The Water Spirits: a slice of new fiction by Kiprop Kimutai

The Water Spirits  speaks about how grief and loss can disintegrate a family. Kogi, a seventeen year old boy, has finished High School and lives with his mother Susanna and his sister Chebet in a village called Tolosio. Their father, Jonathan, has recently passed on, and they are all dealing with this loss in various ways. Susanna, a proud and classy woman, ends up falling for the village drunkard. Chebet wishes for nothing more than to run away from Tolosio to Nairobi with Suedi, a dashing young man who comes to Tolosio on a bike. At the centre of the story though is Kogi. 

The novel  captures the spirit of a family in rural Kenya in a modern era where the traditional stands alongside the modern, and does so by delicately walking the thin line between the fantastical and the quotidian.  It is set in Tolosio, a fictional town in the Rift Valley region of Kenya.

 This is sneak peak at the yet unpublished novel.

 

STOMBER

Stomber held the mug fashioned from an old cooking tin with both hands and drank. When he put the it down, his moustache was covered with frothy home-made beer. He wiped it with the back of his hand.

“I remember the day of Susanna’s wedding,” he began. “She was certainly not the first in the village to wear a veil for the ceremony. But she was the first to have a tiered cake. Have you ever seen a tiered cake Tobias? I bet you haven’t. You have never walked a foot away from Tolosio. That cake was huge. Three tiers man. I ate five slices.”

Stomber held up his fingers. His palm was dark, almost the same color as his skin. His nails were short and bent. They were also a bit bluish, as if lacking blood.

“I didn’t care whether anyone saw me take a piece. That day I decided my life would be different too. I wanted to glitter like them. I wanted…”

His voice trailed off. Tobias kept looking inside his beer mug, slowly drinking from it, giving no indication that he was listening.

“When the wedding ended, I followed the couple to their home. I watched as Susanna got out of the car with Jonathan. She had clear eyes, not yet browned by the harsh sun like ours. I watched for a long while as they carried their gifts inside. They had a refrigerator Tobias. Have you ever seen a refrigerator? Don’t worry, you will see one when you die of liver cirrhosis and your corpse is stored inside one. They had a television set as well. I helped them set it up. I stood on the roof twisting and turning the contraption as Jonathan searched for channels. Then I climbed down to watch the news in the living room. There were all these sensations in my mind. I began walking round the house, counting the rooms and admiring the colors. I found her in the kitchen. She was crying. I looked at her for long as I hid, wanting to stroke that beautiful dove. That was when Jonathan came and grabbed my ear, admonishing me for loitering in his house like a kid without manners. I ran out without even asking for the twenty shilling he had promised me.”

Tobias lifted his face from the mug. He had been listening. He smiled and tapped his knuckles on the grizzled, wooden table.

“There is no way she can fall for you, you horny bastard,” said Tobias, roaring in laughter. His teeth were crooked, uneven in size and severely decayed.

Stomber narrowed his eyes. He had intelligent eyes and his tight lips suggested a man stubborn in his ways.

“Don’t laugh at me Tobias. You are the one who told me that I will end up like all the rest; drinking and tilling land till my skin was pale and gray; that one day I would drop dead in the field just like my father. But I worked hard Tobias. I bought land. Two acres is not much but it is something. And my grade chickens are selling well. I even supply eggs to Tolosio polytechnic. I might even start a greenhouse…”

Stomber stopped because Tobias was no longer listening, but laughing at a crude joke spoken by someone behind him. Stomber shook his head and stood. He didn’t stagger as he walked out, even though his eyes were clouded. The light outside irritated his stupor. He didn’t like getting drunk when it was not yet fully night. It reminded him of his father.

There were other people outside the house. They sat in small groups on the grass, men and women in a variety of garb-black, tattered jackets, brown sweaters with floral prints, torn promotional t-shirts. They all held yellow tin mugs fashioned from cans of cooking fat; and when they laughed, their throats seemed corroded. One of the women shouted loudly at Stomber as he walked past.

“Hey handsome! Handsome! Why are you walking away without even saying hi? Are you pretending that you don’t know me, when my bed stinks because of your semen? Stomber, I thought you loved me.”

Stomber pretended not to hear but kept on walking. Other voices trailed after him; snide comments carefully calculated to drive inside him like spears.

“He pretends to be special. Though he belongs down here with us. He should know that his mother sold her cunt to educate him.”

“We shall wait for him to fall,” another voice intervened. “We will wait and see. The bigger they come, the harder the fall. Aliye juu, mngoje chini. You hear that Stomber? We are waiting for you to fall down hard.”

By the time the voices turned to a cruel trading of jokes that no longer had much to do with him, Stomber was already up the incline and walking calmly through a winding path that led to his house. The path weaved through private compounds where cows bellowed as they were fed grass by young men; where girls washed stacks of clothes, briefly pausing to watch him pass. He loved the lingering scent of food cooking-mostly kale and the bitter kisoyo. But he walked on and entered a grove of grevellia trees, where the road sunk down. He took a short turn left and he was at his gate.

It was a simple, square-shaped house he lived in. The walls were made out of that curious way of applying cement over mud mixed with stone, so that one would assume it was a concrete house. He remembered his wife then, but instantly shook her off his memory. She had run away after years of endless crying that his fist blows didn’t stop. The woman even had the audacity to take his son away too, saying she was going to live on a piece of land her father gave her. He laughed. His son had his blood and would grow to be like him. He would make her suffer.

Stomber thought of Susanna instead. Susanna in a pink floral dress that accentuated her breasts. Susanna cutting tomatoes in the kitchen. At the sight of him, rushing to hug, asking whether he wanted ginger tea or orange juice. He breathed in deeply as he took off his shoes and entered his dark house. He was unwilling to switch on the lights,it was even easier to imagine Susanna in the darkness. But someone knocked the door softly as he was about to be sucked more into his reveries. It annoyed him. He hated visitors at that time. They destroyed the stillness and the solace of silence. Nevertheless, he opened the door. He looked at the visitor and smiled, his anger melting. He tried to hide his drunkenness but ended up looking clumsy, like a boy caught eating sugar.

“I need to buy some eggs for Mama,” Kogi spoke first.

Stomber looked at the boy’s big head and narrow shoulders, then at his lanky hands that carried little muscle.

“How is your mother doing?”

Stomber wafted that disturbing homemade beer smell over Kogi’s face as he spoke. Kogi pretended not to notice, but still stepped back. This only prompted Stomber to move closer.

“She is okay.”

“Has she said anything about me?”

Kogi’s eyes watered and his mouth quivered.

“She said nothing.”

“What do you mean she said nothing? She must have said something. It seems you don’t want to tell me Kogi. What is going on? I thought we were friends.”

He clasped Kogi’s shoulder.

“Please sell me eggs,” said Kogi.

Stomber laughed and guided him to the back of his house, where a chicken coop made of wood, stood on stilts. It was just like the one at Kogi’s house, only that it reeked of chicken from afar and when one came closer, the clutter of feathers and chicken dung offered an uncomfortable sight. Stomber walked to the side of the coop, where laying boxes protruded out. He lifted up the covers and took out eggs, then placed them inside a transparent polythene bag.

Kogi took time to look inside the coop. He got fascinated by a magnificent cockerel with glowing, golden plumage and fine, whose white-tail feathers trailed on the floor like a peacock’s. The cockerel seemed aware of the attention and it stood still and upright in regal fashion, one leg in front of the other.

“Stomber, what breed of cock is this?” asked Kogi, his confidence renewed.

“It is an indigenous cock that I brought along to mate with my grade hens, to come up with a hardier stock.”

This was not the answer Kogi had expected. He needed details. He could tell that Stomber’s hens were Rhode Island Reds, a stupid choice for they ate too much and didn’t lay eggs as much. He should have gone for White Leghorn.

“I have added five more eggs for you and Mama,” said Stomber. “Tell Mama I did so for she is my good friend.”

He handed the bag of eggs to Kogi who clutched it quickly.

“Stomber, I think your cock is a rare bantam chicken. My father was doing a research on them. I believe yours is a specimen of the rare Golden Malindi bantam, believed to have gone extinct in 1980.”

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Kiprop Kimutai is an editor with Jalada Africa, which is a Pan-African Writers’ Collective, who has published eight online anthologies with themes ranging from insanity to afro-futurism. He believes that if he had been born in Salinas, California, he would have turned out as a re-incarnation of John Steinbeck. He is a Kenyan, and was the second runner’s up for the Kwani? Manuscript Project. Aside from the 2015 Caine Workshop, he has participated in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Farafina Workshop in Lagos. Inquiries from publishers or agents about The Water Spirits are welcomed. He’s looking forward to a publishing deal.

 

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