I held the rails on the third floor balcony and strained my eyes towards the valley a little on the left to see if a flare, or the bright of a flame, would light up the hazy mist hanging over the valley. Kevin stood on my left.

“The police must have arrived. You hear the sirens?”

We all strained to expecting some flashing lights to announce their arrival. An orange glow persisted above the misty haze.

“No, that can’t be a fire. It’s the flood lights.”

“Yeah, they’re floodlights,” we all agreed.

“They’re not flashing.”

“Yeah, they’re not flashing. They can’t be fires … must be the flood lights.”

There were a couple rat-a-tats in quick succession from the left edge of the valley. Two or three reverberated from Juja Road, on the opposite side.

“Dude, that must be the Mungiki.”

“You mean the ones to the left?”

A few more distant shots.

“Do you think it will spill out of the valley?”

“Maybe.” A pause. “I really don’t know … actually maybe. But wait … it doesn’t sound that bad.”

We stared into the valley, expecting it to answer us back. Wails, distant and feeble, then – still distant, but – more certain.

“Something’s going on. What’ll we do if it spills over into Pangani?”

“I think we’ll have time to leave the house and get away.”

“Yeah, there’s many houses before they reach our block.”

“There’s also a wall. The one they built two years ago to keep the thieves away.”

“But dude, you know the road passes right behind our compound?!”

“Aw, goodness me!”

The orange glow persisted above the valley. As I sighed “goodness me!” I turned and this girl was clung tightly on Dedan’s arm. Dedan had another girlfriend??!! Still, I felt lonely, a little scared perhaps. But certainly wishing the girl was clinging to my arm instead.

The distant shots again. Another, louder, where Juja Road met the street our gate stood on. Three bangs no more than a hundred meters from our gate! We all scurried down the stairs and in one fell swoop the two girls, Kevin, Dedan and I found ourselves in our tiny bachelor’s pad. Two chapattis were still rolled in a clear polyethene bag, left-over ugali on a plate, and the beef sufuria balanced on giant tweezers on the table. We excused the mess. I offered my name to the two girls and was surprised Dedan offered his too. Kevin had meanwhile dashed to his house to latch it but was back in a moment. With Joanna, the next-door neighbor. Joanna stood at the door.

“Please come in.”

“Goodness … you think it’s going to grow worse?”

In the house I offered Mani and Nunu dinner. Nunu stared at Mani. I stared at Mani.

“Er … I’ve already eaten.”

“I don’t think so … really? It’s fine … it will be okay … will you?”

“Uhm … not really.”

“Tea then?” Unrelenting.

“Okay, tea.”

“But you’re taking dinner … right?” I said turning to Nunu.

“Tea too.”

I stared disapprovingly. Play-acting … or rather, desperately persuading. To overcome Nunu and Mani’s fear, society’s fear, our fear, my fear. As much as we boast of our collective welcoming spirit, a surprising majority of us never dares eat in strangers’ homes. Perhaps I saw myself in them as I pleaded. I was grateful that they agreed to eat.

Dedan had since gathered the courage to walk up to the gate and stare down the whole length of the street and confirmed that there was no one on the 10 o’clock street. He ominously announced that it would be a long night as he walked in with Kevin. (When Kevin – and Joanna -eventually got the courage to leave, Dedan explained that Kevin had been too scared to walk up to the gate with him).

“Dudes, what if Luos overrun this compound? We’ll be finished!”

Joanna told Kevin never say that!

“But it’s true … we’ll be done!” It sounded exuberant, but what it lacked in pathos, it made for in sting. Dedan and I would not be overrun.

Mani and Nunu wished they’d traveled to Kiambu that day. They’d now be safe.

I said it would be fine. I said it as much to Mani, Nunu, Kevin and Joanna as I did to myself. Perhaps more so to them, as they seemed more scared than I was. You see, I’ve never quite seen danger make a beeline towards me and that makes me believe I’ll always be fine. Dedan seemed to feel the same way.

“Dude, it could be the Mungiki …” I found myself saying. Kevin interrupted the silent stares that answered better than would have been said … “Let’s watch TV.”

“We guys have DSTv and GTv … have a favorite?” Dedan asked. Nunu and Mani said anything would be fine. I thought they felt cold but couldn’t say, so went to the other room and grabbed two blankets for them. Kevin had grabbed the living room linen, and, sitting next to the door, occasionally pulled the door to stare the way of his house to make sure no one had by chance got into it. Joanna, Dedan and I watched TV.

It was sleep, however, that eventually overcame everyone’s scares. At 3 a.m. Kevin felt safe enough to leave at the urging of Joanna, who, though afraid, wanted to go to bed but was too afraid to leave alone. By 4 a.m. it was Nunu and Mani who said they thought they would be fine. But they made us promise to grab them in case anything came up. We’d also made Eleven, the Eritrean, promise to drive us away in his car if anything came up.

When we finally had the house to ourselves, I poked fun at Dedan for being so good with the ladies. He laughed. But we both reflected similarly. It’s Dedan who said first. Afraid that Luo mobs may overrun our compound, our Kikuyu and Meru neighbors had come to seek safety in our house. But we’d also needed them. We both knew we’d have hidden in the second room and asked Kevin to answer for us if perchance the Mungiki came knocking. My friend hypothesizes that perhaps some primordial sense of insecurity in each of our tribes crescendos into irrational orgies of violence such as may have been happening in Mathare that night. True, it makes sense. But that primordial fear also drove us to seek refuge in our differences. We all want to live.

‘Sikate Tamaa ni jina la diwani ya kwanza ya mashairi ya Said Ahmed Mohammed. Niligundua diwani hii siku moja maktabani nilipokuwa kidato cha tatu. Kilichonivutia kwanza ilikuwa ni muundo wa mashairi ya diwani hii – mengi yalikuwa mafupi na, tofauti na nilivyozoea, ni machache tu yaliyokuwa tarbia. Nilianza kusoma shairi la kwanza huku nikijitayarisha kukumbana na misamiati.

Shairi lenyewe lilitirirka – maneno pia na mawazo. Hili lilikuwa shairi lililopendeza kusoma, lenye maudhui dhabiti na lenye lugha isiyoficha maana. Halikuvunja urari wa vina au kanuni zingine zilizotawala ushairi – idadi ya vina katika kila mshororo. Hii ilikuwa ndio sanaa iliyokamilika.

Ilikuwa ndio mara yangu ya kwanza kupata shairi la kiswahili lililopendeza hivi. Baada ya kusoma mashairi mawili au matatu yaliyofuatia nilijua kwamba lazima ningenua kitabu hiki. Malenga huu alipata mfuasi.

Shairi hilo la kwanza, ‘Sikate Tamaa, limenipa moyo mara nyingi pale nilipokaribia kufa tamaa.

Umeanguka, inuka, simama kama mnazi
Umechunika, inuka, tia dawa kwa ujuzi
Sasa inuka, inuka, kijana ianze kazi
Sikate tamaa

Usife tamma, nyanyuka, ni muweza wa kutenda
Kuna hadaa, nyanyuka, anza tena kujipinda
Dunia baa, nyanyuka, anza tena kujiunda
Sikate tamaa

Sivunjwe moyo, dunia, hivyo itakunyanyasa
Futa kiliyo, dunia, hiyo idhibiti sasa
Ipe kamiyo, dunia, kamwe, siache kufusa
Sikate tamaa

Una nguvu, simama, wewe upambane nao
Una werevu, simama, uzepuke njama zao
Usiche kovu, simama, ujifunze vumilio
Sikate tamaa

Shairi hili ni aina ya tarbia lakini si tarbia ya kawaida. Ingawa kila ubeti una mishororo minne, tunapata kwamba kila mshororo umegawa kwa vipande vitatu badala ya kawaida ya vipande viwili. Vipande vyenyewe bado vinadhihirisha urari wa vina na kipande cha kati kinarudiwa kwa kila ubeti. Kurudia huku kunachangia utamu/ladha ya shairi kwani kuna usawa fulani. Pia kurudia huku kunahimiza ujumbe wa shairi hili.

Ushairi wa Said Ahmed Mohamed umenielimisha na kunisisimua tangu niliposoma diwani yake ‘Sikate Tamaa nikiwa shule ya upili. Nilipozidi kutafiti nilipata kwamba mashairi yake yametumika katika mitihani ya kitaifa ya Fasihi mara si haba. Nilipofanya mtihani wangu 2001, tulitahiniwa “Nimeona”, shairi linalotoka kwa diwani hii.

Sina uhakika kuhusu kipindi cha ‘copyright’ cha mashairi haya lakini nitachukua kwamba ni sawa kutumia shairi hili kuelimisha. Hapa basi, ni shairi “Si Dunia ya Kulala” kutoka kwa diwani hii.

Umelala, bado umelala, huamki kwani?
Una dhila, bado una dhila, zitatoka lini?
Pa kulala, bado pa kulala, hujapabaini
Na chakula, hata na chakula, pia wakuhini
Si dunia ya kulala.

Naujuwe, wewe naujuwe, ndiwe mdhamini
Kama siwe, wewe kama siwe, ni dhiki baini
Jipekuwe, wewe jipekuwe, muhimu yakini
Uyajuwe, wewe uyajuwe, utoke gizani
Si dunia ya kulala

In the course of reading Oyin Ogunba’s “The Movement of Transition”, I came across a case of Achebe making fun of Soyinka. It strikes me as odd that I have not come across more incidences of these two Titans of African literature interacting (writing about each other, citing each other, fighting – anything). They are, after all, from the same country and period. Then again, I haven’t read nearly all their works and, given the passage below, I have probably missed the incidences I have come across.

We were met outside the exhibition hall by the president of the writer’s society, a fellow I used to know fairly well at the University. In those days before he became a writer he had seemed reasonably normal to me. But apparently since he published his novel ‘The Song of the Black Bird’ he had become quite different. I read an interview he gave to a popular magazine in which it came out that he had become so non-conformist that he now designed his own clothes. Judging from his appearance I should also say that he tailored them. He had on a white and blue squarish gown, with a round neck and no buttons, over brown, striped, baggy trousers made from the kind of light linen material we sometimes called ‘obey the wind’. He also had a long untidy beard.

This is satirizing Soyinka’s designs of the Mbari shirt.