Help me please. I want to know where Benix is.
I’ve looked for Benix for the last many years. I’ve searched on the web. I’ve asked on radio. I’ve checked my pockets and behind the house at home. I’ve done everything. Yet Benix hasn’t popped up and said I’m here nigger.
He came to our school when speaking Swahili and English was stigmatised. Nobody put on shoes. Being very clean was like being a leper. Such obscenities as having a school pullover were unheard of, leave alone having a wristwatch or carrying a lunch box. They were the days when raising your hand to answer a question, one that had not been first translated to vernacular first, was next to being a cruel deity. Benix was all these. Anyone to befriend him would not only have to be alienated from the main population but also suffer the constant language swings.
I singlehandedly took up the challenge.
Now in our school we had bullies. There was Angachi and there was Angatia. They were in the upper class, but there is no way you could walk with a Swahili speaking guy and fail to be known and made fun of by everyone. All the laughter was directed at me because naturally, I was the only of the two who could understand their ridicule. Ngongo would come next to me, hold his nose blocked and say “Ching chong chi”, which might have as well been all the English he knew. Rashidi wa’Ambetsa – Ambetsa of eye glasses, not the village elder – would pretend to be doing something next to us, and so when Benix spoke, and I answered, it was hell. He would laugh loudly, inviting others to the party. Then he would explain the joke to them, and they would all laugh and come to sit next to us to get more first-hand jokes.
It was tough. But Benix didn’t disappoint. For instance, I was the first of the boys to ever reach the Sports Complex in the heart of the Kingdom. It was a long walk from Khushianda, through Khumwitoti, Eshimuli, Nucleus, and eventually Managerial at Bookers. Then watching Nick Yakhama and Barnaba Lumbasi sweet-talk the ball on the ground of the Complex and score wild goals. The nerds “ching-chong-chi-ed” me but still I had stories to tell, especially on weekends when my kin boys were forced by family circumstances to be near me. The stories were so nice that in the subsequent weekends, Wanga, Yusuf, Abu and other dirty boys tagged along. Of course this time we got ‘arrested’ and tortured by the Securicor officers who manned the estates from street children, and on seeing Benix spared, these guys hated him and me the most.
I went through all this. And at last Benix gets lost in the abyss of the world. Nature swallows him like he never existed. His entrance and exeunt in the script is like that of lightning in a veiled night. Nature doesn’t care to even write a certificate of presence. Not even a rainbow in the sky to mourn a lost friend.
What can be the medicine for ridding ourselves of such memories? Where do we go so that we may forget our childhood friends? If friends can get lost, let their memories go with them. But if the memories don’t go, we remain in debt.
Where is Benix?
I’ve tried to ponder where the guy could be. The world is fuckin big. He could be somewhere in Vietnam ploughing in the rice fields. He could be in Bangladesh playing for a second tier football team. He could be a drug baron in Colombia or could have been taken by a rich momo to Johannesburg. He could be a taxi driver in Accra or a gay activist in Kampala. Hey, he could be anywhere on this third planet. Many are times I have looked at the global map and wondered where the African could be.
Sometimes I imagine he could be in real shit. Perhaps he is somewhere in a maximum prison writing love messages and sending nude pictures of Asian women to unsuspecting youths who seek love. Or he could have dropped out of school due to illness and is up to date still bedridden. Or he stole someone’s shoes and the witch made him an herbivore. Or he could have married a boxer wife who punches him every eight o’clock in the morning and eleven thirty at night. Guesswork can make you roam the world!
In life, there are two ways we lose touch with people. The first is death and the second is this. Death is better a loss because you are always sure you know where the lost one is. It is painful, but at least you sit in warmer evenings and know you don’t need to look for them beyond the mound of soil. But there is not a more troubling loss than the loss where your person walks into the unknown. You suffer the loss and so suffer the frustration that they are somewhere, that they need you to find them, that every day you are indebted to their search. Yet the world on its own does not shrink to lessen the space you have to cover looking for them.
Could he be in Kismayu holding the gun by day and transporting contraband charcoal at night? Could his bones be in rubble somewhere along the Indonesian coast? Was he swallowed by a hyena in the hills of Nyang’eti in Kisii (where I suppose he came from)? Was he on board the Malaysian plane and now is a dairy farmer on Pluto or Venus? Where is my friend, oh Lord?
He was the only friend whom my mother accepted. Not that Nyawando had issues with other boys; it’s just that she encouraged me every time to stick to good guys. He had passed the QA test of Nyawando. She would welcome the boy as her true son and ensure he was comfortable. If he didn’t find me, Nyawando would always be eager to report: that young man of Swahili was looking for you.
I still have a book where we used to write new words learnt in other books. It is a 32 page green ‘Flamingo’ and sometimes I take moments looking at the writings. People come from far, I tell you. I look at his neat letters and the diligence they insinuate. I sigh. Nature has this cruel way of disregarding human preference. It cuts ties every midnight and afternoon and you never question. It shuffles us like cards and looks on as we scuffle to holes we think are safe, before it shuffles us again. Shakespeare was right; we are the locusts to wanton boys.
With Benix we did many things. We went to swim together. We went to hunt squirrels together. I taught him how to hold a catapult and he showed me edible leaves from the forest. He taught me good handwriting at school, making his small F’s stand entirely above the line as opposed to how we used to drown them halfway. Through him I learnt that ‘answer’ for questions, ‘anther’ for flowers and the Swahili ‘anza’ are hell different. He was a guy who was literally my teacher, my mentor and, even at that age, my role model.
I don’t remember well how they left town. I think Mama Benix must have fallen sick or something. It is a blurred vision and I don’t have to be right. Or they were going to their rural home for the school holiday. Or they were going to see their father. I remember him telling me he’d write a letter (the LFMAO generation can’t understand what letters were). Then we said bye and he went.
I never saw him again and he never wrote.
Did he die? Did he drop out of school? Can I get him on Facebook? Where do people get their long lost friends? Tell me how your landlord finds you.
Sometimes I walk on the streets of Nairobi and bump into this guy that I saw long ago. Sometimes I meet a girl who takes me to a cafe and gives me her story since we broke up. Sometimes I meet mean people we last saw on campus. Sometimes I bump into the neighbour to the friend of a cousin. These things happen almost every time I go to town. Yet I have never met Benix or anyone who looks like he can write small F’s entirely above the line.
One of you could have seen Benix. He was last dark skinned, had a medium build of a boy, smiled a lot and his name appeared at the top of the class merit list. He spoke with a mild stammer. I remember too little of him: whether he had a scar on his left cheek or if his hairline advanced towards the brows. He had a brother called Oscar. If he grew older than eighteen, he must have been given a national ID. The name is Benix Ochieng Zinkoba.
There must be a favour you can do me without money.