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A Lion in America 1
By Robert Mwangi
CreateSpace Independent Publishing PlatformCopyright © 2012 Robert Mwangi
All right reserved.
Chapter OneUnder the cover cast by the foliage of vegetation, a figure stirs. The labyrinth of stems and branches act as a perfect disguise, the gaps between the trees a perfect eye view. The figure's movements are fast and it is hard to distinguish whether it's a man or creature. The afternoon African sun blitzes the scenery ahead: a village, a soccer field, children playing, old men smoking pipes, women with kids on their backs. The figure crouches restlessly and waits; red eyes dart in different directions.
A small boy runs into the bushes after a soccer ball. A twig snaps and the boy freezes, half bent holding the ball. The boy gazes into the trees and just for a brief moment holds his gaze onto the spot where the noise had originated. The boy's heart drums against his chest and he feels as though someone has touched the nape of his neck with an icy hand. He knows that he isn't alone. He turns around and dashes back towards the village, not daring to look back.
* * *
It was a beautiful Saturday morning on the highlands of Mt. Kenya as two teenage boys tenaciously cut down the homegrown Napier grass to feed their family's cows. They were in a hurry too for they had to finish the chaos, then run home, clean up and change clothes for they were about to meet their father for the first time ever.
"I can't wait to see Dad. I wonder how he looks like?" James said to his brother. At the age of fourteen, he was the voice of innocence.
Isaac, a year older gave his brother a sharp look. "I don't care. Where has he been all these years? Why did he leave us in the first place?" He hacked his machete mercilessly into the grass's stem, aiming lower than the required height.
"I'm sure there is an explanation." James shrugged his shoulders. "I just hope that he likes us."
"I don't care," Isaac mumbled again.
A goat suddenly wandered into the neighbor's garden and a very old woman came chasing after it with a raised machete. The goat bit into a fresh spinach leaf then doubled back away from the garden and both boys laughed.
A few hours later and looking fresh and neat, the two boys sat outside their house and waited for the father they had never known. Isaac was dressed in a nice pair of white cotton pants and a blue sweater. The clothes made him look older and despite his anger, he wanted his dad to see how grown he was. James' thoughts were elsewhere thinking about soccer and how perfect the weather was for the game. The African sun shone like a lens and to James sometimes it felt like there were two suns in Africa.
A young girl walked by the boys' house and Isaac greeted her. "Hi Janny, a beautiful day it is right?"
"A beautiful day indeed Isaac," Janny replied. She looked beautiful and her chocolate skin embellished her features.
"James says hi," Isaac suddenly said, trying to tease his smaller brother.
"I did not-" James, embarrassed was beginning to say when he caught Janny's penetrating gaze and her lush lips. "Halo Janny."
"You look good James."
James lowered his eyes. "Thank you."
Janny sauntered away.
"I know you like her," Isaac teased.
"No I don't."
James grabbed his soccer ball made from plastic bags wrapped in sisal and kicked it against the mud wall. He loved playing soccer and his skills were spontaneous.
"Don't dirty your clothes children," Mum's voice rang from inside the house. She was wearing a shuka ... a cloth around her waist to protect her dress from spills. She spent most of her days in the garden or doing chores and had no time for beauty except on Sundays when going to church.
But on this defining day, underneath the shuka was a nice white dress that made her look beautiful. Her man was finally coming home and she had waited for this day for eons, or so it felt. She hummed around the house, giggled, laughed, and smiled at past memories. It had been a long time since anybody had called her by her name, Wangechi. The kids called her mum and the neighbors called her 'Isaac's mum'.
A speck moved in the distance as a shadow obscured the morning light in the horizon and Isaac jumped up in excitement, someone was approaching. The boys craned their necks anxiously; this was it, the moment of truth. Hot morning air sucked into their lungs ... once ... and the boys' didn't realize it, but they were holding their breath. The shadow moved closer and the outline of a man came into view, vague at first and then ... the straight walk and the macho shoulders. James took a few steps forward trying to get a better look at the man's blurred face.
"Dad. Is that you?" Isaac yelled as both boys threw caution to the wind and started running towards the approaching figure, competing against each other.
"Da ... ad," James shouted as he trailed his big brother. The wind flapped onto their faces and dust particles blinded their vision. They had waited for this day for too long.
Slowly, the man's features became distinct as the boys got closer and then finally, the face. The boys stopped dead on their tracks and stared in disbelief, mouths agape.
"It's only Mr. Kobe," James said with a fallen face. An old man waved a cane at the kids and then took a detour to his house. It was a false alarm. Isaac and James stood rooted, paralyzed by disappointment, lost in the sadness of the moment. James looked at Isaac's face and was taken aback by the funereal expression; his brother's face was pale. They had both been anxious to meet their Dad but more so Isaac, despite his denial.
Through the kitchen window, Mum watched with a sinking feeling as her two boys gloomily trudged back to the house. The family owned two cows, three sheep and ten chickens. James walked over to the fence separating the cows from the house and the leading cow Jetta trotted over for a treat.
"Halo Jetta, how are you doing?" James caressed the cow's neck. "Do you think Dad is coming today?" Jetta snorted while her partner mooed in the distance. James looked into the cow's eyes. "I will always be here for you Jetta, I will never disappoint you." He had known Jetta all his life.
Meanwhile, an exasperated Isaac paced back and forth staring into the horizon at the long empty road ... wanting to ... hoping for. But there was nothing out there.
"Lunch is ready," Mum called a little later.
The small family ate in silence. James turned and saw his brother chewing on his food with a distant look in his eyes. Isaac was a born leader and his character portrayed it. He could be found sitting under a tree narrating a story to a group of boys who followed his every word as if in a trance. He was intelligent and informed and all the boys including James looked up to him.
James fidgeted and played with his food. He was of a dark chocolate complexion and his hair was dark and short. James didn't care much about his looks and the few glances he got from the girls in his school were enough to let him know that he was good looking. He was a shy talker amongst groups but tenacious on a one on one conversation. The best part about his body was the scars all over his legs from playing soccer. Every scar had a story; every scar was like a trophy.
"I want you guys to change into your playing clothes. I don't think your Dad is coming. I'm sorry," Mum made the solemn announcement as she pulled a kettle from the fire. Every homestead cooked with live firewood: three large rocks placed strategically to hold a cooking pot or pan in place while the firewood was neatly tucked underneath. There was no electricity or running water in the village and the fourteen-inch black and white TV in the hall ran on an old car battery whose origin was still a mystery.
James looked at his Mum again and saw the ache on her face. Was she feeling sorry for the boys or hurting for her husband? 'I found the note under the door,' James remembered her words.
James didn't need any further invitation. He ran to his bedroom, changed into an old Manchester United jersey and grabbed a soccer ball. But as he was walking out the door, he heard his brother's voice, desperate and pleading, "why are you giving up on Dad?"
"I'm not giving up on him Isaac. I just don't want to see you children sitting idle on such a beautiful day," Mum replied. It was the way she said it that made James lean against the wall and listen through the open kitchen door. Her voice sounded uncertain and tired.
She had made the decision purely out of instinct. She felt it in her every fiber and knew it deep within her; her husband wasn't coming home.
"I don't mind waiting." Isaac shouted back.
"Don't raise your voice at me."
"I'm not raising my voice at you. I'm just asking why you are giving up on dad. He said that he would come today. It's still early; maybe he's still coming. Maybe he is just delayed." The sound of sniffing in the air, Isaac was crying.
"Please sit down Isaac." Mum's softened voice.
A long period of silence elapsed and James waited. It wasn't in his habit to snoop around but then again, the angry and emotional voices had paralyzed him.
"Let me tell you something about your father Isaac." Mum cleared her throat. "He was a very nice man; honest, smart, ambitious, caring and loving. And when he said that he was going to do something, he always did. His word was his bond." A cow mooed nearby and James jumped with a start.
"When your dad left for the city, he told me that he was going to find a better life for his family. I believed his words and so I waited for him. Days turned into weeks and months into years and still he didn't return. I struggled to raise you children by myself clinging onto the hope that he would one day show up as he had promised, but he never did." Mum spoke in deep Gikuyu native language and James struggled to catch every word. She always did that when emotions jolted her. James and his brother had been brought up speaking Gikuyu slang, a mixture of Gikuyu and Swahili; a language corrupted by modern society.
Mum sighed. "I don't want you kids to be like me. I don't want you wasting time thinking and hoping for something that might never be. I don't want you guys to settle for less like I did. I want you to steer away from mediocrity and be better persons with every passing moment of your lives. Do you hear me Isaac?"
"Yes mum, I hear you." Isaac's toned down voice.
James wiped the tears on his face. He felt sorry for his Mum having struggled by herself. He turned around and ran towards the village hall where he found his best friend Peter watching basketball on the village's black and white fourteen inch TV.
"Who's playing?" he asked as he sat next to his friend.
"Chicago bulls," Peter whispered. "Michael Jordan is fantastic. I hope to be like him one day."
Peter had a solemn look on his face and James knew that he wasn't joking. The only disadvantage was that nobody played basketball in the village and the artificial ball didn't bounce on the ground. Peter loved watching basketball. He constantly talked about moves and game strategy. He had a passion for the game and the zeal of a demagogue. The age mates sat next to each other and watched Michael Jordan as he led the Chicago Bulls to victory. Playing soccer would have to wait for later.
"I don't understand," James said after the game was over. "Why don't you watch these new super stars like Kobe Bryant."
"I do," Peter responded. "I watch Kobe, but I study Jordan. He's a legend." The two could have been twins only that Peter's skin was a shade lighter.
Suddenly the door burst open and Isaac stomped in. He had two machetes in his hand. "Let's go hunting," he bellowed.
It wasn't a request and James could see that his brother was vexed
"Shouldn't we get the dog?" James asked.
"There's no time for that," Isaac snarled back.
It had been customary for the boys to take their dog Simba into the forest with them. It was more fun this way and the dog sniffed out all kinds of prey and predators. They had named the dog Simba, a Swahili name for a lion, due to his masculine features, a German shepherd dog that was a rare breed to find in rural African land.
James sighed as he and Peter followed Isaac. It was vivid that the older brother was in no mood for conversation. Soon houses turned into open grassland, and grassland into brushes. The boys pushed on and entered into the forest. Here the birds chirped and flitted from tree to tree. The sweet smell of bush berries and flowers tickled their noses. Streaks of light glittered sparsely through the treetops and squirrels scampered up the trees as the boys approached. James peered at his brother's face and didn't like what he saw. All too vivid was a raging anger at the world, at his Dad, at himself. James could only speculate for he dared not ask questions. With boggled minds, the boys subconsciously trudged deeper into the dangerous forest. The wind moaned between the trees, the labyrinth of vegetation thickened, the sound of the river deafened, sunlight dimmed ... and then came the fog.
The creature in the forest stirred.
Excerpted from A Lion in America 1 by Robert Mwangi Copyright © 2012 by Robert Mwangi . Excerpted by permission of CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Once in a while, a book so fresh and unique in perspective appears. What this book did to me hasn't happened in a long time. I enjoyed turning the pages and venturing through a world I knew little about. I would recommend this book to anybody for its a good family read that will take you away from the everyday book.