Parents really showed how much they trusted you, by the amount of money they sent you to the shop with, and what exactly you went to buy. 10 bob, they don’t trust you at all, and they are just too tired to go to the shop. If you lose that 10 bob, don’t come back. 20 bob, you are still on mezzanine 19 and you have 8 more years to reach ground floor. 50 bob, you have potential. At 100 bob, my mother was publicly acknowledging that you are their child, and that they gave birth to you, and her blood and my father’s run inside your veins. But if you mess up, they will put you up for adoption outside their house, and still make sure nobody adopted you. Because you were just a duster.
Now, If my mother sent you on errands that went beyond 150.00 shillings, she trusts you with her lungs, her kidneys and her pancreatic juice. 200 bob and she trust you with her bile, and pancreas and appendix. She gives you 250, she is giving her life over to you, and she is basically letting you do a brain transplant on her.
If you were born between independence and 1990, you knew from the day you were born, that things were thick. And you are probably the reason things were that thick. When you were brought forth at the hospital, they gave you two important things. A thick slap on your brand new, soft as cotton, fresh off the baby oven bum. And then they handed you a survival kit and a manual, because thy knew you would need it. In that manual, man, there were commandments, rules and regulations.
One of the obvious things was meals, and meal times. They were not suggestions. They were to be you followed strictly, and if you broke any of them, pray that you are not found out.
We had a menu guide on what we ate, when, at what time. Dinner was most important, though, because dinner was not just a meal, it was a family meal. If you do not show up home in time for dinner, it was defiance. You will tell my mother who your wife is, and what she cooked for you to it during her time, so that you showed up late at her house. Also, if you came after everyone has fed, you will need a lawyer in the level of Fred Ojiambo or Peter Gachuhi to explain to her, why she wasted her time, and with it, firewood, kimbo, royco, the guy who planted the mbogas, the guys who transported the, the jua kali guys who made jikos and sufurias, the guy who almost died trying to make charcoal for us, because he had to stand on top of that furnace to keep watch so that it all doesn’t burn down to ashes… everyone.
On Sundays we would have chapati dengu for dinner while on Mondays we had ugali and sukuma wiki. rice and beans. Tuesday, ugali and sukuma wiki, Wednesday, was Ugali/Rice and chicken. Thursday, nyoyo and bottomless strong tea. YOU GUY! Mercury on the dabal. Friday was rice and any meats (beef, liver, gizzards). And then Saturday. Saturday was matumbo.
For those who do not know, matumbo is a lazy meal, that requires the most time and resources to prepare, with the least nutritional value for the human body. Only a feeling of fullness in your belly. You needed to boil it over time, on the very hot charcoal jiko and then you have to eat it as fast as possible so that the oil doesn’t coagulate. Because if it does, you are on your own. And you will have to finish it with ward thoughts. Also, what you are served, you cleared. Because if you did not clear it now at dinner, it will become your breakfast.
If you were going to have matumbo, you started preparing it very early, which really meant you had to do your market run really early.
There were only two places we could buy fresh matumbo from in Nairobi. Kiamaiko, in Kariobangi. Or the Jericho city council market. Of course Jericho was safest. Because I was home on that Saturday, and my mom had other more important things to do than to go all the way to Jericho to buy food for her children who really did not appreciate her sacrifices, she sent her most forgetful, most distracted and easily duped child to go and negotiate with Joseph in Egypt, to buy food for her children so that we do not die of hunger.
Anyway, she gave me bus fare for two people coz I asked her to let me go with someone so that I was not stolen, but I was a little bit much smarter than I looked. I had calculated. If I took a matatu it would cost me 15 bob to go, and 15 bob to come back. But if I walked, it would cost me zero. So what did I choose? To walk of course. If I take a 8B matatu, 20 minutes max. If I really hurry up walking, one and half hours max. So, I just plan to leave at 9, instead of the 10:30 mum suggested. But my walking had an agenda. 10 bob in primary school, I thought, I could date the most beautiful teacher. Miss Helen would be so impressed. Or I can really show off to the whole school, teaching them what balling really was at the school canteen during break time. But 60 bob. UUWWIII.
WITH 60 BOB, I WANTED TO BUY THE WHOLE CANTEEN AND TURN IT INTO A SUPERMARKET. WITH BRANCHES IN EVERY SCHOOL. Just wait and see.
I enlist my pal Robert to go with me. I don’t tell him the cash plan. But I promise myself, I will either give him 10 bob for him to start a business, or make him the shopkeeper. Besides, he is struggling with P.E. He doesn’t look like he will make much of life for himself. And I don’t want him to be a makanga. Because everyone who ever failed in school at that time ended up on the tarmac as a tout.
Sisi hao, with a thick green paper bag. Mdogo mdogo, Calif, Eastlesigh First Avenue, Airforce, Madiwa Section III, Kimathi Estate, and then I get to Uhuru Estate. Just a few meters and we are at Jericho Market. We have avoided all the chokoras, all the mad men, all the drunk men, and all the pick pockets in Nairobi But the devil’s plans start to unfold at Uhuru Estate.
We hear people cheering, and we know a soccer game is on. If you want to finish me, SOCCER. Period. So we dash to check it out. Hapo Jeri uwanjo soo. So we are watching the grown ups play, and time flies. On a much smaller pitch, a couple of teenage boys are playing. So we go and ask if we can play for a few minutes. They refuse. But they say, they don’t have goal posts. If we chose to become goal posts, they will get two boys out and they can replace us, and we can play on later after 15 minutes. So we agree. They get other two boys to stand on the other side.
Let me just say, for some very young people who are obsessed with soccer or buying a canteen, sometimes how bright you are depends on your skin complexion. Because, me. My bright self. Took all my mother’s money, and all my bus fare savings, that I believed I had rolled up in a green paper bag, went to the wall, picked a stone and covered it, so that it doesn’t get lost. In front of everyone in Jericho.
People take things like MPESA for granted. The way payments are easy, you just get to the shop and there is a paybill number, you do your transaction, swipe, tap, whatever, and you don’t have to worry about moving large sums of money like 210 bob. Like, you know, if MPESA had been invented then, my mother could have just paid for what we needed, directly, including ya kutoa, and this business will have been long sorted. My work would have been just to collect.
After what seemed like an hour of playing and us guys standing and dodging balls kicked to maim us, the owner of soccer ball from nowhere says he is going home, and because the ball is his, the game is over. I am so mad I NKT him so hard, it is heard in Borabu. I accept fate that we will not play. I go to where there was the rock I had covered the money under. The money is missing. And as if that is not enough, even the rock is missing. That was my first encounter with what most people refer to as nowadays, a heart attack.
Yo. I go round the entire stadium where Camp Toyoyo now stands. I look under every rock, stone, pebble, soil and even dust particles. Nothing. I pick as many paper bags as I can, even blackones just in case I had colorblindness. Nothing. I just cried. I cried and cried and cried so hard, because I knew this was the end of life, as I knew it. I was praying that I get to live near my great grandparents in heaven. It was going to be such a beat down for me; either myself or my mum was going to get a monument in honor of that day. Mine would have to be held up by steel structures because of how bad I will be looking. While I am agonizing over the impending post life experience, Robert is agonizing over hunger.
Rob: Buda, I am so hungry, aki. Si ununue tu kitu tukele?
Me: (Eyes so big) Boss, what part of we have lost money don’t you get?
Rob: Kwani even the lunch money was there?
Me: No, but even if it was, it is all gone.
Rob: Ai. Si you promised to buy something?
Me: Tell your enzymes to calm down first.
Rob: If it’s like that, I am leaving you.
Me: Just go, if you want to.
And just like that, he left.
One of the coolest things you appreciate when you are young and desperate, is that fear of your mother; it really took away all shame from you. So I gathered myself, still tearing, walked to the market and went straight to the Matumbo lady’s stall. She has been friends with my mum since Nairobi was built. In between sobbing and tears, I explain to her what had transpired. She keeps asking the same questions over and over. And my answers are the same. I tell her to give me Matumbo worth 150 bob, and I will do everything to pay her back.
Kwanza kabisa, she buys me uji and chapo. And then she tells me, you go home, tell mum what happened, everything will be ok. She takes me to the bus stop and throws me into the matatu. She pays my bus fare and gives me a 5 bob. I want the matatu ride to go all the way to Bujumbura, where I can’t be found. Or that it takes 15 hours to get home, so that my mother can forget. The matatu is full and we are home in record 10 minutes.
I get into the house like this. Maithori.
My mum is trying to calm me down. But I am hysterical much.
ME: Mum, (sniff) kuna (sniff) kitu (sniff) nataka (sniff) kukuambia (sniff).
MUM: Najua tayari.
ME: Waaaaaa…. Sitarudia tena. (meanwhile I am just wondering what that round boy called Robert told my mother, and how I will never talk to him again.
MUM: It’s ok, baba. Usilie!
Ala? My mother said it’s ok and usilie in one sentence. What is going on? Before I can put one plus one together to give 27, our door opened. My older sister checks in.
SIZ: Ndio hii matumbo mum.
ME: (Trying to wipe wipe my nose with the inside of my elbow, at the same time I am trying to find out what is going on?)
HER: Kwani umemchapa?
MUM: Ata amelia sana sijui kama nitamchapa leo.
SIZ: Ule mama wa matumbo aliniambia ati amesema amepoteza pesa.
MUM: Hii kinyangarika imelia sana ata nimeshindwa kumwambia alikuwa ame sahahu pesa hapa.
Fam, I had forgotten the money home, and had just dashed out in my quest to own a chain of supermarkets. But such things cannot happen these days. If you forget your money at home, it is a good thing, not a bad thing. Someone will just MPESA you that money plus for removing, and you increase your MPESA TU points. If the gods are smiling, small small like this, you have won a house.
Lakini that was not these days. It was still those days. The dark days. And this is one of the very few times I got lucky. I guess, of importance is aliveness, donge?