Wanaina the butcher, a flabby man with an unimpressive face who’d built a profession in a town where you could throw a stone and hit three other butchers at once as the stone skidded to a fourth, struggles to heave a case of beef that had been delivered that morning. He carries and stops and carries and stops, all the while sweating buckets through his too-snug white coat. He remembers a time when the task was much easier, and he could sling the case onto his shoulder like a purse and walk a kilometer that way as if it was nothing. Now however, he sucks the air out of the room just by getting up too fast. And where is that damned robot girl anyway? He shouldn’t have to bother with such small matters when there are other more important things to do. Like dusting. And perhaps she could do that too … Ah, there she is!
He bellows out for the girl, a pretty little thing with spindly legs and cherub cheeks, who turns around so fast she almost swivels on her neck. “Come help me with this,” he says. At the sound of the magic word—help—she comes running. The butcher watches her with narrowed eyes and a darkening heart. Something about her being made to seem so harmless never sat right with him. Not a thing on this God’s green earth that could lift a house with its bare hands should look so … so … cute. He straightens up haughtily and, without a word, points a broad finger at the case. She obediently nods and bends down, picking up the case as though it weighs nothing and rushing with it into the store. The butcher spits thick phlegm onto the sidewalk. He didn’t like her, not at all.
From across the street, Mary Maria Wanja watches the two from her salon window. What a sight they make. Really, the girl is no better than a glorified appliance. Mary brightens up at the thought. What a brilliant way of putting it, she thinks to herself. She quickly turns to the others before the phrase disappears from her head. “She’s really just a glorified appliance,” she says.
Wambui, her assistant, and the (self-proclaimed) finest hairdresser this side of the equator, looks up from the roaring blow dryer dangling precariously over a nervous Mrs Mbogo’s head. “What?” Wambui calls out from five feet away.
“I said, she’s just a … a glorified … appliance!” The blow dryer turns off just as the last of Mary’s words loudly trail away into the suddenly too-quiet salon. She clears her throat, every eye on her now.
“What appliance?” Wambui asks, marching up to the window.
Mrs Mbogo looks up, indignant. What about her?! She sees her own reflection in the large mirror and winces. Her skin always looks so ghastly after a wash. She sits there in the middle of the salon, her mood dampening with every second that passes, just like the towel around her neck. And she’d told that woman right after the wash, hadn’t she? She’d said it so nicely with a proper smile, “Dry it thoroughly. My hair can really hold water.” Had she listened? No. Now the assistantis standing there with that other one at the window, gossiping like two schoolgirls. Who cares about a damned android when Mrs Mbogo’s hair is a mess!
Wambui joins Mary at the window just as the girl exits the butcher’s shop. “Oh, you meant the girl. Yes, what a strange little thing. And to think that we were so terrified of her when she first arrived.”
“Eeh, an android in our little town! We’d only ever heard of them in the big cities, where they fight crime and destroy property while they’re at it,” Mary says. Neither of them takes their eyes off the girl, as though if they watch her carefully enough, she might do something interesting. But she never does. Instead she’s been called to the bakery across the street to fix an awning. “All she does is fix things and lift things,”
Wambui quips, “And clean things.” The two women slyly glance at each other and cackle.
“What a waste of taxpayer money,”
“Our hard-earned taxpayer money,” Wambui adds.
In the back, Mrs Mbogo watches them darkly. She’s started to shiver slightly from the wet towel. Hard-earned my foot—
Suddenly, there’s a loud crash right smack in the middle of the street. Clouds of dust and debris fill the air. A sinewy-looking reptile … thing stands in the middle of it all and roars into the deafening silence. The townspeople, terrified, run into the stores and hide. An alien! they cry. Not a single one of them has seen an alien outside of the news.
It had been five years since the first threat of alien invasion had sounded alarm across the planet. The threat materialized three months later in the form of a ship that landed on a metropolitan city. Within minutes the town square had been leveled to ashes. World governments responded with their own idea of super heroes. Androids were created with the designed intelligence and appearance of humans, but the strength of fifty tanks. The robots were deployed everywhere, even to the most remote towns and villages where alien attacks had seemed unlikely. Until now.
Another crash joins the first, followed by another and another. Those brave enough to be curious take a peek. The girl jumps down from the grocer’s roof into the street, leaving a sizable crater in her wake as she sprints head first into the beast. They see the reptilian alien battling the girl, almost matching blow for blow. The sounds chorus across town for what seems like forever; then, just as they began, they stop. The reptilian alien jumps up into the air and disappears into the clouds. The butcher would later swear that he saw the girl smile right before she flew after the creature.
The townspeople wait and wait until it becomes clear that the two will not be returning. Then they start trickling into the street. They all squint at the sky into which the girl has gone.
“Do you think she’ll come back?” someone says.
They all glance at each other quizzically. It doesn’t seem like she’ll be returning. Mary’s sudden gasp arises amongst the murmurs. “I have a big delivery coming in tomorrow,” she says to Wambui, who looks at her with the utmost concern. “If she doesn’t return, how will I ever get it all sorted out?”
Since the girl’s arrival, the townspeople had noted her remarkable prowess with machinery. She could take apart and put together just about anything. Mary had had the girl’s abilities in mind when she purchased a state of the art hair styler a few days ago. Unassembled, of course, which had taken almost half off from the total price. Now, however, she was going to have parts lying around the salon until the girl returned. Whenever that would be. Preferably soon. And unharmed, Mary found herself hoping. A part of her, she realized, had grown curiously fond of the girl.
Beside them Mrs Mbogo snorted. They turn to look at her. It’s very clear that they have forgotten about her existence entirely. She stands there glaring at them, looking odd with little bits of straightened hair hanging over the rest of her shrunken afro. “It’s almost as though she’s not just an appliance,” she spits, then angrily trudges off through the damage towards her home. Wambui is about to remind her of the salon towel and plastic cover around her neck but decides against it. Best not to aggravate a moody customer, she thinks to herself and resumes her position looking up at the sky with the others.
Peace Kathure Mundia is a blogger and freelance journalist currently living in Nairobi, Kenya. She’s also the proud mama of two spoilt little boys, Wolf the Cat and Ginger. This is her first story in the genre, although she hopes there will be many more in future.