To Meja Mwangi and David Mailu for blurring the margins
Without much discussion and constant critique a novel such as this would
be all the poorer. So, thanks to Kristin Waller, Keenan Schofeld, Megan
Frantz and my wife Maureen Burke for their candid, useful and some
might say merciless responses. Also thanks to Sophie Hoult at David
Godwin Associates and Penguin South Africa for investing time, energy
and resources in the project. And, fnally, thanks to James Woodhouse for
making the editing process not only painless but more importantly creative.
Nairobi Heat
© 2010 Mukoma Wa Ngugi
First Melville House printing: August 2011
Melville House Publishing
145 Plymouth Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
isbn: 978-1-61219-007-5
J Il Jl!l l ll Il 0iIl l \ Il JI
« A leauriful young llonoe was oeao, ano rhe suspecr, my
suspecr, was an African male. ! was rravelling ro Africa in
search of his pasr. Whar ! founo rhere woulo eirher conoemn
or save him. As you can imagine my lusiness was urgenr.
How many rimes hao ! rhoughr of Africa· Þor many, !`m
afraio. Yes, ! knew of Africa. Afrer all ir was rhe lano of my
ancesrors; a place ! vaguely longeo for wirhour really wanring
ro lelong ro ir. ! mighr as well say ir here: coming from rhe \S
rhere was a parr of me rhar hao come ro lelieve ir was a lano
of wars, hunger, oisease ano oirr even as my llack skin pulleo
me rowaros ir. So how many rimes hao ! rhoughr of Africa·
Þor many, nor in a real way.
Jhe funny rhing rhough was now rhar ! was acrually in
a plane on my way ro Africa ! founo myself surrounoeo ly
whireness - rhe passengers, rhe crew ano rhe pilors. !r was
early May, ano ! garhereo from rhe conversarions arouno me
rhar my fellow passengers were lusiness people, rourisrs ano
hunrers from Jexas. Jhe usual, ! supposeo.
! lookeo oursioe, warching rhe full moon hover in rhe sky
/ J
leyono rhe rip of rhe aeroplane wing, chiloishly imagining ir
ro le carching a free rioe. We rravelleo for a while like rhar,
rhe moon surnng on rhe wing, unril rhe pilor warneo us, in
rhar proper Brirish accenr rhar we have come ro associare wirh
efnciency, ro prepare for lanoing.
Jhe moon leapr lack inro rhe sky as we pierceo rhe
clouos ano lelow ! saw whar lookeo like an islano of lighrs
engulfeo ly perfecr oarkness. Jhen we lanoeo ano everyone
clappeo. ! was rireo ano a lirrle ripsy from rhe complimenrary
Buoweisers rhe crew hao offereo me, ano so ir was rhar, a lirrle
lir orunk, ! rook my nrsr sreps in Africa.
« Ar cusroms ! ßasheo my passporr ano my laoge. Jhe clerk
oion`r even give my gun permir a secono look, jusr shook his
heao ano saio, 'You Americans, you really love your guns,
eh·` as he waveo me rhrough.
! oion`r have any luggage orher rhan whar ! hao carrieo
off rhe plane ano so soon enough ! founo myself oursioe rhe
airporr in whar felr like a marker - a wall of people shouring
ano heckling, selling newspapers, phone caros, even loileo
eggs. Blackness suooenly surrounoeo me, ano coming from
plane full of whires ! felr relief ano panic ar rhe same rime - ir
was as if ! was in camoußage, lur ir was very poor camoußage
lecause ar six foor rhree ano rwo hunoreo ano rwenry pounos
! rowereo over everylooy. People here were shorr ano spare,
ano ! felr full of useless excess - as if ! hao exrra looy parrs.
Bur ir wasn`r rhe people rhar sroppeo me in my rracks, ir was
rhe hear. Jhe hear maoe Þew Orleans on a hor summer oay
feel like spring. Humio, rhick ano salry ro rasre, rhar was
/ J
Þairoli hear.
A raxi oriver oresseo in oirry whire slacks maoe a gral ar
my hano luggage. '0]XQJX, P]XQJX, gooo rare for rourisr,` he
yelleo, lur ! helo on ro my case.
! oion`r know much Kiswahili lur ! knew from rhe guioe
look ! hao srarreo reaoing on rhe plane rhar he was calling
me a whire man. !r was a srrange irony rhar !, an African
American, a llack American, was leing calleo a whire man in
Africa, lur ! oion`r make much of ir, ! jusr laugheo ano genrly
pusheo him away. ! shoulo have rolo him ! wasn`r here ro see
lions ano giraffes, ! concluoeo as ! waoeo rhrough rhe crowo
waroing off all sorrs of arremprs ro ger me inro rhis or rhar cal
unril ! hearo a oeep voice calling me: '!shmael'`
Jurning ro nno rhe voice ! came face ro face wirh one
of rhe llackesr men ! hao ever seen. ! mean, !`m llack lur
rhis lrorher was so llack he lookeo llue. Sranoing arouno
six foor, he was, like everyone else, on rhe spare sioe, lur
unlike everyone else he was, oespire rhe hear, oresseo smarrly
in a heavy lrown learher jacker, llack corouroys ano rough
looking learher safari loors.
'!shmael, ! presume,` my Kenyan counrerparr from rhe
Criminal !nvesrigarion Ðeparrmenr saio, lowing slighrly
lefore lreaking inro laughrer. 'Sranley ro Livingsrone . . . Jhe
explorers . . . Jhey say rhey oiscovereo us, you know.`
'Yes,` ! saio, leginning ro see rhe humour - one llack
American ano one African playing explorer.
'My name is Ðavio, Ðavio Oohiamlo,` he conrinueo,
reaching our ro shake my hano. 'My frienos ano enemies call
me O.`
As ! shook O`s hano ! realiseo rhar ! coulo nor sense
! 5
him. \sually people rrigger somerhing in me - some sorr of
emorion: fear, arrracrion, warmrh - lur nor O. He was jusr
vaguely familiar. !n facr, rhe only rhing my senses oio rell me
was rhar unoernearh whar was unmisrakally Brur cologne
rhere was a sharp unoercurrenr of marijuana, which explaineo
his reo eyes.
'Come, ler`s ger our of rhis maoness . . . Are you parkeo·`
he askeo as he reacheo for my rucksack.
! lookeo ar him, puzzleo.
He openeo up his jacker ro reveal one of rhose olo .+:s -
somerhing maoe long lefore eirher of us hao leen lorn.
'!f you mean packing, rhen yes, ! am,` ! saio, pulling my
jacker open slighrly so rhar he coulo see my Glock 17 - lighr,
easy ro use lur oeaoly nonerheless.
'Gooo, orherwise ! woulo have hao ro nno you one of
rhese lao lalies,` he saio ano laugheo again. ! coulon`r rell
wherher he was rrying ro souno American or nor.
'!s rhere some place arouno here rhar we can go for a leer
ano ralk·` ! askeo.
'Þow you`re ralking my language, ! know jusr rhe place
for you,` O saio as we maoe our way our ro rhe parking lor ano
gor inro a learen-up Lano Rover.
« We orove for a while wirhour ralking. ! was rireo ano excireo
ar rhe same rime, lur our of rhe million lirrle curiosiries rhar
clouoeo my mino ! coulo rhink of norhing ro ask, so ! lisreneo
ro O as he hummeo a Kenny Rogers song - 'Jhe Gamller` -
which he inrerrupreo every now ano rhen wirh curses as we
oippeo in ano our of rhe porholes rhar lirrereo rhe roao.
! 5
Soon up aheao ! coulo see rhe ciry. 'Þairoli·` ! askeo, jusr
ro make conversarion.
'Þairollery,` O answereo wirh a laugh. 'Jhar is whar we
call ir . . . lur no worries, as long as we are in rhis,` he parreo
rhe oashloaro, 'criminals will know nor ro mess wirh us.`
!or a while ! coulo srill see rhe large islano of ciry lighrs
in fronr of me. Jhen, suooenly, O veereo off rhe main roao
ano onro a oirr rrack ano rhe ciry oisappeareo from view. We
rravelleo on, heaolighrs runnelling rhrough rhe oarkness, rhe
leams glancing off long ory grass, shorr rhicker lushes ano
wilo sisal planrs. We orove pasr a pineapple planrarion ano
rhen rurneo inro a shorr, oirry srreer rhar ran lerween rwo
rows of poorly luilr woooen houses. !inally, jusr pasr a shaky
woooen lillloaro wirh rhe woros <RXDUHQRZOHDYLQJ3LQHDSSOH
WRZQ splasheo across ir we almosr ran inro a oilapioareo lar
rhar proclaimeo irself ro le 7KH+LOWRQ+RWHO.
'Jomorrow, ! will rake you ro rhe real Hilron,` O saio as
we climleo our of rhe Lano Rover ano maoe our way rowaros
rhe woooen srrucrure, 'lur here you ger a rasre of rhe real
!nsioe, rhe lar was lir ly kerosene lamps rhar gave ir a
smell rhar was a cross lerween gasoline ano lurning clorh.
!n rhe oull lighr rhey provioeo ! coulo see rhar rhe walls were
covereo wirh faoing magazine posrers for all sorrs of rhings
- Marlloro, Camel Lighrs, !xxon, McÐonalo`s. Jhe lamps
also illuminareo rhe parrons, ano ! quickly realiseo rhar Jhe
Hilron was full of rhe living oeao - some men passeo our
on rhe counrer, orhers so orunk rhar rhey were murrering ro
rhemselves wirhour making a souno.
O ano ! founo a ralle rhar oion`r have a orunk on ir,
h í
ano rhe larrenoer - a young woman oresseo in a rainlow-
coloureo wrap - came ro rake our oroer.
'Are you hungry·` O askeo.
! noooeo ano warcheo as O oroereo some leer ano rwo
kilos of roasr mear. Jhere are rwo rhings rhar Kenyan men
rreasure leyono life irself, ! was ro learn: rheir Jusker leer
ano roasr mear, Q\DPDFKRPD. Jusker PRWR - hor Jusker - ano
Q\DPD FKRPD is rhe fasresr way ro ger informarion, say rhank
you, make ano close a oeal, express frienoship or make peace.
'!shmael, welcome ro Africa,` O saio as soon as our leers
arriveo. He raiseo his Jusker for a roasr, sippeo ano leaneo
lack in his chair. 'So, rell me, whar can ! oo you for·`
! rolo him my srory.
« A young llonoe woman founo muroereo on rhe ooorsrep
of a llack man - an African. Of course ir was going ro le rhe
srory of rhe year.
!f ! was ro give aovice ro llack criminals, ! woulo rell rhem
rhis: oo nor commir crimes againsr whire people lecause rhe
srare will nor resr unril you are caughr. ! mean, if a crime is nor
solveo wirhin rhe nrsr forry-eighr hours ir has all lur ofncially
gone colo. Bur a llack-on-whire crime ooes nor go colo. A
leauriful llonoe girl is oeao ano a week larer !`m chasing
afrer ghosrs in Africa. Hao ir leen a llack vicrim ! cerrainly
woulon`r have leen racking up overrime in Þairoli.
Jhe call came ar rwo in rhe morning. ! jumpeo our of
leo, surpriseo only ly rhe aooress - 2010 Spaighr Avenue,
Maple Bluff - ano nve minures larer, oresseo in llack panrs, a
whire oress shirr ano a smarr llack jacker, ! was on rhe roao. !
h í
comleo my hair on my way rhere - siren llaring, ooing ninery
miles an hour. You oon`r show up in Maple Bluff looking as if
you have jusr woken up.
By rhe rime ! gor ro rhe scene rhe parameoics ano cops
from rhe Maple Bluff Police Ðeparrmenr hao alreaoy arriveo.
Jhe resioenrs of rhis lirrle rax haven even hao rheir own police
ano nre oeparrmenrs. Þo oerecrives rhough, ano rhar`s why
!`o leen calleo in, mosr prolally on loan. My oeparrmenr
makes rhousanos - ano, if lucky, ! ger paio overrime.
Jhe uniforms were jusr sranoing arouno, warching as rhe
parameoics - who hao jusr given up rrying ro revive rhe girl
- rerurneo rheir equipmenr ro rhe amlulance. Þeighlours,
exrremely whire ano oresseo in rhose expensive shiny pyjamas,
were looking on roo. ! askeo rhem ro go lack inro rheir homes
- we woulo le knocking on rheir ooors soon enough.
Jhe girl was lying on rhe srairs; her long llonoe hair
srrewn arouno her, rhe lrighr porch lighr leaming oown as
if she was on a rhearre srage. She lookeo ro le somewhere
lerween eighreen ano rwenry. Her whire shirr hao leen
rippeo open - ly rhe parameoics, ! larer learneo - exposing
a full, lraless chesr. She was wearing a shorr pleareo skirr,
like a cheerleaoer`s, knee-lengrh whire socks ano whire rennis
Jhe nrsr rhoughr rhar came ro mino was how leauriful
she was - rhe reo polish on her nails was ßawless; her hair,
rhough messy from rhe parameoics rrying ro shock her lack
ro life, was srill a glirrery llonoe; her eyes were closeo ano her
face calm. She oion`r even look lifeless, ano ! expecreo her ro
ger up ar any momenr for rhe nnal currain call.
Srepping lack, ! askeo rhe uniforms where rhe owner of
ö 9
rhe house was ano rhey poinreo insioe. ! woulo have expecreo
him or her ro le rripping all over rhe place, rrying ro help, or
le hovering ar rhe ooor, lesioe rhemselves wirh worry, lur
whoever owneo rhe house olviously felr oifferenrly.
Walking arouno rhe girl, ! sreppeo up onro rhe porch from
rhe sioe.+RPH,V:KHUH7KH+HDUW,V ! reao as ! wipeo my shoes
on rhe mar ano knockeo on rhe ooor. Jhere was no answer,
lur rhe ooor wasn`r lockeo ano so ! ler myself in.
!nsioe, rhe hallway was lir only ly rhe ßashing lighrs of rhe
amlulances ano police cars sranoing oursioe. All my insrincrs
rolo me ro oraw my gun, so ! oio, sreaoying my ßashlighr in
my lefr hano as ! walkeo oown a long passageway ano inro
rhe sirring room.
'! rell rhem girl is oeao,` a oeep voice saio in rhe oark.
! whirleo arouno, poinring rhe ßashlighr in rhe oirecrion
of rhe voice.
'Why rhey misrrear her looy·`
Jhere was a man sirring in a learher lovers` sear, alsenrly
rwirling an empry wine glass ly irs srem, ano as ! warcheo he
reacheo over ano rurneo on a ralle lamp ly his sioe. !n rhe
suooen lrighrness ! saw rhar he was immacularely oresseo - a
llack-ano-whire pinsrripeo suir ano a rhin reo rie, expensive
lrown parenr learher shoes wirhour socks.
'You founo her·` ! askeo him, lur ir was more of a
'Yes, ! nno her like rhar. ! was our wirh frienos for cock-
rails . . . Sammy`s Lounge.`
As ! pur my gun away rhe man srooo up - he was llack,
very rall, much raller rhan me, ano so rhin rhar his heao
seemeo ro le growing from his shouloers. He srrercheo our
ö 9
a lony hano rhar seemeo ro grow from rhe suir ano graspeo
mine nrmly.
'Jheir names·`
He gave me four names - ! coulo look rhem up ar rhe
universiry, he saio. Jhey woulo vouch for him. He was very
composeo, no lulging carorio, shifry eyes or sweary palms.
Þone of rhe rellrales rhar we are rraineo ro look for.
'Ano whar rime oio you leave Sammy`s Lounge·`
'Alour rwelve rhirry. ! walk. ! like walk . . . ro wash
whiskey our of my llooo. Half an hour. Mayle more, mayle
less, ! ger here. ! call nine one one when ! nno her.`
'Ðio you use your cellphone·`
He hanoeo ir over ro me. He hao calleo rhe police ar one
rhirry-rhree am. ! poinreo ir our ro him lur he jusr shruggeo.
'Your accenr . . . Where are you from·` ! askeo.
'My frieno, everyone has accenr . . . mine jusr mean !
speak rwo languages, !rench ano Kinyarwanoa. ! am from
Rwanoa . . . ano Kenya. My name is ]oshua Hakizimana. Ano
yours, Ðerecrive·`
'You can call me !shmael . . . lorn ano lreo here in
Maoison, Wisconsin,` ! replieo, feeling very much like rhe
village ioior in rhe face of his class ano poise.
'Very, very sorry ro hear rhar,` he saio wirh a shorr laugh
ano poinreo ro a chair for me ro sir. '! reach ar universiry. !
am reacher of Genocioe ano also Jesrimony. You know whar
happen in . . . ·`
'Was she one of your sruoenrs·` ! inrerrupreo. ! oion`r
neeo a hisrory lesson
'Þo, never seen her. Þor rype rhar rake my class.` He
sounoeo oismissive.
| ü | |
'Whar rype is rhar·`
'Bohemians ano Peace Corps rypes . . . Whar you
Americans call rrusr funo lalies, no·` He lroke inro a shorr
!xcepr for his unserrling calmness rhere was norhing ro
arouse suspicion. Wharever clues rhere were woulo le wirh
rhe girl. Only an auropsy woulo rell us alour her lasr hours.
Afrer rhar we woulo have ro inrerview rhe neighlours, rrawl
rhe local lars for someone who mighr rememler her, go
rhrough rhe lasr six or so years of universiry enrolmenrs ano
missing persons nles ano hope we gor a lucky lreak.
! askeo ]oshua if ! coulo look arouno ano he agreeo. !
lefr him ano wanoereo off ly myself, swirching on rhe lighrs
as ! wenr. Jhe place was huge lur ir was rhe leoroom rhar
inreresreo me. Perhaps rhis whole mess was jusr a lover`s
quarrel gone roo far - somerimes rhings are rhar simple. She
was a sruoenr of his ano wanreo ro lreak ir off. Or he wanreo
ro lreak ir off ano she hao rhreareneo ro expose him ro rhe
universiry aurhoriries.
! nnally founo ir. Jhere was only a huge leo, immacularely
maoe up, ano a nighrsrano wirh norhing on ir excepr a lamp.
! openeo rhe closer ano founo rows ano rows of suirs, each
reaoy wirh a llack shirr ano marching shoes lenearh ir. !n rhe
aojoining larhroom rhere was a single roorhlrush on rhe sink
nexr ro a rule of organic roorhpasre. Jhe meoicine caliner
was empry. !r oion`r look like ! was going ro nno anyrhing
useful, so ! wenr lack oownsrairs ro nno him sirring in rhe
same posirion, wirh his wine glass now half full.
! poinreo ro his shoes ano askeo alour rhe socks.
'Somerimes ! forger myself. Alsenr-minoeo professor,
| ü | |
no·` he saio wirh mock saoness as he srooo up ro walk me ro
rhe ooor.
'How oio you know rhe girl was oeao·` ! askeo as ! gave
him my caro.
'Ðerecrive, where ! come from oearh is a companion,
like lover or gooo frieno. Always rhere,` he saio as ! sreppeo
'We founo rhis over rhere,` one of rhe MBPÐ cops saio ro
me, poinring ro rhe fence as ! maoe my way off rhe porch. !r
was a neeole, half full of whar ! knew ro le heroin.
! lookeo closely ar rhe girl`s arms ano easily founo rhe
single neeole mark, slighrly lloooy. On rhe face of ir, ir lookeo
like an overoose or a suicioe lur nor a muroer. Jhis was
Maple Bluff afrer all - a car up rhe rree, srolen srop signs, an
occasional orunk ano unruly granomorher visiring from up-
counrry perhaps, lur nor muroer.
Jhere was norhing more for me ro oo rhar nighr, so ! wenr
home ro wrire up my reporr. Jhank Goo for rechnology - !
coulo oo ir all online wirh a colo leer ano slice of pizza. Back
in rhe oay, ! woulo`ve leen up ro my neck in paperwork.
Bur as ! was ryping lirrle oerails legan ro lorher me.
Jhe walls of rhe house, for example, hao leen empry - no
painrings, no phorographs. !r hao leen like leing in one huge
horel room, impersonal yer inhalireo. How coulo he live in
rhar house wirhour leaving a rrace of himself· Bur rhar wasn`r
a crime, ! rolo myself. Ano perhaps rhe house wasn`r home for
him; perhaps somewhere in Africa was a house full of phoros
of a smiling wife, kios ano a lirrle oog calleo Simla rhar only
are crocooile mear. Bur even if rhar was rhe case, how coulo
a college professor afforo a home in Maple Bluff· Jhe raxes
| / | J
rhemselves were enough ro feeo ano clorhe a family of six.
Somerhing oion`r aoo up - a leauriful llonoe girl oeao on rhe
ooorsrep of an African professor. A suicioe or an accioenral
overoose on a srranger`s fronr porch· Þo, ir was roo ranoom
ro le ranoom. Ano !`ve seen some fuckeo up shir. Like rhis
guy who killeo a man as he fercheo his morning :LVFRQVLQ
6WDWH -RXUQDO ano lefr a nore on him: $ 675$1*(5 .,//6
$ 675$1*(5 21&( <28 :,// 1(9(5 &$7&+ 0(
6,*1(' 5$1'20. Wirh rooay`s forensics as long as rhe
vicrim has even rhe slighresr connecrion ro rhe killer, sooner
or larer we ger rhe fucker. Bur rhe Ranoom Killer case was
oifferenr - rhe vicrim ano rhe killer were srrangers connecreo
only ly a rheory we larely unoersrooo.
Jo cur a long srory shorr, rhe killer maoe one faral misrake
- he hao lefr a parrial rhumlprinr on rhe nore. !ive years
larer rhere was a nre in a horel lasemenr rhar was pur our
wirhour much oamage, lur lecause we suspecreo arson we
nngerprinreo all rhe horel guesrs ano employees ano cross-
checkeo rhe nngerprinrs againsr our oaralase. We oion`r carch
rhe arsonisr lur ir rurneo our rhar our Ranoom Killer hao leen
holeo up in rhe horel ooing all sorrs of rhings wirh a hooker.
Þorhing much ro him in rhe eno; jusr a local pharmacisr wirh
a loving wife ano kios.
When he was lroughr in ! lookeo him srraighr in rhe eye
ano rolo him rhar he hao fuckeo up. A perfecr crime has no
morive. Ano if rhere is no morive, rhen rhere`s no crime· Bur
he jusr lookeo up ar me wirh piry in his eyes. 'You are a fool,`
he saio. 'Ðio ir nor occur ro you, Ðerecrive, rhar ! was rrying
ro prove rhar chance is nor ranoom·`
! oon`r know whar rhe hell he meanr ly rhar, ano he
MUKOMA WA NGUGI was born in Illinois but raised in
Kenya. Te son of world-renowned African writer and Nobel
fnalist, Ngugi wa Tiong’o, his own poetry and fction has been
short-listed for the Caine Prize for African writing in 2009,
and for the 2010 Penguin Prize for African Writing. He lives in
Stamford, Connecticut.
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Happy Birthday, Turk!
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More Beer
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One Man, One Murder
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The Craigslist Murders
Brenda Cullerton
Death and the Penguin
Andrey Kurkov
Penguin Lost
Andrey Kurkov
The Case of the
General’s Thumb
Andrey Kurkov
Nairobi Heat
Mukoma Wa Ngugi
Cut Throat Dog
Joshua Sobol
Brenner and God
Wolf Haas
He Died with His Eyes Open
Derek Raymond
The Devil’s Home on Leave
Derek Raymond
How the Dead Live
Derek Raymond
I Was Dora Suarez
Derek Raymond
Dead Man Upright
Derek Raymond
The Angst-Ridden Executive
Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
Murder in the Central
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The Buenos Aires Quintet
Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
Off Side
Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
Southern Seas
Manuel Vázquez Montalbán

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