After clearing high school, I remembered a dream I had held for a very long time. I had made it known to everyone, from my classmates in Mrs. Njeru’s Nursery B to my village crew, that one day I would soar the skies. I would be a pilot. Similar dream to that of everyone else who was five years old back then. By and by…
But life always has a way of making us humble and it did that to me. In the course of my schooling journey, I had often heard drivers being referred to as pilots. So I thought, why not? If I cannot fly a jet, I will fly a matatu. And just like that, I decided to take a driving course.
But there was a small hitch. Taking driving lessons alone would require that I commute daily from home. I wanted something that would see me relocate to town. So I convinced my old man, the Man Beater of Tsavo (Now retired, btw, ergo The MB, Rtd.) to enrol me for a course I won’t mention at a technical college I won’t mention.
I moved to a town I still won’t mention and got myself a single room. Ksh. 1500 rent.
By and by I got to acquaint myself with my colleagues at technical and in driving school. By and by I also became a regular drinker; what with the freedom of being away from home and beyond High school rules. By and by I got to know some girl who used to live in the adjacent plot.
She used to work in a computer shop. They used to type and print stuff and burn CDs, but everyone just called it a computer shop.
By and by…
By and by I started passing by her place for supper before heading to my place. I toned down on my Kane Extra imbibing so I could pass by her place early and in good shape for food and a little catching up. Eating at her place was really efficient for me so I started chipping in with the food budget.
As you might guess, there was nothing more than a mattress and little, assembled subwoofer in my house. My feeding partner, on the other hand, had a DVD and a little TV in her house. It made sense that I bring in my sound system to complete the picture. After all, I spent more active minutes in her place than at mine.
By and by, I stopped going back to my place after supper on some nights. By and by, I stopped going to my place altogether.
Elsewhere, my technical classes were soon dropped. It was, after all, a decoy to help me leave home. A means towards the end; not the end itself. The fees paid beforehand just drank earth like that. The subsequent batch, which to even my own surprise my father decided to trust me with, never saw the vicinity of that institution. It came in handy for my town survival; I think you understand.
At driving school, I met with a guy who had been enrolled by his father so that he could join his (father’s) matatu business. When he was out of class, he would serve as a deputy conductor in one of his father’s three face-me matatus which operated on three different routes coming into town from the outskirts. I showed him a nice drinking hole, and he, in turn, tagged me along when he did squads with the face-me.
Deputy tout …
During such rounds, I served as a deputy conductor. I would ride in the carrier and do most of the luggage hauling. And haul I did, putting my everything into it lest anyone pointed out my slight build. But I got a few shillings which gave me enough value for my efforts. More value than Bitcoin and Ethereum!
Back home- new home- we agreed with my feeding mate, now music mate and largely sleeping mate, to just do away with the other house and split the rent cost for the one we were both using. Economically sensible isn’t it? We auctioned my mattress and did a little house shopping which, mark you, was not entered anywhere in the accounting documents.
That was my first step towards downfall
By and by, the splitting MoU was silently violated. Rent became my responsibility. My weak attempts at a protest were quelled with ‘You’re the hustler. You make more money in a week than I could make in a year.’ That made me so proud I never even bothered to ask how much she made in a month. Honestly, though, 1500 didn’t really make me sweat. I was quickly learning street survival and often landed some good deals, though not always overboard.
By and by, getting used to each other in the house kicked in. My cousin Bakari calls them small respects. I started getting complaints about how I came home late. How my job was really dirty and I had to take a shower first thing when I got home. How some of the people who came around didn’t meet the class threshold and they were not to be admitted in the house.
The stroke that broke the camel’s back, however, was the declaration that my clothes would not be washed going forward. I’d have to do them myself from that point. I said that was not possible; I was the General in that house and there was no way I was going to bend that low.
‘I can try to come home early and I will shower before settling and I will entertain my friends in the corridor. But I won’t be caught dead washing clothes,’ I declared.
That was the simple answer I got.
The finality of that answer made me sure I wouldn’t. I never really had problems washing my own clothes, but I was concerned about the message the sudden change would send across the plot, where I was quite respected for my purchasing power and generosity. I would have done it if we had an indoor laundry room, but the one we had was communal and so, as Patrick Magochi would say, I would have to, uhm, wash my dirty linen in public.
True to threats, my clothes were not washed for two weeks. So, on one particular Monday, I found myself at the end of the re-use and recycle system and thus unable to go to driving class – and/or work. I picked all my clothes one by one trying to find the one that would come last in the competition of most dirty, but all of them appeared eligible to win. I took them outside and repeated the same exercise with little success.
So I sat at the door (Our plot was that design of two rows facing each other and a rough cement floor) and started pondering my next move. It was while seated at that door that a godsend solution appeared.
One of the neighbour girls- pretty to a fault, stay-at-home and of unknown economic ventures- passed by on the way to the washing sink. I never had the courage or chance to rope her into my purchasing generosity for obvious plot factors. But I said hi whenever we found ourselves at the tap at the same time.
Noticing how miserable I looked, she inquired about my well being.
Aren’t you going to work today?
I don’t have clean clothes.
Si unilipe nikufulie?
We nunua tu sabuni, hiyo ingine najua hatuwezi kosana.
Never before was a business deal sealed so fast!
I was especially glad she didn’t ask why the woman of the house wasn’t dooing my cleaning. She asked for a hundred shillings to buy soap. I said no, that’s too much. She said would also need omo and jik for whites and sta-soft for rinsing. I said health, afya!
Suffice to say that evening I was one of the cleanest and best smelling folks as I walked into the local. As people came in sweaty from the day’s hustles, I walked in with freshly cleaned, sta-soft rinsed clothes. Complete with that fresh ka-cold of clothes fresh off the hanging line. And a promise from Kagwiria, the neighbour who washed my clothes, that I would pay her when the time was ripe. She would show me when, she said. I had a really nice time at the bar that night- so much so that I didn’t leave until 1 a.m, close to totally wasted.
The sight that met me when I got to the plot almost brought me back to full soberness. A ghostly looking figure sat right at the entrance to my door. After summoning up the courage for 15 minutes, I approached slowly.
All my clothes lay in a heap outside the door. As did my shoes. It made zero sense. Yes, I was late, but then what? I knocked on the door without even trying to be violent. No way could my first knock have woken a sleeping person, but the reply was prompt. ‘Enda ukalale kwa Kagwiria!’
Then it all made sense at that point.
Blame it on the alcohol, but I actually considered going to seek shelter at Kagwiria’s. A pair of Safari Boots outside her door complete with a smell that signified a quite fresh arrival, however, changed my mind. The sounds coming from inside closed that case.
My second, third and fourth knocks went unanswered. So I decided to waste the night away and get things sorted in the sunrise. I went through around six drinking stations before the sun tossed its blanket the next rise.
By the time I staggered back, it was almost seven-thirty and madam was on her way out. My clothes still lay outside. I thought it perfect that she was leaving as I arrived as we wouldn’t get to argue. But she had different ideas.
‘’Where do you think you are going?’’ she asked as I held to the door frame.
“To bed,’’ I murmured.
“Your bed is in Kagwiria’s house. She who does your cleaning must handle your everything.’’
I again considered where I was being told my bed was, but a side-eye glanced revealed saunya-guy was still around. It also provided the estimate of the shoe size to be about nine-and-a-half. So I did my best to contain the situation.
“Just let me sleep, I will explain later,’’ I pleaded.
“There is nothing to explain. Na unanichelewesha kazi by the way.’’
Before I could respond, she spotted the landlord’s goon, who would be called a caretaker today, entering the plot. “Soldier, huyu mtu hapa ananiwastia time, anataka kuingia kwangu cha nguvu na naenda kazi,’’ she shouted.
Soldier didn’t need a second invitation.
Within a fraction, he was on me like a bulldozer on an X-marked building. The awakening neighbours opted to catch the drama through their slightly parted curtains.
I really think Soldier had a long-standing dislike for me because my assertions-turned-pleas that that was my house for which I paid rent did nothing to make him ease the grip on the of my now not so sta-soft trousers. I’d be lying if I say my toes touched the floor of that pavement as I was whisked out.
I tried to take a rest on a bench outside the plot once Soldier dumped me outside, but he informed me that I was not welcome there either, or anywhere in the vicinity. So I stumbled back to the local and played move-and-shift with the cleaning lady as I tried to catch some sleep and she finished her washing.
I don’t know how the story got back to the Man Beater but, two days later, after hiding incommunicado, I was at the back of his jalopy headed home.
And that is how I learned that what you think are your rights are only your rights as long as those who wield power share the same thinking.
PS: The said period is a grey area of my life until now unknown to even my closest friends. No corroboration whatsoever can be made independently. Also, the computer girl came looking for me later. I almost took her back, but for one of my friends who gave me a heavy slap.