By Alex Ikawah
In the Nairobi moonlight, a reporter squints into the harsh glare of a mounted light on a rooftop and clears her throat, preparing to deliver a news story. Her producer, Grace, is on comms with the director back at Nation Centre, fifth floor. The news presenter, Victoria Rubadiri, has just introduced some breaking news. Another death in the blood soaked city. He nods his head in reply to some instruction and turns to the news presenter. An angry crowd can be heard shouting somewhere in the background.
The red light on the camera stops blinking and glows steadily now. Vincent, the cameraman, is rolling.
“Alright Nancy… Three, two, one… action!”
Back at NTV headquarters, they transfer the broadcast from the studio to the live team.
“Haya Ramah, CUT now,” barks Kiprop to a studio operator.
Nancy’s face beams out to millions frightened and unhappy Kenyans.
“We are here in Kariobangi on the roof of Sanoda Centre where earlier this afternoon, a teenager threw himself over the roof during a police raid on a birthday party.”
“Roll tape…” barks Kiprop.
Footage of a wounded family member showing the news crew the scene of the incident is played. The area is strewn with broken soda bottles, shoes, bits of food, and blood.
“Ni hapa ndio walinipata kama nimebeba soda na sausage. Polisi akanipiga rungu akanikanyaga bila hata kuniambia makosa yangu. Walitupiga na wakachukua simu zetu zote. Walikuwa wakisema mwenye party ni mlanguzi… ni uwongo. Party ya walanguzi watu hukunywa soda? Hapo ndio Jonte akasikia hivyo akaamua kuruka.”
“Back to Nancy…” barks Kiprop.
“Witnesses confirm that the police used extreme brutality to disperse the crowd of teenagers, many of them underage.”
“Roll tape… graphics…” barks Kiprop.
A large man in a red beret fills the screen, scowling at the camera. The lower third that appears underneath his chest reads ‘Constable Kennedy Mwaniki, GSU.’
“We responded to a call by our sources in the area saying drugs were being consumed in this house. We came and they resisted, so we did our work. The young man ran by himself… and that means he had something to hide. We are warning all criminals to be careful. We will find you even in your house.”
“Is it true that you used violence against underage members of the family?”
“We are in a high security alert situation in the country right now as you very well know and we only used authorized force. And even you media very well know that the rules are different now. So you must also be careful because you are under watch.”
“What do you mean the media are under watch?”
“No more questions!!”
“Back to Nancy… and prepare the first interview,” barks Kiprop.
“Three… two… one.”
“Seventeen people have died this week in security related incidents here, fourteen of them young men the police describe as suspects and three of them revenge killings of locals by other locals who accused their victims of spying for the police. The police have not been able to provide evidence of the crimes they accused the deceased victims of but have cracked down hard on the community for the killings of their informants.“
As Nancy speaks, the production assistant leads up a young man to her side. His face is tight with pain and he has clearly been crying. He keeps his hands inside the pockets of his jacket.
“This is Timo, older brother to the deceased. Timo can you tell us what sort of a person your brother was?”
Timo screws his face again to avoid crying and speaks with a tight voice.
“Jonte alikuwa mu-intelligent. The brightest guy in Kariobangi. Alikuwa anaeza kutengeneza anything, your mobile phone, your laptop, your car. He was so happy. Hakuwa amewahi kuwa na bash ya birthday, so tukapanga tucelebrate hata kama mtaa ni kubad. Polisi wakaingia hapa wanatuchapa tu, wanasema ati hii ni bash ya drug dealer.”
Here he breaks down and cries, then he wipes his tears with one hand and continues.
“So informer amewashow ati bro ni drug dealer na unajua vile siku hizi wamepewa shoot to kill. Mi nikaambia bro, hao wasee hawatakuskiza, we ruka uende. Sasa kuruka, akaanguka vibaya. Akavunjika shingo.”
Again he stops to cry.
“Mi nasema ni polisi wamemmada… na walikuja hapa na nia ya kummada. They are murderers. Wanachapa watu risasi siku hizi hata kama huna makosa, halafu wanasema kwa news ati ilikuwa exchange of gunfire. Lakini sasa tuko ready.”
He stares straight into the camera now. His eyes cold and heartless.
“Mmeua Jonte you murderers…”
He pulls a gun out of his jacket pocket and aims it at the cameraman. Nancy screams and jumps away. The producer dives to the floor. The cameraman stay transfixed, hypnotized by the gun. He doesn’t move a muscle, except for the warm trickle that pours down his right leg.
“…tonight, we will return fire.”
And then he walks away.
It is Vincent, the cameraman’s voice going on air as everyone reels from what just happened. The camera falters as he tries to compose himself. Nancy steps forward and raises a hand to steady the camera and then steps back into place.
“You are still live guys, you are still live!” Kiprop shouts into the headset but Grace has taken off her headset and sits on the ground, one hand over her heart. Only Nancy seems to be in control.
“As you have witnessed for yourself, tensions are high and passions are inflamed. Reports reached us earlier of large numbers of police gathering at the roadblocks around this part of the city. One can only wonder what might happen here tonight. I would like to reiterate a question I have been asked again and again covering these incidents in such areas of the city these past weeks; “Are these new security measures worth the human cost? The people here want the security forces removed from their communities as fast as possible, and in the face of what happened here today, I cannot blame them. Reporting from Sanoda Complex, Kariobangi, this is Nancy Wendo for NTV News.”
Kiprop is screaming now, beads of sweat lining up on the edges of the bald spot on his head.
“Back to studio! Ramah! Cut! Run commercials! TX!”
A Safaricom advertisement begins to play.
Back in Kariobangi, the crew rushes downstairs where a group of young men are gathered around their staff van. They let them pass, but they are shouting and cursing at the police, at the government, at the media, at the churches, at the country, at the world. Some of them are carrying guns.
“Leo tunafeast mabeast.”
“Down with Babylon!”
They hurry into the van, Mbau already has the engine running.
“Twende! Twende! Twende!!” urges Vincent.
Their phones are ringing like crazy, all at the same time. The crew back in studio, worried about their safety. Grace puts on her headset and switches it on.
“You guys, what happened?? That was crazy? Are you okay?”
“We are okay, we have just left. But something bad is going to happen here tonight.”
“Thank god you are okay. Get the hell out of there.”
“We’re on our way.”
The van pulls out of Kariobangi, escorted by the shouts and cries of the group. All around them as they drive, there are groups of armed youth at the corners. All the shops and hotels are closed and boarded up with planks or secured with large padlocked chains. Even the stray dogs seem more agitated than usual, barking fiercely at the van and chasing it down the street. Nancy leans back in her seat and exhales. This could be what Rasta had warned about, the inciting incident. The beginning of the revolution. The call comes just then. She thinks it is a worried friend who watched the news but it is different. A woman’s voice.
“My name is Shiro. I have the black notebook. Meet me at Kaldi’s in thirty minutes. I will be wearing a red jacket.”
Her eyes widen, her hands shake, her throat goes dry. For the first time tonight, she feels fear.
“Who are you? What happened to Rasta?” she asks. But the line is already dead.
In the back seat, Vincent begins to pray.
Nancy walks into Kaldi’s net to Nation Centre and looks around. A waitress recognizes her and smiles, going over to offer a table. Shiro is sitting by a wall, her scarf and hoodie obscuring her face. It is cold outside and she does not look out of place but she still holds up the menu to cover her face. She swallows a lump in her throat. Nancy takes out her phone and dials. She had said that she would be wearing a red jacket but she had lied. The jacket that covers her face is black. Still, Nancy Wendo seems to know. She walks straight to her table and sits quietly, looking her right in the face even as her phone begins to vibrate.
“You sounded like someone in their twenties on the phone. There are only two women here around that age and the other one is not trying to hide her face behind a menu. You are obviously not used to this sort of thing.”
Nancy breathes a huge sigh of relief.
“Sorry, I just had a near death experience. It is a good disguise. You did well to be careful. What happened to Rasta? Is he okay?”
“I don’t know. They took him away. They beat him really badly.”
“Was it administration police or GSU?”
“I don’t know, they switched off the lights. They were wearing many things like US soldiers everywhere and using guns with torches and big guns. They ordered us not to look. I was so afraid.”
“Must have been ATPU.”
Nancy stretches out her hand and holds the other woman’s for a while.
They are silent for a while.
Shiro takes the notebook out and places it on the table between them.
“Is this the notebook?”
Nancy looks Shiro in the face.
“Is that all?”
“No. I read it.”
And now Shiro looks down, at the table. Nancy keeps her eyes on her face.
“Then you know there is no walking away for you now.”
“I want to help.”
“Are you sure?”
Nancy picks up the notebook and puts it in her bag, getting up with the same motion.
“Thank you for bringing it to me. I’ll get in touch. And here is a word of advice, stay home tonight.”
Alex Ikawah is a writer, storyteller, photographer, filmmaker and nascent musician living and working in Nairobi. He has been published in the short story anthology ‘Lets Tell This Story Properly’ and twice shortlisted for the Commonwealth short story prize, in 2013 and 2015. @filmkenya