He who sits on my right side -Kim – is four years old now. He has made tremendous gains as a young person. For one, he can now wear his owns shoes. But he doesn’t just stop there, he can also manage to successfully stick one leg after the other through his trousers. These are tasks that were virtually impossible to execute two years ago. Before I forget, he also owns a belt. His own belt. Can you believe how grown up that is! “Like Papa’s belt.” he says. Which means, although Tamms feels nothing for my sense of fashion, I inspire this boy. Suffice it to say, he no longer walks around in a diaper. He pees standing straight. I have peed with him in a bush once in Karura Forest. He wanted to go and when he started going at it I felt like I wanted to go so I stood next to him and together we wet the bush. (He tried unsuccessfully to peep at mine because I was peeping at his). Tamms, on her bike, stopped far away and probably thought, “Boys are disgusting.”
He can also read numbers and small stories. Nothing too complicated; “Tom is sitting on a chair” kind of thing. Even more impressively he can now colour within boundaries of shapes! That’s a biggie. Do you know how he struggled to do that last term? I bet he’d go to bed at night with such worry in his head, stressing about the most difficult question of his life- how does one colour within those bloody boundaries? He also discovered numbers and the world has to know about it. He knows the number of the school bus that brings him home. He will also read out every number he sees and sometimes he will test you to see if you can read numbers as well or you are just illiterate.
“What number is that, papa?”
“It looks like 65!”
“Noo, you don’t know numbers, it’s 89!”
“How old are you?”
“How old am I?”
“No. I’m 40, but I behave like 12!”
I say that for Tamms’ benefit, hoping she will laugh but she doesn’t. Come to think of it, all my life knowing her I have never actually heard her laugh loudly, you know like a loud guffaw, the one where you throw your head back? Never. She has chuckled loudly. She has grinned hard. She titters lightly but never have I heard her roar with laughter, the type that brings tears to your eyes. And certainly not to anything I said and believe me it’s never been from lack of effort. But it stopped bothering me, to be honest. I realised it’s not me, it’s all her. One day I told God, “Lord, have I not tried with my jokes – which technically are your jokes?” There was no burning bush or anything but I woke up one day and thought, “She will never find me amusing.” Then I found such peace in that.
Do you know who I discovered Tamms thinks is very funny? It will shock you. (Sounds like a Ghafla header).
One day she asked me out of the blues. “Do you know Maqbul?” I asked surprised, Which Maqbul? She said, “the one for Auntie Boss and Varshita?” This was beginning of last year, I didn’t know about these TV shows. I don’t know about many TV shows. TV occupies about 9.4% of my life. Auntie Boss didn’t sound like something she would be watching. And what time was she watching these things? And what the hell was Varshita? Sounded Indian. Was this a Bhangra dance?
You think you know your children, right? I think kids can run an illegal logging racket from your very own sitting room without you ever knowing until one day the cops come knocking and say, “can we please speak with a lady called Tamisha who lives here, she is needed for questioning at the police station with regards to illegal logging in Kinangop.” And you are like, “you got the wrong Tamisha, officer, the Tamisha who lives her is 10-years old and probably doesn’t know what logging is in the first place!” The cop will grin like they do when they meet people who don’t know the full crime behind the story. He will show you a picture. “Is this Tamisha?” It will be a picture of your child at a forest clearing giving instructions to a bunch of guys sawing at large trunks of trees with yellow electric saws, a misty mountain in the background. You will pass out in shock.
I told her I knew Maqbul. “Is he your friend?” She asked with more interest than I’m used to from her. Because I wanted to feel important. I wanted her to know that I knew people on TV, I lied that yes, he was my friend. Technically he isn’t my friend, he’s a guy I know through work and other interactions. We did one overseas media trip together and we got along famously because he has a solid disposition with zero media hangups. We belong to one whatsapp group called #309. It was set up at 3:09am after a jubilant night out in Doha on the premise that we would organise more overseas trips. It hasn’t happened, which goes to show that plans made after (some) people have had a few to drink always come a cropper. It’s one of those groups that goes on for a few weeks before someone writes.
“How’s everyone here?” (That’s Smriti of NTV)
“Alive! LOL” (That’s G-Money of Homeboyz Radio)
“Always a good thing! [Smiley face]” (Smriti, again).
“How are you” [That’s G-Money, not using the question mark because he’s a rude boy]
“I’m great thanks, all is good.” [That’s Smriti).
At this point I start typing something to say, “This exchange sounds like an excerpt of niceties just before a commision of inquiry” but then someone sends a message.
“Hope you guys are having a great weekend.” [That’s Susan Wong from Lonrho House]
“Yeah man!” [G-Money says and I read it in a Jamaican accent because, well, isn’t he one?]
I want to write, “wagwan, man” but think I see someone typing a message that might take over the world, so I let my wagwan wait.]
“My country people! *emoji of someone raising one hand* [ That’s Maqbul not quite taking over the world]
So Whatsapp always has different shades of skin tone for emojis. White people people always have the first emoji of a very white person and then the skin tone grows darker and darker until the very darkest one that looks like Dikembe Mutombo’s at the very last. Yup, even as an emoji the black man can’t catch a break. We will always sit at the back of the bus. Anyway, I notice that Maqbul doesn’t use the Dikembe Emoji (that has a nice ring ey? Dikembe Emoji). He uses the one before it, which has the skin tone of Boris Kodjoe.
Before I can go Wakanda on Maqbul’s emoji, a message comes in.
“Hello peeps *smiley face*” [That’s Ravneet Sehmi, Managing editor, The Asian Weekly somehow still using the 2007 word “peeps.”]
Then it goes quiet again until March 4th when Wong wishes Maqbul a happy birthday and I say, “Happy 50th @Maqbul,” and he sends three laughing emojis and a fist pump (this one Dikembe’s) which I take it to mean that he somehow thinks he’s not 50.
So yeah, anyway my point is that I’m not in Maqbul’s circle of friends but I made Tamms believe that I was. Which put me in a bit of a pickle because everytime we went to the Hub in Karen she would say, “why don’t you call your friend Maqbul to come say hello to us, you said he lives in Karen?” and I would make excuses because, come on, Tamms, people have lives outside just getting up and going to meet other people’s children.
I asked Tamms why she likes Maqbul and she said he was very funny. Not just funny but “very” funny. I wish I hadn’t asked because suddenly I felt nauseous. Mabul funny? Camaan, lady! One day I would pick her up from school and she would say, “check your app and see where there is no traffic so that we get home by 4.” Of course to watch Auntie Boss. It was beginning to irritate me to be honest, but remember I had spoken to the Lord and I found peace, so I did what any father would do. I did my research on Maqbul. Stalked him.
I would sit down and watch Auntie Boss because she loves two people in this show; Maqbul and Eve D’ souza.
The premise of Auntie Boss – if you live in a cave like I do- is focused on the drama of domestic helps. They talk back at their bosses and wear their clothes. They are ridiculous. But to be fair everybody in the show is ridiculous. Varshita I learned is the spin off of Auntie Boss. Maqbul (Don) is a Kikuyu who is married to Eve D’Souza (Varshita) an Asian. The Indian family – opposed to this relationship – has planned for Varshita to marry a nice Indian boy called Manish. (Are there any Indian boys called Manish who aren’t nice?). Don’s family also have plans, they want the two to marry because they have a construction project on a ka-prot that has been stalled for years and they are hoping the marriage of the two will kick-start it because culturally Indians girls pay the men dowry, right?
After watching it I was happy to find out that Don/Maqbul isn’t funny at all in those comedy-drama shows. Maybe I watched it with some tinge of jealousy and my review is biased but he isn’t funny. He’s silly, at best. Second, Eve D’souza who Maqbul is married to in the TV series, is psychotic, a complete looney. It’s amazing she hasn’t killed Don which goes to show that Don’s mom really prays for him. Tamms finds both of them hilarious!
I just don’t get it.
But every girl in her class watches these two TV shows, she says. And they talk about it the next day during break. They recount scenes and they laugh. She probably told her friends that her father and Maqbul are best friends and now everybody thinks she’s cool. They probably share their pizza and cookies with her and they want to sit next to her in the bus. (And not at the back).
One day when we were driving from school she told me without notice, “can you call Maqbul?” I wasn’t even prepared with an excuse. So I reluctantly called Maqbul and put him on the car’s bluetooth speakers. It rang and and continued to ring. Then I started praying that he picks because if he doesn’t I would lose my credibility. How do I claim I’m friends with Maqbul when he doesn’t pick my calls? Lord, I said, if you are going to make one person in the world pick their call right now, make it Maqbul.
It rang for some more until his machine picked it and I hung up.
I don’t know how to describe what happened right after I hung up because the silence that ensued after the ringing phone stopped was like a deep valley filled with mistrust. A silence of failure. I knew what she was thinking because I know what I was thinking; that I lied. I didn’t know Maqbul. We weren’t not friends. I felt like a groupie. I have two voices; I have my usual everyday voice, then I have my fatherly voice that I use once in a while near the kids. My fatherly voice says I’m wise and I know many things and I know what I’m doing. My everyday voice is just a winging it voice. With my fatherly voice I said, “He is in a meeting. He will call back.” I said it in a way that wasn’t refutable. It’s a voice that said that I knew what not picking calls was a fatherly thing that she was too young to comprehend.
Then I prayed again. I prayed that Maqbul’s calls me back. I said Lord, this is your child here, and this is important, very important that he doesn’t lose his credibility. Make that Maqbul guy call darned back!
Three minutes later, Maqbul called back. Boy, did I pick that call fast! Ha-ha. It was like a money-call. He said in his Maqbul voice, “hey bro?” I looked at Tamms with that look of, See? See? He called me bro! Bro!!! We are bosom buddies! I had never been happier to be called back.
I said, “I’m good, BRO! [ha-ha], how’s it?”
“Good, good, keeping well?”
“Oh yeah, staying afloat. Listen, my daughter, Tamms is a big fan, she wanted to say hi.”
“Oh is that so, put her on!”
“Oh she can hear, she’s on speaker!”
I then looked over at Tamms who suddenly looked much smaller in her seat. I think she was tongue-tied. She always speaks so softly, but this time I couldn’t even hear a word she was saying. She managed a very feeble “hi.” Ha-ha. A mousy hi. I bet she couldn’t believe that she was talking to MAQBUL! Even more important I bet she couldn’t believe that her father knows someone FAMOUS! I hoped she never forgets this big favour I did her. And that’s the thing with children, they only remember the bad things you did, they can’t remember the day you introduced her to important people on TV!
Anyway, they had this very brief conversation that I don’t remember. I bet later at night she replayed that conversation and asked herself, “the hell was that not-being-able-to-speak all about? I behaved like a child! I should have asked him if he likes banana fudge cake!” That night I slept with a smile. I felt accomplished. My deed as a father was done.
Over last year, she would ask me randomly about Maqbul; if he has children, if all he does is act on TV; how we met. Personally I would catch glimpses of Maqbul on his show and I would get puzzled each time that Tamms found this guy funny. But the thing I realised much later with the two shows is that if you watch three episodes they will infect you. They are a mix of slapstick and some deceptively simple plot twists. There is a character called Mayweather whom I find funny but only because he has a luo accent and panders to the stereotype of a learned Luo with big vocabulary. Tamms doesn’t find him funny. I bet he annoys her. She once asked me why he speaks like that and I told her, “well, that’s the Queen’s accent.” She didn’t find that funny. Clearly our sense of humour is different. I can’t say where she got hers from. Quite possibly my younger sister. Or it could be traced to Murang’a. What do I know?
Recently I was telling a friend of mine this story of Maqbul and she said, “that’s a crush, Tamms has a crush.” I said, “a crush my ass. You are mad!” she said, “Yup, she likes him.” I said, “Bullshit, she likes me!” She said, “No, she tolerates you. But she likes him.” That night I sat in darkness and thought long and hard what Niccolo Machiavelli would have done in this situation. The idea marinated for many months.
Last week I raised Maqbul and said, Listen, what does it take for you to meet my daughter? I will drive for a whole day to bring her to meet you and get some peace. He said, Hehhe. No problem bro problem bring her Saturday, I will be shooting at Peponi Spring.
You can see through my plan now, yes? I was secretly hoping that she would meet him and think, “aarh, he is a human being!” then move on from that story.The next day we all drove down to Spring Valley. Tamms had no inkling. I didn’t tell her, otherwise she wouldn’t have slept. She would also probably have taken years picking her clothes, her being ten years old. I bought her these lovely silver shoes in SA but she didn’t wear them. She wore these other lovely sandals I bought her (I have a thing for female footwear (and toes), by the way. My taste in female shoes is above the acceptable straight levels). Before we left the house I told her, “Tamms, you don’t want to wear your silver shoes?” She said, Nah, so I wore my hat and out we went.
The location of the shoot is a big lone house up a winding driveway framed with open greenery and trees. It’s what you people love to call “leafy suburbs.” We arrived circa 12:30, by this time Kim was already bored and ready to eat his sweater. Tamms was wondering what we were doing there, I said to meet my friend briefly. When we got to the door Tamms said, “this is Varshita’s house!” I pretended, “What? Are you sure?” She said “yeah!” looking around. There were numerous shoes at the door without their owners. We tiptoed in, with her walking like she was entering a shrine. Maqbul was running late so the producer called Lucy Mwangi offered to show us around the set. She was nice. Tamms also said she was nice. I haven’t watched Varshita so I didn’t know who Mrs Bhatt was, Varshita’s mom. She was in a room before her makeup to make her look 100 years old. (“As you can see, she doesn’t need make up for that,” Lucy said). We also met Mr Bhatt who is in his 20’s before makeup. He had a wig on and shades and he looked like a Bollywood star who is yet to discover that he has drug problems.
Tamms asked to see Varshita’s bedroom perhaps hoping she would find Varshita in there devicing her latest plot of world domination. We poked our heads inside rooms. The crew was setting up a tattoo parlour. There were lights and camera and important looking artistic chaps in various unconventional hairstyles and beards, peering at scripts. Technicians fiddled with lights. We saw a bathroom that had been converted into a production room with massive computers. Everything was done by these set production people who make everything believable. TV is one big deception. TV is make-believe. TV is a magic. And Tamms ate it all up. I suspected she was amazed. I say suspect because she never gives away any emotion. The ice-queen.
Anyway, Maqbul finally drove in like a rock-star, shades blocking the sun from his eyes. Tamms acted as cool as she has always been. She didn’t scream, or yelp or palpitate. Maybe she screamed inside, but outside she was a solid lady. She grinned hard and she acted like it wasn’t a big deal, that she meets famous people on TV all the time. They chatted a bit, Tamms barely using her full vocal range, Maqbul proding, smiling, laughing. Then I took a photo of them all. Then Maqbul and Lucy had to go inside and start shooting. Lucy then handed the children biscuits. I wasn’t given anything. People always just assume that fathers don’t want biscuits. And it’s unfair. It should stop.
Driving out I asked Tamms what she thought of Maqbul. “He’s a bit different,” she said. I asked how different. “A bit small,” she said. I wanted to giggle but I was wearing my fatherly hat, so I said TV makes people bigger, when she asked me why, I said I wasn’t sure. “He also has less beard than on TV.” I didn’t want to discuss how much beard Maqbul had, besides I have more beard than him so I instead asked if she found him funny. She said, “He looks funny.” I was happy for a moment then I asked, Looks funny? What do you mean? “Like he can make someone laugh.. Like he is a funny person.” I rolled my eyes. I didn’t ask any more questions.
But it’s nice when people do nice things for your children, isn’t it? Because they really don’t have to. Everybody has better things to do that amuse other people’s children. So it’s a very nice thing to do because it means the world to the children. Thank you, Lucy, for taking time off your schedule to show us around and for assuming I don’t want biscuits. Re-evaluate your life, please. Thank you so much, Maqbul for being very gracious with your time to make my daughter happy and also build my street credibility. May you ever continue to soar. Most importantly thanks for being the funny man I’m not in her eyes.
Credits Image source https://bit.ly/2qjtJY3