My name is Were wa’Shitseswa, lastborn son of a dead man. I am here to say things that you may or may not have known, things which you may or may not like. At a point, you may agree with my words. At another, you may want to crave for my blood. But the thing, mate, is that I am here to say serious things, and this is how I begin
12.30pm: This queue is long. Very long it is. We have been close companions since some one and half hours ago, and the only change that has occurred is that it has gone from long to longer than long. But who cares? It is end month and I am waiting to talk to the money-letting wall. It is pay day, nigger. If the bank people were to tell me to wait another two days, or three – provided they talked to my landlord – I could stay here and add them a fourth day of patient staying.
I am not complaining.
The sun is hot. Sweat torrents are in some marathon races all over my everywhere. My forehead. My scalp. My groin. My armpits. (armPITS). My thighs. My legs. I feel my toes are in some kind of a flood down there, and as unlikely as it may be, I think they are all in the sweating race too.
A phone rings. The fat woman in front of me literally dives for her purse on her left shoulder. She checks sideways as if there were a thief amongst us. Her voice is as sweet as the cologne she wears. She is brown too. She assures some sir on the other end that, by God, she will be meeting him today evening at some hour she does not mention. She again apologises for having no money; that she can afford only one hundred and eighty seven thousand today. Ei!
I take my phone from my breast pocket. In as much as I don’t want to let people see the old thing, I need to browse and chat with people. Globalisation, you know. Call it old, but this Chinese thing surfs the internet like hell, especially when you have credit. Today is payday, remember. Money is there. Or, in more realistic terms, money is at least about to be there. Shortly. Just shortly.
“Sorry. You have insufficient….”
Don’t pretend. I know you receive such texts, or the person next to you, or the person next to the person next to you, or whomever I know you know or, hell, all of you. So you know what exactly walks through my heart as this message hits my eye even before I press any of the old faded buttons of this good browser-enabled Chinese phone.
The street, when I look, is congested. People rushing here and there, seemingly to either get money or spend it. Either to steal from another, or to be robbed in this hot summer sun. Nowadays the world has turned itself into trouble by letting money know exactly how valuable it is, such that women give birth not on the go-yee-and-fill-the-earth-mission but for what my college teacher used to call the wallet-filling assignment. A Prado, as I look in thought, nearly knocks down a young couple, and I think the blame is not on the driver, nor the innocent young man, but the lady in high heeled shoes, whose horizontally piercing chest seems to drive some attitude into her skull. If she continues walking like that, she will lose a buttock or two one of these good days. Hey nigger, don’t do much into them. It is none of your business, nigger.
When happy, I like calling myself nigger. Those American movies!
The people on this line are too inhuman. Why, if I may ask, are they ahead of me on this queue? That they came earlier? Okay, you seem to beat me there. But again nigger, read ‘happiness’, why did they come earlier? Why couldn’t they arrive here at 12.46 past midnight? Yes, you defend them, but I know you cannot tell me why they could not come at 12.46 past midnight. You cannot even tell why they came not at 12.45pm, nor even 12.44pm. You see? You just stand there and know why they came at eight in the morning as you have heard some of them claim! Good thing is, though, whatever explanation you theorise, we are all still on the queue, nigger, and more, the money letting wall in not functioning, at least at the moment. So who betters who?
1.23pm: I shift my weight from the left leg to the right. But I have just done the reverse a few seconds ago. The right leg therefore complains bitterly and I am forced to return the weight to its rightful owner. It is its turn to carry the stomach that gives it energy and the head that works at the village school to get income for every member of this body; trouser for the tired legs and shoes for the cracked feet below.
That village school, come to think of it again. I have been being a teacher at Akuripa Nyanje Memorial Community Secondary School for the Bright Students Only for the last very few months and I can say I am an unhappy teacher. Unhappy. First, though in the countryside, the food never seems to be enough. Even my friend Etwati has been complaining to the cook with no change effected. Mr. Linani, for those who know him, always leaves the compound after the lunch meal to console his stomach at a nearby food kiosk. Miss. Okuta, as young as she is, can testify this. The food, the food….
Then the workload. I am the only teacher of Arabic. The school is three streamed. Every class has approximately fifty five students. Each day I teach every one of them how to speak like an orient Arab, and sometimes they look like they are getting it. Then I mark the assignments which, bitterly, are written in a third language between Arabic and their varied vernaculars.
But it is pay day and I know even Etwati, the meal-time opposition leader, is smiling wherever he is. I smile.
Yesterday, the landlord came for his money. Today is February second, which means he wanted his rent for November, December, January and this February of happiness. This time, he found me in the four walled thing we both call house. Poor calculation, poor me, poor thing.
“I want my money.” The son of a poor man doesn’t even know how to greet sleepy people before begging.
“Have a seat sir.” I pointed at my bed, the only furniture in the dim lit house.
“I want the rent.” He added firmly, without moving. There was a big dirty padlock in his hand, and he made sure I saw it and understood why he had come about an hour before dawn.
“Give me up to midday. I will bring the money plus advance payment for three more months. Trust me.”
I left the house immediately after. I am sure that at midday yesterday, he must have still been waiting for me and the many months’ payment. Yesterday I slept at Etwati’s home, where I feared lamenting that the food was still not enough. I borrowed two hundred from his mother for fare to where I am standing, waiting to talk to the wall of money. So if these people want us to wait, let them talk to my landlord and the mother to Etwati.
1.43 pm: People are now complaining on the queue. For the last three hours, the bank officials, who have been passing-passing here all the time, have been telling us to wait. We know how to wait, of course, but not for money for this long. A man with a big belly shouts at the bank’s security guard. The man of security, whose head is as black as I-dont-know-what, responds in some mothertongue, and some people laugh at the joke he has seemingly cracked. Our people! Finding humour even in a funeral like this, where we have come to mourn and bury our hope. I laugh.
2.05pm: Some of the people who had thought that they would be served before me have now left the queue and presently sit on the grass that is as hot as heat. Mr Nigger is still young. In fact, he is used to standing in the classrooms and rattling Arabic for at least eight hours and forty minutes a day, and apart from the food thing, he has never launched a complain.
I therefore use this chance to move a few paces ahead, until my head can peep into the small room where the banking staff is making repairs to my wall of hope. When I see them, dressed smartly like the Ugandan whose sister’s movements I am keenly following, hope is restored in me.
Nadia is the name of the Ugandan girl. I met her on the social media. I have met her in Kampala. In Busia. Two weeks ago in Mombasa. She is planning to visit me again very soon; reason why I am happy today is payday. I may forgive you to say that Nadia eats my money, but I will not be too friendly if you forgot to add that she is carrying my burden in her uterus, for thirty four weeks and two days now.
I am a hard worker, and I think it is twins or something more.
2.59pm: The bank’s chief machinerist – if that is a name – had promised us bitterly that the machine would start functioning before three. True to the idiot’s word, with just a minute left to this deadline, the first man on the queue is served and leaves smiling. I sigh. At least there is peace. Landlord, Nadia, Etwati and mother to Etwati. There is peace. With money, there is peace, so let every goat eat from the length of its tether.
Am I eating from the length of my tether, as the sages put it? Last month, I must have entered the classroom twice. The school kept on having functions and celebrations. First, it was the celebration for the past year, having qualified a student for the university, although a few days later we learnt that the cut-off point had been raised, and our village hero had been affected. Then there was the ceremony to celebrate our football team for having defeated a dreaded neighbouring team. Then there was the prayer day for opening the year in the hands of a god they talked about. Then there was … I remember them all. But the last was the two week break we took to elect our new head of state and senators. After that, as schools opened, I had taken Nadia out there where good men take their women, and doing things that only good handsome men like myself do to their women. I hear the principal has complained to some teacher about this. But do you know the story of the monitor lizard and the rock, where one said to the other that even if you keep quiet and swell I have defecated on you? Thank you.
From nowhere, as people now scramble back to the queue, a woman plants herself between me and the person in front of me. I push her out in a manner she cannot even attempt looking back at me. I am planning to launch a nuclear attack of words when I realise that she is the woman who received the call a few hours ago. Nigger, you hurt a rich man’s woman-friend!
I apologise. She comes back and does not even say thank you. I decide I dislike her. I will, however, buy Nadia some perfume like this woman’s.
3.33pm: Only three people are ahead of me. In other news, I am now three souls away from my salary. The school told me that this month, I would be receiving all my arrears for the previous three months. So, I am three lives away from my three months’ salary. It is even 3.33pm; what a coincidence! An accident. Life is about accidents, I see.
When these three people came here, they each wanted money. Now, how many road accidents have occurred today in the world? How many crawling insects have been treaded on by fat toes? How many vehicles have been run over by mightier trucks? It is only by chance that the vehicles appointed for accident were not the ones being used by these people. Otherwise, I could now be talking to the silent but wealthy wall, pressing buttons of money and cursing the landlord for scaring me into a refugee. In fact, if the these three people had been top government officials, and these officials happened to be in a Mercedes run over by a heavy duty truck from Malaba or Mombasa, the whole nation would be mourning with flags drawn half mast. That means that by this chance, I would be the only person on the queue today. I would have downloaded my three months’ salary from the wall and not even god (the god in whom I don’t believe) would have stopped me from the stinking and smelling richness.
Well, he will not stop me in a few minutes time.
People say they believe in god. What an irony? For three months, I have not been receiving my salary, where was that man? Where was the man (for I am made to understand that the thing called god is not female) when I have been barely surviving on the menu Mwalimu Etwati and Mwalimu Linani find fault in? Today is my day, and for those who believe in the abstract vacuum of a god, and dare to, let us meet in court.
The second man leaves, smiling. Now only two souls are separating me from buying Nadia the perfume of Madam Elderly-But-Beautiful whom, as I have said, I have decided to hate with poison. I look back at the nation lining up behind me, and I laugh inwardly. Money does wonders. It makes human beings wait! A woman about to bring life to earth yells in impatience, a man promised tomorrow’s job goes away sad, yet people waiting for money wait in patience and good conduct. I can barely see the face of the last person on the line, but I know wherever and whatever the person is, the person is patiently waiting.
3.39pm: I insert my card. The screen thing says “WELCOME MR. TSINDUKUSI. THIS IS MWANANCHI BANK, THE BANK WHERE WE BELONG.” The wall asks for my pin number and I pierce the buttons. “Thank you” it says in capital letters. “Thank shit” I breathe. “Do you want to make cash withdrawal Mr. Tsindukusi?” the wall asks its cliché question. “How else robot wall?” I think as I punch the “yes” button, then proceed to stating the amount and shaming the devil by punching the ‘OK’ button. I do everything in style. It is payday.
3.48pm: “Hallo Mr. Bursar?”
“I was just calling to confirm whether the salaries were disbursed for the B.O.G teachers.”
“Yes they were. Yesterday.”
“Was I on the list?”
“Yeah, everyone was, as usual.”
“You were on my list.”
“I have just….”
“But the principal instructed that your disbursement be made in cash. That you have some issues to sort out with him first.”
I slump. I think of the two weeks I was with Nadia, especially the end of the merrymaking period when my school records read AWOL. I scratch my salty forehead as I stare back into the traffic.