Three years ago I had a decent job and a rotating chair. My office was at the furthest end of the block on the top floor and so, yes, privacy and majesty were my portion too. I was fresh from two places, college, and the village. This must be the reason I used the lift up and down the office, took photos taking tea and kept a small secret in the staff kitchen because I had a phobia for electricity.
Tomatoes, check. Sukuma, check. Cabbage, uncheck. Onions, check. Knife, check. Pepper, check. Recipe, innate. Cooker, check. Hunger, uncheck. Pause: A pseudo born-city young woman from Shamakhokho (/sh3mek’hauha:/) and Shiatsala (/shiets’e:la(r)/) is terribly concerned why there is no pizza flour (?) or Arabian garlic here. Otherwise this is a full health kit for any African bachelor doing miles above the helpless rest.
Today is those days. Your emotions are there too. You’ve been playing some Chirani Kuno (King’s Language) song repeatedly so that the neighbours can know that in your house lives a person, a human being, a man; all with the ability to live. You have been patient enough and now as you count the earthly possessions in your kitchen, you are very sure the bastards have all bolted back in their houses. You only need to spring to action before they start making babies….
So you wash your hands. You peel the onions, cry a bit, and continue peeling. And chop tomatoes. You do all the normal stuff. Pour some oil on the pan. It should worry you that the levels have gone down tremendously after your cousin visited last week but for now you are not picking quarrels with the world. Nature will punish him for you. Here, your stomach grumbles in agreement, and you nod yourself the wisest man alive.
Then you realise one spoiler: there is no salt.
You take the small packet and shake it near your ears. Then you tear it onto a plate. Three crystals come off and fall lazily. After serious negotiation with your ego you decide you can cook with those. Make the food saltless, eat it saltless, and when the climax is come, mix the crystals so that it is a grand climax that makes you forget the hardships of Misri. OK. Right.
But then, there is no water.
You open other sachets seeking crystals of water.
You check your shoe in case you could find a pint at least.
You bite your lips and clench your hands on the head. Slowly, you retreat to your bed that is two feet from your kitchen and a few inches more to the main door. You lie on your back. The bed even refuses to squeak from the little pressure you exert. This makes you worried. Even the bed you bought with your own money refuses to squeak when you lie on it! What kind of a bed is this?
You think of very sad things. But none of the things you think are as sad as your current situation. You wonder if this is not the saddest thing since the invention of humanity. You think through your childhood, your schooling, your tough lessons of morality and the foolish things the man of God used to say every week. Was this the target goal or there is still some life ahead?
As you lie there, you make one final observation: that you are in serious trouble.
And one lifetime solution: you need a wife.
Among many other things, a woman to just be there for you when such sad things come your way. One you can blame when there is no salt in the house or beat up when the landlord comes early. A woman whose beauty will be the consolation in times of hardships as this. A woman, for God’s sake, a woman.
There is this time I was a good classroom master. Used to tell the boys serious things that make life. Of course a lot of it was the normal bullshit to trick them into studying hard to get good grades and earn me a better pay and rank. But the one thing over which I never minced my words was marriage. And to date, I still tell the young folks around me to get themselves a nice woman for the house.
Please marry beautiful women, I’d say. Don’t go with that crap that a wife is chosen from her manners. Look, when you have a warthog for a wife and you go out for shopping, of course as members of the world we shall look and speak and tell ourselves how we sympathise with you. And why not? You will not stop by to explain to each of us that but she has good manners. That she is tender and crap. Those things are not written on her brows brother. We shall judge what we see. We shall all look and ask ourselves where your eyes were when you went to the market of women.
What did he do to deserve this?
Where did he pick her? A girl with small legs, a funny look, and a wig. A big green wig. Or red. Someday lightning will strike and her head will catch fire. It will happen so suddenly that the only thing you will see will be her two ears protruding in blades of heavenly fire. Before the fire brigade arrives, your curriculum document will be reading widower. And you shall prepare to have the loneliest funeral because where I come from people don’t attend funerals of girls with reg wigs.
But beautiful, they will come. Round head, round chest, round voice, round package of a wife. All round.
Marriage, done. Now maintaining it….
If your future wife brings issues after the wedding, chase her. Don’t even divorce The implicature of divorce is that you sit at a table and say this thing can’t work. Then you both walk away breathing freedom. Chase, on the other hand, is that she will be some distance ahead of you and you will be right behind with a weapon in hand. Both of you will be running for your lives. If she wins the race, bad for you. If you win, the world wins.
That is the chase.
There goes this story of our teacher, a distant uncle to the friend of my deskmate those days. By all standards and criticism, Mwalimu Kilibati was doing fine. He had a bicycle, clean shirts and had bought a plot of land next to our home. I should not forget that he was the only man in the village with a Panasonic radio cassette player and that the chief would seek his services, making him by default the only DJ at village functions and beyond. He was respected.
Then happened this rumour that he was marrying. By the time I saw the woman leaving his hut one fine weekend, word had made so many rounds that he was (imagine!) bedding a (one,) tall woman with thin legs who (two,) spoke English and whom they said was from Uganda. These two were, and still are, the biggest scandals that a woman seeking marriage can be pulled into in the kingdom.
You go to school and continue to become a teacher. Then you come back and marry an ugly girl with a lot of English! Who does that? You even paid dowry and promised to take her brother to college.
Mwalimu Kilibati had his defense. He said he would marry her anyway. Elders had sittings with him. Not once, not twice – I was there when the third sitting was done and wine and libation were also sent to Those Under and About. You know what Mwalimu said? He stood with the pride a successful elegant youngman can conjure and told the elders to mind their business.
That was unexpected. And so instead of caning him, they also did the unexpected. They left him to go back to his wife.
The divorce took place at the unlikeliest place. It was in Class Four of Musenda, where I was fighting ignorance. We were closing school. Our teacher’s young wife stormed the room shouting things we couldn’t understand because she was using English from Uganda. Then when a good crowd was beginning to gather and peep around, she rushed out and came back with a heap tied in the remains of a green polythene bag. Before anybody guessed what was happening, the mound smashed into the face of our teacher, ungracefully, and pacham, which was underwear of all colours and hygiene, scattered on the floor.
There are worse women in this world. There are those that will bully you every day of your life. You will get those that will be nagging. There will be those whose work is to get anything and everything from you. They will enslave you. They will kill you. But when all is said and done, cliche, you still need one such piece of punishment in the house. That is how society ticks.
I’m writing this story on a bus to work. I’m seated right behind the driver. The person next to me is an old man perhaps in his ripe sixties. Guess he is a night watchman coming back from work. He smells sleep. He even had to struggle to give the conductor his money.
I think he has seen a lot in life. A lot more than what is happening on the second side of the aisle.
The second side has a guy and, if judgment pardons me, the guy’s girlfriend. She’s been speaking so much English. Which is okay. But why does she struggle with that accent? Then she speaks loudly, and doesn’t give the man any airtime to respond. I think the guy is embarrassed. There are those cases when you must get embarrassed by your girl who insists on showing off loudly for something that is not there. But who am I to judge?
Then she sees another woman pass outside and she wants to jump from her seat. She almost rips off the shirt of her boyfriend just because she is saying that the passing woman was her deskmate from (there is a way she calls it – international) primary school.
Luckily for her, and sadly for our peace, the second woman turns and gets into the bus. And the greetings that follow almost bring down the entire city. Because the boy cannot move from his seat, the second woman sits right behind them, and their stories begin.
We pass DoD, their English is just as beginning as the old man next to me begins to snore. By the time we are in Hurlingham the first woman is explaining an old memory to her friend. She uses the whole stretch between Kilimani and Bangladesh to pronounce the vowel in PORT, and when her turn comes, the second one hijacks the stretch between Bangladesh and Kawangware to ask REALLY?.
When I disembark, I disembark with sympathy. Sympathy for the two women that won’t find a marriage. And sympathy for the men that might be appointed by fate into the bridal huts and heartbreaks. And long spells of English.
Some corpses just look so good. So good you even want to eat them. Even when you know they are corpses, and the government uses money from the relief budget to advertise they are corpses, and big tags dangle on them reading CORPSES, you still want to follow and taste them on the tongue before they are lowered into the hole.
A typical Nairobi afternoon. You are coming back from work amid the bustle and the crookedness. The city is looking at you with the what-worth-is-she attitude. One is calculating whether it is the shoe or necklace that should go first. One is thinking, hey, he could have a great phone. Another wants you for sex. Men and women look at you with miserable sunken eyes trained to dart in the crowd and hide sadness. And sometimes even a keen observer will fail to notice.
An evening heaven will appear beautiful with the orange skyline. That is a trap, comrade. Hold on to your pocket and walk away quickly. This world is not our home. Run until you bolt yourself in your hole before it is late. Some of us are authorities in this field; we know every bit of our advice.
In every evening half step you pass a robber, a thief, a gambler, a con priest, a fake magician, a police officer, a tax evader, all the mortals coined from the rib of Adam in Eden. This has nothing to do with paranoia; it is called saying it as it is. At worst the truth in every bit. The other day I even told you a woman down River Road fell on my friend and she cried that he takes her phone (I didn’t say number). Jon told me he didn’t take the phone. I later discovered he had run broke on 12th instead of his normal 19th and immediately understood what had happened.
Somewhere on top of the roofs, in a hidden lane, the sun is finally going to hide. Who supplies her with all that audacity? Smelted everything in my backbone as I spent the day bending at Patel’s, hitting the metals to give an unknown shape the Asian keeps wanting. Now when I leave and the sun should be remaining to burn him and his family, it retires.
I hit my shoulders into the shoulders of the remaining humans in the street. Sometimes if it is a huge guy, I’m the loser. But when it is a small man with small hands – like my Literature professor – and an ego, I bump them so well they should remember me the rest of the year. That is how we live here. You hate people and let them know you hate them. You’ll never see another place as obscene with truth as this jungle. I’m selling my tongue, want it? Or let’s have sex tonight, Stranger. Simple. Nobody gives a hoot. And nobody takes a hoot. If by any reckless chance you heard somewhere that people here care about the stuff you do, you need to either change your advisor or check your listening skills. Especially the latter, because even a dumb friend can’t say something as foolish and unthoughtly as that.
Eventually I get out on the other end of the street. Bumping tournament won fairly well. Now tough lane. Men and women hurrying back home before night police start their shift. The key principle of the city is RUSH. Rush even when there is no place to go to – things will sort themselves ahead. If you can run, the better. That is our civilisation. We hope the UN will one day sit down and export the idea to the rest of the world and tell Uncle Sam to invade whoever doesn’t comply with the Democracy of Running.
Today I have bumped into countless masses. My neck is hurting – perhaps I knocked a son of a witch and hurt him, and now the boy has reported to the father, and the father is so furious that a simple bachelor working for a selfish Indian knocked his heir he almost killed him, and the old man has decided that it is payday as it is crime day. What did I just do? I pray that this is not the case because it would be so, so bad. I know witches. Even in the heart of this city they will plant your toe above your eyelashes or if they don’t want to expose you, they will fix an eagle’s feathers on your groin and germinate a horn just where your thighs junction. And they will not care. God, help me God.
A guy passes with a speeding trolley. He almost makes away with my nose. This loser. What have I done to him? In this era smart humans should only be hit by boeings. And if a crawling thing must hit you, let it be something smarter than a Limo. Not a trolley from some slum in Shanghai. Thinking of it again – of the trolley and you on the ground with dust all over your face and a trouser torn at the flyer and nursing a bruise at the elbow – you realise how bad it can be. Not even a poor pedestrian can sympathise with you. Not even the St John’s give lazy people first aid. Poor man. Go home you are drunk.
You reach home. You are happy your wife is not at the balcony. But as you enter the house you find her relaxed in a corner and her first reaction is to give you that look. Next to her is your son and perhaps if you have a servant, servant too. Then there is your mother-in-law. And how does a man knocked down by a Chinese trolley greet his mother-in-law in the evening?
Greetings of the Lord, Mama.
Later, Linda will be on your case.
What happened? Did you fight? Why now?
No it was a crash.
Crush? On who? Didn’t I say I would beat up that woman of yours!
You will want to whisper to her her to lower her voice. But that will only press new charges and you don’t have a reliable lawyer. In your six months of marriage you have come to understand that Lindas are wives designed by the manufacturer to be nagging, quarrelsome and cold; and you don’t want Linda to restore her factory settings with the mother around for backup. All you can do is to hope that the combined efforts of the trolley man, the witch, and your wife will be quelled by some mysterious effort, and that you will come out of it alive. These are times you want a miracle.
Oh God, help me. God of Abraham and Adam, help me. God whom I don’t believe in, descend.
I am talking to you!
Beb don’t shout. I was hit in the traffic.
A tr… tr… Beb I was hit.
Tr…. It was a tractor.
She gives you that look again. You’ve heard a neighbour open the window to get the full dossier. You pray again. Madam calms down alright, but she wants her mother’s fare back to the village. And the amount she quotes is like they want to buy a railway line.
Why did you knock the son of a witch?
You now realise that life is not about what you actively do. You love this woman. You love your life. You love your money. Only that the three keep evading you every time.
You can come straight from your house and the trolley guy makes away with your hip and that’s it. You can go to work and on returning you find everything stolen, including the walls of your house and the roof and children so that the only thing remaining is the floor and even from the way it looks you know they will be coming back for it tomorrow. You discover life has no formula. By itself it is like the mad wave breaking at the shore. Waits for a foolish wanderer to draw patterns and build sand pies at the shore and then comes to sweep and flatten everything with a single movement. With no grudge. It simply is doing what it does, being itself.
It’s been three hours and I’m still walking. I can see the skyline of the city centre behind me. Fools are sitting in buses waiting for the traffic jam to clear. Perhaps they are jealous of me. That I will arrive home earlier than they. That is pretense. Why can’t they alight and help me walk home? I am the one who wants to be like them. To have money to pay, sit, and be taken back home to a wife and children.
What if I start looking for those last two this year? I still have 12 months of foreplay. Provided it has nothing to do with a Linda. Well, we can change that name and hide the corpse.