As told by Elkanah Anyona.
“Shut up you goons,” Hochi Mihn’s deep voice thundered across the hall, its echo sending
shivers among us. A rebel rose to challenge him. A big fist drew back and struck with the sound
of a pick axe on the surface of a pumpkin. The rebel went down like a stricken ox. Hochi Minh
towered above us. He was the king of prison even feared by the guards. Within a short while,
order was restored and calm reigned once again in the hall where we were conducting a church
service. Sunday was like Christmas day to us. A day of rest and happiness, a day which we
bathed and beat out the dust from our prison uniforms against the wall. The smell of sweat and
cigarette smoke was feeble on Sundays.
Then Peter the Galilean took to the pulpit with an air of authority hanging loosely around him.
He was so known to the inmates because he always read from the same verse from the holy
book. With passion and zest, he narrated how the men of Galilee gazed to heaven as Jesus
returned to his home after accomplishing his mission. Peter was cool, humble and kind. He
“Our father thou art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…” Before he could finish,Hochi Minh
started the comrades’s prayer which suppressed peter’s. The chant was taken up by the rest of
“Master Yesu Kristo, give us freedom and wisdom. See that we are not caught when we are
taking something small from the rich in our midst. We don’t want to die of hunger lord. Also let
us not fall into the lawyer’s temptation when he tells us to plead guilty in the courtroom. AMEN!”
Wild clapping and thumbing of feet followed before quiet got restored once again. Peter went on
as if nothing had happened. He began to read his favourite verse but as the custom, Hochi Minh
led us into the “comrade song.”
Yesu son of Maria
Break down these jail walls
Strike blind the guards
As we walk to freedom
We raised our voices. We sang zealously. We shed tears, even the Galilean wept.
O Ja savior
Like Paul and Silas
Before we were done, six armed guards stormed inside and declared the service was over. It
was eleven in the morning, time to take lunch. The meal consisted ugali which was slightly
thicker than milk and the “body,” as we referred to meat. Each could get at most two pieces, not
out of sheer luck but depended on how close you were to the cook.
“I don’t have an appetite for this meal,” Hochi Mihn announced clutching his belly as if in great
“I have an appetite,” I offered.
That’s how we conducted business without arousing suspicion. He joyfully handed me his full
share, which, according to our trade standards, was equivalent to a half cigarette stick.
Late in the evening, we retired to our cell to spend the night. The floor was cold and wet. Peter
sat beside me smoking silently. He was in for murder. How such a gentle creature came to
commit so terrible a crime was a mystery. I had tried previously my best to find out. He simply
kept mum. The more I probed him, the more he clasped his lips together. I took my blanket and
started hunting for vermin. It was thin, thickening towards the edges due to accumulation of
sweat and dust. The others were scratching their bodies, producing the sound of sandpaper
smoothing a piece of timber.
Having done, I decided to visit the toilet situated at one corner of the cell. There’s no privacy in
prison. You just relieve yourself while others are watching. Hochi Mihn was on the toilet seat
holding a piece of paper likely plucked from Peter’s bible. He appeared not in a hurry. He
pretended to be reading from the piece of paper but I knew he was illiterate, the page was
turned upside down. Suddenly, his eyes twitched like someone in pain, betraying his forced
comelinesss. He was struggling hard to eject some stubborn matter out of his being. He glanced
at me and I looked the other way sharply, pretending not to notice. I did not want to court trouble
Back to my bed, I lit a cigarette and started puffing away. Peter looked at me greedily. His stick
“Come on ja, I said between puffs, “why are you here?”
He opened his lips to say something. Before the words were out of his lips, the sound of heavy
boots was heard outside. Cigarettes were quickly killed and secretly concealed. The door flew
“Shut up you fools, thieves, rapists, good for nothing idiots!” The door got shut again as the
sound of footsteps receded. Hochi Minh got up, stepping on sleeping humanity on the way. With
fists clenched tightly he uttered out curses at the door before going back to sleep.
I fished out my cigarette, lit it and continued puffing. Everyone else was now asleep except
Peter the Galilean who kept his eyes at me imploringly.
“Have you ever killed a person?” he asked.
“Three. I was caught in the last one.” I said.
“Why did you do that?”
“For the first case, I was paid by someone to do it. As for the other two, it was during robbery
operations which went sour.”
He smiled. I handed him the rest of my cigarette. We smoked together like old friends.
“How many have you killed?” I whispered back.
He took a long time to answer. So long that I was getting impatient. The cell was dead quiet and
the bodies of men sprawled on the floor like in a public mortuary. A certain fear gripped me.
Bitter liquid climbed up the gullet to my mouth. It smelled like the blood of a dead jackal. I
“My mother died at hospital when she was delivering me,” Peter at last opened up, “I am told
she wished it could be a relieve we die together instead of deserting me in the world to suffer. I
was an only child. True to her doubts, my father married another woman almost immediately
after her burial to take care of me. I knew her as my real mother. She was also blessed with
three children, a boy and two girls. I believed they were my younger siblings. Then the worst
“You discovered the truth, huh?”
“My father died from a sudden illness. I was about fifteen years of age at that time. Even during
his funeral, those hypocrites in the village did not dare disclose to me my true identity. Life went
on as usual. Then one day, my mother gave me one thousand shillings to settle her debt in the
local kiosk. Unfortunately, I lost the money on the way. I spent the whole day looking for the
damned note on the road until darkness blanketed the land. That’s when I gave up the search
and walked home, trembling like a wet chick.”
“Where have you been you ingrate?” Between sobs, I narrated to her what happened. Hardly
had I finished than she hurled a jug of water at me, wetting me all over.”
“You cursed child that crunched his mother’s skull, get out of here.” “Those words lit a furious
fire in me. My body was shaking vigorously. Swift like lightning, I picked up a jagged stone from
the floor near the door with all my might hurled it at her direction.”
“It was not she I killed. The damn stone got Janis, our little sister at the centre of her forehead.
Her skull split into two, at the middle.”
“How foolish you were, to kill your sister!” I exclaimed.
Before I knew what, Hochi Minh was on Peter’s throat. “You son of a bitch, how dare you kill
innocent children?” Hochi Minh choked with rage. The other prisoners followed suit. They fell on
him in a mass. There was the sound of breaking bones, yelling and chanting from the melee. I
sat fixed in my place, lost in my own thoughts.
Then the door flew open almost immediately. With such speed as that of lightning,the men
spread their bodies on the floor, snoring loudly. The guards trampled on the bodies towards
where Peter lay. They turned his body about. He was long dead. Then they noticed the cigarette
butt tightly clasped between my fingers. Kicks and blows landed on me from every side. No
matter how hard I was hit, I just sat propped together, gazing vacantly to space. Then the blows
and kicks stopped abruptly. Perhaps they realized they were making another mistake.