I am sorry, James Bond

I put on my first pair of shoes when I was fifteen. That is something the streets of this city just reminded me today. That is the story for today.

Walking on these streets will remind you many things.

When you enter the city madness, that noise will remind you of Khangoma-khamoja, your freak of a neighbour. You don’t know his real name; you call him Khangoma-khamoja because he plays one loud track the whole night. You don’t understand his language but you are sure it is a dirge. The only music-free nights at your place are Sundays, and that is because the screaming girlfriend visits every time she gets the Saturday off from the salon downtown. So you look at the shouting touts and remember the way Khangoma-khamoja’s chick disturbs the peace of your weekends.

Sometimes you will look at the screens in pubs and remember your unpaid electricity bill. Then tears will well in your cheeks. How do they misuse electricity when you have your colossal arrears with the power company! You promise to also sell your kidney one day. They are so preoccupied with other business they don’t seem to notice that electricity is expensive these sides. You accept and move on, slowly.

Then there is of course this lady in heels who reminds you of the college model. You feel like kneeling if front of her, hold her palm in yours, pick finger-three and thrust it upwards. Because your class and her class are like west and east.

Anyway, today I am walking past this Tom Mboya statue and all of a sudden hawkers are running all over disturbing the peace of the hero. There is tear-gas following them. As usual, we, the innocent citizens, move to the sides and leave them the street to run as they wish. They are like five hundred and each is running with a sack clasped on the chest, another on the back and other goods on the head. Then comes this woman.

She is healthy and fat. She runs so vigorously and wails at the same time, hitting her bare feet on the ground every time she needs the earth to throw her forward. She almost collides into the crowd at Mr Price. She thinks better and re-aligns her projectile into the corridor before Archives. In negotiating the corner, a shoe falls from her head. She slows down, partly turns, does as if to go pick it but when she sees the approaching city council police, she runs off, killing her voice in the Accra Street ahead.

shoe

After the police passed, I looked at the deserted shoe. It looked lonely. It sat there in the July cold and nobody dared to look at it like the most expensive item shoes are supposed to be. Not even a street boy picked it up. Impossible. It reminded me of Machanja and my first shoes.

It had been my childhood dream to cruise in shoes. Whenever December came and the children from the city remembered their folks in the Kingdom, we were reminded that shoes just had a magic of their own. The way these kids talked on top of themselves, trousers midway down their buttocks, the way they swerved in imaginary mud, ran through thorns and hit at stones; was just the thing. I believed that with shoes you could do everything the boys did as well as what those guys did in the movies. And so for a long time my dream was to get those hooves, sag trousers, speak Swahili and act a movie with James Bond. Many are days I wore imaginary boots, stuffed papers in my nose, talked ‘English’ with James Bond and arrested imaginary criminals. I kept promising James Bond how our partnership would help finish the gangs.

So one day the local chief makes an impromptu visit to the school. There is a quick assembly. Mwalimu Olwichi only needs to stand by the flag post and raise his hand in all directions and there we are, jumping through windows to go listen to him. By now I am a full-time adolescent and in class seven, which means I can understand some of the English words he says. I am right, even Ngongo later affirms that the chief has announced the expected visit from a mzungu. The immediate challenge is not the expected language phobia as most will expect. We are rather caught in the scary reality that all the pupils are supposed to wear shoes on that day. How again?

Wearing shoes was a great taboo at school. I still remember how new pupils would be alienated from the main population until they learnt better of putting on shoes. So although I told Nyawando of the need for new shoes, and stressed every time I mentioned the chief and the mzungu, I had my fears too.

We went to the shop of Machanja. Now Machanja was another thing. He owned the only Bata shop at Khushianda, one of the very few in the Kingdom. In my entire childhood there is no person I feared and adored in equal measure as this man. As I dreamt of owning even a single torn shoe, this dude had a whole Bata shop with shoes strewn everywhere. I never saw him talk or smile, and he had this reserved serious look in his eyes. After a customer left the shop, he’d take a broom and sweep the veranda. If the customers were more than one, he’d dash into the back room, return with a mop and a bucket of water. People said that even if you waved him greetings from afar, without nearing the shop, he’d take a fly whisk and dust his counters until he was sure he’d gotten rid of your dust.

This is where Mother took me to buy the shoes. Say walking on the moon. Say James Bond in the making. I was to only wait till my brother was at school, sag his trousers and go sit where most girls from the market passed.

It was Nyawando who entered Machanja’s Bata as I waited at a reasonable distance from the veranda. The bargaining was fierce; Nyawando’s bargaining powers are another story I’m thinking of. At a point she came out, stood at the veranda in thought, talked to herself, and then went back into the shop just as Machanja was planning to come out with a broom. Another battle ensued, and I could hear mother argue about the laces being this or that. In the end, I was called to measure my leg, and since it was soiled and deformed from years of freedom, I had to first wear a polythene bag before inserting my left leg. Mother immediately said it was my size even though I felt my toes play in there. But who was I when Machanja himself agreed that I’d grow up in them? There was no need to measure the other leg – it was already late and no one wanted to waste time.

It was not until two days later that I discovered our folly: the two shoes were not of the same size. That was the day Madam Doric visited, and I had had to endure a long day of misery: alienation, low esteem and hot toes.

Most of the pupils had stayed at home for fear of being seen in shoes. Majority of those who came claimed they had injuries on their toe or heel or ankle, and indeed everyone walked around in a limp. It was only the head girl, the chief’s son and I, that had stood at Doric’s parade in shoes. And Mwalimu Hatemaster came for me immediately after the function. Up to then nobody, including myself, had realised the size thing. He beat the shit out of me for intentionally wearing shoes of different sizes to embarrass the school. Even those who had hated on me during the day began to sympathise. That was my first day to put on shoes. And the last in primary school. I never sagged trousers even when city dwellers came home that December.

Today I saw the woman run and leave behind that shoe. Maybe she doesn’t know what shoes are. Maybe she doesn’t know our history with shoes. She perhaps has no idea what shoes should make you feel. Those days, rescuing a shoe was like rescuing twins from a burning house. And shoes were kept in the wooden box that also kept best clothes in the bedroom, not on shoe racks at the main door….

Perhaps this city will remind you of the day you broke your virginity. Depending on where you walk and what you see, you might get the memories of the day your grandfather died or the day your mother caught you stealing chicken soup. Some memories will be good and bring nostalgia. Some will make you ask questions, like why the sex you never met James Bond at Hollywood.

I am personally sorry, James Bond.

My Shoes, Four Girls, and the Money

It’s good I have to remove my shoes before entering this house. Coincidence 1: the girls never leave the house all the time I’m in there. Coincidence 2: they have this ninja for a mother drumming sense into their bleached heads. Now, who’d otherwise waste their respect on a teacher whose shoes are torn?

I remove my shoes at the door. It is one of those painful moments where you have to part with a close and faithful friend. I grew up with friends whose fathers thought we were stray children born to corrupt their good children. So I know how it feels when Vic stops on the way, near their gate, and tells you to wait for him here. I know how it feels to be left aloof so that the friendship may reach a tomorrow.

And so for a whole two hours my shoes remain in the cold, alone, unused and neglected. Those black Gucci hooves that once were an envy in the village. I often taste betrayal on my tongue, yet still can’t help. For two hours I rant inside their sitting room which is our makeshift classroom.

I take days explaining the present simple tense. I spend a few more centuries preaching the spelling of ‘remove’, each decade reminding them that the word does not have an ‘i’ and things like that.

To earn some coin.

I am hoping that I will be rich someday: a stinging rich fellow with 97 cars, a jet, a belly, and a fleet of women trailing my ass. I have this dream that one day I will own a house like this and force people to remove their shoes at the gate while I shelter my clean toes even at the swimming pool.

It doesn’t matter that I don’t know even quarter the IGCSE ESL syllabus. It doesn’t matter that my pronunciation gives them hell (at least it did). Nothing matters really. Nothing should as long as there is money coming this way. Live in this city and you will know what I’m saying. Which reminds me of an old Arabic proverb: Al-rizq-ul-ulamaai fiy yadd-il-juhalaa’. (Visit my bank just in case you want the translation.)

So basically, this thing is about lies, pretension and money. What is not about lies and money these days, anyway? I lie; I get my fuckin pay and go home. I lie more; I get even more. Willing buyer and stealing seller on the bargaining table and the world spins.

But sometimes I feel what they give is not even their money. Last time their ninja mother paid me in notes and I checked: they were minted in 1976. In nineteen-seventy-fucking-six she was still a virgin and not in Kenya. In 1996 she was still a virgin nigger in Norway. In 2006 all the four girls were born, alright, but they were still living under Stoltenberg. So the 1976 notes are by birthright more deserved to me than her.

Or what if we’d all shared the money somewhere around 1977? What if, during Kenyatta’s funeral, Nyerere and Uncle Bob oversaw the sharing of the country’s resources to every citizen? They’d have come from that fuckin Norway and got nothing, poor things. They’d be beggars at Jamia Mosque or somewhere around State House. Or they’d be running a brothel along the coast. Point is, this 1976 money is legitimately MY money. In my next visits I should start knocking, sitting silently and waiting to be given my cash without a word – no parroting. That is before my brother becomes president and they start queuing at my castle every morning to bring to Caesar what the Jew commanded them to.

The first day I came here, they scared me. They put all their English in their noses and forced me to take my pronunciation back into the shoes waiting outside. Only a teacher’s confidence saved me, plus some lies about me lecturing at a college in town and having applied for a PhD at Cambridge ee-of-tee-and-see. They still fear me like a deity.

What else? If you stay in Norway all those years and you come back to Africa without knowing London’s language, what do you want? Norwegians are cousins to Londoners yet they didn’t leave a mark in your grammar; what in the name of the Queen can I do, thousands of miles down the Sahara, to give you the same language?

So I teach them with the attitude of let-the-goat-eat-its-rudeness. I keep skipping topics I don’t like. Like Noun Clauses and Prepositions. I tell them to write assignments I hardly mark. When by accident they ask a challenging question, I dismiss it and assure them it can never come in the exam, and you should see how the four faces beam! Anyway, they couldn’t have understood the answer even if you, you, told them.

The girls! They carry chocolate to class and never remember to get a fifth plate. When they are not chewing, they are talking to each other in Somali. At 19, 18, 16 and 15 they believe they know freedom and rights. Fuck Norway.

All along I pray no one leaves through the front door. I pray that no one becomes curious on what is hiding under the door mat. No one, dear God, should have business there.

My Gucci pets are leather. I bought them when old-school moccasins were just the thing in town (they still are!). Cost me a fortune. But now they are an old pair with a forced smile on the left piece (my mother says my left foot is bigger) and a beaten look like they come from apartheid cells. The soles keep cursing rain. The leather that was originally dark black can currently not go beyond blackish grey no matter the polish. The right piece is comparatively better, only that it has this dented heel that resembles a loose bumper. And then they have this conspicuous rise, just at the fulcrum, where they curve upward like some creepers.

Lonely hooves
Lonely, dejected and very sad hooves. How’d you feel when your friend tells you to wait at the gate?

But shoes aside. Our girls.

My many sessions with them and a lot is revealed to me. They are a bunch of innocent girls whose mother thinks you can buy brains downtown. They believe your grammar can improve through bleaching, watching Meixcan soaps and spending the afternoons practicing American accent before the mirror. They are sweet things sometimes though, especially Riya, 17, who has this sharp twinkle in her eye whenever she smiles. Last time she even told me I have dimples, and twinkled her eyes.

The book we study is supposed to take four years or so I guess. Their mother told me to take seven months because they have some exam around ‘Nofember’. I will complete it by September so she can tip me a speed allowance. Then before she realises what I did to her white girls, I will be gone.

Perhaps to take another job that can give me better shoes. Or perhaps to take one where the Gucci pets can proudly accompany me to any table.