He wore a distant look on his face, silky smooth baby face, like he made it up every morning. From it I deduced that he was scared more by what he knew than what he didn’t. Had I not troubles that bothered me, I would have walked up to him and asked him what was bothering him, except I had more things bothering me too. You must be troubled by something if you crave solitude, right? There were only two of us in the back yard of the hostel, communing with hanging lines and singing hymns that came with the wind, and the constant traffic that flowed along Lang’ata road. He didn’t even notice me, I’d learn later. He could have been high on something illegal. Later on we’d pass each other along the corridors, not ever occurring to us that pleasantries were meant for human beings. We didn’t notice each. His world was much busier than mine though.
Later on, we’d meet again as roommates. My name is Dan, he said. I told him mine. By bad luck a fresha had occupied his bed, and he gave an eviction notice, effective that very moment. The fresha tried to protest but he was resolute, and being a newbie he knew unconsciously that they were rules-rules that weren’t written but dished out randomly, like kanjos and policemen do. The only thing he was asked of was respect and obedience. Those two virtues can take you far. And so Dan had his bed.
Dan. The Dans I have met before have been unruly; people who operate by the own rules. I didn’t expect any change since I am the type of person who concludes that all Dans are the same or anybody by any other name who has particularly unsavoury habits and traits. Call me the king of stereotypes, but trust I do not go about telling people all girls are the same. No, only those with particular names that are the same.
Anybody by the name Lucy strikes a cold chill down my spine. Not now but it used to. The first Lucy I met was actually a bully who loved to beat the crap out of children, for no reason at all. We were young then, and Lucy’s father owned a kiosk. If you were sent to buy something from the kiosk, you began crying in advance, maybe mother would pity you and send someone else. Sometimes she didn’t, almost all the time and that’s when you prayed that you don’t find Lucy lingering around the kiosk. I think she was mentally challenged. I’ll ask around one of these fine days.
Back to Dan, the baby faced man, slim and slightly tall; a Whiz Khalifa look alike- same height, same body and same mannerisms (hip hop junkie and weed smoker). He had a Creative hoofer that he jealously guarded like a kid would to his or her dolls. You didn’t touch it, you didn’t move it without his consent. Sometimes he would lend out to some of his friends, upon return he would whine about how people don’t know how to ‘protect’ people’s things. ‘You lend them in good faith, then they break it,’ he would curse, after he had repaired or feigned to. No one knew.
And just like every other kid brought in Nairobi by working parents, Dan had a penchant for night life. Every Friday he would plan with a few of his friends on their nocturnal get away, often a club in Westie. Once everything was settled, they’d contribute money, buy liquor (Smirnoff vodka) and a stash of weed. They’d call a few babes and agree their meeting point. They planned it meticulously, like soldiers planning an amphibious dawn attack on its enemies’ grounds. It worked, sometimes it didn’t. It turns out there was always one broke guy who depended on the rest once the party got started. There was always that one guy who passed out and didn’t have cab money. Thanks to God there’s Uber now. Dan and his crew don’t have to pay a lot. Often Dan would come in the morning having lost his phone. A few days later he would buy another one, even more flashier, but then he would lose it a week later and the cycle continued until he learnt his lessons.
One very ungainly trait of his was laziness. Being in a hostel that had a 10 pm curfew in place meant that he had to plan in advance so that he can leave earlier than that. Almost all the times 10pm would find him still looking for clothes to wear. On one particular day, he left it late and was denied exit. The caretaker was resolute, stuck to rule like his job depended on it. So he hatched a plan, got a deep voiced guy around the hostel who acted his father and claimed they had an urgent family meeting in Karen. His ‘dad’ ordered his immediate release from the hostel claiming he has sent a taxi to pick him up. And that’s how he left proudly. He would later regale the story to me about how he had a date with a chick, had even bought liquor and everything, the only thing remaining was him availing his ass to the agreed destination.
He was one of the few people who never got along with others. His schedule was different from the rest, sleep during the day and stay up during the night, playing loud music the entire night. How he loved Whiz Khalifa music! In addition to these he was also a weed peddler, and had successfully managed to convert our room into a weed smoking joint. Every one smoked in that room, he claimed boastfully and if he gets caught all of us will go down. He had me buy cigarettes to even shit out, for when the axe fell, I wouldn’t want to have an excuse.
His stint as the upcoming Pablo Escobar didn’t last long. I don’t know what it is with drugs that once you in it you inevitably develop enemies around. Is it that your clients cant fathom your success or just have the feeling that they are being short changed? First, he never used to attend lectures and his parents summoned him home one weekend for that matter. I think I heard him complain about not having chosen the course he was taking. It should have been one of his enemies who set him up.
One day, on a Friday, I got a rude shock. As I made my way into the hostel in the evening, I noticed luggage heaped near the reception. I remember wondering why someone would check so late or either leave the hostel so late in the evening. I made my way to the room and found it locked. It was normal with Dan, a smoker even though smoking and drinking were against the rules of the place (I don’t want use the word illegal). He loved locking himself in but on that evening frantic knocks yielded nothing.
A few minutes later he showed up distraught. He told me that our room had been cleared, and all our belongings taken to the reception. It turned out the luggage I had seen earlier belonged to us. It turns out that he had talked rudely to the manager after he was caught with a stash of weed. Apparently the manager knew exactly where he would find it. A brief quarrel between him and the manager ensued, in which he told him that his father is a lawyer and that he can defend him perfectly well. I am still baffled as to how the manager got the idea that he must clear the room and take the entire luggage to the reception. It’s not clear to me yet.
We grouped ourselves, having both received a briefing from the drug peddler and trouped to the office to claim our luggage, and he to defend himself. We were to claim we don’t know who the weed belonged but it was an open case when we got there. Everyone knew it belonged to him but we wanted to act like we didn’t to offer him the match needed solace. We knocked and entered the office. An old motherly lady, with creases around her face welcomed us uncharacteristically. We sat there meekly, the same way errant children do, after breaking the family’s priced utensils. We had our rehearsed answers scripted by the drug peddler himself, Don Dan. We didn’t want to let him down, either by making the punishment less severe or making him avoid it entirely, an impossible feat one might say. Truth of the matter is we didn’t actually care. He had been a pain in the ass for far too long.
The old lady began interrogating us, excluding the drug peddler.
“Why didn’t you come for your luggage?” she asked.
“We didn’t know it belonged to us,” the other roommate answered.
“You never even bothered to ask where the room key is,” she asked trying to pin.
At this moment we knew it was a closed case. The jury had already delivered the verdict. She just wanted to toy with us, threaten us ‘because it was a serious case’ which could warrant the presence of law enforcement officers. It’s illegal, she had said, and it can attract a jail sentence of not less than ten years. We weren’t bothered by her threat of law enforcement. Weed was smoked casually almost everywhere. For us it was perfectly normal to find someone at the laundry puffing away the holy weed. Once you’d meet them, after a bout of the holy puff, arguing who would jump from the fourth floor without breaking a limb. And how philosophical they become. Suddenly they’d suggest ways of beating the system (rich kid felt screwed by the system) and how to make school fun.
Realisng that her threat failed to hit the intended target, she resorted to our parents. I remember being visibly distressed. You know those fathers who you can’t argue with. Being associated with something as grave as bhang would have the same impact as being the owner. With him a small mistake isn’t small at all. If you get suspended from school, the best way to tell him was you’ve decided to unanimously abandon the pursuit of education. It would attract the same wrath. If he intended to kill you he would, no matter the misdemeanor.
And so I fidgeted uneasily on my chair, wishing to gain the courage to tell the old lady to claim that the bhang belonged to me. I think adults derive a certain devilish relish seeing a young man conquered, pushed against the wall to the point of doing whatever they willed. I could tell she loved it. She beamed like a young girl being approached by that guy she’s always admired. She asked numerous times whether she should call our parents. We both shook our heads. In turns out both of us had been involved in small misdemeanors in the past and she had had the front row seat in witnessing our parent’s unbridled wrath.
With us beaten, she finally turned her attention to the man of the day. He didn’t have the bullish and confident face he had before. He fidgeted anxiously as he claimed that someone might have left the weed in his locker, since, apparently, he leaves the door open.
She wasn’t interested in that narrative. She asked him what he told the manager when he found him with the weed. He resisted for a while and realized that she wasn’t going back on her quest. Finally he caved in and said feebly.
“I told him that my father is a lawyer and that he can defend me,” he said with his face staring at his shoes, the same way a man would beckon God above.
The old lady called his brother and instructed him to take him straight home. I never had a clue where their home was. I didn’t care for finally we could get rid of the man-vermin and finally live in peace. It turned out the manager had left with the key, ensuring that no one entered the room. That night, I slept in a store, fought with starved bedbugs and mosquitoes the entire night.
The next day the Dan was swiftly evicted, there being no case to answer as he did put himself. So many people were relieved by his swift exit, even those he owed money. At least he’s gone, one guy had lamented.
A few months later we’d meet near the damn hostel and he asked me if I still reside in the hostel. I affirmed, and he let out a long sarcastic smile as he disappeared around the corner of the mall.