I do not have a suit. I gave away all neck ties after campus. I do not own a single pair of official shoes. My closet is composed of a ton of tees, khaki trousers, a few shirts, blue jeans (never black), socks, underwear and two jackets. The first jacket is a checked black and white one with no label – I got when I started working as a copywriter for PVG Agency in Upperhill. The second one is a black velvet jacket with which I have a deep historical connection. I bought it in 2013 along Moi Avenue shortly after being sworn in as the Chairperson of the Kenya Law Students Society. It was a gift to myself, a self congratulatory pat on the back, because that election campaign had sucked the life, and money, out of me. So at the end of it all, I figured I should live a little.
On the day I bought it, I was heading to campus from my mother’s, having broken the news of my victory. She had not approved my decision to vie for student office because she has spent the last two decades working as an administrator at a local university. She knows what it means to be a student leader. It is not a life she wished for her child, but does Magunga ever listen? Nope. Walking along Moi Avenue, I had five thousand shillings only left. I didn’t know where any more would be coming from. I was not even going to buy anything, but the velvet’s sheen just happened to chance upon my eyes and I bought it for four thousand bob.
When clearing out of campus, I gave away my suits to a cleaner in my campo. They were only two anyway, bought from Timothy Kyalo – a classmate who made a killing by opening a side gig selling suits to law students. Genius, actually, when you come to think of it. I gave them all away because by the time I was checking out of law school, I knew that I had had enough of the law. But I kept my black velvet jacket for good luck.
I guess what I am trying to say here is that I do not own any official wear. My job does not require it. I work mostly from home, and on days when I know I am not expecting any visitors, I do not wear anything. I sit on the couch naked like God’s honest truth, laptop on my thighs, banging out copy – often checking in on Ezekiel Mutua’s timeline to see whether he still enjoys the taste of his own foot. And then on other days when I have to leave the house, it is usually to go pick a cheque, or listen to a brief from a client, or attend an event, catch a movie premiere or eat free food at restaurants that need shoutouts online.
These occasions do not require me to be in a monkey suit. So you kind of understand why when I received an invite to attend an event at Lord Erroll Gourmet Restaurant, I automatically compartmentalized it as one of those regular events. Actually, when that email came in, I brushed it off along with those numerous agency emails. Do not judge me until you know exactly what it is like: Agency people send as many press-release emails as Pablo Escobar uses the word PUTA in Narcos.
Then a call came in, from a chick, asking whether I would be able to attend The Venture hosted by Chivas Regal.
“Oh! Uhm, right. That event,” I stuttered, pretending to remember that email. “When is the date again?”
She exhaled, probably wondering why this fool was asking after details that were already in the invite. Then she answered.
I swear by everything people swear by these days that it was my first time ever hearing the name Lord Erroll.
“And will you be coming with someone?”
“All right. Do you have transportation, or…”
“Yes,” I said, and then immediately regretted it because I badly wanted to know what she would say after ‘or’.
“Could you send me directions to the venue?”
“It was already in an earlier email.”
“But I will send it to you again…anything else you may need?”
Common sense dictates that I should have said rent for the next two months, but instead my foolishness said “Nothing.”
“OK. Thanks Magunga. See you on the 13th,” she said, her voice punctuated by the monotonous three beeps from the other end of the line.
At 5.30pm that evening, on our way out of the house, Jaber asked me where we were going and I said ‘Lord someone. Map says it is in Runda.’ As soon as I said that, she went back and grabbed her heels. I was in fading blue jeans, heavy one with side pockets, a pair of white sneakers and a Safaricom hoodie covering a black Samsung Tshirt. By the time we got to Lord Erroll, the earth was wearing darkness was on our backs. We were late. The event was supposed to begin at 6, yet we were walking in just before 7pm. And as soon as I got to the entrance of the restaurant, I knew something was off. The guards were looking at me funny. Like I was doing something wrong.
Which I was, unknowingly.
They let us in, Jaber’s hand on my arm for balance. Inside was a red carpet jeweled with ropes on either side. We followed the crimson floor and it spilled us into a murmuring crowd. Waiters were at the end of the red carpet, holding out cocktails for visitors. As we eased into the crowd, I noticed people stealing glances at me and then looking away. Eyes followed us. I figured it was not me they were looking at, but Jaber, because she has legs that would make you swear in your mother tongue, and she was not particularly shy of them that evening.
I took the glances as a compliment, then started looking around for people I knew. This was a corporate event. If they invited me, then of course they invited other bloggers.
Shiko Msa turned from a table and smiled. Behind her was Potentash and Soko Analyst wearing his cowboy hat. After the greetings, Shiko asked, “Aki Magunga lakini. Hata kama jameni? Si mtu huzingatia dress code?”
Stunned, I asked, “What dress code?”
“Kwani you did not read the invite?”
“It said this was a black tie event.”
And then it all began to make sense. Those awkward glances that the crowd was stealing at us were not for Jaber’s legs (their loss). They were for me. They were probably thinking what is this ragamuffin doing here? This is Lord Erroll goddamit! Why is he here with his oversize jeans and Safcom jumper? I pictured them staring at this charity case and then pretending to go back into their conversations only to ask their dates, “Ng’anene konya matin ka. Who is THAT guy?” gesturing at me with their heads. “What is a hobo like that doing in a place like this with a girl like that?”
I looked around the room, and indeed, everyone was in every kind of suit. Good suits. Bad suits. Oversized suits. Fitting suits. Tuxedos. Office suits. Accounting department suits. Striped lawyer suits. Plain suits. Butler suits. Dapper suits. Unbuttoned suits. Suits with thick ties. Suits with emaciated ties. One button suits. Two button suits. Rental suits with tags still on the sleeves. Full suits. Broken suits. Suits with special needs. Three piece suits. Suits that I would not even wish on my mother’s killer when drunk. Suits that made me grow green with envy. Killer suits. Suits worn with suspenders. Suits worn with belts. Suits worn without underwear. James Bond suits. Tony Nyadundo suits. Mitumba suits. Bespoke suits that made me want to take a photo of the chap and put him on the 1000 bob note.
Everyone got the memo but me. Or rather, everyone read the memo, but me. Embarrassment claimed me like a friend. I stood there feeling out of place like boiled carrots at a Brazilian steak night.
“Kwani hukuona ulikuwa unakuja Lord Erroll?” Naomi asked. “Hii si kibanda bana. ” And at that moment, the cock crowed to signify the dawn of my crucifixion because that is when Jaber denied me.
She said, “Even me when I heard we were coming to Lord Erroll, I just knew I had to carry my heels. This one I do not know what he was thinking.”
Yaaaani I cannot even. So she knew that we were going to a fancy place and she just kept to her heels? And now she speaks? I looked at the heavens and said to the man above; I am here in jeans and a hoodie through no fault of my own. It is this woman you gave me. Kumbe this is yet another guide to love. How else you could lose her. She just jumped my stories just like that. This is how we are thrown under the bus, gentlemen. The person that shoves you under the stage coach is the same one who had being holding your arm for balance. I said to myself that if our relationship was going to survive this act of betrayal, this treason, then there was nothing in this world that would ever break it.
At that moment, I could have left, now that I was clearly making everyone uncomfortable with these clothes, but I did not. I waited for the person who felt uneasy with my presence to be the bigger man in this silent duel, and go home. As for me and my goonship, we were staying.
And we did. Throughout the six course meal, we stayed. In between the courses, the Chivas people made presentations about The Venture – a campaign aimed at attracting young investors and business people to pitch their ideas and compete for the ultimate USD 1,000,000 prize. If you would need a calculator to convert that to Kenya shillings, and an Excel spreadsheet to convert it to UGX.
Me and my goonship, we survived the powerpoint presentations. When they said they were bringing a palate cleanser for the third course, and it turned out to be a tot of ice cream rather than a mouthwash as we had expected, we survived. When they brought the main course – three slices of meat the size of bhajias which we were still expected to eat with fork and knife, we survived. And finally when the dessert came with brown chocolate soaked in whiskey, we survived still. But our survival did not deter us from wondering why they did that to such expensive whiskey. Or perhaps that is how the famous Lord Erroll of old rolled. Perhaps he liked his mistresses rich and married and his whiskey, wasted.
When I got back home after the event, I went to my closet to look for my black velvet jacket. I took it out and held it up in the air, examining it. I could not believe that it has been three years. It is only until I stood before the mirror, wearing it, did I realized that the years have changed us both. There is now an annoying paunch that I cannot understand from whence it came because I am neither rich, nor a kwashiakor patient. This kitambi ruins the fit of my jacket.
The jacket itself has started to weather. The left elbow patch has started to peel and there is no way I can fix that. The collar too, is degenerating. It cut me to the quick me to see that there was nothing I could do to save it either. It is like I am losing it to an illness – watching helplessly as the malady gnaws life out of my beloved and all I can do is look at myself in the mirror and weep.
I need to get a proper suit, is what I am saying here. The nyadhi that runs in my bloodline cannot allow me to continue like this. I have swollen the head of my ancestors for far too long. Surely, even Josslyn Victor Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll, did not die mysteriously for this (his death remains an unsolved case to date). The best thing we can do to honour the legacy of Kenya’s most iconic playboy, therefore, would be to dine at the establishment named after him, in a manner that fits the way he lived – with pomp and style.
Over to you, gentlemen.
– – – – –