The Smell of Character

the Magunga

Cartoon by Bwana Mdogo

There is a shortcut to knowing a man’s true character.  Just walk into the toilet after he has finished doing a big one.

I look just like them walking to work every morning. I sit in the bus in the early morning cold looking important though those who know these things can tell; if you have to be in the office by 6:00am and not 8:00am then you are probably subordinate staff.

Me, I clean toilets in a certain landmark building in the city centre. And I have learned to read the shit of men the way fortune tellers read tea leaves and ashes and things.

Let me tell you, these office workers in these tall buildings are fakes. Their sophistication and fashion is forced and ill-fitting and when they shit, every time they shit, they unmask themselves before my unflinching gaze and show me their truth. Their hidden stinking truth.

The facades of their pathetic lives unravel like rotten onion peels and I know how they lie to themselves and the world. Perhaps this might do with a few examples.

Kibe joined the sales team on second floor on March 3rd this year. A simple boy at first, he was humble and kind. His brown shit smelled of the simplicity he exuded and it was obvious he was from good stock. He comes from home, those sides of Murang’a and so I convinced him to buy me lunch at the nearby staff canteen. He sat with me at the table and we ate ugali and meat and spoke in mother-tongue, his a little weak, but he was honest. Good people attract good things and they started him off with the Bidco account, I was looking forward to more lunches. I judged him wrong.

His suits changed fabric and his buttocks expanded in a month. One month. And his shit changed size and colour fast.

It is May now and Kibe does not sit within two tables of me at the staff canteen. He bought a telephone pad off one of those staff offers and now when I greet him, he tickles it with his finger and then pretends not to hear and tells me, “He! Kuna client hapa hataki kuniachia hata dakika. Hebu tuongee baadaye.” He washes his hands hurriedly at the toilet sink and runs off before I can start a sentence, and in order to avoid me or keep me too busy to chat, he stopped flushing. Perhaps the change in buttock size is what has done it but now he leaves green sea serpents and mighty sunken ruins. And the unholy stench. I know he is stealing from that Bidco account. It is eating dirty money that makes your shit stink so.

This is what money has done to a good boy. I have seen it far too often. And not just the boys, the men are twisted too.

Like Bwana Boaz, with his affable smile and deep secretary-seducing voice. Mogire warned me about him but I respected the man still. He was using the fifth floor toilet which is cleaned by Mogire. When the bosses there warned him off, he migrated downstairs. Then I discovered his lies. The man would always urinate on the lid and when he shat, oh when he shat… the hallway would be out of bounds. He was most unkind to me when he had committed his crimes, telling me how I was not doing my job even though he knew what he had done. The stinker almost got me fired, but there is one thing he didn’t know. One thing many of them, acting like subordinate staff are shit, don’t know.

We have better job security. We are never targeted for retrenchment and reshuffling and such and in the end, they come in and shit and they leave. I just watch, and I clean their shit quietly.

I talk to other shit cleaners like me, we exchange stories about the people in our buildings and their shit.

I said to them, “Let us write a book.”

But they acted as though a shit-cleaner is too dirty to write a book.

“Books are made of the same stuff as toilet-paper,” I said.

They let the subject slide and I knew I would have to do it myself.

When a vendor on a bus sold me this diary for twenty shillings I knew it was a sign.

I said, “I’ll write in it every day I am in the bus. And I will write about shit; that in the toilet as well as that walking about the city, working in tall buildings.”

I have made a life out of shit, and this will be my record henceforth.

Signed, James Muraguri.
Certified Toilet Cleaner.

Cartoon by Bwana Mdogo

The Smell of Character via @theMagunga

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