Stend Chang’aa

If you are going to the heart of the kingdom using the western frontier, you will pass through a village still making amends with the rapid passing of time. It looks at you with sad drooling eyes and begs to be looked at. It is tired. Even the wind walks here with great caution. The village stands on your way just before you reach Emayoni. But if you are going away to the neighbouring kingdom of Buganda, you will greet its wrinkled face before you get to Ejinja on before Ebusia. It is bowed. It is silent. It is dull. Its name is Stend Chang’aa.

Now how does someone begin to talk of Stend Chang’aa to a complete stranger? Eh? Where you come from, how do folks talk of a segregated village, a village pushed to the edge of civilisation because it refused to sing the song of conformity?

And yet when you look at the present day Stend Chang’aa you may be fooled. The shell you see hides the vibrancy that once rattled even the hardest of hearts. Stend Chang’aa was a rude village which allowed the mighty to reign before sending them where they belonged. It contained mountains and folded imaginary horns off the foreheads of the youth. But it was the older generation that saw it dance the dance of life and attract attention of all beholders.

A story is told of Mzee Akapenzo. He was among the first locals to make a name – breaking all odds to become a renowned worker at Pukas. Those days, being the driver of a sugarcane tractor was more than being the father of a Malia today. Akapenzo would come with his Chondia tractor, park it along the Ebusia-Elureko highway and then walk home to take maize or rabbit meat to his third wife. All along he would be flagged with villagers who wanted this or that.

People fought for respect till old age. Akapenzo earned it early in the morning of his life. His name was Akapenzo because he also knew how to write using a penzo, and he could read and write. So respected was he that he was included in almost every affair of Stend Chang’aa. He sat on every committee. When a man wanted to marry, Akapenzo was consulted. When a person wanted to send his child to school, it was Akapenzo who was tasked with approving the move. He sat on every dowry negotiation committee. Stray boys were taken to his home every Saturday to be disciplined. He was a commander of the small world that was Stend Chang’aa.

But he was a feared man too. Nobody talked to his daughters anyhow. Not even Manyasa the boy who had lived in Nakuru working in the kitchen of a Whiteman for seven months and twelve days. Nobody walked near his home beyond six because you would not only be beaten, but the villagers would also task you to run for your miserable life.

Just as life is life, he grew old and retirement age flung its doors for him. Others say that Pukas had a new manager who was cutting the number of workers. Whatever it was, Omukofu Akapenzo was relieved of his work. They gave him his FAS money, whatever Pukas meant with FAS, and home he went.

Every man has a dream. Just before the FAS had rested in his pocket, the dream that had eaten his head to give him a bald suddenly surfaced. This was a few days after checking in the bank. He knocked at the door of Kandia, a respected village smelter and self-declared mechanic one restless morning and they disappeared through the path winding in Wesaya’s cane plantation and took a Mawingo Bus to Nairobi. When they came back, they did not come back on a Mawingo. They weren’t walking either. Akapenzo had many stories about his new old Chevrolet and people came from far and wide to listen to him. Village children were even allowed to say it was theirs.

The second week he again talked to Kandia that evening. The following morning they awoke the village with a mad revving of the Chevrolet as children cheered and called themselves the blood of Akapenzo. In the evening, driver and mechanic revved back. At the back of the pickup was an old posho mill engine he would install in his home and name it after his mother-in-law, proud mother to his Makneta. Villagers had envied this man’s outstanding success once he bought the Chevrolet. But a posho mill made matters complicated because not even the area chief had attained the level of buying a posho mill and planting it in his home to rumble the village with the rumble of food, health and life. His fellow men agreed he was in a different league and it was rumoured that some women were already regretting why they had married their respective husbands when Akapenzo was still alive.

Week three, he took Makneta to Mombasa Makneta, his youngest wife. He said he was going to say sorry to his soul after working so hard so long for Pukas. Those days, the best sorry was to go and bathe in the water with salt. And true enough, he came days later looking better and carrying an extra kilo of himself. That was the week we saw words.

The father of Otwori sent out word that he was throwing a big bash. It travelled quick-quick like news of war. Soon elders were tricking in. I am the one who carried Kuka Aineah’s bag and so I was there with my eyes. Kuka Weyama was also there. Kuka Imondo was there. And two big pots of the water of the gods were also made to sit side by side with elders in that meeting of merry. And wasn’t that Omukhulundu Kweyu at the edge of the group? Omukhulundu Kweyu was a man who in one stride had given a son to the Arabs, built a big church in his compound and still never said no to invites for the water of the gods when elders invited. People respected him a lot and so in any meeting you had to ask yourself thrice if it was him you had seen or his caricature angel.

After blessing the water, elders began to do whatever it was they would do best that evening. The notorious young men who had unwisely responded to the call of elders were given a pot and a gourd of the water and strictly warned to go home immediately the drink was over.

It was not drinking that happened. People drank. People drank. And yet they drank again. That day water was like the water of swollen Nzioa. It was like the air we breathed. And soon the elders began to surrender, one after another. When you say Kuka Aineah dropped his head to the ground in a fruitless battle against the conquest of water, you are not playing with words. And he was not alone. The grandfather of that other boy even showed people his thighs and said that his wife loved urinating at the mukuru of their house. And the young men at the entrance scolded their greed and staggered to rest in the bushes near Akapenzo’s home, for it was a forbidden thing of a young man to rest on Akapenzo’s compound when he still had unmarried girls.

All this while, Akapenzo was just looking.

When it was clear the water had defeated both man and boy, he asked his second wife and mother to Makokha to bring a basin. Nabakolwe being the quick-footed mother ran to her Big House and came with one. Akapenzo ordered her to order Puchi to collect the remaining drink in the basin. Because Puchi was not around, she did it herself, constantly looking in the direction of her Whiteman for approval. The basin was now very full.

He called Nashibe, the wife with big legs. She brought soap and carried the trough to her Whiteman’s bathroom, a leaf-walled structure hidden next to the banana plantation behind the house. Not even Nashibe the mother of seven sons would ask him why he was bathing in the water of the gods. Well, he came out clean. Supported between the shoulders of two elderly men who were passing by when Nashibe and Nabakolwe first rend the air with wails of a dyeing husband. The other elders were dead in their sleep and if these passers-by had not rushed him to Mishen Hospital, bad things would have befallen the kingdom.

He is still alive today. You can visit him.

Another story is told of a teacher. This one was young. But he had change. He lived far away from Stend Chang’aa. But he was the son of the village and it was known where his umbilical cord rested. He came home whenever schools closed. This was one such time.

So when Mwalimu Fanueli went to the market to watch his team play, he found wonders at Sakwa’s video show. Young men and a few misguided ageing elders were there watching a European match when Ingwe was playing. He asked the owner to switch the channel to the one where Ingwe was playing. Being a respected man, his word was heeded and Sakwa did as commanded. But the boys had not seen Mwalimu well, so they resisted. Mwalimu Fanuel being a man of few words stood up and addressed them. Boys, he said, you are very young. Let me tell you that we shall not under this roof watch A Whiteman when Ingwe is playing.

Mumble. Murmur.

Okay, whoever doesn’t want to watch this, I will refund your money tenfold. And Mwalimu Fanuel was not broke that day. He gave then their multiplied refund, one after another, one after the other, and remained watching the game alone. Sakwa’s video show is nowadays called the Video Shop of Mwalimu. Being rich is euphemised as being Mwalimu. And being broke? Boys, find a new name.

Stend Chang’aa has honed talents. But now it looks so quiet you may think a city can be a nun. There was that famous night-runner called Oroya. Though he came from the east of the kingdom, he served the entire kingdom in equal measure. But when he visited Stend Chang’aa he did his work super well. Sleep was not as boring as it is today. Oroya would meet you near Mayoni or Matungu. He would officially tell you in his low voice that he would be your guest tonight. Before you understood it, he would be gone. Only to return during the night and be true to his word. Catch who? You would never trap him however much you tried. He would night-run you until it quenched his body, and then he would run back east before dawn. What a gone talent! Good old Oroya, the naked spice to the sleep of Stend Chang’aa.

Stend Chang’aa sits on stories.

Next week….

A Friend and Friendship

I will start it straight. The people of the Kingdom have a saying that omulayi w’ebuwanga ashina mumuse lulala. Dear Gentile, the good one of Wanga dances on the floor once. So I want to dance on this floor once and only once. And quick. Friend, the trouble with dancing is that you are assessed by those whose bones cannot twist but whose eyes are so sharp to pick the best dance of the year. You alone sweat; they alone judge. You must dance well because that is the only dance you will have. Unless you don’t want to be the omulayi of Ebuwanga. So this dance will be Brutus, using the crudest means here and there. It is thus perhaps paramount to state from the onset that I will hit badly “or else the story I am going to tell you will make no sense”.

Life has become difficult, yes. People don’t respect you. Everything is going to the dogs. Now you want God to bring a rain of fortune. Smoked fish, millet powder and iPhone. My friend, the woman who will give birth to the woman who will bear the grandfather of your liberator has not been born.

You sit there complaining about the weather and January. You spend your time cursing this and that. That you are broke. You now forget your laziness and curse January, an innocent month of God sacrificed at the front to open doors of blessings for you. Imagine having to come at the beginning of every year (because you’ve never seen July come first) and having to persevere with curses of people who have no clue how innocent you are.

You sit there gossiping people in Watsap groups and expect life to run smoothly. You gossip that girl in the hood when she passes. You gossip your in-laws when your partner goes to work and still hold you are okay. How? It is legal for people to dream of a Subaru before 30; but how many people do you need to gossip to get one? Last year one second-hand Impreza costed 760k gossips; it must have gone down with the fall in oil prices. Find out and let me know. Gossiper.

By the way there is nothing that demeans an intellectual as cheap talk. Nick went to town yesterday and dash dash. Hey, when will you build your life? I am announcing amnesty for the criminals who slander friends that leave social media groups. Three days amnesty. I’m talking of “any dim-wit with internet connection, rent to pay and a lot of…”. Surrender your gossip tools in three days or we shall come for you. Me and my girls. And boys. Call the people you slandered and apologise over a glass of juice and goat meat. Three days’ amnesty, not four.

And you are the slowest monkey around yet you complain why the people around you are in an unending rush. No hurry in Africa? That’s what the thieves said. Came around, found Africans in a cultural hurry and were disappointed why people with melanin could be so unfair. Then when they were going away, your father, whom you take after, took them to the port. He was lazy and hungry and so he snailed himself on the way. They took B/W photos of him and on their home-bound voyage wrote big books. So you may believe them.

Otherwise Africa itself is a scramble. Virus, an accomplished professor of Engineering and rusticator of students, acknowledges the fact that life is a race for the strong. So if the race is too hot, buy a sisal rope, choose a branched tree and end the misery. Or get bus fare and go back to the village.

The village is a very noble idea. No need to buy an umbrella. Just walk back and those guys will embrace you. They’ll clap their hands and enthrone you. They won’t know you are stingy. And poor. Haha. A poor stingy man returning from the city. And that you don’t honour your debts. They won’t know you are a criminal of life. They won’t know you’ve committed all solid crimes under the sun.

Your mistake number one is that you are a fluent watcher of soap operas and you are also a bookworm. The latter is what you call yourself when you do motivational books once in seven months. For the last 5 years you’ve been waking up at 8 a.m. every 1st January and when Zuckerberg asks what’s on your mind, you’ve always set your New Year resolutions painted in colour and by 3rd you can’t recall what they were. You spend the first half of the year breaking and washing them down the drain and use the second half conjuring up new ones and painting them in air to later respond to Zuckerberg on the next 1st. You amaze. You do.

Selfies guy. By right and by worth. So you have reduced your world to images. Dead copies. And you complain when girls buy buttocks and don 3-ton wigs of dead Indians. When you take popcorn, you selfy yourself. When you buy new shorts, you selfy yourself. When you selfy yourself, you selfy yourself. You selfy yourself at the pub with a borrowed girlfriend and glass. Have you heard us complain? No. We have not even unfriended you. We don’t gossip you. We keep asking ourselves what sort of a guy you are that you cannot take a meal without burdening the selfies stick and running to photoshop for a favour here and there. We ask ourselves what you were doing at college for four years. Like, if you learnt anything else apart from cheating. And failing. You lie even to yourself. Typically that thief who waits till it is dark and then steals their own clothes from the line.

Then when you go to town you complain of the traffic. You complain of the dust and post selfies of your Turkish sandals. You complain of the noise of hooting buses. You even watch those movies and say how backward our city is. Our city, for God’s sake. Issokay. Just go.

Go back to the village because that is where your A-Double-S belongs. Go back home and look after your father’s goats. Just leave us some feet near the gate in case the city cemetery will be full the time we respond to the Call. Demarcate it with thorns (we’ll send the money) and every time you pass there, remind yourself that thereunder shall rest the bones of a stronger inhabitant of Earth.

This is 2015. Hitler is dead and so are Jews. 2016 in fact. Yet you still want things that would make Daedalus and Icarus laugh. Do you even know Daedalus and Icarus, friend? See! Motivational books and Mexican soaps.

*                       *                          *

Anyway, you are my friend and the only one I got. I hope you continue staying around and giving me company. No, don’t go to the village. I hope you stay around so we go swimming together and walk to work together and gossip that new tenant – who does she think she is? – together.  The world has changed and we can’t be what our old folks were. We can’t live in their shadows of values.

Friends and friendship.
A Friend and Friendship.

I hope you dwell not on my weaknesses but keep reading this henshit and that you don’t compare me with the established icons. Let’s die for each other. That is friendship.

Image Source

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?

Help Erickson

I don’t like this life. Every day I must be up very early, sometimes 4, sometimes 3. I need those hours with myself to get the lines right. My director is one quick guy who does not like what he calls sluggards. So I get up and pace in that room, repeating the new lines and making sure the old ones remain intact. On weekends I talk alone. The shopkeeper says I need a wife.

But do you just marry because you are talking alone? Will the wife eat your words? That shop keeper is crazy. Nowadays even words cannot sweet talk a woman. Wads do. Marrying just because you speak words is foolish, and it is more foolish if the words you speak are also foolish. You fix yourself in a problem you can’t buy yourself out. You get stuck like rich people get stuck in the traffic jam at the Jogoo Road – Outerring Road junctions.

For those who hate jams, being at a Jogoo Road – Outerring Road roundabout is not the friendly thing you’ll keep a straight face over. Every second that comes carries with it a long painful drag in the heart. You feel He was sadist to create man without wings so they soar you in the air and take you home on Thursday evenings. But again wouldn’t there be bird jams in the air? Like, you are only as little as a sunbird and we have eagles from Kakamega with big chests and muscular legs. Or rude vultures from Mombasa meeting the hornbill while all are running from the storm. It’d be hell. We would knock heads upon heads and that doesn’t hurt, yes?

So better just to remain humans without wings. Humans without wings can talk and greet each other. They can persevere the loud music in a bus at a Jogoo Road – Outerring Road roundabout. They can turn to the seatmate, see their own frustration in the seatmate’s face, smile, and think silently: we are one.

That’s the jam where you choose to pass time by staring outside through the window. You find comfort in seeing that frustrated look on other motorists also stuck in the same fix. A small smile curves at the edge of your sad lips. They, these people, took loans and bought click cars, but here we are, all consumed in the shit. It doesn’t matter where we shall each spend the night – what matters is that presently we are equal and humbled, the tall and the short. God, I don’t want wings.

At such moments you will look outside longer. You particularly fix your look at the young driver in the Toyota Prado on lane two. The metal has a commanding presence in the jam and this power sieves itself into the lone occupant. You can’t see her face very well in the dark glasses, but you place her at 23, which is the age of all city chics anyway. You try to imagine what she is thinking. Is she going to see her parents or she is going to her house? Is she called Laura? Can she love a man from Kayole still dodging his landlord at midmonth? You take in one deep breath and decide that she is good looking, in a league of her own, and that you can’t get her. You frown and look away.

Then you spot Erickson.

Erickson, if that is his name. He sits in his wheelchair and wears a beaten look. I know wearing a beaten look for a boy yet to reach ten is illegal, but? In his right hand is a plastic bowl that contains a few coins. The sun is setting and so you can’t really tell if those coins are shinny or not. But Erickson’s look is not shinny at all. His face is gray from the sun and the dust. He has a faded brownish-yellow shirt slightly torn at the edge of each shoulder. The wheels to his Beast are slanting outwards on the upper part. He looks down.

Right above Erickson’s head is a manila paper written Erickson’s name and the call to help raise his school fees. Even the handwriting is tired, mixing upper and lower case and with tails of Q and G going in the wrong directions.

My seatmate touches my shoulder and points her sad lips at the woman pushing the wheelchair. I look at her and feel the hopelessness she must be going through. Waking up with the daily realisation that it is another day to take care of Erickson. Perhaps Erickson’s father is dead. Perhaps he ran away from the trouble of being father to a wheelchair lad. They do. They will run away many times. I am not a religious person but I know the stories of temptation.

Perhaps they have no place to live. If she spends her days pushing Ericson’s wheelchair for school fees, where does she get the time to hustle her landlord’s dues? Those words on the manila paper must have been written in haste, probably from a city council toilet and the security guy just couldn’t allow Mama Erickson to complete writing. And food? Erickson himself looks like his last meal was taken some recent day, if he had any. An awful sight, to cut the words.

It is the woman next to my seat that wakes me from this dream. She taps at my shoulder again and this time points at Erickson’s mother with her index finger. Then she funnels her palms around my ears and leans to shout above the noise of the bus.

“Look at this woman,” she says. Even in the loud music of the bus, you can feel the contempt in her voice.

I look at the mother pushing the wheelchair. I see it.

Unlike Erickson, Mama Erickson is clean. Her hair is neatly done, stretching back to form an average but neat ponytail. She has a white shirt and a black pair of trousers. Her shoes look about three weeks old. Her body, I now see, is different. Looks like she had two lunches today. She is either lower middle or upper lower class. That is the contrast I did not initially see.

“It is unfair to use children. Chances are that that is not her child in the first place,” shouts my seatmate above the noise.

The jam has eased a bit on lane two, and my good Laura has moved some two or three metres ahead. I can now only see the butt of her metal. It is so big she shouldn’t be riding there all by herself. And why should she when such good men as myself are on offer for free? Laura, I can protect you. I can stand by you. I can sing you songs from the kingdom and massage your toes. I can love you the love a good woman deserves and many things more. But I know. At her age, Laura is perhaps married to a tycoon who comes to bed twice in December, once in February and nothing more. Or she is chasing after a nice gospel singer who is in turn praying for God to give him Beyoncé. Everyone targeting up in an absurd twist of nature.

Maybe I should start a funds drive to get Laura. Call all my folks and tell them I am finally marrying. Then when everyone is still celebrating, I tell them I need a 2M start-up to initialise the campaign. Or I go buy a wooden bowl and tie my heels on my waist for a cripple. Then locate a good street near a church or something. The metal looked too empty with just Laura alone.

“Did you see in the news? A man adopted and used two crippled children to raise funds. Said it was to meet the child’s bills and flight to India for spinal surgery. When he collected 3.7M what did he do? He ran to Guangzhou and his accomplice wife reported to the police after realising how she had been used. People like to misuse trust.” A talker she is, this woman.

I think she is as frustrated as I. All these words and she isn’t tired yet! She is frustrated that she doesn’t have any spare coin to pay Erickson’s fees. We are all poor in this city. Even those who board Flight 520 at JKIA are still poor machines automated by society to run errands for the real owners. We are all poor. Poor. Being on a bus does not mean we have paid rent. It doesn’t mean we can sacrifice a meal to afford paying a poor boy’s fees. It doesn’t mean we can even spare some fare to go check what is up at college ever since they said our marks were missing. I am only an actor expecting my first salary in December. You can’t know who did what for me to be on this bus today.

Why would you use a child to get money, anyway? Children, God’s bits of wood, are citizens that should make us all wake up, roll our sleeves and head to work. It doesn’t matter what the work is. Just get out, walk in the streets: you will find something to do. It might not be decent, it might not be your choice, it might not bring a lot of money. But it will bring something altogether. If it doesn’t bring money, it will bring life, which is what we all seek. Otherwise, go back to the village.

Most of the people in the city are struggling. The population of Emba, Buru, Doni or Umo can a hundred times be outdone by the population of Mathare alone. Yet there are many Mathares in Nairobi’s Eastlands. There are at least fifteen of them for every one Emba. But those people work! They wake up very early in the morning and pour themselves into the frenzy of the city. They work at Indian firms and sometimes the machines eat their fingers. They hawk panties and rat poison along River Road. They roast maize by the roadside. They spend the whole day standing on stage rehearsing lines and pray that the director gives them fare home, and when this happens, they meet needy children looking for school fees.

Last December was not a good month for me. I was broke like Greece. Then one evening I am walking from the CBD to go to Eastleigh where I was living at the time. This girl comes. I am at Jamia, now approaching Nation Centre. She is like five or six. She stretches her hand and asks that I give her something for dinner. I can’t even answer. I have no fare home and still after the walk I will roll my blanket and sleep in the corner on an empty stomach. She insists I give her something. I assume again and walk ahead faster. When she scratches my hand for attention, I get really overwhelmed. I turn and give her a light not-so-light slap on the shoulder. I want her mother who is obviously watching from somewhere to see. Then I shout at her to go tell her mother this is bad manners. Of course she doesn’t even run. She turns and stretches the hand to the next passer-by as if it were a well-rehearsed script.

And why would Mama Erickson need school fees when all public schools are free? In fact, most of the city’s schools for the handicapped offer other incentives to the young lads there. Couldn’t she be creative enough to conjure a better trap? Or does she mean Erickson, son of a beggar, must go to a fancy private school while the sons to the begged go to free public schools?


It is poverty. It is poverty frustrating the potential giver and the given alike. We all know all these cases are genuine, one way or the other. Even if Erickson’s mother isn’t seeking school fees, she is in another battle with poverty. You won’t find a rich beggar on the streets. It is the uncertainty of getting tomorrow’s meal that pushes them there. Every morning she prays that the traffic jam intensifies and holds the passengers longer from reaching Kayole. She must buy that new shoe, you know. She prays that big buses break down so she gets access to a bigger mass. She’s among those that pray we don’t be given feathers and wings. And we all get mad at them because of poverty, ours and theirs. It is the inner shame that we cannot afford a ten bob coin for Mama Erickson to go to the salon in the name of seeking school fees. It is the bitter realisation that we won’t see Laura again, and if we saw her we won’t afford the ring in her ear even with our year’s earnings.