The Westgate Centre was where we took our kids for a treat. For them, it was a place of frozen yogurt, toy shops and riding in shopping trollies–the same trollies used to wheel casualties away from the scene.
The day after the attack, we had some friends bring their seven year-old to play. They had spent more than an hour the previous day cowering in the basement as bullets flew around them. I warned my 6 year-old son to be sensitive: no staring, no questions, and above all, no gunplay. A while later, I eavesdropped.
The elder boy was regaling my son with every detail, complete with “pew-pew” sound effects. My son listened to him with wide-eyed awe and admiration. They were both getting something from this conversation that a therapy session could never provide. And I have to say, I felt as much admiration for this young man as my son did.
Another young victim, her confusion and distress evident in the pictures which are plastered all over the press and the internet, is my son’s classmate. Mercifully, the family survived, though the mother was wounded. I learned of their involvement from my son, who informed me breezily: “X’s mum got shot at Westgate.”
Explaining what happened is one thing. We live in Nairobi, so the concept of armed criminals is hardly a new one, even to a six year-old. So, a story of “bad people” shooting and wanting to hurt others is readily understood.
But what about “why”?
How can you answer a question to which you cannot fathom the answer yourself? Why did they do it? What can I answer? Religion? Many of my son’s friends are religious, whether Christian, Hindu or Muslim. I have no desire for him to become suspicious of faith. Politics? I can hardly get into the history of Somalia with him, particularly because I don’t think actual politics has much to do with it.
No, these people were deranged psychopaths. Those young men–and, perhaps, some women–massacred innocents because of something that was simply wrong inside them. Some gaping hole where their humanity should have been. They were not just “bad people”. They were monsters.
“Did the police catch the bad people?”
“Yes, sweetheart. They caught them.”
He nods. He is satisfied with this. The fact that people are overwhelmingly good is so self-evident to him that he does not question it. The monsters have disappeared back under the bed.
But they’re not gone, are they? There will be others. There are others, right now: in Syria, in Pakistan, in corporate boardrooms and drone control bunkers. Assads and Breiviks and some whose names will become equally, horribly familiar. This is a bad, sad, scary world and I wish I had someone who could explain to me “why”.