A man and his price by Alvin Kathembe

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    A short story from Kenya

    Reverend Amos Njenga sat at his desk beside
    the window, deep in thought.
    Outside, darkness had fallen, but he could still
    see as the moon was full in the sky, and the
    stars were shining like the headlights of so
    many cars stuck in a celestial traffic jam. The
    moon’s strong light filled his heart with
    gladness, and the myriad twinkling stars that
    still shone through the darkness inspired him
    with hope. For darkness had fallen thick on
    the land, and he wondered if the few shining
    lights in its midst were enough to drive it
    Corruption, like a virus, had infested the body
    politic and the Government was rotten through
    and through. The Treasury had become the
    Ministers’ personal bank account, financing
    their flashy Ferraris and paying for illicit
    ‘diplomatic delegations’ to Paris and Milan.
    Rich men committed murder in broad daylight
    without a care, as they knew they had the
    Judiciary in their back pockets. Right next to
    their wallets.
    Organized crime was rampant – gangs battled
    for control of the streets, exchanging fire in
    broad daylight. The police force was
    understaffed, poorly equipped, and underpaid.
    Crime lords didn’t even bother bribing them
    any more – they just ignored them. They
    organized themselves into triads and mafias
    and syndicates, dividing up the country among
    themselves and waging turf wars of almost
    civil-war proportions.
    Everywhere the citizens were crying out in
    anguish; vigilante groups sprang up daily,
    only to become one more cog in the
    juggernaut of anarchy and lawlessness in the
    country. Leaders were either a part of it, or
    bullied and intimidated into submission…or
    assassinated for their resistance. They had all
    fallen, one by one bowed before the Ba’al of
    power and wealth that the whole country
    worshipped, or been thrown into the furnace
    for their refusal. All had been incinerated. All
    but one.
    Reverend Amos Njenga had risen up, the last
    knight in the crusade against the vices, the
    virus that had infected every pore if the
    country. He stood on a platform of political
    reform and religious revolution-he urged
    citizens of all faiths to stand for their beliefs
    and call for an end to the chaos.
    At first he had been ignored, the same way a
    horse ignores a mosquito buzzing around its
    ears, or perhaps warns it off with a lazy flick
    of its tail; but his movement had picked up
    steam, and now was the main threat to those
    keen on maintaining the status quo in the
    country. He was popular among the middle-
    class, educated professionals who were
    disgusted with the state of affairs in the
    country, who were tired of paying bribes to
    obtain even the most basic of services…and
    also among the low income earners whose
    backs were breaking under impossible taxes
    and were forced to pay exorbitant protection
    fees, and who lived under constant fear…
    Secret contributions from like-minded
    individuals had enabled him to set up a pirate
    T.V station whose location had bamboozled
    the authorities. It broadcast his stirring
    speeches twice a day across the country, and
    the viewing of ‘Truth T.V’ became a felony
    throughout the land.
    Numerous assassination attempts had been
    made upon him; once his vehicle had been
    rigged with a bomb, and had gone off one
    morning as his driver was warming up the
    engine. Another time a bullet had grazed his
    temple as he gave a speech at a university.
    He had stooped to read from his notes just as
    the shooter fired – if he’d stayed still just a
    millisecond later his head would have had a
    hole blown through it. The shooter had
    inexplicably escaped police custody. It seemed
    as though providence itself was protecting
    him, but he was not about to test how far this
    protection extended. Now his very location
    was kept secret by his small but dedicated
    security detail. He soldiered on, unblinking in
    the face of insurmountable odds. He remained
    a constant thorn in the side of the country’s
    power brokers, like Hannibal, who threatened
    the power of mighty Rome. He was just
    waiting for his Cannae.
    The General Election had come around again,
    and Reverend Njenga had called for a boycott
    of the polling stations, denouncing both
    presidential candidates as puppets of the drug
    lords and crime barons. Finally his supporters
    had pressured him into throwing his own hat
    into the ring. He didn’t campaign publicly, but
    used ‘Truth T.V’ as his platform after the
    police had ‘failed’ to contain a riot at one of
    his rallies which had almost seen him killed.
    Deep down, however, he knew there was
    absolutely no way he could win. There had to
    be another way to restore sanity to the land…
    that was why he had agreed to this secret
    meeting with one of the candidates, Glen
    Muia was young, smart and eloquent. He
    came from a political dynasty that had seen
    his father and grandfather all high-ranking
    members of successive governments. Now he
    was going for the big seat. Of course, he was
    no saint-he was suspected of having been
    behind the ‘disappearance’ of a rival for his
    constituency seat – but the other candidate
    was a twelve-year veteran of a corrupt
    Parliament, with links to all the major crime
    basses in the country. Njenga was stuck
    between the devil and the deep blue sea¬ – he
    just chose the lesser of two evils. Muia had
    contacted him, proposing the meeting where
    they would discuss their different standpoints
    and, possibly, come to an understanding…
    Njenga had gone through every possible
    scenario in his mind – perhaps Muia would
    attempt to bribe him, to threaten him, or to
    pretend that they were on the same side…
    whatever the case, he was ready.
    A knock came on his door. It opened a
    fraction, showing the wrinkled, worried face of
    his assistant, Thatia.
    “They’re here,” he said.
    Njenga nodded. The door closed, and he sat
    down heavily, his face in his hands, and said a
    silent prayer.
    From the corridor outside his office he could
    hear his own tiny security detail remonstrating
    loudly with Muia’s huge entourage, Thatia’s
    voice prominent among the ones calling for
    the politician to see Njenga alone. A mild
    scuffle ensued, and Njenga sprung up and
    wrenched the door open.
    “What’s going on here?” he asked.
    Muia’s bodyguards were attempting to force
    their way through, but Thatia and the rest if
    his detail stood their ground.
    “A one-on-one meeting, that’s what we
    agreed to,” he said calmly. “if not, tell your
    boss that the deal is off.”
    Muia’s bodyguards looked at each other,
    unsure of what to do next. Then came, from
    down the hall, the calm, pleasant voice of their
    “Boys, boys, it’s OK. I shall be quite safe. He
    is a man of God.”
    The huge, beefy guards relaxed at this, and
    with a few final menacing snarls backed away.
    Njenga went back into his office, and a minute
    later Muia’s smiling face appeared in the
    door, flanked by Thatia’s concerned one.
    “Be careful,” he mouthed, as he closed the
    “Forgive my boys,” Muia said pleasantly in the
    disarming, affable voice of a Cicero. “They’re a
    bit overzealous in their job, but they’re as
    good as gold.”
    “I understand.” Njenga replied calmly, on the
    alert. “Thank you for coming, and please have
    a seat.”
    Muia took the indicated seat, setting the big,
    black suitcase he carried on the ground. He
    waited until Njenga took his seat across him,
    watching his every move like a veteran poker
    player scrutinizing his opponent for the
    slightest tic, the tiniest twitch – the tell that
    would reveal just how strong his hand really
    “I will come straight to the point, Reverend
    Njenga,” Muia said briskly. He put his elbows
    on the desk and touched his fingertips
    “I believe that we can come to an
    Njenga just sat, fingers intertwined supporting
    his chin, listening to Muia’s every word.
    “I believe,” Muia continued, “that you and I
    can find a common ground. I believe that we
    have a similar vision for this country.”
    A shadow came over Njenga’s face – a frown
    of agitation, of irritation. Muia’s sharp eyes
    did not miss it, although it had passed in a
    “You disagree?” he asked. “Just hear me out,
    and, I assure you, by the end of our meeting
    you will think so too.”
    Njenga smiled, and motioned for Muia to
    Suddenly Muia jumped to his feet. The sudden
    movement startled Njenga; reflexively his hand
    moved towards the second drawer where he
    kept a loaded pistol – but Muia was doing no
    more than pacing around the room, hands
    gesticulating, speaking passionately –
    seemingly, to himself ¬– like a character’s
    soliloquy in a play.
    “Our country is drowning, Reverend; we don’t
    need the U.N or the international community
    to tell us that. Drowning in a sea of
    corruption, of anarchy, of violence….drowning,
    Reverend, in a sea of blood…and whose blood
    than our brothers’, our sisters’, our cousins’,
    our own?
    “Our people are crying out…our people are
    groaning ¬– from their mouths and their
    stomachs – they are crying out for a saviour…
    I will answer that cry.
    “We must do something! We cannot just sit
    back and watch our country burn! We cannot
    let our people die- everyday they are dying in
    their hundreds; from violence, from disease,
    from hunger…this must end.”
    He sat back down, the fire still in his eyes, his
    nostrils flared, his breathing deep and quick.
    “On this one point we are of the same mind,”
    he continued; “this must end. And we will end
    it, you and I.”
    He sat up straight and looked deep and
    earnestly into Njenga’s eyes. Njenga was at
    once impressed, moved, and highly
    “There’s only one way we can do it –
    together.” His voice was barely above a
    whisper now, and Njenga was hanging on
    every word. Muia cleared his throat and said,
    in a clear, confident and strong tone –
    “You will support my candidature in the
    Election. You will endorse me to be the next
    President of the Republic of Kenya.”
    The words hung in the air like invisible
    marionettes, dancing and darting around the
    room. It was completely quiet in the room,
    except for Muia’s deep, rhythmical – almost
    bestial – breathing; and the pounding of
    Njenga’s own heart steadily filling his ears.
    They sat and stared at each other.
    Njenga’s ears were ringing. Over and over the
    words echoed in his head like the
    reverberations of a shout in a cavern –
    “You will support my candidature…”
    “You will endorse me…”
    The words were said with such conviction,
    such authority, as if they were an edict from
    Heaven itself, and disobedience was
    impossible, inconceivable…
    Njenga shook his head, trying to clear his
    mind. He chose his words carefully.
    “That was a stirring little speech,” he said.
    “One you have obviously practiced in front of a
    mirror many times; I must hand it to you, the
    execution was flawless – perfectly chosen
    words, the confidence of a champion, just
    enough entreaty, and the eloquence of Cicero.
    Forceful delivery and spellbindingly done
    He leaned forward and looked Muia dead in
    the eye.
    “…and, at the end of the day, a bunch of empty
    promises and useless rhetoric. I am not a fool,
    Muia, to be swayed by a demagogue. That
    was a hundred per cent, unadulterated
    Muia had started to smile when Njenga had
    begun speaking, but now the smile slithered
    off his face like slime.
    “Everything you pointed out was a reality.
    People are dying. People are hungry. People
    are sick. This must end. We agree on those
    points. But what I want to hear from the
    enlightened saviour of the people is how he is
    going to change all this.”
    Njenga folded his arms across his chest,
    enjoying the shell-shocked expression and
    supreme annoyance of his quarry. Muia soon
    recovered though, and replaced these with his
    usual, confident smirk.
    “You think you’re clever, don’t you? Perhaps
    you think you can win the election?” he
    laughed. “Well, let me disabuse you of that
    fanciful notion. Your chances are those of a
    snowball in hell!
    “You are not a politician. What do you know
    about such things? You should stick to your
    sermons and prayers – this is the real world.”
    “A world where politicians say whatever the
    people want to hear in order to get into
    office!” Njenga spat, disgusted.
    Muia laughed once more. “Does it matter?
    Talk is cheap. No, that’s a lie. That’s why I
    pay a speech coach two million a month to
    teach me how to do it. Let’s cut the crap,
    Reverend, I want your support. It will look
    good – to the citizens and the international
    community. I want the credibility your support
    will give me. You know this. Now the question
    is, what do you want?”
    “I want,” Njenga said, his voice rising as he
    lost patience with this cocky, smiling
    politician. “All the things you talked about! An
    end to hunger! Disease! Corruption! Injustice!”
    “Under my government,” Muia replied calmly.
    “Healthcare, food distribution, infrastructure
    and law enforcement will all undergo
    wholesale reforms. All these needs will be
    Njenga shook his head in disbelief.
    “I want an end to corruption and crime!” he
    “All corrupt officials will be dealt with to the
    full extent of the law.” Muia replied in the
    same calm, assuring voice. “The police will be
    deployed to protect our citizens. Better
    equipment, better pay. Trust me; I want
    nothing more than this. The people are
    suffering, and they are my people too, you
    “What do you know about the people’s
    suffering?!” Njenga replied hotly. “What do you
    know about the woman who has to work four
    different jobs to feed her family as her
    husband was shot dead for standing up to the
    local crime boss?
    “What do you know of the pain of a single
    mother who watches her daughter get hooked
    on drugs, drop out of school and forced to join
    a prostitution ring?
    “What do you know of the anguish of the
    family that watches their brother, their son,
    evolve from the sweet, caring young man they
    once knew and loved, into a hardened,
    bloodthirsty criminal that they now tremble
    before? Eh? What do you know??!!”
    Muia remained silent.
    “I want all crime barons, and government
    officials guilty of corruption, imprisoned and
    stripped of their assets! And the resources
    redeployed into nation building!” Njenga was
    standing up now, livid, shouting, disbelieving
    as the man sat there coolly and tried to force-
    feed him these lies.
    “They shall be pursued to the full extent of the
    law,” Muia repeated, without batting an eyelid.
    That was the final straw.
    “Really?” Njenga was bellowing at the top of
    his voice now, laughing like a madman.
    “Really? Hahaha! Wallace Kabogo; drug baron
    and racketeer, principal funder of the Muia
    campaign? Festus Muia; Minister for
    Agriculture – who has embezzled billions,
    while the people starve; your uncle? Marshall
    Muia; former Minister for Finance, your
    father?! And countless others?”
    Muia just sat, looking at Njenga, even a bit
    bemusedly, completely unfazed. Looking
    Njenga straight in the eye –
    “People must eat. But even so, they eat, and
    get full. And they realize the granary only
    holds so much grain.”
    Muia almost struck him. It took all of his self-
    control to force his hands to his sides; it took
    all his concentration to keep from calling
    Muia all the names that were running through
    his mind. Somehow he managed it. Finally, he
    sat and dovetailed his fingers, and fought to
    control his voice.
    “I see.” He said. “Unfortunately, I have come
    to the conclusion that our ideologies are
    incompatible, and the proposed partnership
    cannot, in good conscience, proceed. Thank
    you for coming. I have nothing more to say.”
    Muia didn’t budge.
    “I will advise you to rethink that.” He said
    “My mind is made up. Don’t bother making
    threats, promising bribes, or anything of the
    kind. I am determined, and I can’t be bought.
    We are finished.”
    “Every man has his price, Reverend.” Muia
    said dryly.
    Njenga chuckled.
    “I’m afraid you can’t afford mine.” He said.
    Muia sighed, shook his head, and studied the
    Reverend disdainfully, smirking and scoffing in
    that infuriating way of his. He examined the
    Reverend’s bald, grizzled head with its short,
    spiny strands of grey; he sneered at his
    furrowed, wrinkled forehead, and scorned his
    fiery, passionate eyes…
    “The Reverend!” he mocked. “The last beacon
    of hope in a dark, lawless land! The Final
    Crusader for truth through the shadow of
    death, and the gloom of deception…” he
    laughed mockingly, pouting contemptuously at
    Muia’s jibes had no effect on the Reverend. He
    smiled and got up, as if to show his smiling
    guest that he had long overstayed his
    “We are not yet quite done, reverend.” Muia
    “I have nothing more to say. We have no
    further business to conduct.”
    “Ah, but we do, one minor trifle, shouldn’t take
    more than a minute. Please, sit down.”
    Njenga did so, his patience wearing thin and
    his fuse shortening by the minute.
    “I love a good story, do you?” Muia asked
    affably, sitting back in his chair.
    “Really, I have said I have no time for ¬–”
    “No, no, this story is very interesting, and is of
    paramount importance to our business
    tonight. Allow me to begin.
    “There was once a young man who was very
    good in school. He also had a deep love for
    all things spiritual, and determined to pursue
    a career in Theology. I imagine you can
    identify with such a young man.”
    Njenga sat, exasperated, and did not answer.
    “Well, I’m sure you can. Now, this young man
    works hard in school, attains top marks, and
    wins a scholarship to study in the United
    States! Bravo! He is to be congratulated, isn’t
    Muia chuckled to himself and continued;
    “Well, four weary years of toil and study pass,
    and our hero graduates with top honors.
    Valedictorian. Summa c-m laude. Honors and
    laurels galore. Well, surely this young man
    must go out and celebrate!”
    Njenga’s features hardened.
    “Influenced, no doubt, by his friends, the
    magnitude of the occasion and the almost
    monastic nature of the previous four years, he
    goes out to celebrate. Alcohol, a little
    marijuana, and lots of girls; good times, eh?
    For only one night, he promises himself, he’d
    indulge in the Dionysian pleasures he’d spent
    the past four years writing theses and papers
    He chuckled once more, this time at the
    dismayed and disbelieving expression on the
    Reverend’s face.
    “Well, personally, I don’t blame him. I mean,
    who better to warn you about the pit ahead
    than he who has fallen into it before you? And,
    after all, it was only that once. Our young hero
    gets into several er, highly compromising
    situations. But no worry – the next morning
    all is repented and forgiven; just another dirty
    little secret to be locked away in the recesses
    of his bosom, to be interred with him in his
    grave. He gives the valedictory. He comes
    back to our dear country.
    “But it’s not the same Kenya he left; no, it’s
    changed. Corruption, greed and anarchy
    everywhere! Vice trumps virtue at every turn!
    He sets his mind to fight valiantly against all
    this evil; from the pulpit, from newspaper
    articles, from every medium he can…speaking
    against rampant debauchery, corruption, sin.
    Perhaps trying to atone for that one night.”
    He reached down and put the briefcase on the
    desk, and with a click of the case’s locks Rev.
    Njenga’s heart broke.
    “Sound familiar, Reverend? For it is no one’s
    story but your own. How mistakes from our
    past return to haunt us!”
    Muia pulled out stacks of what proved to be
    dozens of glossy, blown-up photographs, and
    Njenga hid his face; he couldn’t bear to look
    at them.
    “Word of advice – if you’re going to go all out
    ‘just this once’, for God’s sake do it out of
    range of the cameras… and why’d you let your
    friend take pictures anyway? Wanted a
    memento of the guilty pleasures you gave up?
    He took one of the pictures and squinted at it,
    “You don’t seem quite yourself, no, you look
    positively…inebriated! I hope that’s a cigarette
    you’re holding…but I don’t think it is…have to
    hand it to you though, you have fine taste in
    women, she is positively stunning…”
    Almost against his will, Njenga found himself
    staring at them, unable to look away. Muia
    obligingly flipped through them for him to see,
    like a sick, twisted slide show – a panorama
    of the biggest mistake of his life; haunting
    him, following him over an ocean, half a
    continent and twenty-five years…picture after
    picture, each more sordid than the last…
    Njenga saw all of them, Muia lingering over
    the more graphic ones, savouring the horror
    and disgust on his face. He sat back with a
    sigh of satisfaction, and the smirk was back in
    place, looking like a man contemplating a job
    well done.
    “Seen enough?”
    Njenga was speechless, horrified beyond words
    and totally disoriented.
    “Now, you have built your reputation on a
    platform of godliness and purity, virtue and
    right. And, I’m sure, most if your life you’ve
    lived up to these values. Just one night and a
    camera should not undo the years of
    exemplary living and selfless service. You are
    a role model and a father figure to the nation
    as a whole. The people need you, now more
    than ever. These pictures will destroy the faith
    they have in you –”
    “No!” Reverend Njenga cut in abruptly, wide-
    eyed and stammering. Muia thought, with
    glee, that he looked rather like a drowning
    man clutching at straws… “That…was…a long
    time ago…my character has always been…
    “Yes,” Muia assented, “that will make your fall
    from grace all the more…ungracious.
    Reputation is a fragile thing, Reverend…it
    must remain always intact…it does not require
    a break to render it useless; it only takes a
    “No! No! No!” Njenga’s voice was breaking
    now; though defiance still burned in his eyes –
    his eyes were shining now, and burned more
    fiercely than ever, although now they were
    fuelled by sorrow, disbelief, and horror…
    “That – was – a – long time ago,” now he
    was pleading, looking for some sympathy,
    some understanding from Muia’s smirking
    face – but almost as if drawn to them by a
    magnet, his eyes kept falling to the dozens of
    pictures spread across his desk; the topmost
    one caught him, and his eyes were riveted to it
    momentarily –
    In it, he was sprawled across the lap of a
    woman whose face was cut off by the
    photograph, a lazy, bestial grin plastered on
    his face, his eyes screwed up in ecstasy, the
    whites showing, and only the slightest hint of
    a pupil below his drooping eyelids. He was
    clutching a hand-rolled cigarette, the smoke
    frozen forever in the moment like a sinuous
    column of blue-grey winding upwards into
    infinity…he stared into the face barely
    recognizable as his own, and right there and
    then, his heart broke, and the tears flowed
    freely down his cheeks.
    “I was young,” he sobbed. “I was foolish! I
    didn’t understand–”
    “I know, I know,” Muia crooned, as if pacifying
    a child who’d just stubbed his toe. “I know,
    that’s why they’ll never be seen by anyone but
    you and I. No-one else would understand. You
    know how people are…always ready to pounce
    on their leaders’ slightest mistake,
    notwithstanding their own…we are human too.
    And human is to err.
    This will remain between us. No-one need
    “God will protect me. He will never – never
    allow His servant–”
    “That’s why He put these pictures in my
    hands. To remind you of your past
    transgressions, and to give you a chance to
    atone for them. To give you a chance to do
    right by your country.”
    Njenga was crying now, the sobs racking his
    old, bony frame, the tears flowing down like
    twin rivers of hot, salty anguish…
    “Tell me – t – t – tell me what you want…”he
    sobbed. “anything…anything…just please,
    don’t…please don’t…”
    Muia sprang around the desk to comfort him,
    like a leopard leaping on its prey. “Shhh, don’t
    worry. I promise, I won’t tell a soul…this is all
    you need to do–”
    He stood up suddenly, and Njenga looked up
    in surprise. The tall, smiling, victorious
    politician over the broken, crying, subdued old
    man, looking up at him like a child to its
    “You will support my candidature in the
    Election. You will endorse me to be the next
    President of the Republic of Kenya.”
    He said it so confidently, with such conviction,
    with such authority, as if it was an edict from
    Heaven itself, and disobedience was
    impossible, inconceivable…
    Reverend Njenga couldn’t help observing this
    as he stared up at Glen Muia’s beaming face,
    the tears still streaming down his face.
    * * * *
    Twenty minutes later, Glen Muia was in his
    black Mercedes Kompressor, heading towards
    his Runda home. He thought back at the
    meeting, and smiled in satisfaction. He had
    destroyed his opponent, dismantled his
    defenses piece by piece and finally cornered
    and checkmated him…masterfully done. He
    always had known when to go for the jugular.
    The image of the fiery old man, broken and
    pleading brought a smile to his face. It made
    his triumph all the more satisfying.
    “I take it, Boss, that you were successful?” his
    Head of Security, sitting across from him,
    “Oh yes, invariably.” He replied, chuckling. “Oh
    yes. You see, Omondi, in the end, every man
    has his price, even the most resolute…the
    secret lies in finding it out, and matching it…”
    Outside the car it was pitch dark and it had
    begun to rain, so hard that the driver could
    hardly see, despite the car’s strong
    headlamps. He wondered why visibility was so
    low all of a sudden. He figured the rainclouds
    must’ve shut out the moonlight.
    He was right. Somewhere in the sky, a light
    had gone out.

    The End

    #941257 Reply
    • "Posts"19837
    • ☆☆☆☆☆

    Those politicians can do anything to get to the top shame on you Muia

    #941275 Reply
    • "Posts"14019
    • ☆☆☆☆☆

    Hmmm wish it were longer.

    #941491 Reply
    Scary Wonga
    • "Posts"52
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    the Reverend must have taken his own life

    #941609 Reply
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    da bomb

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    #942061 Reply
    damaris eze
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    #942423 Reply
    John Walter El Marshall
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    Price tag – Jesse J.

Viewing 8 posts - 1 through 8 (of 13 total)
Reply To: A man and his price by Alvin Kathembe

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