When the time came to move from Migosi Estate, the neighbourhood I had grown up in in Kisumu, it was not because we had found a better place. It is because our landlord had finally broken Mother Karua’s back. It was a measly KES. 2000 balance, and her phone kept on beeping. His name was Olande. I cannot remember his face today. He could go down on his knees and kiss my ass and I would not recognize him. However much his face is deleted from my memory, Olande’s name still rings true in my head. I remember Karua cleaning the house in January of 2006, when she called my name.
“Nimrod! Sweeney! Okango!…Eeerm…. GEORGE!” We have never understood why every time my mom wants to call me, she has to call all my other siblings first. In fact, not just me, everyone in the house. If you hear her call your name the first one, just know that it is not you she means to call. One afternoon in January of 2006 she called me, her loosely fitting dress soaked in soapy water that made it stick to her skin. She said, “Take my phone from the charger and send this message to Olande: Come inspect your house. We are ready to leave.”
“I send to which number? Safaricom of Zain?”
“Do not ask me stupid questions.”
I sent the message to both.
In January 2006, barely a year after my old man had turned cold in a Mater Hospital bed, we were financially spent. It was so bad that she had trouble finishing off a KES. 2000 balance. Why? Well, let’s take a look at her payslip. She was an administrator working at Maseno University, netting around KES. 15000 and she had kids in school. Deo and I were in Form 2 and 1 respectively at Maranda High School, each paying KES. 30,000 in fees. My sister, Regina, was in Form 4 at Chemelil Academy whose school fees was as long as a phone number. My brother and sister were at Kenyatta University, both in 2nd year (I think), parallel programs and on top of that, they were taking summer classes.
It was a miracle how we even got through 2005 in that house. But you know how life is. It is that lecturer in campus who never gives extensions. The moment your time is up, it comes to collect. That time, it came in form of an unforgiving landlord who forced us out. I went to school for the first term of Form 2, and when I came back, we had moved from Migosi Estate to Ukweli.
Ukweli was a huge adjustment for a spoilt brat like me. I had grown a privileged child who wanted for naught. Being a last born, I was given almost anything on a whim. My father’s response was always sawa. Bicycle? Sawa. Football? Sawa. Sausages? Chips? Sawa. I grew up in a house where food was a guarantee and electricity shone all the time. Then in April of 2006 I came to Ukweli.
Anyone who has lived in Kisumu and knows where Ukweli is will tell you that in 2006, there were more bushes than houses. Things I had taken for granted for fourteen years like electricity, toilets, bathrooms and money seemed to have followed my old man to the grave. I had to learn how to poop in the bushes, and sometimes when our neighbour was not looking, we would sneak into his pit latrine. On the regular however, the main loo was the bush in front of our house – we turned that place into a minefield of shit.
Our Ukweli house was not complete. When I say it was incomplete, I do not mean that Mother Karua was yet to decide whether to put ceramic tiles or terrazzo in the bathroom; or that we were still trying to figure out what colour of curtains would go well with the paint job in the living room. No. I mean we had no roof at all. I mean there were no doors or windows except for the living room, therefore nights were as cold as a welldigger’s arse in January. I mean, we had to store most of our stuff at a family friend’s house before moving because there was nowhere to put them. I mean that we had to use a mud house in our compound to store the rest, which were stolen a month after we moved in.
I also mean that we had a jajuok menace to handle. A jajuok is what we Latin speakers call a Night Runner. The night runner at this new digs would come to our place in the night and start tapping on our window grills, make scary noises, eat food from our kitchen (remember we had no outside doors) then when he was done with his theatrics, he would leave a huge mound of faeces on the doorstep. A hilly, steamy pile of dark chocolate fudge. Why do night runners like pooping at their victims’ doorsteps? For shits and giggles, I presume.
And you may giggle now, but let me tell you something, my friend, wizards are full of shit. Their stool has the stubbornness of hot tar. You will try to wipe it ten times, but all you will end up doing is drawing permanent skid marks on your floor. And your house will, for the longest time, smell like the insides of a constipated mongoose that died of embarrassment.
Ukweli was not that bad though. Granted, it was crappy at times, but the thing about living in an ocha area is that every day at 4pm, girls would go bath at the stream. Oh my goodness, they would strip down, fetch water and then shower with nothing on but panties. Red panties. Most of them wore different shades of red panties as if it was a uniform. I swear I am not making this up. The first time my friend took me to the stream in the early evening I could not believe my eyes. A group of boys were on the other side playing football while their fathers’ cows drank from the stream. They did not care that about eleven pairs of nipples were pointing at their faces. The girls did not even mind. In fact, some even waved hello from the other side. Me I cannot lie. I stood and marveled at the spectacle until my erection became sore.
You may judge me now, but I was fifteen then. Hot, pubescent, bothered, and straight out of a boys boarding school. Also, boobs have been shaping world history since the dawn of ages; destroying careers and crippling majestic institutions. Many great men, both fictional and real, have been nearly destroyed by these orbs of power. Surely, who am I?
I did not come here today to really talk about Ukweli or its bevy of nude girls at the stream. I came here to talk about moving houses. This past weekend, I moved for the third time as an adult. The first time I moved, I left my mother’s house in a huff. It was an act of rebellion. I wanted to prove that I can be a writer, independent and capable of paying bills. I wanted to prove to my mother and everyone else who thought I was loose in the head when I quit a highly lucrative career like laywering to become what most African parents consider more as a disgrace to the family than a job. So this one afternoon I packed my stuff and moved in with a friend in Langata. It was a very small house. So small I could sneeze and feel droplets of my saliva bounce back to my face. The shower and loo were in the same tiny room, which was good and also bad. Good because it helped in saving tissue and bad because, well, have you ever been in the next room when someone has farted in a hot shower? The hot steam carries the toxic fumes outside, and since it was a small house, the next room was the living room. So the moment my roommate stepped into the shower, I had to start praying that his lunch was not disagreeing with him.
At some point we were invaded by roaches who would not die, even after eating poison. That is because we were constantly fighting over whose turn it was to wash the dishes, and whenever we hit a stalemate (which was all the time), the person who felt hungry went to clean dishes to cook.
But despite its shortcomings, my Langata house was still better than what real estate agents on Thika Road like to describe as Single Master ensuite Quarters, when the word they are actually looking for is Bedsitters.
At that time, I was earning KES. 24,000 at a new PR agency in Upperhill as a copywriter. The rent of the house was KES. 19,000 but since I was the one sleeping in the master bedroom, I paid KES. 10000 and my roomie, KES. 9000. We would have been without furniture or anything else had it not been for a friend of ours who was leaving to go abroad, and needed to sell off some things to raise money. That is how we got stuff for the house at a cheap price, and then, like a blessing, I won a smart curve TV from a Samsung blogger challenge.
Three months later, I lost that job and I have been pretty much scavenging ever since.
Then something happened. My roommate decided to move back home with his dad. They had been estranged for almost all his life, so when by some miracle of the universe they reunited, there was no way I was going to stop him. I left central LA and went down the road to Madaraka, the outskirts of Langata District. Here I lived with two girls.
Being a dude living with two girls is hectic. Girls are most of the time talking about the most mundane of things. Well, maybe not all girls. Just these two girls of mine. They start worrying about what they are going to wear on Thursday, on Monday. You will find a chick sitting like a statue, her fingers and toes stuck out and when you ask why she has not made dinner on her day, she will be like, “Eeerm, I am waiting for my nails to dry.” Or “Aki you will have to wash the dishes coz I just painted my nails for jobo tomorrow.”
Also, girls use too much tissue paper. One roll finishes after two days. Sometime you walk into the loo and you find it has been clogged, meaning you will have to flush twice. At first I thought it was just me. That I am the one whose poop had problems, and for the longest time I felt so embarrassed, I only went for long calls when I was alone in the house.
Finances are also weird. When a chick says she is broke, it means she can still leave the house with nothing but lip gloss in her clutchbag, go out to Quins, come back home drunk, riding in an Uber with chips and half chicken.
But the worst thing about living with two girls is that you will have to get used to watching The Mindy Project.
Madaraka was fine, until stuff started happening. At first, two people from our block got robbed during the day. That means, I could not leave the house to go to the shop without feeling like I was exposing my Samsung Full HD 50” Curve HDMI-enabled Smart TV to the dogs. It was only when I got back to the house and saw her sitting in my living room, that my heartbeat would go back to 72 beats per second.
Then water. When we moved in there, water used to come twice a week. Wednesday and Saturday. Then it stopped coming on Saturday. That became an issue because I have two girls in the house and I, for one, take showers for like two days when I am in a hurry. Still, we stayed. The neighborhood is nice. Close to town. Convenient. Spacious blah blah blah fish cake.
Until a month ago.
Normally, the water we got on Wednesday is pumped into 2000 liter tanks that lasted us a week, till the next Wednesday. It started reducing, finishing on Mondays and then we would have to call those water tank people who sell 1000 liters for KES. 1000. Which was ridiculous because city council bill for the month is only KES. 500.
Then a week ago our water finished in three days. That is when we suspected foul play. Someone was siphoning our water. Imagine water came on Wednesday and on Saturday night after coming from the rave in desperate need of a shower, we had nothing. Our taps were dry. The following morning, we looked for another house and now we have moved.
See, we had the option of looking for these water thieves, but I am not ready for that kind of drama in the plot. Furthermore, that house was already falling apart. Mara sijui there is an air lock. Mara taps are broken. Mara the instant shower needed to be replaced. All these at whose cost? Mine? Psssssh. Nijikute juu ya waya ya stima nikijengea mtu nyumba.
So now as I type this, I am in my new house. My back is aching because, inasmuch as the new diggz is dope, I live on the 6th floor with no lift. I would explain how moving our stuff from 3rd floor of the new house to the 6th floor of the next one is no fun, but I will let you use your imagination. I am here thinking about why residential areas in Nairobi are so expensive. I wonder who came up with the idea of turning those amazingly nice apartments in Upperhill and Lenana Road into offices. Have you ever walked into an office that used to be an apartment and thought of how nice it would have been to live in it? I have. But this is Nairobi.
Moving house is like moving relationships. It is always at the end when you find all the shit you had lost. Like money or cufflinks or patience. And that is also the time you may lose some of your shit, like your favorite mug, or God forbid, your Smart TV. But the one thing that you never lose are the memories you made. Those ones stick with you like your first kiss. All I hope for in this new house is that I will make better ones. I hope that the taste of fresh paint goes away. I hope that the agent who was asking me to pay him KES. 2000 just to view a house ONLY, will one day forget how to breathe out. I hope that my caretaker will learn to speak up because I can never understand what he is saying.
Legend has it that the girl who used to live in this house was forcefully evicted after failing to pay rent for seven months. I hope to meet her someday so that she can tell me how she did it.