The Cornfield Quartet: Book One ~ The Cornfield Fraternity

The Cornfield Fraternity - Chapter Seven

 

Chapter Seven

The Cornfield Fraternity

 

 

Felix paid for three pikipiki, one for David and him to go to PM, the others to continue on with the Juma twins, Robbie and Abel, to Toriop for a couple of hours to make an initial look-around.  It also gave the village boys the opportunity to tell their mothers they would be spending a couple of days up on Mt. Labott.

''What kind of excuse have you dreamt up to tell your Mam for why we’re going away, Robbie?'' asked Abel.  ''I’m stumped for ideas which are plausible at such short notice during school holidays.''

''I am going to tell the truth.  Dad found the boy.  The Police Chief’s sons are meeting with a few local boys to discuss local goings on and any strangers we may have seen around.  I said I’d tell the truth.  I didn’t say I would have to tell the whole truth.''

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

As the four were peddled off up the track towards Bumala, David and Felix somewhat gingerly prized open the door of the famous drinking den Pleasant Moments, a place that, as not quite 12 year olds, they thought they would not see inside for several years yet.  David had never even heard of the place until a few hours ago.  To Felix it was a place of legend, though he heard it was a little cleaned up of late.  No turf war fights now in the big bar, he had heard, or drug deals in the back room.  It was a sanitized place.  He had missed the glory days it seemed.  Still, he was 12 (almost) and going into a famous bar, so this did give him extra cred when he went back to school.

Inside there were a few men scattered around, some alone hugging glasses of liquor or tankards of ale or beer, or in pairs or small groups.  There were a few women, mostly of dubious profession from Felix’s observation of the gaudiness of their attire.  He could see nobody he knew.  Even among those perched on stools at the long bar there was not one face he recognised, other than as a person he may have passed in the street or shared a seat with once on a matatu.  Certainly there was no one there he really knew.  So he took David’s hand and walked further in and around the bar, garnering interested looks from several drinkers probably unaccustomed to such young patrons at PMs.

''Ah, Felix, there you are.  You’re a little late.  But then, so were some of the others so you ain’t missed out on anything, yet.  We decided to meet in one of the back rooms.  Privacy, like.  You understand, eh?''  The speaker had appeared around the bar.  A short, bald man of indeterminate age, muscular but now a little grown to corpulence.  ''My, my boy!  How you have sprouted since last I saw you, Felix.  Of course it is not all that surprising, seeing as I haven’t set eyes on you in five years; nevertheless you are something of a stick-insect in stature aren’t you, boy?  We’ll have to get some flesh on those bones of hours during this long vacation.  Don’t they feed you at that expensive school of your’n, eh?  And who's this other pitiful skeleton who's with you?  Is this the boy, Philip’s guardian angel we’ve been hearing about?

''God help us, the two of you.  There’s not enough between both of you together to protect Philip from a 5th grade street boy high on turpentine.  Your dad, the Daktari told us that you, Felix, were up to helping us protect Philip and that there was already another boy doing so at the hospital.  All I see is two scared little boys who couldn’t lick butter off a bread roll.  Go…''

The man never got to finish his next sentence.

Felix and David, who had been holding one another’s hands throughout this tirade by this unknown imbecile, gradually squeezing more steadily as their anger grew, finally exchanged a second’s glance with Felix eyes looking left.  So Felix lunged at the man’s left eye with fist while kicking for his kneecap while David went for his right eye while also punching his nose and kicking for his groin.

The attack, from just 5 meters, was so sudden that the victim was caught totally unawares and off balance.  He crashed to the ground, blood streaming from his nose and mouth.  Felix and David, recognising that they had to use their advantage while they had it to force a quick knock out, went for victory by threatening to kick him repeatedly in the testes unless he surrendered immediately.  When he hesitated, David kicked him hard.  He straightaway gave in.

''Whoever the hell you are, it has taken these two, 'little boys' exactly 90 seconds to bring your sorry arse to its knees,'' said Felix.

''Help me up and we shall go to the meeting now.  I apologise for underestimating you two.  I was against you being involved in what I considered adult business and too demanding for kids to be brought in.  Daktari and Chief Juma argue strongly that you young people are key to solving the dangers.  I am now more neutral.  Willi Wanyonyi will be the key person who decides this, I think, amongst us.

''By the way, I am Dave and am co-owner of PM, where you two are welcome to the games room any time.  Go on up now and I’ll bring you both a light beer.''

''He’s bringing us beer?''

''Light beer, that’s like 3 per cent proof.''

''Well that’s better than Fanta which is zero per cent, right?''

Felix looked at his friend, leaned closer and whispered, ''Except that, to be totally honest, I prefer the taste of Fanta Orange to any beer I’ve yet tasted.''

Felix spoke over his shoulder as he pushed open half of a pair of double doors at the end of a short corridor to which Dave had directed the boys.  As is usual in Africa, the building would look half-finished to Western eyes, with exposed electrical wiring, rough plaster walls, bare light bulbs of already dim illumination, and a coating of dust covering everything as if the place had not been cleaned since it had been built.

''Forgive the mess, boys,'' interjected Dave, just then catching up on the slightly reticent couple, with Felix still inching the door open gingerly.  ''Hold this tray of drinks for me David, will you, if it’s not too heavy for you?'' He looked questioningly at the mountain boy and received a firm nod of assent in return.  ''Good.  As I was saying, sorry for the mess, but we built this new addition to the place three months ago and haven’t had the chance to clean up or finish the corridor since, so what you see is three months of accumulated grunge.  A bit like most boys' bedrooms if mothers don’t nag them eh, David?''

''I wouldn’t know, Sir.  In my house the children don’t have bedrooms.''

Recognising his faux pas, Dave passed through and opened the doors fully and went on through a small vestibule, holding the doors with Felix for David to pass with the beverage tray.  A second set of doors was of clear, unstained, lacquered Elgon teak, now a protected timber.

''This is our newly built conference suite.  More specifically, this room is the Board Room, a small meeting room off the main conference room.  Bringitar really didn’t have a class venue for meetings, so Evan, my business partner, and a couple of local hotels and the technical college got together to fund this.  Come on in.  Your dad, Felix, is almost the first, or at least among the first five, to use it here today.''

With that Dave made the grand entrance, flinging open the teak double doors and revealing what to David looked like a very, very grand room, with an unbelievable lighting system where you can’t see the light bulbs at all ’cause none seem to be in the ceiling.  Then the table was humongous and seemed to be made of ebony, but that would be impossible of course as we don’t have ebony wood in Africa.  Then the floor had fur on it; this was madness.  Furry stuff on the floor.  He just stood there at the doorway holding the tray of drinks and looking at the walls, painted with scenes from different famous iconic places in the area: the Neolithic paintings of Teso, the waterfalls at Webuye, the Bukusu circumcision rock, and of course the holy mountain itself, where he lived.

''Are you going to stand there all day holding our drinks with your mouth wide open while we die of thirst here, David?''

There was a burst of laughter from the small crowd of men as David’s reverie was broken and Felix took the tray from his age-mate’s hands before he dropped it in shock.  In all honesty, in looking at what to him, brought up in a small village in the Alpine meadows high on the Elgon slopes, was the unimaginable magnificence of the room to which he had been brought, he had not noticed until now the group of men in it.

In common with 80 per cent of Africans living south of the Sahara up to the early 2000s, David lived in the countryside.  In his case he lived in a house made of mud and small branches and twigs from the surrounding forest.  The roof was of a special type of reed and typically lasted 30 to 36 months.  To keep insects, particularly the dangerous burrowing mites and worse which can infest a sleeping person, the floor is covered in liquefied cow dung which is renewed every three months.

David’s home was typical in being multi-generational.  There were grandparents in the shamba as well as parents and children.  Normally grandparents lived in a separate, small house.  In East African custom, an in-law may not be under the same roof as his or her daughter or son in-law.  So David’s Gramma, who was his Dad’s mother and was going batty, should not be allowed in the house with Mam.  But, of course Mam had pity on the old witch who had been horrible to her years ago.  So while she slept in a little hut in the shamba or smallholding, locked at night, she ate in the house with everyone.  She didn’t know anything, anyway, most of the time.

Gramps lived in another little one room ''house'' next to the kitchen.  The kitchen in rural houses is a separate structure, usually just another mud and daub but where a charcoal pit is built.  Of course there is no electricity out here, so cooking is over a charcoal fire, which is also where water is heated for chai.  Light after dark, about 19.00 or 7.00 PM, comes from paraffin lamps, but this is expensive both for fuel and the cost of wicks.  So doing the seemingly omnipresent school homework is a great burden to most rural children.

In David’s house, as was the case in most of his friends’, parents (in his case only his mother, but she took her young twins too) had the only bed.  Sometimes, as in David’s home, this boasted the luxury of having its own room.  Sometimes, however, it was only in the corner of the single room in the house.  This made the usual mother-father relationships and accompanying noises an interesting juxtaposition to their children trying to burn the midnight oil to do their homework!

Of course children slept on the floor, sharing a couple of blankets.  Boys perhaps on one side of the room once a bit older, with girls on the other.  This is why keeping those damn boring insects and scabies away is so important!

Hence this board room was a magnificent revelation for David.  In the weeks and months to come he’d begin to take these things in his stride, but never would he take them for granted.  He’d never forget to protect himself against scabies.

''I began to wonder where you boys had gotten to,'' said Adam, reaching over to the tray for a glass of Pinot Noir, at least he assumed and hoped that was what it was.  Dave knew his wine preference and Steve was driving.  ''It’s almost ten minutes late and we’re here, delaying our meeting, waiting just for you two.''

Just then another door opened and in burst Mike Juma, though only Willi Wanyonyi among those present actually knew him by sight or had met him by then.

''Sorry to have delayed you all.  First couple of days on the job are hell.  I hope you understand.  This for me, Willi?  Most kind and very welcome.  Thanks.'' The broad smile that appeared on the arriving Chief Juma’s face was in response to the placing of a tall glass of Tusker lager beer in front of him as he loosened his necktie and undid the top button of his white uniform shirt.

''Right, waiting for us boys.  Not playing any guilt trip games on your dear son here, eh, Dad?  Nice one.  Pity Chief Juma’s class act, entry stage left, spoiled the plan.'' He looked at David and the two giggled loudly.  The exchange had been loud enough to be overheard by a youth sitting to David’s right, and he shared a quiet laugh so that David glanced over at him and they shared a thumbs-up.  This, of course was Zack, Willi Wanyonyi’s sidekick.

''Alright, everyone.  I know you are all busy people with extensive responsibilities elsewhere, so as I called you together I’ll try to keep this meeting as brief as possible.  To begin with let me introduce everyone so any newcomers may know one another.  I’ll begin with myself, then as I point to you please give a one sentence intro and why you’re here.  I am Willi Wanyonyi or just W, and I’m a human rights activist concerned about corruption, particularly in law enforcement and the judicial system in this district.''

''Me next?  Alright.  I’m Robert Kitonyi.  I’m a Franciscan postulant and work part-time for Daktari Adam or the Lukas Foundation rather, as a warden with the street kids in Bringitar.  I am here as I am worried about abuse of kids on the streets by police officers and local businessmen and, recently, some unusual disappearances from among the more seasoned street boys.''

''I am a pastor with The Deliverance Church.  My name is Pastor Hezekiah Chebet.  I am here as a Christian leader in the community caring for the most vulnerable in our society, namely the orphaned and homeless.  Mark Kitharu, who was one of the good Samaritans who brought the boy to hospital this week is a member of my church and told me of his experiences when he tried to report the crime to the police.  I promised him I would not let the matter rest,'' Pastor Chebet finished.

''If I appear to have a similar mien to the older guy to my right it is because his creaking bones make up the pampered being of my much older brother.''  The speaker was smiling broadly while speaking, and winking at the younger occupants of the chairs to his left.  ''I am Emmanuel Chebet, Vice-president of the Popular Bank for this region and manager of the Bringitar branch.  I’m a former police detective sergeant.  My brother initially got me into this, but the more I am hearing, the more I want to be involved for my own sake, to help recover the integrity to the police force that was there when our father served and our grandfather before that during colonial times.''

It was time for the youngsters to begin with their introductions, and David was keen to hear who the teenager was who had laughed at Felix's and his quip, earlier.

''As Mr. Wanyonyi’s assistant, I have been tasked by him to look into any problems currently confronting street kids in Bringitar.  Of course, low-grade drug taking is a major issue, usually beginning with glue sniffing, as glue is cheap and readily available.  This morning I had an opportunity to experience at first-hand how lucrative the trade in glue can be.''

Zack then went over the entire incident with the storekeeper that morning.  ''If you have audio here, I can play back the entire conversation, as I recorded it on my mobile phone,'' he told the gathering.

''Excellent, excellent.  By the way, you never actually introduced yourself.  You were so keen to tell the story, as well you should have been.  I’m proud of you.  Gentlemen,'' Willi went on looking around the table with a grin on his face, ''this is my excellent, hard-working, and talented assistant, Zack.  He’s obviously going to be a key asset in our plan.  Now, young man, you’re next.'' He looked at David.

''Ahem!  I don’t know why Daktari invited me here or why somebody like me should be here, but I’ll just say three things.  First, I’m David Chebet from Kipsigon, an Ogiek of Chepkitale, the senior responsible male in a family now of six of us kids, Mom and two dependent oldies, after my sister Sarah died yesterday.  Secondly, a group of ten or so of us boys in, or connected with, the hospital or with the boy Philip have formed an association with the aim of helping Philip, by bringing Philip’s assailants to justice, and ensuring there are no more Philips.  Finally, I have learned in my 12 years that there are times when it is necessary to go outside the normal rules of the community to reach your goals, but not breaking the law, of course.  What I’ve seen this week with ambulances without tyres, nurses taking off for an hour after a Daktari has ordered an emergency admission, and no police asking questions after a child is almost murdered, shows me that if we kids are ever to get attention here in Bringitar, we must get it for ourselves.  You here can help us.  But the core of the work must be done by us.''

During his speech, unconsciously, David had stood up from his seat and leaned forward over the dark, polished table.  Now, very self-consciously, he sat down.

Quickly, Felix took up his pal’s metaphorical baton.

''May I say I wholeheartedly agree with my Ogiek brother’s sentiments.  It will be Philip’s colleagues who will have the best chances of initially getting behind the mysteries surrounding his attack.  I say this because I’ve worked with street kids in a programme with my school in the South Rift.  These kids, and village kids too, have an innate distrust of adults, particularly if they smell someone asking questions.  Whereas, with a 12 year old boy, perhaps dressed down a bit, there is less of an initial negative first impression to overcome.

''And who’s going to suspect a boy talking to a group of village kids while playing catch or football, even if questions about any kids who may have passed through the village recently come up, or if any boys have mysteriously disappeared?  Have any local men living alone been acting strangely, chasing you off any particular fields more than usual?''

Felix took a sip of his beer and grimaced.  He still wished he had a soda in front of him rather than this dreadful stuff.  How can so many men and women actually enjoy this?

''To finish I should say that I am Felix Sikuku Palfrey, second son and general pain in the ass to Daktari Adam there.  David here is my good friend, who conveniently missed telling you that the ten boys in our group, who include Bukusu, Tsotso, Okiek, Teso, Turkana and whatever the Juma twins are, have elected David as Coordinator of the group.''

At that, it was Felix’s turn to sit down.

''I want to skip myself for a moment, as I convened this meeting and have a bit more to say,'' said Willi Wanyonyi, sitting next to Felix.  He then looked to his left.

''Right.  I feel a bit out of place here, but here I am, presumably as this is my establishment, together with my partner Evan who's keeping shop whilst I’m here.  I’m Dave Cheriyot, originally from Kericho.  I moved here after high school to work with Mumias Sugar as an accountant.  Evan and I took over this place three years ago as a dump, a dive for alki geriatrics.  I’m in on what you want to do because the idea that even one young boy could be attacked just 3 or 4 kilometers from here and nobody around to help the kid horrified me.  Somebody must know something.  Anything Evan or I can do to uncover the identity of the assailants we will do.  If that means uncovering a deeper, darker secret involving something more insidious in our city or district, then so be it.  I’m already shocked by what I’m already hearing!''  At that he sat down.

Next came Mike Juma.

''I am presumably the newest kid on the block, even including young David here.''   Everyone laughed a little, while David looked down, somewhat abashed.  ''If it weren’t obvious from my uniform, I’d tell you I’m Chief Superintendent Michael Juma, three weeks ago appointed as Chief of Police and Superintendent of Criminal investigation for this and the two adjoining districts.  I was previously at Mignanori, where my job was to clean out the stables of corruption.  I succeeded in two years.  I have the same remit here.  I’ve been on the job one week so far and have had the Chief of CID, the Bringitar Police Station Chief, the entire Desk staff, and the deputy Station Chief all re-assigned to police posts far from here.  I am in the process of appointing younger, better qualified, men AND WOMEN to these positions.

''Regarding this case, I am considering Philip’s attack a high priority.  Now what I am going to tell you is strictly confidential, as it is operational information.  May I assume, Mr. Chairman, that the proceedings of this meeting, whilst recorded for reference between us, are strictly only for our ears only and not for dissemination beyond those present here without approval?''

Willi replied immediately.  ''Mike, I assure you that nothing leaves this room other than what is brought here by individuals.  By that I mean, if Zack brings his tape from my office, then naturally my office staff will also get to hear that tape.  What other people decide to do regarding that tape will not be told my staff unless it impinges on their work or you need them to be involved.

''In the same way, now that David and Felix have their group of boys, it would be valuable to us if they kept us informed of what they discover, but they’ll only do so if they trust us; trust us with the information, and trust us to allow them to use their initiative to gain that information wisely to go the next step.  To do that they may need to share some item of information David and Felix, or one of their group, have heard from someone else at this meeting.  Are we to tell them not to use that possibly vital fact in order to maintain confidentiality, or may they use it to make their search more productive?  Surely the whole idea of us coming together is that, by sharing, we shall get to our goal, or our mutual goals rather, more efficaciously.''

''Well spoken, as usual, Willi,'' said Mike Juma.  ''Of course we share, but with care if you forgive my stab at a little alliteration.  Before I sit down let me finish my introduction by saying that my wife is North American.  I have two little daughters and twin boys aged just about 12.''

As he sat down, Felix suddenly stood, recognising he was totally out of order.

''Sorry W - before you say anything, Dad – Chief, I thought you’d like to know Mike and Matt are members of The Cornfield Fraternity, the name we’ve given our group, seeing as Philip was found in a cornfield.''  At that he sat back down again.

There was silence for a moment or two as those present took in what Felix had said.

It was Chief Juma who spoke first.  ''David, Felix, I can’t tell you how pleased I am that the twins have hooked up with you.  Only this morning I tasked my new Desk Sergeant, a 23 year old young man who is keen as mustard, to lead the investigation into who Philip is.  I gave my boys the remit of asking other kids around if they recognised him, as I thought it more likely that street kids would talk to other kids than to cops.  To have Mike and Matt segue into a group already doing the same job is just perfect.  Way to go, boys!''

''Some of you know me personally,'' began Daktari Adam, ''but most of you will only have heard of me by reputation, some good, some I suspect, not so good.  Whatever you’ll have heard, one thing I hope will have been a constant, and that is that the work of the Foundation my father began and I continue is based on the Christian ethic of service to one’s neighbour.  I also believe God uses people and situations in ways we cannot anticipate.  I’ve seen it many, many times in my life.  Terrible illnesses, even tragic deaths have had remarkable side-effects on the wider family or community around them.

''Already Philip’s terrible assault is acting as a catalyst in bringing together us, a powerful cross-section of Bringitar society dedicated not only to bring Philip’s assailants to justice, but to address the broader ills surrounding this attack.  The silence in the village, the lack of investigation, the fate of street kids in our community and the collusion of police and courts in corrupting our justice and judicial system,  engenders the general distrust in authority which all of this brings among the public at large.  In reality most people feel that our country is run by and for just 5 per cent of the people, the Political Elite, the Mount Kenya Mafia.

''As a physician-surgeon, I chiefly concern myself with the physical well-being of those in my care.  However, patients get better best when their minds are positive and they are worry-free.  In my district, where water is abundant, soil is rich, and the sun shines daily, food should never be an issue.  Conflicts have only occurred when outsiders interfere, such as now, when the Government wants to create a Wildlife Reserve.  These things upset the natural balance of the area which has been established for millennia.  And it’s all for money for people outside our region.

''So, yes I’m here for Philip, but I’m here for Felix, too, and his inheritance and those of his descendants.''  At that, it was Daktari’s turn to turn to his left.

Steve, Dr. Adam's driver, had decided not to sit at the table, but took a chair at a small desk next to the wall, some four meters away.  As the meeting proceeded, he was ever more relieved at the choice he had made.  Speaking in front of others, particularly older, professional types, was surely not his long suit.

''Isaiah Ochieng is my name.  I own a drapery store on Moi Avenue which I inherited from my wife’s father, who inherited it from his father.  It has been a family business for 74 years.  My second and fifth sons are now working in the shop with me and my two daughters are dressmakers with the business.  I also employ an Askari, a driver for my deliveries and another two women in the shop.  Most relevant to my reason for having a place at this table is that I have a keen interest in the welfare of orphans.  My church has classes twice a week for street boys and I teach arithmetic there every Wednesday.  I also pay for 25 boys' lunches each week.  I employ boys as messengers and shop cleaners and they do local deliveries for me.  But I see how badly so-called Social Services works and how terribly the boys are treated by the police.

''I have lost count of the number of times I have complained to your predecessor, Chief Juma, about things I have seen his officers do to boys behind my shop.  I have a file containing 28 letters of formal complaint I have written to the Provincial Superintendent.  Never was any action taken.  I also have letters I have written to the Ministry regarding the incompetence of the Social Services.  In the end I was told about Willi Wanyonyi here, and for the past two or three months we have been working on building a larger case to present direct to the Provincial Commissioner.

''I agree with Daktari.  I think Philip’s case may be a cause around which we can build a larger campaign about abuse of kids in our city, and abuse of power by those who think they are above the law.''

It seemed that as the meeting progressed, everyone was speaking for a longer period of time, Felix thought, but thank God there was only one more, and he looked to be only a teenager himself, so hopefully he’d be brief and to the point.

''As the last, I suspect I should regard myself as honoured as the Bible says, ‘The last shall be first and the first last.'''  Everyone gave a little chuckle.  ''I suppose I ought to be up on my Scriptural quotes, as I’m a second year Catholic postulant brother.  My name is Mark Kithuru and that makes me an Akamba by lineage, though my mother is Taita and I was actually born and grew up in Dagoretti, Nairobi.  Although I live and learn with my brothers at our Postulant House not far from Musikoma, I have the project of working three afternoons each week, plus all of Saturday with the street kids.

''As an amusing aside, my name, Mark Kithuru, may ring a bell with some of you regarding Philip’s case.  And it should.  My father named me Mark after the first or oldest of the Gospel accounts.  He hoped to have more sons whom he would, no doubt, have named for the other apostles.  But it was not to be, as my father died in a road accident before I was two years old, leaving my mother, me and my younger sister.  By God’s blessing, my father’s older brother took us in and we have lived with his family happily ever since.  However, the interesting thing is that my father not only chose Mark as my name, as opposed to Matthew, because his was the oldest Gospel, but to honour his favourite, older brother.  You see, my new dad was now also named Mark Kithuru.  But that is not all.  Before my father died, Uncle Mark, as he then was, already had two sons.  The first he named after his own father.  At his wife’s insistence, the second he named after himself.  So, once I arrived, the house boasted no less than three Mark Kithurus.  And two of us are just two weeks apart in age.

''My Dad, Mark Kithuru is he who drove Philip to hospital and attempted to report his case at the Police Station.

''Now, back on the streets, my primary task is to try to reconnect the boys there with their homes.  If not, then to find them homes off the streets.  I work with Daktari Adam’s street warden, Rob, to get the boys to classes, to keep clean, off drugs and glue, and off prostitution.  My experience is that the Social Services are a positive obstacle to our work, and the police actively work against us.  I’m here, using a very un-Christian turn of phrase, to take them down.  With no apologies to you Chief Juma.''

The young man sat back in his seat and folded his arms.  Felix couldn’t stop himself, and pushing his fisted arm forward loudly hissed out ''yesss!''

David likewise wouldn’t allow his friend to stand out alone, so he stood up and said, ''Talk, talk.  We all know and I’ve known since I could crawl who was corrupt.  You old guys have done nothing since Independence 40 years ago.  You’ve watched while a few families and their friends and later their friends built huge empires, stacked up massive overseas bank accounts, and drove around East Africa in convoys like emperors.  When we were a colony, even the Governor General only came with one car, my Gramps told me.  The colonial district commissioner had a Land Rover he often drove himself.  Now our African one has a convoy with about twenty armed askari.  You all have looked on while this has happened.  Why did you allow it?  You were 10 million people, then 20 million.  Why did you elect these clowns who stole from you?  Who abused you?  Now you suddenly wake up in 2005 because one kid is assaulted in a field near Bringitar!  I don’t get it.''

Down he flopped.

It was finally Willi Wanyonyi’s turn.

''Good.  Very good.  The meeting was getting a little stale, boring even.  I am so and so from wherever doing whatever.  It was all very interesting, but slightly tedious.  Then Daktari got us into a bit of meaning, ethics.  Isaiah introduced some practical ethos.  Then Robert.  Now Mark introduced spirit, and ended with challenge, which Felix echoed.  And David then, David then, what?  David then shamed us.  Forgive me if I put it bluntly, but it took a 12 year old to put it bluntly.  What the fuck have we been doing while Rome burned these past 40 years?

''David, Felix, Robert, Mark even you, Zack, ’cause you’re of similar age…I or we cannot undo the inaction of the past.  All I can say is that some of us have not been silent and have worked very hard in our own way, but have found it a very lonely path that we have trod.  Your father, Felix, has done a lot on the Mountain.  The problem is that people feel powerless.  I feel that if we can show them one good victory against the system, people will see it is possible.  At the moment all they see is the power of money.

''In 24 hours I have not been able to discover much, but I think I’ve found that there has been at least one reported, or an attempt to report a missing boy in the Toriop area last month, maybe two even.  This suggests to me someone was paying-off policeman not to accept missing person reports in that area, if they involved children.  That is scary.  However, it is all very vague just now and my sources for this are not my most reliable ones.  So I am not yet ready to make big assumptions based on these accounts.''

David butted in at this point.  ''May I assume this is now an open forum, the introductions having been made and all?'' He looked at Willi, and then glanced around the room.

''Indeed you may, Mr. Coordinator.  The floor is yours.''

David could hardly believe himself.  It was under 48 earlier that he was still bringing his sister into the hospital on his first visit to Bringitar.  Now he was talking openly to this bunch of important city and district leaders, even the Police Chief, for God’s sake, what’s gotten into him?

''It’s like this.  As we speak, four of our brethren, Robbie who is the son of the security guard who first found Philip, Abel a local lad who lives near the field where Philip was found, and your two boys, Chief, are in Toriop, talking to local children there.  They hope to discover if any other kids have vanished recently, either locals or ones seen passing through.  They want to know if anyone has seen any local people – probably ones without kids – acting strangely, particularly after dark.  Perhaps the same man, or maybe some older women, but less likely, probably a man or men, often walking at night, but not to the bar or a changa’a seller.

''Abel is going to look around the field too, with one of your boys, Chief, to see if they can find signs of where exactly the attack took place.  Perhaps the weapon was dropped, or some evidence of some sort.  If they find anything they have plastic gloves to pick them up and plastic bags to put them in so we can give them to you.  There won’t be footprints as it’s bone dry just now.''

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

As David was speaking, those selfsame four boys were doing exactly what he said they would be doing, being nosey and questioning, and seeking kids’ gossip in Toriop.

''Jesse, did you say you saw a skinny Bukusu boy hanging around a few days ago before dark?''  Abel was drinking from a Chipsy - used margarine pot - of water drawn from the pump in the centre of the village.  He was addressing a lighter-skinned boy of about 10 who, together with Abel, Robbie, the twins and about ten other boys were either leaning against tree stumps or lying flat on the grass recovering from an exhausting 30 minutes of football.

''Whose bright idea was seven-a-side in the middle of the afternoon when it’s 35 degrees?  We must be bloody crazy.  I’m heading for the swimming hole, else I won’t have the energy to fetch in the goats or help with gathering wood at home later.''  This was a small, almost shaved-headed lad of 11 or 12 speaking, while using the lower limbs of a tree to do pick-ups.

''Come on, Jesse, get focused a bit here.  This is important.  A kid your age, just 9 or 10, was almost killed right here in Toriop 48 hours ago.  It could be any one of us next if we don’t catch whoever is doing this.  So focus, damn it.''

''What do you want me to say, Abel?  And why are you bringing these strangers here?'' asked Eliud, another boy, about 12, but taller and regarded as one of the leaders among the various cliques of boys in and around the village.  He was a Luo, unusual for this area, so was stockier of build than the others, which intimidated some.

''You mustn’t look on us as strangers, just strange,'' replied Matt, quickly with a laugh.  ''Look, at school, with hair like mine and with an African dad and North American Indian mom, my brother and I are used to being given the cold shoulder when first we arrive somewhere.  Like today, some of your tackles, Eliud, and those of your side-kick Frank, were intended to take me down.  Lucky for me I play rugby.  Lucky for you I felt kind today, or my brother will tell you I could have snapped your leg in a heartbeat.

''All of you, just listen to Robbie and Abel.  You’ve known them, like, forever.  What on Earth do you have to lose by sharing whatever information you have, or even just the suspicions or ideas you have with any of us.  We can brainstorm as a group, or any one of you can talk to any one of us in confidence.  Even if it’s only a vague notion, a wild idea.  I am just SO scared of Daktari Adam getting a call that another boy like the one found here, the one called Philip, one more, God forbid maybe one of us, has been found dying in a cornfield.''

''Or dead,'' echoed Robbie.

There was no sound for a while.  One could hear the squeak of unoiled bicycle chains as someone cycled down the path 150 metres away.  A horse chestnut fell to earth with a quiet thud.  A crested ibis flapped by and bees buzzed and, in the distance, some girls were chanting a skipping rhyme.

''He seemed like a very skinny boy, very black.  I saw him rummage in the trash of a couple of places.  He pro’ly was lookin’ for food,'' said Jesse.  ''I was coming back from taking some milk to Gramma’s house.  I suppose it was three hours after dark, so 10 or there about.  He saw me coming and tried to hide, but there was nowhere for him to go.  I just shouted, but not too loud to draw attention, ‘Wait, just wait there.  I have something small.’  And he did.  He sat on the verge and I went up to him.

''The boy was scared shitless.  He said he was totally lost.  I had some mandazi that gramma had given me in my pack, about six of them I think.  So I gave them to him, along with two bananas and a piece of sweet potato.  They were for the next day’s school lunch.  He looked starved.  I needed to get home, but did just ask him one question, and that was why he was in Toriop.  He said he was travelling from where he was living with his sister to his home, where he’d heard his mother was sick, but he had become lost on the way and had already been walking a whole day.

''I told him to sleep behind the village church where there was a wall and a tin cover over the wood store if it rained.  The hyenas never came there because they hated the noise of the rattle of the tin roof.  At that I left him and went home.  I didn’t even get his name.  I didn’t find him behind the church when I checked before going to school next day, so I assumed he had simply moved on.  Your news today has gutted me.  I want to help you find the bastards who did this.  He is just a kid like me.  If he’s not safe, then neither am I.  And nor are any of us, guys,'' the little tyke said as he looked around and took in each of his village playmates and school friends.

''Jesse, two things I need to tell you,'' said Mike.  ''Firstly, you have given us a major lead in this investigation into Philip’s attack.  Based on what you told us we have some idea of where he was coming from.''

''Yea,'' interrupted Billy Aniango, a bespectacled, lanky teenager of 13, ''it means his sister lives about 35 kilometers away, based on an average 5 kms per hour for seven hours and assuming he left early and took rests during midday sun.''

''But 35 km in which direction,'' asked Eliud?

''That’s easy,'' replied Matt.  ''Philip is a Bukusu.  So his original home is either here or east of here.  So he must have come from the north, south or west.  If he came from south, then why come through here? There is nowhere 35 km north of here.  So he must have come from the west.  About 35 km west of here is Busia or Sirysia or Kakamega.''

''Unless he got lost on the way and, instead of walking directly, meandered about, of course,'' commented his brother Mike.  ''Then you’d have to consider even Mumias and Nambale.''

''But at least we’re further forward than we were an hour ago,'' said Abel, ''which shows the strength of we all working together.  As children we are underestimated.  We run errands, do chores, effectively keep our houses functioning while our mothers bring in most of the money and our fathers either are notable by their absence or do fuck all but drink and talk big and do nothing every day.  Of course there are good exceptions, like your dad, Robbie, but let’s be honest, most of our dads are not much use to us and just take up space.

''So I recon that this Philip case is one that we should crack.  It’s a Toriop case, probably committed by someone in Toriop.  Robbie and I are joining with the twins here to find out who Philip is.  I would like you, Frank, to lead up whoever among the boys here are willing to quietly dig into who may have done this terrible thing.  But remember, there are people in Bringitar who suspect that Philip is not the first.  So there is risk involved here.''

''Yes,'' jumped in Mike, ''which is why I am going to leave you a mobile phone contact to call so we can rush down to help immediately if you need us.''

''Thanks, and especially thanks for your confidence in asking me to coordinate things here on the ground.  A minor problem, and I saw Robbie and Abel smile when you spoke, is that none of us poor village kids have access to such extravagances as mobile phones.''

''You have now.''  And Matt threw his phone to Frank.  ''I’ll give you a quick run down on its basic functions before we go.  The rest you’ll have to learn by trial and error.  The charger I will send you by pikipiki later today, so tell me how to get it to you.''

Frank looked dazed.  He held the glossy Nokia phone in his hand as if it were a day-old chick.  ''Matt, I cannot possibly accept this.  It’s a far better phone even than my mother has.  Hell, it’s probably the most up-to-date cell phone in the village.  What did this thing cost, for God’s sake?''

''Haven’t the foggiest, old bean.  It probably fell off the back of the proverbial truck, eh!  It was among a stash of phones Dad found at the Police Station lockup depository last week.  There are plenty more where that one came from.  I’ll snag one later.''

''Sorry, Matt, but I must have missed something along the way,'' said Frank.  He was looking at the light-skinned mixed blood boy with a bewildered mien.  ''I think I heard you say your dad found them somewhere in the Police Station.  What was he doing searching through a police station?  Which police station?  And are you giving me stolen goods to use here, man?  Why, I don’t want in with any stolen property!''

''Calm down, bro.  Calm it,'' hushed Robbie.  You know me well enough.  No way would I get into any illegal stuff.  I should have introduced Matt and Mike properly to begin with.  That’s my fault.  The twins' dad is Mike Juma, the new Police Chief, brought in to clean up the place.''

''Yea, our dad has been Missing in Action so far as being a dad is concerned for the past two years while he cleaned up Mignanori police district.  Now he’s here to do the same.  When we arrived,'' continued Mike, ''we discovered an Aladdin’s cave of stuff obviously taken by what we’ll call the Old Regime.  We can’t return the stuff, which includes lots of phones, as we don’t know to whom to return them.  So dad decided to use them in operations.  This is an operation.  We are helping in an investigation, aren’t we?  So you deserve a phone.''

''Cool.''

''The number programmed on it as Felix is the one to call for help, or to report anything important.  It’s a pre-paid phone loaded with a little under 2000 Shillings.  So don’t go mad.''

Mike came back into the conversation at this point.  ''Jesse, I said there were two things I wanted to raise with you.  We’ve exhausted the first, for now.  The second is that I think you should join us four in an hour or so when we set off for Bringitar and then go on to the Children’s Hospital up on the Mountain.  No, don’t interrupt me, yet.  Let me finish.

''Philip is being transferred up there.  You are the only person we know of actually to have had a conversation with the boy before he was attacked.  For the time since he’s been found, he’s never fully regained consciousness.  Perhaps hearing your voice, you talking to him, something, will trigger a reaction in Philip and help him wake up again.  I believe it is worth trying.  If Robbie goes with me to your house with you to talk to your Mam and explain, I’m sure she will agree.''

While Mike and Robbie and Jessie sorted out practicalities of moving for some days to Daktari Adam’s place, Abel took Matt to the field where Philip was found.  There, with Frank, Eliud, Billy and two others they slowly combed the stubble and dried-out soil for any signs of Philip.

''Here!'' cried Billy after about 5 minutes, when Abel was beginning to think their search was going nowhere.

''Whatch’ ya’ got Junior?'' said Eliud in one long-snatched word.

''To me, looks like someone struggled real hard hereabouts.  Stalks are all mashed down.  There are deep heel marks.  And I may be wrong, but that looks like flecks of blood on that rock and hardened soil chunk over there.''

''Right,'' said Matt, ''please, nobody move at all.  Abel, in your backpack that I gave you there are plastic gloves and some plastic bags.  There is also a school ruler, measure.  Right.  Now Billy, please hold the ruler next to the rock for me.  I’m taking a photo with my phone.  Now I’m taking a picture of the whole site, where things are pressed down.  To get a scale I need someone in the picture.  OK, thanks Abel.  I am taking this soil chunk and the rock away in these bags.  Daktari will be able to tell if it matches Philip’s blood.  Then we’d know for sure that Philip was first attacked right here in this spot.''

''It sends chills up my spine thinking of it,'' said Billy.

''I’m wondering why on Earth Philip agreed to come out here to the middle of this field for anyone?  What did they say to him to get him to agree to come out here,'' asked Eliud?  ''Assuming Jesse is telling us the truth, and there’s no reason he should lie, Philip was alone and eating a banana and mandazi at about 10.00 pm, possibly intending to sleep behind the church.  Eight hours later Robbie’s dad finds him almost dead 150m from here, at the end of this field.''

Abel continued the narrative.  ''And sometime in those eight hours he’d been brutally attacked, stripped naked, and presumably these two events had happened either just here or between here and 150m away where he was found.''

''Let’s keep looking, guys,'' said Frank.

It was Frank who actually stumbled across the next, and decisive clue.  He tripped and fell into a shallow hollow about 20m further into the field, vaguely in the direction of the path normally taken by Moses Wekesa on his way to work.

''Over, here.  Come, guys.  Come here and bring your kit, Matt,'' cried out Frank.

''What in….''

''Shiiiit!''

''I can’t believe what I’m looking at, but there can only be one explanation,'' said Matt reacting to the others’ exclamations.  All the blood specks around show the attack took place here.  Then the concentration of blood there, Frank, where you fell, suggests Philip fell there too and remained there a while.  Now, why would anyone remain in one place when badly hurt?''

''Because they lost consciousness,'' replied Abel.

''Right,'' continued Matt.  ''I suspect his attacker or, more likely, attackers, thought Philip effectively dead and gone and abandoned him to his fate at that point.  The mysteries for me are why this hollow and how did Philip recover enough to stagger the, what, 120 meters to the pathway where Robbie’s dad found him?''

''Why don’t you take your photographs and bag your blood samples and whatever, Matt,'' said Abel.  ''Time is running out before we need to find a piki to take us back to meet up with David and Felix at Khetia and I have still to go to my house and get the all clear to go with you guys.''

''What are these little striations all over the place indented into the soil, Matt,'' asked Abel?

''And what, in English or plain Kiswahili, is a striation when it is at home, Abel?  Duh?'' asked Matt.

''Yea, Abel, have you swallowed a dictionary, or you showing off in front of the semi-mzungu private school kid?''  This was Billy’s jibe at his school friend.

''No, remember this brown-noser got 100 per cent and the school prize in English this year.  He can’t help being a geek,'' laughed Eliud.

''I’ll geek you in the nuts next time we play murder ball.  Anyway, striations are like scratches.  I learned the word in geomorphology in geography class if you must know, to do with glaciers, moraines and so on.  Anyway…''

''Yes, please proceed with the anyway.  This is school holiday and you’re beginning to sound like a mwalim, our science teacher, Professor Abel.''

''Bugger off!  Anyway, whatever…these scratches everywhere.  They’re not anywhere else in the field.  Certainly they can’t be made by Philip, as they are not a boy’s fingernails.''

Everyone just looked, seemingly equally mystified.

''I’ve taken lots of shots of these, macro across the site, and micro of individual scratches or stri whatevers.  I am also bagging two sections of one of these scratches.  Before Abel and I run,'' went on Matt, ''has anyone a theory about why this hollow is here?''

''Maybe the hollow was here before and the assailant simply used it as a convenient place for the attack on Philip.  He reckoned the boy’s body wouldn’t be seen from nearby by being in the hollow,'' suggested Frank.

''But if he didn’t want the body found there are far more remote bits of land around here than this, just 120 metres from a well-used pathway.  And anyway,'' said Eliud, ''I know just about every meter of the economic land around here, because my dad works for Mumias Sugar and is always on the prowl for land to persuade the owners to lease out for planting cane.  So I get a few bob if I find something for him.  As a result I walk around a lot.  I could swear that I was in this field less than a month ago, just after it had been harvested and when the owners had decided on two months of fallow.  I am almost positive this hollow wasn’t here then.''

''Yes,'' continued Abel, ''the sides of the hollow are quite sharp.  This shows no rain has fallen since this hollow was created.  If my memory serves me, we had a significant rain just before Speech Day at school.  So that was 11 days ago.  So this hollow is under 10 days old.''

''Guys we’ve done absolutely amazing work here.  Abel, now run home, collect Mike to help you on the way if you think you’ll need him.  Frank, and you others, I cannot thank you enough for just jumping in.  Now we need to find out if any other kids have disappeared from around here in the past months,'' Matt said.

''Matt,'' began Frank, ''it’s we who should thank you and your brother, and Robbie and Abel of course.  You’ve opened our eyes to what we’ve been ignoring.  We shall do so no more.  I plan to call a meeting of all kids aged 9 or older and delegate areas of work to them.  So when you come next I hope to have definite results for you.  Do you know when that will be?''

''No, Frank, I don’t.  Today we all go up to Daktari Adam’s house on the Mountain for a day or two to plan everything, not just Philip, but helping the street kids, stopping drugs in schools, prostitution, this sort of thing.  I’ll call you when I have an idea of when we’ll be coming, OK?''

By then the group, carrying Matt’s bag of ''evidence'' was back at what passed for the tiny village’s centre, a Barasa tree, a minute shop consisting of a kiosk with an assortment of basic household items, sodas, and beer, and the village church, which was a wood frame building, open on one side, with a corrugated iron roof.

Robbie was arriving with his school bag stuffed with clothes.  Jesse had a paper bag with his.  While they waited for Mike, who had gone to give Abel moral and practical support at home, Robbie went over to the only pikipiki waiting at the village pump and asked him to call a friend of his to come, that there were five of them going to Khetia’s in Bringitar.  He knew the fare was 50 shillings.

Mike and Abel arrived, the latter bearing a sweet potato for each of the travelers.  As he knew, or at least expected, Felix would have something for them at Khetia’s, he shocked Jesse by giving all the potatoes away to those who were not going.

''Hey!  That was my potato you gave away, Abel.''

''No sweat Jesse.  You don’t need it.  You’re getting fat.''

The second 50 cc motorcycle arrived, and the five set off on their six or seven kilometer journey, with lots to report.  And lots to have reported to them.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

While one set of boys was busy chasing around fields, and three boys were laying in hospital beds talking to one another and strategizing, the meeting at PMs was increasing in tempo.

''Dad,'' interjected Felix, ''we’ve also decided that we need to properly strategise to do our work properly.  We have Matt and Mike who have to identify Philip for the police.  We have Abel and Robbie with intimate knowledge of Toriop and that area.  We have two boys, Dido and Francis who know the streets of Bringitar.  Then in bed at present because of their injuries, but wanting to help, we have Lucas, Gabe and Bryan who are going to handle, respectively, Comms, Planning, and Records.  When the bed-ridden, including Philip, move up to the Foundation hospital this evening, we want the rest of the brothers to move up to our house.  That way, after this meeting and knowing then what you want us to do, we can spend tomorrow and, if necessary, the next day, planning.  Better a day of delay and a good plan, than a half-assed campaign that falls apart at the first hurdle for lack of planning.''

He looked at Adam with a hopeful smile.

''You were a little presumptuous inviting, what, seven boys for an indefinite sleepover, but what the hell!  It is actually a great idea.  Of course, you’ll all have to double up.  Two to a room, OK.  I need the other rooms for the Canadian med students due back tomorrow.''

''Fine Dad.  You’re with me, David.''  Felix looked at his recently acquired friend and winked conspiratorially.

''It seems the, what was it again, Fraternity of the Maize Field?''

''No, no, Cornfield Fraternity,'' David corrected Willi Wanyonyi’s smiling error.

''Cornfield Fraternity, yes.  Well, whatever, they’re ahead of the game.  So the rest of us need to play some catch up here.  Firstly, you all know I wear many hats.  Prisons Board.  Victims of Torture Organisation.  East of Africa Human Rights, and so on.  This campaign needs a leader who has fewer irons in the fire.  I’ve convened this meeting.  I’ll work like a slave to meet the campaign’s ends.  But I’m adamant that it needs someone else at the helm.  In this I will not be dissuaded, so nobody need waste their breath.''

Everyone was stunned, having assumed this was Willie’s baby.  For a while nobody spoke.

''Of course, I respect your decision, W.  When the meeting chooses a chairman, or coordinator, or whatever, please remember that I cannot serve, as it would be contrary to my terms of service.  Of course I can and will work as part of this committee as much as I can.''  This was Chief Mike speaking.

Pastor Hezekiah spoke next.  ''I’m in a somewhat similar situation to my Christian brother, Mike, over here.  I would have to get my divisional church council’s permission to chair a committee such as this.  To be honest I doubt I’d get their OK.  I am flying close to the wind simply by participating actively.  But I believe strongly in our aims here so I will dedicate myself to work with whichever chairman is chosen.''

''Everyone is making excuses for why they cannot chair, so why should I be different,'' spoke up Emmanuel Chebet.  ''It must be obvious to you that as a senior executive of a national bank I would have to get Nairobi headquarters approval to chair this.  As Kikuyu families have a controlling interest of the bank stock, do you really think I would get permission to chair a campaign whose main aim is to overthrow those same narrow cliques?''

''This is becoming boring.  I’ll make it short and sweet.  I am a postulant.  I can do nothing without my postulant master’s all clear.  With my studies, prayers, project work, and now this committee, there is no way that as a junior postulant he will contemplate giving me permission.  This is particularly true if there is a possibility of publicity.  I’m pushing it just being here.  Just let me go with the flow, OK?  Else he will pull me out.''

Willi put his open right hand up.  ''Alright, alright.  Enough already.  If you look at my notepad, Felix, you will see written names of people I wrote as disabled from the coordinators job.'' He slid his pad over for the boy to see.

''Yep.  It says, Juma, Chebet x 2, Kitonyi.''

''So, I did foresee that some of you could not stand for totally almost legal reasons.  Others of you will argue for practical reasons: age, work demands, so on, so forth.  What we seek is not some dictator to tell us all what to do.  Neither do we need a workaholic to do everything for us.  What we need is an analytically minded planner, someone to bring together the strands of what we know and, with others, perhaps even outside this group, chew them over, and then come up with ideas we can discuss here for actions we can take individually and corporately to inch towards our aims.  Some of us will be working with Philip’s case, others with street kids, others with police corruption and others with the courts.  But each of these overlap and the coordinator will bring these strands together.

''When you cast your vote in a few minutes just think about how each person has acted round this table today, what evidence each has given of their commitment to our goals, and I think you’ll make the right choice.''

At that, Zack passed blank pieces of paper to each person present, including Steve at Willie’s insistence.  So there were 10 electors.  The names were written quickly and the ballots passed to Chief Juma who had volunteered to act as invigilator.

Mike quickly scribbled the result on a clean sheet of paper and passed it and the ballots to Willi.

''Ah!  An interesting election, and a very close result.  Three people received votes.  One vote went to Daktari Adam.''  

There was a smattering of applause and David looked at the Daktari quizzically.  Inwardly he wondered why he had only received the one vote he had cast for him as he was obviously far and away better suited than the shopkeeper, or even Zack, even though the latter had taped that glue selling bookshop guy.  His thoughts were interrupted as Willi continued his results.

''Runner up was Felix who garnered four votes.  Well done Felix.''  There was loud applause at this announcement and Felix felt obliged to stand up and take a bow.  What’s all this about, thought David as he grinned from ear to ear for his new best friend.  He was so proud for him.  I suppose he’s sort of Vice-chairman now.  Fantastic.  One of the Fraternity as Vice-chairman of the whole campaign.

''Of course, if we want to be very strict about this, the winner hasn’t attained 50 per cent plus one of the votes cast.  Five voted for the winner, but five didn’t.  So, Felix, before I announce the top vote winner, do you want a second ballot just between you and the guy who got five votes?''

''Hell no!  If it was 4 million against 5 million with 1 million to dad, though he’d never get so many to vote for him at his age, then maybe, but this.  Congratulations, whichever of the three of you it is.''  There were laughs about his comments on Adam’s age, and a ripple of applause for his concession speech, and then silence as Willi stood up again.

''Right you are, finally.  With five votes to his name, the first Coordinator of the Back to the People Campaign of Bringitar, to add to his existing coordinator title, is David Chebet.''

Everyone stood and clapped, with Zack slapping him on the back and Felix, unbelievably, in front of everyone, giving him a big hug.  It must be the beer.  How?  I’m twelve, or almost, for fuck ‘s sake.  How can I coordinate a gang of grown-up men?  A bank executive, a pastor, and, and God help me, Daktari!  The guy’s a flaming legend in my village and now I’m supposed to treat him like a member of my committee.  I can’t do it.  I’ll have to refuse.

''I’ll….I’ll…''

''Now David, I suggest you tell us what you’d like us to do before we meet next,'' said Willi once everyone had settled down.  Today is Wednesday.  I’ve reserved this room for next Sunday evening, after service time, Pastor, for 8.00 PM.  Is that alright for you, David, and for everyone?''

David looked around and bit his lower lip, a habit he had when nervous, as if before an exam for which he felt he hadn’t studied sufficiently.

''I was going to stand up, as I am now, and turn down this honour you have all bestowed on me by electing me coordinator.  I thought, and frankly still do think, you are stark raving mad.''  He allowed a moment for some laughter.

''After all, here was a successful local businessman, an experienced human rights worker who’s already displayed his ability in a very practical way, and most of all you had Daktari whose reputation needs no burnishing by me.  Oh, of course you had this stick insect next to me too, but, well, what can I say…''

There was another round of chuckles.

''However, when I finally did stand up – and I assure you I am actually standing up.  Mountain Sabaot, Ogiek, are not renowned for their height – I realised that to refuse the challenge you have offered Felix, as my Vice, and me would be to say that our generation is as unequal to the challenges of corruption and patronage as earlier generations have been.  That after Zack and Felix and Robert and I spoke that it was all words and no action.

''We mountain people are not like that, as Daktari will tell you.  Now, Felix and I are just 12.  We each have fairly active minds, good command of Kiswahili, and in Felix ‘s case Kiingilesi, and in a fair one-to-one I generally come out on top.  But here we’re talking taking on organisations and powerful people.  12 year olds aren’t going to hack it.

''So, before the next meeting I should be obliged if you continue as you have been doing, but I have some ideas for a little extra light lifting for each of you.  As I speak, Felix is writing down his mobile phone for each of you so that you may reach me with urgent news or requests for help any time.  Remember we have seven boys available to help in a crisis at the drop of a hat.''

Glancing at Felix he saw that he was just sitting there, listening, so in a somewhat louder voice, using stunted diction, he repeated, ''As I speak, Felix is writing out his mobile number for each of you!'' And he kicked his friend in the shins.

''Yeaw!  Okay!  I’m on it.  I’m on it.  Don’t get your knickers in a twist.  These Ogiek.  Give them a little power and it goes to their head.  Both heads probably.  He’ll be looking for a whore later!''

The whole room exploded.  The laughter cascaded round the room.  Even David had to admit it was funny.  Where did Felix think it up?

''As I was trying to say before the John Cleese of Mount Elgon decided to wake up was, Pastor, would you do two extra things over the next five days, please?  Firstly, canvass older couples in your congregation whose families have grown up to see if any could foster a pre-teen or young teenage street boy.  Secondly, see if there are enough boys in your church to mentor 11 street boys one on one for a week long soccer camp if one can be arranged.

''Emmanuel.  Your bank is well known for its community projects.  I remember its big thing in Katwe in Kampala, and in Kibera in Nairobi.  Ask if it would put up money for a street kids hostel in Bringitar?  Just float the idea, then we can make it a project to plan it.  Meanwhile, while you and I know full well that all your paper products are supplied from some central supplier somewhere – I am right there aren’t I?''

A nod from Emmanuel confirmed the boy’s assumption.

''There is no reason to assume local traders aren’t gullible.  How about if you send a message to each local bookseller saying that as part of a new company policy to buy goods locally, your bank will soon be seeking tenders from responsible local bookshops for an expansive range of paper products and office supplies in large quantities and on a regular basis.  In order to qualify to be considered for tendering, retailers must meet minimum trading standards.  One problem which has arisen is that certain stores have been accused of illegally supplying glue to children for the purpose of ‘glue sniffing’.  This is obviously something with which the bank can in no way be associated and so a very close watch will be paid on prospective tendering retailers over the coming weeks before tender documents are sent out.

''I think that if we can cut off this avenue of supply to glue, it will make any other supplier more visible.''

''Fantastic!  What a genius of a plan,'' said Pastor Chebet.  ''Emmanuel, what do you think?  Surely this is easily doable.  It won’t cost anything much.  And by the way, David.  What you’ve asked me to do.  Regard it as done.  I’m certain I could get that 11 number three times over.  The fostering may be a tougher nut to crack.''

''As my brother said,'' chipped in the banker, ''this is not a difficult one.  I can even supply a couple of askari to watch stores to underline that we are actually doing what we say, plus a couple of plain clothes men such as we use to catch debtors, to watch back doors so we actually catch them.  But if we do catch them what do we do?''

''This is where I come in,'' said Mike Juma.  ''If you can, either on your phone or on a separate device get a photograph or, even better, a video, of the transaction.  Remember to include a broad shot showing the shop as well as a detail shot of the merchandise and the dealer.  Then call Felix who will contact me.  I’ll get a safe, clean police officer to you quickly as possible to download the images.  We’ll continue doing that until I feel I have a rock solid case.  One deal won’t do it, nor will two, or even three.  I need to show a pattern of dealing.''

''Next you, Zack.  What you did with one shop can be tried elsewhere.  Are there other shops, or glue outlets you are prepared to try the same approach on,'' asked David?

''There are two or three shops in town, perhaps four, but not the supermarkets.  They don’t do it as far as I can tell.  Then there are the cobblers.  There are just two proper shoe repairers shops and I’m convinced they both deal, but approaching them is very risky.  Firstly they’re always crowded and play loud music, and secondly they know me.  So it would need to be someone else, and someone really sneaky.''

''Sounds like the perfect job for my son, Matt.  He could sell suntan oil to an Inuit in a snowstorm,'' said Mike Juma.

''Then there are the street cobblers, but they are just about impossible.''

''Surely,'' suggested Pastor, ''each of their stock of glue can’t be much, so they can’t sell much to street kids.''

''The problem is some of them buy more glue than they will use, knowing they will sell some to kids.  Some even build up regular boy clients who come every day for their fix.  In some ways these ten or twelve street cobblers are the lynchpins of the whole trade.  Get to them, you crack the glue problem.  Break glue, and the slippery slope to Es and tina is greatly lessened.''

''Sorry, forgive my ignorance, but Es and tina are not expressions I recognise,'' said Isaiah.

''Nor me,'' chimed in the pastor.

''Me either,'' added Emmanuel.  ''It must be a generational thing.''

Felix thought he’d been quiet long enough.  ''Es is short for Ecstasy, or Molly while tina is the street name for Crystal methamphetamine.  The former is a fairly modest upper.  The latter is a horribly addictive mood enhancer and very dangerous.

''From what we’ve seen on the streets in the South Rift project where I volunteer with my school’s community programme, many boys move on to tina.  Very few can afford Molly.  Tina finds them dead in an ally in 3 months on average.  We’ve got to keep that mess off Bringitar’s streets.  If we find anyone cooking it, we wreck the place and kill the bastards.''

David spoke again.  ''Felix was speaking metaphorically, of course.''

''I damn well wasn’t.  You haven’t scraped the vomit from a nine-year old’s face after he’s suffocated on his own puke and died in a gutter after tina.  Or watched a lovely 10 year old boy degenerate into a skeleton before becoming so brain addled that one day he simply walked in front of a 16 wheeler truck just 50 meters away from me.  No, David I was not speaking metaphorically.  If I ever meet a meth maker in person, they better pray there’s someone like Mike Juma around to protect them.  May I have another light beer please?''

No one knew what to say.  Felix had not even told his father these stories until today.  African life is full of death, as it is of birth and joy too.  There is laughter and weeping often in the same room.  But Felix’s experiences by so young a life seemed particularly poignant.

''Daktari, you are next.  However I recognise how full your schedule is already, so my ask of you is very small.  If Pastor can get his 11 together, I am asking Robert to get 22 street boys together.  We are 7, plus my brother and his two cohorts and I think a street boy will be a Fraternity boy soon, so we’ll be 11.  Is there somewhere on your estate we can have a long weekend or a 6-day soccer camp, with extras like talks about drugs, HIV, CPR, simple first aid, so the boys, when they leave, can be helpful to the community?''

''You know, David, this and the bank paper idea are true signs that we made the right choice.  You are only 12, right?  You’ve not got some disguise on and are a very short person aged 60 or something?''

''I surrender.  Felix and I did discuss a few ideas as we rode on the pikipiki here about the football, and once we heard about Emmanuel we had a couple of minutes chat about the paper idea.  So we did have about 10 minutes in all to brainstorm the two ideas between the two of us.  Not quite so surprising, then, when you think about it.''

''Oh no,'' continued Adam, ''not at all.  Two 11, well just about 12 year olds coming up with two scorching ideas in 10 minutes.  Not surprising at all.  Seeing as one is my son who seems these days to be incapable of putting on a pair of socks, tying his sneakers laces, or wearing underwear if the laundry girl’s reports are to be believed, then not surprising at all.  At all!''

Adam was looking directly at his son, trying his damndest not to laugh.  David had also turned towards his friend, with a quizzical expression.  Felix was simply slack jawed.  Did he actually just hear his dad tell 10 people that he was wearing his rugby shorts commando?  What the…the shoes bit?  OK.  Socks, well who wears socks when not in school?  But telling the world about not wearing underwear?  Why in all that’s holy would he do that?

''I think that’s very, very funny.  The geniuses are still boys at heart.  It makes them real.  I was getting worried that the rest of us, we wrinkles, were batting out of our league.  Somehow knowing that Felix is still all boy at times relieves me a great deal,'' said Isaiah.

''I cannot design tasks for you gentlemen, Willi, Chief.  Basically, you are out of my league, working on issues I do not yet fully understand.  Soon Felix and I would like time with each of you to learn more.  Today we all have places to be and things to do and my Gramps told me once that any meeting longer than 90 minutes started undoing all the work it did in the first hour.  I intend following his advice.

''So gentlemen, is there anything else?  It is 15.55.''  David scanned the room and nobody met his eyes.  ''I assume you’ve been keeping records Zack, as I saw you making notes.  Next meeting I will bring a recording Secretary so you, as a full member of this committee, will not be burdened with that.  I will close by remarking that we are a committee of 10 males and no females.  Not exactly gender parity, Mr. Wanyonyi.

''Brother Robert, will you offer a brief prayer to send us on the road?''

Robert was surprised he had been chosen above Pastor Chebet.  If he’d known David better he would not have been.  David, from an Anglican family loved liturgical worship.  He had little time for evangelical Pentecostal churches with their never ending prayers.

''Almighty Father, thank you for blessing our meeting today with good ideas, firm guidance, and loving fellowship.  May our mission as a campaign be to further the love of Christ for the most vulnerable in our society, and the fair distribution of the bounty of your creation.  May we always remember that all we do we do for your glory, through Christ’s love, and by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.''

''That was perfect, Robert.  With the committee’s approval I’ll print that prayer as our Campaign Prayer.  See you all Sunday.  Think of a woman or two to join us and phone Felix with ideas.  We’ve arranged to meet our other four at Khetia at 16.15 so must dash,'' David said, concluding the meeting.

David and Felix arrived on their piki, just as two others arrived with the twins on one and Abel, Robbie and Jesse squished between them on the other.

As David and Abel saw one another they simultaneously spoke identical words, ''Have we got news for you!''