I had a dog once. I loved that little guy. His name was tommy. I would pet him until my hand smelled, I would nuzzle him and feed him meat right from my plate. When I came home he would begin barking and tail wagging, more pleased to see me than anyone else was. He was playful and bouncy, jumping up and down to ask for something and he loved to chase his own tail. He would see me depressed and sad and he would start running around in a circle like he was trying to catch up to it. Immediately this happened I would brighten up and he would chase it in more of a frenzy, running round and round until he fell down and then he would come up to me and nudge me ever so lightly and we would go off on a run. To this day I think that he knew he couldn’t catch his tail, I think that he used to do this because he knew I was sad and it was the only way he could think to make me happy.
One day I got some horrible news, there are those heartbreaks that happen that make everything look different. The sun hides behind a shade and darkness spreads its fingers over not just your heart but the whole land. You know the ones where food doesn’t taste as good and friends are not nearly as funny. The ones where only the spread of misery and the imbibing of alcohol make you feel better. I had recently gone through one of these and was busy making other people feel as bad as I did. Then one of the girls cried in front of me. She didn’t sob; she wasn’t trying to make a scene, tears just leaked out of her eyes. They were clear and oval, little diamonds of sadness dropping away and making their way down her face until they left and shattered on the ground. I felt so much worse that day than I ever felt before. I got drunk and went home, I let myself in and there was the dog. He barked at me and soon he knew I wasn’t happy. I just wanted to get in bed but he wouldn’t let me, he just barked and jumped and sure enough he began to chase his tail. Trying and trying to win me over. I tried to get around him but I couldn’t so in the end I kicked him. The look that came into his eyes was just like the girl from earlier in eh day. All those people who think animals don’t have language have never seen what I saw that day. There was pain and humiliation, anger and fear. He ran away from me, and I stumbled off to bed, but something was broken that day. He was never as cheerful around me, he remembered what had happened. Something was broken between us, even when he chased his tail he did it without abandon, as if now he was afraid he would catch it. Whenever I lifted my foot to join in he would flinch involuntarily, a memory of what I had done stayed with him forever. By the time he died the chases of joy were a memory that took years to resurface.
Now, none of that story is true except that there was a dog called tommy that I really liked. He was brown with streaks of white running through him. And he was an alpha male, he had sex with all the bitches in the neighbourhood, he would mount them in full view of all of us children and proceed to hump away. The adults would try to separate him from his prize and a picture that stays in my mind was of a botched separation when his penis got stuck inside the other dog. They tried to run away from each other but like one of those Chinese finger cuffs they just came back together. As he got older he became fat and frail. None of his life was on display; he would just sit listless with his tongue hanging out and watch the world pass him by. No one petted him anymore he had become a nuisance and soon it was time to get rid of him. It would have been kinder to call a vet or use a shotgun than what was done instead, his owners put him in a car and drove him out to a new neighbourhood, they coaxed him out of the car and then drove away. The dog ran after the car but he was old and soon stopped running. I can’t imagine what the rest of his life was after that initial betrayal, after he had forgotten how to take care of himself, after the loss of his alpha male status. He probably just wandered around Nairobi till he dropped dead. Lost, alone and unable to understand why he had been abandoned.
I was talking to someone in school the other day and we talked about the upcoming elections. We were scared something may happen, this is a conversation that nearly everyone in Kenya has had. There is a chance of violence and it’s never far from our minds, what violence meant and what it would mean if it were to happen again. I realised that the elections in 2007 may be the last time that this generation, the generation that remembers living through it will go to the polls without a worry in their minds. There is a chance that every cycle will come with questions of what could happen if violence is sparked off again. This country may have become a nation of Tommys (the fictional one.) we might be a nation that flinches every time there is an election because the memory of that first betrayal is too painful to forget and so we walk around wary of what happens. The first word association we have when we hear elections could become violence.
There is also a chance that we could become a nation of Tommys (the second one) and this is when shit gets real. I know that advocating doomsday scenarios is always hysterical but what happens if we go to the polls and then proceed to blood and destruction. We could lead all the hope we have in our nation out onto a road marked with hate and civil strife and leave it there. We could get into a car powered by tribalism and ethnic tension and drive away. And our hope would be left on the side of the road, it would bark out for us but we wouldn’t hear it. Retaliations and recriminations would be all that fills our ears. We would drive away and our hopes would starve slowly but surely. It would become a stick-figure, gaunt and haunted. It would forget our names and turn into a scavenger whose only food comes from half-forgotten rubbish bins. Then it would die. And if a people are their hopes we would die too right then. A nation of Tommys wandering, wondering about what happened.
I’m scared; I am really scared of what happens if we fight each other again. Someone once said that the pen is mightier than the sword. I’m not sure how much influence this little piece yields but the moving of even one heart is an achievement. Don’t let our country die.