Ciku wondered how Jack could be that obsessed with violence. How it was even possible for him to throw his head back and smile as the echoes of wailing men and women turned into ghosts by bullet-spitting guns bounced off walls in the streets. Jack’s fascination with action movies had gone beyond that of a normal movie lover. He relished, particularly, the kinds where American soldiers aboard helicopters slithered down ropes under the blanket of darkness till their boots touched the soil of whatever country they had decided had wronged America— Afghanistan. Sudan. Somalia.
Jack neither liked the soldiers nor the people they fought. He loved the action. The sound of screaming children tagging on their mothers’ dresses. The begging of these women who often shielded their children with their own bodies when bullets left the barrel of the gun. The splashing of blood. The ending of life.
When he wasn’t watching these movies, he was telling Ciku how he couldn’t wait to join the military. His resolve to serve in the military never withered even after being turned away two times in a row. And she would have been happy for him if she weren’t convinced that he wanted to serve for the wrong reasons.
His father was among the first 2000 troops dispatched in Somalia to fight terrorism. And as it is always in war, you either come out alive, or you never come out at all. His father never came out at all. From what they heard, he and other soldiers were reduced to fishnets by the number of bullets the Alshabaab sprayed on their bodies. His mother did not cry when the news was broken to them. At least not immediately. She stared into the blank space and fought the tears threatening to roll down her cheeks. But eventually, the tears got the better of her and she wept. He joined her in weeping. Blowing mucus and rubbing his eyes till they turned blood red.
Because his father’s body was never recovered, they had to bury a banana plant in its place. That, the burying of a banana plant in place of his father’s body, angered him more than the death of his father. He resolved to join the military to avenge his father’s death but his mother did not approve of that move, a sentiment Ciku, his girlfriend, shared.
“I feel you are full of anger,” Ciku once told him. “If you were to join the military this anger will cloud your sense of judgment and you’ll not come out of there alive.”
Her head was resting on his chest. They had just made love and his breathing was still heavy. She ran her palm over his thighs when he did not respond but he did nothing to show he had registered her sentiments.
“You will not understand,” he finally said before turning his back on her.
She would break up with him, she quietly resolved. She would break up with him because she was not ready to go through life as a widow because she married a man too keen on dying. She woke up each morning with the intention of calling it quits before it was too late but something, perhaps guilt, held her back.
One evening he came home with a big smile. He found her seated on the sofa with her legs tucked beneath her, her face bubbling with excitement eager to be unleashed. He sat next to her and placed his hand on her shoulder.
He shot up and broke into a dance.
“What?” she pressed, eager to break her own news.
“FINALLY! FINALLY!” He shouted before leaning to cup her face. “I have finally been selected to join the military, baby, can you believe it?” He turned around and paced the room. “I am finally going to put on that uniform. I will tie my laces and step into the enemy’s territory like the badass soldier I am going to be. The first son of a bitch that will come my way?” he turned to look at her, eyes glittering with what she imagined was anticipation. “I will make them kiss my gun and then slowly push the gun’s barrel between their stinking teeth, smile, and then pull the trigger.”
That was it. She was done. Ciku decided there and then that she wasn’t going to mention a thing about her young pregnancy.
She moved from Nyeri to Nairobi and it would be two years before she heard from Jack again. She was just from taking a shower when her phone rang. New number. She wiped her hands with her towel before grabbing the phone from her bed.
There was silence.
She lowered her phone to check if the call was still on.
“Hello?” she tried again.
“Where’s my daughter?”
Her heart started pounding. The quiet voice on the line was that of Jack and he was the last person she expected to receive a call from.
Her phone rang again and this time both her hands and voice trembled as she answered.
“Where’s my daughter, Ciku.”
“I-I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Don’t play dumb with me. I am ready to forget and forgive you for leaving when I was trying so hard to stay alive because of you back in the training camp, but I can’t get past the fact that you imagined it would be a nice idea to keep my daughter away from me.”
“I do not have your daughter.”
“What happened to her?”
“I had a miscarriage.”
“Do I sound like a fool to you?”
“Ciku, do I sound like a fool to you?”
“Bring my daughter to me.” He hanged up.
She wasn’t surprised he knew about their daughter. It was impossible to keep such information secret from the ever-nosy village people anyway. She called her fiance, Josh, and because he knew her way too well, it didn’t take him a minute to detect the panic in her voice.
“Is anything the matter?” he asked and when she told him what had happened, he said, “I am coming home right away.”
She had met Josh a few months ago. A fine man. Always in a shirt and jeans. She had told him about Jack in the name of being open, but the real reason was she feared he would run away the moment he heard how crazy Jack was, and it would have been better for him to change his mind early in the relationship. But he chose to stay.
Together they waited for Jack’s call but it never came. Weeks passed. A month passed. A year passed. Then she had the news that Jack had been killed. She broke down when the news was broken to her because Jack remained the man she loved with all her heart, despite his stubbornness. She moaned both his death and what could have been. Jack’s body, just like his father’s, was never recovered.
She got engaged to Josh not long after and a date was set for their wedding. Two days to her wedding, a call came in. An unknown number. She had answered the phone but the caller did not speak. Her heart thumped so hard she could feel its pulse on her throat because something told her this was Jack. Or his ghost.
The fear was confirmed when later that day he called again and she couldn’t decide whether to be scared or to be happy he was still alive.
“Can I see you?”
“My wedding is in two days, Jack.”
He went Silent.
“Your wedding, huh?” He hanged up.
On the Eve of her wedding day, she snuck out of her bachelorette party to meet him. She found him leaning on a lamppost a few blocks away, hands deep in his pocket and eyes digging a hole in the ground. She stood before him like a servant before a king, hands behind her and head slightly bowed. He looked up. Took off his cap and pushed himself off the lamppost before taking a step closer to her. She stepped back. He put on his cap again and pointed to the black Toyota Harrier to his right.
“Get in,” he said.
“Please, get in.”
She stared at him. After four years she had expected him to look different, yet she was still surprised at how different he looked. His shoulders were broader and his arms the size of her thigh. His eyes were dark and lifeless, like that of a shark. She looked around, trying to see if there was anyone who would come to her rescue were he to turn wild, but the well-lit streets were mostly deserted, and the few people in sight looked too drunk to defend themselves from danger, let alone her.
“What do you want?” she asked. “The only reason I am here is that you kept calling and wouldn’t let me be. So tell me, Jack, what can I do for you?”
“You can start by getting into that car so we can go somewhere nice we can talk.” He pointed at his car again. “Or we can cut straight to the chase and get to the part where you tell me how I can get my daughter.”
“I-I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Jack, I told you what happened. I had a miscarriage a month after you joined the military.”
He signaled her to follow him as he went and opened the trunk of his car. Her eyes almost popped out in horror when she saw Josh hunched in there with both his legs and hands tied together. His mouth was covered with a black tape.
“Jack, what are you doing?” she turned to him with pleading eyes.
“Let’s try one more time, where is my daughter?”
“I told you I had a misca—“
Jack whipped out a gun from his pants’ waist.
“It occurs to me that you don’t appreciate the seriousness of this situation,” he said. “Maybe this gun will help you with that.”
“Please, I am not lying to you.”
Jack turned to Josh. “I am going to remove the tape from your mouth but if you make a sound, you are dead, hear me?”
He yanked the tape from his mouth.
“Now, open your mouth.”
“Please, don’t kill me. Please—“
“Did I ask you to speak?”
Josh shook his head no.
“Good, open your mouth.”
Jack then pushed the gun in Josh’s mouth.
Ciku sank to her knees. “Jack, you don’t have to do this. He’s innocent.”
“Innocent? Did you say innocent?” He slowly started pulling the trigger. “In the bush, where death keeps showing its face disguised as forgotten landmines or grenades that did not go off, you would imagine that dying would be our biggest concern as soldiers. But no, our biggest concern is that back home the men who sleep and rise under the blanket of freedom we provide are, when not insulting us, hopping onto our beds and fucking our girlfriends and wives. And he was not content with just stealing you from me, he also wanted to keep my daughter to himself so, you see, he is guilty, just like the rest of them all.”
He wiped the sweat from his brows with the back of his left hand. “One last time, Ciku, where is my daughter?”
“I told you…”
Jack pushed the gun farther into Josh’s mouth and just before Ciku shouted, “I will bring her to you!” he pulled the trigger.
Only his gun wasn’t loaded.