Lily Mabura's How Shall we Kill the Bishop was shortlisted for the 11th Caine Prize for African Writing in 2010. The story was first published in Wasafiri Vol. 23 No. 1, March 2008. It is also part of the Caine Prize for African Writing anthology A Life in Full and Other Stories published in 2010, together with Alex Smith's Soulmates.
How Shall we Kill the Bishop is a story about the lives of four priests, a bishop and a cook at a vicarage in a desolate town in Kenya. In fact the author's description of the town where the vicarage is set is similar to Andre Brink's Praying Mantis. For instance the military base was a
remnant of the colonial legacy standing amongst stunted acacia trees and withered shrubs of solanum. The stunts of sparse grass surrounding the base were too brittle for cattle to graze on - too brittle even for camels.
and it is this military that provides the
distraction from the sick dogs that would not stop howling, from the dry animal carcasses in the bush and watering holes caked with mud.
In this town, inhabited by natives virtually begging and scouring for food and military, life seems to happen spontaneously and during the periods where life and access to sustenance seem to be unbearable, the natives who are unable to migrate away from the town, to literally seek greener pastures, turn to the bishop and his four priests for help. Yet these priests have their own problems. Each has something he is eager to forget. According to Fr. Yasin Lordman:
Fr. Ahmed, ... , was hard bent on forgetting cigarettes; Fr. Seif, in his determination to forget the woman he loved, intruded on everyone's quiet time because he could not stand his own; Fr. Dugo determined to forget that the bishop had tested him most before admission; and Dafala [the cook] determined to forget that the bishop was sick at all and carried on as usual.
And so too is the bishop as he lay dying on his bed. The bishop wanted someone to confess his sins to before he passes on. In his determination he writes a confessional letter for Fr. Yasin to post to the Nuncio Felice in Nairobi . Early on, it was Fr. Yasin who had asked the question 'How shall we kill the bishop' - as a joke - when they realised that he was the one who is preventing them from going back to their old ways. Fr. Yasin on his way to posting the letter saw Salima, a girl who had become part of the life of the priests and the bishop after she scaled the wall onto the compound and was asked, as penance for her sins, to serve as the altar girl, since the vicarage had lost all their altar boys to the unending drought. Following Salima, perhaps to verify why she has not been coming to the vicarage, Fr. Yasin misses her in the military crowd.
Fr. Yasin exchanged the bishop's envelope for the promise (from a woman in charge of the place where the military were dancing) of seeing Salima. Then suddenly, on the vicarage's compound was an armed military man with his boot on Yasin's neck. And in one censer swing of his gun, dropped the bishop.
This story is an enigma. What caused the military man who was keeping Salima to come to the vicarage and kill the Bishop? Was it a competition for Salima? Or revenge? Since the content of the envelope was removed, the military man could not be acting on revenge as initially one might think that the bishop had known Salima carnally. This story is somewhat above my head. I hope you read it and point this out to me, perhaps I am missing something. I think this story was shortlisted because of its enigma.
Brief Bio: Lily Mabura is an African and African Diaspora scholar and writer at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Her literary awards include the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature and Kenya's National Book Week Literary Award. She has published several short stories, a novel, The Pretoria Conspiracy (Focus Books, 2000), and three children's books. She is currently working on a fictional exploration of Kenya's 2007-08 post-election violence, Man from Magadi. (source: A Life in Full and other stories)
Other Caine Prize Shortlist: Soulmates by Alex Smith (2010)