Fiction Reviews Short story

The flower that withered too soon

Title: Chained

Author: Scholastica Moraa

Reviewer: Mbugua Ngunjiri

Chained is the haunting tale of 22-year-old Danielle, alone, bleeding in the bathroom, staring at imminent death after having procured an abortion. Her thoughts are in a state of turmoil as she reflects on the events that led to the present moment.

She is full of regrets but it is too late now.

The story is story is told via flashback. Danielle’s father has just secured her an internship position at an auctioneer’s firm, in a remote outpost. At first she finds the job boring but then things start brightening somewhat after she meets and falls in love with a man, working at a law firm.

The girl wrestles with feelings of guilt, but then, with each sweetener she receives from her lover, she discards her inhibitions and justifies the illicit affair.  Sample this: “I turned from preaching ‘monogamy is the true love’ to ‘the y in your man is silent’.”

Even amidst the justifications, the man’s wedding ring serves as an ‘unwelcome’ reminder of what she is getting herself into. Though she tries resisting the man’s advances, her defences are weak and she quickly succumbs to his slick moves; gifts and all.

Like a knife through butter, her feeble attempts at resisting the sexual overtures from the man are easily swept aside, when he sweetens the deal with offers of employment.

After she loses her virginity to the man, Danielle naively hopes that her guardian angel will shield her from getting pregnant. Shortly thereafter, she he finds out, to her horror, that she is indeed carrying the man’s baby.

This leads her to a backstreet clinic to procure the services of an abortionist. She does not have enough cash to pay for the ‘service’, so the man ‘offers’ to offset the balance if only she agrees to have sex with him.

The operation goes horribly wrong and now the girl stares death in eye.

The issue of illegally procured abortions has been with us for the longest time. So too are the deaths that follow. So widespread are these incidents that society has reduced the victims to mere statistics; it is not news anymore. However, in this story, Scholastica Moraa humanises the subject through her tragic character Danielle.

Chained painfully brings home the fact that victims of this vice are living, breathing people, with needs and desires, just like we do; only that they made a wrong choice at some point in life. They are daughters, sisters, nieces, granddaughters, etc. They could be your relative.

The story is also an indictment of predatorial men; particularly married men, who prey on naïve girls, ruining their futures, even destroying their lives, like in Danielle’s case. Many men in such instances get away scot-free, probably to go and ruin the life of yet another girl.

The man, in this story, remains unnamed, probably the author’s way of highlighting the anonymity of such men; and just how easy it is for them to escape unpunished.

Moraa’s searing prose brings to the fore the debate about abortion, which the Kenyan society would rather it remains buried under the carpet, while girls like Danielle, continue losing their lives in the process of trying to procure illegal abortions. Those who survive are left permanently scarred, others unable to bear children.

A few days ago, a quack medic going by the name Mugo wa Wairimu was convicted in a case where he had been caught on camera sexually assaulting patients at one of his clinics. It is also a well-documented fact that wa Wairimu, among other things, offered abortion services to desperate Nairobi women.

Going by Danielle’s example where she had to offer her body, as part payment for the abortion, it is not too difficult to imagine this was normal fare at wa Wairimu’s clinics.

Moraa’s story is a powerful reminder to the society that women’s reproductive health is a topic that needs to be addressed with utmost urgency. Abortion is a touchy subject worldwide. Here in Kenya, it remains illegal except in certain mitigating circumstances. In the US, the Republican dominated Supreme Court repealed Roe v Wade, a landmark decision which ruled that the Constitution of the United States conferred the right to have an abortion.

The reversal of Roe v Wade has had some ramifications in the US, the latest being the poor performance for Republicans in the just concluded midterm elections, where the much anticipated ‘Red Wave’ failed to materialise.

Chained stands out in expert use of language. The author has a way with words; every word has meaning. An example will suffice: “… It all came down to a spoilt love story and I was the villain. It was my love story but I was a minor character…”

Moraa’s ease with words can be attributed to the fact that she is a poet. Now poetry, according to Rita Dove, an American poet, is ‘language at it most distilled and most powerful’.

Chained won the 2022 Kendeka Prize for African Literature.

Events Issues News Personalities

Mwangi Gicheru: an obituary


The Kenyan literary scene is the poorer following the death of Mwangi Gicheru, the man that brought you the novel Across the Bridge. Gicheru, who was running a restaurant business in Mombasa’s Mtwapa, died in his sleep on the eve of Sunday May 4.


According to family members His body was discovered on the morning of Sunday, March 4, after he failed to wake up. Workers reported the matter to the local police who gave the go-ahead for the house to be broken into. The body was taken to the Pandya Memorial Hospital Mortuary. Post mortem results determined the cause of death to be heart attack.

Gicheru will be fondly remembered by hordes of book lovers who devoured his book Across the Bridge in the late 70s, 80s and 90s. Across the Bridge, though not his first title, became many a readers’ favourite and catapulted Gacheru to the peak popular literature, alongside the likes of Charles Mangua (Son of a Woman), Mwangi Ruheni (The Minister’s Daughter) and Daivid Maillu.

Across the Bridge tells the story of an impossible love between a poor young man (Chuma) and Caroline the daughter of rich man Kahuthu. Chuma was a houseboy at the Kahuthus household.

One thing leads to the other and Chuma gets Caroline in the family way, a thing that makes Kahuthu livid. Chuma feels the only way of getting acceptance by the Kahuthus, and perhaps getting Caroline’s hand in marriage is through making money of his own. The path he chooses to riches lands him in trouble with authorities and into jail, hence the book’s famous opening: Hail jail the place for all; the only house where a government minister and a pickpocket dine together, work, discuss matters on equal terms.

Gicheru is a man whose life is mirrored in his art. His other book Two in One is based on his experience after his eight-month old daughter was stolen by a house girl, in 1979. The baby was never found. The book tells the story of barren women who steal other people’s children. “… over the years, living without my daughter has taught me that biological parents are but just instruments of bringing a baby to the world,” he told The Standard – then East African Standard – in a 2001 interview.

Perhaps it the experience of losing a daughter to theft that influenced his decision to adopt two girls.

His other books included The Ivory Merchant, The Double and The Mixer. Later in life he wrote a children’s book The Ring in the Bush published by Longhorn. He had, in mid last year, announced that he was in the process of turning Across the Bridge into a movie.

In 2009 Gicheru wrote A Handful of Terere, a post humous biography of Samuel Mbugua Githere. In an interview he told this writer that the family of the late Githere asked him to research, compile and write the story of Githere, a prominent Nairobi businessman who had died of a stroke related illness in 1997. Githere had been a contemporary of the late business magnate Njenga Karume and it is him who introduced Njenga into the world of business.

During the launch of the book, at Njenga’s Jacaranda Hotel, Njenga told the gathered audience that he had wanted to continue with his education with a view to becoming a lawyer but Githere prevailed upon him to drop his studies and make money instead. “Githere told me that if we made a lot of money we would hire as many lawyers as we wanted,” said Njenga. That ‘prophecy’ turned true.

Gicheru said that writing Terere – published by Longhorn – was his most challenging assignment as writer but also one that he found immensely satisfying.

At the time of his death Gicheru was the proprietor of Animo Resort in Mtwapa. The joint also hosted Gikuyu and Kiswahili plays some of which he wrote himself. The late Wahome Mutahi used to bring his Gukuyu cultural plays at Gicheru’s establishment.

Gicheru was born in 1947 in Kiamwangi near Karatina, in Nyeri County. He attended Kiamwangi Primary Up to Standard Eight before joining St Mary’s High School also in Nyeri. He briefly worked as a clerk with the Ministry of Lands before joining the then East African Airways. He later left paid employment to start his own business. He spent most of his business life in Mombasa.

He married Nancy Wamuyu 1972. The couple had three biological daughters – including the stolen one – and two adopted daughters. He had two grandchildren. He was buried in his Gakawa Farm in Nanyuki on Tuesday, May 13, 2014.

Issues News Personalities

The Alembi I knew

Saturday, January 16, and I am relaxing in the house minding my business, when at around 7.40 pm a text message bursts into my phone. “Ati Alembi is dead?” Was the terse message from a colleague in the office. WHAT! This can’t be! I say to myself reading the message again. Dr Ezekiel Alembi had been admitted at the Mater Hospital on Tuesday, January 12, in critical condition. I hadn’t gone to the hospital as I was waiting for him get out of ICU, that way I reasoned I would be able to chat with him, and maybe joke him out of getting off the damn hospital bed. I suddenly remembered that heavy rains had prevented me from a new year’s party he had invited me at his house in Kahawa West. You see Daktari was very faithful and generous to his friends – Yes, I considered myself his friend – and would occasionally throw parties at his house. These parties were occasions where daktari and his friends ate a lot of food and drank a lot of tea – it was always tea, and maybe juice or soda – told stories and jokes and generally laughed at levels that would not amuse the chaps at NEMA. Daktari had his seat facing the rest of the people in the living room. Actually, it was a three-sitter, which he occupied all alone, er and his many books and papers. That was his office in the house. The mass of books and papers had a clattered disorderly look about them. “You know there is order in disorder,” Daktari would defend the state of his ‘office’. “I know where I have put each and every item, and it will not take me a second to retrieve it. But if someone arranges them I will have a hectic time finding things.” His explanation made perfect sense to me. Before I got married, my house had a very disorderly look about it, but then it was convenient for me as I knew where each and every item was, even in the dark. Enter the missus and the house became very clean, neat and ordered. Problem is that I have to keep asking where everything is… I am not complaining though By failing to attend the party, I missed the opportunity to be with Daktari for probably the last time. It turned out to be the last time he shared a meal with his friends, more like the last supper, because I am told the earliest person left his house at 8pm, for what was supposed to be ‘lunch’. He called me twice after that to tell me how much fun I had missed. Oh how I really missed! But then I comforted myself with the thought that from December 18 to 20, which by the way, is less than a month before his death, I was with Daktari at his rural Ebwiranyi home, in Western Province. It had been an occasion to launch his latest book, James Mwangi: The People’s Banker. I think this was book number 40, authored by the man. Now you see why he is so important.

Dr Alembi, (right) during the launch of his book The People's Banker In Bunyore on December 19, 2009. James Mwangi is third from right. This was Daktari's last public function

However, during our time in Ebwiranyi, I could tell that Daktari was unwell. He got exhausted quite often. During other times he would excuse himself saying that he needed to rest as his blood pressure was giving him trouble. It was really sad to see Daktari reduced to such a weakling. The Daktari I knew was a bundle of energy waiting to be unleashed into the various projects he undertook with so much vigour. At some point on the dinner table, and in the middle of a conversation, he just switched off and dozed off, for about five seconds. And when he came to he had this look about him that told me that all was not well with the good Daktari. Still, he put on a very brave face, in spite of all the pain and suffering – I was later told that he was in a really bad shape. During the event, Daktari with James Mwangi, the CEO of Equity Bank, launched the Ebwiranyi Community Library, in honour of his late parents Mzee Musa and Mama Selifa Alembi. He had build a brand new house, at the cost of around Sh700,000 – he told me this – to house the library. This got me thinking, why in the face of such suffering, would he insist on pulling off such a massive project, in such a hurry. Now, with the benefit of hand sight, I think Daktari had a premonition of his death, that he wanted to get the project out of the way before he passed on. Daktari was really keen on having well-wishers donate books to his library, and asked me for ideas. Luckily I had carried two copies of my book Henry Wanyoike: Victory Despite blindness, and promptly donated them to him. I guess the best way I can homour Daktari’s memory is by organising a campaign to have people donate books, the best way I know how. Despite being a very busy man, Daktari always had time for his friends. He would invite me for lunch at KU, where we really discussed many issues. Our lunches ended up being four to five hour affairs. And Daktari was a dramatic and funny man. I remember that whenever we went for lunch at the senior common room at KU, Daktari would feign annoyance on finding that there was no ugali on the menu. “I want real food! (ugali),” he would say. “I am not a bird to eat grains (rice).” To Daktari, nothing came before a good meal. “Aah Josefu, let us eat,” he would time and again me. “Why should we starve ourselves when there is food.” And I always daid amen to that. I think it was Unoka, Okwonkwo’s father, in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, who said that whenever he saw the mouth of a dead man, he saw the folly of not eating what one had during his lifetime… I met Daktari sometime in 2001. Then I had started writing a column I called Book World, in the Sunday Standard. Then he was plain Mr Alembi, as he had not yet gotten his doctorate degree. It took him close to eight years to get his doctorate degree, and it was not for lack of effort. During that time he time and again presented his proposals to the vetting committees at Kenyatta University, and they always managed to frustrate him. During our many talks Daktari confided in me how these individuals, who shall remain unnamed for now, frustrated him to a point where he was on the verge of losing his teaching post at KU. Then KU administration issued a circular to the effect that lecturers who did not hold doctorate degree would lose their jobs. And this was precisely the point when his tormentors had upped their tempo in frustrating my poor guy. At some point his salary was suspended, and for someone with a young family, this was really cruel. Meanwhile he had to think fast. He registered for his doctorate at the University of Helsinki in Finland, which he got in 2002. Yet this is the same person who went on to head the Literature Department at KU. This goes to prove that you cannot put a good man down. At the time of his death Daktari was the director of KU Radio services.

Whence comes another like Daktari Fare thee well Esekia.

You fought a good fight.

Issues News Personalities

A tribute to Kimani Maruge

When Kimani Maruge burst into the public limelight, I thought it was a bad joke, a publicity stunt gone too far. Seriously, how could a man aged over 80 enrol in Standard One? Nevertheless, I followed his ‘educational career’ with detached interest.
Two years down the line the man was still at it. So the guy was serious after all? I was now asking myself. Slowly he was winning me over. And yes he had become a media superstar. Boy, did the media love Maruge? And he rarely disappointed. He always came up with soundbites, that TV people ran over and over again.
My most enduring image was of the old man with a blue (I am colour blind) blazer, with matching knee-length shorts. His socks were always pulled to the base of his knees. And below them was a pair canvas shoes popularly known as Bata Bullets.
Thus dressed, and with his ubiquitous cane Maruge would drag one heavy foot after the other on his way to school.
It did not take long before the folks at Guinness Book of Records took notice, and he promptly entered their books for the dogged way he sought to get educated. He became the world’s oldest pupil.
This man kept telling everyone who cared to listen that he went to school so that he would be able to read the Bible, and soon he was reading his favourite book.
It was worthy noting here that Maruge despite his advanced age wanted to learn how to read. His example put to shame many people who soon after they are through with formal schooling throw away their books. You’ve probably heard of infamous academic bonfires, where secondary school leavers pile all their books and set fire to them.
In their foolish thinking that is the end of them and reading. These are people who have been socialised to think that reading is a form of torture, that is only tolerated for the sake of sitting exams.
During the just concluded Storymoja Hay Festival I attended a session where Muthoni Garland, the managing director of Storymoja, told the story of a young woman who came looking for a job in her firm.
When Muthoni asked the young woman the last title she read a book, the young woman shamelessly told her that she no longer reads and she had now finished schooling! Muthoni says she was scandalised and rightly so. Here is a person who hopes to be employed in a publishing firm, and who does not read.
Well, that girl is in good company. There are quite a number of people who work in our publishing houses, who do not read. Don’t ask me how I know.
Back to Maruge. As a media star, his star never faded. He continued to attract media attention in almost everything he did. Such was his star power that the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) invited him as a guest during the 2005 edition of the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature awards at the Nairobi International Book Fair. Marugi Photo
In his speech Maruge, then in Standard Five, counselled on the need to cultivate a healthy reading culture. He also took the opportunity to urge the youth against engaging in casual sex.
After that Maruge retreated to his quiet lifestyle in Kenya’s Rift Valley, where he continued with his studies. The next time I heard major news on him was after the post-election violence, where he was talking to the media from an Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDP) camp.
He had been ejected from his home for belonging to the ‘wrong tribe’.
And that is how he landed in a home for the aged, in Nairobi, from where he continued with his education. All this time, he pledged to pursue his education up to university level.
By now, Maruge was looking frail, and he spoke with difficulties, but still his star power was unmistakable. Everything he did attracted media attention.
This included his baptism ceremony at a Nairobi church. Meanwhile Hollywood was planning to shoot a major movie based on his life. Titled the First Grader, the movie unfortunately, could not be shot in Kenya as the relevant authorities levied exorbitant taxes on the moviemakers. South Africa gave them tax incentives they sought and that for the umpteenth time the South African country got to shoot a movie originally destined for Kenya.
I must mention here that I was involved, in a small way in scouting for a suitable person to play the part of Maruge, but that is a story for another day.
Maruge died on August 14, at the Chesire Home for the aged in Kariobangi North, where he was staying, from complications of stomach cancer. He was aged 89.
Fare thee well Maruge. You fought the good fight. I propose a literary award in honor of the old man. Any takers?


Otieno Amisi: Death of a Kenyan Poet

His was such a powerful voice, especially coming from a person of such small stature. Even as he was ailing, Amisi’s voice did not betray this when together with Prof Chris Wanjala and author Onduko Bw’ Atebe hosted Literary Giants on KBC Radio every Sunday afternoon. His unmistakable voice on radio was only but a facade of the daunting odds that must have weighed heavily on him in his last days.
Otieno Amisi, given to a cheerful disposition, never missed any literary event. One thing that struck a person upon meeting him for the first time was his small eyes, that burnt with so much life. I first met Amisi in 2002, when I was writing for the The Standard. He joined from Daily Nation as a theatre critic. Though we didn’t interact much then, from his pieces, I could tell he was a serious person.
In September 2003, a shake-up at the Standard, saw a number of journalists out in the streets without jobs. Amisi and I were among the unfortunate lot. In the course of our freelancing we would bump into each other in several functions. It is around that time that I heard that he had become a dad to quadruplets! I imagined it must have been tough surviving as a freelancer, in Nairobi, and having to raise four new babies.
My real interaction with Amisi came about in 2006 when he opened his blog – he is actually the one who ushered me into the world of blogging. “Dear friend,
I finally have a new blog, where we can share ideas on editing and writing. Just go to Otieno Amisi,” was the message he sent me on October 25, 2006. And that is when I came to know the other side of Amisi. His fearless wit and intellect came out in his postings. His pen spared no one. When James Murua – – launched his website on social life in Nairobi, Amisi gave it a stinging review, in his blog, dismissing it not being ‘artistic’. This drew sharp reactions from people who thought Jaymo was doing a great job, including yours trully.
With our pens, Amisi and I had crossed s(words), and this brought about a healthy mutual respect. In the course of his blogging Amisi never shied away from getting into a fight, with whoever, as long as he believed he was right. He had opened my eyes to the exciting world of blogging. He would put enything he wrote in his blogs, and while most of it presented readers with interesting readings, others made for labourious reads.
Soon he opened another blog on poetry, and he did justice to it seeing as he was the secretary of Kenya Poets Association. Courtesy of Amisi made a first when he launched a poetry e-book Back to the Future during the 2007 Nairobi International Book Fair, which was celebrating its tenth anniversary.
Then it was qiute clear that he was really ailing. After a lengthy hospitalisation at Kenyatta National Hospital – he included his hospital experiences in his blog – he lost use of his right hand and it was permanently in a sling. If anything, his ill-health served to drive him even harder. I remember seeing him hand-in-sling make his way through treacherous and slippery rocky gorges, during a trip organised for writers, by Kwani? Trust, to Hell’s Gate in Naivasha, in early 2007. Amisi also rarely missed the monthly poetry Open Mic organised by Kwani? at Club Soundd in Nairobi. And he almost always had a new poem to recite.
When Tony Mochama aka Smitta Smitten launched his poetry book – What if I am a Literary Gangster – in November 2007, there was no way Amisi would have missed out in the action. I reviewed the book in my blog and it generated quite a debate. To date, it is the most popular post on my blog.
On December 10 2007, Amisi called on me and gave me his review of Mochama’s book, and insisted that I publish it in my blog. I saw it an honour that Amisi would consider blog worthy of his review. Whenever we met he used to tell me a lot of nice things about my blog, which was naturally flattering. Amisi’s review, which I titled Gangster Poetry: Otieno Amisi’s Verdict was to be my last post for 2007, and that was the last day I saw him alive.
In the meantime, the political scene was getting heated up with politicians, making a nuisance of themselves, campaigning for the 2007 General Election. The violence that greeted the presidential poll results left many, including bloggers, shell-shocked. Come the bloody new year, the country is in ruins, and people are preoccupied with their safety. That is when I heard that Amisi had passed away. It also emerged that he did not even vote, which is as well, as he did not partcipate in the process that has almost reduced our dear country into a hell hole.
With Amisi’s death, Kenya’s writing fraternity has lost a committed journalist and a dedicated poet.
RIP Amisi, you lived the full life.