Evening shadows makes you blue,
when every weary day is through……
It is a Thursday evening and my leisure evening walk from the supermarket (Nakumatt Highridge) to my residence, 15 minutes walk, is rudely interrupted by a strange sight.
I am on the busy Masari Road, some fifty metres from Nakumatt Highridge when I notice a body lying on the ground just next to the road and right opposite a metallic grill gate leading to some block of flats.
Since I am on the opposite side to the body, I stop walking and wait for the cars to pass. Meanwhile my eyes are on the still body and I notice two people walking past, quickly glancing and moving on. Typical Nairobian mind-your-business approach. I contemplate doing the same – just walk on and plead amnesia, Kenyan style.
I live in Parklands – 2nd Avenue and there are a number of informal settlings around, the main ones being Deep Sea and Masai Village. Meeting drunks, street families is not uncommon in the area. In fact a number of them know me as “Mwalimu” or just” Teacher”. The body lying on the ground could as well be another drunk. So why bother?
But there is always that nagging feeling and desire to help. What if he is not a drunk?
I cross the road, both my hands full with the shopping. I slowly approach the body and it is them I notice a foaming pool that has been formed on the side that the man his lying on. He is still, straight and is clutching a dirty paper bag, also a Nakumatt one.
Is he dead? That is the first question that runs through my mind as I place my shopping next to the tree that the man’s head is touching. I am no medic but the little that I have learnt through movies comes in handy. I stay calm, very calm as I feel his pulse. Weak but palpitations are present. It looks like a case of epileptic attack.
I look around for help. My best bet is the gate on my right, a mere twenty metres away. Meanwhile cars zoom past us and pedestrians walk past, cast a look and move on.
“Soja, tafadhali nisaidie hapa?” I beckon the gate man. I am not really sure what help I want from him but he mutters something about his bosses. He turns his back on me though he occasionally steal glances. I can see a group of people gathered in the compound that the gate-man guards. Maybe they could help.
Presently some youth – three of them – that I had seen at Nakumatt find me looking stranded. They have the decency to stop.
“What is wrong?” the tallest of them asks.
“It looks like an epileptic attack,” I answer, my eyes still on the man and hoping that the gate-man could do something other than just gawk.
Then the convulsions start, violently at first. I remember something about epileptics biting their or swallowing their tongue. Did they say something like put a hard object between their teeth to prevent them from biting their tongue?
“Do something!” the only lady panics and shouts at me as she takes several steps back. The convulsions increase in intensity as I spot a stick which I quickly try to force between the teeth but the jaws are so tight.
The convulsions stop as I hold the head to make sure that it is tilted at a certain angle that would not be harmful to him.
Tension as the body relaxes and all the eyes are on me. Cars zoom past. Other pedestrians walk past.
He coughs and mutters something. “Water.”
Water? None of us has water. The shorter of the youth tells me to check in the man’s paper bag and sure enough there is a bottle of water.
We are all so fully engrossed with the man that I hardly pay attention to the cars that are passing. However the car that zooms past and immediately halts just in front of us grabs my attention albeit for a short time.
A man of Asian origin alights rather fast and though I do not pay him much attention, he looks very familiar. We have met before but I cannot recall where.
The next screeching of tyres is met with a command that is issued simultaneously by two men. Still bent to attend to the man, I slowly turn my gaze and what meets me is the barrel of two guns and the boys in blue – two of them – ready to shoot. One of them is Somali looking and given the tense security situation in the country, whatever movement I make will determine my fate.
“What is going on here?” the non Somali policeman barks ready to shoot.
Time comes to a standstill.
My eyes lock with the policemen.
Two fully armed policemen, ready to shoot, against five unarmed – three youths, myself and the patient. There are three main options faced with confrontational cops. I could suddenly put my hands in the air and panic as I surrender. Secondly, lie on the ground and not put my hands up or the third, stay calm.
After twenty five years of teaching highly energetic and laughter filled primary school going children, my character traits have changed to mirror those of my students. And it is here that I get my weapon against the cops.
A smile. Fearless.
I smile, a genuine smile of a 5 year old boy who has just been confronted by a poisonous cobra snake ready to strike. The lack of panic from the youngster that makes the snake not attack the boy but instead drop the hood and slowly slither away to go and look for a more panicky victim.
I smile. No panic. The cobra lowers its hood.
The Somali cop lowers his gun the moment I speak, “I found this man here and I thought I would try and help him.” I am calm, very calm when I speak. The other cop is still not convinced and his gun remains trained on me. Maybe he has yet to shoot dead a robber and is itching for his maiden shoot out. Or he has a target to meet.
And what if I am shot and killed? What would the Police Spokesperson have to spin? A notorious group of 5 thugs were shot in Parklands near Highridge? My boys returned fire and managed to kill 5 robbers who were fully armed?
So that is how people disappear? An innocent looking evening stroll ends up with such drama?
We all wait. It is a long wait but a short one. Things have happened in real slow motion, every move noticed.
My rescue comes from the Somali cop who moves closer to where we are huddled next to the patient. “I know this man,” he says referring to the man on the ground. “We helped him some time back and took him home.”
It is at this point that the other cop finally lowers his gun. No drama for you, Sir. It is then that memory floods back and I remember the big white car that had stopped right in front of us.
Flying Squad. Three years back, there was a car jacking incident where I stay. Thugs had trailed an Asian woman and her mzungu friend from Sarit centre to the flats where we stay. They were coming to pick up their daughter who was visiting her friend. At the gate, as the gateman had hesitated, the armed thugs (whose accents betrayed them) had jumped out of their car at the same time that the gate was being opened. The lady driver, in panic , had driven into the compound followed by two gun wielding thugs, the third robber staying with the gateman to keep him company. In a swift move, the robbers had taken the ladies’ handbags and other valuables, got back into their car and fled. The ladies’ car was not taken. And within five minutes, the Flying Squad had arrived. The big white car. The Asian cop. Calm.
The Somali cop addresses me, “You are doing a great job man. Help him.” And with that, the two cars melt into the darkness of the night.
“Oh my God!” the only lady in the group finally manages to exhale. “I was about to scream!” She is literally shaking. Rattled by what has just taken place, the three youths quickly leave me with the man who by now is slowly regaining consciousness.
“Thanks and sorry for the ordeal,” I tell them as they also melt into 2nd Parklands. Poor things.
“There is some medicine in the paper bag,” the patient manages to whisper. I scrounge through the paperbag and come up with two different sets of capsules.
“Which one?” I ask. He explains to me and I manage to get the medicine he wants. There is a bottle of water as well, a 300ml almost empty bottle but there is a little bit of water left. He swallows one tablet and then gathers some strength to sit.
More people by pass by. Nobody else stops as my mind starts racing. Who called the Flying Squad? The people in the compound have not moved in almost 15 minutes? What next with the patient?
“I am so sorry about what happened,” he offers.
A decision has to be made and it is then that I decide to get him transport.
“What is your name?”
“Where do you live?”
“Kawangware 46, but just get me to Westlands.”
“Do you have a phone or someone I can call?”
“No phone but there is a number to call.”
The subscriber cannot be reached and after three trials, I give up and call up Charles, my regular taxi guy. It is almost 9pm and Charles has closed shop.
“Just go to the kiwanja and get anybody there. That is what I exactly do, go to the kiwanja directly opposite Nakumatt Highridge barely 200 metres away.
I grab the first taxi that I get and explain to him the situation. I hop into the car and we drive towards the place where Mwangi is. He is still seated, leaning against the tree. The taxi driver goes round and passes the tree where Mwangi is.
“That is him,” I tell the taxi driver who drives past the tree and returns to the kiwanja.
“Sorry, you will have to get another vehicle. I don’t carry such people,” the taxi guy tells me. At first I am angry at how he can spurn such a needy person but with the insecurity situation in the country and given the number of taxi drivers who have lost their lives to thugs, it all makes sense.
“Thanks,” I tell him as I alight. “And apologies.”
“Mwalimu,” he calls out. “Be very careful.”
“Thanks,” I mutter again as I move to the few motorbike riders. After explaining to them the situation, the reaction is the same.
“If he is unwell, it will be difficult to balance on the bike,” is the final word. That makes sense.
I walk back to Mwangi, who is still seated on the ground leaning against the tree trunk. The same watchman keeps on stealing glances while the group of men in the compound have, surprisingly, disappeared.
“You will have to walk to Westlands,” I tell him as I help him on his feet and we start the slow walk towards Westlands. We go through 2nd Parklands Avenue, my daily route to work.
And we talk.
He is married. His wife also has no phone.
“How do you survive in this era?”
“We have sim cards but no phone, so we do borrow a phone wherever necessary,” he replies. The other side of technological development that is never captured.
He has a son who is hardly a year old.
He is a hawker. And so is his wife who does odd jobs as well. He hawks bananas along the roads but yesterday the Nairobi City Council askaris impounded his whole collection of bananas hence setting him back by a whole day’s work. Today he could not get his share of the days bananas to sell because he has a debt with the wholesaler.
Today as well, his medication run out and he had to get help. He was told of a catholic priest, a certain Fr. Joseph, who helps out with medical cases. The priest lives (or is based) somewhere in Muthaiga. But when Mwangi went there, the priest was absent. Hence he had to make his way back without any help.
I met him on his way home.
Our talk has to come to an end and this happens at the junction of 1st Parklands and Mpaka Road just after the Oshwal Academy, Junior High gate.
“I am now strong enough to walk to Westlands,” he tells me.
“That is great,” I answer as I share out part of my shopping with him – three packets of milk and a loaf of bread. I also give him the last money I have on me, kshs.100 plus a couple of coins.
“As for your medication, please pass by tomorrow at my work place. I will have something for you.”
We part ways and I walk back home with many questions running through my mind. Life is really a bitch is all I can think of.
I reach home close to 10pm, almost three hours since I left home. I am an emotional roller coaster and I have a tall tale to tell my people. I miss out the gun part.
The following day at around 10.30 am, Mwangi is at the school gate. He is wearing the same clothes as yesterday. Honestly, I am quite relieved to see him, well, alive.
“Ulifika poa?” I ask him and he replies in the affirmative.
I give him KES.500 for the medicine. It is the least I can do as I probe him on the way forward. It is one of those cases that leaves a bad taste in your mouth – you almost feel guilty for being healthy and sleeping in more comfortable quarters, eating regularly and not having issues with your basic needs.
We part ways. He, a grateful man. Me, a distressed one. I feel like I have not done enough, or my best.
I go back to work.
The days roll by and there is no single day that I do not remember Mwangi.
Fate has a way of playing games. And after about two months, our paths cross again. This time I am on my way home from Nakumatt Ukay. Enjoying the late evening breeze and mentally editing the numerous stories in my head, I see a group of people huddled at a gate.
I slow down. This looks strangely familiar. A man leaning on the gate of an apartment is surrounded by a group of people. He looks confused.
It definitely is Mwangi but at a different spot.
Again I make the conscious decision to do something. I make my way.
“Niaje Mwas? Uko poa?” I greet him.
He looks at me and somehow studies me before replying in slow motion. “Siitwi Mwas. Naitwa Kimani.”
I profusely apologise and move away. This time I vow to always mind my own business. It could save the police a bullet or two.
One only lives once. And also dies once.