THE SMELL OF NOTHING

It does not take long to see him. His walk up the alley walks before him. His legs shuffle on the tarmac, dragging with them the dregs of despair and hope in equal measure. When he lets down the bag that has seen age, if not half the country while seeking for the ever elusive job, he sighs. I sigh too. His cap too.

Let me take you to the start. We are not friends, he is not my friend, I am not his friend. But nairobi ya maisha ni ngumu. We met, and had the same needs so we took the same way. I have been waiting here for quite some time. He is never late, I am never late. Our work is not to be late. But each of us is human, and humans are supposed to be human, right?

He brings the mali, I take it. Our business is simple.Money changes hands, and each of us goes home smiling. See, sometimes, this town rains smiles, when it is end month. Or it smiles rains, when you cant stop us.

“Bro umefika?” I ask him, as if I cant see him.

It is a typical question, this one, among all of us. Even when we see you we have to ask you whether you have arrived. Sometime, even after supper, we have to ask you whether you have eaten. It is a question for a question.

“Bro nimefika kitaamboo. Ni kanjo walinihold pale , nikawait kiasi.” He answers.

See? He is not rude, I am not rude. He has some level of courtesy you wont associate with the men and women who mug you in the streets. He is a well brought up young man. Sometimes, it is not our choice, it is the environment.

” Na mali nayo?

We never waste time with our meetings. There is no tea before the agenda. There is no tea after the agenda either. It is pure business. He comes, I come. We talk business. He goes, I go. Business.

” Leo si mob. Nilipata mali less hii wiki. Biz imekua mbaya buda.”

There is a thrill around the word buda. It is dragged for sometime. A gangster`s buda is not your normal buda. The word plays on his tongue like a smile of jest for a moment.It is a well-rehearsed buda. He says buda the right way, like the real buda. Like a real gangster.

I rarely say buda. Me I never do that. When I do that no one would respect me. I can`t say buda correctly. You see, there is a way you should say buda for it to mean what you mean in our world. So I dont use the name, I am the leader here, I am the collector.

Ooh! I didnt introduce myself? Sorry? We dont ever introduce ourselves? Do we ? But I am good guy, he is a good guy. We are only in this business because we reached nairobi ya maisha and we had nothing else to do, nowhere else to go.I am Brayo, he is Brayo too. See? We are good guys. We only steal and mug for life. Each of us has to pay rent. Right?

You dont agree?

Let me tell you. I think you were born in some good place, maybe Lang`ata or such places where you call chipo fries. You guys were my neighbors. I think you studied well. You went to praimo in those schools that had buses, and a library. Perhaps your parents could afford an “oxford” Geometry set, the way you can afford an iPhone at this time, and the time to read this story. See? You always had a way.

I dont want to tell you my story. I was your neighbor, you didn’t know me. I didn’t know you either. People from my side of town could not cross to your side of town when we were young. Our schools did not have buses. We walked. You made it in life, you can afford a loan from the bank, but I cant go there. I smell, my kind smell. We smell of poverty and nothing.

We, I and him that is are just seeking a balance in society. We cant have the pyramid this steep, can we? So we take the mali from you, when you are driving somewhere in Nairobi, when you walk carelessly around in town. When you dont have anything good to do with it so you keep the mali on your ears carelessly while speaking with your wives and girlfriends.

We dont steal. We just take, and keep it safe. We are guardians of the economic pyramid. No one of us is a thief. You understand?

” Brathe idhaa. Hii biz tumalize speedy nirudi wira.”

He snaps me out of the small reverie. He is in a hurry, I am in a hurry. We are in a hurry, this business is hurried business.

” Ni ngapi?” I ask.

He doesnt answer. He is in a hurry, and too much talking reduces the trust. So he lets down the bag. Looks around the alley for a moment. You cant take chances, even the walls have eyes in this town. Opens it, for a brief moment, just for a glimpse. I nod, he nods, we nod together. His mali is good. I will buy it.

” Deal si ni ile ya kawaida bro?”

I make calculations as I say this. Thinks change rather rapidly in our trade. Its like Forex. Sometimes the price goes down, or it goes up.Sometimes we dont come to agreement.But we cant afford disagreeing. If we do the muguka guys wont get anything from us, and the girls in Koinange and other places will sleep hungry too. And the bars and clubs wont have enough members. See? We build the economy too.

” Mali ya leo buda ni safi. Hii tulitoa Karen brathe.Itabidi uongeze kakitu, juu ata wewe utapata zaidi.”

I know they didnt come from Karen. It was probably your mali, the one that was taken away in Thika bound matatu, around Githurai. You remember it? Ooh, it wasnt you? Then its probably your friend, the beautiful workmate you have been crushing on whose mali was taken. The one who lives in Embakasi. You know her? I think this mali is hers.

But I dont argue. Be it from Karen or not the mali is good. We dont argue in our business. We cant afford disagreeing.

” Unadai ngapi basi?”

” Wewe ongeza tu kakitu uko nayo juu ya ile ya kawaida. Itakua fiti.”

I pat my pockets. He rubs his hands in glee and trepidation at the same time.I look at the bag in thought for some time. I hope the mali is good enough for the money I pay for it. I hope too, that when you come to buy at the shop again, you wont remember your mali, because it will have changed kiasi.

We look around. You cant remove money when there are too many people watching you. Then I shake his hands, and in that one moment, the trade is done. He nods, I nod.He picks the bag, I pick the bag. Each has his own bag. But I have his bag, he has mine. He will bring more mali from you next time, using my bag. And I will carry my mali with his bag.

See, I know I will always have my mali because you are very kind. You give without asking. You always know when to give. My brother`s dagger works wonders, or sometimes it is his fake gun. You will give him when you meet him. And we will do good business, you, I and him. We will build the economy, the three of us.

I am at the end of the alley. His bag smells a little. I dont know what it smells of. There are so many smells in this town. Sometimes it is the smell of fear when he comes to take the mali from you. Sometimes, it is the smell of money when you come to buy the mali from me.Sometimes, it is the smell of time ticking off, my time. My time, his time. We dont have too much time.

But like now it is the smell of nothing. Nothing. Just hope and despair in equal measure.

” Wewe kijana tebu simama hapo.” Hiyo ni nini umebeba kwa hiyo bag?”

The smell of nothing has caught up with me.

Welcome To Africa

Dear Foreigner,

Let me introduce you to my little world. It doesn’t have waterfalls and themeparks as you would it want it to. I know wherever you are; you have been told tall tales of how you will see wildebeests all the way from the airport, and how you will have a chance to take a couple of selfies with a live `lion. I am afraid that is not the same little world I am talking about. This one is different, it has `mercurated sugar`, adulterated petroleum,` dirtified` politics and `normalized` embezzlement of public funds. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the lunatic train called Kenya.

You see, we were doing a Tort law exam when one Matiangi made that `mercury sugar` declaration. And somehow the most useful and important of government announcements, like the ` successful` arrest of ` a most` wanted criminal who had successfully eluded the country`s retinue of policemen, who are always more interested in `tuongee vizuri hii story kidogo isifike station` than seeking for criminal elements, are always made on Friday evenings, when your brains are a mess of weekend fantasies and the lethargy of a whole week of studying and eating standardized meals from the meal. The exam was hard, as hard as an African team winning the world cup. Mudala, the guy behind me was sweating his way through it after skiving all the lectures. But then, even in the silence excommunication of an enclosed exam room, with all the tension that a bunch of overzealous exam invigilators brings to any student, we all somehow knew, that we need not blame ourselves for our lack of absolute understanding with things like `res ipsa loquitur` and `ex turpi casa`. Mercury corrupts the brain after all.

We didn’t go out into the streets to hang someone about it. No, we don’t demonstrate over such things here. No, this is Africa. Just the other week someone in the government walked away with a cool 9 billion shillings. Such people you don’t demonstrate about. You see, if the 9 billion gets into the pockets of a cousin to the friend of the distant cousin of my aunt, who incidentally happens to belong to my tribe, it is not at all evil. In fact, I think I will be that person`s chief campaigner if at all they decide to run for office. In your country you might probably be carrying placards professing how `integrity is important in leadership. We are not that stupid, ours is the typical ` eat and let eat`, ` steal and let`s steal country. I will hear no evil, see no evil if the same gets to me, be it through church fundraisers or tithe offerings if so be it I am a pastor.

Look, I intended to write this letter to tell you about the good things of my world. But you probably have your Disney, or the world cup is happening in your country, or you are experiencing a malady called `brexit` which to most Kenyans think  is something arcane and contagious, almost tantamount to Ebola. I wouldn’t expect you to know anything about this world; we are not at the world cup to be showcased on a world stage after all. It`s not that we don’t have a soccer team, it`s just that sometimes we choose to pray instead of training, and it works wonders all the time, God has obviously blessed us with the inability to play anywhere past our muddy Kasarani and win! Last I heard about our motley assortment of footballing talent, they had been turned into curry and pepperoni by the Indians in some competition no one has ever even heard about.

I once visited some village in Britain, in my dreams and the movies. Just in case you think you are heavily developed, I’d have you thinking otherwise in a moment. We, Africans, have overtaken you in a lot of things. Like religion, instance. My honorable government officials who steal billions on our behalf hold fundraisers every weekend. Money they give in millions, after all Jesus commanded that what is given to us free, we should give absolutely free! No, we don’t build schools, or new hospitals, or help underprivileged children with this cash. Somehow our `development agenda` and the most recent `big four` agendas do not conform to this fixation you people have with the ` physical good` of the public. We build churches, as many churches as we can. We have `mabati` churches, ` stone churches`,` open air churches` , all seeking to feed us ` spiritually.` I guess if we can’t have our stomachs full with some real food, we can always depend on this ` spiritual nourishment` that we have to tithe for to sustain our life. Quite the genius we are, aren`t we?

Yes, just like you we are also watching the world cup. I know you probably are fascinated by how we probably are watching it somewhere in the wilderness that is our whole country, with a bunch of emaciated children and lions roaming our very doorsteps. I really wish it were so too. Anything to warrant a sniff of tears and sympathy in foreign eyes is worth good money in Africa. In fact, we have actively invested in this `sector` of our economies by classifying some areas as `marginalized` and praying for them to be more `marginalized` in future. We want rains, so that the floods come with the free donor food. We are always asking God to send the sun with vengeance, on one side it will scorch our earth to dust, on the other  donors will start crying about `poor Africa` , and when they finish the normal ` Romeo and Juliet acts` of hugging the nearest person for ` emotional support` on how African children will go `extinct` from the hunger, we will smile, money will come, and we will all go back to the business of trying to make more emaciated children for the retinue of `donation inducing` photo-shoots.

Just yesterday our hardworking policemen, who even with the enormous amounts of work they have can still keep enviable tummies, arrested a man who was selling us cat meat. If you live in China this is so mundane we shouldn’t even be talking about it. But then we are all strict Christians here! We can all have pre-marital sex, fornicate as much as we want, drink liquor laced with the potent power of underwear and used condoms, but the Bible says that we should not eat cat-meat! According to my pastor, such is a sin that even Jesus himself won`t have the patience to forgive. I think the cat-butcher will be thrown into jail for ` cruelty to animals` or some other such obscure crime, and we will heave in unison. Even those of us, who had had the meat in `samosa mwitu` and `mutura` are out here cursing him, and stating how “we will only eat nyama ya paka over our dead bodies!”

I don’t really know what really ails European countries, and Trump`s asphyxiating America. I always thought everything in the world was ` quid pro quo` and ` scratch my back I scratch your back.` You people take us African for a bunch of absolute bimbos, our lack or disregard of white civilization notwithstanding. Last week, our Rugby body fired a black coach who had harvested us the largest haul of points we have ever seen in the IRB sevens, to give space to a white man as usual. We give you all we have, our jobs, the best houses, our best girls sometimes, but your `whitocentric` friends don’t want Africans to even get into Europe. What is that now? Some like Trump are fixated with building walls to keep us out; some have invested in large ships that patrol the seas to arrest the dream chasers from Africa.  Isn`t that some form of racism we should all be fighting, all of us?

In case you think of visiting this side of the world, don’t worry about the people. They are the friendliest of organisms on all earth. They will even give you their daughters as long as you pay ` a little` something for them. Hold, on, it`s not that we have fixation with little things. Sometimes it`s the economy that forces us to depend on the littlest of opportunities. I t`s a tough economy this one. Unlike in your countries where people hit it big by having credible inventions, in my world it takes a little more ingenuity. You need to be a politician to be a billionaire. As long as you can’t keep your mouth shut in defense of the tiny demigods who own everything, you and your family will be rich forever and ever Amen. Yes, you need to know people and to have the guts to confidently say `Ni mungu tu, `When you are asked about the source of your wealth.

I think I will wind up just about here. If I don`t, our power company will send me a bill that speaks of ` five star electricity service` if at all there is such. Then they will unceremoniously `kata stima` when I can’t afford to foot it. And just so you know, romantic, candle lit meals are not an option in mind when the closest thing you have to a girlfriend is the landlady, or the vegetable vendor who sells you ` original sewage grown sukuma wiki and cabbages`.

Lamaba Lolo and watch the world cup in peace.

With all sarcasm intended,

An African Idler.

 

The Road to Thighland and Life Troubles

I met two individuals this week. Two people who I think I should write about.

When we all of come to Nairobi, we dream of making it big, hitting the deal breaker in the first month or two, and going home driving a ka car that will get the village girls a little wet. But it doesn`t happen many of the times. We never get anywhere. One week we are dreaming of buying a house and a car, the next one we are struggling to pay rent for a ka bedsitter in Zimmerman as if our lives depend on it. That`s why such situations I always call Nairobi ya Maisha.

My subject did just the same thing. She left her home, somewhere in Nyeri to come to town, to learn. And then life struck as it always does.The day her matatu landed at Nyamakima, and she got out with all her Ndumas and mboshos, she was innocent. She didnt know what lamba lolo meant. She was just straight out of high school, and had just enough mental manure to fertilize her dreams. I wont name her.

And then there is this other one, born right in the bowels of this town. She is like a map, scared by town. She always will know where the Kanjos are lurking, who is hitting on who, whose phone was taken Jana in Kayole, and who is a thief in Kariobangi. Her life hit corners before Thika road was made, perhaps it was just around that time when the bed upon whose sheets the idea was conceived was being spread. You would think that life should work in some sort of alternates. One moment you are down, the other you are up, but it doesn`t for her. In her memory it was always been a story of struggles, of danger lurking down the corner in the form of a policeman, or the kanjo, or even the customer.

I know you have just about learnt about the trajectory of this story, Yes, I was somewhere along Koinange street, at night. I wasnt seeking to rarua Karura while akina Hamisi Rawlins were biting each others heads off on my post here, I was seeking money too. And when you are seeking money, your business paths will always cross with other business persons, whether you like it or not.

I almost sympathized with the trade. It looks despicable, until she tells you how much she earns in a night. How much, we men, mwaga from our pockets and our mjulubengs that night. Somewhere she reminded me a book that I have been fantasizing about reading,`The Power of Pu***.`It is not worthy literature,not in the same sense of literature that Mzangila Snr or Timon Nia or a reading connoisseur like Thuo Patrick Junior would appreciate, but we are all seeking some understanding of the dynamics of life.

I have my reservations about prostitution. I have seen the amount of evil its guardian angels can do in normal placid places like my hometown Narok, when the wheat dry. I have seen how people around my neighborhood would sell a little piece of their farm, to go have that glorious fifteen minutes of fame, and then the walk of shame after that. But I have always asked myself, what led them to the trade?

They told me about their own experiences, these two characters of mine, how life drove them to the absolute edge of the cliff. The first one feeds her mom in Nyeri with the product of her hustle. Back home they think she has a small shop near the UON, which is absolutely true if you took it into context. For the second one, everyone knows her trade. She talks of it with the ease of someone who has done it before. The words glide from her tongue, as if its an interview with Nation. And when I am just about done talking to her her, she tells me, `Na kama utakuja kesho ulete biashara ya maana.` I don’t know what that means at all. I am still innocent.

But I know we haven`t ever thought to talk of it, the rot in the deepest cleavages of our societies that stifles us. I know that some men condemn them in the sun, and frequent their rooms in the dark. I always thought of paying for the services so that for once I would have shared the same thing with someone high in the government. Their client profiles are portfolios of the big and the mighty, and the small fish who can only afford a shot for the day. But I have seen what happens in Amsterdam, On Magunga`s blog that is, where the trade is treated as you would treat any other trade.
It is not the act that is despicable, it is the fact that even the clients do not want to speak about it. As long as men will need sex there will be prostitution, its yin and yang. We can condemn it to the darkness, but every night, in the cold, they will stand and wave at your car as you cruise along university way, and you will be tempted under the streetlights by the glare of flesh, and blood roaring in your head.

Let not the false belief in our self righteousness urinate on reality.
It is time to deal with prostitution as a trade. They don’t peddle narcotics, and slay queens don’t give what they were give free for free either

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