The idiot dropped me at Serena so I’m walking. Every time I’m on Harambee Avenue I will always feel uneasy. The stretch from Uhuru Highway to Moi Avenue seems to have been designed to say bad things to Nairobians from the other side of the coin. To remind them where they belong. You may look at the magnificence of the young night and say whoa. We that are from the second side swallow the air and wait to get our freedom from Tom Mboya down.
The bus dropped me at Serena and turned yet I had paid for the trip to Town Centre. Take some time to imagine how good I am I walked away without breaking an idiot’s nose. I think I can make a good husband some other time even without the promise of a love bonus. You don’t come across such a combination of good looks and endurance in every man you meet.
Though have resisted the urge to punch the guy and now the thing is still eating me up like fire. I feel oppressed. Mistreated. Used.
When we were in school I never made it to the upper bracket of our class. But at least the teachers who ate my school fees used to tell my mother that I would make it in life. They said I would take her from poverty. Maybe become a lawyer or engineer or doctor. Or pilot. Hehe. Crafted the lie so perfectly so many times my mother sometimes put a chicken in a carton and sent a cyclist to school. So that at 14 the picture I had about the adult me was of myself living a happy life. I don’t know if cars could make me happy now but I pictured myself driving and having many light-skinned kids in my big house. Like their mother. A good wife who knows how to read and write and who can speak in her nose. Servants to attend to the family. A large residence manned by uniformed guys. A dog to catch thieves. (Sorry. I’ve never liked dogs. A monkey). And many other great things.
None of the dream had a place where I was to be dropped off by a greedy tout before reaching my destination. Or running Patel’s errands till this late. God, I hate myself. Or being rained on on a cold hostile street. When I come back to the world I want to be born me again. The real me with feelings and hunger and with the courage to kick idiots out of my way. So I can tell Patel to his face to go to hell. Or break the tout’s nose and tie him at the back of my bicycle and cycle the expanse of the city without fearing conformists or law alarmists. Just me without traces of the stupid waste of time packaged and euphemised for the poor as education.
I am now along Moi Avenue. For starters, Moi Avenue begins the separation of the Nairobis. It gives the signal that you are about to cross over to the other world. To the east lies the world for us. To the west lies the world we built for them with parking lots for larger cars. There is a no-man’s land between the street and Tom Mboya that stands for a kind of becoming.
I cross over towards the other side and soon I am at Ambassador. Almost the entire population of the sub-Saharan Africa is buying or admiring a thing or two outside Mr Price. Yet half of the humanity outside Lazarus Bar alone can give Mugabe the vote down South. I wade in it, clutching onto my pockets in case I need extra oxygen and military supplies in the crowd.
There is this boy I see as I am about to negotiate to Ronald Ngala. He has that bottle of glue glued to his nose. There is a large but visibly stained and dirty jacket around his frame. He is looking into the restaurant with a stretched hand. Our eyes meet just as he takes another look at the street, perhaps marking where the county askaris are in the rain. There is a way he doesn’t flinch to look away when our eyes meet and I wonder what happened to children being children. He is instead swift into action and before you can think of it he has a hand outstretched to me.
Let me confess. I hate Nairobi beggars. You can judge me but I still hate people whose profession is to go to the streets to beg. People who think it is our duty to wake up deep in the night and walk stretches of miles to Patel’s only for them to wait to wake up at the guard of a midday sun and come to the street feeling entitled, like a birthright, to the little money Patel has given us. Just because you don’t have one leg? Get some life. In any case, it is not like I have your leg hidden in my house to give you all that entitlement. You can always go back to the person who took away your leg because even in the worst court room, he is the only person who could be owing you. So that any beggar and Patel’s worker don’t mix.
But the feeling I have today is so different. I feel the cold in the street, the hunger under Nairobi’s dark cloud, the scare of marauding police bullets, the threat of government officials walking home with too little in their pockets. The drizzle that has been here since morning. What if he is the genuine case?
I am David, he says, looking emptily into the street.
Then I think: here are God’s bits of wood. A perfect piece of God’s art suffering at the neglect of religious men who are in a hurry to go castigate people’s sins, pay tithes and wait for the kingdom of heaven. Men and women worked up to go to their houses before some jerk wields a knife over their throats. What crap.
We are going back to write stories where we shall expect fans to congratulate us even when we’ve written the most legendary nonsense since legends came. (I know a guy, a former friend, who won a girlfriend because of his words. We even stopped being friends after the accomplishment). We shall hope that they call us good names and insert emojis. Clean emojis without a trace of dirt. Emojis that don’t sniff glue. Those which even when sad still shield us from the ugly image of a tattered life without food or a roof over our bones. We shall sit in the bus and grow our silence till we get home. Those with car loans will sit behind the wheel and think how the interest rate has been a thorn in their ash. Perhaps a thought of our death will come, and we shall quickly push it back to where it came from because, who doesn’t know the devil is a confused liar! We shall want to think of life. Our life. Happy life. Endless life.
I ask him if his father can take him back. He asks me which father. I say your father, father. He says the man will beat him again. I don’t know if it’s the guy in Kawangware or back upcountry. Which fathers beat their kids from the streets? Or who doesn’t beat them up?
The street is wild. You can think without getting an answer who gave birth to Nairobi drivers. Because it is only them who understand the thing they do hooting and honking like we are in some Nazi affair. Touts are all over calling, outshouting each other.
I check in my pockets. I haven’t forgotten I have only a hundred bob for the week. It’s just what faith sometimes does to you. You check your pocket expecting that God has added something. This time though, God has left me in the rain. I know I should, will have to part with something though elsewhere I feel I need the money more. A beggar dressed differently and with a morrow to fear for.
The drizzle has people hurrying past. In Nairobi everyone is late. One day there will be a very tragic accident where speeding pedestrians will collide head-on. There is this time I knocked into someone so bad but he did not have time to stop and be told sorry. One other day an idiot dropped his wallet and when I followed to give it to him he ran even faster. So when they hurry by I understand their haste. They have been chasing time since Stone Age and will keep chasing it into the Apocalypse. Some spend half their adult life trying to be home early because mademoiselle will be mad, and using the other half apologising and explaining.
They are going to see a magician. A spouse going to cheat. And a girl going to abort. A man going to a dentist. A kid going to die. A tout taking home the loot from services not delivered.
The street clock reads 9:37pm.
The drizzle is now increasing in tempo. Street families are forced to migrate their bedrooms to other rooms with a favourable climate. I rub my palms to get over the biting cold. This is the time I wish I was born rich. What do rich people do at 9.37pm?
At 9.37pm, big people have already thought over simple decisions like whom to fire. Or whom to arrest. They lie in their beds cuddled in the hands of their young lovers. They don’t think. They feel. Love. Away from the drizzle. They are preparing to make money while they sleep. Their name will be mentioned all over the empire, and children of a lesser God will keep feeling their omnipresence miles away from their bedrooms.
While it is drizzling on the sons of men, people like Patel are listening to chants. See who is unfair here? An idiot has his wife paying dowry on his sadist head and the same woman dedicates all 9.37pms in her world chanting under the foolish ash of the overweight loser. And you talk of fairness in life? Please.
And one night in the middle of 9.37pm God rewards them with a flower. A flower who will take the long curly hair and red lips of Mrs Patel but will be made to sit in the noise of her father’s garage and be forbidden speech to good workers like myself; we who don’t go shouting about our royal lineage that stretches in the night drizzle all the way to the grand noble Farao of Misri. Tso.
Suddenly there is a scuffle. I first hear a loud cry, followed by a push and shove in the crowd. Then there is a gunshot and the humanity disperses in 12 different directions. I think David takes the third route while I take the tenth. Perhaps God’s way of saving a worried African from the test of giving what doesn’t exist. And let every goat eat on the size of its rope.
Afterthought YEAR: 2099 MATCH: African vs Time FULL-TIME SCORE: 0 – 10