One of my favourite pastimes these days is looking across glass walls in the streets. I don’t know if it is First Class Narcissism or what but that is it – walking down the street admiring myself in the mirrors. I admire my gait. My hair. My shoes. The goatee that’s refused to grow since college. The complexion. And scars. I think I fell in love with the marks on my forehead long ago and it has taken ages to acknowledge this. Guys, this guy is simply a catch.
(Disclaimer: Warned you I’m a Narcissist).
I descend from the side of Nairobi that is white and brush through glass walls of Kenyatta Avenue to Moi Avenue. Shoppers on the streets even know I’m looking for the best, classiest laptop to buy. Short people with stunted goatees are known to be that. Or I’m just looking for the piece of plastic called iPhone. Rogues even start planning to mug me. Sad rogues. These say they will take the phone. Those say the bag is theirs. The others bet on the cash. They cast the dice to have parts of me. But I am just checking on the size of my nose or bicep (no hehe nor haha) and congratulating God for the good Day Six outing in the happiness of Eden.
Sadly, that is where it stops. I’m broke.
You can have all the muscles in heavyweight rings but once your pockets are holed, your goat is fried also. Or all the good looks like mine, but it gets nowhere beyond that. That is the rule of this jungle. You are done. Ask women. They have lots of philosophy about broke guys.
Sometimes though, when I look into the mirrors what comes back is the Promise. Teachers beat us up and sang us the Song of Promise. We would own a car. We would have a good house. Servants. Light-skinned children whom we would teach to speak well-articulated English at two. Castles. A model woman. Money. A lot of money.
At one stage my class master said I would be a doctor, engineer and lawyer. He said the worst I could ever be would be pilot. Said it so many times the entire clan believed him. And offered him tithes. But the nearest I came to being a pilot was when I played video games after college and sat on my bed waiting employers to call me.
I thought that after college I’d end up in the national karate team. Not standing under a shop roof. I knew a lot of giakuzuki than I did my kin, and giakuzuki was the least I knew in my training. I knew a lot of the katas, themselves a scholarly combine of millions of empis and mawashigeris and I knew them, interestingly, and mastered them all. I even knew how to bark like a trainer.
Rain is back. I am half-running by the time I cut Bus Station down to OTC where I’ll get a cheaper bus to Kayole. It is raining heavily by the time I reach the stage. I’m drenched. Then it stops. Foolish rain. I stand at the supermarket wall and wait to make sure the bus I take is charging the lowest fares around. They are still charging kidneys here and it seems I’ll have a season’s best waiting record. Earliest I can leave is three and half hours.
For once I get time to look around myself. Nothing much. The normal working class pulling their skirts above so they can race through humanity. Those higher on the ladder looking from their windshields and contemplating whether they should commit suicide or persevere the remaining seven years paying loan for a house that was demolished last year. Then men, the rejects of time and money, and civilisation, fighting each other for space to get back to their little holes where their lives are still in arrears and the landlord is heavily owed. Politicians going to meet their sorcerers. The homeless. Thieves scavenging for their next victim. Hawkers. Pickpockets. Smoke. African Romans. African Jews. Fired men. God. Rapists walking with cum in their loins. Sinners. African Africans. Musicians. Robbers. Starving masses. Children of God. Night is finally here with us.
School sang the song too long. Is this the song?
As I stand there counting the remaining three hours and twenty-seven minutes, I look at other owners of that pipe dream. They invested in books, some even excelled, and now they walk with us with the dragging hope that life will be better tomorrow and that they will ride a personal heavy car. But tomorrow is hidden from them, and when it comes, the only heavy personal thing they will ride will be their casket. And even that, they will be assisted. They will be ridden to be buried in a borrowed suit. Or wrapped in a Muslim shroud like a condom. These people can’t be helped. Classroom sang them the wrong song and they danced.
My phone bleeps. It is a longtime friend from the village. A cousin by village standards. He says he is caught up in a fix. Something about him and his girlfriend. I don’t understand why Alfo can be in a fix yet he descends from a well-known lineage. His grandfather used to make calls at a local vernacular radio station and so by default their family name became a household example of rich families. When I grew up I learnt that even women dreamt of marrying in the family. Now he has a problem and he needs money. Money which should be lying somewhere in my house, in huge heaps. Beats me.
I won’t. Send. Not that I have it but even if I was sleeping in cushions of dollars and drinking from bottles of affluence, I still wouldn’t. As a man you have to make the bold choice between whether you need a girlfriend or money, not both.
Alphonce Iretio of the famous Iretio family once stayed with me here. He ran away. Said he could not manage the life in this part. That time fate had just delivered me to Patel and I was doing everything in the house. The girls next door were friendly to us. We used to hide our key above the door frame. We didn’t choose food; it chose us. We laughed evenings. Then my kinsman left me in this burning sun. Now if he went to safety back in the village, exactly which money did he leave behind so I send today? He forgot to tell me where he hid it.
And that tells you that sometimes the village will have the rare breed of lazy bones you’ll never find elsewhere in the country. Those who think we have money. If we have money, someone tell them, it is because we don’t have what they have in the village. Patel knows the real narrative but he keeps quiet. Drinks our blood but will still not help us. If the cow won’t curse him, cows should not be trusted to be God.
Second rain is coming again. Fare is still up. What’s wrong with Nairobi?
We thought people would stand at bus stations and mention our names with Sir at the beginning and salute profusely to the passing graduate. From the School of Education with not just a degree but also a lot of proficiency in Literature and English. A foreign language. The language the Queen herself uses when she asks for sex. Should we wear tags to remind them who we are? It wasn’t easy getting here.
Back in the system our teachers would queue us up for lashing because we had broken the Queen’s Language. Every day the language teacher, one Onesmus Barnabas Isambakhulu Sir, would bend us at his table and lash us for every language mistake we made in the day. Speaking in vernacular was such a simple but major life-changing event. He used to tell us to hold the table with both hands as he beat us. I’ve never seen another man who had more terrible table manners. Caning us at a table! But there was a reassurance at the end to soften the pain. It made us look ahead and hold our hopes.
In the Promise they said tits would line up for me. Small tits, big tits, brown tits, floppy tits, yummy tits, sharp tits, thin tits. Tits galore, that’s what we sang. Nowhere was rain ever mentioned. Only tits lining up in neat rows and begging. No, it can’t have gone like that. Tits are not just something you lose and concede. This was a reality and not some dream. Tits, where art thou?
Where do you sleep when all is cold and quiet? Do you sleep standing or awake? And when you stand, do you stand straight or you bend a bit to the side of the rib? Are you happy, Tits? Do you ever see me walk in the street and smile? Do you hide behind a curtain and admire me, from my brain to my walk? Talk to me Tits, I speak English.
School made us fear our landlord would be upset with us sometimes. Upset because employers would be thronging his premises every morning to plead to employ us but we would be dismissing them because they can’t afford us. School made me think I’d be a hero. A respected scholar.
Life was put on a slate and laid out. Birth, education, good wedding, good life, good funeral, heaven.
I also thought I’d be a footballer. And how couldn’t I? College taught me to watch Messi clips all evening and play FIFA all night. In my free time I calculated the pounds my football agent in Europe would get and what would go back to my country as tax. The surplus, I said, would make me build a very big castle the size of my village.
Then I completed college.
And now all that is behind. A dream that never existed. The world out here decided that I was a nobody. A good for nothing good-for-nothing waiting on street verandahs for the rain to stop. Where I walked with college arrogance the world saw a piece of steaming shit and waited for it to cool and ferment so it could humble the heap to serve its purpose. The sun out here burns me very much and still the sweat never counts. I’m caught in the conspiracy of poverty and even when my kins text me to ask for money to take to their women’s homes, I can’t afford.
I live on the streets and pay rent for a house that sees me too rarely. Perhaps I’ll be knocked down on these streets one day.
He was last seen walking around the streets on a rainy evening.