The Malingerer

Author’s Note: This is an excerpt from a book proposal I am putting together. This was so funny and so sad that I had to share. Please note that this is just a summary of a chapter, which is why it lacks color and detailed description. Let me know your thoughts. Thanks!

After my bad report card, Tata, my father, tells my teachers to increase their punishment of me. “If my son fails, I will blame you.” My teachers have no problem carrying out those orders. They too are violent. All they need to do is apply a thicker switch on me. My constant fear of pain and punishment has an effect extremely opposite of what my father intends. It distracts me from my schoolwork so much that I began to do even worse.

In 1985, Baba, my great-grandmother, the only person who would occasionally save me from my father’s wrath, dies and leaves me defenseless. I begin to pray for my father’s disappearance. I don’t want him to die; I just want him to walk away and never return. The children in my circle of friends who don’t have fathers don’t suffer as much as I do.

Perhaps because I don’t say my prayers aloud, God refuses to heed them. I think about dying and going to Heaven, but I’m not so sure I’d make it there, considering that I failed the Seventh Day Adventist baptism class. And I love life. I don’t know why, but I love to live. Maybe it’s the hope that one day things will get better. I’m determined to overcome my miseries. I decide to come up with an ingenious plan to reduce my agony.

I’m going to become one of those sickly kids, whose parents sometimes scream thinking their child has died. I complain frequently about a pain in my stomach. The ailment attacks mostly at night when Tata comes home, and conveniently vanishes when he’s gone. The trick works stupendously, though it doesn’t stop him from heaping books on me.

“It’s your stomach, not your brain that hurts.”

But he doesn’t hit me as hard when I’m sick.

My mother takes me to various hospitals, but I’m determined to stump even the best doctor in Kenya. They poke me with needles, and give me syrups and pills, all to no avail. Fearing that her son is going to die, my mother begins to send me to Makori, her mother. Makori dries leaves of certain medicinal herbs, burns them and makes me a drink from the ashes. She digs up roots and makes concoctions so bitter, the make my head spin. But that’s more bearable than my father’s whip. Conveniently, my pain goes away while I’m under my grandmother’s care. Soon, my father suspects that I have not been consistent when pointing to the side of my stomach that hurts. I decide to come up with a new fool-proof plan.

The Gusii people of the highlands of southwestern Kenya believe that some of their kinfolk practice witchcraft. Motivated by envy, a witch can pick up a piece of your hair or clothing and do evil things with it to make you sick, and even kill you without ever touching you. My plan is to stage a witchery attempt on my life to make Tata so afraid of losing me that hitting me would be unimaginable.

I take a pair of my underwear, fold it carefully and bury it in my aunt’s garden, knowing that she’d find it when tending to her crops. She does. My aunt lets out a cry usually reserved for funerals.


Mama and I dash outside. My aunt stands a few yards from a soiled pair of blue briefs with a distinctive red waistband. My mother knows whose they are.

“God, what did I do that someone would want to kill my child?” my mother cries again, and again.

Later that week the adults in my extended family hold a closed-door meeting to save my life. I have never seen Tata so scared. I didn’t even know he loved me. He orders me to stay away from children of suspected witches, for they too are believed to be little evildoers in training.

Over the next week, as my father struggles to figure out who wants to harm his son, I enjoy a period of tranquility I hadn’t seen since I was four years old. But my plan begins to fall apart when my parents decide to sell Ransi, our only dairy cow — which my father often brags that it gives enough milk to flood the village. They want to use the money to hire a witch doctor to exorcise me, and catch the witches. I begin to fear that the witch doctor’s magical powers would reveal my plot. I choose the lesser offense of confessing to my mother.

Mama whips me worse than she ever has. She reports the matter to my father, who ties me to a tree and gives me another severe whipping. After the beating, he takes me to a pool of rain water that’s so dirty it looks like a mixture of milk and black tea. It’s infested with bullfrogs. Tata holds me by the ankles, lowers me into the pool, and baptizes me, head first, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

One comment on “The Malingerer

  1. -

    Hahahaa witchcraft..very interesting story indeed

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