SHORT STORY: My Smile was dead inside

Friday December 13 2019

When he isn’t here, it feels like I do not want this life to continue documented everything, the day he approached me, the day he brought me a rose and a soda for completion of my primary education. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA | NMG


I can still hear these words as I walk towards his gravesite, dust to dust they said but she that breaths cannot be ashes or can she?

I remember it all like a child remembers the taste of a gummy, that sweet taste that would remain in my mouth, vividly so.

When I first met Steven, I was smitten, he had qualities that delight the eye, a structure too fine and eyes that would make you stare too long, I often heard people describe him as a weirdo, but what stood before me was something else.

A halo on his head, a ruffled beard, walked with a cow boyish gait, and with that gun on his side, he was the perfect picture of a cowboy.

Our first encounter was at a neighbour’s burial. He had landed a while back, with uncontrollable drinking habits that the village considered him a very disturbed man.

His parents had held prayers to cast away the demons that were controlling him but still he would come back every evening hurling insults at everyone who stood on his way and half the time at the government.


When he was called back to work, everyone heaved a sigh of relief, because here, as it would be in any other village, a drunk man with a gun is a security threat.

He had come back a different man, this time to invigilate exams at a local secondary school not far from my home, same school my mother taught, he was now a quiet shy man, polite and walked around with his eyes cast down, the village hero was back, and slowly the trust that had been lost was regained.

I called him Smile in my journal and I had documented everything, the day he approached me, the day he brought me a rose and a soda for completion of my primary education, the day he took away my innocence and the day he told me the sad Somalia story.

My Smile was dead inside, he would tell me with a smile, but I was too young to understand why a dead man would be smiling.

His first reaction when I touched the wound on his leg caught me by surprise; he grabbed the sheets and quickly covered it but still maintained the smile.

“What happened here, Smilie?” I asked, he broadened the smile, pulled me to him and said, “This here is the reason I am still alive today, I was sited in the camp when they came visiting (he chuckles), funny how I can laugh at it now. I was closest to the exit and James was telling us about his drinking escapades; when the bullet hit this bone, it also pierced the centre of his chest and silenced him for eternity, amid an exciting story.” his voice cracks, heavy with emotion.

“Now get dressed Nkirote, Karimi will come looking for you in a few”, he tells me, his voice back, and for a moment, I think that moment never happened, because his face is now a block of stone, emotionless.”

You mean my mother? Why do you call her Karimi by the way, few people around here do that? I ask while buttoning my dress. Smile picks his gun and stares me down, “For I am not like everyone else, now get dressed and leave or your mother will come looking for you.’’

I dash out, for we all knew the wrath that I would face if my mother got home before I did, she had become a beast since I finished my national exam, always speaking about the world not being a good place for a young woman, monitoring my every move and screaming at the slightest provocation; we called her “The Hawk”, my Smile and I.

Karimi sits by the river, how did it all fall apart, when did she forget how hard she had worked to fall in love with Jack? Building a beautiful family with him, and while it had been hard to forget the first love, Jack had done more than enough for her, loving her faithfully and pampering her, making her the envy of the village women, then he had to come back, the forbidden traitor, he that had left with no notice, leaving her to cry on another shoulder and when push came to shove that shoulder had stood in the gap, leaving Karimi with a secret.

She had heard the rumours and ignored them until tonight when she saw her beloved daughter leave his house in a hurry, she had seen that glow before, in her own innocent face years ago, she had been a fool then, she could not let her daughter relieve that mistake, she had to face Steven, the truth had to be told, painful as it was, Steven had to know.

Mom walks in and looks at me, her eyes are red, could she have been crying again? Has The Hawk become an emotional person?

Then with an emotionless face she tells me about it, how his body had been found lying in bed, a victim of his own hands. I sit on the bed long after she has left my room and slip into an unknown land, I pray to meet him, I pray that it is all a tale.

I would wonder why she had to be the one to break the news, why she had cried with me, why she had been there, gone to see him.

I envied how he looked peaceful in that casket; I thought about how he had slowly let go, slowly closed his ever knowing eyes to the world, his vision blurry, the life inside him gone and I wished I was him. I kept wondering why he had left us in this cold but remembering he knew not about the condition I was in.

I had postponed the telling, always hoping I would open up the next day, then the rumours had begun and he had told me that we could no longer be together, that this was just a fling, a mistake on his end.

I had tried to get him to understand, I pushed it, tried to remind him about how I had once been the candle that lit his world, and the more aggressive he had become, slowly turning into a beast, telling me hurtful words and that coupled with Karimi’s words after I failed the national exam made my heart bleed, and that is when I started feeling like he had often said: Dead inside.

I had then taken the step that Karimi thought best, another one of the many decisions the world would make for me, taken the beast we had created out of me.

Mom had told me about her affair years before, with my Smile, that smile was my father, that the reason I had to kill the ‘beast’ was because it was a product of incest, and while she thought this would set me free as they say the truth does, it only pushed me further into the dark prison.

I remember whispering to her that I wished I was dead, but she had smiled and told me that sometimes, everyone feels the same way, I had not enough courage to tell her that this was serious, that my eyes and voice were emotionless because that was what I had turned into—an emotionless vacuum searching for a way to contain my fears.

The pills say 40 mg Q.D, but I have other plans. I have to end this, it isn’t fair for me to be, when he isn’t here, it feels like I do not want this life to continue, it is enough that I failed to get the much anticipated mark in my final exam, it is enough that mama looks at me with those pitiful eyes, that she comes to my room too often it feels crowded.

My only wish is that she understands it ain’t like I don’t love her and those are my last thoughts as my heart starts beating so fast, my fingers go numb one by one and I am finally ready to cross over to that peaceful life that follows this existence.

“We have a heartbeat!” and their joy is my pain, an additional trauma to deal with....”Oh! God...” I want to scream as I go back into oblivion.