I had to look again and again to appreciate the depth of the symbolism the writer had used!

When you’re done reading The Cock Thief, you suddenly realise it was a story full of well placed symbols. Especially perhaps if you’re not Kenyan. The short story by Parselelo Kantai is somewhat of a well written jigsaw that touches on Kenya’s politics and what maybe one man’s dream for siku mpya or alfajiri in a land other than Kenya.

It’s flattering to a Ugandan that one man may look upon this country as a new start, a new day but one must not miss the circumstances involved.

The story is set on a bus. Transit. Change. Long journeys filled with hope but also with fear and anxiety and fanciful thinking. The journey on the bus appears to me partly as one man’s meditation on what happened to the country Kenya, what happened to his tribe’s culture with the influence of colonial machinations. What happened to initial hopes of moving up the ladder. The vanity of patience.

The writer uses different means to evoke this. From hopeful appointments to positions very close to power and their eventual meaninglessness. It’s as though as he speaks of these things, he speaks of Kenya as a whole

“None of that business of climbing up the ladder of success, of spending years driving some inconsequential Ministry of Education undersecretary across the country, waiting patiently inside the car for the 1 o’clock news outside a nyama choma den in West Mugirango and hoping that Bwana Undersecretary was among the list of new presidential appointees and you therefore rose with him, futures intertwined.”

The bus’s movement too is a tell-tale of the writer’s thoughts on this journey. It’s forging ahead on the journey but not without difficulty, the engine protested, seized up, a winded child’s frantic gulps for air. There are moments it almost fails but manages to move through. Moments it is almost involved in an accident but by some power survives.

I didn’t fail to see the juxtaposition between the bus and the Mercedes Benz of the Old Man who the main persona Corporal Naiguran chauffeurs. The bus is headed to the border and goes through hills and valleys, over potholes while coughing. The Benz on the other hand has a deep hum of music transmitted from the steering wheel… It’s as though the bus represents wananchi and the Benz, the ruling class. One the difficulty of their lives, the other the ease.

However, besides the bus, the main image itself is that of the cock. I must say again that the writer’s symbolism is well thought out. A look at the Kenyan coat of arms reveals a cock – a rooster, in the middle that symbolises announcement of a new day, of a new time. Of harambee and better things. As the title denotes, you already know the cock is the subject of a theft. I really do not want to spoil this story. However I can say that again there is an attempt of the wananchi to steal the dream for themselves and run with it.

It’s a story with phrases that stick out at you, phrases that make you sad. Of fathers who die of redundancy because they have no place in the new journey their country is on. Of mzungu cattle being bathed in Palmolive soap. Of everybody leaving Kenya and lying about it because there was nothing left. Of thick buttocks, things you could hold on to when it mattered.

This to me is one story rich with its use of symbols. It’s a short read but a long thought. Everything means something bigger, something else. It’s not just a cock being stolen,  or a corporal stealing it, or hiding it in a bag on a bus, or a crescendo chorus of cocks at the border. It’s not just an “Old Man”, or a bus or a benz. It is something more. That is why this is not a one time read. It is a two-time, three-time, four-time and over and over again read till you fully appreciate the symbols. I’d recommend it for a book club discussion.

 

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