When the landlord knocked harder on the door, black soot strings fell on me and my wife huddling beside the wooden bed. He got tired, after getting zero response, and soon I heard his receding slippers clap clapping away. Then I tapped my still-fearful wife on the shoulder. She turned. She still had these cute dimples which had got me interested in her. Throwing my fingers in the air, I stood up. My T-shirt had shrunk in size, exposing my tummy.
“Darling, one day I will build a storey.”
My wife looked at me ridiculously. Looked at my feeble eyes, as if questioning their seeing of ‘one day’; at my feeble muscles. She walked a few steps to the small room’s corner, picked an old broom and began sweeping off the soot. I felt like hitting her; she was too ignorant. Stopping her cleaning, she looked at me again.
“Stop being over-ambitious,” she said, her eyes still fixed on me. I thought: my two school-going children will one day require cash to advance with their education.
“No. You go wrong. God gave me fingers, and I have to make use of them.”
“Your job at the company doesn’t pay much.”
I hated it when one reminded me of what I already knew. What I would sacrifice for even my mother to get away from. Yes, I knew I earned not much, despite operating the deadliest machine at the company. You see, this machine can simply chop your fingers if you are absent-minded on duty. Or it can even kill you. I always find myself sweating while at work, such that when I get at home I just wash and go to bed. And I barely touch my wife. Furthermore, our two kids are already enough.
Yes, I always have to wake up every day in the morning to go to work. I usually pass through Mathare North, and I barely stay with my phone for thugs rob me on my way to work. Yes, I know the Babadogo path going down to my company is always dusty. I doubt I will never cease sneezing like a Caterpillar tractor while on job. And my Muhindi boss simply doesn’t seem to understand all this!
And yes, it started raining and water filtered in. My wife was about to pick a duster when I called her back. The iron sheets were almost rotting, and the pungent Mathare stink was creeping straight into my nose. I peeped through the small holes on the mabati shelter and saw a kid struggling to shit in a flowing sewage. I wrinkled my face and my wife didn’t understand why. Bad smells were part of our Mathare slum.
I stretched my fingers before me, like a teacher about to cane them.
“These fingers, I have a feeling they will make me rich sooner or later. Then we will build a big house and educate our kids past Cambridge.”
My wife laughed madly, clapped her palms.
“My dreamer husband, may God fulfill your wishes. But be careful not to provoke him.”
“You think my fifty-ish fingers are too crumbled to do that? Wait and see.”
“Besides, don’t you feel bad when the landlord has to disturb our peace every month-end?”
“He comes to get his cash.”
“Then one day I won’t give him a coin; because I will be living in my own house.”
I folded my torn jeans trousers knee-length and walked out of the house.
That night, I dreamt being in a big house. Next, I was a fat landlord, furiously knocking on a tenant’s house. Next, I was supervising the construction of my new building, hands delved into my pockets, ordering the builders around.
Next, I caressed my sleeping wife’s shoulders, and left. Next, I was on my way to work. I crossed Outering Road, made a sign of the cross. I snapped my fingers, just to break the morning loneliness. Kariadudu looked like a den of thieves; hideous images shaped like thieves holding machetes. The same God I had thanked saw me through the seemingly dark Kariadudu. Getting to Babadogo Catholic Church, I went around until I was walking on a small path leading to the industries. I almost felt like closing my ears; the hooting from matatus wriggling from sleep was just too much to bear. The motorbikes were also passing by; and I wondered whether the drivers actually sleep.
The usual dust attacked me. I sneezed as usual. While knocking at the gate, the gateman hastily opened for me. Huge trucks were packed beside the tap, as young men struggled to clean thin pipes. Hands delved into my pockets deep such that my shoulders stood on end like a skeleton’s, I gasped and stopped. I had been about to bump into my Muhindi boss.
“Boss, pole. I hadn’t seen you,” I apologized to him. He had this strong build and very black hair. I noticed a thin liquid flowing easily down on his nostrils; and I knew he won’t be able to talk audibly. He fished a handkerchief from his corduroy trousers’ pocket, wiped the snot and ordered; “Kazi haraka!” He walked away. And I knew there was some deadline he needed his workers to beat. Perhaps that’s why the gateman had opened so quickly for me.
That day my dream came true. As the machine’s teeth chewed my fore-finger’s upper knuckle, I at first couldn’t realize the coming of God. I screamed so hard everybody came. Even those colleagues whose mouths were full of chapatti madodo lunch. Pain stung my entire body like a hundred needles. I smelt of death, of clotting blood. My boss soon came, half-walking half-running. I saw fear in his eyes, like an Indian actor’s.
He ordered an ambulance and I was quickly taken to Uhai Nehema Hospital. I recovered and made a quiet sign of the cross. Who would believe I would end up being treated in such a high-profile facility?
God came fully the following week. I was still on medical leave when my boss entered in my house. I was glad my wife wasn’t around; she would have scolded him for ‘being out of place.’ For failing to kick his shoes out. I dragged a stool for him from behind the old, wooden table. His huge body swallowed the stool, and he removed his stripped cardigan and placed it on his lap. The afternoon sun was blaring, finding its way into the house.
“Jonte, we have been experiencing huge losses since you went on leave.”
I wanted to laugh and tell him to go to hell. I thought I was of no use to the company. But I kept quiet.
“Nobody can operate the machine as well as you do. Your fingers are simply miraculous,” he explained and gazed at me. I felt as if I was naked and he was seeing through me.
Then he told me that the company’s insurance and he himself had settled my hospital bill. I just eyed him; no ‘thank you, sir’. His company was responsible of my health, especially if an accident happened.
He swallowed a dry lump. His Adam’s apple went up and down. I remembered that was exactly how I had behaved when proposing to my wife.
“I want to compensate your injury.”
Yes, so that you may resume work.”
He saw my shock and took a deep breath. I didn’t hate myself; my blood was too precious to go uncompensated. But I knew even if I won a case in court, the company would pay me good money and then sack me. You can’t live on a million your entire life.
“I don’t understand.”
“Well, I will pay you two million. And you won’t even think about going to court.”
“Okay,” my voice was calm. But somebody in me wanted to jump up and down, and ask whether two million really had six zeros.
“Resume work on Monday. You will have all this weekend to rest.”
“Thank you, boss.”
I saw him off.
A month later I told my wife that Jack, our youngest child, will be joining The Search Education Center. Her hand went straight to her mouth; like she had just found a bearded man fucking a school girl.
“Where will you get cash to see Jack through Search?”
I just laughed her shock off. Entering into the house, I emerged with Jack, fully decked in The Search’s white shirt and green shorts.
“Did you rob a bank, my husband?”
“No. It’s my fingers’ work.”
“Let me see them again.”
I stretched them out, the half index finger looked odd. I fisted them and punched in the air.
“Power. The other four and the remaining index’s stub combined can build a world.”
My wife nodded.
“Jack will go to school in The Search for this year. I will think of transferring him to a boarding school in January. He will be in class six and big enough.”
“You know Tracy won’t like that.”
“Eeeeh. She will join her brother next year. You can’t climb a mountain in a day, my dear.”
In five years I will have moved from here. My children would be in high school. Every year, I would be cutting a part of one of my fingers and get paid for it. I will have to be wise lest my boss should get suspicious. Besides, he himself can’t handle the machine. Besides, I’m human. The best thing with the machine is that it completely cuts off only your finger’s part, sparing you of much pain. And then the company foots your hospital bill and thereafter compensates you with millions of cash. I bet the thumb will earn much cash for me. And I will start with the left hand. By the time all my fingers are gone; I will be filthy rich and retired, maybe. Ready to die with grandchildren.
My wife will then trust fingers of men.
About the Author
Peter Ngila is a Kenyan bibliophile, reader, lover of humanity and aspiring writer. He graduated from Mount Kenya University in August, 2015, where he was studying journalism. He is currently a correspondent with The Star, a Kenyan daily. He has participated in Writivism literary workshops and mentorship process (2014 and 2015 in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, respectively); and attended the 2015 Writivism Festival in Kampala. His fiction has appeared on Jalada Africa, HisiaZangu, Muwado, Amka Space Literature Forum, and Daily News – a Tanzanian newspaper. Ngila has finished writing a short story anthology manuscript, and is currently editing his novella.