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.

Away from First Avenue

An ideal thief can die and you inherit his wife; you can’t inherit the wife of a bedbug. An ideal thief can as much be the only thief in the family; bedbugs – Somali, Luhya or Chinese – are all thieves.

It chooses the shoulder nearest to her, and at a spot she must see. Then you feel it bite, and you don’t want to scratch anything around your shoulder because that is when you suffer the esteem thing most. And you can’t secretly burst the head because everyone on the bus knows the smell of Eastleigh bugs. So what do you do? You curse the mothersucker.

If you want to be a thief, don’t be like a bedbug. A bedbug is a very bad thief. An ideal thief can die and you inherit his wife; you can’t inherit the wife of a bedbug. An ideal thief can as much be the only thief in the family; bedbugs – Somali, Luhya or Chinese – are all thieves. And they steal without the intent that you may one day gain from them; and if they intended so, you still would not have had good use of insects harboring blood samples from all the blood groups in the world. Do you boil and eat bedbugs where you come from?

Last year I lodged in one of the hotels in Eastleigh. The place looked so nice and away from the bumpy bustles of First Avenue. There are nice hotels in Section Three. The potted plants at the reception married well with the paint and decorations on the walls to give it that rare attractiveness. Room 261 it was. Of course you know there is a bedbug end to this story. That I woke up in the middle of the night because I could not believe it. For the first time I was sleeping in a hotel without bedbugs! It felt out of place. Very odd. Like finding a Nairobian who all of a sudden does not want to steal from you. The sleep had been so deep I decided I needed no more of it. And while at it, I decided to go have a word with the security officer down there at the ground floor. Till dawn.

I asked her about their rooms without bedbugs. How on earth do your rooms lack bedbugs! Do you spray everyday? Do you screen for bedbugs everybody who comes here? Do you check those big handbags of ladies from Kakamega and Kisumu? Would you feel offended if I told you I want a bed with bedbugs? Do you smoke?

She just looked at me, fascinated, and let me talk like a drunk man. I wanted to know what had happened that the beds lacked bugs. Like, was Obama coming to Africa or what? Most of the time she simply laughed in the silence and said I was crazy.

Okay. Let me tell you the truth.

There is no security officer in this story. And there is no bed without bedbugs. There is no Obama just like there is no Osama. But there is me lodging in Eastleigh, and there is me waking up in the dead of the night and remaining awake till dawn.

That night I woke up at around three. My whole body was aching and itching and it took me a few moments of consciousness to ascertain that that was definitely not the handiwork of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes do not bite a man’s ass like that, do they? I felt bites in the armpit, on my left leg, at my back, on my phallus and all over. The guys were doing a real action movie on my body-wood. Boss, consider like a million insects all lining up for your O+, something you won’t easily get even in those big insurance hospitals.

So I groped to the switches. Ta-k! The lights in the corridor go on. I quickly switch it off and move to the next switch. Ta-k, nothing observable happens, and so I quickly switch it off (or on, depending on what it is that happens). Oh God. Ta-k, let there be light, and there is light, beaming all the way into my eyes, to the nerve, illuminating the whole room to an existential reality. And it feels happy.

I checked the bed. No, I confirmed. There was a whole battalion of them, all scuffling back to their hideouts. And as they ran with their smelly asses they thought I would not catch up. That was a mistake on their side, big time. In no time I had jumped on them kungfu style. The smell of bursting bedbugs will nauseate you in the night. But when you are doing it for your life, it catalyses your vengeance. You press them hard and they shit all their intestines out. You burst the brains that tell them to steal. You burst their scrota and you burst their everything. Rule number one: burst them all.

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There were about ten thousand of them. Fat male and female bugs waiting for darkness so they restart their feast on me. This innocent me with just enough haemoglobin and nothing more. There is no way you would not have sympathised with me. Having parted with all that money for accommodation away from the noise of First Avenue and now this? The beasts shone off their swollen bellies, bellies full of my O+. Come on, you use someone’s blood to show off to your dames? That’s not cool by any standards.

In the morning when the Eastleigh muadhins started their first task of the day, I was still not yet through. Not even halfway. It was about the time I discovered that the hotel kept those armies to prevent their mattresses from getting old. When they come here for the night, relax till they retire to bed. Then start your work. The heavier they are, the more you should get onto their ass. Son, bite like hell. And if they are O+, those are the enemies number one to our bedding. Don’t allow them to get back to the mattress.

That morning I prayed to God never to allow thieves into his good heaven.

Do not misjudge the judge on this.

I am bitter on bedbugs because of the pain they bring and the loss they cause. But the worst is the attitude they carry while at it. Insolents to the bone! As in, how do you dare take my blood without reason? No, look at it well. My blood is part of me; without it there is no me; and therefore it is me. You come at night when I am asleep and you siphon it all away? You don’t even tell me your name. You simply drill in your teeth and suck; so painfully and without apology. You grope in the dark, you, your friends, your cousins, your daughters, your sons, your stray children, your grandchildren, your neighbours, your priests, your enemies, your pets…. What drives you to steal the innocent blood when a client has paid to enjoy the comfort of the hotel away from the noisy First Avenue?

Bedbugs will harass you the entire night. And during the day, when in your suit you want to talk to the girl next to you on the bus, the guy appears and quickly circumnavigates your shoulder as you are still held in the shock triangle of disappointment, esteem and poetry. It chooses the shoulder nearest to her, and at a spot she must see. Then you feel it bite, and you don’t want to scratch anything around your shoulder because that is when you suffer the esteem thing most. And you can’t secretly burst the head because everyone on the bus knows the smell of Eastleigh bugs. So what do you do? You curse the mothersucker.

And swear to hang him once you reach the house….

I once had a teacher who insisted that our authorities are like bedbugs. He really believed in his theory he became obsessed with it. That they drill blood from the veins of the populace. They never return anything. You cannot claim that the crumbs that fall from the table are what they return to you who are still hungry; you get those things by nature’s accident, and hugely by the fact that the tables have to be cleared for another meal. But that was long time ago. It was even before I broke my voice.

I have now grown a beard and have this African height. I feel so bad at anything that should be likened to a bedbug in terms of stealing, about which there is nothing else you can draw the imagery of a bedbug.

Before I left that Eastleigh hotel – for good, of course –  I did good titration on their mattress. Stood on the bed and let all systems go. You invest in bedbugs, I pay you urea. All the tea I had taken the previous day. So that they learn, when they finally come to check on their pets, that the O+ of a client ought to be respected.