“I say, my son, if you are going to Nairobi, the jiji, with beings passing this way then that way,
and anyone tells you that you are not good enough, and that they can offer to help you with pesa,
pata potea, then he has done you bad. Leave just. Do not heed to his words. Do not change who
you are for them and better yet do not give money to make money.”
“Why baba? Pesa is important. Everybody needs some.”
“Yes my son. Even so, there are proper channels.”
This was a conversation I had with baba one Tuesday under the hot august midday sun. As I lie
on this hospital bed pondering on it, I wonder why I had succumbed to the same finitude that he
had warned me against, why had I allowed myself to reach this pluperfect state where this virtual
vanity had become the most treasured aspect of my life? Why had I allowed myself to such
extents? I painfully raise my hand to my neck to feel the swellings the sisal rope left. They stand
there like the shimba hills. The abrasions, lesions and pain insistently remind me of my folly.
In my first college semester in Nairobi, I had made several calls home announcing that I would
not make it past the first month, I was threatening to give up and return home. Mama, at times
would heavily breathe into the phone. I would hear her open her mouth to speak and the words
would come out fitfully, the sounds half swallowed by a sobbing noise. To my dismay she would
cry, almost too much to be coherent and amidst sobs, she would urge me to forge on as she
reminded me of the wonderful publication about me being the top student in my district.
In celebration, baba had robbed three cows of their life and had invited the entire village to this
occasion of great auspiciousness. I did not understand the conundrum however, I believed I had
options; I would be a farmer, I would rear chicken and keep cows, sell milk and collect eggs.
This is what I always told baba whenever he protested. The Nairobi expenses had become
overburdening and the peer pressure was slowly getting to me. Here I was in a jiji I did not
belong, with people I did not know and not fitting in; I was not cool, I did not have the haircut
my fellows had, I did not own the trendy shoes they owned, I did not have the fashionable
“Nairobian” accent and their food was intolerable; always too oily and whatever it lacked for in
taste it compensated in appearance. This went on for many evenings until baba began to ignore
my phone calls.
But baba did not deceive me. The fifteenth day of October would forever change my life.
That day, a malevolent yellow eye glared relentlessly from the cloudless sky making the
afternoon sweltering like never before. Heat could be seen shimmering off the parked cars like a
haze. The hunger was ever present, from dusk to dawn it gnawed at me but in my fright and
caution of sort, I had trained myself to suffer in silence. That particular afternoon, I stared at my lecturer drone on for two hours while my stomach growled and rumbled. When he finally left,
Nyarwaro my classmate approached me with an irresistible offer.
“Boss! A stick insect would claim to be fatter than you and it wouldn’t be wrong! Why are your
lips out here looking drier and rougher than sand paper? Umeparara msee!” he insulted. You
“Buda! A pan’s shallowness has not reached the level of my pockets,” I replied hesitantly trying
out the Nairobian accent I had been practicing.
“Why are you so backwards Mbakholondo?” he interjected closing in on me. “I have a way. All
you need is a smartphone,” he let the words sink before he continued. “I could loan you one,
because you are my friend for a start but thereafter you will need to sort yourself. Understood?”
“Why are you being helpful?” I questioned.
The laughter evaporated from his eyes. His customary warmth went faster than a scared deer at
the sight of a hungry lion. “Shauri yako!” he retorted, already turning to leave. Suit yourself.
“Wait! I certainly could use some help…” I pleaded. He walked on and not once did he turn.
I remembered the first day I bet a hundred shillings on a football game. It was the only money I
had between me and poverty, but I had convinced myself that it would not hurt and it did not at
the time. Everyone was making money, everyone was buying the latest phone, the latest shoes
and clad, going to the newly open clubs, buying their girlfriends awesome gifts and here I was;
starving almost to death at times, being abhorred and mocked for my naïveté and desperately
wishing I got the right attention from my peers. After submitting my prediction that morning for
a game that was to be played in the evening, I was hoping that all would align well. As the game
approached, my dread grew. I could not halt the tic-toking ebbing its gradual way into dusk.
Everything hinged on what the outcome of the game would be. My preoccupation during the
game involved murmuring a prayer every few seconds and in the sensory overload that were my
thoughts, my limbs tingled, I fidgeted and my brain raced in the most unhelpful way. After all
the days of preparation and learning the technique, the reality was still alien. My mind kept
handing me the factoids about the dangers that loomed in case it went awry.
At the end of the day I was swaggering back to my room, a loose grin playing in my stubble. The
bonus of having low expectations. My fingers were taking part in an internal conversation
mirroring the twinge of excitement that I was basking in. I made tenfold that day.
“At first there was nothing, then, all at once there was a thousand!” I beamed at my luck.
Disorganized thoughts flooded my mind. An endless river, a waterfall. I was suddenly awake.
More awake than ever.
The following week I was more determined. The only thing on my mind was how I could
double, triple, or even quadruple my money. I could not believe that this fortune had been a click
away all this time. Taking a five hundred from what I had gained, I submitted my second bet.
When the referee blew that whistle signifying that the allotted time for the game was up, it took a
moment or two to soak it all in, even though it was right before my eyes. I felt my lips stretch
wide into a gaping grin and my eyebrows arched for the sky. I had won twice in a row! It felt so
good to root for the winning team. So good.
My life finally took a turn. My presence no longer buzzed around my peers like a toilet fly that
they could not swat. I was well able to afford the possessions that were termed cool and I
somehow fit in. Girls began to pay special attention to me. Initially, none of them would
joyously greet me with a hug before or after class. I was usually in earshot of their non-discreet
conversations. Typically I looked away as I listened, my head at an unnatural angle while I
absorbed the salacious details of their mundane conversations. No one noticed me. I was magugu
growing through a crevice. A weed.
I thought my former idyllic life had been boring and unbearable, I was wrong.
A girl smiled at me in a way that never meant good things, but my face was washed with desire.
Every smile that lit up her features was the wrong sort. I knew because it was not out of genuine
affection but how deep my pockets had become. Most would roll back their shoulders and
observe as my eyes drew at them. Attention. Before, whenever that happened, it taunted my
curiosity. My eyes would ask for more, but I would be conflicted with the tight smile begging to
be left alone. How fast it had changed. The prey had become the predator.
It only took a few careless encounters with the crew before I fell for my second monster. It
became my Were. God. When I was first introduced to it, my brain protested, but like the betting,
I convinced myself it would not hurt and it did not at the time. Soon enough it began to control
every inch of me, my body, soul and mind. I would skip most of my classes because I had to visit
it a few times a day otherwise I feared I would go insane. It hurt to be away for too long. I would
feel weak, my body would ache and I would struggle to act rationally. When I finally saw it,
everything became whole again, the world was whimsical and perfect. It became my everything.
I thought it set me free and I would do anything to get it; lie, steal, cheat.
A few times my bet predictions would be awfully off target. I lost. In those times my held span
and a resentment creeped in me. When I left the games and got to my room, I did not want
anything to do with anybody. My hands would quickly begin to prepare the dose and the protests
in my mind would be silenced by the reasons I crafted to justify the behavior; it’s just one more.
I’ll do better tomorrow, I deserve this because I just lost thousands, and it’s just a small
reward…I needed to survive the loss. I was poisoning myself. The chemicals my body craved
had nothing to do with the loss, it was just a way of avoiding the sharp pain of failure. That is
how it manipulated me and wheedled into my affections. Without a conscience it deceived me
and extinguished the hope it had tentatively built in me. It showed no mercy; my second monster.
It had become my Were. God.
When the exams drew closer, I was all a tingle. I had not put any effort into my studies and I was
destined to fail. My body was reacting as if they were gorillas ready for a fist fight instead of just
papers with threads of anthropology questions on them. In my former life, I tackled those papers
as simply as I ate roasted maize, I knew I would. But this was a whole different exertion. As I skimmed my exam grades at the end of the semester my heart sank to my shoes. The despair
felt like concrete in my veins. I hung my head and ashamedly looked at my shoes. My lack of
discipline had awarded me several retakes and mainly on my main course units. The retakes
required money, something I was becoming short of as days went by. I was losing it all, placing
bigger bets, spending huge amounts on outings, treats and road trips. I wondered what baba
would say if he saw me at that moment. He would have been so disappointed.
In search of the money, I began placing my bets on multiple games. Unfortunately, I lost more
than I won. But never did it end there. I even got to the extent where I registered for various
loaning apps just to have enough money to continue betting. However, time to time the
disappointment and despair was the same. It all went down the drain. I got into massive debt.
Another memorable encounter is when I bet for the jackpot. I used my school fees hoping that
the more amount I staked, the higher the return would be. How wrong I was. I ended up not
being in session that semester because of my untimely paying of fees.
Frustration built in me and I thought I would have exploded. Every time I lost, I ran back to my
second monster taking deep breaths and making excuses. One time my girlfriend tried to console
my sad state and that was the breaking point of my patience. At that time I was blinded by a
funeral buffet serving of rage that tasted bitter, yet surprisingly satisfying. I held it back as long
as I could but she kept talking and complaining and advising and I couldn’t take it anymore.
When she placed her hand on my lap to find out whether I was paying attention to her, I snapped.
I grabbed that hand and twisted it back. I saw her watch the whites in my eyes turn crimson red.
My lethal stare must have felt painful and piercing because her eyes grew wider and underneath
them was an unregistered emotion as if my glare was tearing her heart apart. She tried to speak
but her voice was cackling, her body got weak, her stomach lurched and her heart ached. Veins
quickly formed on my upper arm and my forehead. I did not realize I was hurting her until I saw
tears form in her lower eyelids. She let them flow freely from her eyes. The mascara she was
wearing smudged and it seemed as if her tears were black. Suddenly she was shaking,
stammering, unable to speak, edging backwards, her heart pounding and she was too scared to
comprehend. She let out a shriek and that is when it occurred to me I could have broken her
hand. I did not mean to do it.
She walked away and I never saw her again. I had become a burden she needed to offload having
bailed me out more than once when I was arrested for drug possession and loitering. It was good
From then on my mind plummeted downward into a darkness that was unexplainable. The
feeling was strange, yet familiar. When I was around my friends, I wanted to smile and be happy
and laugh along at the jokes and the stories that they so often told, but I could not. I no longer
felt the need to be around people or engage in their activities.
Insomnia became the companion that would not quit. Then, time took a different form, more
plentiful than ever. I would lay in bed and my mind would be bombarded by many impulses each pulling in different directions. I thought through the oblivion of sleep that was kinder. My
thoughts dragged in slow motion. Time would tick-tock and I would silently count along. Then I
would slunk to a quiet spot and curl up. I would drift into sleep and wake up as soon as I slept.
On good days I would get up to three hours of sleep and on bad ones I would not sleep at all.
The situation was devastating with fatigue ruling the day and insomnia dominating my nights. I
was losing the will to live. I cannot count the number of days that I shouted obscenities when
consciousness kicked in only to find myself alive and well. Some days I would deliberately walk
in dangerous alleys at night that were said to be governed by ruthless gangs, hoping I would
anger someone and they would be in a mood to draw blood. I hoped they would find me and slit
me. But that also never happened.
By February of the next year, all I did was sit in the pit that had become my life. Having no
genuine friends no one really concerned themselves to ask me what was going on and neither did
I breathe my suffering to a soul. At times I felt strong enough to pull myself out of the
bottomless abyss that I had fallen into. I could see light at the top but it felt too far to reach for. I
reached out a few times, but a few hours later, as though someone pushed me back in, my body
would be crushing back to its original state. What was the point in continuing to draw breath?
Nyarwaro found me just in the nick of time. I had decided to end the suffering. Earlier today I
had tried to interact with as many classmates as I could. I dropped many hints, hoping someone
would see through my intention and convince me otherwise but no one did. I even asked one of
them to accompany me to the kiosk where I bought the sisal rope. Along the journey we held
“What do you think is the most compassionate way to kill oneself?” I asked.
“Why would anyone want to kill themselves?” she asked being taken aback by the randomness
of my question. “But if I am to do so, I will stand in the middle of the Thika superhighway, right
before the speeding vehicles, thrust my hands in the air and let the vehicles slam into my tiny
frame. It will be a quick death but grotesque because someone will have to identify the
disfigured corpse,” there was something of the satisfying thespian in her, the way she narrated it,
“I think it’s how the brave die. To squeeze life out of your body like that…” She wandered off.
I decided I was brave.
Baba enters my hospital room. He sees the shock register on my face before I can hide it. A
small smile plays on his lips for a split second and then suddenly he shifts his focus on the
curtain behind me, as if I am invisible and he cannot bare to see me at all. I have crossed a line, I
know, and I have offended his sensibilities. My heart hammers erratically. I have never been so
afraid of my father’s silence.
It is pointless to try to reach him now, my well-meant apologies will bounce off as hard rain. One
day I will have to thaw his anger and rekindle that loving spark we once had, if I ever make it out
of Kamiti or whatever prison the judge will sentence me to.
Baba did not deceive me.
(As narrated by yours truly, from a friend who wishes to remain anonymous. Do leave a comment below and if you really loved it, share!)