On an exceptionally cold rainy evening early in April, a young man left work premises and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards the Thika Road Mall Java house.
It had been raining so much the past few days and although this was his kind of weather, he couldn’t help loathing the insetting flu that was already making his nostrils feel like the Nairobi River; littered with dry mucus scabs and flowing with brown phlegm. He rubbed the base of his nose with the back of his hand, pulled in the gathering mucus and swallowed. Salty. Under his grey raincoat that resembled the relentlessly grumbling sky above, he could feel each drop gently hit him. He focused on the road, the blur of red and white lights and the hiss of the tires over the wet smooth tarmac road that was getting silenced by the hoots at the roundabout.
Three years ago on that exact same day, while he was still an ambitious student at the University, he had received a call that had otherwise changed his life’s trajectory. He had been alarmed that night, contrary to every other night, he couldn’t seem to get any sleep. It had been so unlike him not to have an urge to sleep, heck he slept so much that his peers even nicknamed him ‘Sleepy’ but that day he had been restless, sweaty and every other hour he had reached for a glass of water. Earlier on that day he had been very irritable and felt like every human interaction overwrought his nerves and made him scowl. When the clock stroke four twenty eight, his phone had rang and even before he answered it, he knew his hero had fallen. That was the day his favorite uncle had passed on and everything from how it rained so
heavily to his flu had been similar to the exceptionally cold rainy evening early in April; the skies cried for him.
“Three years down the line and it still hurts,” he thought to himself. “The man was okay one day, in ICU the next. In fact he took himself to hospital… He was at his prime… Had completed another degree, had a great job and a nice rank… He was generous, God fearing…Had awesome kids, great personality…Just finished building his house…Then he just died! The closest to a perfect man I knew died and worse from a misdiagnosis!” There was such accumulated bitterness and contempt in the young man’s heart as his thoughts trailed off. The death of his uncle had affected him profoundly and for so long he could not believe that his existence was no more. Days on end
he had asked God many questions, so many amidst sobs and confusion and to none had he gotten any solid answers. But he had accepted the loss and tried to move on.
“Ecclesiastes 9:11…I have seen something else under the sun; the race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned. Time and chance happen to the all…” he silently recited in between sighs while he squeezed his eyes shut pushing back the tears that were gathering in his lower eyelid.
He crossed the road swiftly and walked with a slight stoop into the mall. Java house was full. He looked around the busy tables, groups hurdled at opposite sides lost in their inaudible mutters. At the first table near the entrance, a young couple snacked side by side with a mug of espresso each, studiously bent over their samosas. He spotted a group of young women in their late twenties collapsing with helpless giggles at one corner and some business men in Grey suits calling on a waiter at another, as he scanned the coffee house for an unoccupied table. His eyes settled on one near a family and their teenage children. A guy who was undoubtedly the father was in deep conversation with a boy who seemed to be the oldest of the children at the table. He found himself
fixated on the two longer than he would have liked to.
“Father-son bonding,” he thought with an odd smile as he made his way to the unoccupied table. His path was occasionally barred by some waiters who were engaged in getting orders to the customers but he got there, rid his wet raincoat and regained his posture that had been weakened by his backpack, trench and rain coat. He carefully pulled out one of the chairs and slammed into it. He was tired. The day had been long, not that he had been up and down physically but the work on bacteria and viruses, mosquitoes and the study of biting flies down at the research center had him very worn out.
A few minutes clocked by before a waiter approached him with a notepad and pen in hand. Something about how he walked, how tall he was, how slender, his skin complexion and his crooked teeth seemed familiar to the young man. The waiter’s smooth and cleanly shaven skin broke into a customary smile and they exchanged pleasantries. As he read through the menu a while longer, the waiter stood facing him in silence and looking inquiringly at him. He ordered a cup of London fog tea and a pancake.
At the adjacent table, two children laughed heartily and it took him back to his childhood days. The young man had a happy childhood, happier than most he would argue. He was born and raised in a farm in Nyeri, a place he identified himself with so much. He was loved, though differently. He would describe the love he received as something far from unconditional, a love that required the recipient be unflawed and to be unflawed he strived to no avail. When it rained like this, him and his friends would run outside without jackets and play in the rolling potato fields. He remembered how at some point they towered above him and would make fun calling him ‘kashortie’ the short one, yet he had grown and caught up. He won many accolades. He pursued whatever he wanted because back then everything was achievable and that fear monster had not yet crept in.
“Hmm…yes, all is in a man’s hands and he lets it all slip from cowardice, that’s an axiom” he whispered. “It would be interesting to know what it is men are most afraid of, what I am afraid of.”
The waiter came back with his order. After he had placed it in front of him, the young man remembered where he had seen this waiter. They had schooled together.
“Sam?” he pointed out with a raised eyebrow hoping it actually was him.
“Eric Kariuki!” he said back. On his face was an expression of a pleasant surprise. “I thought you looked familiar… Boss! Ten years! And nothing about you seems to have changed!”
“Yeah the same one…” he got up to greet his long lost friend. They gave each other an up top hi five, clamped their hands together and half hugged like Uhuru and Ruto did back in twenty thirteen.
Long after Sam had excused himself back to his job, Eric thought about how Sam had been a great friend back then. He had great friends now but he couldn’t think of any of them that would compare to Sam. Sam had been a true friend. Though he couldn’t sum up what that meant, he knew there was a way to say it; someone who was there whether they were needed or not, someone who could stand the rain and wasn’t only there when it shone, someone who transcended the whole ‘nisadie soo mbili nitarudisha’ thing. Being there meant loyalty, presence, a nudge whenever he slacked, a pull when he was stuck, someone who could stand in for him when he couldn’t stand on his own two feet. But in spite of that deep reflection, he was by now beginning to see how much that was to ask from just one single individual.
In the privacy of his home he would have eaten the pancake in one bite but having been in public, he took off a quarter of it in one massive chomp of his gnashers. He sipped some of his London fog tea not realizing it was hot. It got embarrassing really quickly as he had to chew up with his mouth open in an attempt to cool his burning tongue, treating everyone to the view of a partially masticated mess. Once he gulped it down, he decided to pause and breathe.
From the corner of his eye, among a group of college men, a guy suddenly cheered. But no one shared his excitement: his silent companions watched with positive hostility and uneasiness at all his manifestations. Something about a friend, who had won an electoral seat at their university.
“They think it’s all trivial and nonsense,” flashed as if it were by chance through Eric’s mind as he stole a quick curious glance at them. “I won two elections in Uni… When I won the first I thought it wasn’t that big a deal and then I won the second and it made sense to celebrate… My supporters, God bless their souls. They celebrated more than I did and as small a detail as that is, it mattered. It showed me that I had a purpose larger than myself… I had to make it count. I had someone other than myself, my dad and my late uncle, not to let down… Trifles, trifles they matter! Why, its trifles that make everything!”
He took another sip and precipitously he heard:
Niggas been countin’ me out
I’m countin’ my bullets, I’m loadin’ my clips
I’m writin’ down names, I’m makin’ a list
I’m chekin’ it twice and I’m gettin’ them hit…”
His ringtone which was J Cole’s middle child filled the room. He reached for it quickly and pressed the mute button. Eric admired J. Cole so much. He believed the man was real, mature and hadn’t let his celebrity status make him a douche; something he emulated, humility. Often when he was asked what his dying wish would be, he would say he wanted to meet the man and probably release an album with him.
The caller was his dad. He watched it ring as he contemplated on whether to answer it. At the last minute he decided not to and agreed that he would call him later. Eric loved and worshipped his dad but growing up he had received such tough love from him that he felt like he lacked the dad-son warmth that family gave. He wished his father was more open and vulnerable with him. He wished he taught him how to be a man, like him. He wished he would be unscathed by the past like his dad or if he was, how to perfectly hide it. If he knew how to trust his gut like his dad he would have been the happiest man on the planet, but all those were just wishes and the chances of them happening were so slim. He had managed to wing it though, all his life.
He gulped down the remaining tea, paid his bill and ran across the slippery street to where K-Road matatus were boarded. The flash river that ran down the street gushed over the tops of his leather shoes. As he waited for a matatu, a drunken man about thirty in age, bald, of medium height, and stoutly built approached the small crowd. His face, bloated from continual drinking, with swollen eyelids out of which keen reddish eyes gleamed like little slits. He was wearing an old and hopelessly ragged polyester shirt, covered with spots and stains, with all its buttons missing except one, and that one he had buttoned, evidently clinging to its last trace of respectability. His unshaven chin looked like a stiff brown brush. When he was close enough, the drunken mad shouted, “nyinyi wote…hick Mumesimama hapa…hick… Leo mumemupa Mungu shukurani kweli…hick…” You all that stand here, have you given thanks to the Lord today?
The drunk staggered on and sat on the pavement beside a man who was selling smokies and boiled eggs. When Eric boarded the matatu, he whispered in his heart, “Lord, to have parents, who would give their lives up for me and to be in good health, I am very grateful.”
(Thank you Eric a.k.a Sleepy for letting me tell a glimpse of your story.)