VII: Bloodsweats of Gethsemane

The eagle’s eye spots its target and begins to circle the air above. His movements are slow, meditated, precisely calculated, better than the unfailing tick-tock of a clock. He has been traversing the skies for many days, moving away from the cloudy zones that blocked his vision by day, relaxing the wings of his determined flight and regrouping the substance of his thoughts by night. The dark compressed tunnel of his nose stores every smell collected in his journeys, to remind him especially of places not to revisit. The unbreakable arch of his beak commands a post between the deep wells of his eyes, like a steel bridge that takes a leap suddenly into the sea, its back rising like a mighty wave and thinning out into a sword point. No prey escapes its grip. And now with the final swoop to claim his possession, riding upon his throne of absolute power, fueled by the winds of instinctive certainty, the sum of all his being has come to this moment… this moment… this moment, “One thousand!” shouted the Eagle, flung his arms up into the sky, and danced around the mound of his cans and bottles. He was the king of the world!

Maputo had just accomplished a feat like none other in his life. He has managed to collect a thousand cans in a day. He had sat down with himself and set this very specific goal: that in a day, he would collect nothing less than a thousand empty cans of soda. He had invested two dollars in a map, laid out a meticulous plan through the night under a lamp in the street corner, pin-pointed all the areas he would descend upon within a five-mile radius, and at the break of dawn he had set to work. Mission accomplished! Now he danced at the altar of his throne and dared anyone to dislodge him.

“You got the pampers?” Shanni asked Lenana as he approached the car, his hands full with shopping bags. Lenana stopped in his tracks. Directly across the Supermarket’s parking lot was a railway crossing. A few feet away from the railway line was a man dancing around a mound of cans and bottles. He was shouting, “The eagle rules! The eagle rules!” Lenana watched the man, and the more he watched him, the more he was sure he knew him. He stood on the spot for what seemed an eternity, just watching. When recognition finally came, the groceries slid from his hands right there on the pavement; eggs, spinach, fruit, and pampers. They dropped as if the earth had opened up beneath and snatched the reality of the moment away from him. They dropped, and a whole lot else dropped from his sense of reality.

Shanni panicked. She had never seen that look on Lenana’s face. She thought he was having a heart attack. She left the kids in the car and started moving briskly towards Lenana. At that very moment, Lenana’s feet found motion, and he started moving towards the dancing man. Shanni stopped, puzzled, and followed the object of his attention. She saw the dancing man and became even more confused. She quickly picked up the groceries, threw the broken eggs into the trash can, and headed back to the car. She sat there quietly as she watched his through the windshield. For the first time since they got married, she did not have a thought of any kind roaming the grey matter of her mind about Lenana. She started filling that void with new thoughts. Could it be a brother he had never told her about? One of the many children his father had? Perhaps the family sent him to look for Lenana and he got lost in the big America? Her curiosity and excitement rose by the minute. She waited.

Lenana, like a zombie, approached the dancing man. The man became aware of this intruder into his circle of worship. He stopped, and faced him. Recognition dawned.

“Maputo,” Lenana went first, almost in a whisper.

“Lenana,” responded Maputo, much like a happy child.

“Wh… what… why are you here?” Lenana couldn’t quite formulate the right question. The man was a camouflage of tatters, grime, and stink. He wore several jackets whose original colours could be anything across the rainbow spectrum. His hair was a big raggedy afro with a brownish tint. His shoes were wrapped in transparent plastic bags that made them shine. From where he stood, Lenana could smell alcohol on his breath when he spoke. He could not reconcile this image with the Maputo he had known so closely years ago.

“I am Eagle,” Maputo answered.

“What?” Lenana wondered if Maputo still had the capacity to hold a normal conversation and comprehend reality. Obviously, the Eagle recognized his old friend, Lenana.

“You’ve been here?” Lenana’s question rang hollow, didn’t make sense even to himself.

“Here where? On earth?” Asked Maputo.

“Here… Minneapolis I mean.”

“Here, there, everywhere, man. I am Eagle.” Maputo circled his gaze on Lenana as if he were new prey.

“Ok, Maputo… Eagle. How can I help?” Lenana asked. Maputo looked at him with obvious contempt.

“A guy! Help? Did I call you? You suddenly appear from nowhere, invade my territory and make yourself lord. I’m not your serf. But you’re welcome to sit with me.”

Lenana knew he needed to make his way back to his family and head on home. “I have two little ones in my car. Where can I find you?” He asked.

“Here. Or somewhere else.” Maputo smiled, exposing a row of perfect teeth, a jarring contradiction to the rest of himself. “Listen, destiny takes you to any grove on this God’s dirt ball. You must obey the command of the invisible hand that propels you. So here I am today. I don’t know about tomorrow,” answered the Eagle.

There he was! Maputo the philosopher. Lenana was still caught up in a cloud of disbelief. Ten years ago, when they first met, this mirage before him had been a Master’s student in Divinity at the University of Texas, full of life and dreams. He had guided and mentored Lenana when he first landed in this country. He had let Lenana in on his dreams; that he was going to teach, make some good money, and after two years, head back home, find a wife, and settle down to serving his people. Maputo had had dreams of becoming the Member of Parliament for his home constituency. His back-up plan was to teach at the University and work his way to Vice Chancellor. Or become a pastor and eventually the Arch Bishop of Kenya. He always had lofty dreams that though improbable in Lenana’s practical mind, he had had no reason to disbelieve him. Seeing Maputo this way terrified Lenana. What if it had been him?

“What happened?” Lenana asked, still hoping for some quick take-home explanation that made sense.

“Life happened, my boy. Life happened.” My boy. That’s what Maputo called Lenana any time he’s set off giving him advise that morphed into a philosophical maze. He wasn’t offering any more than that. The Eagle stood protectively next to his merchandize. A thousand soda cans could fetch him no less than a whopping fortune of fifty dollars.

“Er, please come home with us for dinner,” Lenana offered. He had too many questions, but this was not the place to ask them. Maputo smiled, his perfect set of white teeth once again a jarring sight that still shocked Lenana, like a genius work of art hung upon a broken façade.

“You said you have two little ones in the car?”




“That’s a nice slice of life. Are you enjoying it, my boy?” Maputo posed.

“I believe I am,” Lenana answered.

“You believe!” That smile again.

“I mean… I know,” Lenana corrected his phrasing.

“That’s a fitting promotion of thought. One is human, the other is divine,” said Maputo. Lenana didn’t pretend to understand. Maputo observed the puzzle lines on his brow. “To proclaim belief is to admit the presence of doubt. To know is a mark of godliness.”

“Huh?” Lenana knew his friend was challenging him to a mental duel.

“Why would you feel a need to proclaim belief in that which is, unless you doubt it is?” Mwangagi answered.

Flashes of days when they would engage in endless banter. A game of mental chess Lenana always lost. Still, he indulged the Eagle. “I proclaim belief in something because I believe it is.”

“No. You do so because you have bought the belief, which did not originate from you. You know yourself to have doubt, but you think the more you proclaim that belief the more it becomes a truism.”

“A truism does not have to originate from me. I could learn it from a wiser person,” countered Lenana.

“Very good. But for anything you learn to be true for you, you need not proclaim it. It is in concert with your still small voice. It simply Is.” Lenana was listening. “Most of what you are taught and asked to accept are falsehoods. You were conditioned to accept them since the day you asked your first question as a child. That’s how the world builds its institutions of power to knock your mind into formation.” Lenana thought he was beginning to understand the blow that damaged this man’s mind. He pushed him.

“Doesn’t make sense. You want to say then that all our beliefs are based on falsehoods?”

“No. Only the beliefs you are asked not to challenge. And they make up more than ninety percent of your world’s belief systems.”

“So more than ninety percent of the world is structured on falsehoods?” Lenana laughed.

“Yes. Your world is an ignorant happy lot,” Maputo concluded.

“Well… I guess it’s the price we must pay for civilization. Surely, you must admit that if all our questioning small voices were given a platform, this world would be a tower of Babel!” Lenana felt proud of his argument; he thought it sounded witty.

Maputo nodded. “Well said, Lenana, Well said! You win this duel. Just remember, he is a slave who does not allow himself to question, to challenge, and to remould that which comes through imperfect humanity. Nothing under the sun is infallible. Nothing is to be believed. All notions must to be deeply searched and tested for truth until you reach that place of silent knowing. There, no fear resides, no proclamations need be made.”

Lenana stuck rooted to the ground, waiting for the rest of the sermon. He had forgotten just how eloquent Maputo could be. But the sermon was over.

“Aah! Why, Maputo?? Why are you here? You could be a professor at some University for heaven’s sake!”

“What gives you the idea I’m not?”

Lenana was not going to get entangled in philosophizing anymore.

“Come home with us. Please.”

“No. Go on ahead. Stop trying to nail yourself on the cross for me. I’m fine.”

Stubborn man, Lenana hissed silently. “I’ll come with some food tomorrow. The two of us will sit and talk. Will I find you here?” He wasn’t giving up.

Maputo pointed to the culvert a small distance away. Lenana could see some cardboards and miscellaneous paraphernalia under the culvert. It was the man’s “home.” He sighed. “I’ll come by tomorrow morning, about seven.”

“Good. Don’t bring food. They’ve got good breakfast at Jasmine Gardens. We’ll go there.” Lenana laughed. He thought Maputo was joking. Only the children of a higher god dined at Jasmine Gardens, commonly known as the Gardens. You could buy a week’s groceries with the cost of a meal there. “I’m serious, kijana. The Gardens tomorrow.”

“Wouldn’t that amount to nailing myself on the cross for you?” Lenana threw a jab.

“No. I’m calling the shots. I’m not at your altar.” Lenana realized the man was serious. He looked at him with an old flame of respect. He had never lost that spunk, that cutting edge that could have made him all that he had wanted to be.

“Could I bring you a change of clothing… you know… maybe take you some place where you can take a shower?”

“No. I’m fine just as I am. I want to wake up and find you right here at the break of dawn, ready to take me for breakfast at the Gardens.”

“Yes, Sir. The Gardens it is.” He saluted his old mentor, watched him salute back, and turned to leave. His thoughts zip-zapped at break-neck speed. Tomorrow, he will be taking this old friend – tatters, grime, and stink – to one of the most expensive and exclusive restaurants in the city. He headed back to the car, wondering what just happened. His wife was waiting patiently.

“Who was that, Len?” Shanni asked cautiously.


“Maputo?” She was puzzled. “Isn’t Maputo the man who helped you settle down in this country?”

“Yep.” There was silence between them as Lenana drove home. Shanni opened her mouth, closed it, then opened it again.

“You talk about him all the time. Don’t you always say he must be a big man in Kenya now?”


“You say he’s the kind of man any Kenyan who comes here should emulate. Get an education, go back and serve the country.”


“You sing Maputo’s praise like a song all the time.”

“Yes I do.” He kept his eyes steadily on the road.

“What is he doing here looking like that?” The woman wasn’t letting go.

“I don’t know, Shan.” Steady, Lenana, steady.

“What did he say? How can a man you speak so highly of end up… like that?”

Lenana sighed. “I’ll find out tomorrow. Let’s just get home and put the kids to bed.”

They drove home silently, Shanni’s curiosity heightened so much that this very moment, all she lived for was the story Lenana would come back with after meeting his friend again. She had this brand new belief that in knowing Maputo’s story, she would know a part of Lenana she didn’t know. She had never given up trying to understand her husband. Lenana on the other hand was slowly beginning his descent to his knees. He needed some serious prayers. With every ticking second, the thought of taking Maputo to Jasmine Gardens grew thorns and dared him to deny the man.

Neither one of them had anything to eat that night. They had lost their appetites; one from excitement, the other from anxiety. After the twins were fed and put in their cribs, Lenana sat by the foot of the bed and watched them sleep peacefully. They sucked at their thumbs, oblivious to their father’s growing agony. Then he turned to look at Shanni. She had gone to sleep immediately, having had no troublesome thoughts to keep her awake. He sat there, alone in the dark.

What fate drove Maputo to that place? What drove the man to ask for breakfast at the Gardens? How I’m I going to walk in there with him… like that?

Why should it bother me if I stood him up? What am I to him? What is he to me? I haven’t seen him in such a long while, why should it matter that I show up? Perhaps he’s quite insane and has already forgotten that he saw me today. A man dancing around a mound of cans isn’t normal, you know. What if I met my boss having breakfast there… Lenana went on reasoning with his conscience for long, fighting his way out of this promise he made. He needed to talk to someone.

“Shan! Shan!” he whispered, shaking her.

“What?” she asked groggily.

“Wake up! Help me think!”

“Ok, hon…” she drifted right back to sleep like a charm. Lanana went on staring at the darkness, alone.

He said life took him where he is. What about choice? What happened to you, friend? Could it have been me in those rags, shouting “the eagle rules!” and sleeping under that culvert with such a brain going to waste? Could that invisible hand of destiny also take me to such a place on this God’s dirt ball? The image of Maputo and his words haunted him. Or was it shame that he misread? The shame of seeing another man fail?

“Shan… please stay awake. I need you…” She groaned and pulled the cover over her head. He retraced his trail back to the darkness of his lonely thoughts. The hours of the night ticked by. There was not a kindred soul at this very moment he could share the contents of his unguarded heart with. He had seen the raw face of another man’s humiliation, and that left his own heart gaping like an open trap. How he longed to share his vulnerability, tell someone that he was afraid, that he was sad, that he was confused. But he was alone.

He was also increasingly becoming aware of one truth – that this fear and transferred humiliation was rising from his own buried fears and moments of unspoken shame. This dread flowed from a cracked door that threatened to push out the things that had driven him start drinking to the point of violence. But that was only once – when he attacked a man at Makeba’s tavern for… he was so drunk he completely forgot the reason he did it. No one pressed charges.

Later, Makeba had shown him the CCTV footage. Lenana had broken a bottle against the back of the man’s head and the man in turn pinned him against the wall and punched him till he balled up on the floor covered in his own vomit and blood. Lenana had asked Makeba why he hit the guy, but she had shaken her head and said, “If you don’t remember, then somethings are better left buried with the demons of the night. You’ve grown a darkness about you.” He had responded, “Tell me no more.” He did not want to know, was not ready to face his demons. Since then, he had begun to drink less.

Shanni, who had receded into a shell and grown more disgusted by him as he descended into the precipice of alcoholism, refused to warm up to his positive changes. She simply decided to develop a cordial loving for a man who was a good father to her children and who was working really hard to feel something.

Today was different. A new curiosity about him was reawakened in Shanni after his running into Maputo. But not enough to transform it into the kind of love that would have a wife keeping vigil with her husband in the dead of night while he agonized and pushed the door against his demons.

He must meet Maputo tomorrow as agreed at the Gardens. This decision felt like a cool breeze fanning the thick drops of sweat that had formed upon his brow.


As the clock in Lenana’s sitting room struck three in the morning, several miles away beneath a culvert the hard nose of a boot struck the side of Maputo’s sleeping body so hard a rib cracked. Maputo’s scream rented the air for a split second before a hand gagged him with a rag. Some more kicks rained on him, sending more ribs cracking within. Having little strength to fight, Maputo watched the brutal attack on his body, trying to release his mind so it can soar above this valley of perdition. The Eagle needed to fly. Then it all stopped. The attacker shone a bright flash light in his victim’s face, saw that he was still conscious, and spat a gunk of tobacco slime on him.

“You black monkey scum of the earth. You think you can put my son in jail and get away with it. Fucking piece o’ black shit.” The attacker went down on his haunches and put his face a few inches from Maputo’s pained expression. He gripped Maputo’s chin hard and looked into its eyes, spewing out a thousand demons of hates. “May the vultures eat you alive.” Maputo peered painfully at the familiar face of his Caucasian attacker who then brought down a piece metal pipe on his head and said, “You need to go back to Africa you ape!” Maputo could hear the sound of his attacker’s boots receding into the night as the vibration on the ground travelled to his throbbing ear. No witness, just the ever present eye of destiny watching from above.

Maputo struggled not to lose consciousness. He summoned his last bit of strength, reached under his cardboard for a his pencil and writing pad, and went to work on his final words:

Lenana, my boy,

Today, when I saw you, I knew my day of departure had come, for an angel does not come visiting without a reason. Do not feel flattered kijana; you have no wings yet, and you have a long way to go. To be quite honest with you, I have been at war with God to bring this day sooner. Yes, son. Sometimes, when you find yourself kneeling alone too long in the dark hours, so long that bloodsweats begin to drip from your brow, you know it is time to depart.

I’ve often tried to release my spirit, make it soar above this earthly entrapment that suffers pain, but I fail. Still, even in this tortured state, there’s always that pure grain of hope deep inside that surprises you now and then with a determination to stay alive. But no more, my boy. No more. For another cruel hand has come visiting tonight.

You see, I had tried to do justice once when a certain man assaulted me. I testified against him in court and now he’s behind bars. But tonight, my body has paid for my actions. The man’s father came after me. I’m in agony. Blood drips from my brow. That inescapable cup is finally come. I know you will not deny me tomorrow. I know you will brave the unthinkable thought of suffering shame by having to take me with you to the Gardens. I know you will come. I saw it in your eyes.

Look under my sleeping mat. You will find my mother’s address. Get in touch with her. Tell her it is well. The Eagle still flies.

Always your friend,

Moses Maputo

With that, the Eagle stood, braving the piercing of his cracked ribs and punctured organs, and staggered closer to the railway line. He just wanted to see the full moon. He raised his face to it, and it poured its milky balm down on him, healing every cracked bone, every raptured vein, every torn muscle. It smoothed out every wrinkle of sorrow, every furrow of toil, every scar of abuse. Its magnetic gravity raised his spirit above his earthly wretchedness, above the blanket of years of darkness, above the relentless fangs of despair. It is well, it is well. The Eagle flies. The whistle of an approaching train blew…

Continue – VIII: The Cornrow Chronicles


*This Chapter is a work of fiction dedicated to and inspired by the life of Martin Maingi, whose murder was reported in a Salem, Massachusetts paper in 2000. He was a Kenyan student in Divinity and was said to speak brilliantly even in his vagabond days. Although I never met him in person, I met him in the course of penning this tale, or so it seems to me. Author – Mkawasi

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