By Sishuwa Sishuwa
They were clad in decent clothes. They spoke very well, in tongues I could readily understand. They were the kind of people that inspired trust. And trust them I did.
They followed me. They came to my compound, a slum. Just like my fellow community members, I lived in a shack made of cardboard and worn metallic sheets.
I had a wife and four kids, the only evidence of my creativity. It was a single roomed shack partitioned in the middle by a filthy piece of well-worn cloth, not the kind of environment to raise kids under.
I had no electricity. I had no running water. Being unemployed, you wouldn’t want to know just how I was managing to fend for my family. It is a horror story, my shameful secret.
They followed me because I had value. They knew it was me with the power. They were looking for employment and knowing that their dream would not come true without me, they came to persuade me. They were very good at it, those people.
They told me that they would change my life. They said that they would put me and my family in good housing. They said that they would help me educate my kids and safeguard my health. They said that they would create millions of jobs and that one of them would be mine. I was enthused.
Then they talked about water. Just like I had known all my life, though I had none, they said that water was life. They said that it was unacceptable for me to live the way I was. I agreed with them.
When they looked at my kids, they noted that they were malnourished and stunted. This, they promised to change. It was the deplorable conditions under which I lived to blame, they said. Then they explained that it was the leaders of my community, the leaders that I had earlier put in place that had created these deplorable and inimical conditions.
It was then that they showed me pictures of just how the leaders to blame looked and lived. Whereas I was suffering from adult malnutrition, my leaders were bloated with fat. Then I saw their cars. One of their cars could have financed my life for decades, I surmised. When I saw their palatial houses, anger began to well up in me.
Then they said that what I had seen contrasted with my life was the very picture of corruption. They explained that it was this corruption that was the cause of my sorry existence. I nodded. Then they asked me if I wanted my life to change for the better. I vigorously nodded. Then they asked me if I was ready to get rid of this corruption which was robbing me of my life and that of my family. I told them I wanted to do it there and then. To me, that was urgent. Wait, time would soon come for your action, they assured me.
All you must do is mark here. They showed me a piece of paper with someone’s photo, a symbol I did not recognise and an empty box at its end. They said on a day coming soon, I should just mark where they had shown me, and corruption would be over. I felt good.
They said that with just that one decision of mine, my life would be transformed for the better. They said that my poverty would then become history.
Later, someone told me that the piece of paper that they had shown me was a ballot paper. This person said that what they were asking me to do was vote for them. They had come to ask me for my vote. Oh, that is easy, I thought to myself.
That is how they convinced me to vote out the allegedly corrupt leaders of the day and vote them into leadership instead.
On the appointed day, eager to have my life changed, I woke very early, and I cast my vote for them. That is how I put them in power.
Time passed. Then more time passed but things stayed the same. They even got worse in some cases. I lost one of my kids to diarrhoea.
Then one day, I suddenly opened a door that was ajar, slightly open. I do not know why I did that, I just did it. I must have heard some cries of pain coming from there. I now remember. That is what made me open that door. It was instinctive. Shrill cries of anguish were issuing from there.
When I walked into the room, I found them all there, their backs turned away from me, huddled over a table, fussing over something.
At the sound of my footfalls, they all turned their heads and faced me. We all froze.
What I saw then I had never seen before. It was a sight of utter horror. They had blood on their lips. They looked frenzied, as if possessed with demons. Their eyes were red, as if aflame with some sick passion. They did not look human.
At the table lay a child, his belly slit open, his bowels all over his body, fresh blood flowing from it. It was apparent to me there and then that I had stumbled upon a devilish feast, a feast I was not supposed to witness. One of them had the still throbbing dead boy’s heart in his hands, ready to sink his avaricious teeth into it.
Noting that I had found them out, they eventually looked sheepish. It dawned on them that I now knew who they really were. This paralysed them. They just stood there as if pillars of stone. Then something strange suddenly happened. Their robes fell off their bodies. What was revealed frightened me to my bones.
They were wolves. Then they began to howl. That is when I went for the door.
It was then that I woke up.
It was the rain falling through my shack’s roof that was dripping on my reed mat as I slept that I first noticed. My threadbare bedclothes were quickly becoming wet.
Then quickly, I woke up my wife and kids. We then got pots and placed them beneath the leaks in what was our shack’s roof. It was not yet dawn. We did not sleep that night.
As we huddled together for comfort that rainy night it was then that I realised just how poor I really was. I cried. No one noticed that I was crying. They concluded that it was merely rainwater on my face. It hurt me so bad that I could live the way I was and yet others lived better, at that time soundly asleep.
Ba sakalanyongo. It was a record playing at some late night bar in the neighbourhood. That eerie sound wafted into me like a balm. I wondered just whether my wife and remaining kids were also able to hear it. It was both an incriminating and enlightening sound.
Nothing had changed. I was still the poor man I had been all my life. My life was actually falling apart.
Ever since that day, I have never slept again.
I am now awake.