Your September Guy

Republished from last year….

To attend a birthday party in Nairobi’s Westlands you need car keys and a good neck tie. Especially if it is an Indian home. A nasal accent and a wrapped gift are added advantage, though the tie and car keys are the thing. On weekends I have walked to these parties without my yellow tie and still the feeling didn’t change.

Birthdays are about celebration of life. They are about acknowledging the passing of time and the ageing of man. At least that is what I know. I was brought up in this family setting where to know your birthday you had to carry out a research project, visiting and re-visiting aunts to confirm the data. Bribery too. I gave up on mine when an uncle couldn’t agree with my first-born aunt over where and when it was I was born. He said on the way from the river, May; she swore she’d midwifed her behind our banana plantation, February the previous year. I surrendered.

But be what they may, the several birthday parties I’ve attended have taught me that man likes to commemorate life coming to earth. See them light those candles, cut giant cakes and sing century-old songs and you’ll know what I’m saying. The latest I attended was for a stubborn boy named Aniruddha or something and I can tell you Nairobi is raising a herd of sadists out here. He kept screaming at the mother and asking us to take him away from his parents because they’d refused to buy him an iPhone 6s (what is that even?) and barred him from inviting his girlfriend to the party. So here we are. Next time your kid says he is inviting his girlfriend for his sixth birthday, give him a nod or else your next guest will walk away with a small African tucked under his armpit as a gift. And you will remain childless.

Hehe. I know of someone in the village who could clobber his kids to death if they cried in front of guests. But this is city style parenting. Democracy and juvenile tyranny.

A boy enjoying freedom at home.
A boy enjoying freedom at home.

I have seen kids make merry at those bouncing castles outside malls every weekend. It is an envious sight. Who wouldn’t envy them when he first saw a bouncing castle at the age of twenty, in a movie? And torn? It is such an envious experience watching the young guys jump into the air and letting free their small arms while their parents watch and smile and exchange business cards. They will break at midday, eat GMO food and go back to play. You’ll see them change into their swimming costumes or switch to skating. It’s essentially a whole day of play and fun with the parents’ eye and love.

These parents know they are raising the best breed. They don’t just calculate in the present. They know how the past in a person’s development makes or breaks their future. Moral lesson? Give your kid the best past and his future present will ever be perfect. You have Greenblatt on your side.

So these public joys will arouse images in your head. They’ll give you a clue that perhaps the reason your neighbour likes to look sadly at your sister is because of their upbringing. That a historicist dip will reveal why so-and-so is happy and why the other asshole is ever high. This is what Nairobi parents are trying to rid their children of. You must have been wondering why your friends are so unmanageable and now you are happy a nondescript blog south of the Sahara is offering Psychology lessons for free. It is okay.

Now, have you seen people who smoke on public buses? Those that fill their lungs with puff and smile it into the face of their seatmates, have you seen them? On phone, they flash you and cut it ages before the ringtone opens its lips. If you are browsing on your phone, you’ll still find a missed call, sometimes two, mostly more. They are guys who wish you a happy new year on July eighteenth and insist they come home for the new-year bash that evening. They put on torn socks and always trail you around, introducing themselves as your siblings. Have you seen them?

They were born in September.

One very calm evening, Tina is coming home from the market. She has been sent to take her back-to-school shopping list to Andanje, who is the biggest shopkeeper at the market centre. So Tina is walking back wondering why the holiday has been very short. Actually, Tina has been kept hostage by her father the entire holiday. Samwana Tina is this retired teacher recently appointed the village sub-chief and he now wants to run the home like a Roman convent. So her worry is not just going back to school this soon – her biggest worry is that her imprisonment at the convent has cut communication with the one person she’s wanted to see every other sunrise. She’ll perhaps not see him again till next December.

Then, just sexing then, wind blows stronger and her head scarf falls a few metres away on the roadside. She goes to pick it. She hears someone whisper her name. It is not the soap opera thing. It’s not that Nigerian movie. It is Jak himself!

Now this is where the report of the shopkeeper will have to wait longer to reach home. After all, everyone wants to see what Jak’s hut is like. It gets more interesting when Jak says there is an end-year dance party in the next village. Only if Tina will use their window to get out later tonight. Tina is Tina, and she says yes. Just before the first cock-crow, Jak returns her home as agreed.

That’s the story. Replace the market centre with the posho-mill at the corner of the village or a supermarket or a hyper mall for our other brothers. Buy your mum fried chicken and when she’s almost done, ask her where she used to be sent three days before the end of December holidays and fix it there. Then draw an arrow nine months long. Put yourself at the end of the arrow. It shouldn’t taste like Maths.

Your life began at night, at a dance party. Or on the path to the river. Or at a wedding of a cousin.

Your life began in a trench. It had rained and liquor was on their breaths. You were conceived as it began to drizzle again. A white pickup was passing by. He had on one shoe, the other gone by the water in the trench. Her high heels got lost somewhere in the parking lot, or perhaps in the washrooms. She couldn’t tell. So that 28th December, at exactly 2309hrs sharp, when a white Toyota was passing by two people without shoes, you became. On 28th September the following year, your mother was picked by an ambulance at home and since other motorists could not obey the siren of the ambulance, you were born at a zebra crossing, 150m from hospital and deep in the traffic jam of the city.

Who then should expect a person like you to be normal? Who, if not perhaps other September felas?

You can never wear clean socks and it is not your fault. You can never be tall enough, or if tall, you are exceedingly so with a fast-receding hairline at 22. You can never play music without waking your neighbour. You are the most talkative crook in the Whatsap group and you keep adding members without their consent. And you have this pugilist short temper that even Mecca prayers can’t quench. That is you and it is not your fault. Go home.

Among my 950 friends on Facebook, about 229 have had their birthdays in September thus far and we still aren’t in October yet. Plus, there are a few more who have hidden their DOB’s from their timelines. These September guys can buy Greece if they decide. They alone can monopolise the world. But they can’t. They aren’t normal.

Picture my room-mate in college. Abnormal tendencies. First, he’d stopped wetting his bed before turning three (who stops that before high school?) and now he spoke in sleep as compensation. Huge guy with big fingers, big shoes and a soprano. Chap used to sleep naked in our room. If at night he felt like doing anything as visit the washrooms or talk to his debtor, he’d dangle his unprintables down the corridor and back. If he met you he’d stop and ask details of tomorrow’s lecture. And then he used to laugh like a spoilt generator, which was always. Live long and you’ll see.

It took me three solid years of perseverance to discover that he was a September guy.  1st September actually. That incriminates 1st December, probably the first weekend after his mum closed school for holiday. This story has a sad ending though – that I longed to meet his parents but the guy kept postponing the invitation till we completed campus and went our ways.

So when you see that guy who comes to Facebook to tag you in an update of the weather being sunny, don’t bother. If you meet the kid that wants to start inviting girlfriends home at the age of six, relax and count nine months before birth. If you don’t stop at December, you yourself are the September guy. Otherwise their life began in a trench. At the back door of a Sabina Joy Bar and Restaurant in December 1983. Or on a dusty dance floor in a dimly lit hut. Or in the back-seat of their grandma’s Volkswagen.

Hardest bit: does it feel anything for parents who throw kids’ parties in September? One September morning they send cards to neighbours and workmates and say that that first-born of ours is celebrating his birthday this 25th, so hell come. How true does it prove to maintain a clear eye in this situation? Some guest will arrive, sit in the corner and throughout your celebration they’ll be thinking how sharp blooded you guys were back in the day. Yeah, they might be wrong but they’ll think anyway. And then if they have several Dicksons in their phonebook, they’ll save you as Dick-Anima-Animus. Or Dickockrel. Or simply Dick September.

So apart from cleaning my eardrum with a toothpick, the only other thing in that genre is to hold a September birthday party. That’s information I’ll go to the grave with and still no ghost will hear of it. Classified Omega-17, signed and rubber-stamped by Sloane himself. No one will want smelly ghosts with unkempt hair laughing at his insatiable coital demands in days of December or that of their parents.

Hey, HBD all September guys. You are coital legends.

Retiring to Kayole

Dear world.

You even don’t know my name. Imagine. You don’t know the most handsome son of God this South of the Sahara. The most loyal worker Patel can ever get this year and the next. Also add that I am the most polished pearl of the land, and that you still don’t know me and that you are not already feeling ashamed. What a sad day for humanity, world!

Every evening I use the Kayole bus.

Now, when you are using buses in this city, especially those going to the promised land, there are things you must always make dear to yourself. Like making sure there is maximum security near your pockets. Put a presidential guard if possible. Add the navy to the south, army to the north and air force to the west. Then you can stand in the east with the rising sun and with a sword, a shotgun, a whip and a dog.

Some of the things you hear will sound crazy, but wait.

At some point in the beginning of time and global history, the world conspired to bring together sadist men and lock them all under one roof. That one roof was called Kayole buses.

When you board that green Forward bus, chances of getting a seat are so mean you can make quinine from them and go home. So you will stand in the aisle and hold the upper rail with the left hand and a seat-top with the other. That is your outright fate after a World Push and Shove tournament in the tussle to get in. You will turn and make a 360 degrees sweep to see who got lucky to find space. There will be an old woman some three faces away towards the back and you will not even bother to wonder how she survived the jostling to get in before you. With Kayole, you don’t question things. Anyone can do anything especially if it means going back to the house after a hard day dealing with humanity.

With the bus full, the driver will still honk, partly in want of more passengers and partly as a hobby. The conductor will be outside, banging, calling that last man and insulting the girl who refuses to use his good bus. There will be smoke that Japan exported to the African air, and we in the bus will look at those outside and wonder how unlucky they were not to secure a place to heaven. You will wonder if they will ever reach home in time. No signs of life across their foreheads. Somehow, Patel prefers to release you in the evening when you are all fully weathered and dry you can’t even smile to those fortunate enough to secure a slot in the bus when the fares are still muscular.

At a point, the bus crew will get tired and you shall leave.

And when you are nearing City Stadium, the conductor will start collecting his loot. In peace everybody will oblige. Giving back what belongs to Caesar. Caesar here should be pictured as a stout man with a sad look that resembles a lone cow. He is even putting on that Russian cap with furred flaps drooping down to cover his ears. Now he will tap at your shoulder – poke and when you turn to look, he will drill those sad eyes into you and ask for his dues.

When you extract that fifty bob note, it will be with utmost caution. You will look left, look right, look left again, and when you are satisfied that the young man in a jeans jacket is not looking at you, you will slide it out. Utmost secrecy. Then the conductor will slip it between his fingers and move to the next person. You will release the hand clutching the seat-top and tap at him. Then you will remind him to give you your change. Twenty bob is no child’s play. But he will say you wait.

As the bus overlaps along Jogoo Road, you will be a worried and happy man. Happy that you are finally finding the deliverance to your house after a long day at Patel’s. Sad that the conductor has not given you back the twenty bob. If the Jew of Nazareth was sold with three bob, you know what twenty can do? It can sell him six times and still there will be two left. And if you bargain well twenty can buy you a good crowd of disciples. So just as the bus reaches Uchumi and stops to load in more bodies, you can hold the patience no more. You tap at Cow-Face and remind him your money. The music is loud but he has heard. Grudgingly, he will take a coin from his pocket and fix it into your palm and you will see veins all over his face because of the pain  in the effort. You will not care. You will notify the presidential guard to allow your hand into the pocket to deposit the cash.

Kayole
Pin Point bus in Kayole.

Come Manyanja Road.

Every time the bus hits into a pothole, it announces the lesser distance between you and the shanties of Kayole. You can feel the stale air of kerosene smoke that camps under every roof in Kayole. You can see the tenant on the run after failing to honour his landlord’s deadline. You can still see those three boys who mugged you near the DO’s office last year. You are like a prophet – visions.

With every hit Forward makes into a hole, you feel the stares around yourself coiling into your pockets to check where the change is. With a standard Kayole bus carrying at least a policeman, a tax collector, a loan defaulter, a school dropout, and an abortion client at any moment, you always can’t guess when and where the stealing hand will come from. Plus, the driver is always a tax evader with a good record of renewing the DL in his house. Who else would drive so consistently in the wrong lane and still show a middle finger to the cops?

And so every moment you feel an object rub near your pockets, you shift your stance and check to see that nobody is dipping an unwanted finger into a sovereign territory. Otherwise you are also prepared for a nuclear war.

Somewhere around the CDF stop you will stop. More humanity will pour into the bus and squeeze between the rows of seats. A man carrying a hen in his hands will complain. The music is full blast, so nobody will hear. A woman with a bag on her laps will call out reminding the conductor to make sure to drop her at Bee Centre. More yelps yet you will not know if the conductor is hearing or the music is genuinely above. You will feel your back pocket and confirm your wallet still in place. You are now sweating so bad.

But you are going home. You are going mile and mile away from Patel and his cruel hand and you know nothing can ever feel as good.

Eventually you alight at Masimba. Masimbasimbasimba. That’s how the name first sounds. Before you alight you feel your pocket and see your wallet there. Your change is also still in place. You smile a soft one and thank God. At last.

Now on the ground you see the guy selling sugarcane and all of a sudden you feel hunger from here to Bujumbura. You say, Papa, mh, er, buy some sugarcane….

That is the time discoveries are made in history.

You don’t have the 20 bob. The wallet is missing. You have been robbed. Less than a minute. Gun salute, thief. A minute and the most decorated son of the Kingdom has been robbed before everyone! The guys didn’t even negotiate. They didn’t want to waste time asking if you are related to Faraoh. They didn’t even bother to check your world ranking in face looks. They simply took what they wanted like phew!

Nkt.

You will want to call madam to tell her this. Then you discover your phone, too, has also left.

You crouch by the road side and let the world pass. You want sometime off.

Sulking, you feel your chest to see if your heart is still there. A heart is there alright, but from the pulse rate you are sure the thief replaced your good heart with that of an old witch from Pemba. One who wakes up every evening to eat shrubs and snails and tails of lizards. And when you look around yourself, you are already seeing people as reptiles with tails hidden in their butts. You can’t even sing yourself a dirge. Pemba is bad.

Welcome to Kayole.

Nairobi: The Dilemma and the Odds

The street is in its bustle season for the day. You can start looking for a non-hooting car and sure you will go home empty handed. A man darts over there, pulling his cart like it were some featherweight thing. A vagrant, I place him at about fifteen, dashes in swift manoeuvres between bumpers of impatient cars. There is a continuous buzz of a stale day in the background of the active noise. The music of a civilisation mourning for itself.
Lights in the CBD are something in the evening. From disco lights in the commercials to the bare naked fluorescent bulbs, an evening CBD air looks like a painting of midday rainbows. They glow and spectate humanity in the streets. They behold a humanity caught up in the most bizarre endeavour of chasing itself. In silence they behold as tired limbs still drag their last kicks. They sympathise with men and women worrying about the bus to take them home this late, knowing that still the bus will have to take them into queues and queues of motorcades euphemised internationally as traffic jams. It still is a paradox of life: how a Nairobian will be impatient not to give you a minute’s wait, yet sit quietly as the traffic jam takes toll to flip in the books of time and sometimes stop to re-read a catchy line or phrase.
The evening outburst of lights is a silent signal that the city wants to start over once again. A different life that accepts a dark sky up in the clouds, fists, beer, women, and sometimes a few gunshots.
Wading along Ronald Ngala Street in the evening is a tricky affair. In a split second I knock into multitudes. An elderly man trudges along with a rosary and wooden cross. A beggar passes in a wheelchair and she is shaking her cup with coins to alert passers-by that she is passing by. A yellow yellow hurries ahead, struggling to pull down her skirt that seems to have spotted a gold mine up north. In a nearby shop a man is promoting telephone lines and telling Africans why they should all switch to this wonderful network. I bump into an old man and his bag drops, scattering on the street a guava, a shaver, two exercise books and a stone. He collects his goods and rushes on without giving me the chance to apologise. A woman is dragging a younger chap in the humanity. A man speeds by, balancing on his trolley and whistling to fellows to make way. Everywhere, the evening city is trapped in its own dose of chaos and turbulence, painting in the minds of people the deceitful illusions of progress and civilisation.
From the opposite direction, a uniformed cop is walking slowly, posing as a 17th century lord. Which is understandable. In 2016, only people who have everything can walk like that. So he will spend the rest of the month fighting his colleagues and even bribing the boss to be posted at the same roadblock he served today. Otherwise our very own traffic men in blue don’t walk like this. Not with a happy face and stepping with the back of their heels. A day well lived is seen even in the evening.
I am still walking up Lithuli Avenue when I meet Tim. Tim and I have come from far, to put it simple. Primary school. Looking at us today, however, one won’t agree easily. One of us is cheerfully dressed while the other is in anything that was available today. One has car keys, the other might just die without knowing the difference between a clutch and that other thing in the driver’s cockpit. One has a confident step, the other doesn’t. So I report my situation to Tim. Straight and quick. I tell him what life has been doing to me all these days and that I’ve spent all my age today roaming Lithuli and Ronald Ngala for a job. Tim scratches his head and laughs one of those hearty laughs fat guys use to soothe the poor. The idiot hasn’t changed since campus. He tells me I’m not serious I don’t have a job. He eyes me critically while saying so. I tell him I am. I’m even willing to swear to him but I discover he is in a hurry so I let him go. I only lie to give a call later. But as he is swallowed by the street, I don’t know whether I detest or understand him. After all, he was always a good guy.
In the chaos, the events of my day still find time to play at the back of my mind.
Flashback, six hours earlier. My twelfth destination today is this school near Landhies Road. I’m grateful when the guards allow me in without much ado. I ask to be taken to the principal’s office. I’m told to first sign a visitor’s book at the reception. I try to hide my second name by merely scribbling it in a doctor’s handwriting. The lady gets so nosy she asks that I write it “well”. Well, I do. Then hell breaks loose. She asks to search me again. Then she runs that thing round my bag. When she isn’t satisfied that it has not picked a nuke, she asks me to open the bag, much to my embarrassment because apart from the CVs, the bag has a boxer short I don’t remember putting there.
Then she tells me to move back and wait as she thinks. You’ve never seen a woman, uniformed in her security company regalia, just sit down on a bench and start thinking about you. You wonder if she is thinking of offering coffee or planning to rise with a speedy mawashigeri right into your crotch. Or she is thinking to want me: about which I will accept as long as her salary is five figure and she can handle my creditors pronto. She then tells me to leave the bag behind. In fact, sit here on the bench as I book an appointment for you. In the long run:
“We don’t allow people like you in. I’m being frank,” she says. Her tone is so cold you wouldn’t need to buy a fridge.
At another place they told me the staff was full. Another told me to drop the CV and wait see if they’d call. Another asked why I had not included my marital status in the CV, before asking me to go write a “full” CV. A gate man told me not to waste time because there were no vacancies for people like me. Another told me the earliest I could talk to the management was today next month, by which time I’d have died of hunger or Nairobi cold or anything that kills a person without food and shelter.

unemployment dilemma

Another secretary just offered laughter. She even put down her mirror and face brush. Then she gave me that look. “Here we don’t hire.” But why didn’t you just tell me that instead of laughing? “Your name sounds coast, and don’t you see it funny a coastlander seeking a job in Nairobi? Actually, though there are no vacancies now, the policy here is also too stringent a coastlander has never ever landed a job.”
Maybe I should start rehearsing Kimvita or Kingazija so I pass as a son of a sheikh or sharif and gate crash religious ceremonies where there is free food and incense. I’m told religion is the third most profitable business after drugs and politics. The name has already done half the job. But I can still prefix it Alhaj or Mawlana. Alhaj Mawlana Bakari Selemani Al-Sanduku bin Sheikh.
Last week I made a career threatening mistake and I regret. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here. I was welcomed well. Then the boss must have been fascinated by my CV because the next thing I was told was, let’s discuss the salary. And they began at 6 effing K. I said no. I didn’t tell them I was expecting at least 35 starting. I said 20. In the full hour of our negotiation, they had only managed 5 hundred on top of the 6K. My travelling and lunch expenses would total to 7K. So I declined. And left. But on the way I decide to come back to take it. Just to fool hunger, fear, the landlord and other collective enemies of being. When I come back, I’m told the young man leaving has just taken the job already. That is the week I also learnt that a man can cry in the escalator, soak in the tears and dry before hitting the ground floor.
I ascend Landhies Road, leaving Race Course, and take the child born of Landhies Road and River Road towards Kenya Cinema. It is called Ronald Ngala. The city sun is so wild today it should be taken to a game park. I try to ignore. Those who know Nairobi well also know that its evening sun always picks a fling with the face as you climb RN towards Kenya Cinema and no matter how indifferent you pose, you will always blink first. I eventually give up at Temple Road. I off-shoot to the left.
I am to come back to Ngala’s street a dejected man. I’ve just fired my 19th and last round of ammunition and nothing has come of it.
They don’t take anyone with less than a four-year experience. There has to be a way I could buy on River Road those four years so I see their next excuse, those idiots.
So here I am on the queue. The latest bus left almost one and half hours ago and we continue to hope. A school girl has collapsed for standing too long and she is receiving first aid (only reason I put on clean underwear). A street acrobat has performed and left. I look at the fast food shop next to us and it reminds me the last time I took a meal. Lord, yesterday can look so distant. If I land a job, I promise to make to God burnt and fried offering in the name of GMO chicken everyday till I die.
A man comes. Looks like a mental case until I hear him speak. He preaches that we should all go to live in Kibera or Mathare. One, there is no queuing to wait for a Mathare bus for three hours. Two, and here he points at a madam behind me, you can always save on your rent and fare surplus such that at the end of the year you can buy your own X-Japan Probox or at worst Hitler’s Volkswagen. The lady is initially stone-faced but she cracks a big laugh as the queue joins in. See, humour at last. I try to do the maths. I think the man has a point. Only that, wait, and where is his car now? He answers this almost immediately. Night boys. Night boys have been on his sleeves all the years he has struggled to save towards buying one. From his tone, I’m sure there is not even a bicycle wire to his name and if he died now we would have to plead with the county government to buy him a shroud. Or if he is Christian, a second hand casket and shirt. But one thing is clear. There are thieves on both ends of the road. When you come to the city you only need to choose which thieves you prefer.
As we await the bus, and pray to God to remove obstacles from its way, my reality slowly settles in. The debts, the pledges, the responsibilities, the expectations. I may really want to go back to that house and rest. Spread myself on the floor or couch and air off the small molestations the city has done me. But again, every metre towards home is a metre towards my landlord, towards that shopkeeper, towards the water guy, towards an empty house and an even emptier stomach – another metre towards the depths in the coals of hell.
As the bus finally zooms to life, ready to fight for space and time on the road, I sigh and call it a day fairly spent. Tomorrow, if God so willeth, I’ll be back.

Image Credit

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.

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