We are in the house for the evening. She is helping with the dishes while I burn something to eat. Today is unusually cold and quiet. The outsider would say it is because it is a Sunday and people have retired this early to rest their bodies so they can report to their masters tomorrow in good time. It is the wrong side of the year to be fired because of arriving at work late. And with the depreciating coin and escalating living costs, the #1 thing you need to secure more than life and women is a job. But that is not the reason it is all quiet.Continue reading “Hessy wa Kayole”
One day you will be walking. Maybe late into the night; maybe earlier – choose your time in the hand of destiny. And the winds of seduction will blow you from the City Centre. They will blow you along a beaten road with hooting motorists. Buses will speed by, making sure that the dust on the walkway rises into your throat. You will pass street signs, street lights and street children. The winds will blow harder. You will see young men dart into the dark while someone shrieks after them. You will see a vagabond beating some tin into a stove. You will walk further and further at the gust of the winds.Continue reading “We All Have a Hand”
You even don’t know my name. Imagine. You don’t know the most handsome son of God this South of the Sahara. The most loyal worker Patel can ever get this year and the next. Also add that I am the most polished pearl of the land, and that you still don’t know me and that you are not already feeling ashamed. What a sad day for humanity, world!
Every evening I use the Kayole bus.
Now, when you are using buses in this city, especially those going to the promised land, there are things you must always make dear to yourself. Like making sure there is maximum security near your pockets. Put a presidential guard if possible. Add the navy to the south, army to the north and air force to the west. Then you can stand in the east with the rising sun and with a sword, a shotgun, a whip and a dog.
Some of the things you hear will sound crazy, but wait.
At some point in the beginning of time and global history, the world conspired to bring together sadist men and lock them all under one roof. That one roof was called Kayole buses.
When you board that green Forward bus, chances of getting a seat are so mean you can make quinine from them and go home. So you will stand in the aisle and hold the upper rail with the left hand and a seat-top with the other. That is your outright fate after a World Push and Shove tournament in the tussle to get in. You will turn and make a 360 degrees sweep to see who got lucky to find space. There will be an old woman some three faces away towards the back and you will not even bother to wonder how she survived the jostling to get in before you. With Kayole, you don’t question things. Anyone can do anything especially if it means going back to the house after a hard day dealing with humanity.
With the bus full, the driver will still honk, partly in want of more passengers and partly as a hobby. The conductor will be outside, banging, calling that last man and insulting the girl who refuses to use his good bus. There will be smoke that Japan exported to the African air, and we in the bus will look at those outside and wonder how unlucky they were not to secure a place to heaven. You will wonder if they will ever reach home in time. No signs of life across their foreheads. Somehow, Patel prefers to release you in the evening when you are all fully weathered and dry you can’t even smile to those fortunate enough to secure a slot in the bus when the fares are still muscular.
At a point, the bus crew will get tired and you shall leave.
And when you are nearing City Stadium, the conductor will start collecting his loot. In peace everybody will oblige. Giving back what belongs to Caesar. Caesar here should be pictured as a stout man with a sad look that resembles a lone cow. He is even putting on that Russian cap with furred flaps drooping down to cover his ears. Now he will tap at your shoulder – poke and when you turn to look, he will drill those sad eyes into you and ask for his dues.
When you extract that fifty bob note, it will be with utmost caution. You will look left, look right, look left again, and when you are satisfied that the young man in a jeans jacket is not looking at you, you will slide it out. Utmost secrecy. Then the conductor will slip it between his fingers and move to the next person. You will release the hand clutching the seat-top and tap at him. Then you will remind him to give you your change. Twenty bob is no child’s play. But he will say you wait.
As the bus overlaps along Jogoo Road, you will be a worried and happy man. Happy that you are finally finding the deliverance to your house after a long day at Patel’s. Sad that the conductor has not given you back the twenty bob. If the Jew of Nazareth was sold with three bob, you know what twenty can do? It can sell him six times and still there will be two left. And if you bargain well twenty can buy you a good crowd of disciples. So just as the bus reaches Uchumi and stops to load in more bodies, you can hold the patience no more. You tap at Cow-Face and remind him your money. The music is loud but he has heard. Grudgingly, he will take a coin from his pocket and fix it into your palm and you will see veins all over his face because of the pain in the effort. You will not care. You will notify the presidential guard to allow your hand into the pocket to deposit the cash.
Come Manyanja Road.
Every time the bus hits into a pothole, it announces the lesser distance between you and the shanties of Kayole. You can feel the stale air of kerosene smoke that camps under every roof in Kayole. You can see the tenant on the run after failing to honour his landlord’s deadline. You can still see those three boys who mugged you near the DO’s office last year. You are like a prophet – visions.
With every hit Forward makes into a hole, you feel the stares around yourself coiling into your pockets to check where the change is. With a standard Kayole bus carrying at least a policeman, a tax collector, a loan defaulter, a school dropout, and an abortion client at any moment, you always can’t guess when and where the stealing hand will come from. Plus, the driver is always a tax evader with a good record of renewing the DL in his house. Who else would drive so consistently in the wrong lane and still show a middle finger to the cops?
And so every moment you feel an object rub near your pockets, you shift your stance and check to see that nobody is dipping an unwanted finger into a sovereign territory. Otherwise you are also prepared for a nuclear war.
Somewhere around the CDF stop you will stop. More humanity will pour into the bus and squeeze between the rows of seats. A man carrying a hen in his hands will complain. The music is full blast, so nobody will hear. A woman with a bag on her laps will call out reminding the conductor to make sure to drop her at Bee Centre. More yelps yet you will not know if the conductor is hearing or the music is genuinely above. You will feel your back pocket and confirm your wallet still in place. You are now sweating so bad.
But you are going home. You are going mile and mile away from Patel and his cruel hand and you know nothing can ever feel as good.
Eventually you alight at Masimba. Masimbasimbasimba. That’s how the name first sounds. Before you alight you feel your pocket and see your wallet there. Your change is also still in place. You smile a soft one and thank God. At last.
Now on the ground you see the guy selling sugarcane and all of a sudden you feel hunger from here to Bujumbura. You say, Papa, mh, er, buy some sugarcane….
That is the time discoveries are made in history.
You don’t have the 20 bob. The wallet is missing. You have been robbed. Less than a minute. Gun salute, thief. A minute and the most decorated son of the Kingdom has been robbed before everyone! The guys didn’t even negotiate. They didn’t want to waste time asking if you are related to Faraoh. They didn’t even bother to check your world ranking in face looks. They simply took what they wanted like phew!
You will want to call madam to tell her this. Then you discover your phone, too, has also left.
You crouch by the road side and let the world pass. You want sometime off.
Sulking, you feel your chest to see if your heart is still there. A heart is there alright, but from the pulse rate you are sure the thief replaced your good heart with that of an old witch from Pemba. One who wakes up every evening to eat shrubs and snails and tails of lizards. And when you look around yourself, you are already seeing people as reptiles with tails hidden in their butts. You can’t even sing yourself a dirge. Pemba is bad.
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.
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.