The day had finally come and the ruling was going to be made. Sharifa just wanted it over and done with; it had been a long five months that had been mashed up together into one long nightmare. To be honest, she had already had judgment passed on to her over and over in so many courts of opinion but she hoped that this was the final informed, fair and just judgment that would exonerate her at long last.
Her baby whimpered and she gently rocked him and held him a bit tighter to her breast. Her eyes shifted around the courtroom, lingering over Olive Tendwa- the real wife; her accuser, sitting next to her lawyer and two children. The boy was a definite replica of her Samir.
Bitter tears stung her heavy eyelids. Why couldn’t they see that? Why were they so quick to conclude that Samir was not Mwalimu’s son too? Her eyes strayed back to Mrs. Tendwa, with her expensive weave and imported maroon and white designer skirt suit.
There didn’t seem to be a hint of grief in her smooth, chocolate face with the dash of pink lipstick- just a haughty determination. Perhaps a desire to have revenge… Maybe just closure.
Her daughter was a smaller version of her, the same perfect face and the identical distant stare. Sharifa thought about her own daughters, who were probably going to live the live she had lived all over again. And Mwalimu’s son- his blood- in her arms, will he have any future at all?
Now she could see that Mwalimu had had the perfect family, yet he had sought something else that no one could figure out, away from them- inside Sharifa’s slum hovel. Before the worst happened, Sharifa had not even known that Olive and her people existed. Why did they hate her so much? She never ever thought of hurting anyone, let alone commit the murder she was being accused of.
Her eyes wandered over to the lady judge who was shuffling through papers and scribbling on some, probably putting the last details to her judgment. For a brief second, the judge glanced up and Sharifa thought she could see a tinge of softness, perhaps sympathy in the judge’s steady stare- but then it could have been a mirage.
Her whole being was patched and she was like one lost in a dessert and seeing pools of cool water when there were none. “This court hereby finds you guilty as charged, and sentences you…” When the judge finally spoke, Sharifa understood just enough English by then to be able to tell that ‘guilty’ without the ‘not’ before it meant that she was going to jail…or to the gallows. She didn’t need the translator to clear that up for her.
She could feel her legs buckling under her, the female warder behind he grasped her elbow to steady her. She knew she had to stay strong for her son. “… to life imprisonment...”, the judge was summing up her judgment. Sharifa didn’t need the translator to know that her life was done.
It was over. She watched through a blur of tears as Mwalimu’s real wife was hugged by her lawyer, her children and other people congratulating her on her victory. Justice had been served. Found it intriguing – fine tune the editing.

II At first he used to come on Fridays-in the evenings, and spend the weekend inside holed up with Sharifa. During such visits, Sharifa’s girls would be sent down to Sella’s under the pretence that they were to help her with the household chores or something. The older one, Aida, was old enough at sixteen to figure out such things, but whether she did figure them out no one could tell, because she did not talk much. She was an enigma. She was actually still in school, long after everyone had expected her to drop out and take after her mother or at least get pegged and have an abortion or two.
The younger one was no more than a baby-just twelve or so, but she was her mother through and through already, anyone could see that with both eyes closed. Now when Mwalimu started coming, Adisa, the gossip of course had a lot to say about it. But then, Shariffa’s husband, Duke, was dead and buried, for five years.
Okay, he too had not been her husband as such, but they had lived together for over eight years and had two daughters (at least she had them while they were living together). Shariffa was still nubile and at the peak of her life. The mid thirties are not where someone is exactly a spring chicken, but she still had enough to go by.
The loose colorful caftans that she always had on never concealed the fact that two children had not done much damage to her figure; All they had done was to make it a tad fuller, with whoever was looking at her with amorous intentions being given the promise of an ample, cozier saddle and bridle to hold onto for an even more ecstatic ride into the happy sunset.
Duke had drunk himself to death, literally. Some said he was laid off from his job at the post office because of his drunkenness. His former wife had left him long before because of the problem too. He had first sold of a piece of his land to get the capital to start a business. But the only business he ended up starting with the money was his affair with Shariffa, whom he was ever so proud to keep referring to as his wife.
“That is like one insisting that he owns a public toilet”, Adisa had told Sella. “With all these nice women around, what is it that he is seeing in this one that has been chewed up and spat out by every man with a thing?” “Well, having one of those at hand, which you can go to any time the urge strikes is less trouble than digging your own latrine…”, Sella had shrugged her shoulders and said in her hoarse, drink soaked voice before they both burst into hyena shrieks of laughter and slapped palms.
It was quite clear to both of them that neither of them could ever be one of the good women around though. They were both birds of Shariffa’s feather. As were most women in the huddle of corrugated iron and mud houses that made up Bondeni slums. Both Shariffa and Sella were ‘Mama Mboga’; they sold assorted vegetables at stalls by the roadside, but they also did anything else that brought in a coin or two. This included offering comfort and pleasure to any man that was had money to share in return.
Sharifa had worked as a househelp in a string of households throughout her teens, until her early twenties when she decided she was old enough to strike out on her own.
None of Duke’s replacements had stayed long. There was an old retiree who had stayed for just about five months- he had a crafty wife who had gone to court and blocked most of his retirement benefits so that their children could be sent to college. The little he had soon ran out and he had to be run out.
Then there was the interdicted teacher who would spend hours giving free algebra lessons to anyone who would listen, seated on a plastic seat. There had been quite a bit of drama surrounding his being thrown out. He had taken off all his clothes, pleading, and begging, but it was time for Sharifa to seek other prey. If anyone ever mentioned anything to her about keeping other women’s men, Shariffa’s retort was always the same; “he came by himself- I did not ask him to come and live with me”, but that was something no one could neither agree with nor dispute.
Then ‘Mwalimu’ had come…and stayed. He had somehow silently drifted in from the chang’aa den a few hundred meters away from Sharifa’s shack. His assessing eyes had flicked over the buxom, youngish (at least she was much younger than him) woman that was chatting animatedly at a vegetable stall. He had gone over to ask for directions to some place, but ended up finding his way to her tiny corrugated iron shack. After that, a routine was established and he became a regular visitor. First just for the odd weekend, then longer and longer; until he was practically living with Shariffa.
“He took a loan and I’m helping him to finish it”, Shariffa had winked slyly at Sella as she gave her a neatly folded two hundred shillings note during the first days of her friendship with Mwalimu. She was always the one to eat with her people. But it turned out that the loan did not get finished any time soon. Mwalimu always seemed to have money, enough money to spend and share. Shariffa would send her daughters over to Sella’s, buy a ‘jik’ of chang’aa and some khat before spending hours locked up in the house with Mwalimu, drinking and doing other things that one did not need a very active imagination to figure out.
His clothes, though casual, seemed quite expensive. At least they didn’t look like he had got them from the second hand dealers at Chepkube. They certainly were shop bought, and his shoes were definitely genuine leather. Then there was the time Shariffa had noticed that he had a car key on the massive bunch he always carried along with him.
“I used to own one”, he had shrugged dismissively when she had asked then quickly changed the subject. He was not a person of many words. There was no use trying to pry a lot of information from him. No one knew his real name, not even Sharifa herself. They all just started calling him ‘Mwalimu’ (Teacher) and it stuck.
No one could tell what he really did or if he was even a teacher. He just had this mysteriously sagacious aura, with his broad lenses and broad patch at the back of his head. Sometimes he came with a batch of files with form- thingies and spent a lot of time going through them with a serious frown etched on his brow. Other times it would be a laptop on which he would tap-tap for long minutes, pausing to think deeply and scratch his bald patch.
During such times, Shariffa would warn her frisky younger daughter to play outside and not bother Mwalimu as he worked. It was steady routine, and when Shariffa’s middle bulged out again after a few months, it was definitely Mwalimu’s good work. Of all the men she had been with, Mwalimu was one that she was mostly faithful to. It was no surprise to anyone when the little boy finally came and he was a visible replica of Mwalimu.
The thing with Mwalimu was that he came and went so mysteriously. As much as his presence was always kind of expected, each of his comings was a surprise; a thrilling one of course, for Shariffa because it meant money and other pleasures. There was absolutely no telling exactly when he was going to come. He just came…like a thief in the night. That was what made his visits so thrilling. She just never knew when he was going to turn up.

***** Then Mwalimu died. He had been quite okay the evening before, at least as far as Shariffa had noted. He had given her the money for the usual ‘jik’ of chang’aa. Then he had changed into the baggy pair of khaki shorts with ‘side-pockets’ and the oversized t-shirt, one of the few that he always wore around Shariffa’s house, which she kept carefully washed and pressed for him. She had prepared the supper he liked so much- meat boiled with the liquid lye from ashes, and dry fried, with a lot of pepper.
Years of drinking had wrecked havoc to his taste buds. Then she had woken up the next morning… and Mwalimu was dead! There had been none of the morning romps he liked so much, and when she turned to shake him awake he Just lying there cold and stiff. Early that morning, it had occurred to her that there had been none of the characteristic snoring that night. Mwalimu had not even reached out to touch her or rolled over during the night.
“Mwalimu..?, “, she had felt an ice cold hand slowly clasping her heart even as she frantically shook him, before turning him over. But even then it did not quite strike her that he was dead. Fortunately, the children had spent the night at Sella’s.
She ran around in circles like a hen that had lost its head before the truth of what had happened finally dawned on her. After gulping down the dregs of chang’aa in the ‘jik’, she calmed down a bit, enough to practically run to Sella’s with the shocking news- looking over her shoulder as if his ghost was coming after her. “I’m in for it… it has found me”, was all she had said as soon as she saw her friend. The two of them scurried back to Sharifa’s house. Now fully panicked, and intoxicated by the chang’aa, Sharifa was thinking of the wildest solutions.
“Let me us stuff him inside a sack, hide him and then dump him by the roadside at night!” Sharifa had whispered shrilly in her fright. It was Sella who talked sense into her. But she later wondered why she even listened to Sella at all. The sack thing would have saved her backside. “You are not supposed to touch anything!” Sella had advised as soon as she came, “leave it for the police to take pictures…” she had taken a leso from the clothes line that hung across the bedroom and practically tied it around her friend’s voluptuous natural charms. Sharifa had not realized that she was in her skimpy nightdress still.
Sharifa then wanted to close Mwalimu’s eyes and not have him staring at the roof in such a horrified pop-eyed manner, but Sella held back her hands. Sharifa’s house was now a crime scene, and the police had to see it the way it was. Then it dawned on Sharifa that she was the prime suspect! She was going to be arrested! A man had died in her house…and someone had to answer.
The whole reason for keeping the crime scene intact was so that she would have a better chance to prove that she had no idea what had caused Mwalimu’s death, but then justice is a strange animal that could bite unexpectedly. Perhaps there was something she was guilty of breaking anyway.
Under normal circumstances, she should have noticed the state Mwalimu was in when he had arrived the previous day, perhaps he was already dying then. But then, were his and her circumstances ‘normal’ in any way of looking at it? She had had a few glasses of chang’aa tucked away by the time he had come, and she was knocked out to all particular purposes. There was no way she could have known that she was sharing her bed with a dying…and then dead man.
The headman- Abu Shiri came when Sella sent for him, with his usual preachy lofty attitude. “A thief’s days are forty…” he had pointed out “I always tell you people- the things you do in the darkness of night will always come out in the light of day…” “This is no time to preach… just do what you are supposed to do!” Sella had spitefully spat out. That no love was lost between her and the headman was an open secret.
By then, the news had spread and Sharifa’s tiny house was filled to the brim….. with throngs of other people craning their necks and trying to elbow their way inside and catch a glimpse of what was happening. Nothing as exciting had happened in Bondeni ever since Maryamu’s Davido had raped Salome’s five year old girl and tore up her parts.
But then, Davido was not quite right in the head because he took drugs. This? This was juicy! Everyone was already coming up with their own juicer, more creative versions; Sharifa had knifed her ‘husband’ to death after a quarrel. Sharifa had cut off her man’s male parts after he refused to get it up… the wife of Sharifa’s man had come and shot him in Sharifa’s bed in the dead of night. People just fell over themselves having the most exciting version.
Bondeni slums instantly became a flurry of excitement, and the focus of mainstream and social media with press people coming to take pictures and ask questions. Sella basked in the new- found wave of fame and publicity as she gave ‘eye witness’ accounts to everyone who thrust a microphone and/or a camera into her face.
She preened and posed for the cameras like a natural. It turned out that Mwalimu was a son of a long serving cabinet minister, and also the minister for planning in the county government; a ‘devout Christian with family values’ and workaholic who gave his all to public service.
According to the press, he had been kidnapped and found dead in a house in Bondeni, and a suspect was in police custody helping with investigations. Of course nobody bought for one second, the story that the scruffy, shabby Mama Mboga in the dock had technically been the honorable Charles Armstrong Tendwa’s mistress for almost an entire year, and the child she gave birth to as she ‘helped with investigations’ was his was briskly brushed aside by almost everyone that heard it.
When the charges were brought, she was too lost for words to even plead. She and ‘others not in court’ were charged with the kidnapping and murder of Honorable Charles Armstrong Tendwa. Even with the lady lawyer that offered her services to Sharifa pro bono, if was clear that the die was cast, and she didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell.