The Absent Guard

By Esperance

Rance is a serene, small town on the outskirts of Nairobi, situated in a picturesque landscape that comprises rolling hills, mountains, and sprawling grasslands. Some of the mountains face the Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak. As the sun sets in the evening, a beautiful sight can be seen when the shape of Mount Kenya, another iconic peak, comes into view, and the horizon is painted with a wide spectrum of color.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the government imposed movement and trade restrictions, many herders struggled to make ends meet. Locals prepared manifestations and demonstrations to voice their opposition and anger.

It was a difficult period, but it came to an end when the new year started, and particular confinement and other measurements where loosened. People dreamed again about returning to work. Imagine this for a second!

One of the people returning to work was Kesha. She was a guard at a commercial court, a job given to her by a relative who owned the courts. He briefly instructed her on the collection of rent payment– and utilities receipts, on how to make sure the faucets were running properly. The rest of the time, she had to guard the premises.

Kesha’s uniform was poorly cut, but at least the hat fit well. She touched it sometimes – to emphasize a point, or to command respect. Kesha was a great guard, enthusiastic, and everybody loved her. It’s no longer a taboo for a lady to become a guard. Even in an area known to be very conservative like Rance, women increasingly take jobs that previously only men would do. Thank God the times have changed!

Kesha enjoyed working. She tried to do it as best as she could, but it wasn’t easy as she also was raising two sons on her own. She often felt torn between wanting to be the best mother for her children, and fulfilling her professional responsibilities at the commercial court. Sometimes she missed some of her duties, and forgot to tell the owner.

At other times, when everything was quiet, she’d disappear, only to reappear fifteen minutes later, happy and rejuvenated. Disappearing briefly to the local bar during working hours was her darling sin. She drank Nusu, meaning ‘at least a half’–a small, affordable liquor, popular packaged in small bottle’s that can be easily carried in your hands or in a pocket that’s popular among the unemployed youth.

Barely months after confinement had come to an end, a burglary happened. It was on one of the first days of 2021, the rainy season. Windows were lying shattered on the ground. The owner of the commercial court had woken up early to go and report the matter. Little was done in this matter. Everything takes time here; it even takes time for the ambulance to respond to emergencies. Welcome to Rance area.

That night, a thief tried to break the door of one of the commercial houses, but when he did not succeed, he broke a window with a big wooden stick. Some of the neighbors heard noises and alerted the owner of the premises. He arrived almost immediately with a group of young men. The thief ran immediately and quickly, when he heard people approaching. He climbed over the wooden painted fence and escaping into the night.

The next morning the news had travelled like a fire. Criminality often increases here in January. People spent too much to celebrate Christmas and new year, and have forgotten that each new month comes with responsibilities. It was surprising that this happened in Rance area though, normally it’s very peaceful and violence rarely occurs.

Kesha arrived late the next morning, unaware of what had happened last night. She was immediately approached by a guy who brought her up to speed. One of the shops, a mobile money transfer service bureau got robbed. It was a very helpful service to the locals, run by a young energetic lady, but she was nowhere to be seen. When the guy was finished telling the story, Kesha thanked him, and told him to be careful.

In the meantime, a crowd of people had begun to gather the court. They were all confused, and demanded to know what had happened. Kesha told them to move to one side of the court, to clear the way for the traffic that needed to pass. Adam, a diligent worker with an expanding business at the courts, was among the crowd. He approached Kesha, asking her to please tell them what happened. Kesha passionately narrated what she knew about last nights’ events: the money transfer service had been robbed, the windows were broken and the thief escaped through the broken fence and still wasn’t caught.

The crowd listened in silence, and Adam nodded quietly, his mouth opened slightly, touching his head occasionally helplessly. When Kesha was done, she told the people to be careful, to keep an eye on each other, and to make sure houses and stores where locked properly each night.

Then, she went on to inspect the rest of the premises, and as she walked away, Adam asked her what he should do. “Come and see me tomorrow,” she replied, unsure of what she could do right now for him.

In the evening, the owner of the premises returned with a fundi (a repair man) to fix the broken windows and to consolidate the windows and the door of the shop. The owner advised other tenants to pay a little money and repair their shop doors and windows the next week.

The tenants organized themselves and paid the landlord. For a week, all activities in the commercial courts came to a halt as the repairs took place. The end of confinement announced itself with more anxiety and the fear of the unknown in Rance area.

A week later, when the dust had settled, the landlord decided to enroll Kesha in a course to specialize her as a guard. With the burglary, and the tenants being afraid, something had to change. The tenants had to feel safe again. Normally, in the Highlands, most activities are informal and Kesha had no problem fitting in, but when she heard the plans of being trained officially, she doubted. It had never been her dream to become an officially trained guard, but the ball was in her hand and she had to decide quickly.

Adam felt torn. He wanted to keep his shop running, to preserve the good relations he had built up with his customers, but he felt scared. Ultimately, he decided he didn’t want to live in fear. When the center was fixed and business could start again, he disappeared and nobody saw him again.

Kesha hesitated if she wanted to remain working as a guard, or if she should ask for a job at a nearby booming restaurant. The restaurant was owned by a friend from the shopping center, and she wanted to ask she could give her the opportunity to work at the restaurant. The lady agreed and Kesha started to prepare herself to start the new job.

24 February, 2023