Dismissed and the Afterlife

Buses spewing exhaust poison. Rain coming. Conductors yelling. Heat sizzling. Locals clutching at their pockets. Strangers walking freely. Dust. Hate. Night fast closing in. A prostitute coming for your hand. People rushing to nowhere. Hundreds dismissed. Beggars with bowls. Street book vendor calling out. City Council police chasing after hawkers. Honking. Madness. Nonsense.

You will go down from Jamia to Bazaar to Tom Mboya. Then you will turn right past Eastmart to Archives just in case you bump into him as you go home. Right again to Tom Mboya statue. Touts are killing themselves shouting Kawangware. Utawala. Pipeline. Doni. Why don’t they shut up, these idiots? You pass Lazarus Inn. There is this little urge to get in there. Maybe catch a bimbo and learn to pour one for the way. For thy stomach’s sake, said the Jew. Don’t, Another Voice. Just a pint, says Voice One; in honour of the Jew or another. No, replies the Conservatist. Drown, let the rain wash away your tears, says Celine Dion. Just a lick, comrade; it’s gonna be a tough era, says Voice One. You are on a mission, you need a clear head, interjects Voice 156.

This dialogue is useless because you are already at the Double M buses and the people queuing there with an entitlement to affluence on their faces need more prayers. Waiting for a bus for more than two hours and still have to pay an entire 70 bob needs sympathy. You pity them. They will meet tomorrow at their places of work and brag to their friends about how their buses are disciplined you have to queue for a lifetime. Their friends will not want to be left behind and so they will say but our buses have no bedbugs. Those who queued yesterday will say bedbugs were long eliminated from their buses, and that now the only problem is the distance. Those who didn’t queue will ask those who queued to change their hood. Those who queued will say they can’t stay in a dirty estate. Later on there will be gossip. How that woman thinks she has it all. And swearing.

You are happy you are done with life. Three hours from now you will be far away from pain and worry. Peace.

You had gone to the Jamia shoe polishing stands for change you left three years ago. That day, the guy polished your shoes and when you reached home you realised he had given you less change. For three years you’ve been wanting to come remind him but this is that jungle where you never find time to go check on your debtors.

Before you came, you prayed to God that the man remembers you. He should remember people he owes and remember them well. And the exact amount. But you found his stall has been demolished or moved. Instead there was a Securicor van parking there with a barking dog that didn’t seem to like your scent. You don’t know whether the dog has eaten him and his stall and is now targeting anyone who ever transacted with the man. Poor soul. So he is not paying?

You cross to the side of Kenya Cinema and go on with Moi Avenue. Bomb Blast, rest in peace. Haile Selassie. Uhuru Highway. Now at this junction you realise how lost you are. This is not the direction good people take if they truly want to get to Kayole.

You turn. You look into the sky that is now dark. But before you say a thing you remember you and God are no longer on speaking terms. So you quietly cross to the afterlife of Haile Selassie and branch left on Parliament Road, right onto the famous Harambee Avenue. You pass between Office of the President and that of his deputy. Heavily guarded by scary faces in uniform. You want to do something scarier than their faces and see how trouble tastes; but then you remember there’s Alshabaab. Let everyone play with their age mates. You even stopped caring about our police when you realised there are majority of you trapped in other tougher frontiers. Losing battles. Unlike soldiers whose wars are aided by the invisible international community, yours are fought in your houses, in your minds, alone, in everything you touch and there’s no foreign aid.

As you leave behind this giant of KICC you feel the urge to go climb up there and square out things now. Offer yourself to gravity. There is sweetness in a death you choose yourself other than a random appointment by a God whom you don’t want to talk to. A death where you are the one with the strings.

The events earlier in the day come back. You see her again, the false smile, the exaggerated courtesy, all looks and nothing in the head. Normally when the HR girl calls you to her office, it is to discuss something about pay rise or a bonus. So today’s experience happened so fast in the wrong direction you’ve taken hours to come to terms.

You woke up employed and covered by the love of God. A God willing to talk. Then she called you in her office and said you are no longer needed by the firm. Remove all the pretension, that is what she said.

“We really thank everyone in the company for the efforts. Especially you…. However, the company is blah blah and we are paying you the salary for this month upfront. From tomorrow you may use the time to find another job. Make sure you clear with all departments before Wednesday next week.”

Find another job, how? How do I leave a community I have built to go find another job? And even if that were possible, which jobs are there this part of the equator waiting to be found by fools who have been deemed redundant elsewhere?

But you swallow that as you jump aside to avoid hitting a speeding garbage truck.

Every civilisation has its magic, and the magic of this land is between Moi Avenue and Tom Mboya Street. The side of the avenue has slugging people in suits and dinner dresses and heels. When you cross down to the street side you find the remnants of civilisation churned and spat in all cruelty and colour. A different world. Here is where a trolley man can knock you and you die and nobody asks. Where man and metal are both on the way competing for time and space. Where man looks at fate in the eye and says dare. This is the place you meet man in his unsophisticated pack. The beast. The wild hound. The undomesticated raw matter of the jungle.

People continue to rush. To their next disappointments. The rain has shied away but still they won’t stop. In and out of holes. Crazy noise typical of a Nairobi evening.

At last you reach OTC unharmed and take a Forward. It is congested as normal with sweating human matter. Men and women taking a virtual break from a day of slavery. Their shoes are smelling. Their collars are brown. They have small cold eyes which try to hide sadness. Those whose lives are torn but try to maintain a public image. Torn hearts. Torn families. Torn underwear.

Next to you is a large woman who has occupied her seat and three quarters of yours. You are choking. At the back a bastard is crying and if you had chance you would strangle it with the mother. There is a man talking loudly on the phone to someone in Homabay. A live chicken is clacking somewhere in a carton. Nobody seems concerned that a woman has grabbed your space in a public vehicle. It’s okay, let them.

Right now they are busy ignoring you and thinking they have a birthright to the city. When it’s thirty years in this place and their sun has set and their kinsmen are all over the place disturbing people for funeral contributions, that’s when lines will be drawn. For now let them think we are idiots together.

You try to imagine any other reason you should be alive. There is none. There is nothing to show for the efforts you have put in life in the last three years since you started working with New Africa Researchers as a report writer. You have always told yourself that the little bits you were putting in for humanity would come to bear fruits one day. Now every piece of that dynasty of bits has come crumbling. A small meeting with a HR girl and all your future goes just like that.

With God.

Many are the nights you didn’t sleep so the firm stands. You spent your evenings and weekends in office. You lost a wife and two girlfriends. For the firm. And now the firm sees it better to lose you!

You are not angry. You are disappointed. Feel cheated. Used. It drills down your heart you hear the innocent organ heave. What have they done me? Your forehead is hot. You need someone to punch. Or somewhere you can lock yourself and cry like a big man.

Along Jogoo Road the bus stops several times and to add passengers. Now you are close to three times the capacity in there and you can’t move a limb. Can’t even rotate your eye. The only evidence that you are still alive is the loud music now playing and you are feeling good because the child’s yells and the chicken have been subdued by Lucky Dube. Or the little thing has been strangled or suffocated. Thank God. Oh no, not God. Just thanks. The music. The Devil. Anything but not God.

Somebody told me about it

When I was still a little boy

He said to me, crime does not pay

He said to me, education is the key, yeah

As a little boy I thought I knew

What I was doing, yeah man

But today here I am in jail

God doesn’t create people to let them suffer. God doesn’t break the spirit committed to serving humanity. You were dedicated to your work. In all occasions you chose work over friends and family. Sometimes people said you had alienated yourself, killed your social fibre. You’d become colder. You worked. You didn’t commit yourself because you wanted more money or praise from above. You did it because to you the company was that helpless infant that needed cuddling and pampering. God said so. Now that same God has rewarded you with a dismissal. He has even made you the oppressed stock of lazy folks who think life is about taking a bus to town every day to look for money and returning in the evening with yelling children and sweating adults.

I looked all around me

But to see nothing

But four grey walls staring at me

You look at them. You have been like them for years. You have sat where they sit. You have been in the multitude of insects crossing the city to the other end seeking fortunes. You have had worries about the jam and arriving late. A prisoner rotating in a cell. Now there is nowhere to arrive late and you are even more worried.

Somehow, the conductor squeezes himself into the mass of desperadoes and it is your turn to give the tithes. Everything involving you parting with money is now a bitter affair. You are running broke. Oblivious, the man takes your money in a way you feel arrogant and there’s nothing you can do. The XXL woman next to you is so mean she can’t allow your hand easy journey back after you’ve given your fare. You might not know many things but you know some people who will really roast in heaven. Just the first day and they are treating you badly already.

dismissed

DismissedYou were foolish, says Voice 886.

No, I was not, replies you.

You got fooled. Threw away your time, she insists.

No, I was not foolish.

I am not foolish. I am not foolish.

I am not!

I am not foolish. What is foolish is love. Work, commitment, innocence, life, everything. If I were to see tomorrow I’d write about the principles of work. Three, never get emotionally attached to your job no matter how many times the boss lies you are part of the institution. Two, do at most what is in your contract and don’t add a grain. One, steal from your boss. Steal his money. Steal his hours. Go to the kitchen and steal sugar. Steal the mineral water he leaves on his desk. Steal the brown bread in the fridge. Steal spoons. Steal his books. Steal pens. Steal tissue paper. Steal a tile from the floor. Steal water from the tap. Steal everything until you are the only thing unstolen. The steal yourself. So that when the HR woman smiles sheepishly and delivers her message, you can easily cut her speech, tear a big fart, slam her door and walk home.

You hear the tout calling for more passengers. This is Hamza estate. The bus has already stopped and so has Dube paused. More people get in. You see the irony of life. People squeeze into places they are not supposed to, people are forced out of places they are supposed to be. If the capitalist at New Africa Researchers focused this much on retaining those who enter their circles, maybe things would be different now.

The bus chokes a bit, then leaves Hamza.

Many years have gone by now

Still no sign of you Daddy

Mother died of heart attack

Many years ago

When she heard that you were married again

Now, I’m the only one left….

But I was trying. I worked to fix things. Three years of fixing. I wasn’t running away from anyone. Day by fucking day I was scrapping away the shadow of poverty, hunger and disease.

Forgive me Sarah. Sometimes I said bad things. Sometimes I seemed to forget about you. Most times I was away. I thought I was pursuing a future for us. Now I lost you and I’ve lost it. When our daughter grows up, tell her I loved her so much.

Always.

Sign

What’s life?

This bus might crash here and the best people will do is to take photos and post on Facebook without the slightest disclaimer of graphic levels. Maybe someone will zoom in on the idiot crying at the back, by then nothing more than a flat mass of meat without a name, and get a few minutes to type ‘gone too soon’. As if there is an age for dying. When is it not too soon to die, sixty, maybe? Naive.

A lazy journalist will find the suicidal note in your pocket and bring all the theories those halfwits in newsrooms can create. A story of just four or five lines. ‘Shock As Suicide Note Is Discovered in Pocket of Crash Victim’. ‘How Victim Predicted Own Death’. Then it will be over. Tomorrow buses transporting workers and lesbians and donkey meat will pass here without care. Life will go on.

With God out of your life, you realise fate is not doing reliably. Nothing stands with the oppressor and serves you right. The people that mattered now don’t mind you. You saw betrayal in the eye of the HR girl. You didn’t know whether to sympathise with her or let it pass.

How she said ‘we’ like the company and her are same. Inseparable like this. And you were now a you with no name. You started working with the company three years ago. She came last year. You interviewed her. You interned her. Now she is the super we, you are an anonymous you. She said so firmly. You deserve to be disappointed.

Maybe she is innocent. She is a survivor of patriarchy. Beating the odds to rise in a system of penises will leave you with agefuls to shed off the imbalance of an inferiority complex and a self-imposed importance. You actually saw too much penis envy in that smile but because smearing a little discipline onto the cheeks of women is punishable by law these sides, she managed for home without a missing tooth and with her Third World makeup intact. Bullocks constitution.

The bus stops at Masimba and you alight. You walk to your small dingy cubicle at the periphery of the hood. Today you realise that even where you thought you belonged, you have all along been an outskirts man.

Your room is as you left it. The light falls on every corner of poverty. Every piece welcomes you. But you don’t want to belong to poverty. You don’t belong here. Here was to be a path, not a destination. A road to greatness. Three years, still waiting for Goddot.

No. I don’t belong here.

I’m not of here.

I don’t.

You leave the note on the table. Depends on if she will get here first before the rats. You have a final look at the room, at the things that have determined the real you, and say you will miss them. You close the door slowly. You go to the stairs and climb up. Second floor. Third floor. Fourth floor. Roof top. You walk to the side of the gate. Think of the people back in the village and what they will say. Where were they to say it when it mattered? The landlord will say how you should have told him your troubles; that same beast that could not allow you a minute more with pending rent. You walk to the brink and look at the city one last time.

You raise your foot. You jerk the other.

Space.

Gravity is good.

Terra Firma.

Life.

PHOTO

When the Hustle Extends Home

One day you will arrive home very late. You will drop your bag by the door, fall into the sofa, cool the hustle for 10 minutes and then go to the kitchen to send condolences to your body. The stomach especially. Then you will make a discovery – that there is no matchbox. All the shops are closed.

You are very hungry. Actually you haven’t eaten anything today apart from a few cups of tea you took at a sister’s. So you check all cupboards for anything edible. You look under the bed and in the bathroom. Tsiro. You check the kitchen sink just in case last week’s yams stayed. Tsiro, completely.

So, dejected, you grudgingly go to your bed and face the ceiling as your phone tells you what people answered Zuckerburg today. You still don’t believe that you are doing the night hungry. There is a kilo of flour in the kitchen. Next to it is another kilo or so of beans sent from the village. Behind that bookshelf in the corner is a small pack of Sossi Soya (God bless Adventists). The taps have running water. There is salt and the dishes are not very dirty. So how does a man sleep hungry with all these in the house?

You can’t believe that a single stick with an ugly head can be so decisive on a man’s happiness. Folklore has those tales of   Simbi the crippled hunchback who saves a whole village from ogres. Or Daudi the small boy who kills Koliatsi. Or the Greek king who kills his father and fathers his siblings. But this is not folklore. This is a serious matter. This is about food.

How can you spend a dreamless night because of a small stick that doesn’t even know English?

Then an idea strikes. Every time you have money, you usually drop coins in the unlikeliest places so that when you go broke you will bump into them and smile to the shop. You remember that particular day you were washing a sock and found in it a 50-bob note so new it almost cut your nails. So when you buy a matchbox you always ‘throw’ a few sticks in this corner and that. Now you actually find one on the bathroom window and another behind the Shakespeares on the shelf. You are purring: you only need whiskers and six more lives to change your taxonomy. Your impatient stomach gives a congratulatory groan. You tell him to relax because the battle is not yet over.

And you are right – the battle is not yet over. The last time you shook your gas cylinder was three weeks ago and it was patriotic. But the lazy flame that plays on top of the burner today is not patriotic at all. You try to adjust the nozzle but it remains lazy. You regret knowing Kefin.

Whenever he comes around, he takes everything under his colony. He is the hot-fingered idiot who thinks you cannot do without him. So he comes to your house in your absence, drinks all the juice and when you return, you find him resting his legs on the table with a toothpick in the mouth and your tv’s remote in his hand. Then he asks you if you have money to buy flour and you think about whether to reveal that you have some. Then you reluctantly feign warmth and tell him there is flour in the kitchen and he asks you if you are talking about the “little that was in the drawer”. Your heart sinks. He tells you it was so little he now feels hungry again. He even tells you your blender has refused to work. You should kill him.

You marvel about the criminal. He came to town as Kefin. Then clothes were bought and Kefin became Kefo. He dated a Zambian and became Foke. He began watching EPL and became Fokensky. Of late he calls himself Foke-Handsamu and has a chain round his neck. So Foke-Handsamu keeps expleting your resources. Today was the day for flour and you have to pay the price of dying alone in a quiet Kayole.

You take a few more minutes hating Foke-Handsamu. Then another stomach rumble takes your mind back to the present. You are in a lonely kitchen. Sad. Apart from something that sounds like a chant somewhere, and a distant rev of a bad engine, everything else is quiet. It’s funny listening to a silent Nairobi after the day’s violences and bustles. A Nairobi by night suddenly becomes a withered flower. A former girl now with flaccid breasts and a distant look. If you wish to conquer Nairobi, night is the time. Come when the streets and corners have surrendered to the beat of nothingness. Don’t even stealth – just come. If you can be nursing the most stubborn hunger pangs and the city cannot discover, what else can peck at its discovery glands?

Oh God, am I running crazy? What things am I thinking when others are asleep? At this age I expected to be a settled man. I should be leading a straight life. I should be coming home to warm food and open arms. Lord, I should be teaching my second born how to mount on a bicycle. Your teachers, Lord, assured me that if I paid attention and handed in assignments in time I’d become successful. Lord, a man who staggers back home because of the hustles is successful? When he meets a cold house without a matchstick? When he has friends like Foke and landlords who say to him 36 words a year? Good Lord, when is your rescue?

Before you think of doing the dirty dishes, the flame increases itself, then does the best thing it can do on a famished night. It looks you in the eye and with all due disrespect, siphons itself back into the cylinder in some three seconds of pure magic. In that span you see your waning hope and the hopelessness that you can’t do anything to contain it. You shut your eyes tight and then open them. It is 0037hrs EAT, 2016.

Eff the Iraqis and eff the Saudis. A bunch of very useless Arabs whose only business is to have long noses and wear women’s dresses and turbans. And give little gas. If they gave good rates on petrol, you’d still have a few millilitres in that cylinder enough to attend to a meal. Eff the Americans too. Eff effing eff. You ask how such big nations could sit on five-star committees and discuss nothing but how to keep hungry a small person as yourself. You shake your head and hope God has taken note.

Hustler's kitchen
Hustler’s kitchen

You look at the cylinder, then touch your stomach, and you get the appetite to break down and cry. You think about Foke, probably snoring on a full stomach and next to his woman. You try to picture him early in the day, opening the nozzle just to feel the smell of it, and now you feel the urge for murder. You feel the urge to get his head and smash it on a cliff. Or clasp his neck until he gives his last sigh.

You go back to the bed.

But a bed shall not contain the son of man at this hour. You throw away the blanket and stand in the middle of your room. You suppress a yawn and listen to the dead of the city. Right now there is just one thing you pray from God. That if you should die, let it not be tonight. Let it not be that hunger is what defeated your bones. Let it not be laughed that you are he who went to heaven on an empty stomach. You already know Jibril as that jovial guy who will tease you about your hunger. You’d like to hang out with him and go to the cyber every evening (if heaven has evenings) and go watch AFC Leopards every Saturday. And now if those girls in heaven were to know that you died a hungry man, well, what do women do with poor men? So God, I rest my case.

Then you jump. Eureka. Before you know what is happening, you are back into the kitchen and running the tap water into a jug as you whistle a Bob Marley tune. You even fart a long hollow one just to prove to the night who the real king is. Then you immerse the heater in the jug and step back to watch events unfold. After four minutes, you add flour and stir the melt using the heater as you enter the books of history as the first man to knead ugali in a plastic jug. You keep playing with the switch to moderate the heat. You feel the fumes. You give yourself hope and time. And a smile of happiness. God’s rescue isn’t far.

And behold, what product do you have other than steaming isichwala? I-si-chwaaa-laaa. You pour it onto a plate and without washing the equipment, pour water in a smaller cup, add Sossi, add salt, add oil, immerse the heater, switch it on, step back, and watch a second epic discovery in the catering world.

As you stand there, your mind wanders. Your eye takes you to the cooking stick on the rack and it reminds you the hollowness in life. You remember how Neli used to hold it. At the centre with her thump pointing down. Did she find a better lover? Does she hold another cooking stick for him? Does he appreciate and say the words you didn’t say? It reminds you that your son is gone away too. You feel bitter that the brute took away your boy and now you are alone and lonely. Everything in the room soon looks so huge. Sometimes you look into a drinking glass and you are no longer interested in the water because you fear to drown in its depths. There are memories when you open the door. There are memories when you comb your hair. There are memories when you look yourself in the mirror. Madmoiselle left her image and scent planted on every object in the house. Then she went, as they say, high and South. Now you don’t know where and how she is.

Is your son fine? Will he be raised by another man? Will he stand up one day and call you a traitor? That you left him? Will he ever know the void he left? How you missed him? Knowing his mother, you know he won’t. This even punches another kick into your heart and you see the nakedness of your soul. It grips you and reminds you how much vanity you pursue to justify the lie that life is something, matter; and not just matter but matter worth pursuing.

By now the chant from outside is clear. It is not a chant per se but prayer. The good neighbour has awoken his wife and son and they are in prayer although you can’t hear any word clearly.

You pause and think. You try to figure out what it is they are praying for. If another Foke swallowed their gas. Their boy is in a good school and they have a bicycle, what else? It beats you how the man can rouse his family this early just to pray. You listen as he says things punctuated with the constant amen of two softer voices. You again remember yourself. For six months you’ve prayed for promotion and better life but you are still here in a house without gas. Could it be because there are tricksters who wake up when others are asleep and seek more favours that your prayer is always dismissed? There should be a way to restrict these selfish prayers so that everyone prays fairly in daylight. You imagine the prayers you have done this evening alone and ponder if the angels entered your house or the man’s.

The smell of burning plastic brings you back to the present. It is the plastic cup. You quickly switch off the heater and examine the extent of the damage. You have just lost another cup. But it’s okay, you say as you harvest your food onto a dish and take a piece to taste. He-he.

He-he-he. It smells like the fart of a mangoose. But it is still Sossi; food. If the stomach has persevered the pangas of hunger pangs, a mangoose fart is nothing. Especially if that mangoose fart will get rid of the condition called hunger. Where I come from, it is your friend whatever kills hunger. That’s why he who feeds you beats your mother as you watch. So come on, make it smell whatever animal fart as long as it it called food.

You sit down on the floor. You drill your hand into the melt of ugali and as your stomach welcomes your heart-felt condolences, the lights go off.

Image Credit

This Thing Will End

Mystery of God
Mystery of God and Nature

I used to think God a sadist. Killing people in Iraq and blinding generations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki; killing parents and leaving behind scores of hungry orphans; denying boys their teenage queens; making uncles flop at the elections; Tsunami; El Nino; many, many things. How does one who is not a sadist leave women barren and insist that so-and-so should always fail their high school exams? He should otherwise not allow the fat Arab downtown to fire me in the middle of the month when he knows everything about the bills to my name.

There are many more. Imagine you decide to pluck that splint part of your nail and thus you won’t have sleep for two consecutive nights. Such a small thing, but, son, you won’t get peace today, God says. And in life such small pieces of shit are what keep our happiness or the lack of it. Only a sadist could automate such a programme as this.

A memory happened.

If you visit my childhood you’ll get this man Indumuli. We all called him Ninja. First, his name was too long and we needed talk about him every day. Second, his ways were the ways of a ninja. Not that he dressed like those Ninjutsu Japs. I think it was because he was a loafer with a very mysterious lifestyle. And everyone feared him just the way they’d fear a dozen hands from Okinawa.

I never wondered why Indumuli was homeless. I think it is because we never regarded him as a living person. Even thinking about him was unthought of. Or because I was small. No one pointed out that he dressed in things that somehow resembled, and went for, clothes. People said his weed had no jokes.

Picture this. There is this guy who is always drunk. Smokes marijuana too. He is very hostile to children and very cold on adults. He sits by the road selling plastic bottles and you have never seen him sell one even on credit. You go through your memory and you can’t remember seeing anyone stand by his shop, which is an ant hill by the roadside where he sometimes sleeps deeply in wait for that miracle client.

Every time you come from school at the lunch break, you will keep passing by him in deep sleep under shelter of the sun itself. In the evening when you rush past, he sneers at you with cold red eyes. If you stare at him, his face contorts deeply as a first and second warning that you should find something better before it is found for you.

As kids we had different narratives about him. But the dominant and most terrifying was that Ninja was a threat to all the menfolk. There was this story that one kid once reported him home over some sin. So when father and son came to confront him, he beat the father up as other villagers looked on and then he forced this father to laugh. So we always feared to cross his line since we couldn’t imagine the fun in laughing when just fresh from a beating.

One day I was rushing to the chief’s centre to untether and drive home Maridadi, our cow. It was going to rain heavily. Now it happened that as I ran, someone on a bicycle almost rode into me and I had to do the sidestep. There was a trench by the side and so to keep balance and still avoid breaking my leg, I leapt far to the side of the road. You can guess whose bottles I rammed into.

You may also guess the terror and the speed I took off in.

The guy had actually not been asleep. The moment he heard the bottles crack, he shot up, first in fear, then in furry. He needed only a fraction of a second to identify the intruder and device a counter attack. With my daily fear of the mystery that he was, I was already some metres away in that fraction of a second. Even as a kid I understood how difficult it would be to be slapped and told to laugh loud. So I only heard some thunder behind me, and soon the market place was to witness a sprint marathon pitting a boy and a seller of bottles.

Perhaps people thought we were running from the rain too. But here was a matter of life and death. I don’t clearly recall how it ended. What I remember is that I was to change my route of going to school for the rest of my primary school studies. I also had to change the route of fetching the cow back from the chief’s camp.

It is now years later and I’m beginning to think deeply about this man. He didn’t die. Nobody knows where he is. The marijuana and brewer’s glass were not a choice he’d make by himself. It was something society assumed. It was something about being alienated from the rest; being made different.

He was sadist because he was lonely. Of course I have not made up this story. There are trusted guys I can take you to and they will narrate it exactly the way I have.

So back to God and being sadist. Got something about the whole affair? He doesn’t hustle at the bus stop for the congested last bus. Before he travels to another point, he is there already; always been there. He only talks to angels – angels who are very foolish, very mean, very dead unless he gives them wisdom, generosity and life. He doesn’t have a friend to confide in. He doesn’t have an equivalent with whom he can consult. He doesn’t call at the local FM station to ask about El Nino or the coupe in Burundi. What a life of (Shakespeare’s) aloneness!

Yet he is not alone. Yet he is not sadist. He simply plays his cards. He makes us only like the locust to the wanton boy. Every time he lets us loose, we call it a miracle. Widows, the sick, the lonely (etc) keep receiving the miracle. Yet their number of miracles do not supersede that of job seekers in a strange jungle.

Have you ever hustled for a job in six sexing months and then received that call on one hot Friday of October? And the guy on the other side clears his throat and asks if you are Mr Were (insert your ugly name)? And you say you are? Then she asks whether you remember applying for a job and attending the interview some two weeks back? And you start to sweat? And then with a grunt voice you say YES? Then she asks may you come over for salary negotiations? Then you praise God and put it on social media for friends and enemies? Have you?

Last Friday I received a call from Egypt. Hey, let’s all have a moment of silence and visualise where we left Egypt on the map. Egypt! Think of the Suez Canal and Aswan High Dam. Up there in the heart of the Sahara and pierced in the chest by the Tropic of Cancer. Egypt where my grandmothers once lived and whipped the asses of Jews. The cradle of civilisation. Think of the pyramids. Now, my call came from that Egypt. An Etisalat number.

She asked me to confirm my name and country. From the heavy accent on the other end, I knew without doubt it was an Egyptian woman, not some con in a maximum security prison. By the way, why do Egyptians fondle with the /r/’s when they talk?

It was the Director of the college. She asked whether I had applied for a teaching post at her facility. I nodded and said yes. Then she asked if it was me she had interviewed on-line. I said yes, yes it was me.

This came as one of those shocks that throw you to the ground. I had been walking along a street in Kayole checking new routes just in case fire broke out or the boys in the hood became interested in my phone. So I halted, moved to the edge of the streets, put the other hand in the pocket and smiled broadly. Every dog has its way of celebration when dung unhappens. In my mind I have already decided the maisonette I’m moving to when I get to Misri.

So the big message comes.

“We hiyarr-bai regret to info-rr-m you that yua-rr application did not go through,” she says. “Please try again next yia-rr.”

Sometimes the world around you has to stop so you choose how to be sad. This was that time. Everything remained still and mute for a decade. Gaining strength, I walked slowly to the nearest police station, didn’t enter, walked further home past the guy who sells ropes and went to bed for sixteen hours. When I finally woke up, I was still asking what the friend above gets when he makes me go through this. Didn’t I promise to fast if I got the job?

Live

I have always known I’ll go to heaven when I die. Known it for so long that at a point I began having visions of heaven whenever I dreamt in the exam room. I’d pass by the forbidden tree and head straight to the gardens under-which flowed milk rivers and wells of honey. We were taught things. Be good, respect your elders, refrain from adultery and heaven is all yours. So I became good, respected everyone with a walking staff and avoided the temptation of girls.

But life happens. Along the way virginity gets broken and you disrespect the madman down the street. My heaven, which should have started on earth, is still somewhere stuck in a traffic jam on a muddy road. Ask my university lecturer; I hear he is professor now.

See, I am walking home from a hectic walk in town looking for work. Completely famished and finished. I’ve today brushed through the eastern end of the CBD. I’ve been through the Kamukunji and Gikomba markets. Only two people told me they had vacancies: the brothel woman who said she was looking for a 30-35 year old man for her homosexual clients; and the Congolese man who told me he was looking for someone to help move ‘some stuff’ across the border. Balls. But that is now behind me. I’ve left all that in the darkening city and my mind now is on getting back to Kayole where I belong.

Last week I got work and hopefully my first salary will arrive in December. A buddy I know put it on Facebook they needed actors. Well, I’ve never acted before. But I attended the auditions and the seven of us who showed up were taken and asked to bring three more. Turned out the director was a guy who was a year ahead of me in high school. He has made it now. Speaks with a baritone, an accent and looks at you like a viper. I don’t lie. I disliked that look from the first day and promised to seek another job. I’ve failed. I’ll have to work with that.

So I’m officially actor-per-excellence. I am currently working on making that hearty laugh that absorbs the audience into you and convinces them to laugh. That’s my role in the play. So far I’m not doing badly. I’ve stood before my mirror and made some squeaks. Promising. Laugh like a rat, then like a cat. Soon I’ll be laughing like a man. And when I start laughing like the prince I am, I’ll hit the headlines in Nollywood or River-Road and James Bond will finally seek my signature. That’s the best I’ll do for now.

The director shouts at us. When you forget your lines, he shouts at you. When he thinks you don’t project your voice, he shouts at you. When his wife farts at night, he keeps the thing in his mind and comes to say you are boring.

Basically I am more educated than him. I went to university when he was still thinking of bridging in Mathematics, Music and English. But fate has it that we must all share the same platform with him above. He will do the talking and I will do the listening. I have to do something with this life before I go to heaven.

Otherwise what’s life if we don’t make the best of it? Who will admit you in his heaven if all you did was sit as other men built roads and cities in the air? Heaven is for the strong.

Life
Life and the living.

Ever imagined what it will be like when you finally let go of air and surrender to the clouds? Personally, my death will be the most unnoticed thing in the kingdom. You don’t expect a common loafer running an uninteresting blog to ruffle them feathers, hey? A small timid man who never had a girlfriend and whose life was a misery. A small unknown man whom the village sent to the university, did whatever it is small men do there, and came back home after seven years.  Without a degree.

People will gather at my mother’s house. A few will be smoking. A sad face here and theeeeeere. No alcohol.  Perhaps cooking smoke here and there across the compound, if it won’t drizzle.

My sisters will have come with their children in nylon shirts and the neighbours will be hoping to hold the one photograph doing rounds – just so they know the Silent One. A friend or two from campus – one will have tears in his eyes because he is never going to revenge the bad things I did to him. Midday. That’s when we bury these sides.

And then it shall be said: Herein; herein in this shrewd lies a dead man, son of a dead man. Herein, they’ll say, lies a prince. Herein lies a noble man, son of our noblest, and our best. He lived the best example (here my mother will hold it no more. She’ll break into tears again). The man who now sleeps was the most intelligent fibre to walk in this kingdom. Had the university not stood in his way, he’d be holder of several degrees. He’d not have lived a poor living in the city. He’d have died a decent death, not on a stage rehearsing how to laugh. But we are powerless before fate. We celebrate his life and pray for the best. From God we come, and to him is our return. Till we meet….

After the funeral, people will disperse and life will go on as usual. Wind will still blow. Rain will fall. The director’s wife will continue to fart and he will continue to shout at the remaining actors each following day. I will lie beneath that mound, start smelling, become maggot food, and after seven weeks, the bachelor will be forgotten on earth. I will be in heaven.

How old are you? What do you do with your miserable life? Thank you.