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?
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.