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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gravity is good.