In a remote village in East Africa, there are ululations and drums, coupled with dance. Women are arriving in a thatched homestead carrying jerricans and woven baskets full of cassava and other farm products. There is an unusual celebration and the smoke that is coming from the mud kitchen next to the main house tells that there is something unusual going on in the village. Outside the house, there is a group of men seated under a shed and a huge gourd full of some drink that the men are sipping as they speak in their local dialect.
One of them, Mr Simiyu, who happens to be the immediate former sub-chief is already speaking in a language that other men do not seem to be comprehending. He is also making frequent visits to the toilet while scrolling his mobile phone, and seems like a person waiting for some news or making a plan. He is speaking of his wealth and the chickens within his homestead, calling them by name. he begins with the cockerel, which he calls “ndume” or the bull, claiming that none of the men drinking the ‘busaa’ which is the name for the local brew that the men are drinking, has been able to produce a breed that can contest with his cockerel, and that it has been the defending champion in the village animal games over the last two years. He also has a bull, which he has nicknamed “general” to imply that it has special powers and skills in the bull fighting competitions that take place annually in the village and the entire region.
Mr Simiyu is a respected elder in the village, which is majorly out of the influence and wealth he commands, that is unmatched by any other person. He is also among few in his generation who went to the white man’s school, and upon completion of his studies, became a head-teacher in the local secondary school, and was sacked years later, when the education officer in charge of the region learnt that he was working as the school accountant, the official bus driver, store keeper, senior teacher and head-teacher at the same time. Mr Simiyu was also accused of awarding himself all the important tenders, like supply of food to the school, firewood, exercise books and uniforms, which he claimed to be getting from local farmers and suppliers in a bid to empower the community around the school.
But being the only educated man in the village, fortunes and opportunities do not seem to pass far from his yard. A few months after leaving his job as the head-teacher, he would get an appointment from the government to become the area sub-chief. This platform he used to intimidate fellow villages and to ensure that nobody succeeds above him, so that he remains the monopoly of wealth and be able to influence whatever he likes. When he became the area sub-chief, he was caught in another scandal of shortchanging the elderly within his area of jurisdiction, so that when the government asked for their names so that they could get a monthly upkeep allowance, he deducted half of the amount and put it in his personal bank account, threatening to scrap off the name of anybody who would raise such grievances with the government office.
He was sacked from the government job and is now a farmer who keeps both chicken and cows, and since he is the only educated man in the village and is rich, he has been conspiring with the area veterinary officer so that whenever any farmer seems to have a bull or a cockerel that can outsmart his in the local animal games, the animal is poisoned so that he is the recipient of the medals and the money paid by the government to the successful farmers in the area. Many people in the village respect and fear him, and he is the only one who has taken his children to school up to college and university level in the whole village.
On this day, Mr Malumbe’s son, Shindala, has a party because upon clearing his secondary education, he has been awarded a scholarship to travel overseas and study to become a lawyer. Since learning of the new, Mr Simiyu has been on a drinking spree as he is afraid of the competition that will come from Malumbe’s son, seeing that it is just a matter of time before his evil tricks are discovered. Mr Simiyu has tried to use his daughter, Agaba, to seduce Shindala so that upon sleeping with her, she will claim that Shindala has raped her and he will have to marry her or else face death by stoning, which is the punishment according to their culture. He knows that if Shindala is caught in such a compromising situation, chances of traveling overseas for education will be stalled, and in the event that he marries his daughter, then the secret will be home and safe and he will continue to be the only rich and prominent man in the whole village.
A few years ago, a group of white people visited the village with a vision to elevate the lives of the people in Simiyu’s Kwagiza village. Upon arriving, Mr Simiyu, who is the only person in the village conversant with the white man’s mother tongue, received them and took them around the village showing them the kind of deplorable lives that his people are living in. He proposed that they build a polytechnic where the local community would go and learn technical courses, which they would use to improve their livelihoods. He proposed that they build it in the most remote part of the village, so that everybody can access it. In so doing, Mr Simiyu is planning with his mistress, Selungu, whom he secretly bought a garden around that area when she gave birth to his son, so that she will supply porridge and food to the builders, and have her home used as the store for the materials that cannot be left out at night, at a fee.
The affair between Mr Simiyu and Selungu has been secret for a long time, and since she caught pregnancy while she was in the secondary school where Mr Simiyu was the head-teacher, he rewarded her with a garden and a house, to keep her away from her family, who would seek to punish him for impregnating a minor. The deal was sealed quickly and Selungu has been living there for sixteen years now without the knowledge of her family, which lives about three villages away. Selungu now runs the only shop in her locality, which she opened through Mr. Simiyu’s help, and has borne another three children with him. Upon the white people agreeing with his proposal, Mr. Simiyu is optimistic that he will get a job at the polytechnic, and his mistress will be granted important tenders, so that he will use the project for self-enrichment.
Mr Simiyu has managed to keep this affair secret from his wife and family, and whenever she raises suspicion, he becomes violent and threatens to chase her away and marry another wife. His relationship with his wife, Maria, is not straight. He married her after she completed her secondary education, and she was pregnant with his child at that time, following a sexual relationship he had had with her and several other female students. He hurriedly expressed his interest with her father and since he was rich and educated, he was able to manipulate his father in law, Nuhu, to keep the news of his daughter’s pregnancy secret after buying him a few bottles of beer and building him a stone tank so that his wife did not need to make the long journey to the river to fetch water for her animals and domestic consumption. Mr Nuhu would later die under unclear circumstances, that even his wife and family were not aide to.
After marrying Maria, he took her away on a honey moon trip for a year, and when they returned, she had already given birth to their eldest son, Khaminwa, so that nobody was able to discover his little secret. Their relationship has been tough and they rarely have a constructive discussion without an argument. He beats her often claiming that she is thick headed, and that reason why their children are not excelling well academically is because they have taken after her. He also claims that he has had to take them to private schools and pay private tutors so that they can at least improve their grades. Maria does not know how much Mr. Simiyu is worth as he claims that she has no business knowing about his financial status because she cannot take care of herself, leave alone a bank account. He has never even carried her in the small car that he drives. In the last two times when she gave birth to their children, Mr Simiyu called a motorcycle to take her to the hospital when she was caught in labor, claiming that his is unable to drive in the dark especially if the person next to him is mourning from labor.
As for Selungu, he has always been by her side. When she nears her delivery, he makes sure that she is booked in the maternity private wing and that she has the attention of a doctor full time. He takes care of all her bills and when he is unable to attend to her, especially when the farmers are receiving the pay for their sugarcane from the local co-operative society, he ensures that he hires her a private car from the nearby town for all her movements. He also sneaks to her home at night where they continue with their secret love affair. He has ensured that not even Selungu’s children know of his affair with their mother, least one of them mistakably mentions his name when playing with other children and his secret affair is discovered. Selungu follows every instruction she is given very carefully to make sure that she keeps Mr. Simiyu happy, and so that all her needs are attended to. Mr. Simiyu has promised her that if all goes well with the polytechnic project, he will relocate her to the city where he has already bought a plot and built rental houses, so she will be his business manager.
On this day, he is seated with the local elders under a shed outside Mr. Malumbe’s home, sipping local brew and is now drunk. His wife has arrived at the function and while she has greeted other elders seated with him taking the local brew, he made a communication using his eyes so that she did not come close to him but went straight to the kitchen where the other women are assembled. She is dressed in an old dress, that seems to have been repaired many times and has no sandals on her feet. As she walks, the cracks on her sole are visible, and her face tells that she has not known peace for a long time. She looks weak and malnutritioned. Mr. Simiyu on the other hand is in an expensive Italian suit, that is properly ironed and his Italian leather boots are also outstanding. He is also wearing a British hat and the staff he is holding in his hand is golden around the handle area. He is well built and the way he walks and talks tells that he must be a rich man. Mrs. Simiyu joins the women, who are busy preparing the food that visitors will be taking.
Mr. Simiyu had just had a rough discussion with a fellow elder who asked of the progress made in the construction of the village polytechnic. The elder made allegations that the project has since stagnated, and that since the donors have been sending money through Mr. Simiyu’s bank account, he has been embezzling the donations and using them for his own financial gain. The elder claims that he has heard through rumors that Mr. Simiyu has bought a plot in the city and built rental houses at the expense of fellow villagers, using the money sent to him for construction of the village polytechnic. Mr. Simiyu has rebutted to the allegations asking why the elder is jealous that he is the only man who can have a conversation in the whole village with the white man, and the only one who can be relied upon to bring progress and development in the village. “Is it because neither you nor your pathetic children can construct a complete sentence in English without contaminating it with your mother tongue? Do you even know how to count money exceeding five hundred shillings, or is it not me you have been calling whenever you want to sell your cows to the meat commission? Is it not me who has been signing receipts on your behalf whenever you are receiving payment from the sugarcane farmers’ co-operative? You idiot!
The Elder has since gone silent and none of them is willing to contend with the abusive monster that is Mr. Simiyu. The men cannot speak since they have been receiving their money at his mercies whenever they are conducting any form of exchange. Mr. Simiyu has been asking for twenty five percent commission from the transactions and since no one else in the village understands such exchanges, they engage his services whenever such need arises. In the same gathering is Mr. Malibu, the current sub-chief. He is not as educated as Mr. Simiyu, but since he used to work as a mason in the nearby town, he is the only candidate who proved suitable for the job after his predecessor was shown the pen.
In Mr. Simiyu’s presence, Mr. Malibu stays lip tight as he has a secret only known to Mr. Simiyu that his wife ran away when she discovered that he had a gay relationship with an Indian foreman, which began when he was caught stealing nails and plastic tanks from the construction site. The foreman, Mr. Meghji Khan, decided to have him as his ‘girlfriend’ under the agreement that he either has such a relationship with him or else he would get Mr. Malibu arrested. They started exchanging flattering messages, and one day while Mr. Malibu’s wife was washing his clothes, she found a photo of him and Mr. Khan naked inn bed. When she took the case to Mr. Simiyu who was the area sub-chief at that time, he solicited for a bribe from Mr. Malibu and kept the matter secret.
Mrs. Malibu was warned by Mr. Simiyu against letting people know of such a matter, threatening to ex-communicate her from the village if she ever told anyone of the issue. Upon not getting help and repeated threats and intimidation, she eventually decided to walk out of the marriage. This kind of behavior is not tolerable according to their culture and in the event that the villagers learn of Mr. Malibu’s story, he would be stoned to death and everything in his home put on fire to prevent bad omen from spreading in the village. This has been a secret that Mr. Simiyu has properly exploited. He had ensured that the photo found by Mr. Malibu’s wife was in his custody so that she did not have evidence against her husband, and has kept it with him, so that whenever Mr. Malibu wants to do something that he is opposed to, he uses it as a souvenir to silence him and make him make decisions that put him at an advantage.
Even though he is speaking in a strange language and is staggering all over, Mr. Simiyu is sober enough for his plan, and even his drunk state seems to be restless. He is making frequent visits to the toilet, endless calls in a low tone and sending text messages from his mobile phone. On this day, contrary to his custom, when villagers come to ask that he allows them to make calls to inquire where the guests are and to check if they have gotten lost along the way, he is declining claiming to be waiting for a very important call. He is the only person who owns a mobile phone in the whole village and fellow villagers pay dearly whenever they want to make calls using his phone. Since travelling to the nearby town costs much more than the amount he charges for the call, they bear with his insults when they request to use his phone and make the calls under his supervision.
On this occasion, he is in communication with his daughter Agaba to ensure that their plan of seducing Shindala succeeds. Agaba is waiting for Shindala at the bus terminus in town. The last time they had met, Shindala had promised Agaba that he would buy her whatever she wanted if she accepted to marry him when he comes back from overseas for his education. Agaba has won in three years consecutively for the village beauty pageant and has not faced any competition from anybody. Many young men in the whole village desire to be close to her even if for just greetings, and since she has since become friendly to Shindala, he thinks that he has hit the jackpot. A plan is in place to make sure that Shindala does not travel overseas and they have gotten him right in the bait. According to how Agaba is dressed, it will be hard to resist her as well as to refuse any sexual advancements made towards him by Agaba. Mr. Simiyu knows that if the plan succeeds, it will be the only way there will be peace between him and Shindala in the event that his little corrupt secrets are discovered.
He is planning to marry his daughter to Shindala, make sure that he goes to school overseas only after the wedding has been done, and try to incite his daughter to ask him to go and live away from the village upon his return from studies. He will also use Agaba to manipulate Shindala so that he does not bring development to their village or even seek to open up the village to civilization, so he remains rich and influential in the village. Concerning his business in the city, he is planning of giving Agaba one of his plots as a wedding present, build her a home and put up a business for her, so that while Shindala is away for studies, she will continue to build herself and support him, so that the relations between him and his anticipatory son-in-law is in a good place. He knows that if Agaba speaks highly of him before Shindala, he will be pleased and will in turn play to whatever tune Mr. Simiyu recommends.
The visitors have now arrived and the festivities have begun. The guest of honor, Shindala is the only one who has not arrived, and food is being served. There is laughter and a happy mood, but the drunk Mr. Simiyu doesn’t seem to be in the mood. He is still scrolling his phone reading the messages he is receiving from Agaba and making better their scheme. Mrs. Malumbe is dressed beautifully and her husband has a crown made of ostrich feathers to show that he is a now respected elder in the village. Mr. Malibu calls the meeting to order and prayers are led by Mrs. Simiyu. There are speeches that follow as food is being served, and drums and song are inevitable in this occasion. When Shindala’s younger sister asks to serve Mr. Simiyu, she is rudely dismissed and Mr. Simiyu says that he takes no pleasure in having their pathetic food.
Then a phone call comes and Mr. Simiyu rushes out of the crowd, after speaking on the phone for a while he shouts angrily on the phone, “you are an illiterate brat, foolish like your mother! Did I not tell you not to let him escape? Make sure you don’t come to my house tonight because I will slaughter you like chicken, you brainless idiot!” It seems like the plan between him and Agaba did not succeed as a few moments later, Shindala comes accompanied by his friends from his former secondary school. When Agaba called him aside, he declined asking that they first go home for the celebrations and have the talk later because they are running out on time. Shindala will also be going to stay at his friend’s place in the city so that it will be easier to take care of travel logistics. One of his friends is driving a minivan, and Agaba cannot join them as it is full of Shindala’s friends.
The plan has failed and now a furious yet panicking Mr. Simiyu knows that it is only a matter of time before his secrets are discovered. The only way out now is through Mr. Malibu, who has not yet signed the papers for Shindala as the local administrative officer. Mr. Simiyu is anxious and angry at the same time, and he knows that if his plan does not succeed, he will have a few days to enjoy his monopoly of wealth and influence. When he goes back to have a conversation with Mr. Malibu, so that he can manipulate him not to sign Shindala’s papers, thus sabotaging his travel plans, he finds out that Mr. Malibu has just left for a conference which has been organized by the government for all its administrative officers. Mr. Malibu had made plans with Shindala that he would meet him in town, sign the papers and then proceed for the conference. Mr. Simiyu’s eyes are now wide open, his eyes tear up, his forehead is full of veins, his hands begin shaking and he cannot even give a coordinated speech. After a few moments, Shindala and his friends arrive and the whole population in attendance goes to meet them with song, drum beats, ululations and dance. Mr. Simiyu calls his wife aside and demands that they go home immediately. They walk past the crowd silently and he is buried in shame. There is now a new dawn for the people of Kwagiza, and their future looks luminous with one of their sons going overseas to get an education.