I have this thing with Mother Karua. She calls me up at random times for a tipple. I do not know how many people drink with their mothers, especially when she is the one buying. But drinking with Karua is not like drinking with my housemate, Mukundi. When Mukundi says “Twende tukunywe kamoja tu,” what he actually means is “Let’s go drink until your broken teeth look new.”
With Karua, it is different. One means one.
So this last Wednesday, she woke me up in the morning to set up a date.
“Today. 7pm. Lazinos, Nairobi West.” That is all she said. That is all she needs to say. When that happens, I clear my entire schedule to accommodate her.
Anyone who is 30 and above must surely know Nairobi West clubs. They are somewhat seedy joints where wazees go to drink one for the road before going to their houses. You do not get to see campus girls strutting around here. You do not see girls in short dresses and high heels. If you see females around, they are old mamas, just around my mother’s age. They sit alone, drinking Kingfisher or Cellar Cask in silence, probably trying to get away from the kids and the asinine house help from shagz, who has proved herself a blunt instrument.
But Nairobi West is for men, mostly. They huddle around in groups of fours and fives, order nyama choma by the kilos, and then take rounds ordering beer for everyone. That is drinking, the good old way. Tunes by Franco spill over them while parking boys wash their Toyotas and Volvos in the parking lot.
My mother drinks in Lazinos. Most of the time it is Kingfisher. Back in the day before life gave her white hair and a wrinkling face, she used to take Guinness mixed with CocaCola. But those were days when she drank with her husband. Not her last born.
We sit inside Lazinos, on the balcony overlooking Uchumi Supermarket and the narrow road winding up to Madaraka. She invited me here to talk about my life choices and the whole law school brouhaha. She tells me that my Dean of Students from campus has been calling her to tell her to pray for me. She notices that I am not quite receptive to this topic, so she pussyfoots her way out of it. There is no point of ruining a good evening with such talk.
So we talk other things. Normal stuff. Someone got married. Someone got divorced. It is raining back home in Siaya. Digital Migration, and how it has robbed her of her soap operas. Anything that would guarantee polite conversation. She has ordered nyama choma. Two bottles of Tusker Malt stand proudly next to the plate of beef before me.
Then this guy comes. He is speaking on his phone in pompous Luo. My mother nudges me to eavesdrop.
“Uh-uh! Dawe Odhis….No bwana. You people cannot be calling every time to tell me that someone has died. Every time, someone has died. Why don’t you call me when someone is getting married so that I can at least come eat chicken? You only call me when someone has died. And you do not even call me to grieve. Immediately I pick your calls, you bombard listening organs with saplikesons for money. Omera, I am tired. I am only going to send you 100 silings kende. You people in dala should know that this is Narobi. I have loans to settle. I have a mortgage from Kenya Commercial Bank. I have a pregnant wife and my son just joined Form One. Obadho u. An kata ng’ama otho no akiya. Ang’numuod mana bando mobul e liel no.”
Karua and I giggle. And continue with our conversation in Luo.
As soon as he hangs up, he nudges me on my shoulder.
“Kumbe you are joluo? I have heard you speak my mother’s tongue and I couldn’t help but notice. My name is Odero, and I am from Oyugis.”
And just like that he has gate crashed himself into my conversation with Karua. He orders another round of Tusker for me and Kingfisher for Karua, and with that authority, he begins talking about Homabay politics.
“You see me here. My mother’s second cousin is betrothed to Kidero’s nephews’s neighbor. That makes Kidero and I first cousins omera.”
I smile. In silence. It is dark already, but I can see Karua’s teeth. We accept his drinks, irrigate our throats and welcome the unsolicited amusement.
“By the way, I didn’t catch your name.”
“An Magunga wuod Major Oduor. Jalego komenya. Ng’ama pielo e bungu to ng’iso oboke ni in katieko to ang’wedi,” I say and turn to Karua “ma to minwa.”
“And where are you from in this our Narobi?” Karua asks.
Of course when speaking in jang’o, the first i in Nairobi is dropped and it is added to Nakuru. So you will often hear about someone who stopped by Naikuru for lunch on his way to Narobi.
“Kibira. I work in the county government. I told you Kidero is my cousin. His brother connected me.”
A group of guys come in. In my estimation, they cannot be a day younger than 35. The occupy the table behind us, and then they also begin talking politics. They are boisterous after the first round of beer. Laughing loudly, slapping each other on the back. Odero, our intruder turns around and joins their conversation, uninvited.
“By the way, that Osero you are talking about, that MP was raised by Otieno Kajwang’. And now that Moses is dead, he is campaigning against his brother. Ati he is campaigning for Okundi.”
He calls on the waiter and asks him to give each one of them a bottle each of whatever they are having. They decline.
“Omera we do not know you bwana. We can buy our own beer. Kwani you think we came here without money? Omera look at that automobile located at the foot of this establishment. Yes. That Range Rover, KCB 385X. That is my bebi. So thank you but no thank you.”
At this moment, Karua and I are stifling peals of laughter. This guy came here speaking on his phone, telling people in his ocha about how difficult life is in Narobi, yet he is willfully throwing strangers rounds in Lazinos’s terrace.
Well, the truth is, Karua and I would rather skin a dolphin than no to free alcohol. We do not have Range Rovers standing at the foot of this establishment. We are easy. So long as he keeps talking about his family tree.
He turns to me.
“As I was telling you, I do not mind that man Philip Okundi…”
“No. You were telling them…” I point at the guys at the back.”
“Young man, wee rieko mang’eny. I will tell you what my mother told me. That when you go to a strange land and people are speaking a language you know, join them.”
“Has your mother been to Narobi?”
“My mother has been to many places. Even this Okundi man has married from my mother’s sister’s home.”
So now my mind has been twisted into a tight knot. This guy is related to Kidero. And has familial in law ties to Okundi. Which means Kidero and Okundi are distant cousins. But why does he live in Kibira, given all these connections to tall relatives? A lot does not add up. Even the mortgage in Kibira. When his phone rings again, he takes out one of those old fashioned Motorollas that blip with a deep blue backlight, and vibrates like farm tractors with tired engines.
I try not to judge him. Maybe he is classic, into the old school vibe and shit.
Maybe he is a phony; selling us smokes and mirrors to whoever is willing to buy.
Or maybe he is just a lonely man looking for someone to keep him company as he irrigates his throat. I have met few of such chaps before. When he speaks, he raises his voices a dozen decibels higher. He is needy, for attention. For acceptance.
Beneath the surface of that big talk is a hollow cavity.
I imagine that he has just been paid, and the kidogo brown notes in his pockets must be itching at him. Perhaps he works for a muhindi in Industrial Area, doings odd jobs, and today Patel has just given his keep in cash. And the first thing he thought of doing is to reward himself for the small role he plays in spinning the cogs of the Narobi economy.
This kind of chap does not have many friends. The loneliness and boredom in him steers him to look for temporary company in the Nairobi West watering holes.
So he orders another round for Karua and I, and we accept. Then he calls on to the waiter and says
“Ondiek, wekea mimi hapo kuku choma nusu. Choma yeye kwa umbali, iwinja? Weka kwa umbaaaaali, si karibu. I am still enjoying my beer with these friends of mine.”
Wait. So now we are friends? Well, anyone who throws me drinks in this Narobi of ours, is a friend to keep.
Time passes by with him telling us about how Kidero flies with a chopper daily from Nairobi to Kisumu after work. He tells us that the people who killed Fidel are in for it. Just like the old man who Sonko paid to wekelea Agwambo a good one in Lamu. They all share the same fate as that mzee. They will die while saying some incomprehensible shit that nobody will understand. Agwambo’s father, Oginga Odinga, cast a spell on all of his enemies.
“They will all perish,” he licks his index finger and points it to the sky. “I swear to you. Right now the earth is dirty with darkness, but even if it was clean with sunlight, and I was sober, I would still tell you the same thing.”
“How will they die?” Karua asks.
“Kwani how do you think Kenyatta died?” I am too drunk to answer. “Ng’isa wa osiepa. Ichal ka ng’at mogoyo buk maber nyaka mbalariany. Dhano mangima nyalo bukre abuka nade to tho just like that?” No normal person can just die fwaaaah in his sleep.
As the witching hour approaches, we refuse any more free drinks from this chap. I tell Karua we have to leave. I lie that I have a meeting in the morning, when the truth is, I am currently jobless. He tries to convince us to stay and talk some more. He offers another round of Tusker Malt for me and Kingfisa for my lovely lady.
I pat his back and thank him for the free alcohol. “The air is dirty, but your heart is clean, wuod omera.”
His eyes sink and through my blurry vision, I can see his heart break.
I lead Karua out of Lazinos, into the darkness of the hot March night. The sky is a clear blue-black blanket tucking the city to sleep. I am embarrassed. This is the first time I am drunk in the presence of my mother. My knees have turned to jelly, and a buzzing haze is fogging my head. A stormy headache is brewing.
I try to walk in a straight line, but end up crab walking. Mother Karua is steady though. Next time someone tells me that I drink like a woman, I will think of my mum, then take it as a compliment.
We laugh stupid laughs as our drunken legs switch to auto pilot and guide us home.
CREDIT: COVER PHOTO
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