He told her his story in his own simple way for that’s what he was, a simple man, in the literal sense of the word. The neighbourhood children made fun of him, called him names, “retard,” “mongo,” “Mr. Slowboat.” It didn’t seem to bother him, maybe he was too simple even to understand the children’s insults or maybe he was just innocent enough to believe in the goodness of children.
He told her his story. Told her of his family and of the man who treated him so harshly, he forced him to leave his wife, his daughter. He told her bits and pieces of it over the years while he cleaned her yard in Minister’s Village. He rode their on his prized Hero bicycle twice a week and as he cleaned and she sat on her verandah usually with a book and pitcher of juice with two glasses, he remarked on how much she reminded him of his daughter. And in that way, she put the story together.
He had been the live-in help for a family that lived in Naguru for what must have been more than 10 years. He was there when the husband and wife he worked for had borne a baby girl and he had grown to love the family as if it were his own. His own little girl would often play with his boss’ little girl seeing as he lived in the slums close to his employer’s house. The two girls got on splendidly, always trying to teach the other what they learnt at their respective schools.
Then one day something horrible happened.
And that’s as far in the story as she was able to go. Whenever he mentioned the horrible thing, a shadow crept along his face obscuring the usually genial expression and leaving it hollow and wounded. In no time, the shadow would pass and he would be his usual affable self again. But that shadow always puzzled her and she often thought of the old man even when he wasn’t around, speaking to some of her friends and her husband about him. But they, believing him to be simple, never put much stock in her words and as such she was left to solve the mystery of the horrible thing on her own.
Weeks turned into months and the man and the girl’s relationship evolved into a friendship. He would finish working and sit with her as she read sometimes reading out loud to him and he listened even if he didn’t understand what she was saying. The silences they shared looking out onto her immaculate garden, made so by him, were amiable and they often finished the pitcher of juice between the two of them. She always walked him out of the gate and was genuinely sad to see him leave as he did. Occasionally, she gave him and his Hero bicycle a lift home if she thought it was too late. In this way, they passed the time.
One day, on one of those rides home, he pointed out the house where he worked, lived and loved for so long and every time she drove by it, he looked at it longingly and she could almost see the memories of happy days that came to him unbidden.
She thought about it for the longest time. Taking him back to that house. Thinking that seeing it for him would be cathartic, that seeing it would unlock that part in him that seemed starved for joy, that seeing the little girl all grown up would make him miss his own daughter just a little less.
She was wrong.
She turned into the gate of his old Master’s house on Naguru Drive with him in her passenger seat looking like his seat belt was more to make him stay in the seat, like he was confined in it, than to protect him. She was starting to think this was a mistake, but she was too far gone now to turn back.
The family wasn’t home, only the askari who had let her in thinking her a friend of the family’s and not paying any regard to him. She made her inquiries of the askari and started to leave when he jumped out of the car like a madman and started banging on the front door of the locked house, screaming the whole time. Screaming like the scream had been held inside him for thousands of years, like he was screaming for all his ancestors who never got to scream. Of course the noise attracted the attention of the boda riders who stage was close to the house.
It took 3 of them plus the askari to subdue him. He certainly didn’t look as strong as he obviously was but he put up a hell of a fight. Her soothing pleading and the repeated shouting of his name by a boda rider who knew him from way back when is probably the only thing that calmed him in the end.
Then the boda rider told her the real story, told her the horrible thing that he could never speak of or get past.
He was never the live-in help, he owned the house. It was his family that lived in the house until he came back home from work one day and was met with eerie silence. The girls were not playing in the pool, his wife was not outside watching them and Boy, the live-in help could not be found. After letting himself into the gate and parking the car, he let himself into the house saying out loud all their names. “Cathy… Liz… Jojo… Boy” and for each name only the silence did he hear back.
He found them out back. The four of them, arranged out on the lawn furniture like manicans meant to give shoppers a sense of proportion, laying there like they had just taken an afternoon nap and failed to wake up and hear him enter. As he walked toward them, his shoes squelched in the grass and he wondered why the sprinklers had gone off late, he needed to remember to check the timer. He sat down on the table in front of them and that’s how they found him.
Later, they figured Boy had done it. Boy must have snapped. Nothing else can explain it. Boy must have snapped.
He left that house and went to live in Boy’s muzigo, taking odd jobs here and there and eventually getting recommendations for his gardening.
Hearing the story brought them both to their knees. She reached out to try and comfort him. She touched his shoulder. His head was held in his hands looking at the ground. He looked up at her. The look was of utter, unashamed, unassailable, pure, withering hatred tinged with tears. She had never seen him like this and it scared her. She let her hand drop to her side but the look did not abate. It burned into her soul, it said “Fuck You Bitch, why couldn’t you just let things be?”
She sees that look everytime she looks out onto her garden.
He doesn’t tend it anymore.
*this is a work of fiction based on a dream I had.