MY LANDLORD,THE DOGS AND I

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.

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