Students who are still wet behind the ears tend to think that policies and good looks win campus elections. They do not. Money wins campus elections and Ronald had the most of it. You thought you could do it, you know, run against an opponent who has as much chums as Mother Theresa had compassion. But now as you lie down on Pat’s bed, staring at her slouched back on the reading table, you start to ask yourself “Did I really want this thing this badly?”
Sure, clinching the Vice Chairperson seat was much more of a breeze, because your opponents were not that strong. There were like five of you who were eyeing that seat, and it was easy to battle it out against four other people. When you are competing against five people, all you have to do is grab and hold a particular class, preferably the First Years because they are many, make them loyal to you and then let the other four people squabble over the rest of the school. Simple math will win the that election for you. And if you have a friend like Jamo to guard your votes during the counting, that seat is yours to lose. You are most likely to win it. And a few months later, you will meet this tall, light skinned Kikuyu girl with a faint lisp and legs that God was proud to have created – when He designed those legs, He bragged. He took a photo of them, sent it to an angels’ WhatsApp group and said, “Goddamn I’m good at this creation thing.” You followed those legs to a room on the ground floor, they let you in and fed you. And from that day you swore you would one day call them yours. And you did, never mind that the girl was a year ahead of you, never mind that her classmates stopped you all the time to ask for an Elders Tax because it was disrespectful for a dude from a younger year to poach from their class (make no mistakes though, they were permitted, nay, entitled, to hunting in our class). Her name was Pat. When she was angry, she would look at you over the rim of her glasses and say nothing. And when she was in a good mood, which was often, everyone would know because she translated her joy into her pots. The entire floor was delicious because of her.
When the Parqlander Weekly finally went under, you started your blog which you would force everyone to read. The first time she read your blog, she said, “It is OK. But your grammar is shit. Do you read?”
“No,” you said, then when you saw the look in her eyes you lied, “Well, not really. I mean, I read newspapers, magazines and blogs and…”
“What about books?”
“When was the last time you read a book?” she asked.
“High School, like everyone else. My set books…”
“Look, if you want to be a better writer, then you have to be a better reader. Have you ever heard of a musician who does not listen to music? Or an actor who does not watch movies?”
She had a point. Later on that week, on an afternoon that seemed to hold no promise of rain, you guys went to tao. After shopping for her necessities at Tuskys, she stopped by a street vendor, put the shopping down, bent over and started sorting out books. Not for herself, but for you. “Come pick a book. They are only 30 bob.” You had no idea what book to choose. They were all too many. What you knew for sure was that you were not hot for those white romances that had ripped men and near naked women holding each other. You wanted something exciting. Something that you would chomp chap chap. That is when you saw it, lying on a heap of other second hand books, a turquoise cover with a hand covered in beads. You picked it up. A Million Little Pieces, it read. By James Frey.
But the blurb was not the reason you bought it. You bought it because in the cover of the book was an Oprah Book Club sticker, and you thought, Well, if Oprah likes it then it must be very good. You finished that in less than a week and went back and bought On a Night Like This by Ellen Sussman. And that is how you broke your secondary reading virginity – with raw sick lit books that gutted you like a pig. Whether reading books made you a better writer or not, you could not tell, but your blog gained notoriety and shortly afterwards, you won the Connect Vuka Border Intervarsity Blogger Challenge. The Ministry of East Africa gave you a glass plaque and a computer, and that night, Pat topped it up with a much more memorable, more tiring, more welcome gift that was all too familiar, but one which can never get old.
It was not long before you got a gig with the Monday Standard Newspaper. A four hundred and fifty word column titled Campus Rover in the Crazy Monday pullout mag. At first, you wanted to run the column with your own name on it, but the editor refused. This is for your own protection, he wrote back to you in an email, but you did not mind because the idea of writing for a national newspaper was far more enticing than the regret of not having your name on a byline. In as much as you wrote under a bogus name, the people who mattered knew that it was you who wrote the column.
Rewind to two semesters before.
There will always be a time in a man’s life when he has to contend with the self loathing and humiliation of loving a girl who will never love him back. You are no exception. “I cannot love you like that,” Ma tells you one evening as you walk her back to her hostel. You are in second year now. You are the Vice Chairperson of the Kenya Law Students Society – a big name for a rather overestimated organisation. A campus club that was formed in the ‘70s when the University of Nairobi was the only university in Kenya, and so its students were Kenya’s only students. The ‘70s passed a long time ago and today anybody born of a woman can start a law school. There are a dozen of them, littered everywhere. KLSS, as it is fondly known, does not represent all of them. You know it. Everyone knows it. Yet nobody has ever thought of changing the name to UoN Law Students Society. But being the VC of an organisation with a name that fills your mouth like that looks very good on your resume. A golden feather on your hat.
You look at Ma and for a moment think about how she did not even support your bid. There was another chap from her class who was eyeing the same seat, and out of kinship obligation, she supported him. She rejected you then and she is rejecting you again. It is kind of pointless, and pathetic really, that you do not even want her to love you the way you love her. That is too much of a burden to place on her. You simply want her to love you. That is all.
She says no. That she is not ready. Again, you let her be. But then a few weeks later, she is with another dude from a class ahead of you. When she said she was not ready, she meant that she was not ready you. This guy you do not want to mess with. He is the kind that nobody ever speaks ill of, or anything at all. If his boys were to see you chasing Ma, you imagine (rightfully so) that they would wring you out like a mop.
It is in this time, when you are doing your damnedest to forget Ma, again, that something incredible happens. You meet Pat. First comes food from her mother’s farm in Ruiru. Then comes a madness that people who have been fed by women from Ruiru can understand. And before you know it, you are saying to her the things you had always hoped you would someday tell Ma.
Sometimes in love there are no second chances. No time-outs. No next times. Sometimes it is now or never. But that is just sometimes. Sometimes is just one side of a possibility. With Pat, life tossed the coin and you got the other half. The other sometimes. The one with second chances and time-outs. And you kissed it.
“I turn and I slowly walk away and I don’t look back. It has always been a fault of mine, but it is the way I am. I never look back. Never.”
― James Frey,
The first time you wrote something awful about the Christian Union on your blog, it was not much of a big deal, regardless of the fact that you titled it Angels and Demons. In hindsight, it is a horribly written drivel, but at that time, it felt like you were at the peak of your writing. It was a post about how one of the CU officials refused to lend the KLSS a pair of mics that the latter needed for the Mr. & Miss Parklands pageantry; they had told the then chairman that it was against their belief system for CU microphones to be used to propagate sins on the university grounds.
Of course a few guys from the union asked you about the article, but like many things that happen in campus, it was forgotten almost immediately after.
The second article, however, was the one that hammered a nail into an impending political coffin. It was not even you who wrote the damn thing. What happened was that there was this girl called Grace, a former union choir member, who had another blog that was not as popular as yours, but was quite well written. You used to follow her posts on a regular. Then one day, about a month to the KLSS elections (in which you were now viewing for chairman), she posted a story about how the unions Prayer Commandant attacked her.
You called her, asked her about what happened, and she retold that story to you. How he allegedly wanted her (and given the silkiness of her hair, big white eyes and full lips, you could see how even a Man of God could have his urges all out of control). Her story was that she said no, and then he began doing what all self righteous folk do – rebuked the hell out of her. Told her that she was an abomination unto the Lord, and that her ati she was so dirty, Jesus would have to be crucified twice for her soul to be redeemed.
“Listen Grace,” you told her that evening as the darkness began to consume the earth, students milling about the campus gate to buy sukuma wiki and Avocado from the kibanda by the road. “I am vying for Chairman, you know that?”
“I am going to stand by you and tell your story on my blog. But I need you to look me in the eye and tell me that what you just said to me is true.”
She looked you in the eye and said that it is true. If she cheats she hates God. She swore by everything people swear by, crossed her heart and hoped to die.
“Sawa then. I believe you. I will post it on my blog,” you promised.
It is this promise that brought you the biggest headache in the campaign. You were summoned by different elders and sisters to explain why you chose to run a story so damaging to the union on your blog. How dare you insult the Prayer Commandant like that, with lies from a deviant girl who had strayed from the glory of the Lord, and quit the choir. At some point, two sisters of the Lord called you for a meeting. You asked them to see you in your room. When they came, your roomie, Maitha, was sitting on his bed, playing FIFA on his computer. The two ladies sat you down, asked you to pull down that story, otherwise the prayers of the man you had defamed would open the gates of hell and toast you like piece of bread.
Still, you called Grace and asked her, “I am under heat here,” (not the doomsday fire that was prophesied on me. Worse.) “Please tell me I did not make a mistake.”
“You may have made a mistake running that story on your blog, given your campaign, but if you are asking me whether the contents of the story are false, then I already told you.”
You never asked her again. But that story came up every time you tried to convince a union member to vote for you. To be fair, there are many union members who did not seem to hold anything against you. They probably even voted for you. A number campaigned openly for you, and when you saw that, your heart turned to jelly and a huge tennis ball clamped your throat and made your eyes water.
If you had ever doubt the fact that the grandpa in the clouds works in mysterious ways, then this was undeniable proof. This were a bunch of people who did not have to do anything. They were people who you imagined would be hostile, now that you had dragged the name of their union through a muddy scandal, but instead of clenching a fist, they offered open palms.
One day at the Mess, while queuing for lunch, this fourth year dude comes to you and tell you just how disappointed he is. In the previous year, he sang your praises, asked his people to vote you in as VC. But this time, you had dropped the ball by the stroke of your pen. “Just laugh, my friend. Lakini I know that the Prayer Commandant is going to sue you for defamation. You just wait, he is speaking to his lawyer.”
You served your food and sat down with your boys. Cold stung your back and sent reverberations throughout your body. It happens, you know? People tend to feel cold when the warmth of friendship is withdrawn.
Pat did not involve herself in your campaign, which you appreciated because politics, even on a level as low as university campus, is as clear as a glass full of midnight. It is dark. Gloves are usually off even before you get into the ring. And that is not a situation you wanted your woman in. She only spoke about it when you asked her about it. Like “Do you think your class is going to vote for me?” “What did I ever do to nani?” “I have run out of money. I do not know what I should do.”
“Do what you have to do to win.”
“This guy, man. His father is sijui the Commissioner of sijui what. His mother is also sijui the head of what sijui where. Shit. The cash I had for campaigns is running thin. This jamaa, on the other hand, spends money like his face is on it.”
“Ronald has money. That is his strength. You can’t compete with him on money, so stop trying. Use what you have.”
“And what is it that I have, surely?”
“You have a good head on your shoulders.”
“Hahahaha kwani his head is how? Crooked?”
“I did not say that.”
The following afternoon, you went to tao with the computer that you had won from the Ministry of East Africa. It was still spanking new. Three months old. You walked into a dealer shop and asked him what price he would be willing to give it to you for.
“25 thao,” he said, after examining the machine.
“Ala! Wacha zako bana. Hii machine ni 60k. HP mpya buda unataka nikupee na that 25?”
“Skiza kina, kama unaona ni ngumu, take a walk hapa kwa mashop. Try selling it for more than 25.”
You tried. There is no way you were giving up that machine for half price. It had Windows 8 for crying out loud. Dual core. 450GB Hard disk. Among other details you had crammed so that you could drive a hard bargain. But every merchant you met, said the same thing. If the machine has been used, even for an hour, it is no longer a new machine. It becomes second hand. Eventually you went back to the guy and told him you would accept nothing less than 30k. He said sawa. And then stepped out into the wet afternoons of April, squeezed yourself in between Nairobi traffic, jumped into a matatu number 11.
Every so often, you tapped the side of your pockets to make sure the chapaa was still there. Thirty thousand shillings, a good head on top of your shoulders and a heart full of hope, is all you had. Meanwhile, rumour had it that Ronald was operating on a budget of almost a hundred thousand. A hundred gees, and also dude was going round telling third years and fourth years that if they voted for him, he would ensure they all get internships at his dad’s law firm. Truth be told, in as much as it is impossible to provide internship for the whole school, those promises gave you a hernia because at least he could make that promise. The only promise you could offer students was friendship. And you hoped that friendship was enough for them.
On the day of the elections, after the polls had been closed, you ran into some guys from Pat’s class. “Hii itabidi umesahau buda. Ron has arranged work a good one. You, you have been showered.” Five more people said this to you. There was nothing more you could do other than call your boys to go guard whatever little votes you had. Your so called good head was not good enough. Meanwhile, you dragged yourself to Pat’s room, threw yourself on top of her bed and stared at the ceiling. When she asked you how the day was, you did not answer. When she asked if you wanted anything, you looked at the wall above you, wishing it would collapse on you.
She left you to yourself, stripped, tied a towel around herself, and walked out with a bucket of steaming water. When she came back, she smelled like vanilla. Then she threw the pink nightie over herself and before she sat down at her study desk, she bent over her lower cabinet and brought out a bottle of Zappa and a glass and put them next to you. She has learned long ago just how silent disappointment is. How it wants to be left alone. How, unlike misery,it does not want company. It is not interested in small talk or being told that everything will be okay – people tend to say this precisely when everything is not okay.
At first the disgusting taste offends your sensibilities, but then as your mouth is bleached to blue, your tongue gets used to it. Sips, become gulps. Then glassfuls. After a while, the glass becomes useless and you sip from the bottle. The world blurs away. You watch Pat sitting at her dest, beck slouched forwards, pencil on her mouth. You do not realise that you are staring at the back of your eyes. Everything just disappears.
When the vibration scratches your chest, you are in another land. It comes and goes. Comes and goes. Stubborn like syphillis. Then you are shaking. Then there is a hand. Your eyelids part and Pat is over you. The brightness of the bulb hurts your eyes. You can see she is saying something, but you cannot understand. There is a ring in your head.
“Magunga! Magunga!” her voice is clearer now. “They are calling you.”
“Who?” You squint, waiting for your eyes to adjust. Your mouth feels like a rat’s cemetery.
“I do not know, many people. They’ve been calling.”
Another vibration. You pick up the handset and press the red button.
“Omera! Uko wapi bwana.” There is noise behind the voice. “Magunga?”
“Ni Churchill. In kanye bwana? Kura ni iseyombo.”
You are still trying to recollect which Churchill you know. And then it hits you. The Churchill who was part of the election officials.
“Oh, Churchill. Sema? What do you mean aseyombo kura?”
“Hii kitu umeshinda na mbali sana. Come to the hall. Guys are waiting for you.”
You look at Pat, confused. Next to you is an almost empty bottle of Zappa. The phone starts ringing again. First it is Jamo, then your roomie Maitha, then it is (wait for it) Ma! Ma is calling you and you very badly want to answer, but you do not. Pat is still staring at you with eyes soaked in questions. She holds your hand and squeezes it. She wants to know what is going on, what this Churchill was saying on the phone. But unfortunately, so do you.
“Don’t tell people the way, just show them the results.”
― James Frey,