Once upon a camel in Habaswein, I had one Sheikh Hassan as my landlord.That soft spoken man with a goatee dyed the colour of Royco was an Islamic Education teacher at the local secondary school.Some end months,I would tell him that I had gone to Wajir town to get my pay to settle his rent. After drawing my salary from KCB Wajir,I would go to Ngamia Club for lunch.At around midday,the air would be shattered by the landing of a big Jumbo called Juba Airlines in the nearby Wajir airport.That humongous thing that could fit a small village plus all its grunting camels used to charge Ksh 3,800 to Nairobi then.I would weigh between going back to Habaswein to pay rent and going home to see my children.The children would win,finally.Or love would win over financial obligations.Thus I would board the big jumbo and by 3pm I would be at Tea Room,waiting for a matatu home.That thing was fast.When I would get back to Habaswein,I would play hide and seek with Sheikh,seeing that I owed him rent.At some point,we would meet,him sitting on the mat outside his dash just after Maghreb prayers.Dash is a man’s ‘thingira’ in Somali.‘Habari ya nyumbani?’ Sheikh would ask,a thousand watt smile lighting up his face.’Salama.’ I would answer.’Na habari ya bibi?”Na watoto?’His salaams would go on in the elaborate salaams style of pastoral communities.If you have camels they even ask ‘habari ya ghamia’.Then I would weave a tall tale on how I used all the rent money for some emergency at home and he would quip:’Hakuna shida.Mungu atapeana.’And that would end it-until another month’s rent would become due.But rent was not the only point of conflict between me and the amiable sheikh.Every evening,we would go to the local police canteen which we called Mabatini to shoot breeze and generally pass time.The maître d of the only shanty hotel there was an Embu lady called Muthoni.Now,Muthoni was infamous for serving chicken with one leg or one wing missing if you placed a full chicken order.However,she made up for those small failings by cooking the illest goat head I have ever known.We used to call it ‘headache’ for no particular reason.Muthoni kept a horde of dogs which customers were obligated to feed as they ate.Otherwise if she noted you were mean to her dogs,she would been mean to you and disqualify you from credit.To be on her good books,I would drop the dogs some morsels as I ate.Which in turn made the dogs befriend me-just like anybody else who did that.Come the time to go home,the more than 9 canines would accompany me home in the moonlit lanes,playing and cajoling and being generally naughty.One day the dogs and I arrived at Sheikh’s compound to find him saying the 8 oclock prayers.The dogs went around him,some particulary naughty ones wagging their mangy tails at the Sheikh.Mind you,dogs are ritually unclean in Islam.The following day,the Sheikh warned me that those dogs should never come to his compound again.I protested,saying that I didn’t invite them but they just followed me.This happened several times,until I had to tell Muthoni to tell his dogs not to follow me.She ignored my pleas, so I changed tact.I told her that her canines are flea infested-and might even have rabies.And they were the sole reason Habaswein hadnt rained for the previous two years.The following day,I was withdrawn from Muthoni’s credit worthy list and had to eat on cash or starve.Her dogs too withdrew their nocturnal escort services-with immediate effect.Of course with orders from their Master.When the Sheikh noted that I had amended my ways and discarded my mannerless mangy friends, he started inviting me for dinner.Which we ate sitting cross legged on a mat outside his dash, the stars shining our way.This saved me from starving since Muthoni had withdrawn her credit services from yours truly.Sometimes its better to lose nine unwanted friends to retain one valued friend.
Before my uncle settled down in the village, he lived like a hobo. He loved the road, and found its freedom seductive, like a dimpled glass.He cursed like a black movie screen icon-all the while hopping from one pub to another.
When I came of age, he had just reached that age when women buy aging creams to slow aging, and men buy fast cars for the same reason. Those days, he swaggered around with the front buttons of his silk shirt open, to cool the high octane testosterone fire raging in his chest
One odd Saturday, he woke me up roughly and tasked me to polish his new Renault 4- then fondly known as Renault Roho.Its inside smelt like asphalt, desire, and dreams. It was wildly popular then since it was the first car to come with a humongous derriere- like a slay queen. Slay queens later copied it- fashion is cyclical.
With a scratching melody coming from the radio and our hair flirting with the wind, we hit the road. On the way, we gave a lift to an old couple headed to church. They commended us on how swanky the car looked- with leather seats and AM radio.My uncle then beamed with pride like a goat fed on those leaves called ‘mukenia’ which made them smile.Then chimed:’
‘Gaka kanyuaga ime ta ngiria.'(The one imbibes fuel sparingly like cricket does on dew.)When the old couple reached their destination, the old lady alighted half-heartedly.
“Where are we going?” I asked uncle.” I dunno.”He grunted inaudibly back, his head lost in the funky Steele Beauttah song playing on the radio. He sang along loudly, like he owned the universe.At Maragwa, we bought those long green and yellow “miraru’ bananas- which my uncle called pistols.Watching too many black movies had influenced his choice of words.
Later, We then ended up getting lost- but in the right direction- since we ended up in the parking of a pub called Kahiriga.Nice cosy joint that’s not on any map. But most nice places arent anyway.Kahiriga is still there, struggling to get customers, like an ageing tart.
I was still wet behind the ears so uncle ordered Coke for me as he and his friends took hard stuff.A stocky lass called Mwihaki inserted a coin into the jukebox, which burst to life with Kamaru songs.She had this well-formed calves from climbing many a Murang’a hill. But when her hips swayed, wallets swayed too, emptying everything into hers.I wont go into the other emptying of proteins that would take place later, in the neighbouring Wanjerere Bar and Lodging.
As we were about to leave,a drunk was peeing on the tyres of our car.He had this roughly hewn face- which looked like a road map to every seedy chang’aa joint in the hood.A face that betrayed how life had wronged him.
“Shadao! If you continue peeing on the tyres of that my new car, I will cut your wee thing off!”My uncle slurred, pointing a thick brutal finger at the sod.
“Then you will need a very big knife for that.” The drunk boasted back.I am not an expert at human anatomy, but going by his frame,he could make those Mwea donkeys envious.
“You nincoompop!” My uncle cursed him back. Apart from Dr.Gikonyo Kiano,he was the most educated man in the district, and his English was impeccable.Still is. Leaning on the car’s bonnet,uncle lit a Nyota cigarette,stuck out his chest out and like a ghetto king from a blaxploitation movie and yelled at me:
“Nigga,git me ma pistol from the fuckin’ boot. Fast!”I went to the car boot and found those long bananas we had bought at Maragwa.
“Master,the yellow ones or the green ones?”I asked, feebly.
“Yellow one, idiot! The greens ones are for damn cows.”
The drunks gush reduced to a trickle, then a drip drop. Then he melted into the night like a cowardly evil spirit chased out by some potent juju.In a journey, the lessons come from the journey, not the destination.
My problems after agreeing to stand for Wa Njeris wedding started even before the actual wedding date.
A day before the wedding, he called me up and told me that I had to have my looks spruced up at a certain unisex barber shop in Thika town.
I protested, saying that I have a personal barber called Karis who shaves me but sometimes nicks me because he shaves while watching football. Wa Njeri insisted that I couldn’t stand for his wedding after being shaved by a backstreet barber so I had to go to Thika.
The things they do in those kinyozis should be declared soft porn.First they unborn your shirt and knead your neck till you start talking in Gujarati.Second, they tickle your entire chest till all the county headquarters of your body get tingly.
Finally, they tickle your scalp with a metallic thingie.This makes the Governor of your bodily capital city-which is where all things start and end for men-salute the young lassie doing the massage.The salute might last a whole day but I digress.
Anyway, after the tingling neck and chest massage accompanied by a shave, the girls speaking that nasalized Swahili characteristic of Nairobi girls told me to spread my fingers out. They filed them with their dainty fingers and then went on to apply some substance on them.
‘Hey, no lipstick on my fingernails.’ I protested.
What would my daughters say if I went home with my fingernails splashed with bright red colour like a drag queen?
‘Inaitwa clear nail vanish mzee.’ Missy Nasal explained in that nasal Swahili again. A Harrier Aunty type of a lady who looked like the owner of the place explained to me the procedure is called manicure and was part of the services for the entire bridal party.
The manicure didn’t cure the man in me but just added to my troubles. When I was done, I was slapped with a bill of Ksh 2,400 for the whole service. Weddings are con jobs-that’s a whole crate of my favourite poison that could make me and my friends sing goats for a whole Saturday evening.Anyway,I paid up and went home with an empty pocket and a tingly chest and confused bodily county headquarters.
Come wedding day,I sat throughout the ceremony regretting about the Ksh 2,400 that I paid in exchange for a tingly massage and a shave. I thought about all the fun I would be having with my boys club if I was at home.
As we left the church, a young girl with cherubic cheeks smoother than Murang’a avocadoes started showering the bride and the groom with grains of rice.Haki weddings are so wasteful-do they know how much a kilo of pure aromatic Mwea pishori costs? Anway, I let that vanity pass.
More drama awaited us at the reception. When we arrived there, a dreadlocked young chap calling himself MC something took the mic and danced us almost to death.
He started with Mugithi where we all held our shoulders and did the train dance. The he switched to rhumba and we had to shake our bums-including imaginary ones for us men who are flat like long distance truck drivers. Kidogo kidogo he switched to isukuti and we shook our shoulders like we were in a Bukusu circumcision dance.
That wasnt enough;next we did chini kwa chini for a whole half an hour.A session which men enjoyed for some reasons that I dont know.Its at this point that it dawned on me the entire bridal party was wearing matching inner garments which I had mentioned earlier.
You cant sing the tribal music of all the 42 tribes of Kenya and be normal again. By the time we took to the high table, my body ached with a hundred aches in a hundred places.
Food was brought and I noted that the rice was of poor quality than that which had been scattered into the air by the chubby girl earlier.What a waste.After that we sat on the dias,drinking litre after litre of sucrose.
Luckily,my cousin Shekow Josephine along came and hopefully my salvation.
‘Have you brought me something stiffer- a man cannot live on soda alone.’ I asked her.
Too bad she had not time for that.
The gifts session came.Wa Njeri had ferried his entire village into the wedding in his mono- eyed pickup.All the aunties gifted him with a multicoloured kiondo.His village cousins gave him washing basins.There were no uncles because uncles do not attend weddings because they know how boring they can get.
When I couldnt stand the boredom anymore, I went to the dias to present my gift to the newlyweds. I congratulated my friend for bagging himself such acute girl. She sure looked resplendent in white and that silver tiara.But why do wives dress to kill during weddings then cook for their husbands the same afterwards? Food for thought.
Anyway, I noted that my friend Wa Njeri looked so happy.Unlike most weddings where grooms looked gloomy-like they had just chewed cayenne pepper.
‘Mundu,you look so happy today,’ I whispered to Wa Njeri’s ears as I handed him my bahasha.
‘I have to.’ Wa Njeri quipped.
‘Convincing her to marry me is one my biggest accomplishments.’
And so it is for most men.
This Saturday marks two years since my friend hoodwinked me to stand for his wedding in Thika.
It all started one Saturday morning when I was lazing in the house pretending to be reading the papers.But looking for an opportunity to sneak out when missus was not watching me.Luckily my phone vibrated with certain urgency.
‘Mundu wa Njambi, come over I buy you meat at Kenol’.
It was my friend Chege Wa Njeri.Whom we call Wa Njeri in short.Wa Njeri rarely buys anything so this was an opportunity to make him pay on all that I have bought him since our days in college.
Before he had cut the call, I had already put on my Jomo leather jacket and cowboy hat. Then hit the road to Kenol.Shortly, I was at Bombay Inn at Kenol- the place where burnt meat sizzles like small volcanoes.
‘You see this man, we have come from very far with him.’
My friend starts, using the waitress as audience.She is called Wanja, a daughter of Mumbi with dimples each worth a plot along Thika Road.The hills of Murang’a have girls I tell you.
‘Ebu give him one to wipe dust with. I dont like anybody joking with this man.’ Wanja promptly serves me a drink.
Wa Njeri continues massaging my neck,preparing it for slaughter.
‘Wee, Wanja, bring that meat.If its overburnt wee bit, we are not eating it! I dont want aibu ndogo ndogo before this great man.’ Wa Njeri shouts at the waitress.
I smile sheepishly- its good being polite to your benevolent host you know.Moreso when he is in an ultra philanthropic mood.
‘You recall the day we got stranded at Habaswein and fed on camel meat and pasta for four days?’
I nod twice.Wanja the dimply lassie clears the table.Wa Njeri asks for two rounds.
‘You recall the day we flew from Wajir to Nairobi and then the small plane refused to remove its legs when we were about to land at Wilson?’
I nod thrice.Wa Njeri asks Wanja to bring us three rounds.
My mango shaped head has by now figured out that on this blessed Saturday that the Lord has made, one nod equals one round.And two nods equals two rounds.Ad infitum.
‘Man, you will die while I am in the bathroom.’
When a Kikuyu man tells you that, what he means is that he will do anything for you.
Anyway, I nod four times.With nods so hard that my head hits the table and goes shoosh until I see stars yet its not night time.
Instead of honouring me with four rounds,Wa Njeri tells me to be careful with my head since it has a very important task ahead.
After feasting on a mould of roast meat big enough to offer burnt sacrifice for a god of a small religion, we burp to tell Wanja that it was burnt well.Then we start reminiscing about our escapades in Northern Kenya.
When it started getting dark, my friend said its good that we left so that we can reach home when we could still see ourselves.
At the car park, Wa Njeri removed a toothpick from his mouth,hiccuped,then slurred:
‘Na umenye ni ukarugamirira uhiki wakwa’.
You will have to be in my bridal party.
All along he had never at any time mentioned that he had a wedding coming up.Mostly because most men are forced to do church wedding by their ‘kali’ wives.
After that , he powered his aging pickup towards Thika Road, its single headlamp lighting the way ahead like a mono-eyed ogre.This fella can buy drinks enough to float a small boat but cant replace a headlamp of Ksh 1,200.Anyway, forget him.My jalopy is no better condition.
I am not particulary fond of weddings.Most of the weddings I have attended is because either missus dragged me there.Or my little girls cajoled me to take them to see ‘Bibi Harusi’.I am yet to hear somebody say that they went to a wedding to see Bwana Harusi.Weddings arent for men.
Anyway, I mulled over the idea of standing for a wedding in my mango shaped head which was now going shoosh with ale.
Standing for a wedding means wearing a kitenge shirt that matches with your trousers which matches with your boxers.And having ladies wearing kitenges dresses that match with their headgears.Which match with their kamithis which in turn match with your boxers.
All thirty of you.
Standing for a wedding means spending a whole day with the bridal party drinking sodas at the high table until a Fat Lady sings in shrill voice..harusi tunayo! Then the place breaks into frenzied hour long dancing.
Standing for a wedding also means hearing the bride and bridegroom utter impossible vows like ’till death do us part’ or ‘in health or in pain’.
But since it wasnt my wedding and I wasnt the one to utter those impossible vows, I saw no harm in attending it.
I didnt know the trouble I was bringing myself into.I will tell you about them in Part 2.
Today marks exactly 7 years since I smoked my last cigarette, never to turn back. I mark this day with more aplomb than my birthday. Which I don’t mark anyway.
Since 16th July 2013, I have never inhaled smoke-except the one from my cucu Martha’s kitchen when I visit her. But was quitting easy? Never. Stopping smoking cold turkey is one of the top ten ways to lose your sanity. I got so sick that I couldn’t concentrate at work for some days. I had these maddening hallucinations even at daytime. Due to the withdrawal of constant stimulation of nicotine, I would get so sleepy and doze off of as I served a client in office. Then I would crave a fag so badly that when I looked up the sky, I would see millions of them up there. It was hell.
If one has never smoked, one can never fathom how it is to be smoker. One doesn’t smoke because he likes it.One smokes because he is hooked. Your room reeks of smoke, like a diesel engine workshop. Over time, your eyes start looking like over ripe kamongo tomatoes. Your appetite gets bad, and by extension your breathing. You wheeze like an ancient Fiat lorry going up Kangoco-the steep hill enroute Karatina.You hate yourself. You want out, but you can’t escape from the self-inflicted bondage. Why? Because nicotine is a highly addictive substance.
Most luminary figures struggled with nicotine addiction at some point. Men who changed the world, but couldn’t change themselves.Dr.Martin Luther King Jnr had come out for a smoke at the balcony when the sniper assassinated him. Barrack Obama struggled with the habit, something he talks about in one of his books. Churchill loved his cigars, but wished he could ditch them. The late Hon Michuki struggled with the habit too. Nicotine is no respecter of personalities.
So how did I stop smoking?
I tried yoga, it didn’t work. I tried Transcendental Meditation, it failed. I prayed, not working. I gave up and resigned to the god of Nicotine. Because smoking is an illusion and the human mind loves illusions. It promises you the thrill of happiness while adding you a thousand pains. It gives you two minutes of nicotine induced high and a lifetime of bad breath and wheezing and danger of getting lung cancer. And so does most drugs.
Part of the credit goes to the young lady in my house I have named after my mother. Back when she was a chubby girl, she would tag along when I went to buy newspapers. Once I left the house, I would light up.
‘Daddy, teacher said smoking is bad’. She would always remind me.That would break my heart a hundred times-which inspired me to quit. Now you understand why every time she asks for pizza, I can even borrow money to buy her one.
The other credit goes to many of my friends who, after finding me smoking, would tell me with shock: But you don’t look like a smoker! That scratched my ego-and emboldened my resolve to quitting. Finally, I take some credit-because I never gave up.
To all ye heaven bound Bible thumpers, a smoker won’t quit because you tell him that they will burn in the hottest place in hell. Actually, the Bible doesn’t have a verse to that effect. In addition, a smoker won’t be made to quit by calling him pepo nyeusi till he actually turns black. We need to look beyond the rightness or the wrongness of the act-and meet the smoker in the neutral ground that lays there between.
The war against smoking won’t be won by warning smokers that smoking causes impotence. Who wants babies nowadays anyway? I suspect it’s even a lie- I know several smokers with broods that can start a modest kindergarten. It won’t be worn by deriding cigarettes as sticks with fire in one end and a fool on the other. What works is making the smoker realize that he has the power to quit within himself.
In my instance, what worked was the appeal to my sense of being. The appeal to the ego.
Next time when you meet a smoker, don’t remind him what it’s doing to his lungs. Or that he might be shooting blanks soon. He knows all that very well-it’s written in bold on cigarette packs. With every rebuke, you sow hatred in a person who already hates himself to the level of filling his lungs with tar. Hate begets hate.
But I am not saying that smokers shouldn’t be reminded that smoking is bad. They should be-and should not take it personal. Whenever one beats a rug across a rock to clean it, the blows aren’t against the rug, but the dirt in the rug.
Appeal to the person’s sense of wellbeing. Tell him that he looks bad when he smokes. Tell him that it’s messing up his laughter lines. If it’s a lady, tell her that it masks her expensive perfume. Somehow, it might work.
Every smoker is prisoner with a key to the prison door in his hands. Thus he needs to be made aware that he carries inside himself the power to stop what he started. It’s only him who can free himself. The journey to quitting is his or hers alone. Others may walk it with him, but no one can walk it for them. Not the pastor, not a friend, not a spouse.
Do I regret having wasted my lungs with smoke and ashes for some years? No I don’t. Instead I celebrate that I triumphed over a great obstactle.With a little help from my daughter and friends. Such triumphs tell us that we are stronger then we seem.
The experience has also made me suspicious of what I want-because it might turn out to be an addiction. This applies to money, to food, to everything.
My village has very colourful characters. Unsung people who took part in unsung events in unsung times. One such person is Bruno Macharia-a retired bus tout from back in the day.
The term retired bus tout is a misnomer. Once a tout, always a tout. In spite of his age, Bruno still retains the rough edges of a tout. You can see it in his gait which says he has seen more brawls than a WWF wrestler. He walks with his fists almost closed-as if he expects a fight to break out anytime. He is like the old dancer is known by the tremble of his shoulders.
The other day, Bruno popped into our compound and made himself comfortable on a folding chair under the ancient avocado tree. He was the guest of my uncle-the one who is always sharpening a sharp panga.But I made him my guest too-and placed beside him an offer he could not refuse-some fiery single malt which had remained over from the previous day. By and by, we started reminiscing about the old days.
You remember that day in 1982 when we drove the bus from Nairobi to Mombasa in under 3 hours? Bruno asked my uncle. He has this tarty tangled hair with a look of anarchy. Years of swinging from bus doors made his hair tangled for life-and no comb could undo that.
My antennae for a good story went up. My uncle stuck his panga upright into the wet loam, poured himself two quarts of the drink and hopped into the bus story too.
The year was 1982.For all of you millennials, ‘82 is a long long time ago. They hadn’t discovered pizza then so folks used to make do with Elliot’s bread. Kenya by then was ruled by a tough mzae called Moi who walked around with a swanky ivory knobkerrie (you guys call it mathiokore in street speak).Kenya then had only one TV station that opened at noon and closed after lights out at midnight so that folks could make babies instead of watch Afrosinema. In short, those were very boring times.
But not so for my relative Bruno and his crew. Bruno by then was a debonair city dandy in a silk shirt, bell bottoms and sideburns thick enough to hide an Infinix phone. His Afro was wide enough to cause an eclipse. And he did cause eclipses in many a girl’s heart-if the number of young people in the village now in their 20s who look like him are anything to go by. But I won’t delve there-this post isn’t about Bruno’s glorious endings. Huh!
Bruno worked as a tout for Gathanga Bus Company. All day, he was holed in the loaf shaped bus collecting coins from passengers. By then Michuki was a dashing middle aged man at the helm of KCB and he had not come up with those famous rules that streamlined the matatu industry. Thus, the transport industry was chaos itself.
The bus crew consisted one driver and three touts. Real men who had to leave the top three buttons of their silk shirts open to cool their chests which throbbed with real testesterone.The drivers’ major task was to find out how fast his loaf shaped Leyland bus could go without killing all on board. He was the Knight Templar of the road-always hurtling down some dusty village road as if headed to a mandatory crusade. By then they hadn’t started growing muguka in Embu-so bus crews weren’t judged by how many kilos of muguka they could munch in day. They were judged by their sheer brawn-and daredevilry. And Bruno had tonnes of that. Still has.
Likewise, each of the three touts had very specific roles. One was a fellow who was always perched on the bus roof top like a bird of carrion. In his hands was lethal whip whose work to discipline other touts when they arrived at any bus stage. The second one was always at the door-cajoling travellers to get in to the bus. Most of the time, half of his body was flying in the air-like the flag of a rebellious country that wanted to secede from the mainland. The third and the most important tout was the one inside the bus. His work was to collect coins-and sometimes buttons-that the villagers paid him with.
After he was done with his job, he was entitled to lighting up a pungent Nyota ciggie right within the bus. Sometimes the travellers would gather courage to tell him to put the darn thing of. But going by his red eyes and his face that looked like a rough map to every dirty sheeben in the city, they decided it was better to withstand the cigarette smoke that his jabs. Bruno was such a tout.
Now, in 1982, Kenya had a vibrant football scene.Instead of English Premier League, folks followed African Cup Qualifiers religiously. Of course they didn’t do this over flat screens in some swanky sports bar-but over hissing radios in some busaa or kaluvu dens. But all in all, they still enjoyed the beautiful game.
After telling the story so far, Bruno peered into the horizon, his eyes ringed with nostalgia. Then he took a swig from his glass to summon more muses before wiping his silver beard with the back of his hand. Then he went on with the story.
A team called Mufulira Wanderers from Zambia had come to play AFC Leopards for a critical qualifier match. AFC Leopards were at the top of the rankings in Africa then while Mufulira Wanderers was a nondescript team from a nondescript country.AFC Leopards were sure they would thrash them like burukenge.
The night before the match, the teams’ management met in Nairobi to celebrate their imminent victory over the little known team from Zambia. We had no Mututho laws then and clubs used to operate round the clock. The party raged on into the night like a savannah fire at Club Hole in the Wall. Bob Marley shouted ‘Africans a liberate Zimbabwe’ from the speakers. With such great music, the club management raved on till the small hours of the following day. Which was the day of the match.
Wafula the club manager had hardly slept for a few hours-or so he thought-when his bedside phone rang.
Wafula,wapi tikiti ya ndege ya wachezaji?
The team was to fly to Mombasa that morning to play Mufulira Wanderers FC at 3 pm.It was now 10 am and the team was still in Nairobi since he had forgotten to book flight for them to Mombasa.
At that juncture, my uncle ran his panga sharply over the sharpening stone. His way of showing excitement. Bruno continued on with the story.
By then, we had no SGR. Or these Jambojet or Jetways airlines which hop across our skies daily. We only had Kenya Airways which had scheduled flights to Mombasa. You miss a flight today, you wait till next week. What to do?
At around eleven, Wafula went to Hamza shops for some cigarattes.As he tried to cool his frayed nerves with nicotine, he shared his predicament with a fellow smoker-a thin man with a high cheekbones and brown teeth. The man listened keenly as Wafula told him how desperately he wanted someone who could drive a football team from Nairobi to Mombasa within the next four hours.
We can do it in less than three hours. The smoker told him in a wheezy voice hardened by cheap liquor and smoke.
Who do you mean by ‘we’? Wafula asked.
Gathanga Bus Services. That’s our work.
The man with brown teeth answered back as he killed his cigarette with the sharp end of his tony red Travolta boots. Then he casually pointed to the bus revving at the bus stop. He was its driver. They had stopped for a smoke fix at Hamza bus stage.
When Wafula was convinced that the man could take the boys to Mombasa in time for the match, he went back to his house and put a call to his team captain:
Tell the boys to get ready. We meet at Machakos Bus Station in 20 minutes!
At noon, Wafula was doing roll call of the players. The footballers’ hearts sank when they learnt that they were to go to Mombasa by road in an ugly bus that looked like giant loaf.
Are you sure you can take us to Mombasa in four hours?
Wafula once again asked the driver.
We handle the difficult. The impossible takes us just a little longer. The bus owner who had just come in answered back. He had noted Wafula’s desperation and wanted to milk maximum profit from it.Thus he insisted that each passenger would pay bus fare equivalent to the cost of a flight to Mombasa. When the deal was sealed the bus owner promised the bus crew double pay that month if they hacked that job in time.
With that, at exactly twelve noon, the driver ascended to his throne and fired the bus. The door conductor removed the large boulders that used to be placed at the rear wheels to prevent the bus from drifting. Then he closed the door and slipped the keys into his boots. Then, like an angry metal dragon, Gathanga bus KUU 273 eased out of Machakos country bus station to go to Mombasa in under three hours in an epic battle between man, machine and time.
Shortly, the bus was hurtling down Mombasa road and the boys were impressed. At Mlolongo they started complaining that it was going too fast. The driver pointed a brutal finger at them and they kept quiet.
The bus hissed and whined like a wounded buffalo is it charged down that steep incline at Salama-gobbling the miles by the minute. Several of the football players wanted to take a leak at Emali-not because they had any pee, but to see if they could sneak out of the bus which was headed for a sure crash. The driver was smarter than them and ignored their many pleas to stop.
The boys then demanded to be dropped at Mtito wa Ndei.When Mtito came into sight, the driver double clutched then eased the bus into high gear .The bus lifted its nose then charged at the road ahead with the brutal force never seen on that road since the times of the Man Easters of Tsavo.
At around half past two, traffic police officers at Changamwe saw a bus that was hurtling towards them chaotically like a ship whose crew mutinied.
Mpishe aende zake! Shouted Abdalla the traffic boss. His hawk eyed juniors didn’t even pick the name of the bus due to its speed.
When the bus finally reared its belligerent chin at Mombasa stadium, aching and creaking like an ancient ship at sea, it was 3 hours flat since it had left Nairobi. And just in time for that crucial match between AFC Leopards and Mufulira Wanderers FC of Zambia. The welcome at the stadium was nothing but heroic.
When Bruno had given us enough time to absorb the depth of the story, I asked him:
Now, were you paid your double salary that month by your boss as he had promised?
No.Instead we were sacked instead. Bruno answered back.
Why? I pressed on with concern.
Because the bus’s engine knocked, never to wake up again. Bruno answered me with a forlon face, roughened by time, labour and worry.
Then he took one last swig of his drink-like one drinking to the thrills of his youth.
Its been a while folks!
This blog took a small break to recharge our chakras. We are now back with more engaging content.
Check us out here for the usual stories. Stories that are a different kind of true.
While at it,leave a comment when you can.
Dont be left out!
It is around the year 1890 in Mbanta,a village in Igboland,Nigeria.Okonkwo is sitting under an iroko tree, chewing on a kola nut,longing for Umuofia.And perhaps longing for his mpango wa kando he left back in Umuofia.He has been banished from Umuofia for seven years for beating up his wife in the week of peace. His old friend Obierika pays him a visit. He has carried along the yams he has harvested from Okonkwo’s piece of land which he has been cultivating for him in his absence. After a long chat and catching up, Okonkwo is at loss on how to thank his old friend Obierika.
I don’t know how to thank you, started Okonkwo.
I can tell you, said Obierika. Kill one of your sons for me.
That will not be enough, said Okonkwo.
Then kill yourself, said Obierika.
By the time the two friends part, it’s clear to them that Okonkwo-a man who was not known for feminine graces like gratitude-has no words to show his appreciation to his friend Obierika for his kind deeds to him.For some deeds,saying thank you is not enough.
In a few days, we bid 2018 goodbye. Another year has come and gone. The sun has completed its retrograde trip around the sun. So today here in Drum Major blog we make it a day of expressing gratitude to our readers. Why? Because we believe that no duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks. And in a way, today we are like Okonkwo of yore .We don’t know how to say thank you to all of you who have been with us this year.
But why are we grateful? After all, we haven’t hit the big league yet. We aren’t in the list of who is who in the blogosphere. Drum Major isn’t yet listed in Forbes list of Best 50 Blogs to Watch. Going by our back office readership analytics, Drum Major is largely read in Kenya, with a few friends scattered in the four winds checking it out once in a while. Is that something to write home about?
I started this blog in June this year when I turned 40.I didn’t start it out to make money, or get famous. I started it because I was hearing stories in my head and I had to tell them. When I started it, I never expected anybody to turn up and read my stories-which I largely consider to be some idiosyncratic musings of a man just turned 40.
Luckily, you and another reader and another turned up and read my stories.To have someone reading this blog in an era where a folks hardly read beyond 300 words is one magical thing in my life. I was not expecting anyone to turn up when I did my first post. But it took me by surprise that several readers turned up-and for that have no words to thank them.
You might also be asking yourself why you should be grateful to Providence. Life may have been unkind to you this year.You failed that critical exam. You failed to get that dream job-or that juicy County Government tender. You didn’t get a hubby, despite the promise by that pastor in a green suit and fake crocodile sharp shooters that you will be hitched by June. You didn’t get to buy that German machine despite tithing faithfully. Yes, you are not where you wanted to be yet. But in retrospect, you are not where you used to be. And that’s one of the many reasons why you should be grateful. There are a hundred reasons not to be grateful, but again, there are thousands of reasons to be grateful for this year.
2018 came with its own pains. I have lost a few friends-something which I am sure applies to most of us. Life is about losing those that you hold dear-by and by. We collectively lost Joseph Kamaru and Aretha Franklin-two artistes whose music blessed our hearts. Humanity is the less without them-each time a clod washes down to the sea, we are more the poorer. Thus anytime I touch my veins and feel the cardiac throb of Bantu blood coursing through them pumping ‘I am I am I am!”, I get a reason to be grateful to our Maker. Because I am alive.
So far I have been grateful for what I have. But it’s also prudent to be grateful for what we don’t have. We have to be grateful for not having life threatening conditions. We got be grateful for not being bereaved. Yes, we have to be grateful for the bad things that potentially could have happened to us-but didn’t.
As we forge in into the New Year, we got to remember that this is the youngest we will ever be. Every other year will leave us older than the previous. Thus we should capture the essence of every moment when we can.
To you the reader who took time to read our posts, to you who shared our stories on various platforms, to you who emailed us to say that Cege wa Maguta story brought them fond memories, I have no words to say thank you. To you who loved our Wajir By Bus story, we have no words. Yes, to all of you who all said that our folktales like Leila and Feila and The Lost Sister rekindled fires in your hearts, we have no words. To you all who commented on our blog, we have no words. Thank you is not enough.
To all our readers out there, you were the wind beneath our wings in 2018 and for that, we will endeavor to give you better content in 2019 to make your time here worthwhile. And that is a promise we are making to you. Now that the year is almost gone, last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. Here at Drum Major, we will endevour to be that voice in 2019.
From the Drum Major team, we pray that may you be blessed till all your neighbours hens lay in your compound.
Men will always give swanky nicknames to their pets-be they dogs, cows or their beloved jalopies. Often they use fancy like names Natasha or Talia. Sometimes they have their daughters give the family car a name like Tiana borrowed from some Disney character.
Unknown to many women, cars aren’t given feminine names because they are cute. Its not even a homage to the role mothers played in nurturing famous car inventors like Henry Ford or Carl Benz of Ferdinand Porsche. Far from it. Cars are given female names because they are fussy and demanding. And expensive to maintain too.
The unfortunate thing about cars is that they age and get rusty and start coughing enigmatically. Such that they no longer look like Natasha and your neighbours start calling them kang’othi.There is no equivalent English word for the Kikuyu word kang’othi. But in a few words, kang’othi refers to an ancient car that coughs like it has engine tuberculosis and rattles like it has chassis arthritis and smokes like it has carburetor bronchitis-all at the same time. When everybody starts calling your car kang’othi, even the local stray dogs avoid peeing on its tires-lest they catch some diseases from it. You can leave a kaquarter of sizzling tumbukiza on its bonnet and a starving flea-infested mongrel wouldn’t touch it.
The winds of life have taken me many places. In my youth I found myself living in a place called Ting’ang’a-that shopping center that has never changed since 1955. Near my hosts lived a man called Njau who owned a kang’othi.You could say it was a prototype-Njau boasted that its seats were once warmed by Henry Ford’s American bum. The whole village called the car kang’othi ga tung’othi-the father of ancient cars but that didn’t prevent Njau from boasting to everybody about its prowess and pedigree.
It was well known that no one touched Njau’s car. Not even his mechanic.Njau would have rather let you kiss his wife but not touch his car.Folklore had it that he once let his wife touch the steering wheel when the were courting, but it never happened again after they tied the knot at Ting’anga Catholic church. That was Njau and generally Kikuyu men for you.
Generally, Njau had nothing but choice superlatives for his car. There is this mzungu from Karen who gave me Ksh two hundred thousand for this car, but I refused. He would tell us-me and his two sons-as he ferried us to Nairobi every morning. But sometimes the car would refuse to crank and Njau would hurl unkind words to it. He would tinker with the faulty clutch, suck the carburetor lovingly with his mouth, bang bonnet then command the car thus:
Ruruma gwakare gaka!(Get cranking, you stupid thing!)
The car had ears and would splutter to life immediately it heard those words. You see, cars are made from earth and have water and electricity in them and thus soul. Cars too have a spirit and a name. Sometimes the car’s brakes would fail and Njau would shout to it and it would stop pap. Automobiles are unreliable and dangerous slaves. Sometimes they revolt and kill their masters, but not Njau.
One day, as we were coming from Kiambu town and climbing that steady hill towards Ndumberu, the car accelerator jammed when it was on the floor. The car chewed that steady climb like a 6,000cc turbocharged Bhuggati. For some minutes, we stared at death since there was no way of stopping it. Luckily, it run out of fuel just before Ndumberi Golf Club saving us from early death and an early date with Ol’ Peter. When it did so, Njau got out, lit a Nyota cigarette, looked at the car if he was seeing it for the first time, then chuckled:
Gaka gakware nikangiaturaga.This stupid thing almost killed us.
By the time he was done, we had already disappeared into the nearby coffee bushes,ready to walk home. We could not take another chance at death by boarding that metal trap when we had lived less than twenty years.
The next day, we were going to Nairobi and the car lost control as it negotiated a corner at Muthaiga. I always wondered how Njau did that corner without killing us.In fact,anytime he negotiated that bend, I always treated it as attempted suicide when he was alone and attempted boycide when he was carrying his boys and me. When the car finally showed signs of slowing down,Njau shouted:
Rugama gakware gaka kana uturage! Stop you fool or kill all of us. The car opted to stop instead of committing mass murder.
Next, we were going to Githunguri town and as usual, Njau was boasting to my uncle about the unique abilities of his car:
My car knows its way home when I am drunk. He started with his usual clincher.
Ehe! Can it open the gate for you too? My uncle who had a disdain for alcohol asked him. The three of us boys rubbed our rough hands with glee. Njau had finally met his match.
My home doesnt have a gate since I don’t have enemies to hide from like you. Njau retorted back, his Adam apple going up and down agitatedly, like a small animal was trapped in there.But you could say there was an animal trapped in Njau’s body-if his fighting spirit was anything to go by.
Ok, can it open the door for you? My uncle pressed on. This was getting rougher than Smackdown-that wrestling show we never missed on Tuesdays at KBC TV.
I am married to an obedient wife. Njau shot back. My uncle assumed this faraway anguished look-like he was sitting on nails. The rest of the journey was carried with Njau whistling a naughty Kikuyu tune triumphantly and my uncle clutching his Bible with resignation-like a crusader returning from a lost campaign. That was the last time my uncle got a lift in that car.
As time went by, Njau’s car’s notoriety as a death trap became something of a legend. Cops no longer stopped it-you couldn’t be sure whether that thing would stop or plow into serikal.His friends evaded him to avoid getting a lift on it. Only his boys and I had to ride on it daily from Ting’ang’a to Nairobi and back. It’s inside acquired the smell of asphalt and grease and failed dreams-like an abandoned factory. It had no AC, but Njau told us stories to warm it during those cold Kiambu mornings.
Its hubcaps disappeared and since you couldn’t find hub cabs for a car manufactured by Henry Ford himself in 1934 in Grogan, Njau fashioned some for it.Its muffler came off and dragged under its carriage raising a racket loud enough to be heard by Henry Ford in heaven. No sweat, Njau fashioned a muffler for the car too. With each replacement of a part, the car slowly became Kenyan. Or to be precise, assuming that Njau won’t read this, a mongrel of a car.
Then one day, some young fellas told Njau that his car was so hideous that it scarred kids. They also added that the car was the cause of rain failure in that area, amongst other calamities. This was mean, but we concurred with those bold chaps.
The following weekend-which I recall is around that time Princess Diana funeral was running on TV-Njau took a hand brush, parked the car under an avocado tree, and started painting it. With passion and pain and panache, he wrote some mean words on the car’s rear bumper. From then on, nobody dared laughed at it. For on the rear bumper of the car,in bold red hue, he had posed a stinging question to anybody who dared laugh at his jalopy:
WINA GAKU TAKO?
My car maybe ancient, but do you have suchlike?
I am a sucker for stories. Stories are powerful because they create something out of nothing: courage out of fear, knowledge out of ignorance, and hope out of despair. The greatest teachers in history from Aesop to Socrates to the Nazarene taught through stories.In fact, Jesus himself was not a theologian, but a God who told stories.
Stories can be used to relive experiences. Stories can be used to heal. But most importantly, stories can empower people. Stories make us human .Listening to someone’s else’s stories-entering their feelings, validating their experiences-is the highest way of acknowledging their humanity, the sweetest form of usefulness.
In October I made a request for my friends to contribute stories to my blog Drum Major. I didn’t know the kind of fun I was bringing myself to-my inbox got a deluge of wonderful stories. Stories about hope and love and life. Stories that are a different kind of true.
From today on we will be running those stories from guest writers here at Drum Major. Don’t miss out on them.Dont miss out on a chance to validate humanities experiences.