A prisoner in his own mind

The first thing you notice when you walk into the homestead is the small shed, set apart from everything by the smell, you almost think it’s a pigs house until you get closer and open the heavy metal door, an old water drum , flattened, framed and fashioned into a door, protecting the world from something.

Francis lies in a corner; the floor is dump from the heavy rains that have been pounding Rongo town. A heavy rusted dog chain is secured to his leg by a padlock, you get the impression of time when you look at his blackened shackled ankle, a testament of seven years of imprisonment, he is mentally challenged. His mother works at the local fish market, she is barely able to support the family of four, on a good day she brings home omena and a cabbage, on the bad days …they have to survive on ugali and a salt water dipping… this is how they live, the ground under which the rest of the world walks on. It is the kind of poverty you’d see on CNN ,the African cliché ,you almost feel its exaggerated.

Things were not always like this, he used to go to school, had friends, wore clean clothes, played football and ran through the forest. Everything changed on that fateful day, that night … he hates thinking about it…nothing good comes of thinking about it. It was the night his father killed his brother. His father worked in the quarry and on this day… he carried his sledge hammer home… said nothing was worth this life… he started with his brother Andrew, he loved football, he hit him so many times that he had a depression on his back… then turned to Francis … his father always had a soft spot for him, he took a single swing and he fell down, face first he thought Francis was dead…he watched his brother gasping for his last breath ,somehow his two sisters and mother managed to escape… his father then turned a kitchen knife on himself. Death had proved to be an easier option, a correction for bringing his children into this poverty.

Francis lay in the pool of blood for so long; it was so long that he remembers the blood clotting around his face…the blood had the smell of raw animal intestines. It was hours before he was taken to hospital, but he was never to recover, the experience had done something to the boy, the villagers said the devil had a part in the whole thing ….” They have all been bewitched” they said. Seven pastors latter… the demons were yet to leave and his mother could not cover his medical expenses, so they locked him up, like an animal. Hiding the plague from the world.

A plastic cup and bowl lie next to the Makuti mat, it is all his mother can afford, he looks through the spaces in the wooden wall, looking at a boy playing on the road, perhaps remembering his past… he rises for a better view, he goes as far as his chain extends, it is now an extension of his body. He wears what was once a trouser now cut into a pair of shorts, it is old and has a hole that exposes his buttocks, scaly from sitting on the dirty earthen floor, his mother cannot afford a pair of underwear. His red sweater is old and torn, it has gaping holes and his elbows peep out, each of them like moles peering out a hole. He wears nothing under the sweater and you imagine he must be feeling cold.

In another corner lies his mess, he urinates and defecates in the same room he eats and sleeps, his mother cleans the mess in the evening …right after having his supper. She is stronger than she looks, she uses a shovel, She then spreads a few fistfuls of ash on the corner to soak the urine and smell. She sometime forgets to clean up the mess but who can blame her?, she does more than she signed up for… motherhood shouldn’t feel like this.

Francis has a strict schedule, his mother wakes up at 6.00 am, prepares his sisters for school, prepares breakfast and Francis gets to have breakfast, she opens the shack door and Francis enjoys the sun shining through his door for a few hours. At around 10.00 am his mother locks the shack door and the long day of nothingness begins.

Francis is a prisoner in a world that nobody seems to understand, he is a man imprisoned in his own mind, he cannot go beyond his minds limits. You imagine that he is all alone in this world…but he is not… he has his demons for company, they torment him, burn him, chase him through dark forests, they are giant dogs with teeth and frothy drool, they are ghosts that only he, sees, they are a creation of his brain. This is his world, he is fortunate enough to see what we normal folks don’t see, he sees hell and it is evil, dark and lonely. Sometimes his clothes feel on fire and he takes them off, breaks the chains and takes off naked, running through the village, and they laugh. It looks funny as he rakes through the heap of garbage… perhaps looking for a secret weapon to end it all. Sometime he feels that smashing his head on a wall will draw the demons out, giving him freedom over his body.

On some days, he is so calm, like a lake on a clear night and he rubs his palm on his thigh. When you visit him on these days, he smiles with determination, his facial muscles seem to pull his smile to his left, his smile lasts for hours, his lips and cheeks twitch uncontrollably, he half folds his convulsing fingers into a weak fist and holds them close to his chest. You are lucky if you get a few words out of him, he however seems to enjoy the company. Occasionally, he will raise his head slowly, and in a shaky motion look at your face and burst into a weird, deep, stammered voice laugh which almost spells like …Heeeeeee..!

His eyes are red and dry, they are like two peep holes looking into hell, into the fire and screams ,his chest always feels heavy, the kind of heaviness you feel over the loss of a loved one or after being dumped by someone you love. In the midst of this emotion, a few demons realize the gates are unmanned and they break out. In this state, he is helpless, it is the kind of nothingness I felt when my mathematics teacher forced my upper body into a chair…exposing my behind and proceeding to rain canes on me, I would struggle for a few minutes and then realize that the more I struggled the more painful it got and I would soon accept the pain and be one with it.

Francis longs for silence, the constant noise in his head sometime proves to be too much, thousands of conversations at the same time, this prison is what one would equate to a NAZI concentration camp, only no allied forces hold any promise of coming to his rescue. It feels like second world war in his head, it feels like being in the trenches with Germans shooting over your head, it is like living in the Rwanda genocide… having your limbs chopped off every day. He wants to let go, but his demons wouldn’t let him, maybe one day while they are asleep, he will tear his sheets into a rope, tie a loop and end it all. The beam on the roof looked strong enough to stand his weight.

Death seems to be his only salvation and he hates God for it, ‘for God so love the world…,’”how dare he say that?, while the rest of the world walks in oblivion, free to do whatever they want” but again ….. he is no man…he is a creature , a dog… a city mongrel roaming aimlessly…Noooo! A mongrel is free, he is a scourge …Gods scourge …a plague that has befallen humanity. He however feels some kind of power, he is like Christ… the savior …that in his suffering …others got to appreciate what they had… maybe that is HIS mission for him on earth… it has to be … for it is a tall order… this war is too much for him.

The greatest wars that we fight are not in Somali, Iraq, Vietnam or on the battle front in Leningrad …but in our own minds and he fights through this war every day.

-Antony Mwangi



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