You Must Know Kayole

And if you ask me whether you can walk at any hour beyond 6pm and still consider yourself serious about having your phone and maintaining an unscathed Adam’s apple, I will take the joke. Then I may refer you to a man who believes in miracles: Krevin.

He narrates with much vigour. He is one guy whom 844 taught the skills of orature before internet spoilt the party.

“They came and put the dagger here,” he laughs, placing the edge of his open palm across the throat to act the dagger. His laughter is precise and straight to the point: pain. You can still read the terror smoking in there. It is one of those that sound like a tired ungreased hinge of a military gate.

He shuts his eyes as if he is trying to re-live the moment, to taste it on his tongue. Like he wants the guys to come a second time because this second time they will see fire. They will meet not just him; they’ll meet Bodyguard-Number-One, Kick boxer, Commando, Karateka, James Bond, No-shit-guy. Me.

“They put the dagger here,” he repeats and opens his eyes. “One held my legs to the ground. Another one tightened his hands around my mouth and pinned the head to a wall behind. Then another stood by to watch the traffic on the street. God! I saw that as the end to my life.”

I try to picture Munesh as a dead man but the picture refuses to come. I try to picture his funeral: his wife and children wailing; smoke coming from fires sprawled across his compound; his brother coming to inherit his wife before burial; a neighbour’s dog running away with meat hidden in banana leaves; the choir singing a dirge – I don’t see anything either. I can’t picture the image of distraught women searching for salt in smoky kitchens nor of men carrying cans of local brew. So I decide to give up.

“You can’t die now,” I say. I want to ask him if he pissed on the nerd holding his legs. I don’t.

“They had dragged me to some hidden corner by the road. We passed through people. Don’t ask me whether I screamed or not. Don’t ask if I asked for help. In Dandora I once did that. I once screamed when two boys asked me to give them my phone. Jehovah! There is a big cut here,” he says, pointing at his back. Munesh is someone who can undress to show you a bandage on his scrotum.

I listen to the story. He had gone to Kayole to check whether he could establish another branch for his business. Clothes business is something that he has recently realised can take a man from down the hollows of any African city. So, buoyed with the confidence of a ready market and promising returns, the chap decides to go to Kayole .

Not that he doesn’t know Kayole. Nobody lives in this city for a week without knowing Kayole; he’s been around for more than a decade. Kayole has the deadliest organised gangs. Life there is controlled by the street asshole you meet sniffing stolen glue. You may fail to pay rent and still survive; you cannot survive a day if you don’t pay the monthly ‘security’ fees to the youth groups (euphemism guru). It’s a place where you must know some things for survival. You don’t pick a quarrel with anyone unless you want to carry your intestines in your hands. You don’t get loose on the beautiful chic because you don’t know whose shadow she walks in. You don’t peck the ass of a bar maid for you don’t know who foots her rent.

And if you ask me whether you can walk at any hour beyond 6pm and still consider yourself serious about having your phone and maintaining an unscathed Adam’s apple, I will take the joke. Then I may refer you to a man who believes in miracles: Krevin.

Krevin has been an asshole since our days in college. He tells me he stayed in Kayole for the first eight months of last year. He’d just moved from the village and was beginning a life. By the time August was ending, he had replaced a stolen phone at least four whooping times. The last time they came, he had only twenty five shillings in the pocket. Says it was about six thirty pee em and he was coming home after watching a Barcelona match at the bar. Well, they took only twenty bob and left him the five. But no one was disciplined that day more than Krevin. He spent sixteen days eating half cooked greens at the KNH and seven more weeks nursing a broken nose and a dislocated jaw. He never went back to collect his clothes.

But this guy Munesh decides to ignore the negativity tied to the hood. He decides to disbelieve the narrative of youth groups. Business is business, provided you know when and how to pull your cards, he tells me. He is not even muscular! He has a round figure. His head is round and his belly is round. Short, and has those small deformed round fingers at whose tips are chewed away nails that look like rice pellets. His nose is round. His ears are round. The last time he went to the gym was when Hitler was still chasing after the ass of Jews and he is not planning to go back any time soon.

When he sells and a client complains, he tells them he is a born again Jehovah’s Witness – which he is. And I think in him we have the most unfit guy to live in the city, for when have honesty and city life ever been bed fellows? He must have grown up in one of those families where you have to pray before a meal and where the father takes an hour a day lecturing the kids over the ten commandments.

When I was growing up, mum used to love me. When I grew up, she prescribed for me friends and warned me of people I should not hang out with. Don’t go into the home of so-and-so after sunset. Don’t greet Uncle so-and-so in the hand. Then the lessons crossed boarders. She told me about this and that ethnic group. Those girls are bad because they will run away with your children. Don’t bring home a woman from this other community because they don’t allow polygamy. Don’t associate with this ethnic group; their men are great thieves and heartless. Don’t try those others; they are witches….

I met Munesh not long ago. Must have been the day I was sacked. I had stumbled upon his shop to buy some clothes I intended to broker elsewhere, and I found his retail prices extremely low. Our friendship is like six weeks now. We talk a lot of business and I have not seen witchcraft jump out of his nose. I haven’t seen the killer instinct in him. He bought us coffee from a hawker that first day of friendship. On the second day, the same hawker came again and sold us coffee and an avocado. Perhaps it is the food that made me break mum’s prescription; perhaps it is the staunch ignition of friendship, the unconscious clicking of a heart and a heart that is automated by nature in some corner away from the stereotypes of society.

A client comes. She bargains a bra. Munesh starts at four fifty. The startled lady says she has thirty bob. They bargain and eventually the lady leaves with her bra, seventy shillings poorer. Munesh comes back to me:

“It was fifteen hundred,” he says. Then he goes on to read my face like I don’t really understand what he is saying. I nod slowly to say I know the shit he was in. But I don’t say sorry.

“I had stopped at some ATM point. My girl had just called from school saying she was unwell and could not eat the food. You’ll be a father one day…. I wanted to send that money over. But they saw it. Jehovah! They must have heard me talk over the phone.”

His round face is still badly bruised. The lower left jaw looks like he was hit by a Boeing. The right one isn’t swollen, alright, but it has an ugly patch of brown like he went on a painting spree and forgot his paint can on the cheek. The left eye is bigger than is the right one and from a distance you may not see the ends of his brows because they are both involved in conspiracy with the now healing injuries. Those boys, if indeed they were just boys, know how to do their thing.

I’m beginning to wonder what he told the wife that day. Baby I fell in a trench. It was raining and I was running to catch the bus home so I slid on the pavement and hit the bottom rock really hard. There was a knife in the trench. My neck slightly passed over it as another stone fell from over the trench and hit my jaw. Ouch Beb don’t touch there…!

Hehe. No man wants to reduce himself before his wife. You don’t go telling her that another man clobbered sense into your thick head. That you pissed in your trousers as they took your money. Hey, that is murderous. You must fabricate a lie even if it won’t be believed.

But Munesh is a religious man I don’t think he can carry a lie to his wife. So after Mama Juniour opens the door, he staggers in, beaten, falls on the couch and puffs: Baby I’m sorry… I’m here only by grace… Some boys kicked the shit outta me. They kicked me really hard and wanted to murder me… Our money is gone…. Our Nokia is gone. My trouser is torn…. Baby call the priest and take me to hospital.

“That knife was here,” he repeats what I already know. “Do you see anything?” He moves closer and I see it. I now see why he insists.

The Adam’s apple was amply cut, now healing. Runs something like five centimetres across the neck. I am left wondering if the boys thought there was money hidden in the throat. (Some people!) The cut went a millimetre or two deep and there is proof that that was some bad news. He will later tell me of how he ran when they released him; how with a torn trouser he raced all the way home. But for now my mind is on this cut.

I now picture his funeral. I picture his wife sobbing the whole year. I picture neighbours having to chip in for the expenses because “Marehemu” was robbed inside out. I ask myself whether I could have missed the funeral. Would I?

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As I walk home long after his story, I feel insecure with those I meet. I keep looking back to check if a group of seven boys is trailing me. I would like to call Krevin and tell him I now understand the ordeal he had; but my phone is hidden in the inner pockets. I am hell scared and I feel lonely. I avoid boys with red eyes. I avoid lonely streets. Somewhere along, I feel my phone ringing and I ignore. Then when I reach the room I call my house, and I am safely in, I start to laugh. It’s been long since I harvested such a hearty laugh for my ribs. I laugh with the peace and harmony. I laugh because all of a sudden, it is safe. I am safe and where I belong. In Kayole.

Continue reading “You Must Know Kayole”

This Thing Will End

Mystery of God
Mystery of God and Nature

I used to think God a sadist. Killing people in Iraq and blinding generations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki; killing parents and leaving behind scores of hungry orphans; denying boys their teenage queens; making uncles flop at the elections; Tsunami; El Nino; many, many things. How does one who is not a sadist leave women barren and insist that so-and-so should always fail their high school exams? He should otherwise not allow the fat Arab downtown to fire me in the middle of the month when he knows everything about the bills to my name.

There are many more. Imagine you decide to pluck that splint part of your nail and thus you won’t have sleep for two consecutive nights. Such a small thing, but, son, you won’t get peace today, God says. And in life such small pieces of shit are what keep our happiness or the lack of it. Only a sadist could automate such a programme as this.

A memory happened.

If you visit my childhood you’ll get this man Indumuli. We all called him Ninja. First, his name was too long and we needed talk about him every day. Second, his ways were the ways of a ninja. Not that he dressed like those Ninjutsu Japs. I think it was because he was a loafer with a very mysterious lifestyle. And everyone feared him just the way they’d fear a dozen hands from Okinawa.

I never wondered why Indumuli was homeless. I think it is because we never regarded him as a living person. Even thinking about him was unthought of. Or because I was small. No one pointed out that he dressed in things that somehow resembled, and went for, clothes. People said his weed had no jokes.

Picture this. There is this guy who is always drunk. Smokes marijuana too. He is very hostile to children and very cold on adults. He sits by the road selling plastic bottles and you have never seen him sell one even on credit. You go through your memory and you can’t remember seeing anyone stand by his shop, which is an ant hill by the roadside where he sometimes sleeps deeply in wait for that miracle client.

Every time you come from school at the lunch break, you will keep passing by him in deep sleep under shelter of the sun itself. In the evening when you rush past, he sneers at you with cold red eyes. If you stare at him, his face contorts deeply as a first and second warning that you should find something better before it is found for you.

As kids we had different narratives about him. But the dominant and most terrifying was that Ninja was a threat to all the menfolk. There was this story that one kid once reported him home over some sin. So when father and son came to confront him, he beat the father up as other villagers looked on and then he forced this father to laugh. So we always feared to cross his line since we couldn’t imagine the fun in laughing when just fresh from a beating.

One day I was rushing to the chief’s centre to untether and drive home Maridadi, our cow. It was going to rain heavily. Now it happened that as I ran, someone on a bicycle almost rode into me and I had to do the sidestep. There was a trench by the side and so to keep balance and still avoid breaking my leg, I leapt far to the side of the road. You can guess whose bottles I rammed into.

You may also guess the terror and the speed I took off in.

The guy had actually not been asleep. The moment he heard the bottles crack, he shot up, first in fear, then in furry. He needed only a fraction of a second to identify the intruder and device a counter attack. With my daily fear of the mystery that he was, I was already some metres away in that fraction of a second. Even as a kid I understood how difficult it would be to be slapped and told to laugh loud. So I only heard some thunder behind me, and soon the market place was to witness a sprint marathon pitting a boy and a seller of bottles.

Perhaps people thought we were running from the rain too. But here was a matter of life and death. I don’t clearly recall how it ended. What I remember is that I was to change my route of going to school for the rest of my primary school studies. I also had to change the route of fetching the cow back from the chief’s camp.

It is now years later and I’m beginning to think deeply about this man. He didn’t die. Nobody knows where he is. The marijuana and brewer’s glass were not a choice he’d make by himself. It was something society assumed. It was something about being alienated from the rest; being made different.

He was sadist because he was lonely. Of course I have not made up this story. There are trusted guys I can take you to and they will narrate it exactly the way I have.

So back to God and being sadist. Got something about the whole affair? He doesn’t hustle at the bus stop for the congested last bus. Before he travels to another point, he is there already; always been there. He only talks to angels – angels who are very foolish, very mean, very dead unless he gives them wisdom, generosity and life. He doesn’t have a friend to confide in. He doesn’t have an equivalent with whom he can consult. He doesn’t call at the local FM station to ask about El Nino or the coupe in Burundi. What a life of (Shakespeare’s) aloneness!

Yet he is not alone. Yet he is not sadist. He simply plays his cards. He makes us only like the locust to the wanton boy. Every time he lets us loose, we call it a miracle. Widows, the sick, the lonely (etc) keep receiving the miracle. Yet their number of miracles do not supersede that of job seekers in a strange jungle.

Have you ever hustled for a job in six sexing months and then received that call on one hot Friday of October? And the guy on the other side clears his throat and asks if you are Mr Were (insert your ugly name)? And you say you are? Then she asks whether you remember applying for a job and attending the interview some two weeks back? And you start to sweat? And then with a grunt voice you say YES? Then she asks may you come over for salary negotiations? Then you praise God and put it on social media for friends and enemies? Have you?

Last Friday I received a call from Egypt. Hey, let’s all have a moment of silence and visualise where we left Egypt on the map. Egypt! Think of the Suez Canal and Aswan High Dam. Up there in the heart of the Sahara and pierced in the chest by the Tropic of Cancer. Egypt where my grandmothers once lived and whipped the asses of Jews. The cradle of civilisation. Think of the pyramids. Now, my call came from that Egypt. An Etisalat number.

She asked me to confirm my name and country. From the heavy accent on the other end, I knew without doubt it was an Egyptian woman, not some con in a maximum security prison. By the way, why do Egyptians fondle with the /r/’s when they talk?

It was the Director of the college. She asked whether I had applied for a teaching post at her facility. I nodded and said yes. Then she asked if it was me she had interviewed on-line. I said yes, yes it was me.

This came as one of those shocks that throw you to the ground. I had been walking along a street in Kayole checking new routes just in case fire broke out or the boys in the hood became interested in my phone. So I halted, moved to the edge of the streets, put the other hand in the pocket and smiled broadly. Every dog has its way of celebration when dung unhappens. In my mind I have already decided the maisonette I’m moving to when I get to Misri.

So the big message comes.

“We hiyarr-bai regret to info-rr-m you that yua-rr application did not go through,” she says. “Please try again next yia-rr.”

Sometimes the world around you has to stop so you choose how to be sad. This was that time. Everything remained still and mute for a decade. Gaining strength, I walked slowly to the nearest police station, didn’t enter, walked further home past the guy who sells ropes and went to bed for sixteen hours. When I finally woke up, I was still asking what the friend above gets when he makes me go through this. Didn’t I promise to fast if I got the job?

Dirty Hands in A Jam (H. Waswa)

I couldn’t tell what colour her skin was due to the tons of makeup that complemented her not-so-fair face. Funny, I could tell the colour of her thighs though. She struggled to make me not see but despite her efforts to pull that mini-whatever down, I still got a glimpse of them goodies.

Traffic jam at a peak hour.
Traffic jam at a peak hour.

I don’t know why things in the city are done much differently from the normal way things should be done. By normal I mean something the village way. Ever since I set foot in this big city, I have known no peace. What with the hooting and honking of vehicles implying the end times? And have I told you about the jams? I hear the jams on the roads to the west of this city are unfathomable, everyone possibly owns a ride in those parts I think. The ones I am much well versed with are the jams on these roads leading from the central and western parts. There are no southern, neither the northern and thus you get the point Eastlando. Nice places indeed, Eastlands. But again the worst if you ask those used to the other parts.

Well, I personally don’t like the Westerners. I think they lack manners completely. How do you explain them coming to the eastern sides dressed like sons of kings with those big phones  that are bigger than their palms, and still expect someone dressed in torn….wait a minute. That’s not even dressing. They expect someone wrapped, for that is the word, wrapped in sheets, to look at them and appreciate them. This is a society of the have-nots. And the haves ought to humble when venturing in this society, just like we do when washing their toilets, guarding their premises and even asking for our meagre wages from them. It’s called breaking the imbalance in the society.

And why do they even come to these sides? I guess they too have eastern friends and think it best to come and have the feeling of a poor soul. Or eat some obusuma cooked from floor milled in a posho-mill and not in those millers at Unga House. I hear those GMO goodies are always giving them complications every now and then. But they ought to come dressed decently, not like that lady I saw the other day.

I couldn’t tell what colour her skin was due to the tons of makeup that complemented her not-so-fair face. Funny, I could tell the colour of her thighs though. She struggled to make me not see but despite her efforts to pull that mini-whatever down, I still got a glimpse of them goodies. This eagle’s eye. I was tempted to ask why she dressed in that manner only to try hard in hiding her thighs. Didn’t she see that it was a short skirt?

Verbosity has got its way with me, some dirty hands. So what were we talking about? The things done differently or the jams? I guess it’s one and the same because these jams are a different thing all the same. The main road back at home is a football pitch most of the days. And small children train marble playing on the same. Those three vehicles that are the public means of transport rarely affect the other activities on the road. Are they even roads? With all those potholes in potholes?

I haven’t had peace visiting my uncle at those high brows of the city. There is one thing I am not used to doing, not that I care less, but because I fail to see why I should do it. Why should I wash my hands before eating? I have not been doing so for the better part of my life you know. And I am sure my granny hasn’t been doing it nearly her entire life. I am yet to see her complain of stomach pains or germs ingested at any point to this point when she has been crying of back aches. I bet that’s old age at puberty. But it’s OK anyway. In the meantime, I will wash them, wash them in the toilet sinks as everybody does, before eating. But not after, that’s news. Before I got myself in this jam, I ate after washing my hands.

Well, this woman seated next to me has been nagging me about some place. We are headed for the west if you never knew. To my uncle’s. And I am not even sure where to alight. I guess this woman is headed to the same destination, for the first time most probably. So I tell her to wait till we get there, I will tell her. Huh! I can’t figure out why she can’t afford her own ride.

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The Six-Thousand-Bob Job

A home on the other side
A home on the other side

Ever gone for negotiations? At a negotiation table, you mostly meet people at the furthest extremes. The bride’s mother wants a grand wedding, 12 plus 9 cows for dowry and a promise of a honeymoon in either Zanzibar or Istanbul. The groom’s spokesman thinks otherwise. So he clears his throat, looks at his watch with the expression that he doesn’t have time and then looks the prospective in-laws in the eye.

“Our in-laws, look here. We did not come to buy the State House. We did not come to suggest that you take us to Mecca for pilgrimage. All we came for is a girl whom our son has been naughty enough to sweet-talk. And we have not changed our intent. With us your girl will be happier and healthier. But now you speak as if we came to buy a kidney…. We shall give you two goats and a hen for the ushers.”

The bride’s father, who has been silent all along, signals their spokesman and whispers something. Then the spokesman nods vigorously and starts:

“It is not just a human body we are giving you. Please let’s respect each other. The girl whose hand you seek is a graduate. We have taken her to school and we are not even adding the school fees to the bargain. We have taught her good manners and how to be a good mother. Will she mother our children? No. She will be mother to children you will call yours. We even don’t know if the young man runs at night or not. Any family with a level head will quickly accept the offer without a word. But it is good you’ve shown your character. We now fear that perhaps if we let our daughter go, it is to either hungry or stingy people we are sending her. (…) Now, grand wedding, 12 plus 2 cows and Zanzibar – final bargain!”

At this time, both sides must maintain their adrenaline. Otherwise I’ve heard of people who exchanged blows over the dowry scale. The negotiators will slowly move from their extremes and finally settle on five cows and three goats payable within three months after the wedding. And the mother-in-law never mentions Zanzibar again.

Those are bargains for you. But I’ve personally  grown up with this problem with negotiation. I don’t like traders who give a price and tell you that you could still negotiate. If it can go lower, why then do you start up there? If you say your jacket is 1k, stop there, otherwise you are a thief.

My mother, on the other hand, has the medicine for such. There’s this day we went to buy a pair of shoes for my elder sister. The guy said 2k, negotiable. She laughed so much the seller became uneasy. Then she said she had 50 bob. She called him all the good names north of Limpopo until eventually the shoes went at 300 bob. All along, I went through their bargaining like someone whose kinsman runs naked at the market centre.

Anyway, too much verbosity already. Let me get to my gossip.

I just remembered the last time I went for negotiations and laughed how come I hadn’t inherited this gene. Someone had advertised that they needed a house help. I had quickly wired an aunt back in the village and she came running. So the guys asked me to take her for introductions and negotiations. You see, this was a Caucasian family and I expected she’d give me a tip if everything went well.

So we arrive and the man at the gate points at the far right corner of the compound. People still own large compounds in the city. We walk there and find the couple taking the Chinese black thing they drink in cups the size of bottle tops. Every time we watched a Bruce Lee movie, people said the liquid in those bottle tops was a drug against hunchback. As I see them, my mind tries to picture them with a hunchback. Bad manners.

We are welcomed and I tell my aunt not to touch anything because these Ching Chongs eat snakes and dogs. Soon the negotiations begin.

The lady has stayed around for some years so she understands Swahili fairly well. She tells us that they need a house-help (says ‘maid’ but who cares whether it is house manager or house slave or house-anything provided the cash is healthy?). She’ll look after the house. Look after the kid (about to turn 2). Take care of the dog (I think of that Ching Chong visitor who may want to celebrate a birthday over a dead dog’s tail). Do the laundry using the machine and accompany mademoiselle to the mall for shopping. We say we understand. Then the real part comes.

Negotiating the salary.

She says she is offering 6k. Arabs call it sitta aalaaf, elfu sita in Shakespeare’s Swahili. We look at each other, aunt and nephew. I smile. Perhaps it is six thousand Euros. Or it could be Yens. I ask the lady what she means. She says six thousand in the local currency. Our baloons deflate.

Just to confirm, I ask if the 6k is the daily salary, exclusive of lunch. The lady talks to her husband in Chinese and she tells us it is monthly. She’s been smiling since she saw us.

I tell my aunt let’s go. Let’s get out of here. On my mind I am thinking how bad dog meat makes of someone’s mind. You see, I tell her, that’s why we didn’t take that drink of theirs!

The end of this story is that the Ching Chongs remain adamant. After an hour’s bargaining, she adds only 200 bob. Yet we came planning on at least 50k.

They say they pay that because it is not a graduate. Hey, to mean a graduate has two stomachs? Or that if you never saw university doors you can eat stones and still get laid the whole night? I know professors who teach that Pluto is a planet and preachers who say God is white like snow. Yet I am still to find this dummy who will feed his kid on rock pebbles every midday and say he is done with proteins.

So because you have decided to be here, you accept that tin walled house by the riverside. You negotiate with life and finally accept to stay at a hood named after Azania’s Soweto. When it rains you can’t reach your home.  But if you successfully swim home, there will be no demarcation between your house and the public toilet 300m away. Sometimes you will get what to eat.

Maslow didn’t separate the needs of a poor guy from those of a rich guy. If it is food, food it is and every breathing soul must eat. Imagine a guy taking home a pay of six-zero-zero-zero shillings, what a conspiracy nature pulls! It squeezes all the juice in the life of those that cross over from the village. They soon end up owing everyone everything in the neighbourhood. If length is measured in metres and weight kilometres, debt and credit those sides are measured perfectly in their names. Debtors embed their names in porcelain books and the only escape is by suicide.

This woman will need pick-wear and heeled shoes for Christmas. She will need STI drugs occasionally. She will need red lipstick and school uniform for the kids. Yet her employer gives her 6k and reminds her that graduates have rumen and reticulum.

How will her kids grow up knowing how to skate? What tv programme will they narrate to their classmates? How do they distinguish between a rodent and a pet? What do they know and what don’t they? When you answer these, you are essentially giving reasons why society has destitutes.

(Okay, okay, word count you are actually a freak. The red button is blinking which means that with the laziness of this generation, even I won’t manage to read through this article for editing.)

At her death bed, she will reflect and ask herself why she didn’t commit suicide that year they asked her to cook pilau with dog meat. She will ask herself if there has been any justification for her struggle. The truth eventually sinks, but late. It is like that campus guy who spends two years looking at the pictures of his crush. She is expensive and in a different league. Sometimes he looks through the curtains as she passes to her hostel. Then luck comes, he wins her and discovers that her heels are cracked and she even shaves a beard every 3.30 a.m.