A boy named Kelvin. An exotic name back then when it wasn’t fashionable at all to be called by your first name. It was one of the greatest insult, everybody guarded their first name (English name) jealously, like nuclear launch codes. Once your enemy (back then enemies were easy to make) got hold of it you were dead meat. It made you long for invisibility so much so that you even hated your own shadow. Kelvin was different, he had embraced his name like a badge of honour. He wasn’t Kalenjin, should have been a Luo or Luhya. Kelvin had a naturally goofy face, hips that were a little too pronounced for a boy, which naturally excused his lousy football skills; he kicked the ball like a girl. We never counted him in as one of the team members unless he volunteered to be the goalkeeper. We endlessly teased him, and eventually gave him a nick name, Embe Dodo.
Embe Dodo was unusually clean, different from his brother, who seemed to originate from a whole different planet where hygiene was frowned upon. Embe Dodo’s brother knew how to play football, but wasn’t very good in class. One time he mused about being number zero when we were about to close school. When he received his report book when school closed, I heard him exclaim ‘I knew it. I knew I would be number zero!!’ Looking back now I fail to fathom how someone can be number zero, but I still believe he was.
Unfortunately, by events which I couldn’t explain, I ended up being Embe Dodo’s desk mate. I ceased teasing him, called him respectably. That was back in primary school, class five, back when Kale’s were battling post-Moi depression, although soothed by Kibaki’s free education incentive. Before then parents rarely afforded 950 shillings which was school fees. It didn’t matter the number of kids a parent had, some six or seven yet the school was generous enough to allow those parents to pay only 950 shillings. I don’t know who came up with that idea, he must have inadvertently warmed his ass on something illegal. Kibaki injected life into the country. It seemed he even procured oxygen because the air felt fresher than usual.
Embe Dodo would tell me stories about the movies he had watched. I listened with glee, though without any intention of retaining what he told me. One time he went to the toilet and came back with a sad look on his face, you could think he had dropped his penis into the pit latrine. Teachers rarely came to class and we had plenty of time to make noise. With his sad face intact, coupled with his goofiness he spoke slowly.
“I am not going to eat honey anymore,” he told me.
“Why?” I asked.
“I saw a bee in the toilet,” he said. “I didn’t know honey is made from such dirty ingredients.”
I didn’t say a word. I was a little convinced. Embe Dodo knew much more than I did. We closed school and Embe Dodo never showed for the next term. His parents must have spotted greener pastures and found it fit to migrate accordingly. We never met again and even if we meet now I wouldn’t recognize him. I am tempted to think he is a casual labourer somewhere in Eldoret Town, either pushing carts and if he turned out successful he must be operating a boda boda.
Fast forward, a decade and a half later (damn time really moves), I recall Embe Dodo, in the wee hours of the night, a rare time when one can hear dogs howling in Nairobi. Nairobi dogs are little sophisticated, they don’t bark for long, not unlike village dogs which rent the night with long howls like they are ululating or worse still mourning a departed dog. They often scare me, those long howls. It makes the night pregnant with danger, a form that you only feel, impalpable. A decade ago I wouldn’t have imagined I would be a journalist or rather a journalism graduate, actively on the lookout for events of grave misfortune to humanity. If I had chanced upon the path I would take I would have dismissed it with a deep Kalenjin accent, ‘Waja mcheso!’ and that’s how life rolls and rolls and rolls, without stopping.
I am awake in the wee hours of the night, hours our high school principal christened satanic, not because I have to but because I am broke AF, wishing I could afford an embe dodo. A church mouse would sneer at me and even spit on me, and I wouldn’t raise a finger in protest. Its Tuesday, no Wednesday and the only tangible food my stomach has accommodated (have always misspelled this word) since Saturday has been two loaves of bread. Only two. I am like a scientific experiment, trying to prove that man can live on bread alone. And porridge in between. It’s not fun.
A thing about money I have learnt since, is that when you actually really need it, it’s never available. Another thing is that Jomo’s stern stare makes you think it will last forever, just like people have learnt to imagine about life. Especially a brand new note, the one that’s so stiff you can use to chop onions, only onions so that you can cry tears of joy. Damn, I miss holding Jomo’s face, give him a deep kiss. I don’t care if you think I am gay, to hell with that. Lastly, about money, contrary to the notion that ladies love money, she (see I am pro-punany) has been calling me, talking to me softly, asking how I am and even offering suggestions. She’s a different breed of ladies but among the types that think that as soon as you get a lil’ paper, you look for a yellow yellow. Such kinds of ladies hate to see their men make it. I think she loves a broke me.
The first lesson, about money disappearing into certain unreachable crevices, being broke finds you at your worst. You have debts everywhere. You find you’ve okoad jahazi in all your lines-safaricom, Airtel, orange, Yu. On top of it you have joined the list eminent personalities, of men and women inducted into CRB’s hall of fame. You remember how it started, just like a joke, with Safaricom messaging you that you are eligible for a 1000 bob loan. Being a skeptic you wanted to prove Bob’s men aren’t goofing around Michael Joseph Centre, scratching their balls and asking for nudes. It turns out they weren’t. Before you knew it you were making a contribution of 75 shillings every month to Safaricom. One time you decide to say fuck it Bob, do whatever the hell you want. A series of texts, first giving you a plan on how to pay the debt, then threatening that you’d be listed by CRB then a resigned one asking you to clear your name with CRB. All for a loan you never actually needed in the first place.
It’s not that I am completely broke. A couple of people out there are holding on to my money, some go way back to when they had a blind date and desperately needed some cash to please their objects of desire. Now these objects are the farthest things in their minds and probably they have moved on to five other boyfriends or even married. Others for jobs I did like a century back, only that I have been too preoccupied with shit to ask them for my money. And that’s how a nigger pays dearly complacency.
Upon close scrutiny of my assets, I gather that I have twenty bonga points, just enough to redeem for four SMSs. It’s here that I make a list of people who can bail me out, motivated by the thought of steaming ugali and matumbo at the Kwa Atieno’s Kibandaski. Atieno’s matumbo is fried just the way I like it, plus she is a woman with ‘sura ya upole’ not like those braggart Luo ladies out there. Back to making the list. Just like Ocampo’s, I outlined six people, then whittled down to four, and after a trial, two escaped trial with replying my text by starting with the word ‘waaah’…a message like this never has good news. It will never come like ‘waaah, I’ve just received money by mistake and I have been wondering how to spend it.’ Instead it launches into a long winding excuse, often about how the sender hasn’t had breakfast and how he won’t have supper a week from now…shit like that.
With two messages remaining, I spend plenty of time crafting a message that won’t sound too desperate, just enough to make someone reach their pockets. I make sure it doesn’t have any grammatical errors, cross check it twice before I hit send. Both messages are delivered instantly and I decide to take a walk around the house, to the kitchen open the fridge and promise it some company in a few minutes. I get back and I find one message replied. It said something about the end of the week.
The last one arrives shortly, a curt reply, ‘sina’ with space in front of it. I wonder why he didn’t begin the message at the margin. I am enraged by it, not the space but by the message. You see it was from a guy who works in place where he handles the money, not less than ten thousand in a single day, he told me and I don’t believe he can lie. He’s a good chap, never gambles, doesn’t drink, clueless about football, not a womanizer, I don’t know what interesting thing he does. On top of it I am man who keeps my word. We’ve done business before and I was pretty sure my credit standing was pretty good. He’d be the last guy to fail me but then he sends a message with space in front of it. So injurious to my pride.
My rage thaws and flows to things I did spend money one, things that were completely nonsensical. Once I gave a street kid 20 shillings, numerous times I did buy one Kao chic lunch who openly disrespected me, the bundles my phone had gobbled just to ensure I ogled at ladies with huge asses online. Luckily I didn’t regret the many vodka bottles that lined up in my closet. I can fondle them, fondly because they made conversations between me and my demons a little interesting, which wasn’t a bad thing at all.
‘ sina’ (note the space)didn’t get completely out of my mind. It kept sneaking back, through porous places I failed to seal. I cursed that word with its space in front of it. It sounded derogatory, every curve in the letters that make the word. And that space.
A close scrutiny of the word revealed subtle engravings in it, which read ‘get your shit together’. I want to revenge on that guy, by parking a black Subaru Legacy, with fancy black rims just in front of his work place, where I will rev the monstrous engine three and half times and alight with a undetectable pride, circumnavigate by baby and spank its dusty posterior just like those dudes do on blue movies. After the short performance, I will saunter into his place of work and engage him in a chit chat then tell him to approach me in case he is in a tight financial situation but first he must declare his friendship, just the same way Don Corleone demanded. Like Amerigo Bonasera.
Before departing, I will rev the engine three times again, then alight, open the bonnet and check something. I will go back and call him, telling him that the engine has a weird sound and ask him rev it for me so that I can put my ear close to it. I will ask him if he can detect the weird sound, which of course doesn’t exist. He will say no. But I will curtly tell him that it says, ‘FUCK YOU!’ with space in front of it.