up to a hundred years before we even find its exact location.

     “So, you believe in this Vibranium?” I ask.

     “Seeing is believing my friend,” he responds.

     I’m building this image of the future in my mind. It’s a stairway that leads to a summit beyond my sight. Finding Vibranium is maybe the only way I can see it.

     Samieli doesn’t agree, and he makes a good point. Vibranium or not, do you not see how blessed we are already?

     Truly, we are the balance of existence, where nature sits, and all the good things of life abound.

     Is our air not clean, or our soil not fertile? Are our children not warriors, or does milk and honey not flow beneath our grounds? His questions keep coming.

     Submerged in reflection, I nod slowly, and then I ask a question of my own: “How do you imagine this place would look in a hundred years?”

     “Everything will be better,” he says. “Humans will live better, trade better, transport themselves better, and communicate better. Maybe the world will have a meeting point then, centralised and without the barriers of borders. More diseases will have cures, and maybe that can help people live longer.”

     My mind struggles to create better houses than the earthen masterpiece I live in. Would they be movable, or would they sit in mid-air?  How about getting the education I got through space and time without having to leave home? Would that not be some kind of egbe—disappearance charm? I know Samieli’s horse-pulled carriage tops my aged donkey, but what could top the carriage? Perhaps I could speak from here and Quam would respond wherever he is? All these seem strange and impossible.

     Samieli scratches his sideburns, his face tilting upwards as if he’s been deeply reflecting too. “You’ll be surprised how many more things you think strange now that were the norm then,” he says.

     “If only I could see it,” I sigh.

     “Who says you can’t?”  He responds. “Who says they wouldn’t have found a way to fold time by then.?”

     That comment danced around my mind all evening, and now as I lay in my bed watching the glowing bow of the moon through my open window, it has birthed an idea that’s shaking my whole body with excitement.

     Tonight, I can no longer stay in my bed. My mind is alive and in colours, but my eyes are not shut. I am bending over my journal, inked feather in hand. If I can’t make sense of these hot morsel thoughts, I can at least send a message forward and ask for help.

     A hundred years is what Samieli and I talked about, but when I tear this page off from this book, I will add another fifty and lock it away in my inheritance until the year 2020 AD.

     So, dear great-great, or great-great-great grandchild or children, this is a journal entry for you. I believe strange must be the norm by the time you’re reading this. Maybe you even found Vibranium.

     If by now, folding time backwards is possible, please travel to the year 1870 AD to get me. It must be a beautiful place where you are, and I would really love to see it. More importantly, please bring some cure for high fever if it exists. Together we will travel a few more years backwards and undo my greatest regret by saving my Abeke Okin. I miss her much more than I can invent new words for.

     It will be fun, I promise you.

Yours ancestrally,

Alabi-eli Omoafrica olowo Cocoa

[i] Fashionable face who wears beauty like a cloth.

[ii] Child of the wise who drinks from the fountain of wisdom.  The wise owns the world, he who is not wise is no better than he who is already dead.

After he was forcibly sent to science class in high school, it took Ibrahim Babátúndé Ibrahim twenty years to finally find his way back to his passion, in 2019, when he left a successful ten-year career in media and entertainment to become a writer.  In that time, his works have appeared in Doorisa Jar, Ake Review, Agbowó, Analogies and Allegories, and more.  He finished as a finalist in #GogeAfrica20 Writing Contest and Ibua Journal’s Packlight Series.  He has also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He can be found at https://twitter.com/heemthewriter, https://www.instagram.com/heemthewriter/, https://www.facebook.com/heemthewriter