On November 25, Laban Githaiga woke up and kissed his widowed mother goodbye, a woman who had paid for his education through bursaries and begging.
At 7 a.m., he boarded a bus in Thika with a sign in the window that said “Nairobi” and on the hour-long ride dreamed of the city he would soon be in — the glass L&M building in the clouds, cars in long chains of gridlock, and of greeting his grandmother in Kibera, the city of mud and iron below the city of concrete and glass.
When he arrived in Kibera, Laban heard people were headed to Uhuru Park that afternoon to hear politician Stanley Livondo appeal for their votes.
Livondo is aligned with incumbent president Mwai Kibaki, and his opponent for the constituency is rival presidential candidate Raila Odinga, who has held the seat for decades.
At 15, Laban was too young to vote but the excitement of the people walking past was irresistible.
He said goodbye to his grandmother and joined the throng. And at some point, he put on a blue T-shirt with the logo of Kibaki and Livondo’s Party of National Unity printed on it.
As Laban returned to the slum that afternoon it began to rain, and as he walked, he worried his new shirt might be ruined.
It was much later that night when the police found his grandmother.
They had discovered Laban, unconscious, beside the railway tracks, they said. His skull was crushed and a few of his limbs were dislocated. His blue PNU shirt was ripped off his body.
He lasted for two days in hospital before he died.
One week has passed and I’m standing in Laina Saba Square, a rare open space within the cramped clusters of Kibera that’s a five-minute walk from where it happened.
There’s a public wake here today for Laban. A group of teenagers stare at me as if I’m a television as Swahili hip-hop gushes from giant speakers beside us.
Nearby, two men bolt together a steel-framed stage and kids roam in adult-less packs.
All of the nearly dozen people orbiting me like planets seem to want to answer questions.
“Did anyone see it happen?” “Laban targeted because of his T-shirt?” “Did he do something else to make the attackers angry?” But apart from basics, they hold back with bottle-capped silence.
Laban was among a group returning from the rally, which encountered some of Odinga’s Orange Democratic movement supporters, says one of the men.
He wears a blue PNU T-shirt but is covering it with a collared shirt.
A fight broke out, then several ODM thugs ripped Laban’s shirt off and beat him to death, he says, though he concedes he didn’t see it.
His teeth are stained from chewing miraa.
“The people who saw have left Kibera,” he says. “There could be ODM spies here.”
A girl no older than four in a soiled pink winter jacket grabs my microphone and pretends to talk into it but barely makes a peep.
Singing and cheering erupts. Here comes Livondo! He’s wearing a red and blue jumpsuit — PNU colours — with his cellphone welded to his ear. It’s a hero’s welcome.
This is a wake, but one during an election campaign in politically charged Kibera.
Most here agree Laban was wearing a PNU shirt when he was murdered.
They feel Livondo has graciously come to pay his respects and denounce election violence on behalf of his party, which they now support more than ever.
On the stage is a four-foot high poster of Laban’s school picture framed in PNU blue and red. Children are wearing paper hats that read “Stop election violence,” also in red and blue.
Later, after the family thanks people for coming from the stage, Laban’s mother closes her eyes and goes limp, as if releasing herself to her god.
People scream as the sturdily built woman falls into the arms of four people, who nearly rip her shirt off as they try to prevent her from hitting the ground. She is laid on a red and blue PNU blanket near the base of the stage.
A drunken old man with a face full of stubble is now on the stage slurring into the microphone.
People “tsk-tsk” as he steps down, then explode into singing and applause when Livondo arrives behind him.
Livondo says that “violence never elects leaders,” and that “we don’t want any more bloodshed in Kibera.”
For more than an hour the politicians continue to arrive on the stage.
All told, more than 10 make an appearance.
But it’s finally over and now I’m trailing Laban’s family as they carry flowers and sing.
We are walking to where he died.
We go up a hill, past a steely-eyed crew that has been watching us “ the spies?” and through a corridor of shops on either side of a pathway with raw sewage running through the middle.
The smell overwhelms my nose and I breathe through my mouth.
At the railway track, Laban’s family lays flowers at the murder scene.
“There is only one man making problems for us in Kibera,” says a man walking past wearing a Kibaki hat. “Raila.”
A few days later I’m watching a television without volume but the visual information tells the story.
A crowd carrying a white coffin, mud and iron houses, then, a shot of tear gas smoke people running and throwing rocks.
And then there is a zoom of a man with blood covering his face from a wound on his forehead.
Kibera becomes important to politicians during elections, when its hordes become easily purchased votes.
And its kids, usually ignored, become hired thugs on the unofficial political payroll.
In this heated place, a boy swallowed by a political game he couldn’t understand can’t be laid to rest without bloodshed.
This is an excerpt from a longer creative non-fiction story former Yukon News reporter Tim Querengesser is writing about election violence in Kenya.