Old man, his Bench and a bottle of Scotch

The night outside is dark as it can be. The air moist and cold probably from the showers witnessed earlier on. The weatherman looked foolish enough for what he had said. A few people walk up and about and mostly in pairs. A couple giggles and wraps hands around each other, lips touch perhaps. Pair of teenagers is coughing in another corner, evidence of their drug experimentation. In the alley closer to the building is a city council bench. One of those installed in a city beautification attempt. The position of this bench is quite strategic in that while it’s unlikely to receive guests during the day, it received a fair share after dusk. It would remain occupied till a few hours to dawn and in lucky occasions to the early hours past dawn. Today a couple of university students in their late teens and early twenties are sharing stories in an urban slang that has become famous with the likes over a couple of cheap liquor and smoke. The air feels of illegality and indecency and crate is dragged on the hard concrete every now and then. A few are seated on the bench, in pairs and threes while others find themselves on the pavement out in the open. They form a circle within which a couple of skateboard stunts are done and some health threatening head spins. Hoodies and marvins are exchanged in tune with the Jamaican voice who sings something to do with “puff puff pass.” A number of shameful scenes are witnessed in form of dance. Well, this is what Nairobi has become at night. While the society laments the behavioural filth on Koinange street, every other street has an ever increasing share of moral decadence. And who is the moral cop, not one yet but a few loud mouths in city hall who stare in cameras and promise to make a change every election year.

Across the street on another bench is Ofis who has just caught his break in life. This very spot where the teenagers now make merry and more sin has been his home since the council installed it. In the circles of homeless people, this is his permanent residence and he has guarded it jealously like it was his life source. Tonight while he watches a generation that has thrown caution to the wind he wishes he had the chance to do it all over again. Maybe he would have made different choices but after all the grass is always greener on the other side. He probably would be more lost now that there was loud music, loud speakers and indecent dressing and language to boot. He chuckles at that thought and sips from his bottle. His days have grown long since the day he met that teenager who only drank scotch. He wasn’t very rich but his character wasn’t poor either. He’s the only one he’d call a friend in a long time. He was consistent in his word and was never late. Tonight was one of those nights he was supposed to come along.

Three months ago he was just a lonely and homeless man who slept in this bench. Three months ago his happy days were spent on the streets making up stories about every person who dropped a coin in his metallic cup. His earnings not so meagre ensured he had a hot meal in the evening for unlike normal people his spot would earn him more the next day despite the depression. If there was one thing he had come to believe, it is that man even in all the unfamiliarity would never leave a begging hand empty, at least a hand a day. Then one day when he came in the wee hours of the morning to his bench he ran into that teenager. Pea, he said his name was and the only man who unlike all the other violent men who lay claims that the bench wasn’t his, apologised and started to walk away. He was touched that night and called him back and soon they were talking like old friends. He wasn’t anything he would call attractive. In fact he’s the man who still had to talk his way into the heart of an overdrunk slut. His face was too long, his skin a little too dark, his beard a teensy bit bushy and his lips a tonne thick. He had earphones drapped in his ears and no piercing whatsoever. He spoke much and listened as little but when he spoke wisdom emanated like he was a thousand years older. It’s a no wonder he liked him.

So the old man told him everything he had learnt and promised to tell him more only if he came back for more. It was days since they last met and the old man had given up hope of ever seeing this young man. Soon he would be resigned to the idea that he was just alone in this world and that no friendship would ever last, at least not for him. He sips from bottle again as he hugs this realization in his mind. His feet are cold, his anger on the rise and his mind second guesses the idea of walking over to the teenagers to ask them to walk a way but something hold him back.

“Can I share your seat?”

“Well, it isn’t mine, help yourself out”

“Missed me?”

“Not at all, I was hanging out with myself the entire time.”

The old man is surprised he came back and turns over to give him a hug. Well most nights they just sit together without talking. They used to, the earlier days after that night they met but that changed after the old man had told William Jay Smith’s famous poem of the wise owl in an oak tree. It went something like this,

The wise old owl sat in an oak

the more he saw the less he spoke

the less he spoke the more he heard

why can’t we be like that wise owl bird?

Pea would bring a scotch and Ofis his life insights. Such was a friendship forged on the bench and fermented by scotch.

 

No place like shags

Going to shags is a tradition i have come to like. Much so because down there folks look after each other. As much as ‘son of Opollo’ will inherit one widow after another or ‘nyakwar Odagi’ drinks too much changaa the society won’t just gossip about it, they will find time to at least tell the involved that it is wrong. There the line that divides right and wrong is quite clearly defined. Written or unwritten there is a doctrine that ensures that despite your double phd or vast wealth you still take time to at least meet the form four leaver the old lady across the fence set you up with. Here one has to take it when the old toothless woman spits on her palms and rubs it on your face (blesses you) or worse spits directly to your face. I know this sounds a little overstreached and an argument could be made as to why i shouldn’t accept such treatment but in a world ruled by a few old people who i bet don’t even know what day it is, what can one do? Forgive me if i give this old men less credit for even when they last saw you as a kid they still have the skill to liken your curled eye lashes to your granddad’s even before you tell them from where you come. These old people know the villages populace complete with an entire factitude of ones lineage.

Then they prod on what it is you take at the ‘mbararieny’ (campus) and suppose you say fancy names like  civil engineering or actuarial science they have the audacity (after you’ve explained specifically what it entails) to make a sentence like, ‘Haha the world is surely coming to an end, mimi na babu yako si tulitengeneza barabara bila kuenda university.’ But that is not what drives me to shags that frequently, what takes me there can be better placed by a sentence i overhead once when i was a kid. Fact is, my great granddad had 3 wives and my granddad had 12 children so basically i come from a huge family. It is therefore natural that once in a while, i tag along my dad while he moves around making courtesy calls. One of my step granddad’s, at one of this walks, once said, ‘One is never lost if he doesn’t need to look back to find his home’ . Well translations rips it of most wisdom but that will do.

This time however, while i went to a friend of mine to say hi, i walked into a meeting that had been called to discuss a child of the home. This might be news, but this year freshmen instead of a letter got an sms informing them of various campus  placement. One such student had travelled to KU to pick his letter and maybe survey what life is in campus and happened to run into a bash. Long story short he took a video which he shared with his pals at home and somehow it land in the hands of grow ups. The surprise and disillusionment of the parents at home of how students who happen to have been properly brought up behave when they joined campus made the parents present to consider not taking their kids to university. Some complained of the pains of having to sell land, cattle and sometimes conduct fundraising in order to pay for fees, buy laptops or provide upkeep at the expense of their hitherto born again son becoming an alcoholic or their daughters pic being found on Campus divas for rich men wall on facebook.

Well, without going to shags i would have seen such as the rot of our society but now that i went i empathise with the parents, rich or not, who sacrifice their comfort only to have a stranger graduate into a life they never wanted their kids to have. But that’s just my two cents.

In the end i bet it’s better to say ‘A stranger maybe one who is not known, but it is always one who knows not what is strange’

Great week pals.

Dear Diary

We haven’t talked in a while. Well we didn’t even use to talk but that changed the moment the round bottomed and full breasted lady started acting like she got my vibe. Truth be told i was kinda naive not to see all the signs. Like she wouldn’t pick my call when i called, never called back and just when i seemed to have given up she would initiate a chat that would get my heart warming in the joy of true love. She was fair, that i gotta give her. Her face wasn’t wrinkled below the chin like my last girlfriend. She had better mastery of the queen’s language and sent texts that didn’t replace s with x. Her messages were fully spelt and whenever she doubted a spelling she would bracket a plea for forgiveness. Well if you ask me that wasn’t such an easy find, she would laugh at my jokes, well not most of them but at least some got through. She was the smartest lady i’ve ever met and who ensured i got it into my head that i had finally met a match or probably a better intellect for she stopped me from the numerous repetitions i was used to to help other not so intelligent souls catch on. She liked my friends, or so i thought and she even passed regards to one of them, probably cos he was always coming up in our conversations.

Ok, ok i get it i don’t have to retell that story but today i come to worship at your temple not because i missed you but because i feel like you’re the best friend i have. The one who would listen and never talk back but would somehow place bright and repugnant ideas into my beautiful mind.You know what, you get me. In case you are interested, i broke up with her and she acted heartbroken but you know what they say, “True love waits.” Actually i haven’t gotten over her and for what’s its worth, suppose she realises am the best she’s ever gonna have, i will be right here waiting to take her back.

So while last week I went home to spend my semester break somehow my phone got busted. Well, my new smart phone caused all the hullaballoos with my relatives especially my grandma who was specifically impressed with the pinch feature. The first night she ran her rough fingers on the gorilla glass and I would swear I could see scratch marks after she fell asleep holding tight to the phone that suppose it had blood it would have bled out by the time I pulled it free. But that wasn’t the highlight of that experience now that I remember how she laughed every time she pinched and it zoomed in an out much to the chagrin of my little cousins. If you think the worst had happened my little sister became the next fun(pun intended) who probably loved the Adele songs I had added to help me sleep on the bus. What’s more weird than a lady watching soaps if not a teenager singing Adele songs every time you meet her, her earpieces sticking out of her ears. It is however that time when she came to me with those innocent eyes and hands clasped on the chest that gave me a diarrhoea. After three days without my phone she had somehow broken the charging port with also happened to double as the USB. And her defence, well she was sorry and offered to give me a Kshs. 100 to help me cover the repair costs, and when I refused to take that she kept asking and insisting that I was mad. Well I was mad but you know what they say, “You are a master of how you respond to any situation” so I smiled and grudgingly took the cash and pretended her accept her apology. In case you want to know, it cost me 1000 to fix the port.  So while I was pissed off I chanced on the memory of William Ernest Henley’s Invictus poem which also happens to be the poem that Nelson Mandela read everyday for 27 years while imprisoned. And Diary, so you never complain i never kept a copy with you, here goes:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul

Till next time, sweet diary, lets keep the secrets revealed here-in between us.