Monday, April 16, 2012

154. SHORT STORY MONDAY: Set Me Free by Clifford Chianga Oluoch

Set Me Free, published in the Caine Prize for African writing 2010 anthology - A Life in Full and other stories - is a story based on the 2007-2008 Kenya electoral crisis that resulted when Mwai Kibaki was declared winner of the December 27, 2007 elections and Raila Odinga and his supporters claimed there has been electoral fraud leading to a somewhat Orange Revolution but worsened when some politicians invoked the tribal differences leading to violence. The resolution of the crisis led to the Kibaki-Odinga power-sharing government where Odinga became the prime minister and Kibaki remained the president. In this parallel story, narrated by the daughter of one of such rogue politicians whose name is on the list of the names the ICC has released, the woman tells of the events that took place within the next two days when the list came out. When as a temporary single-mother she had to make a lot of life-and-dead decisions amid threatening calls and text messages, and women who all want to be part of his father's wealth and so are reporting having had children with him. It also moves alongside the woman's five-year old son's eagerness to keep a fallen bird.

David Mavita collapsed in his room by his housemaid, already he was hypertensive and diabetic, after the ICC list came out and is on life support. He has been deserted by both family and friends; friends because none of them wanted to be associated with him after his name came up. His wife has divorced him and absolutely hates him, believing the greatest mistake she had made in her life was marrying David. His sons - Joni and Jerry - have been both disowned by David and having gone their own ways want to have nothing to do with him. Joni became a homosexual prostitute and Jerry was now in the US with her mother who was there to look after his children.

This breakdown in the family left his only daughter as the controller of his estate and by default the next of kin who had to ensure that the next few days after the event will pass smoothly. She had to decide to keep his father on life-support or not; and had to ward off all unnecessary and threatening calls. She made calls to all known family members but none was willing to help: her mother (David's wife) cut the line after she offered her tuppence, an uncle had his problem with David already and would not help him even in death, an Aunt (David's sister) would echo what his brother said and would also cut the line, she could talk to Jerry, and Joni was nowhere to be found. Friends have suddenly whittled and she is left alone. Finally, she set out to look for Joni in Nairobi's Red Light District. When she found him, he also had nothing to do with him; according to him he'd been dead since and that he had no father. But he followed her to the hospital and also advocated for the removal of the life-support which was the decision she had to make that led to her canvassing for opinions from family members. A call from her husband, Tim, from abroad also supported the removal of the life-support since there is no use keeping him alive: is it so that he would face trial by the ICC?

In all there were twelve women who called at the hospital claiming to have had children with David and that should be part of the funeral preparations. They also came with a fake court injunction on the cremation, but David's daughter also has her way around these things. She would take her father off life-support, watch him breathe his last breath, outwitted the authorities and the vulturing women and get him cremated. Together with Joni, they spread his remains over parliament building - the place their father had spent much of his life.

The story is also about the uselessness of earning all such stupendous wealth and gaining nothing in return; rejected by friends and family. In the end his ashes fitted in a little urn which fitted in her hand and when she asked if that is all, the usher responded:
Yes. Human beings are very small.
About the author:


  1. I think I like this story and the response by the usher says it very well. 'Human being is small', a very symbolic statement indeed!. The futility of it all.

    1. love it too. In the end we shall all die.

  2. Great review and response. Yes, humans are very small.


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