These are the chronicles of Thanda Maria.
Growing up in the streets of Thanda Maria, there was such a wide spectrum of not-so-bright Ninjas blissfully doing all kinds of unsafe stuff that it was difficult to keep count. That village was, and still is, full of regular Einsteins.
None comes to mind though, quicker than one Maragùa. He has been dead 20 odd years now but his exploits are still the stuff of legend in Thanda Maria. The stuff of folklore. This Ninja is exactly the kind of Ninja people write stories about.
For the lack of a more fitting term, Maragùa, was spectacularly crazy. Trust me, as you will later come to learn, even the Government of the Republic of Kenya, through it’s duly appointed experts on such matters, agreed that he indeed was spectacularly crazy.
Growing up, this gentleman was in the employ of our local Murang’a college of technology, specifically it’s Mechanical Engineering workshop. He had a bushy and unkempt beard and a certain look in his eye. I can’t quite describe that look in his eye but it wasn’t pleasant . I don’t think I ever once saw him without his signature, worn out, navy blue overalls and black leather boots. Those worn out black leathers had seen too many days under the scorching sun of Murang’a and they weren’t pleasant to look at.
One of his sons, Kabirù, was a deskmate of mine in class four at St. Mary’s primary school. On my way to school most mornings, I would cross paths with Maragùa on his way to work and I would always extend to him the customary “wímwega ìthe wa kafirù?”; “Are you well, Father of Kabirù?”
To which he would reply in his deep, growling voice “ndí mwega”; “ I am well”. His voice always made you deeply uncomfortable; it came out of his voice box sounding like a confrontation laced with a threats of violence.
He didn’t have much of a formal education, but make no mistake about it, Maragúa was a brilliant mind. Now that I have travelled beyond my village and read many books, I have come to be in awe of his mind. Like the Brilliant Mathematician, John Nash, Maragúa had a beautiful mind.
I hold a deep conviction that if he had lived elsewhere, in a different time, his is the type of mind that stumbles on great things; like Nobel prizes and Field’s medals. I will take nothing away from this man, he could have been our Paul Dirac or our Albert Einstein.
Maragúa was an intense man, and a notorious loner who always kept to himself . He was a man of very few words. He disliked company intensely. Even at the various makeshift village watering holes serving the home brewed, lethally effective and verily illegal drink, matinga, he would always be found downing his Njuku in complete solitude.
Incase you are curious, njuku was basically a 500 grams kasuku cooking fat plastic container that was used as a standard measure for throat irrigating fluid of the highly intoxicating variety. Using imperial or metric units was deemed to be too mainstream.
I also feel obliged to mention that he was an elite level, tier 1 user of marijuana. If smoking this herb was a competitive sport, he would have been an Olympic level talent. He was also a known lover of Kíbanii. Again, in the interest of clarity, Kíbanii is dried, unprocessed tobacco usually rolled in old newspapers. Kíbanii acts as a substitute for cigarettes for the impoverished, cash strapped smoker who cares about nothing, not even life. It’s smoke is so black, heavy and toxic that it can trigger global warming.
Kíbanii has the distinction of leaving a chronic user with a distinct and permanent stench. It smells like compost mixed with what I imagine the radioactive fall out after a thermonuclear bomb explosion smells like.
A user of Kíbanii cannot sneak up to anyone with a working nose.
Maragùa once rented a one roomed house at our neighbour Tiferio’s home which served as his sleeping quarters and workshop. If you took any electronic or mechanical appliance to him there, all he needed was time to familiarize himself with it and then he would repair it, regardless of how complex it was. And he always referred to everything brought to him as ‘kaido gaka’: or ‘haka kakitu‘. Always.
The thing is though, his workshop was a very intimidating place. It would always be evening and you would find the door ajar. The room would be full of very heavy, black smoke from the kìbanii that was permanently dangling from his mouth. Coughing once upon entry was basically standard procedure as your throat took in that first whiff of his kíbanii. I am certain that whatever it is he used to smoke must be illegal somewhere on the world.
If you overstayed your welcome, you risked catching some pulmonary disease with a fatal sounding name like small cell carcinoma of the lung. So you never overstayed your welcome.
When you got in you couldn’t clearly see him at first. He would be seated at the farthest corner separated from you and the door by a gigantic pile of junk, scrap metal and discarded appliances. He would be loudly playing his homemade guitar connected to a homemade amplifier and speaker. Things he made himself from junk. He always played, and sang, Don Williams records.
Now, let’s proceed to the part where may have had schizophrenia and 117 other Psychiatric disorders.
When Maragùa decided to build himself a four roomed, stone walled house in his home at a place called katiba, he didn’t cut corners. He held nothing back, he went full psycho.
Since he was a regular lunatic with sociopathic tendencies, he literally couldn’t entrust the work to anyone else. So he built an entire house all by himself all the while working full time at the college.
An entire house.
His site was within walking distance from the banks of Mathioya river where there were some stone quarries. So he would wake up early and be there as early as 5am. He would then dislodge a massive boulder in the dark, a back breaking exercise even in broad daylight I might add, then from it chisel and dress 3-4 pieces of stones. He would strap them to his very old black mamba bicycle, take them home, and still be at work by 8am. I should mention for context that the college was quite a distance away from his home.
In the evening after work, he would go down to the same river, harvest sand, put it in a sack and ferry it home on his black Mamba.
Some days he would spend time turning big rocks into small rocks for ballast. Some days he’d ferry a bag of cement or some other hardware materials from Murang’a town during his lunch break. It took him quite a long while but he painstakingly stockpiled materials for an entire house.
Then he built it from scratch himself. An entire house. No mason, no labourer. Just him, Marijuana, kìbanii and the little voices in his head.
Him and his shopping list of mental disorders.
He built it in the morning before work and in the evening after work. He also worked all day on Saturdays and Sundays too. It took a long while but he did it. Make no mistake about it however, the house that Maragùa built was decently built. It still stands to date.
Every villager bore witness to this madness.
Then some white engineer, who was the head of Maragúa’s department, decided that it was a good idea to show Maragùa his firearm. It is said by those that worked with him that Maragùa became extremely fascinated by the gun. Because the white ninja had a very soft spot for Maragúa for his apparrent genius and remarkable understanding of complex engineering matters, he accorded him unrestricted access to the firearm.
In characteristic madness, Maragúa took it apart and studied it thoroughly. His prodigous gifts accorded him a free reign in the workshop. So after a while, and making use of the many complex machines and materials at the mechanical engineering workshop, he built his own stunningly similar replica.
In his never ending genius, he thought that it would be a pretty neat idea to carry it around hanging out in plain sight. In his wisdom, walking around with it would be a quality move to pull but the government, through its law enforcement agencies, had much better ideas.
So in recognition of this great feat of engineering, the ever charitable Government of the Republic of Kenya, thought it would be a great move to give his enterprising self, an all expenses paid, 1 year vacation at the then dreaded Murang’a GK prison.
The charge; being in possession of an illegal firearm. I don’t know how good your jurisprudence is, but you need to understand certain things. For a charge of being in possession of an illegal firearm to stick; a government ballistic expert must show that it is capable of firing. Beyond a shadow of doubt.
Maragùa’s gun was legit. It met the required threshold to qualify as a firearm and the charge stuck like industrial glue.
While at the GK prison, which is incidentally less than 500 metres from the college, he quickly became a favourite of the officer in charge. He convinced him that he could repair anything mechanical, naturally. The Officer in charge decided to test him and asked him to repair a stalled landrover. In no time he overhauled and revived an old GK landrover belonging to the prison that had been broken down for a long while.
The word of what he had done spread like wildfire. In no time due to his exploits, he could be seen daily walking in the village accompanied by prison warders, going towards the DC’s residence. There, he overhauled and rebuilt two landrovers engines for two Land Rovers that were deemed beyond repair.
This feat was considered near impossible by local mechanics who had been previously asked to repair them. Maragùa did it alone. Kindly stand advised that he could barely read and he was basically a self taught mechanic.
I remember vividly as a young boy, seeing him on test drives in those landrovers on the road adjacent to our school field far from the DC’s house. He was always unaccompanied. In tattered, off-white prison uniform no less.
Again, everyone in the village bore witness to this madness.
After that feat, the DC ordered the prison to ensure that Maragúa did not miss a day of work at the college until the end of his sentence. So Prison Wardens escorted him everyday from the prison to the college and back for the remainder of his sentence. Maragùa drove the in a green prison pick-up truck. Sometimes, he would drive the vehicle to one of his makeshift workshops in the village. Sometimes he would drive it to his house for conjugal affairs unaccompanied.
Later, at some point after his release, Maragùa’s wife became a brewer and seller of matinga. In the course of her business, she became involved romantically with a customer who worked for kenya power and lighting company at the nearby Mathioya dam.
The production and sale of Matinga was a clandestine and very illegal affair in the village. It regularly attracted paid vacations at the dreaded Mùrang’a GK prison for the small time manufacturers of the product.
While Maragùa was away at work, his wife would serve customers in the bushes, but this particular customer would be leisurely irrigating his arid throat from the comfort of the house maragùa had built with his bare hands.
Whilst here, he would enjoy other things that belonged to Maragúa.
This Gentleman was well aware that Maragùa was a complete Psychiatric case, one traumatic event away from a complete meltdown, but the desires of the flesh were too much to ignore.
Everyone knew that an illicit affair was going on, but no one would tell Maragùa because they were terrified of him. There was no existing manual then on how to break such life altering news to a Ninja who had all the hallmarks of someone capable of hacking you down with an axe on general principle. So no one dared.
Then one day Maragùa came off work a lot earlier than expected due to some unfortunate development at the college and found them in a very compromising situation in the house that he built. It was a beautiful sunny day.
It is said by those that were close, that he greeted them causally ‘no mùhurùkìte?’ and acted like he had seen nothing.
I will translate but the essence will be lost in translation; he said, “you are well?’’
He was carrying a crowbar or ‘taribo‘ on his person. He calmly walked into his bedroom and came out with his ‘thaithi‘ or a short stone mallet; the same mallet he had quarried the stones he built his house with.
The two didn’t move so as not to raise suspicion.
When Maragùa came out, he struck the man with the ‘thaithi’ on his head. This rendered him unconscious.
He then continued to clinically break every single bone in his body with it and then dislodged them from flesh with the crowbar.
Literally every bone in his body was detached from the next. Maragùa took his time. He was surgically clinical. He was especially thorough, like he was setting a standard.
Those of us who saw the body say to this day that we have never seen anything like it.
His wife had run out screaming by then. When she told those nearby what had transpired, no one dared come within shouting distance of that house. They all knew Maragùa and they all knew what was going on.
The crows had finally come home to roost. The immaterial had become, well, material. Excuse the flair for the dramatic.
Maragùa had found out and that was a variable that his wife never considered in her calculations.
After he was done, he went outside and sat quietly at his ‘rùgito‘, the side of his house. He placed the murder weapons next to him and rolled a kìbanii.
Some bold co-workers came and retrieved the man in an effort to rush him to hospital but no one said a word to Maragùa. They were especially careful to tread slowly and softly near him. There was an outside chance he might get a strong inclination to kill someone else. No one risked pissing him off.
The man succumbed to his injuries soon thereafter and his remains were transferred to the Mùrang’a general hospital morgue.
When the police came many hours later to arrest maragùa, he hadn’t moved an inch and had smoked countless kíbaniis. The butts were strewn all over the place.
When they dramatically drew their guns; maragùa calmly told them, “nìkìì? Nì niì ndamùraga”. Basically , “what is the problem? I am the one who has killed him”
When they asked Maragùa what he had killed him with, Maragùa calmly told them in signature fashion, ‘’ì na kaido gaka”; “ with this small thing”, while pointing to his ‘thaithi‘ casually with his freshly lit and carcinogenic kìbanii.
He was arrested and later a murder charge was preferred against him. He pleaded guilty to the charge, and as was standard procedure, he was remanded awaiting psychiatric evaluation.
Maragùa was released shortly afterwards after government Psychiatrists held that Maragùa was crazy and out of reality with reality itself.
Ninja had pulled out an ace. He was unfit to stand trial and was insane to the extent that he couldn’t be held criminally liable for his actions.
On the strength of his White boss’s recommendation, he went back to work at the college upon his release but succumbed to illness 3 or so years later.
I never said another word to him from that day; he scared me halfway to death. The images of what he had done were strong with me.
I have tried to be especially careful while telling his story; I am certain that no one else will ever tell his story, so I have always wanted to tell it well. I see his sons around, they are all mechanics. They have never heard of a blog and they most likely will never read this; but if they ever do, let it be known that their Father was a remarkable man. All his flaws notwithstanding. He was a rarely gifted man born in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
I am glad I lived in Thanda Maria in the times of Maragùa, and I pray I told his story well.
As Albert Einstein said of his friend and Nobel prize winning theoretical physicist, P.A.M. Dirac; a man more intellectually endowed than even he was; and whose genius was laced with madness, I also say this of my compatriot Maragùa;
“This balancing on the dizzying path between genius and madness is awful”.
“Maragùa, Ùrotùra ùmamaga Kwega kuuraga.“
I will translate but no English phrase quite feels the same.
“Maragùa, my you always sleep in the place that is good where it always rains.“