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The Middle Path



At the junction between Thika and Garissa road, the driver decided to bring on three other passengers at a price. He put Rooble in the back, and his patrons in the cab. Rooble was riding at no cost—the driver saw desperation in him. He did what any Christian would do for a traveler.


After four hours, they finally crossed over the Tana river—in silence, Rooble looked to the distance from the flatbed and saw a movement in the sky he was sure to be an angel. A familiarity struck him. He sounded something unearthly. A breath of God. The sighting had held an ancient part of him hostage. An omen, reminiscent of the angel that came to him the night before he left Qoriyooley at the onset of war. The angel said for him to always follow the middle path. He often found himself only near it.


He left Nairobi after a long week where he spent the first three days hoping for a job to appear. Sleeping in mosques, he never prayed so hard in his life. There were things he wanted, always—but this was a visceral need, deep enough to carve hunger into mountains. The labor Rooble eventually found ranged from unloading the Mombasa fishery trucks to guiding foreigners through the dusty streets. Rarely paid for his work, he began to distrust Kenyattis and linger around tourist areas. Away too long, he started to worry about his family in the camp—wife and three children at the outskirts of Garissa, hopefully at peace at this time of morning. Safe in the teendho.


Alone in the camp with her children, Muna felt that Rooble was near or at the least was on his way. She had been shocked awake by a movement. Her eyes didn’t open fast enough to hold an image but she recognized the scent. It was a fragment of heaven. Transformed her body into a refuge—a place where divergent paths crossed and created one. She wanted to welcome God.


Muna lit the last of her incense anticipating his arrival. The kids stirred in the corner, she moved to warm the last of the milk.


He bid the driver farewell as he was let off at the post office in the center of town. With the little money earned, Rooble decided to pass through the market so he could return with an offering of food to reason his absence. At the entrance of the souq, he noticed a table with a small gathering. As he came closer, looking over shoulders, he saw they were playing cup-and-ball. The current player was on his second win—having earned twice his wager, the crowd cheered for him to pursue a third. Reluctantly, the gentleman walked away while ahead. The crowd became displeased and just as they were about to disperse, Rooble pushed to the front—brushing shoulders. He laid down a quarter of his earning, and asked to play—placing half in his pocket, and keeping the rest in his palm. The man stared at Rooble from behind the table, and whispered something to himself that Rooble may have heard as, “This isn’t the middle path.” He had the chance to welcome God.


The game began. The conjurer’s hands moved unlike anything Rooble had seen. Fluid, he wondered whether he was born of the Tana. He showed Rooble the placing of the ball one last time. Three slight movements, and it was time to choose. The player from before returned, and told Rooble, “It’s behind the third.” Rooble ignored him and chose the middle placement. There was nothing. He felt a pressure but ignored it.


Angry that he lost, he played another quarter, now a third of his earnings—hoping to win back his money and walk away. Another cycle. Only this time Rooble challenged the man behind the table as he knocked over the cups to show there wasn’t a ball, and said “You never placed it beneath the cup! Give me back what you stole.” Rooble felt a pressure, two men stood beside him—a disturbance he couldn’t ignore. One of them the player who won at the start, the other a man he was sure to have been born of mountains. “Move along,” the player said. As Rooble glanced to his right, he saw the man behind the table had already gone, like water in the distance.


Defeated, he walked home. As he approached his teendho he reached toward his back pocket, happy that he hadn’t played it all. Except there was nothing. Thinking back to the game, and the player who stood beside him while distracted, he felt a fool.


He could smell the steaming of the camel milk and the smoke of the uunsi as he came closer.


His wife, Muna, came to greet him. She touched his face, he looked away and said, “There wasn’t any work.”


“That’s fine,” she said, “we were visited by God.”  ■






Glossary of Terms


  • Kenyattis: Somali word for Kenyan—named after Jomo Kenyatta, founder of the Kenyan nation.

  • Teendho: a make shift tent in a camp.

  • Uunsi: frankincense—aromatic resin derived from a tree native to East Africa; often mixed with spices and sugar.

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