(Written by Ketihapa, Troy Onyango and Nick Muthumbi)
The vehicle comes to a grinding halt as the conductor says, “Mwisho! Huku ndio Nairobi.” Other passengers start rising from their seats; he is patient. He waits till they are almost all out then he stands up and makes his way towards the door, his bag with a few clothes he brought along with him his only luggage. Once out, he takes a moment to take in the scenery; it is nothing like he had expected. He had expected to see elegant sky scrapers towering over him, beautiful women wearing things they call fashion that his grandmother could sew in an hour, men in suits, flashy cars, fancy hotels… Instead, the place is muddy and dirty, garbage strewn all over. There is an acrid smell- one he can’t quite figure out- a mixture of fish, garbage, piss, excrement, sweat. He wants to throw up. He calms down. He is clearly a stranger in Nairobi; anyone can see that without trying too hard. He feels for his pocket; good, the little money he has left is still there. Now, he has to trace his uncle Mwaura whom he hopes he can stay with for a while before he has figured out where to get a job. He takes a step forward, then another into the green city in the sun.
He stands there for a while and uses his eyes to take everything in. The dusty air fills his lungs and a whiff of sweat from the burly man walking past him jolts him back to reality. He focuses and sees a large crowd gathered in front of a cream old building. Bag firmly clasped in his hand, he moves towards the crowd. The man at the centre of the crowd who is talking loudly in a raspy voice notices him and pushes toward him. His legs feel wobbly before he notices the smile plastered on the round face of the man. He moves closer to him until he can feel the man’s breath of sour milk down the nape of his neck. He does no turn around to look at the man standing behind him and he notices the bible in his hand. This must be a good man, he thinks to himself. The whole crowd turns to face him and that’s when he realizes all attention is on him. After a long stare, the man opens his mouth and amidst the stench of a mouth long divorced to the toothbrush he speaks, words that sound like they are carved in stone
“Bwana asifiwe!” His voice reverberates through the hot air and his whole frame moves in tandem with his words.
“Amen!” Meekly he responds in unison with the elated crowd.
“Wewe ni mgeni hapa Nairobi, si ndio?”
Unsure, he responds, “Dio.”
“Na umekuja huku kazi?”
How did he know that I have come to Nairobi to look for work?
Before he responds, the preacher man’s voice rises again, “Mungu amenionyesha ya kwamba unaenda kuishi na mjomba wako.”
This must be a real man of God. How else would he know that I am going to live with my Uncle?
“Dio.” He tells the man.
“Mungu ameniambia nisipokuombea mabaya yatakutendekea. Unaamini?”
He doesn’t know the response to this question and so he nods slightly.
“Haya basi piga magoti tuombe.”
He doesn’t hesitate for a minute and as soon as his knees meet the dusty ground he closes his eyes shut. His grasp on the bag more firm than ever. That’s where all the money and his certificates are. If he loses that he loses everything.
The crowd bursts into a frenzy of song with the man’s voice still rising above the rest as he chants prayers on his behalf. He screeches at the demons and casts them away. Njoro feels the demons depart from his body and they sap his power and he falls to the ground. The preacher’s voice fades and soon it becomes so distant he can barely hear the once thunderous voice. He is in heaven.
He opens his eyes to the sound of feet hurriedly passing by and the rowdy touts shouting their various destinations. The singing crowd is no longer there and the preacher too is nowhere in sight. He feels dizzy and turns to look for his bag.
But it is nowhere to be found. The old Daso Rano bag that his dad had bought him while he was being admitted to high school was at large. And in that bag were his miniscule belongings. The crème de la crème of whatever he called his. Plus the meagre cash he had saved. It was all gone.
He panics. The world starts spinning. But he is shoved out of the stupor by the sharp pain caused by a shoe that had fallen in love with his pinkie finger. Amidst the best of curse words he can summon, he sits up trying to recall what really happened. But all he can remember is kneeling before a man of the robe moments before he floated to heaven.
But how did I end up here? Well, maybe I forgot my bag in heaven.
He comforts himself as he looks around in a bid to familiarise himself with his surroundings.
Then he spots a man in grey uniform swinging his baton across the street. For some reason the grey uniform seems familiar and so he feels it will be better and safer to ask for help from him unlike the rest of the Nairobi busy bodies who walked past him, pretty oblivious of his existence.
As he picks himself from the dusty street pathway that had played bed for the past couple of minutes, he feels something bitter well up his gut. With little hesitation he spits the bitter saliva onto the pavement.
As soon as the spit makes contact with the ground, the “friendly” across the street is already tugging at the worn out generic leather belt holding his Kaunda pants in place.
“Kijana unatema mate ovyo ovyo kwa nini? Uko na mimba?” asks the man in grey.
Njoro is caught off guard. Since when did lubricating the earth with oral liquids become an offence?
“Ahhh! Habali blatha. Kwani kuna chida nikitema mate?” he asks meekly, rocking that sheepish signature smile of his, the smile that he used to nail ladies back in the village, with an accent heavily influenced by his mother tongue.
The smile seems to offend the officer even more.
“Nikitaka kuona meno zina matope nitakwambia! Kwa nini unatema mate?!”
Taken aback, he wishes he had a mirror; Njoro knows his teeth are perfect- hell, half the ladies back in the village wishe they had his teeth. His teeth are a blend of white and brown- not yellow from all that green stuff his peers have been chewing of late to seem cool- and not too white as to get confused with those of that Mzungu that tried to lure him to her bed a few weeks ago. God, she was old!!! And her sense of shame was like that of a toddler.
“Apana, nimekuja Nairobi leo, ata dio nimefika… lakini kuna vubi mingi sana. Ata ukaweza nisaidia na ten bob naweza nunua maji kidogo niweze kuosha mdomo kidogo nitashukulu sana!”
The man in grey laughs.
“Ati ten bob!” Ten bob ata kucha haiwezi nunua kijana! Kwani umetoka Uganda?”
Wait, ten bob cant get me water? He asks himself. But then again, his grandpa told him Nairobi is full of conmen… His train of thought is interrupted by the man in grey, who has by now magically summoned an old white pick up… there are about half a dozen other people in it.
“Chai nilimariza kitabo. Irikuwa kwa chupa kwa ire bag imeibiwa! Huwezi nisaidia?”
“Kijana wacha nione vile nitakusaidia. Ingia kwa gari.”
“Asante sana! Wewe dio mtu wa kwanza nimepata mzuri Nairobi. Hii lift unanipea itanisaidia sana!!! Natafuta uncle yangu!”
Half the people in the pick up laugh, the other half are not sure whether to explain to Njoro that he’s just been arrested or to pity him or to laugh or cry on his behalf. The man in grey is laughing as well. Nonetheless, Njoro gets into the truck; he says hi to all of them, and they all say hi, most of them cant avoid laughing though. Someone creates some space for him to sit on the hard bench.
“Uko tu sawa brathe,” he says, putting his arm around him, a hint of a hopeful smile on his face. “Labda watatuweka cell moja!” Njoro has founda friend in the big city finally!
“Ata mimi blatha, naoba watueke pamoja tujuane saidi.”
This time the guy definitely smiles. A hint of a boner… Njoro doesn’t see it…
After what seems like half an hour, collecting other people in need of lifts as well, they finally arrive at the destination. The sign on the building reads “City Hall”. Njoro and his new friend are ushered out of the vehicle into the building. His new ‘friend tries to reassure him they will be okay as long as they are together. After all, they will have more time to know each other. Njoro still has no clue he has been arrested for spitting and what will later turn out to be gross destruction of the environment by bodily fluids.
It finally dawns on him when the man in grey responsible for his ‘lift’ says, pointing at him,“Mwas leo nimepata fala fulani! Hehehe aAti anadhani tulikuwa tunampea lift!”
But when the man turns it is almost unbelievable. There stands Njoro’s uncle! Mwaura in the flesh!
“Ndiye huyu fala unasema!?”
He knew his uncle was an important man in Nairobi, just not this important…