A Meeting in the Dark

by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

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“A Meeting in the Dark” tells the story of John, a young Kenyan man who worries most about what others, especially his father, think of him. John is consumed by a moral dilemma that he eventually fails to face with dignity.

The story begins with John thinking about the stories his mother used to tell him, particularly the story of the young girl who was deceived by an Irimu, an ugly ogre that had disguised itself as a handsome man. Unfortunately, John cannot remember the ending, and his mother no longer tells him stories.

John’s father, Stanley, sees John and questions him about his upcoming trip to college in Uganda. John has been tense the whole time, worrying that his father will realize he has a secret. Overhearing the conversation, John’s mother, Susan, rebukes Stanley for his harsh treatment of their son. Susan married Stanley before he converted to Christianity. Since his conversion, he has refused to let Susan tell John the tribal stories, and he blames Susan for their conceiving John out of wedlock.

John encounters a village woman who asks about his impending trip. She is pleased that John, although more educated in modern ways than most of the villagers, treats her with respect. John is pleased that she approves of him.

After a tense dinner with his parents, John sneaks out to visit his secret girlfriend Wamuhu. Unfortunately, only her parents are home. The mother is happy to see him, for she feels sure John is trustworthy and means to establish a long-term relationship with Wamuhu; the father is afraid that John will fail to respect Wamuhu because she has been circumcised. Female circumcision is traditional for their people, but now the educated young men did not want circumcised wives.

After Wamuhu arrives, John and she walk outside to be alone. Wamuhu assures him that nobody else knows that she is pregnant, but she also gives him only one more day to tell his parents. He thinks of the story of the young girl who followed the Irimu, and he promises to tell his parents that night.

Attempting to return home, John is sick with fear. He slumps to the ground in a cold sweat. He cannot face his parents and tell them of his mistake. He cannot say that he needs to marry Wamuhu, yet he does not know why he should not marry her. He does not even know to whom to pray: Would the Calvinist god believe him? Would the traditional god still listen?

John wakes up on the ground and remembers his discussion with Wamuhu. He walks home in the dark, contemplating the ways that marrying Wamuhu could ruin his life. In his mind, he blames her, her lack of education, and her tribal circumcision.

Back in his hut asleep, he dreams of being circumcised and initiated into the tribe. In the dream, he ends up in a strange land with two ghosts fighting over him, and as more ghosts enter the fray, he becomes nothing. Suddenly he is looking at the girl who followed the Irimu. He wants to help her but gets lost and afraid. Once awake, John tries to dismiss his dream. He considers the beauty of Limuru village, but he is going to Makerere, Uganda, to go to college as his father wishes.

He and his father shop for John’s trip. John wonders why he has always feared his father. However, everybody fears Stanley, who has become a hell-fire preacher. He is strict with his flock, his family, and his villagers.

In the final scene, John desperately tries to convince Wamuhu to take money to say that someone else was the father of their unborn child. She refuses, and John becomes more and more upset and excited. Animal-like, he becomes breathless and foams at the mouth. He grabs her shoulders to persuade her. Images of his father and the villagers fill his mind. He violently shakes her. She runs away, but he catches her. He tries to hug her, but as she stops struggling, he realizes that he has killed her and can no longer keep any of it a secret.

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