They were supposed to be picking fruit, but they couldn’t resist getting frisky. Kemunto had been a school teacher, the buttoned-up type, but the end of the world had taught her a few truths about herself that she had never known. For one, that she was brave. She discovered that she harboured a certain thrill for risk and danger, like now, making love out in the open like this, with the trees watching them.
The boy’s name was Franklin. He was eighteen years old. The outbreak had started when he was sixteen and a form three student at Mang’u High School. He remembered vividly the anarchy that had taken over the streets when it had become clear to the public that the government could not help them, that the Americans and other foreign governments could not help them, that no one knew what the hell was going on. He had let himself get carried away by the wild mood and run away from home to go off on driving and drinking sprees with his friends.
But the virus spread rapidly and Franklin found himself having to drive off to escape from his now infected friends. In his haste, he had knocked down and run over one of them.
Sometimes when he was with her and he could feel that he was about to lose control, he would think about that: the sound of the tyres of his mother’s Imprezza rolling over his friend’s body. That would help him last longer.
Kemunto was thirty-eight years old. In her previous life she had had a husband and three children. The firstborn would have been Franklin’s age if he were still alive. She had him when she was a young girl in university. At thirty, she had found a man who wanted to take care of her and had accepted his proposal. They had been blessed with two beautiful girls.
That was all in the past. She no longer had a family. There was no society anymore, no rules, no reason to feel guilty for anything, and as the young priest kept telling them, there was probably no God, either.
The boy could feel himself losing control. He was almost there. He increased his pace. The woman was also almost there, so if he could last just a little longer. He brought up the faces of his infected friends: their blank eyes and those open mouths dribbling saliva. That helped. He was strong for a few more minutes, enough to bring her to a climax, and then his body became very weak and he just lay on her, tired. She patted him on the back and gently pushed him off her. She was always moving on, always quick to start on the next thing, he thought as he lay there watching her pull up her jeans trouser and get up.
“Come on,” she said. “You want one of those things to find you lying there with your thing out and bite it off?”
He always felt weak after and just wanted to sleep, but he knew that this was no longer a world that afforded him that luxury. He tucked it in, pulled up his trouser, and got up to follow her. The others would be waiting for them.
Lenku had been a soldier a long time ago. He had been booted out of the army, supposedly for insubordination. He had never in his life seen a fight he was willing to walk away from. That was until the outbreak. He had fought countless times with those things and killed hundreds of them with knife and bullet, but this was one war he had been glad to back away from. When Lenku and the tall Sudanese beauty, Palek, had found the young priest, Njogu, the priest had informed them that the things could not stand fire. The three of them then wandered through the forest together for days until they found a cave near the waterfall and decided to set up camp there. They kept a fire burning at all times at the mouth of the cave, especially in the night.
Njogu had been a Catholic priest for two years at the time of the outbreak. It had been a huge trial of his faith to watch his colleagues, parishioners, and the whole world turn wild, into a state that was worse in dignity than any animal’s, a demonic state that turned men into monsters. It had become very clear to him over the last three years that there was no such thing as a God. Everything he knew was a lie. Still, he never let go of the rosary that hung around his neck.
Palek had started out her career as a model. She was tall, beautiful, ebony-skinned, and blessed with a natural poise. In her heyday, she graced many a magazine cover. At twenty, she published a successful children’s storybook about a South Sudanese kid growing up in Kenya. At twenty-five, by which time she had quit modelling, she published a novel about the war back at home, and this had changed the public’s perception of her: no longer “former supermodel Palek” but now “award-winning novelist Palek.” She met Lenku at The Castle club shortly before things went haywire. He reminded her of her brother, Deng. Deng, too, was a laconic soldier who didn’t know how to shy away from a fight.
No one knew exactly what had caused the outbreak. The boy said the Chinese must have something to do with it. He maintained that it was all part of a plot by China to decimate the entire population of Africa and then take over the continent with ease. But if you asked him to explain why similar outbreaks had occurred in China, Asia, and the rest of the world, he would just shrug and say, “It’s AIDS all over again.”
The priest believed aliens were involved. His theory was basically the same as the boy’s but with aliens replacing the Chinese.
Kemunto and Lenku had no theory. The two were alike in their contempt for needless thinking. They were practical to a fault and were the only reason the small group was still alive.
Palek the novelist said it was the spirit of the earth punishing humanity for global warming and pollution. She had a very convincing argument, too, which the others found entertaining, but she always ruined it by adding, “I don’t really believe all that, of course. But on a symbolic level, I believe it is the theory that makes the most sense. After the humans are wiped out, the earth will be fallow for centuries, maybe millenniums, and it will self-correct where we have caused her harm. I think it is the myth that people living one thousand years from now will tell to their children. That once many, many years in the past, bad men had roamed the earth, spreading destruction, disease, and all manner of evil. But God had made the earth raise up a pestilence against them. For the earth was provoked to anger at men for what they were doing to her and her gifts.”
The priest would say, “Who told you there is a God? Who told you that lie? There is no God. We are all alone. There is no meaning to any of this. There is no happy ending. We are not coming out of this alive. We will either get turned or we will die by some other means. Either way, we will die. We are doomed. Humanity is doomed. How many people do you think are still living?”
How the infection spread was unclear. For all they knew, it could be airborne. This was the main argument the priest used to support his theory about aliens. This was unlike in the movies – getting bitten by the infected did not infect you. People just seemed to turn and become these mindless zombies. The zombies ate flesh. They had been eating each other for the last three years and their numbers were now very low. Sometimes the gang would stay a full month without seeing any of these once-human beasts.
They had no way of knowing what was going on in the rest of the country or the world. There were no communication channels left. For all they knew, they were the last of the human race.
They walked around with knives at all times, knives which they kept sharp with a communal whetstone. Lenku had a gun but no bullets. He kept the gun on his person at all times just as the priest never let go of that rosary he no longer believed in.
Kemunto and Franklin came back from the forest bearing wild fruits. Lenku was skinning a goat he had caught in the forest, and the priest was helping him. Lenku’s woman, the Sudanese Palek, was resting in the cave.
“These ones are no good.” Lenku indicated the red berries. “They are poisonous. Get rid of them.”
Before Franklin could reach out for them, the priest blocked his hand, saying, “No, allow me. I have been squatting here for a long time. I need to stretch these legs or they will go to sleep. I will throw away the bad berries while I take a walk.”
That night, they ate roasted goat. As always, they told stories to relieve the boredom. The boredom they used to know back when the world was normal was not of the same quality as the boredom they now experienced. Back then, if you got bored, you knew it would only be for a short while and then you would find something to distract you. But there was nothing to distract them now, except for sex and games and conversation. The priest was the most bored of them all. He said that the boredom was lodged deep in his heart like a buried rock. It was the boredom that had no end, the boredom of having nothing to look forward to, no future to plan for, no meaning to be made from the world, a boredom that was driving him nuts.
Palek told them a story that she had been writing in her head. She said, “It’s a story that has not yet come to pass. It’s a story about what could be. It’s a legend about us, the story people will tell about us after we are gone.”
“What people?” The priest snorted.
Palek, who was seven months heavy with child, smiled and went on: “Once upon a time, the earth was filled with men. They ranged across her numerous lands, multiplying exceedingly. The men were filled with knowledge such as has not been seen in centuries. It was akin to magic, this knowledge. They built houses whose roofs kissed the sky. They flew in the skies like the birds. They made flying vessels that took them to the moon and the stars. One man in one corner of the earth could talk to another across the earth as if they were standing side by side.
“But these men were arrogant. The more knowledge they acquired and the greater their magical creations, the more they swelled their hearts with pride. They spat at the gods and declared themselves the real gods of the earth. They had no respect for our mother, for this beautiful world that the gods had allowed them to rule. They polluted the air, the land, and the waters of the earth. Because of their evil, the earth forgot when to bring the rains and the crops perished and the bones poked out of the animals’ skins. After a while, the rains would remember the way, but it would never be enough. The rains came when they wanted, for the earth had lost her ability to remember the seasons.
“The earth sent massive winds that came in from the sea, wreaking destruction and death on the face of the earth. In this and many other ways did the earth punish them, but these men had implacable hearts. They were stubborn and set in their evil ways.
“It was then that the gods realized that these men would never reform, that they would continue to abuse the earth until there was no more earth. And so the gods raised up an evil pestilence that turned men into beasts, brainless cannibals that swarmed the face of the earth, feasting on each other until there were almost no more men.
“But five survivors stuck it out. There was Lenku, the father of all warriors; Palek, the mother of all poets and griots; Njogu, the father of holy men; Kemunto, the mother of all who lead; and a young man Franki, the father of all who seek glory and adventure. From these five survivors, we are all descended for these five repopulated the –”
The priest interrupted to point out that being a priest, he was bound by a vow of celibacy and could not therefore be a father of anyone.
“But aren’t you the one who is always saying that God does not exist?” Kemunto said. “If there is no God, whose priest are you? For what reason do you remain a priest?”
“Do you really think we are the last people on earth?” Franklin asked Palek who shrugged and said it was just a story. He persisted: “Do you really think that the Americans have all turned? Maybe there are some astronauts out in space as we speak who have no idea what has happened here.”
“You watched too many American movies,” Kemunto said. “Those were just American propaganda which helped brainwash the world to worship America. We should assume the worst, that we are the last of our species.”
“What will happen to all the knowledge and inventions that humanity has accumulated for thousands of years? Will it all disappear? Is humanity going back to the stone age?”
Palek nodded, saying, “Those are excellent questions, Franki. I have been wondering about that too. If we are indeed the only people left on earth, we have a great responsibility to pass on our knowledge to the next generation. It’s fortunate we have a teacher with us.” She smiled at Kemunto.
That night, as they snuggled up in their corner of the cave, while the priest sat watch to ensure the fire did not extinguish, Kemunto whispered her secret to her young lover. “My love,” she said, delighting in the deliciousness of addressing one so young in the language of love. “I have good news.”
“Tell me,” the boy said.
She said, “When Palek told that story about the people telling legends about us a thousand years from now and she called us the mothers and fathers of future generations of humanity … I have lost my train of thought.” She gasped and giggled, girlish.
He said, “Just tell me the news. Are you – are you pregnant?”
“Yes. I am with child.”
“I’m going to be a father?” he said.
“Isn’t it amazing?”
“Yes,” he said quickly and she said, “I love you”, and she held him against her bosom tighter and closer. She was very happy.
The next morning, Franklin was the first to go off to bathe in the waterfall. Kemunto stood under the rising orange sun, thinking about what she had told him the previous night. When she had lost her husband and all three of her children to the cannibals, she had believed that she would never again know what happiness was; yet here she was gleaming with all the beauty of the morning sun.
Lenku was a man of few words, but his senses were sharp. He always saw and heard more than he said. When he saw her standing there with that blissful smile, he understood at once. He came to her side.
“So the boy finally made it happen.”
Kemunto glanced at him. She nodded.
“Did you tell him?”
“Lovely,” he said and walked off into the bush.
She let her mind wander. That story Palek had told them, it could become reality. What kind of story did she want her descendants to tell about her? She wondered if she would be like Rachel and Leah and Sarah and Rebecca in the Bible, a mother of tribes. Would her descendants fight with the descendants of Palek? Would tribalism return in the time of their descendants? What would she teach her child – or children, if she was fortunate to get more?
She was so engrossed in these meandering thoughts that she did not notice him, that he was back, and that he was different. His eyes were blank and saliva dribbled from his open mouth. He was making straight for her, a ravenous sigh escaping his lips.
She saw him and froze. Her knife was sheathed and tied to her thigh. She reached for it, but her fingers were trembling. He lunged at her, leaping on her, toppling her backwards. She screamed, still unable to decide to retrieve her knife. How could she kill the father of her unborn child? She should just die.
A sound that she had not heard in a long time rang through the air: a gunshot; and blood spattered on her face as the top of his skull exploded before her eyes; and he fell on her as he always did when they made love, on pumping his seed into her.
Lenku strode to her side and lifted the carcass off her. Tears gushed from her eyes. She said, “I thought you said you had no bullets.”
While she was weeping and he examining Franklin’s body, Palek ran out of the cave screaming. “He’s dead. He’s dead. He’s dead.”
They found the priest’s body lying on the cave floor, eyes blank, vomit and saliva covering his lower lip and one side of his chin.
“The poison berries,” said Lenku. “He didn’t throw them away.”
“But why would he do this?” Palek was weeping.
“You heard him. He was bored.”
lives, writes and edits in Nairobi, Kenya. His work has appeared in Ibua Journal, Sisi Afrika, and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories from Around the World. He blogs at ericrugara.com. Social media: https://www.facebook.com/eric.rugara.75/