Keeping quiet is a powerful exercise to the mind. But the girls sitting next to me don’t know anything about this. Over the last hour they’ve howled, cried, shrieked, mooed and I don’t know what else is in store for the remaining distance. I’m traumatised already. Next time I’ll think hard before accepting to sit in a bus next to girls with small painted lips. Instead of planning how to take progress to the village, I’ve been reduced to a man in need of a psychiatrist’s number. Continue reading “Birthday Queen”
Every evening they go back home. They will climb the rickety pieces of metal that age has left in what once was a shiny Japanese machine. They will struggle to find space next to the window, and then caught up in the traffic jam they will witness day slowly turn into night, a ritual nature performs every day to remind them that though they wallow through unending murk, this world is still far away from being their home. That a black and white rat keeps gnawing at the rope that suspends them in this abyss. They will die.
Eventually the bus will win the battle. They will get back to the house to find the kids already asleep. They will be dog tired and sweaty. There will be the urge to get a shower, but due to the recent water rationing by the eternally angry landlord, and because there is no more breath left to pick a quarrel with the self-imposed lord, the little that is left in the cans will be reserved for cooking. By Allah, nobody in this house showers tonight.
I am in the banking hall queuing behind another youngish man of like 27. There is just one other man ahead of him. Looks like someone around the final lap to retirement. Should start considering hiring a lawyer and an expert in writing wills and passing by the priest’s house every day to say hi. Grey hair but still with a humble belly to stomach the queue on a Friday morning.
A TV screen beams from the corner above TELLER 001. There is a graduation ceremony in progress. I should wonder why the watchman has just told the woman behind me not to use her phone yet there is TV in the house. Like who still watches the sad things in this day of LoL and LFMAO?
But this is their place so we shall have to be content with the foolishness and anything else that carries the tag home-made, including pens tied on strings like we are high school kids out to steal anything to cheat our exams with.
There is a multitude at the graduation. Innocent young people whose dream of white collar jobs has half been met. Bingo-I-have-done-my-part looks. The journey for doctors and teachers and secretaries has just begun. Straight people like the woman behind me – those who believe that the world is some kind of a programmed software where the good you do returns as good here on earth and tomorrow in heaven.
Today powers to read and do are being conferred upon thieves, looters, nepotists, rapists to go out there and fail governments and institutions.
So that they go out there and hold worker strikes whenever they feel the pay is low. Or smoke from their balconies on Saturday evenings and admire the young chap coming home from school.
The old fella has now engaged the younger chap in talk. He talks silently like good rich people do. I think he is a doctor. Or professor at a serious university. (Apologies soldiers and police.)
He wasted 25 years, he says. I think I’m hearing that the millionth time from their talk where most words are swallowed however much I try to follow.
The younger guy just shifts his weight to the right leg and continues listening as his senior goes on expounding something I don’t get. 25 years. Is that his son at home? Or that Jammeh guy of Gambia? Or a certain man from Torah? Or me? 25 what? Problem with eavesdroppers is that you will take home your thousand guesses but that’s all. Even when you mean well as a decent eavesdropper in a banking hall.
I guess that is what life is.
A few years ago queues were something else. I remember that first time I queued at the St Peters dining hall. I was small but with the ego of a village hero. Being a village hero was a feat for the fortunate few. Like the children of teachers and the chief and an occasional doctor. And those of us who passed primary school exams with fluffing colours, whatever that meant.
So I’m queuing and wondering how my village would have been without geniuses like myself and this prefect comes, looks around and points at me. Today we are eating meat and I’m only a few steps from the cook’s window. So I suppress my tears as I go to him. He tells me to go back to the dormitory and tie that thing round my neck before I qualify for eating. When I come back the queue is from here to Angola. Where did those idiots come from all of a sudden! I stand at the furthest end and start counting people’s blessings. When I’m halfway to the serving window the food is over. The matron is asked to explain. She says students were taking a second or third share. So Mr Ogola, a strict young fella we’d named Odilaks for Odili Samalu, that man Ogola takes about 50 boys to the staff room and whips their arses flat. I’m among them. By the time he is done with us, we are in the school farm paying for the crimes of humanity since the fall from glory.
For the four years I stayed at the school, that was a norm we all came to accept. Queuing and being picked upon to account for what we didn’t know.
I’ve hated queues. Were it not for the value people placed on schools, I’d have found something better to use my time on. Queues represent suppression. Oppression. Education.
Education back then was that great thing. It would raise us from the dust to those clouds up there. Sorry to glory. But sixteen years through the system and then you realise you were taught, ever, shit. To seek jobs. Even those graduating believe there are jobs out there tucked in the armpit of life. Cool jobs with stickers reading their names and shouting I am single please take me. Clean shirts and hot showers and weekend journeys on hired caravans.
Not queuing here waiting for meagre salary from cashiers who see a thief in everyone.
It narrows down to the criminals that are our parents. Even made very good constitutions illegalising theft and sex to under 18s. But omitted to mention the crime of giving birth and then sending the young ones to other people’s people to beg for jobs.
They need jail at an MS prison. 30 years to the father and 31 to the mother. You can’t go giving birth to young men who will be professional beggars standing in banks for meager coins and expect that nature will absolve you just like that. Nature isn’t a fool.
But nature is a fool. These criminals continue to appease their groins to bring forth candidates of torture without fear or, and I hate cliches, favour. The government is even providing free maternity and improving road networks for them.
Sometime in the future we shall all stand with our Creator. Even those who don’t believe this. And then we shall be found guilty of coveting our bosses’ daughters. And then we shall be shown furnaces breathing badly and asked to choose our places. Joji, my guy at Patel’s, will be the first criminal to be thrown in. Spent his entire adulthood stealing Patel’s bread whenever he left his desk for a lunchtime nap. Andrew, my landlord’s son, will be thrown in second because he has never discovered how to tame his south pole on people’s wives. Between my Maths teachers at Musenda and the guy I met in Burundi burning charcoal near a morgue, one will be thrown in next. And on and on.
Well, we lived expecting this anyway. And some of us will even start walking to the place to check areas they can set up water and shoe repair sheds. You always know someone who knows someone in paradise and so getting contraband water smuggled from the angels’ tanks or new pairs of shoes stolen from a king’s son won’t be that big deal. Or even ex-UK freezers and ACs.
So we will start walking and looking around for any wet sand to put out the fire with. And then there will be a loud shout of protest from the group at the back. Turning, we shall all look around and fail to see the person.
Who was that, God will ask.
There will be murmurs as the chimneys bellow asking the King if there are any more humans to be roasted.
The shout will come again. A bark. We people will forget about the furnaces and take a step aside. Then in the middle shall remain the man taking God head-on in his backyard.
He will be dark and weak with a drunken look. It will be Otisman the carpenter. He will even be wearing his Gor Mahia shirt.
What are you saying?
I am not going to that fire.
What? You disobey me in my day when you squandered yours in brothels and that joint near your wife’s house?
I am not going. We are not going. We shall go after seeing you in the furnaces with us. You gave us foolish parents. You put us in a tough world. Saw us struggle through school. We struggled to live. Then you killed us. Is that a lesser crime than our spending hours of pleasure at the shrine you just called brothel?
I think many things standing here in this queue.
We wake up so early for 30 days and then have to queue at a local bank for the payback. We even discipline ourselves you would think the money will stick on our palms beyond next Friday.
Have you ever been late for work and then found that the buses plying your route are on strike because of a foolish thing like police extortion or drivers’ strike? And then you sit there wanting to cry and ask God for a miracle? And then you see one of the buses by the bend of the street and everybody has already rushed there to fight for the few remaining seats? Boss, then you beat yourself and hold your phone in the hand and fold your sleeves and enter the pushing and shoving. Then you beat a great number of them and manage to get in when it still matters. You even get yourself a seat by the window and feel like breaking the wind so the weaklings know who rules this jungle. In all fairness who told them to sleep on the job? In this city, folks don’t blink….
And when you are still congratulating yourself and sympathising with those left outside, the conductor comes and says everyone should have their fare in loose money. You have it in loose and you could have helped the guy next seat if he asked. Then the conductor says that those alighting at the Stadium shall pay half the money. You jump. That’s how an own fart begins to smell bad…..
Smells bad because you are not going that route of the Stadium. The only play thing in your route is your life. You are in the wrong vehicle.
Have you ever gone through this?
That is life.
Do your work and let’s all sit together and wait our deaths.
People get inspiration from the oddest and unlikeliest things. There are those who will look at your nose and return from menopause. Others will see an eagle pass and remember their late grandpa. Others will see fire and think fire; others rain and see themselves affluent. We are not the same.
While still in campus, I used to take an early morning run with a girl who wanted to burn the fat around her hips. Another guy saw us and asked to join us. It wasn’t even asking. He just announced that he’d be joining us and I didn’t find words to turn him down. Soon a reputation I had built came crashing down. Part of it even hit my nose. The guy had now overthrown the government and the girl took orders from him and forgot her excellent me.
THERE IS a roommate I once had on campus. Kefo didn’t pose as a less informed guy. Actually I almost made him my model because I liked anything from the city and he had spent all his childhood growing tall in Nairobi. This guy used to play loud music every day of the year. And so I began to play loud music every day of the year. Until another friend asked me why. And I asked Kefo why. He told me he was doing it so that when we quarrel, it should not appear like we were shouting at each other since we were friends. The next week I moved out.
THERE IS this leopard-skin fashion that has been trending with Nairobi girls. It came with a sad face but after it got our attention, whatever we have seen! Now you are a village girl and when you come to Nairobi your first assignment is to ape the leopard girl. Time has eaten its length and she looks like she measured her fabric from an A4 sheet and spared enough to cover her table. She feels so confident swaying her tail down the street. My dear girl, don’t be fooled to take home that fashion. It is just that Nairobi people are too busy to stop and start laughing at a cartoon. And cartoons don’t pay you when you laugh.
THERE IS a trend of people who walk village paths with their Sanyo radios wrapped in a yellow cloth. What we see in the village! Don’t ape. Don’t ape people who walk with a tilted gait. Don’t ape people who walk down the lane with giant headphones. Don’t ape people who carry three phones to a meeting. Don’t ape single people who stay in five-bedroomed houses. Don’t ape the guy who runs too fast, too much. You don’t know what drives them.
And the people who follow them are clueless.
SUCH PEOPLE, all of them, smell the village. The only way a village look can help you is when we take you to the game park and tell visiting Jews that look, this is how the grandfather of Pharaoh looked like. This is how he used to throw his swag before dames. In which case we shall get sacks of the shekel as you stay caged and guarded from yourself. And we shall buy you food from China and attend conferences to give endless requests to the international community to help protect you and elephants from poachers.
Find better role models, if there is anything like that.
Mine is Muhammad Ali. The great.
I have followed Muhammad Ali since childhood. And I have read him since I grew my first piece of beard.
I don’t even like boxing. I don’t feel cool when someone WHUPS another’s ass. Ali himself didn’t like boxing. He loathed seeing two niggers unshit each other to be cheered by whites. So it is not the boxing bit. I like Ali because of how he plucked and harmonised the keys of his instrument. How he blended his poetry, oration, his punches, his career; how he blended life and filtered what he became.
Don’t emulate the girl that puts on A4.
Challenge. Ali is gone.
He who was the greatest. He knocked down many. He was the outboxer whose name caused pressure to managers and coaches. Robust and fast, his trade was to knock down people. Now he is down and nobody has knocked him. Used by Time. Time used him to settle scores with those Time didn’t want. Time used his undercut and knocked down Time’s losers. When Time pointed at Frazier, it was Ali who planted a jab on Frazier, and Frazier went down. When Time chose Cleveland ‘Big Cat’ Williams, Ali planted himself on him, and the Big Cat was shred into pieces of a rat’s fur. When Time felt upset with Foreman, it was Ali’s punch that went for Foreman’s jugular, and Foreman went down. Ali rumbled in the jungle before and after 1974. But it was not Ali that rumbled. It was his master. TIME. Life. Death.
The greatness of life lies in death. Therein we find completion and actualisation. We become complete. We get deprived of want or need. In death no record is broken. Only peace. And peace. Ali has been initiated into the sect of the peaceful.
There are very nice lines Housman writes. I have never found better poetry.
The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.
So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.
And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.
He rumbled in the jungle in ‘74. He died at 74.
And to God be His.