Many years ago in the roaring 60s, two men built an unlikely friendship. Every night, the story goes, they would leave work and meet up for a pint, and everything else that comes with the inner freedoms darkness provokes. Fagia dunia, their friends called it. Because when it came to the party life, the appreciation of the divine gifts of beer and beauty, they were unmatched. But they were as different as they come.
The older one, Paul, was tall and skinny. At least at first. He had a head full of hair and a name among the heroes of his age. He was louder and raucous, and always ready to start a fight. If there was a language this one spoke, it included fists. Whether he was sober or drunk, night or day, a tussle was what got his blood stirring. He didn’t even need a reason to start one, but history records so many of them that the reasons for them are not important.
Except maybe the one, in the early ‘50s, where he beat up a white man because of a girl. And he got arrested, jailed, and tossed into the books of history as one of six notorious freedom fighters of that time. And the other, where he nearly tossed his compatriot, the man who would wear the cap of the father of the nation, into a fireplace. The reason? His bad cooking.
For this man Paul, this wild soul with a penchant for trouble, life was not to be lived. It was to be demanded, fought, claimed, and sometimes, beaten. History doesn’t seem to record what this man drunk, what he spent those many long nights with his buddy imbibing. It probably doesn’t because he didn’t care, as long as it was liquid.
But the other man, Mwai, was a WhiteCap man.
There are legends about this man and his beer. That he could drink without losing his head, or even his footing. That among the evolutionary upgrades he was blessed with was an undemanding bladder. That, in those days when walls had ears and tables had eyes, he kept his calm, drank his beer, and enjoyed himself.
There are many other things they say about this man, and they are mostly true. That he was young, brilliant, and he was driven. That he was somewhat mysterious, whether behind his big desk with a small flag on it, or perched on a seat in the corner of the bar, WhiteCap in hand. When the sun was up and the ties tightened, his singular focus was his work. It was important work, in a young country in need of rebellious young men who could dream and build and think of nothing else.
There are so many of these stories that even his friends and enemies (and he would get many in the years to come) could never stop talking about the man and his beer. They would say he was mean, because he drank his beer and paid his bill. That he was strange, because he never seemed to get drunk. That if there was ever a bromance so mismatched, it was this one.
But as oft happens with stories about men and beer, oft-told by men drinking beers, they are only half the story. Not as incomplete a story as most are though.
Did Mwai like his WhiteCap warm or cold? No one seems to agree.
Did he like it even more because the image on the label reminded him of home? That snow-capped mountain under whose gaze he had herded goats and read books, a young boy driven by a desire to understand this strange new world in which he had born. A world with more violence than it could handle, and more pain than it needed. No one seems to know, to have ever asked him.
Did he have a bladder, even? Or was the beer, this particular one, feeding something within him that he was not in a hurry to remove?
For this man, unlike his friend and nightly partner in crime, Paul, life was to be understood. It was to be savoured, like a good beer, one sip at a time. It was, again like a good beer, to be experienced alone, appreciated for its familiar taste amidst the tides of change. To the sounds of good music and the joys of wilder company.
So the story goes that for him, a WhiteCap marked nearly every big event in his life. Or, if you threaded them and retraced them, there was a WhiteCap somewhere in the tale. When he got his first big job, in the uncertain start of the ‘60s when he made the career jump that defined his life, he was seated somewhere, a beer in hand, the music drowning out the sounds of downtown Nairobi. And such tales abide in the next four decades of his life, while he kept his head, made mistakes, and made his name, until the vagaries of age robbed him of this totem he loved.
By then, Paul had emptied his tank and checked out of this thing called living. He had fought his way throughout that journey, fists first. When he wasn’t in the company of his younger friend, he had added chapters to his story that read like a man in a hurry. It’s hardly a story worth retelling, except when retold by aging men over beers, reminiscing about the man whose greatest achievement was starting trouble. And that one time he stole a Mercedes. Well, technically. When he got his way into the realms of power, he once simply went to a showroom in Industrial Area and drove off with a brand new Mercedes Benz for a test drive and never returned it for 20 years.
Even the part about the bromance is long forgotten, a small footnote of an unlikely connection. Of how two men can share a table, spend long nights seeking the same pleasures, and yet be so different.
The WhiteCap man, on the other hand, has always stood out. Not just because he loved his beer and it understood him back, but also because he lived by his own rules. To him, it probably never mattered if his beer was warm or cold, or his company was wild and loud, just that they were all there in that moment. Alive.