My father was offended because I thought he could not afford to send 5k. Or rather he sounded offended. You could say it was all because of me, but you cannot blame me for it. I was 13, for Chrissakes. The most I had ever held in my hand was 500 bob when he sent me airtime. Also, when you consider what that 5k was for, and the mother to whom I was born, you will understand why in my head there was no way I could ask for that much money in 2004.
See, my primary school had come up with this idea of taking Class 8 candidates for a school to Mombasa less than a month to KCPE. I had never been to Mombasa, so of course I was dying to go. Lakini if you were to go, you (your parents, really) needed to pay five gees. I thought about it. First, my mother is so frugal she will bargain even free stuff. Buy one get one free? Why not two? And two, there was no way my mother was going to let me go to Mombasa for sijui a fun trip, weeks to KCPE. Are you mad? What for? Ati I go to Mombasa when other people’s children are cramming parts of a leaf? Yeah, not happening. After all, for that one week when they were to be in Mombasa, the kids who did not pay were to remain behind and have a free 7 day holiday. No school.
“Mummy,” I said, walking into her bedroom without knocking.
“What is it now, George.” Do not judge the poor woman, I was a pest as a kid.
“Next week I will not be going to school.”
“Ati ang’owaaa?” She’s always resorted to speaking Dholuo when she is getting mad. She must have thought I wanted to beat bende.
“No. As in tuliambiwa next week hatuendi shule. Si me pekee yangu.”
I stopped. You know, when you’re talking to my mother, you need to be very careful, especially on explosive matters such as education. You may say something stupid and the rivers of hell will break their banks and spill over into the room.
“People are going to Mombasa.”
“Pupils and teachers.”
“What are they going to do in Mombasa?”
“It is a school trip.”
“And why are you not going?”
“Because they want us to pay five thousand.”
“It is a lot of money.”
“I did not think you could pay.”
“Stop talking nonsense and give me my phone.”
She called my dad and told him, “Can you believe this child of yours,” (see how we were disowned when we did something silly), “thinks you cannot afford to pay five thousand for his school trip?”
Now you can see the misrepresentation here. If my father, a Jaluo, no less, took offense at his ability to afford five thousand, it was because of this woman God gave him. I am not the one who said he could not afford the money. I simply meant that five thousand shillings is a lot of money for a stupid thing like a trip to Mombasa, especially this late into KCPE crunch time. But when Old William asked to speak to me on the phone and said “Wuoda, don’t ever think I cannot afford 5k for something important to you,” I did not bother explaining anything to him. Even then, at the age of 13, I could hear his hurt pride dripping from his words straight from his heart.
The next day I walked to school and made a deposit of KES. 2,500. There was no MPESA back then. I carried cash. Tucked it into my socks and I cannot remember a time when my legs have ever felt so heavy.
I know my brother skimmed a few shillings from the top of the money he was given to buy me stuff for my Mombasa trip, but I looked the other way because he’d gotten me an LA Lakers jersey. It was white with strips of gold and blue on the side. It came with a singlet and matching shorts and he’d also gotten me white sneakers.
Anyone who grew up with me in Migosi or went to M.M. Shah, class of 2004, may remember that singlet. Hell, anyone who knew me then, must remember it. I wore it all the time. I wore it with its shorts. I wore it over a green t-shirt and 05 three-quarter jeans. I wore it to that Mombasa trip and to every other Saturday tuition from then on. During the week, I wore it as a vest inside my school uniform. I wore it to impress girls at home. I wore it to impress God in church. I wore it, washed it, waited for it to dry, then wore it. I wore it till it was over. I wore it until it became small. I wore it until it annoyed people, then wore it even more. And made no apologies for it.
But none of those moments when I wore it mattered more than the first time I wore it. On the morning of that trip to Mombasa. The teacher had said that we needed to be in school by 5am sharp. If you’re late, they said, you would be left behind. So the night before the trip Karua had sent me to bed early and then even before I could sleep, she was already shaking my shoulder saying, “Amalo wuoyi!! Get up!! Mombasa will leave you.”
It was 3.30am.
This was a time before Uber and Taxify and Little Cab. Not many people in our hood drove cars. The parents there were middle management public servants. The few who did would definitely love to help, but not at 3.30am. Yes, we kinda had a car, the KJC 723 Volkwagen Beetle that was parked in our compound, but that little guy had not moved in ages. She had bought it from my uncle back in the day when colour was just starting to paint the world, driven it around a few times, but that was just it. In fact, in the whole of my lifetime, I have only ever ridden in that opuk debe debe three times. Twice to Kibuye Market and once when she took us for a roundi mwenda across the chest of the estate.
If it stabbed her that she could not have that KJC running at that moment, she did not show it. Or maybe I just was not paying attention. She made me hot tea, watched me drink it with eyes drunk with unfinished sleep, put my suitcase on her head and told me to follow her. We would walk. There were no cars on the road at that time. The whole of Kisumu was still asleep, so we walked in the middle of the road, beating stories.
I have always been scared of the dark, but I have never been scared of anything when with Mother Karua (except her). When a pair of headlights came from behind, I did not stiffen, and when Karua tried to flag it down for a lift, neither did the driver. Two more cars would pass us by like that until, by some strange stroke of luck, a matatu found us in Kondele.
It has been seventeen years and some loose change since that early morning walk with my mother. I remember it very well and I am sure she does too. And if she does then she remembers a moment when we were walking just the two of us in the dark when I promised her that I would one day buy her a car. She had laughed and said, “What kind of car?”
“What kind do you want?” I had asked.
She paused and thought about it then said, “I want a big car. One of those ones with a tyre pinned to its buttocks.”
“Which colour?” I asked again, as if I would right there and then write her a postdated cheque for her to go get it.
“Silver is not a colour, mummy.”
“OK, then black.”
It would take a long time before I realized that was she was simply describing a sport utility car, otherwise known to the likes of you and me as an SUV.
I have not yet bought Mother Karua that car of hers. Sometimes when I sit in traffic and a car with a tyre pinned to its ass passes by, I find myself thinking about that walk and the memory drains all the colour from my face. I am a millennial trying to make a thing out of myself in this city, so of course I cannot afford it. I have also thought about fixing up the good old KJC, but I doubt that is possible now given the way it has wasted away. The paint is a mess. Engine cannot start. As in to revive it would take a miracle – and if not that, then pretty much the same amount of money it would take to get her a big silver car with a tyre pinned to its bum.
I looked up the guys who used to distribute the Volkswagen Beetle, CMC Motors. They do not distribute them anymore, and that breaks my heart a little. But I saw that this Saturday they will be celebrating 70 years of existence. So far they have grown to eight branches countrywide, with sister companies in Uganda and Tanzania. Foolishly, I imagined that they would perhaps have a flash sale. You know? 70% off in celebration of 70 years of existence? I mean that would be amazing wouldn’t it? Even if they stopped brining in the VWs, I do not think Karua would mind one of those Suzukis they have.
There is one on their website called Suzuki Jimny. It fits her bill rather easily. I am not enough of a petrolhead to care about sijui engine size and those other complicated things. Uh-uh. It is described as “..an inexpensive rugged, 1.3 L mini 4×4 that delivers great value for its size and will go just about anywhere…” and right next to it is a photo of the Suzuki Jimny splashing water as it cuts across a river. Which means that she could use this to go to shagz without hurting her back. It is black, yes, but I think that matters less because it has the most important feature to my mother, and that is….say it with me… a tyre pinned to its buttocks.
I can only imagine my mother arriving in shagz with this car. I know she will refuse to raise her window the moment she gets to Siaya, never mind that the loose orange dust is not good for her lungs and eyes. All those women and youth in all the markets starting from Siaya town to Rabar will see her. She will ride mkono sambusa, you know, with and elbow sticking out of the window. At Rabar, she will tell the driver to stop so that she can pretend to be buying mangoes, but in all honesty, she just wants to feel like an MCA. And when her relatives see her and start shouting, “Eh! Eh! Eh! Wife of Awilly Meja, is that you all? Whose car is this?” she will tell them, “Soma lebo, owada.”
They will run to the front of the car to read the logo, hold their mouths in amazement, then come back to her window and say, “Eish yawa daughter of Kalda. This is a Jimny!!!! Eeeeeei. Ajimo!!!” Yes, they will not call it Suzuki Jimny after that. They will start calling it Ajimo. Then Ajimo will stop being a car, and become a human being. Karua’s proud companion to stay with her throughout her easy ride through old age. I suspect Ajimo will even rob me of my last born rights, but that’s OK, I have had a good run for 27 years.
So what do you say, CMC Motors, eh? 70% off to celebrate your 70th birthday? If not to help me keep an old promise, then for a fellow old timer’s sake.
Just give Karua her Ajimo.