Dear reader, my online friend, my critic, my fan, my audience, my listener, my brother, my compatriot, my fellow human mind, my sister, my future business partner, my future employer, my future employee, my future wife, HOW DO YOU DO?
I’m well myself here in Nairobi; and as I told you before on the previous RECOUNT, Tom James is published. It begins like this:
The internet never forgets.
Are you Aya, Aye, Ayi, Ayo, or Ayu, brother?
Some mouths would inquire any moment. If I skirted, they’d survey my features, distinguish my accent, glean my surname, or ransack my bag in my absence for clues (in my former school, Ayas supplemented lunch with yams; Ayes packed termites, roasted caterpillars or monkey steak). Would I maintain that my name—like a white boy’s—is TOM JAMES?
Anyway, my stand is, you’d better appreciate the story if you learnt how I got to write it in the first place. And I recount these experiences as ‘chronicles of a new writer’. I share my challenges, experiences and what I’ve learnt. Should you happen to be a new, or an aspiring writer, no harm in emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read the previous recount here.
Above all, remember, in this my recounting, anything goes.
Alright, here we go! The Recount proceeds as follows:
When this conductor of my matatu told me I’d reached my destination, I hauled my luggage towards the door, as the vehicle decelerated. After stepping out, I turned around, a-familiarizing with this my setting.
What time is it?
It must have clocked 8 pm or so. Citizens bustled about. Women and some men huddled around grocery stands by the road side, in this freezing weather, a-bargaining what they might consume for supper. It still drizzled so. Other citizens crammed at butcheries and chemists and some shops. A man my age roasted maize few meters away, I caught the aroma. And you could discern darkness had already spread around most places but around this center. Here, lamp posts, and lighting from the petrol station and the buildings along the road, illuminated the surroundings.
Hawkers, I think they sold better at this time; a number of them, one after another, rushed to me: a new prospective customer. Displaying their merchandises, those watches and belts and caps and wallets and knives, they, these hawkers, hyped what satisfaction I’d derive if I bought any of those. In this interaction, a distinct watch piqued my desire, sleek and all. This hawker, she emphasized I should own it. It cost 3, 000 shillings, so she murmured. But she’d permit a purchase at 2, 000 or something; because she regarded me as ‘friend’.
In my pocket, 200 shillings remained, in coins. So I told this woman I fancied her watch but couldn’t buy. And she said a boy must look good. A boy must stand out. And asked what better way exists than donning a glossy watch. She pressed me so, for eternity. Talking like a politician, she clarified the watch’s specifications; that I could even swim, a-wearing it:
“Hii ni water-resistant. Oil resistant…ee..weather-resistant. Resistant. Resistant. Just resistant! Hata hii strap yake ni leather. Na ni original. Ina-last forever,” she said, a-stepping closer to me. By and by, her influence grew on me. In my mind, I entertained this thought of a-calling Alex Matano to lend me 500. Since my phone died long ago, I asked her if I could use her phone to reach a friend. She believed me now—that I possessed not enough cash at this moment. Hence, she said:
“Wewe uko na how much?”
I replied I only had 100 shillings—so I could retain the other 100 for airtime or something.
“Add kakitu ifike 250,” she said. This watch she at first priced at 2,000, she now allowed I’d own at 650.
We bargained for some time. At length, I sacrificed all the cash I carried: 200. I admired the watch; it was sleek, it was thick, it was hefty, it was silky on my arm—that leather strap. I found no basis for leaving it, at that nominal price.
After I concluded with the lady hawker, I trudged to the petrol station, a-bearing my weighty luggage. The smell of petrol struck me first, and it nauseated me. Dear reader, at that time, health wise, I manifested some allergic reactions: to gasoline smell, to dust, cold, stuffiness, some women perfumes, intense body odor, and hugging. Yes, against hugging, a fear in me existed. Call it huggophobia or something, I don’t know. So, at the petrol station, while the attendants engaged themselves, a-streaming petrol or diesel into vehicle and motorbike tanks, I sneezed like sheep. Receiving money, in 1000’s and 500’s, these attendants waved along already-served motorists and beckoned others on the queues, towards the pumping points.
They work like this the whole day?
Some night insects buzzed around a number of fluorescent tubes that flickered. I watched out for them; insects, I don’t appreciate so. At the far end of this petrol station, a shop opened. I figured, this shop, it vended such accessories that motorists found handy, and some simple sustenance as well. As far as I could tell, motorists and non-motorist citizens flocked the shop. What about me? For a moment, I imagined I could go and request the use of someone’s phone at that shop.
In and out of this station, vehicles and motorbikes vroomed and screeched. Then I noticed one lady attendant had completed a-serving her queue. I hastened to her.
What first word do I say? Excuse me? I’m new here? Can I borrow your phone?
When I got two paces away from her, she noticed me, and her eyebrows lifted a trifle.
“Eh…eh…habari?” I said ‘hi’.
“nikusaidie aje?” how can help you? She said.
“Can I use your phone? I want to call someone but my phone is off. I’m a visitor here.”
She ‘viewed my profile’ for a moment, and then called a male colleague. And this male colleague scuttled to her. I overhead her hiss to him, “cheki uu msee. Ebu ongea nae. Sjui anataka nini. Anakaa gondi. Ama sjui ametoka Kinangop.” Look at this guy. I don’t know what he wants. He seems like a thief. You might think he comes from Kinangop.
Then this male colleague of hers, her faced me and said, “niaje, where do you come from?”
“I come from Maili Tisa.”
And he maintained this unchanging eye contact to ascertain whether I recounted the truth or something.
“Is it your first time here?”
“And you know where you’re going?”
“Then…so why…how ca—”
“My phone is off. I’d have called my host mysel—”
A mighty hand tapped my left shoulder. Then a relaxed voice said, “Mkenya! Mkenya, my man!” I rotated.
Reader, was I elated. Fred Sang! This Fred who’d directed me to Kawangware; this my former primary schoolmate. He stood there, arms wide open, a-grinning like a kid.
“Yap! Fredoh, Mambo!” I said.
“My man! Whatzup!” he continued, a-hugging me; this kind of hug men give each other, where a shoulder knocks a shoulder and right hands shake under. I told you before I suffer from huggophobia or something, whatever form it takes.
Anyway, our merry meet mattered more. Reader, was I elated.
“Fredoh, you have not changed this your box hairstyle!”
“Haha. A man must try to be consistent. Hehe!”
“Hehe. I see. I hear you. I—”
He laughed and jiggled his entire fit frame. He frequented a gymnasium, I concluded.
“I see you’re eating well.”
“Hehe. Hey my man…ah…you know…I…I drink a lot of water!” he laughed until his thick eyebrows warped into upward arcs. And I laughed alongside. Reader, was I elated.
This our assembly absorbed us so, we didn’t register what disturbance we caused to these attendants and their motorists. Now this male attendant who’d come to engage me, at the request of that other female one, he motioned us to create room for the customers who’d hitherto lined a lengthy queue.
Fred he offered to carry my luggage. He hadn’t altered much, in physique, and mannerisms, I expected. A box haircut, speech style, and keen-ironed cloths, he still maintained. As we walked side by side home, he revealed he’d come to the petrol station earlier and called me several times but found my phone off. Then he elected to rush back to the house to prepare food then return to the station a little later.
We squeezed, with other citizens, through numerous corners and short paths, along and behind and around tall and short flats and mud pools and a-leaking sewer lines. Even in these residential places you located stalls fixed at the entrances of flats, and there they traded groceries and fruits and peppers and githeri and boiled beans and mandazis and chapatis and mutura—this African sausage.
And hawkers still swam through these narrow paths, a-hawking all manner of goods in the world, till late night. Men and women must attempt; they must toil to make a living.
At length, we arrived at Fred’s flat. If asked to retrace my way to the petrol station, I swear I couldn’t. Fred rented a one-bedroomed house on the third floor. At the ground floor…
Reader, is it ‘at’ the ground floor, or ‘on’ the ground floor? Anyway, you understand what I mean. Don’t you, mnh?
At the ground floor, parking lot existed. Then at my far right corner, on the wall, electric meters for all the rooms, packed; that place beeped and beeped and beeped, and twinkled and twinkled and twinkled. On the floor, on the whole ground, spills of water remained, betraying a recent act of cleaning or something. And a stench from a dump site floated within the building or outside, somewhere nearby. We climbed the stairs, steep and close together. Fred respired so. That luggage of mine, that luggage of mine, drained him so.
Fred owned one of this L-sofas. Brown. Yes, brown leather. In the middle of the living room, a round glass table, lay. Then a Samsung TV stood on a wooden stand, in front of this comfy sofa, but against the wall. This DVD player thing rested on a second compartment of the stand, with many CD and DVD discs piled in stacks. Beside the TV stand, a reading table and two wooden chairs stood; on this table, a lap top, a desktop, mouse, chargers and other gadgets stayed. He lined his floor with this fluffy, dark rug. On the wall, some artistic drawings hung. On the window and door, maroon…or deep brown…or grey—Oh God, I don’t know! Colors confuse me—curtains hung. To my left, few paces, an entrance opened into the kitchen. While on my right, a door blocked the bedroom. By the conventional standards of college leavers, this boy, this friendly Fred, had attempted. A boy must attempt.
After keeping my luggage in his bedroom, Fred returned. He exhaled, then said:
“Welcome to Nairobi, my man! The land of all possibilities.”
“Yap. Thanks.” I said, a-scanning his place further.
“Mnh…what will you drink?”
“Ah…mnh…whatever you have.”
He skipped into the kitchen, and then reappeared soon, a-bearing a glass and a bottle of mango juice. It tasted sweet and fresh, this juice, but it discomfited my teeth so. He’d conveyed it straight from the fridge or something.
A-switching on the TV, he urged me to feel at ease. He moderated the volume of the TV, whose sound came off a woofer (cum radio system) on the lower compartment of the stand. Seeing that I’d settled, he allowed that he’d head to the kitchen to bring food. I told him I’d ferried some smoked chicken from Maili Tisa, that we should devour tonight lest it stale. But he pointed, that he’d store in it the fridge afterwards.
Meantime, as I watched these Mexican soap operas, I connected my phone to charge. And when my phone had charged enough, I powered it and called Alex Matano. In truth, had Alex rented his own house, I’d have stayed at his place; but he lived with his parents in Buruburu. A boy must have a plan B. Anyway, I told Matano I’d arrived in the city, and would live with Fred until I rented my own place. We agreed we’d meet in town tomorrow or the day after. Also, I buzzed Eve Apondi and Anne Mogendi and discovered they’d settled in the city earlier than me, by weeks apart. Each at a time, I told them I’d meet Matano tomorrow and suggested they should join, if their schedules permitted. However, Anne, she said some task would occupy her day so, so she proposed Saturday, and I allowed that’d suit all of us.
#To be continued…
A week goes and languages grow; my stories so.