“I will be your manager”, Gathabai says, then inserts knuckles into his mouth, overwhelmed to break the news to me lest I turn his offer down. He only eats knuckles on three occasions; when something, obviously trivial to the rest of us troubles him, when Mrs. Ruto, the neighbor we all love informs him that his mother had called and when his appetite directs him to hate food. He uses Mrs. Ruto’s cell phone to mesmerize his mother as long as she hears a female voice telling her that Gathabai is not around. But Gathabai is a good guy who has always stuck with the rest of the pack, as we call ourselves, through thick and thin. Since he joined us three years ago, we get something to laugh about whenever he is disconcerted. Sometimes we wish many things to trouble him so that we find a reason to laugh, or rather, someone to make a joke on while everybody accepts it.
Except for Katana, a self-imposed bodybuilder and accidentally a role model who claims he has roots in Kilifi, a place called Kiungani. Nobody knows if it is true because it does not make much difference now that we are all here pretending to work hard, rejected by wealth and anything close to making money. Katana is not a fan when jokes about Gathabai thrive because he believes that anyone who can ask questions without asking for permission is sensible. Of course, Gathabai doesn’t ask for permission to ask questions, but the moment he starts asking us all sort of unimaginable things, one ends up reviewing why we did not ratify a law to ask for permission before a question. Hardly do we know much about Katana beyond the three years we have been together. I met him first in a courtroom during a case, his case, after attempting to escape from prison disguised as a woman.
Then there is Kamau who insists on being called Jaguar, holder of Masters in Economics from Makerere University. Again, nobody can substantiate that he set foot in Makerere. Jaguar does not look like much; he is frail and feckless these days contrary to how he looked a year ago. He is susceptible to minor diseases, with countless allergies to nearly everything that his body comes into contact with. He is also out of breath from a short walk to Nairobi every morning and back in the evening. Though he is focused and abetting on spiritual matters to the rest of us, sometimes I tend to think that Jaguar daydreams when he starts lecturing us on the benefits of turning a job rejection call into an opportunity. We always get rejected by companies, but Jaguar here works hard to keep us in form and ready for any opportunity that may stray and cross our way by mistake.
I cannot forget to introduce Kenja because he might as well kill me in cold blood if he realized that I wrote this book without a trace of his name. He is a mechanical engineer with a simple degree, but slightly off his career. You may think that he is a professor in the field if you met him for the first time; you should notice how detailed he is when explaining things. It is also easy to know he is just another excited highbrow if you happen to cross-reference what he says with facts. Kenja uses too much force to fix things, that is, anything mechanical or emotional. Recently, he got dumped by his rich girlfriend over claims that he had reduced the original rate of love with a notch too low, that they rarely kissed and that he had become too demanding in conjugal matters. Maybe his ex-girlfriend won’t realize this but the reason why they broke up is that Kenja treated her like an old sex machine that needed to be replaced.
We have Koech, a man of words that rarely roll into action. Though he got enough with education in primary school after being promised by his father that he would inherit their ranch, it is not easy to decipher that he is not learned. He has money; real money that he says comes from the occasion morning jogs he calls athletics. Last weekend we woke up to hear yet another story from him that he used to be an athlete where he won several bronze medals. After pressing him for evidence of his mysterious win, he assured us that he did not carry the medals to town and promised to bring them next time he visited his rural home. He claims that they are buried deep in his home in Iten, safe and secure waiting for him to retrieve them. It has proven true because yesterday we saw him on TV running on a track somewhere in Boston, wearing the indecent attire that only athletes are allowed to wear as spectators cheer on their exposed long legs.
As everyone stares at me in this room, tense and exhilarated with my winning the lottery, I cannot help but think how much I love them, including our neighbor Mrs. Ruto, excluding her drunken husband. Receiving the one million prize will mean a whole new life to me, exiting from this rheumy residence to join those who hard-earned wealth when our parents slept. I will have to leave my long time brothers-and sister. Yes, our landlord has a daughter, a graceful lady who always converts my heart into a romantic poetry masterpiece every time she comes around smiling.
But there is something they don’t know which you should probably know. I did not win the lottery fairly. I had to strike a lot of deals with several people in the competition in exchange for the win after happening to be the person on the road when they passed. It had been a close call. I did not want to do it at first but later thought about my past life, lost hopes and impossible dreams which slipped away, some taken by noncompetitive chaps who knew this guy and that in the most unfair of ways.
That’s what made me give in to the deal-makers. After all, isn’t this what happens in Kenya if you want to survive?
After graduating from Law school, I had hoped to get a job like everyone else who is educated but found those before me had gone the same way I did. They represent the jobless ‘everyone else’ in the field. Those of us who did not know that you had to use lumps of cash slightly more than the tuition fees we paid in college to get a job had to walk away nicely and pretend that we studied law for our own personal development, not beyond that mustached registrar who asks for your Legal registration number instead of replying your greetings. You were hoping to be issued with one the day you visited his office, which is why you came, but he cannot talk to you if you don’t have a registration number.
You know the feeling when someone deliberately switches off the light at the end of the tunnel? That is how I felt. Becoming a member of the Legal Commission of Kenya was not confirmed by performance or mere attendance in a Law school; it needed money, specifically a paper-bag full of liquid cash. No cheques, so no evidence of a bribe.
Convincing those who paid for my education that I needed more money to land a job did not bear fruit. Suddenly everyone turned their backs on me; some disappeared while others decided to show it to my face. A better part of them did not even know where I had schooled, whether I used the fees to start a supermarket in Nairobi or not. Until the day I found a job in the Nairobi County Development Finance as a ghost worker and my life started turning, I had not been a good role model for their rural kids who call me uncle.
Signing in, I am Mwas, the most patriotic of the rascals.
Next Saturday: Mwas bumps into his childhood friend Grace, but the meeting sets things rolling in the sorry lives of the patriotic rascals. Don’t Miss!