Mother Karua is on WhatsApp

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I found her sitting behind her desk, talking to some Somali nyako whose intense perfume hang around long after she’d left to do whatever Karua asked her to do.

“She is very pretty that one, donge? You should buy her kahawa some time.”

It was no surprise that my mother was trying to hook me up with her. She has always thought me a casanova. In her eyes, I may not be good at much, but I am good at women. Rightfully so. After all, I was the one who was caught pants down in a water tank fumbling beneath our neighbour’s daughter’s skirt. And I was the one who was caught under the bed with the shopkeeper’s daughter at their house.

If you know a lady called Marianne Deborah Williamson, then you know that not so many men know how a light touch of the tongue, running from a woman’s toes to her ears, lingering in the softest way possible in various places in between, given often enough and sincerely enough, would add immeasurably to world peace.

By the age of ten, I had already felt that kind of peace.

There was a time Mother Karua was talking to my sister, Mary, about gays. She has a hard time imagining what kind of pleasure any man would get from, you know, inspecting the boot. At the end of their talk, according to Mary, she said; “Hmmmh. Me I know my children owada. It is a good thing George loves women. Naseng’ado chunde choooon tinde oharo go monde man gi mtokni madongodongo.” Ati it is a good thing she circumcised me as a child, that nowadays I am just chudexing women with big cars.

“She is not my type,” I told her about her Somali friend.

“Oh really? And how would you know? She is wearing a buibui.”

At that moment my phone beeped to announce the arrival of a text message. I caught her looking at me askance with a grin on her face.

“Now what?”

She took out her phone and placed it before me.

“Look at this thing that I am using. You promised me that you would buy me a phone. But look. At this age you should be taking care of me, pampering me with nice things. I, Mrs. Oduor, cannot be carrying a mulika mwizi. Chokeeee! I also want to swipe.”

Yes, I promised to buy her a phone, but there was no deadline on that promise. But you know this is Mother Karua. She will use every opportunity to remind me of the promise I am yet to make good.

But here is the thing. Mid last year, I had given her another phone. A spanking new LG- L5 series. It was her first smartphone. And you should have seen how her face lit up every time a message came in. She swore to keep it safe, but the street kids had other plans in mind. She was on her way to board a Kisumu-bound shuttle at Odeon when some ragamuffin slit the side of her handbag and made away with the phone. She mourned the loss of that phone for the remainder of 2014, almost as if that thief had stolen one of her babies.

She went back to mulika mwizi. Well, that is what she calls it, but it is not really a mulika mwizi. It is one of those tiny phones that guys used to show off with at the club in 2009. They are so small and heavy. When you carry them you feel your dignity complain.

She wanted a good phone so bad, that one day some swindler in town convinced her to give him 5k together with her old phone, and he would give her two new smartphones in return the following day. Poor lady gave them 5k. To date she is still waiting for the phones, more than the watchmen wait for the morning.

Back to the office.

“So you want this phone?”

“Yes. Mia mana sani.”

“This is what will make you happy?”

“Sindio. My years are going very fast. When will I ever own a good phone? Hebu you just look. Dee swipes. Regina swipes. Mary swipes. Nimrod swipes. You swipe. And me? Me I just button. Why?”

I love my phone. My heart broke when it fell down last year and cracked its face. Thanks to Samsung Care, it was fixed for free. I thought I had lost it for good. However, this phone has been hoarding a lot of my time. I am always looking at it. It has my everything. The S-Note has scribbles of my stories; lines that pop in my head when I am in random places like in matatus or in the middle of town. I cannot remember the last time I went to the bank thanks to Mobile Banking. There is always a notification from Facebook and Twitter, there is always a hashtag to follow, a tweef to respond to. There is always a photo on Tinder to swipe leftwards.

Hell, oberana even complained that I touch my phone more than I touch her.

Maybe giving Karua this phone would not be such a bad idea. So I did. That was at around 3.00 pm. Her work shift was not even over yet, but we left anyway. We walked out of her office in hurry, past the hubbub of voices of university students, past the main gate, across the road and into the nearest Barclays Bank. She withdrew money so that we could celebrate her new phone. We went to Java. She bought me a vanilla shake with a chicken and cheese sandwich. She had ginger tea to warm the cockles of her heart even further.

We spent the next couple of hours talking about my new column in Healthy Woman magazine, and the tribute I wrote to her in my first issue, and I tried to explain to her how freelance writing is also a job.

It has been a day since she got her Galaxy S4. The whole family tree all the way to Komenya, Siaya has known that she now owns a smartphone. She must have even poured libation.

She called me last night.

“Choka, my last born,” she calls me that when she is either in a good mood or in need of something, “I want Woshap. Sweeny amesema uniekee Woshap kwa simu.” (Sweeny is my sister who stays in the States.)

“Jaber. It’s called WhatsApp”

“Eeeeh. Hiyo Wosap ndio mimi nataka.”

Now you have to understand the complications of explaining to my 55 year old mother who has had very minimal interaction with smart phones, how to install an app on the phone. This is a tight spot that my sister is putting me in.

Do not get me wrong, she is a smart lady. But come on. There is a limit to everything. How can I direct her over the phone on how to first of all buy bundles, then explain what bundles are, then tell her how to find Google Play etc etc…

Also, after WhatsApp, then what? The next thing she will call to say is, “An be adwaro Tinda.” Then I will have to explain how Tinder is not exactly the kind of site that I want my mother to be prowling over. Not with the current spate of hungry, mistari-deficient college dudes looking for pumas to fund their lifestyles. So I figured, you know what, let’s just not even get into all that from the get go.

I believe my heart was in the right place. Let her just have the S4. It is just for aesthetics. Being a Luo comes with a certain measure of expectation and responsibilities. One of them is to own a phone that exhales the smell of sophistication and privilege. A life’s companion, South Koreans call it. But that is just it. Aesthetics. She will never fully realize the experience of owning such a snazzy phone, but it is an entry struck off her bucket list. Tho luro omera. Life is short, buy your mother a good phone, but it is not so short that she needs to know how Tinder (or heaven forbid, Grindr) works.

It is a few minutes shy of midnight as I bang out this copy. Karua just messaged me. On WhatsApp.

K: Hi

Me: Hi. I see you got someone to get you WhatsApp.

Feigned bliss. Now she will learn how to send emojis, especially the stupid one with a monkey covering its face.

K: Yeah. The Somali girl from my office was very helpful.

Of course. Damn that woman.

Me: Take care of that one.

I meant the phone, not the Somali lady.

K: I am telling you it is good…I have become a child. Small things make me happy.

I did not know how to respond to this. I felt something swell in my chest, something big and warm and soothing. Something needy; in need of a hug.

And then she sent another text.

K: I heared those Samsung people gave you a new 50 inch curve TV. You know this 42inch flat screen that your brother brought here is too old for me.

I did not even reply. Good thing she still has no idea what the blue ticks mean. Dhako ni temo Yesu gi ndawa. This woman is mad.

Get thee behind my family, Satan!

Have you voted for to clinch the Best Creative Writing category at BAKE Awards 2015? No? Go HERE and vote before Karua finds out, or you are dead.


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  1. Haha she will soon catch up to the WhatsApp lingo and your goose will be cooked. My mom has WhatsApp but she mostly sends me inspirational memes. Wherever she gets them from I’m yet to know.

  2. abdullah omar on

    but I can imagine the ecstasy and pride in her when you gifted her with her first smartphone
    must have brought a lump in your throat when she said asante kwa kidogo .I know because I was go ahead and give her her new50unch curve I am sure the emotions the gesture will solicit will propel you to give us more beautiful blogs

  3. I was in the same boat a month ago,thou mum got the phone from her man,training one on one on hw to use whatsapp was intrestn. Questions were like so on ur phone you can see my pic, A. Not until u upload…. Q. How do i knw someone is on whatsapp? Hw do i get to view photos sent and how can send? How much is it to send whatsapp msg? Damn the question kept rolling bt use whatsapp u knw it was worth it all.

  4. *sits back in chair* Martha Karua is on whatsapp. Let me digest that for a moment…
    I’m not even on whatsapp (long story involving a rebellion)

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