Stories

Neighbours

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“Hi guys. Have you heard the news? Mandela is dead?” Ronaldo dropped the shocker on us. The year was 1998, a week after the August bomb blast in Nairobi Kenya. It really was a bad month for us. See, when the news of the bombing was announced on the radio, 1pm news bulletin, Essendi’s mother had gone to town and was supposed to be transacting business near where the bomb blast occurred. Fortunately, she came back in the evening, unscathed. She had completed her business in good time and went downtown to do her shopping. However, Baba Bruce was not so lucky. Though he had escaped cuts and bruises from flying glass, he would keep getting full body tremors every now and then due to trauma. That, and the fact that he was a small fellow with a big bodied wife who would resort to physical violence every time he came home drunk.

So now, we were fetching water at the communal taps when Ronaldo – a moniker as he sported a hairstyle similar to the hot Brazilian football player (circa the 1998 World Cup) dropped the shocker. Now, we were served by three taps, about 60 households, and so you can imagine how long it took to get water. Not so Ronaldo, a bachelor, for as we continued down the trajectory of a dead Nelson Mandela, the engulfing confusion enabled him to fill his jerrycans and attend to other business.

Mwende. Mwende had a sister, Mueni, and a brother, Mutuku. She was the lightest of the three, with her younger siblings progressing to a darker hue. Mwendi and Mueni were friends with my sister. I don’t recall much about Mueni, but Mwende I do. She was a real beauty. More importantly, she was the one who taught me to tie my shoe laces after I bothered her one too many times. Mutuku was their wild brother and the usual victim of our childhood ‘panel-beating’ games; a sadistic game that can only be described as mob justice.

Coast. I have happy memories of the place. Not Mombasa’s coast, but Nairobi’s. There was the singer Dynamq (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B39JV7eBinI) who operated from here. And Mwangi, Mathenge’s – who would later transition to Izinde , Mathenge, that is – (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B39JV7eBinI) brother who was stabbed to death at a jam session at City Hall as he would not part with a Bob Marley themed bandanna sent to him from abroad. And Daudi Kabaka’s (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pwCoeWTdxc) residence burning; ever jovial, he used to play us songs on his guitar with us never knowing just how big a personality he was till we grew up. Then, Bora Bora Club was sizzling hot, hosting artists such as Jacob Luseno (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84siJXlY-ZI) among others.

Then, adults could walk into clubs and pubs with their kids and have a cold one and smoke cigarettes (with one or two sporting a pipe) as their kids did sodas. There being no delineation then as to smoking and non-smoking zones, my chest troubles must have begun then. So, we listened to reggae and rhumba and participated in ‘malako’ – Christmas’ song and dance competitions. And Dada Mary just had to bring Jesus to our hood (https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2000083407/mary-akatsa-the-prophetess-who-unveiled-jesus-in-kawangware)!

Once tribeless children, we grew up to be tribal bigots with a deep suspicion of those not like us. From neighbours, we turned to hey!bours; a quick greeting when we bump into our neigbours, but in our hearts, enemies. More so, when elections come. Now, I can tell all my former neighbours by their tribe and wonder how we were friends back then. Now, I filter my friends carefully. Very carefully. And for that, I am much the poorer for it. For when I knew tribe, part of my soul died.

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The ward manager (or how get elected and re-elected)

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Sometimes fate conspires to thrust an ordinary mortal into the limelight. Perhaps, gifting him fortune, fame or ignominy. Such a mortal was Jackson Kizengwe.

Before his fame, Jackson Kizengwe was just another face in the sea of humanity that is Plot Kijiji. This Plot Kijiji, a series of low-cost one- and two-roomed iron sheets shacks. The inhabitants? Construction labourers, market sellers, the fresh graduate tarmacking for a job as well as a few men and women of unknown trades who operated at night.

This Jackson Kizengwe, he had English of the nose. This is to say that he spoke English the way it ought to be spoken, like that of the Europeans who volunteered at the nearby street-children rehabilitation centre. Women said he was proud while the menfolk secretly admired him. They could tell that he would go far in life.




Now, the landlord of Plot Kijiji was this big-bellied ruffian. He spoke nice and he spoke rough, depending on which date of the month one’s rent was due. To his credit, let it be said that it was the only way he could collect rent from his slippery subjects. His name? Kibabi, meaning the wealthy one.

This Kibabi, his peers – tongues loose upon imbibing Wacera’s illicit gin – said he was a standard-four dropout. They added that he then became a pickpocket, graduated into mugging, opened a meat eatery, did a stint in jail before finally emerging as a slum landlord. And with his money came a horde of women to help him finish it. Namely, three wives and a paramour here and there. Said he was promoting the economy of Plot Kijiji and its neighbours as his women helped the shilling to go around.

Rather crude in how he said things, once you got past this, you could see the philosophy in many of his speaking. And it is this philosophy that had his friends and subjects urging him to run for the local councillorship in the coming elections. They argued that such a post could help him legitimise his landholding, plus allow him to get tap water and sewerage connection, said utilities being extended from Kibuti Estate, the relatively posh neighbourhood that was fenced off to keep unruly behaviours and unwanted persons that found refuge in Plot Kijiji. Their arguments made sense and so he had no recourse than to declare his candidacy.




As all elections go in this part of the globe, they were a mixture of crude, vulgar, lively, humorous, violent; the rule book long discarded and all protocols unobserved. To their credit, Kibabi’s people gave as good a hiding as they got and when it was all over, he was the new councillor of Kibujiji Ward- a conglomeration of the polished Kibuti Estate and the crude Plot Kijiji.

And he did not do a bad job at it either. He got his water and his sewerage alright. Plus, he upgraded some of his iron shacks into permanent houses now that he was properly titled, doled out education bursaries, attended funerals, lobbied for a tarmac road and build himself a mansion. Oh, and the Range Rover Sport that was the envy of Plot Kijiji and which carried many a bride to their wedding venue and reception. Kibabi knew the source of his wealth and he was not one to get haughty, considering that he would be seeking re-election. Or, the simpler explanation was that it was in his nature to do so.

Now, five years are nearly over and denizens of Kibujiji Ward will be required shortly to gauge the performance of their councillor. So, his worthy opponent from Kibuti Estate and whom he had displaced as councillor called for a truce. Kibabi heeded the peace call, rules of engagement were drawn (to the effect that Kibujiji Ward was greater than an individual or two) and numerous goats and sheep lost their lives in the process to celebrate this. Well, the matter should have ended there, but no. Kibabi fell sick. Seriously sick. As he was dying. To this effect, he summoned Jackson Kizengwe to capture his last thoughts in that English of his. The first wife was to get the matrimony house, wife no. 2 the car and so on and so forth.




News of Kibabi’s imminent death spread the width and breadth of Plot Kijiji and Kibuti Estate, with Jackson Kizengwe elucidating all the happenings leading to this in both circles. In effect, that foul play was suspected, but yet, that there was a God who was all-seeing.

Election day came. For Kibabi, it was a walkover. To show his appreciation, he appointed Jackson Kizengwe as the ward manager. He could use his impeccable English to communiqué with higher authorities in government and in his party as he had ambitions to be a member of parliament. Again, there was the small matter of keeping your friends close and your potential enemies closer still.

And that is how Jackson Kizengwe gained fame, power and influence and a portal to the governorship of the state in years to come. One step at a time, my brother. One step at a time. And of course, that a little English never hurt nobody.




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The jealous kind

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So, we are an item. Casually, just like that. See, I have moved into this new neighbourhood. Felt like I was suffocating in my old one – same old, same old. Same old people. Same old stories. Same old happenings. I really needed to inject some vitality in my life in the form of new challenges, new friendships, hence the move.

Her name is Divinah, though she is far from anything divine as I will found out later. Here is how we met: being new in the neighbourhood, I gotta make new friends and allies. People who can come to my rescue when I am in a fix. And being the kind of person I am, I am bound to get into one sooner or later. My bet? Sooner. Hence the new gas supplier.

So, here I am. Buying gas, but more importantly, making small talk with the dealer. He doesn’t know it yet, but he will extract me from many a fix – especially of the financial kind. He sports an Arsenal jersey, so my guess is as good as yours that talking football is a safe bet. Indeed, he is an Arsenal aficionado and I come out with my guns blazing red, devils after me. Soon, we are fast friends.





Now she comes. Her hair is in a ponytail and she dons a sleeveless chiffon blouse and blue jeans. Her smile is bright and ready as she greets the gas dealer. The gas dealer is hesitant with her and you can see she dominates him – the conversation, opinions, everything – she dictates the pace. You can tell she doesn’t hold him in high regards; he is more of a punching bag for her superior culture self.

Meanwhile a disinterested me ventures a ‘hi’. She gives me the once-over and says a demure ‘hi’ back – meaning she has seen the potential in me. Then she pursues her domination over the gas dealer. As she leaves me, we make eye contact and I can tell I have sparked an interest in her. Hopefully, something I can cultivate into a love interest.

Once gone, I pursue the matter with the gas dealer. Really, getting her bio-data; what she does, where she lives, if she has any military men in her family… which would be a no-no for me from past experience. She fancies you, I tell the dealer. He laughs off the suggestion- a high, crackled mirth that terms my utterance as an impossibility. She is in university, he says, in a tone that suggests that his reach has surpassed his grasp on the subject matter. Her name is Divinah.




Two days later, on a Saturday afternoon, I am holding fort as the gas dealer takes a break in the form of an Arsenal fixture. You would think that being a weekend, I would be laid back. In that you would be mistaken. Rather, I look like someone about to go for a job interview- minus the tie, though, so as not to look ridiculous.

His customers come and go. Used to dealing with the loutish dealer, they are rather polite and subdued in how I serve them. For all intents and purposes, I could be the gas dealership proprietor. The men size me up the way you would a wealthier competitor while in the women’s eyes is approval; confident, go-getter, a man who can raise a family in much more than modest ambience- is their verdict.

Now comes Divinah. Open sandals, a little black dress, mascara, hair let down (which would really be as romantic as a Spanish telenovela; except that her hair’s is not her own). “Hi Divine.” I saunter a greeting. “It is Divinah, with an ‘a’ and an ‘h’.” She counters. “Hi Divine… Divinah.” I venture a second time. You can tell she is blushing from the inside with pleasure going by the grin she tries hard to suppress. I can be an A-gamer when the occasion demands.

I offer her the extra plastic seat, even going through the motions of dusting off imaginary dirt for effect. For this, I get a sweet ‘thank you’. Can I get her something to drink; it is too hot and all that. No, she ‘aiight’. Ever the proper lady, she counters with an offer of hers; soft drinks, chips and a couple of sausages from the fast food joint across the road and which I offer to fetch. In my book on chivalry, rule 237 states that ‘Thy should not refuse a woman’s kindness for it may not be proffered twice.’




Divinah, she has stories aplenty, which is just as well- better get the bio-data from the source. Then again, her lunch offer has definitely enhanced my listening skills. She is in campus. International Relations. 3rd year. She stays off-campus and has no known military men in her family; which points she laughs off as absurd. She is an open relationship, she says. More importantly, her father is a politician of means, with pretensions of joining the city fathers. In fact, he is getting her a car for her birthday next week. I suggest a Toyota Mark X as a suitable vehicle; affordable yet one that commands respect as opposed to a Mercedes Benz which is too showy. From the way she talks carelessly about getting a car, the way you and I would talk about getting a haircut, I gather that she is a kinda ‘Spend, spend. Daddy will send’ girl. Later in the day, I tell the gas dealer about her visit. You can have her, he says.

On Thursday, mid-morning, I get a call. The number is a strange one and I have half a mind to ignore it. Could be a debtor using an anonymous number to track and press me down over a long overdue debt. No matter. I have learnt that the best way to deal with debtors is never to ignore them, thus making them more vicious in seeking repayments for their dues. Rather, pre-empt is the watchword. You can even get an additional loan on top of what you owe them if you are smart about it.

So, on Thursday morning I get this strange call. Though a bit apprehensive, I answer with a sunny disposition in my voice, ready to assuage any concerns on the other end. It is Divinah – sweet relief. Happy birthday. Oh, thanks. I am good, how are you? I am good too. The pleasantries over, she informs me as to the reason for her call. Could I meet her in such and such a place in the next half? Alright, coming over right away.




The story is – when I get to her – she is yet to get her driving license. And with the media being what it is nowadays, she doesn’t want to sully her family’s name. ‘Former Minister’s Daughter in Road Rage’ – screams the headline. The comments under the story: how the rich break the law with impunity, only in much more emotive language. I am to drive her back to her place till she can have her driving license ready next week.

Ever the gentleman, that weekend, I spot a vacant lot and spend the whole of Saturday afternoon refreshing her driving skills. In the evening, she invites me to her apartment. Again, ‘Spend, spend. Daddy will send,’ is the motto. The girl got taste, and expensive taste at that. Vintage morphs into retro before settling into modernity. Ever the gracious host – though we all know she is merely playacting – she offers to cook for me.

Now, we are listening to some Asa, ‘The One Who Never Comes’; holding hands, gazing into each other’s eyes. The passion sears white-hot, the desire overwhelms, the kissing is fierce; yet, I have to withdraw at the last possible moment. Too soon, I say. We should know each other better. In her, I have lit a fire and her thirst will be unquenchable.




A month later, we are lovers and I am driving the Mark X (as an unregistered taxi behind her back) most of the days as she attends classes. The gas dealer fuels the car as I let him impress the ladies with it on some days, though the fuelling is still her domain. In the evenings, I pick her from class and she gets to flaunt me to her girlfriends.

So, this Friday eve I show up to pick her from class. Only that in the car is Chevelle – light skinned, beautiful every which way. This Chevelle, once a girlfriend who dumped me for another guy with better prospects when she got tired off my mooching. Well, now that I have reformed, gotten a job as a bank manager and bought a car, the narrative has changed. She is giving me a second chance, she says, which translates to missing my sweet flattery and unpredictability, which I guess is the other guy’s undoing.

The fight unfolds almost organically. Burning green with envy, Divinah has a mind to go after my new girlfriend – the primal instinct- only that she gets intimidated by her beauty and the realisation that the competition is as dazed as she is about my philandering. They attack me together, though Chevelle’s is less vehement – been there, done that. She concludes me a loser, shouts at me to never call her again and storms off into the night.




Meanwhile, Divinah is all over me, her girlfriends egging her on and phone cameras whirring into action. She bites, she claws, she insults – her fights, no hold-barred. All the while, I am acting hurt and contrite. ‘Babe, it is not what you think.’ I am classically lame in my defence, as I ought to be. Basically, trying to earn the sympathy of her friends – the same ones egging her on – to put in a good word for me when they do their committee to dissect the future of our relationship as well as have the tabloids portray me as the good guy in their reportage.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the beginning of acquiring my maisonette in leafy Sunville. And a pretty ugly divorce as part of the deal in the next eleven years. Then again, man must rise above his circumstance and thrive.

Now, interchange the genders to get the other side of the story. Sounds familiar?




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A 32” inch story

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This story begins on a Friday. To be precise, the Friday just before Jamhuri Day on Monday. You know how it goes; a lazy day at the office, prepping up for the coming Christmas holidays…. The year has moved so fast, but then again, it is refusing to end. So, you resist a colleague’s offer for a quick drink and head home. You have a whole series of GOT to re-watch. Winter is coming, and so is the weekend. One long weekend that lasts up to the whole of Monday.

You are now at home. You enter the small gate that leads to your house, bypassing wamama wa ploti– the resident womenfolk- in the process. Today is water day, so they are lined at the communal water tap harvesting this precious commodity. You greet them, no need for them to say that you are proud so that they can start hating. Then again, you know how the meme goes, ‘salimiaga majirani, ufunguo ya gate hupotea’- that it is prudent to greet your neighbours as you can lose the keys to the gate.

Flight or fight mood… adrenaline pumping, your heart about to explode from all that fast beating… You see, your door is slightly ajar, and that cannot be a good thing. A thousand possibilities run through your mind: perhaps you forgot to lock the house- it has happened before after a Man United losing weekend when you were drunk with spirits unholy; maybe the cleanliness lady came by even if it is not her scheduled day to do your general cleaning… Deep down though, you know things are thick.




It hits you hard. You almost keel over. You know the song that ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, well, they got the lyrics wrong. For I die ten times in the span of ten seconds. Gaping at me is a wide, wide hole… a wide, wide hole previously proudly occupied by my 32” flat screen TV. Skyworth. A whole range of emotions engulf me. Mostly, I feel violated. That someone had the temerity to invade the space that is my house and make away with my most prized possession. I feel like shouting and screaming to draw attention, but then, that will be unmanly.  My recourse then is to quickly sit down before I can swoon from all that pressure my body organs are undergoing.

I may be in denial, but my mind is still processing additional information. That the decoder, plus the salt dish, lie scattered on the floor- so it must have been a quick job. That my bachelor meko- the ubiquitous 6kg self-contained gas stove is present. So too is the sub-woofer. And my clothes. And my bed. I look for my passport, it is present in that Tecno phone packaging at my bedside.

Relief. Rather, a bit of relief. My laptop is present too, though in the most of peculiar ways. Thing is, I usually keep it locked away in a locker when not in use- no reason for that. Then again, the locker always has its key on the lock. Well, today, I must have been in a hurry as I threw the keys to the locker on the table once I was done rummaging through it for some thing or the other. And with the table cluttered as it usually is (unless female companion is coming over- and no, family doesn’t count) – my laptop, with all those hours and hours of projects and softwares, survived the purge. I really should be counting my blessings. Still, all that scrounging and scraping and saving…




Once the initial shock has subsided, I beckon to one of the women and inform her of my misfortune. I dramatically demonstrate the robbery of my TV- which I condemn as ‘robbery with mental violence’- and invite her to have a look. A minute later, neighbours known and unknown come to offer their condolences- at least, it feels that way. Even our recalcitrant caretaker pays a visit and mutters the right noises, no doubt for the record as news of my robbery will eventually reach the landlord. The bottom-line being that this has never happened before, that clothes stay outside overnight and are never stolen, that these must be people who know me and have tracked my movements, etc., etc.

It is now some minutes past 7 and I am all alone in the house. I should be watching news as I cook my quick bachelor supper, then on to a rerun of GOT… Instead, my news teller is gone, and so too is my appetite. In the morning, I will throw away the takeaway madondo– boiled beans I was to fry to accompany my ugali- and keep the avocado. What to do, what to do… I decide to go out and look for a new padlock. At least, it is now common knowledge that I have been robbed, vigilance is heightened and I don’t think the robbers are stupid enough to do a robbery 2.0.

I am now seated at King George, having a couple of cold beers. There is nothing really to caress away worldly concerns as a couple of cold beers. For one, one’s thoughts attain a lucidity to see the bigger picture. That a TV, Skyworth, 32 inches, is something trivial. Why, my colleagues are playing in the league of parcels of lands, company shares and other investments. That I need to man up, cut my losses and move on very fast. It is not like someone has died.




Saturday. My body aches, but then again, I will have to wake up sometimes in the day. I might as well wake up now. Its 10 am and I would have just finished watching an hour of The Avengers… I will have to report the robbery, just for the record; you never know. And that’s how I rationalise my way to Riruta Police Station. I practically have zero confidence with our police, unless I am paying them for a particular service, say, providing security for a political rally, but the law is the law. Plus, my neighbours won’t take my robbery seriously until I show them the police slip indicating I have reported the memory of the robbery.

Now at Riruta Police Station. I am all servile and humble and greety-greety, that’s how you get served at a police station. Rudeness or arrogance simply won’t do. My cap is now in my hand and I have just greeted all the three officers stationed behind the reporting desk. In front of me is a mother and a sister cajoling to be let to see their son/brother. One of the officers enters a door behind him and shouts for a John Njoroge. This Njoroge – or Njoro, as his mother/sister, address him is a ruffian alright. Bloodshot eyes, unkempt hair, scraggy clothes, he looks like he has not been in acquaintance with water for a week.

As they talk, during which they plead with him to speak all the truth so that they can know how to manoeuvre with the OCS, the OCS makes an appearance. He obviously knows the mother, greets her and starts saying that if he was the one who had gone searching for Njoroge, he would definitely been calling the mother to get her dead son at City Mortuary. “Kijana wako ametusumbua sana, mum,”- that the son does not portend well for public good.




“Wewe, shida yako ni nini?” The OCS barks at me. In my most meek voice, I start by greeting him and informing him that I have no problem. “Mkubwa, habari yako, mimi sina shida ila tu…”- Your Lordship, I bring no trouble, but only too… “Kama huna shida, then umekuja kureport nini?”- If you have no problem, then, what are you reporting?- but you can see his voice is a bit softer, which means I might get justice today.

I tell him my TV is gone, last evening. He barks to the mother that his son and his group of friends were caught with stolen goods, among them a TV… Which area? I tell him that I reside in Ndwaru? Well, these things were reported stolen in Ngina, and with that, he dashes my rising hopes that I am about to be reunited with my dear TV. He goes away.

The mother and sister are done with their son/brother and he is being returned to the police cell. It has vastly improved, I can see that from the door which has been left ajar. For one, there is lighting in the cells, when I was last here four years ago, we embraced darkness… The sister is now talking to Ochi- short for Ochieng, a buddy to the brother. She is giving him her phone to inform his people where he is being held, else he turns up dead in City Mortuary with fatal bullet wounds. Prudence is the name of the game, for with our police, you can never tell.




Meanwhile, I am narrating my case. One of the police officers asks for the name of suspects. Suspects, suspects, suspects… Hmmm, let’s see. Joy, the cleanliness lady, too saved and too honest; she has returned substantial amounts of money found in my clothes several times as she did my laundry. Mama Mbone, the matronly lady who fetches my water at the communal tap, she is too matriarchal to cohort with housebreakers… My opposite neighbour who is always inside the house and never seems to work, a potential suspect. Or my friend Jack who owes me a lot of debt and never repays; I have not been picking his calls recently to address his money woes; definitely a suspect. Or Joan, the single lady.

Let me tell you a little about Joan. So, I moved in to this neighbourhood on a Saturday. On Monday at 8, someone is knocking om my door. I open cautiously, I don’t know that many people around this locale. But before that, I lower the volume of my music, could be a fellow tenant come with the caretaker to complain about aloud music. Some people just don’t get it. That some songs were just meant to be listened to at high volume, preferably in a residential area. (Hail the OG, Dr. Dre – Lyrical Gangbang – The Chronic).

So there is this light skin chick, saying that they have a resident chama– merry-go-round, that I should join it. 500 Bob a week. Now, I have lost quite a bit of money in chamas. First weeks and everyone comes through with their contributions in a timely and honourable manner. Then a few unscrupulous members start delaying on their payments, then other join in by defaulting on their loan repayments, then the chairlady makes off with the whole lot… No, thank you! I tell her that I already have commitments in an investment club- land, matatus, that kind of think. Plus, where are your manners, with a stranger, you start with introductions… I am forthright with her. Might as well set the tempo for the kind of power-relations I will have with my neighbours, ndio tusizoeane– familiarity builds contempt, goes the adage.




For a week, Joan the light skin chick doesn’t talk to me. I, on my part, couldn’t care less. I didn’t come here to make friends. In fact, I hold a one week house warming party and only two people are invited; me and my girlfriend. Then my girlfriend has to go back to college and that’s when Joan starts talking to me. At first, small small talk, how was your day, how was your night, goodnight… that kind of small, small talk.

Then, she starts coming over to my place, ostensibly, to watch news. She is daring in that she even comes to complete cooking her tea with my meko as hers has ran out of gas. She even brings me some bananas which I give away, then insist on leaving chapatis at my place when I decline them. I throw them away the next day. Hivo ndo mtu hukaliwa chapo– my friend, witchcraft is real. Gradually, I am now her unpaid therapist, listening to many a sob stories; supervisor this, colleague that… I am all patient, hoping to get lucky.

Why is she a suspect? Well, on the Thursday preceding the Friday robbery, lights went out in the evening. I went to the shop to get some candles. Now, I am back in the dark house fumbling for matches, only to catch a silhouette in the dark. A still, silent silhouette. What a fright Joan gives me. Coming to my house and sitting in the dark like a malevolent spirit from some horror movie. When I am well recovered, I tell her that my wife is coming shortly. She startles, she jumps, she runs. But not before waving a quick goodnight at the threshold and which I promptly ignore. On Friday, I get robbed.




Still, I name no suspects. The officer starts recording my case on the OB. Says his colleague, where did you say you come from. Ndwaru. I say. Well, Ndwaru falls under the jurisdiction of the Kabete Police Station, he says. So, to Kabete I proceed. Now, Kabete Police Station is notorious for offences traffic. That being the case, I load my phone with additional credit.

At Kabete, the drill is more or less the same, only that the offenders are mostly touts and the occasional matatu driver or drunkard. In no time at all, I am giving out my phone to a few touts, as they are brought to the reporting desk area in turn, to call family to come bail them out. The holding cells seem to be just as I left them when I was last here. Drunk and disorderly. Drunk, yes; disorderly, not, but as I said, the police are a law unto themselves. I too borrowed a phone to make a call from a stranger reporting a crime. My crime and details are recorded in the OB, then and now. I head to town to buy a small TV with which to catch up with the news. You know, those cheap and small TVs that lack stereo and which you watch with one eye closed.

After church on Sunday, I return to Kabete Police Station as instructed. Well, the superiors are out, I am told. Come back on Monday. So now, Monday is Jamhuri Day. I make my way to the police station again… the officer assigned to your case was on night duty. Could you come back tomorrow? I am being given the run-around, so bye bye my 32 inch Skyworth TV. Was nice knowing you. I head back home to catch up on the president’s speech.

*******

Later in the day, Joan faints in my house. She goes all dead on me and I am trying to revive her by fanning her and splashing her with cold water. I am seeing myself in court, answering to murder or manslaughter charges. Now, who among my friends can I call to help me get rid of a dead body without snitching. Luckily though, she resurrects and I escort her to the bus stop to go home. FY1, this is another Joan. I really should stop dealing with anybody named Joan. Pure trouble, I tell you.




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Dreams are beautiful

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It is a beautiful night. A poetic night. The soft, pitter-patter lull of rain on the iron roof, the smell of the ground as the first drops made contact, the yells of delight from children racing in the rain, never mind the beating they are now getting from concerned mothers… It is a night for lovers. Lovers who embrace tight to beat the creeping cold, reminiscing of sunny days and disapproving aunties.

It is a beautiful night. A night to dream of what could be and meditate on what is. A night for lucid thoughts. It’s a night hurtful for the singles. For then, the loneliness cuts deep into the marrow, interrupting thought that could have been expended towards improving the human condition. And as the loneliness bites, the all too familiar urge to scroll through one’s phone contacts and make contact with another human being – a sister, a brother, a fleeting lover- intensifies.

It is a night for dreamers. A night for happy thoughts, happy dreams, for dreams are beautiful. Curled in a corner of the queen sized bed, squeezing tight Jack, her teddy bear, she is lost in thought. Last week, she removed herself from WhatsApp- high school, campus, family WhatsApp groups. The week before, she closed her social media accounts- her Facebook page with 20k likes, twitter, Instagram, the whole works.




You see, there is Jack and then there is Jack. One is a teddy bear- a sweet, little, poor thing- while the other is a heartless jerk. This Jack that is a jerk, honey-flavoured words is his trade. Tall, muscular, a looker, and all the attributes you would expect of a romantic guy. Then again, he says women falls for him. He has a weakness for women, he says. He is all contrite, as they all are when they are found out.

Outside, the rain falters, then peaks again as though attuned to the turmoil of emotions she is undergoing. The radio too is a silent conspirator, ebbing into her conscious thought, mocking as though in jest. Though almost muted, the murmurs of what is Craig David’s crooning screams to register in her mind. Don’t Love You No More (I’m Sorry).

Rain outside my window pouring down
What now, you’re gone, my fault, I’m sorry
Feeling like a fool ‘cause I let you down
Now it’s, too late, to turn it around
I’m sorry for the tears I made you cry
I guess this time it really is goodbye
You made it clear when you said
I just don’t love you no more.

Tonight, she dreams.




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The politics of our times

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A dead child in Syria
A kidnapping in Dakar
A shooting in Charleston
Who is innocent, who is not?

Shuttle diplomacy turned subtle
Statesmen and 3-star generals
Deft oratory and bland clichés
Who is innocent, who is nuts?

Homo paranoia- the paranoid man
He defies logic in all its forms
The father preys on the child
The child preys on the mother
A game of deathly musical chairs.

The villain and the saint are drowned
The evangelical who prostitutes too
And the prostitute who evangelises
Abra macabre- the magic of Hades!

Promises, premises and doctrines
Each claiming to be the truth absolute
Unseen, the bomb hurtling downwards
Complicit is everyone in their screams.




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The smoothie operator

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He ran a fruits and fruit juices stall. Smoothies, he called his juices. Slippery green avocado smoothie. Bubbling passion. Enticing mango with a glint of Swahili. A cocktail of charm and enticement that rocked your taste buds and left you dizzy with exhilaration. He even tried a concoction of sugarcane and groundnuts which he termed as ‘Big Bamboo’-in the fashion of that calypso. It was a bid success with the menfolk, though he did cease its preparation when women- his principal customers- started to complains of body soreness and aching occasioned by a spike in nocturnal activities.

He was of average built, our smoothie operator was. A bit on the tall side and sallow in complexion. What really stood out though was his face- bushy eyebrows, a European nose, thin lips, a sharp, weak jaw and a smooth chin that lent an effeminate credence to his demeanour. In short, he was beautiful. Hair salon gossip attributed his parentage to a white man, with his mother probably being a woman of the night remaining unsaid. Then again, he had a way with words that made him a darling of women- girls, singles, married, complicated, old, worldly, saved… His voice was soft, slow, sure, like that of a drunk news anchor. Njeri swore that she had an orgasm just flirting with him.

Now, Papa Doc was running for political office. He had heeded the clarion call of his people as all politicians go. Judging by his belly though, it was more of the allure of easy money that came with the office. This Papa Doc, a wily man that knew all the tricks of the city. He had sold land that was not his, supplied the Ministry of Prisons with blankets when it wanted radios, registered a political party that sold nomination certificates to losers of the two big political parties and collapsed a bank. He was experienced, alright.




Papa Doc had a wife. A trophy wife. A pretty, lithe thing that wore modernity for a dress and caused knots in men’s stomach and confusion in their minds. Irene Nabwa, was her name. She said she had studied in England, and judging by the way she spoke English through the nose, this could well have been the case. Irene was light skinned, had ‘mucus hair’- the kind that is silky smooth and falls over the shoulders onto the hips; and laughter that made the sun shine. Only Papa Doc’s reputation kept other men at bay.

Not so our smoothie operator. Gay of talk and outlook, they were bound to meet. Now, Papa Doc had gotten to know and like the smoothie operator, courtesy of the ‘Big Bamboo’. Irene was a demanding lady and him being middle-aged and a partaker of roast meat and copious amounts of beer, the ‘Big Bamboo’ had come in handy in assisting him fulfil his conjugal duties.

It takes a smooth operator to know a fellow smooth operator, so when Papa Doc sought political office, he had recruited the smoothie operator to be his assistant. By his reckoning, this would endear him to the youthful voters and the womenfolk, and if these demographics were on your side, then the election was as good as won.




Perhaps, Papa Doc should have rented an office from where to run his political campaigns- a sort of secretariat, so to speak. He didn’t. He would run his gubernatorial campaign from home. Better get acquainted with his people from the onset, he said. Thus it was that Irene and the smoothie operator met.

As most introduction go, Irene’s and the smoothie operator’s introductions were cordial. This is my wife, Irene. This is my assistant. It’s a pleasure. The pleasure is all mine. Tea. And so the days went by as strategies were formed, implemented, dissected, recrafted and so on to suit the political mood in the city as the campaigns took fervour. Naturally, the smoothie operator and Irene got to see each other aplenty.

Now, our smoothie operator was a sensible fellow. He knew what a man of Papa Doc’s character was culpable of. It was true that Irene owned beauty the way men own cars and plots of land. On several occasions, Irene had flirted with him- her talk, a slight brush on the shoulder, the glimpse of a nipple or a smooth thigh that screamed to be caressed- but our smoothie operator had feigned ignorance of the offer at hand.  Oh her part, Irene perceived this a rejection. Was she not attractive enough? Was she losing her looks and touch? – and such other doubts a woman experiences when she feels she is being rejected with no good cause.

So Papa Doc got really drunk. It was a Saturday and he had maxed on the day. Meeting a youth group here, a women’s group there, a rally in the market, etc., etc. The culmination of the day being a finance campaign grouping of the business community drawn from who is who in the city. Drinks flowed and Papa Doc got caught in the excitement, as did most of the grouping present. At 1 in the morning, the smoothie operator took him home.

Thus began the tale of Romeo and Juliet.




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Same thoughts, different days

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Monday. It rains on Monday. It rains on gloomy Monday. A soft patter kind of rain that makes the duvet sweet and warm. A poetic rain that sends morning lovers into ecstasy. Not for him though, these creature comforts. He has a family to feed. The pattern is all too familiar; the snoozing of alarms till the missus complains, the pounding in the head with accompanying haranguing from her on why he needs to be coming home early, the cold showers to shock the body systems to function…

The work commute. He struggles to stay awake. At times, he hopes there’s a bit of traffic- not too much that he actually late for work-  to catch on some sleep when the traffic wardens are not on the prowl. A fender bender now and then can always be explained away; his numbed mind soothes him then. If he could afford it, he would get a chauffeur.

Family. He has a wife. A wife and two adorable daughters. Two adorable daughters that make the grind that is his daily life seem tolerable. Their names- Precious and Jewel. Their mother is a beauty- light-skinned, European hair, long legs (daddy long legs is the phrase that comes to his mind when he dreams of her legs), a petite waist. She completed him.

Doubts. He has his doubts as all men must. There are days he feels hollow; days he strives to find meaning in his life. There are days he wistfully longs for the days of his youth. When the horizon looked inviting and life was one big adventure. When where he ate his meals or spend the night was not a concern and prestige was something reserved for the old. Heck, his boyhood neighbourhood had more life and more character than the polite middle-class he now snugly fits in.

Life’s philosophy. With age has come wisdom; which feels as self-pity or playing it safe most of the times. That sometimes what is needed is to only show up. That wisdom is planting a tree whose shade you will never enjoy. He has read a couple of motivational books at the behest of his wife. 10 to be exact. He quit smoking as a result.

Still, he thinks: what if he were to begin painting a new canvas. These thoughts keep him awake, day and night, and when he does sleep, they invade his dreams too. What if I were to begin afresh? He knows that he is going to hurt a lot; himself and loved ones. Deep down, his psyche understands that this is the price to pay for being a man.

Tomorrow, he walks away from it all.

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They come

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The sun rises. The sun sets. Sometimes it rains, at times the wind blows- soothingly or violently, for only the seasons change. And your circumstances.

Somewhere in Athi River. A three bedroomed mansion and a Mercedes Benz, on the front yard. It’s official. You have arrived. Middle-class. Cutting corners, luck, furthering your qualifications, marrying right, etc., etc. Three more years and you will be part of the landed gentry in Runda.

You. You who do not greet your neighbours. Tonight you die. Chubby, cheerful Mama Nena, they let her live. Rather, one of her neighbours conspired a story that let her escape this war fought when daylight stops. Mama Nena, she cut their Sukuma wiki and let them buy it on credit. But you are a middleclass- suits, Toyota Mark X and you do not greet neighbours.

Yours is a long journey. The child prodigy who failed his final exams. The depression. The avoidance of well-to-do-off fellow schoolmates. The dusting off of failures and the resolve to win at all costs- no mercy, no taking prisoners. The increasing bitterness with each achievement in lieu of time and childhood trauma.

So you tweeted in between chasing money. You spewed hate as your tribal men egged you on. It had worked for others. Galvanising fellow tribesmen online and riding them to political seats; governorships and all the minor gods after them that was the political space. You were voted in not on the strength of your manifesto, but on how long and loud you could spew tribal bigotry and vitriol.

It still seems like a bad joke. Surreal. Don’t they understand that it was all in jest? Don’t they understand that all politics is local and you only said what you said to get your tribesmen to vote you in? Don’t they understand that the only ideologue you- the political class- have is your own stomachs? Unfortunately, your seat was too small and you were unable to get off the country when it stated burning. Wiser leaders, more connected, had bought property abroad.

Kudundu, kudundu… for whom the drum sounds.

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The year 2019

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The year is 2019. The setting, Gituamba camp. Lawi and Methu are talking.

The year is 2019, six months too deep into a wintry June Monday morning. The setting is Gituamba refugee camp, a makeshift camp of Internally Displaced Persons- bits of carton, mud, corrugated iron sheets- anything to keep the elements out. Lawi and Methu are having a muted conservation on the state of what was once a proud nation.

The year is 2019, mid-June. A cold piercing wind occasionally sweeps across the land, heightening the bone hugging cold that is already present. The air is so cold that it sometimes descends as a kind of frigid drizzle conjured straight from The Chronicles of Narnia fairy tale. The setting is Gituamba IDP camp. An informal settlement of IDPs. Lawi says, we are no longer people, just persons. Methu retorts that they should just be called EDPs. Eternally Displaced Persons. They laugh about it.

The year is 2019 and the sun has refused to rise. We are in the middle of June and it hurts to breath. Yesterday another child succumbed to the flu. Provisions are low and World Vision is having a hard time supplying food and medicine to the refugees at Gituamba IDP camp. Last week, UNHRC closed down their operations. The other week, the Red Cross declared the situation untenable and moved its staff out, citing security concerns. Lawi and Methu are having a conversation. Their medium, improvised brushes, paint and a variety of material- cloth, carton, pieces of cardboards- as their canvas.

The year is 2019. The days are cold, long and vacant. Despair has made a home in Gituamba where fate has brought together two men- drawn from different communities- and turned them into fast friends. A friendship cemented by their love of painting. Lawi was previously Senior Manager, Corporate Section, at SOS Bank Afrique while Methu is a full time artist. Suffice to say, Lawi was once a promising artist before the allure of money got the better of him. Today, another family lost a mother to dysentery, pronounced as ‘die, sentry’ in the piece that Lawi has just started painting.

The year is 2019. The earth is one big fridge and you can feel the cold in your bones, for July has descended, more grey than June and more vicious. The setting is Gituamba IDP camp where a few persons are gathered in one corner of the camp watching keenly as Lawi and Methu paint. On the opposite corner of the camp is yet another freshly dug mound housing what was once a human being. This time, a woman who could not access her anti-retrovirals.

The year is 2019. The earth is damp and the air hazy. It is August and the cold is less severe. World Vision has closed their operations. The state of affairs of this once promising nation has turned into stale news and world media has focused on more fresh, Eurocentric, tragedies. Gituamba camp’s populace is down by 17, the usual suspects; malaria, typhoid, toxic machete and bullets wounds. Then again, today’s suicide has shocked everyone. She was a university student, engineering. So they congregate in Lawi’s and Methu’s corner- their new social media.

The year is 2019. Bright and sunny September is here. Normally considered as Black September, this year might just be different. Political talks are progressing smoothly in Arusha. World Vision and Red Cross have resumed operations. There has been no death this months, and so Lawi and Methu draws pictures of children and rabbits and flowers. On Sunday, they are holding an interdenominational, interreligious, interethnic mass service. Their offering: their old art- burning houses, dying humans, and all the vices propagated by the political class, for in their tribulations, they have become one.

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