We are very excited to be able to share another chapter of J S Fortuna's Night Runners with you. In the first two chapters we were introduced to Alex, a Kenyan policeman in a remote border town with a weakness for miraa, a native stimulant.
In this chapter, Alex and his friend Angus go in search of a night runner called John Wenga.
Please let us know what you thought of the piece either in the comments section below or at email@example.com.
Alex ordered a milky tea. He sat watching the matatu stand with a giant grin on his face. He bought a huge bag of miraa for a discounted price. He suspected the seller was in trouble, but this had not stemmed his enthusiasm. He had already chewed through a third of the bag by the time Angus arrived.
Angus looked Alex up and down.
‘You are thin!’.
Alex had always had a skinny frame but was now even thinner. His eyes looked sunken, but his pupils were bulging. A small crust of cold sores was forming in the corner of his mouth.
‘Are you ok?’.
Angus shifted his gaze down to a bundle of miraa shoots that Alex had tucked under a greasy napkin.
‘I’ve not been sleeping much’, ‘It’s the night shifts’.
Angus tilled his head back in recognition.
‘Sometimes I’m awake for almost three days without sleep’.
‘It’s the 12 hour shifts on the road; 6 till 6’.
‘But today I’m going to ignore sleep’, ‘I’m going to sit here and sip tea’.
Angus was a little irritated that Alex had made a big fuss about meeting him, but now seemed to be talking through a haze of miraa. Angus ordered a matambu fry to make himself feel better.
‘So…what is this about?’.
‘Jajouk’. Alex replied with a grin.
‘You want me to go hunting for a Luo ghost?’.
‘There’s one particular ghost I have in mind’, ‘I need you to see it’.
‘It will help me’, ‘And stop people thinking I’m mad’.
Angus was a little lost.
‘Since when did jajouks concern the police?’.
‘They don’t at all’, ‘That’s my problem’.
‘Look Alex’, ‘Don’t you need a break?’,‘Some time off?’.
Alex leaned in towards Angus; lifting his bloodshot eyes so that they were face to face.
‘What I need is to put my mind at rest’.
Angus thought Alex sounded edgy and strung out; he had little choice but to agree to it. Alex had been so good to him in the past.
‘Meet me at the crossroads just before Sukusi village at midnight tonight?’.
‘Bring a machete’.
Angus arrived at the crossing just after 12. He was relieved to see that Alex had sobered up and was keenly scanning the village for signs of activity. Alex patted Angus gently on the shoulder as he approached and gestured towards John Wenga’s hut. Angus nodded; unsure of what he was supposed to do.
‘If he comes out tonight he’ll come from that hut’.
Angus glanced blankly towards the grain store.
‘But he may run in any direction’.
‘We just need to stay calm’.
The men waited for a few minutes before walking in silence towards the grain store; now there was two of them it was even more important to use it as a hideout. Angus was accustomed to peering into darkness and waiting for bad things to happen, but he didn’t feel comfortable spying on John Wenga, jajouk, or not.
As they settled in, Alex worried that it might have been a wasted journey. Another hour passed and neither had seen, or heard, anything. Alex rubbed his palms together. The village air was cold and clear. They glanced at each other. Then suddenly, a sound came from outside the hut. Alex knew that John was running through the bush to the hut. He quickly motioned to Angus to get up. Both men leapt out of the grain store. They startled John Wenga who gave out a horrendous scream and darted towards them. John stood bobbing from one foot to the other and making the most disturbing throat-throttling screams. He pulled a sharp machete from his belt and thrashed it repeatedly in front of them. Several times he caught his forearm and deep, bloodied cuts appeared. Branches were now flying in front of them. They both stepped back. Angus looked at Alex for guidance, but Alex was frozen in fear. It felt more like they were dealing with a trapped hyena than a human. Alex was genuinely afraid for what John would do next, but before he had time to assimilate this thought John fled into the night. Alex turned to Angus; both men stood opened-mouthed, and wide-eyed.
As the morning broke Alex was still feeling anxious and disturbed by his encounter with John Wenga. He had struggled to sleep for the third night in a row. He had a piercing headache and longed for peace of mind. He scurried down to the reception desk in his night clothes. It was completely deserted. He reached into a cupboard underneath the desk and pulled out a bottle of King Albert whisky. It was only half full, but it would do combined with a fistful of miraa. Alex sat back on his bed and swallowed hard. As he drifted off he started to hallucinate. He blinked fitfully. He turned his head towards the curtains in an attempt to get rid of the image of John Wenga silently thrashing a machete in front of him, but he couldn’t. He tried to put his head under his blanket, but the hallucination seemed more intense than ever. He jumped up from the bed and took in a deep breath. Nothing helped. John was still there. Alex felt more terrified than he had ever been in his life; sweat trickled down his forehead, and his arms and legs were as heavy as lead. He slumped back onto the bed, but John kept getting closer, and closer, to him. Alex desperately pulled at the buttons on his sleeves and chest until they had all been ripped off. He got up and erratically raced across the room; picking up the jajouk files and hurling them at John. Yet, nothing stopped him coming. In desperation, Alex threw himself violently towards the door. He hit his head hard against the frame and dropped to the floor. When he woke an hour later John had gone, but Alex felt deeply traumatised and anxious. He felt an overwhelming need to speak to the Chief. He must speak with him.
Alex ran into the station. His shirt was ripped open, and he had a large gash on his head that had bled down over his face.
The officer at the counter barely recognised him.
‘I need to see the Chief!’.
‘He’s in Kisumu at a conference’.
Alex was aggressive and insistent.
‘I need to see the Chief’. Alex repeated himself, ‘I need to see the Chief!’.
Another officer had quietly approached Alex without him noticing, and now put a hand on his shoulder. Alex thrust his hand away and stood in the middle of the room with his head bowed. After a few minutes he lifted up his head.
‘What do you know about jajouk?!’.
He pointed at the officer behind the counter.
The other began to reply slowly:
‘In Kisii, we call them abarogi’, ‘They disturb people at night and perform witchcraft’.
‘The community usually deals with them’, ‘they are attacked, and sometimes killed’.
‘But in Busia, they let them alone because they are too frightened to confront them’.
‘I have heard a villager claim that the jajouk all know each other, and that they have ‘territories’’.
‘They each take a different village’.
Alex looked across at the man. He must have been new because he didn’t recognise him.
‘Then they are just crooks?!’, Alex bellowed.
Neither man answered. Alex stood for a minute before lurching towards the cells at the back of the station. Several men were quietly sat on the benches within the cells. Alex could make out the soft muttering of a prayer.
‘Are any of you jajouk?!’, he shouted through the darkness into the cells.
No one answered; unsure of which side of the cell bars the voice had come from.
‘Who is a jajouk?!’, he repeated loudly.
Again no one answered, but the sound of faint whispering echoed through the cells. Two officers crept up behind Alex and sprang out to restrain his arms. He was pulled to the floor kicking and lashing out. Then he stopped suddenly and gave into it. He was unceremoniously thrown out of the station onto the road. He began to walk back to the hotel in the midday heat. After a while it was too much. He sat for a moment at one of the dukas and drank coconut water from the husk. As he began to sober up, he started to become acutely aware that he had totally embarrassed himself.
It wasn’t long before the Chief was on the phone.
‘Alex we can’t have this’.
His tone was cold and calm.
‘I know, Chief’, ‘I’m sorry’.
‘You’ve gone too far this time’.
‘Why are you meddling in matters that don’t concern you?’.
‘Jajouk are a problem that needs to be dealt with by the community’.
‘Don’t pursue it’, ‘You will lose your grip on reality’.
‘At the moment you are showing all the signs of a man on the edge’.
‘I know you have been under a lot of stress recently, and that you don’t see your wife and children, but it’s time to take stock!’.
Alex sighed as he listened to the Chief’s attempt at sympathy; it didn’t come naturally to him. Alex intensely disliked any sort of paternalistic behaviour towards him.
Nevertheless, he reassured the Chief he would try to get some sleep and eat some proper meals. He planned to lie low in his hotel room and work out what to do with himself. The Chief had granted him some leave but expected him to report back to the station ‘when he was better’; whatever that meant. Alex dreaded the prospect of having to return to the station. In time they will forget about it, he said to himself, as he fell into a deep sleep for the first time in days.