Let’s say you are one of those people who take their phones to the loo to read or to watch YouTube or double tap pictures on Instagram. (Cool children now call it The Gram). This one time your phone rings while you are seated in the little room, nose on phone. It’s someone who is not a friend and not an acquaintance, not a relative and not the police. They tell you that they are in a “little jam” and would like some urgent help. They need some money.
They need some money now!
“Let me call you back,” you tell them. “I’m in a small meeting.” So you finish your “meeting” and you call them back. They cut to the chase; they need a few tens of thousands of shillings. You are surprised at the request because the two of you don’t have any history of lending each other money. He’s one of those “let’s do a drink soon” kind of friends so you figure he must be backed up against the wall to ask for your help. Maybe he’s raising money for ransom. Maybe someone in the family needs a new kidney to replace a bad kidney. Or maybe some nasty shylock characters from Ngara are currently at his reception; two chaps in dusty shoes and dodgy looking hats – one is fiddling with his kabambe phone with a massive thumb, the other, nastier looking one, who has no eyebrows is just staring into space, not blinking. The whole reception suddenly smells of wet sawdust and impending violence.
It could be anything.
But he called you. It must have taken some sitting on pride.
“I will definitely sort you out by the 7th of next month or even before.” He promises with confidence. It is 12 March 2016, which means he will pay in roughly a month’s time, donge? Now you don’t have that kind of money lying around but you can wait until dusk when all the neighbours are inside watching news and dig it out of the little hole you stash some money in for wet, rainy days. The money is in a wooden box, together with one of your wisdom teeth. (Long story).
You figure he’s good for it. He seems to be doing well for himself; he drives a car you like, his wife drives a car you like, and he plays golf at one of those golf clubs for the young and well-heeled. Plus, he doesn’t have a prison record. The last picture he posted on Facebook was of him, some guys, and a frothing bottle of expensive-looking champagne at a champagne bar in a fancy hotel in Westlands. “Who needs a reason to celebrate life?” the caption of the picture reads: 231 Likes. 79 comments. You are convinced of his creditworthiness.
Next day you send him the dough through M-Pesa.
By the way you never know people’s real names until you M-Pesa them. There are tons of people walking out there with shockingly odd names. They say M-Pesa has revolutionised the mobile wallet, but it has also exposed people’s real names. It’s quite a moment of panic when you send someone money on M-pesa and the confirmation SMS you receive indicates that you just sent money to Thadayo not Kiptoo Kipchumba. You only have to see some people’s names to fully comprehend the cruelty of our parents. There are people called Gaudentia or Thadayo and they understandably hide it – well, until you M-Pesa them.
Anyway, on 9 April as you are gargling mouthwash, preparing for bed, you remember that your pal was supposed to have paid back your money two days ago. You go to bed, fall asleep holding a boob, wake up at dawn, go to the gym, go to work, walk to a rubbish buffet place with some colleagues for lunch, try not to sleep in the afternoon, go back back home and fall asleep holding a boob. (Same boob). You don’t want to prompt him because it will embarrass him and in turn embarrass you. Besides it’s not like he is a month late with the money.
A month later – on 8 May – you send him a Whatsapp. You keep it light and amusing. It reads: “I will have that dough in unmarked bills of 100-bob notes. At exactly 11pm tonight, drop it off to one of the kabuti wearing guys holding ‘Massage’ signs at night at the corner of Argwings Kodhek/ Ole Odume Road. The secret word is ‘warus.’ Come alone.”
It goes blue tick immediately. He is online for a bit. Then he goes offline. You stare at your phone like, “The f***?” He comes online again and stays online for a bit, then he goes offline. You get offline and get some work done. Twenty minutes later you hear a ping. It’s him. He has written the very extensive message: Hahaha. Funny guy.
That’s it. Hmmm.
A week later he hasn’t said shit. So you call him and after a bit of small talk you tell him, “Boss, when can you sort me out?” Then he goes, “Aaaaaaah,” like he just remembered because he has soooo much on his mind. “ Listen, acha I M-PESA you kesho first thing, I don’t have M-banking on this phone.” (Yeah, he has many phones because he’s doing many things in life; unfortunately those things don’t include paying debts). You tell him no sweat but then you wonder how he doesn’t have online banking. Surely people who don’t need a reason to celebrate life with champagne should at least have online banking. He might be the kind of guy CBA’s Loop is looking for.
Of course he doesn’t send the money the next morning, and he doesn’t send it that afternoon; neither that evening, nor later in the night when you sleep holding a boob. You are a bit pissed off by now but then you remember Proverbs 16: 32: Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self control than one who takes a city. After two days you say screw it, I prefer being a warrior, I want to take over this goddamn city. So you go on Whatsapp and say, “Chief, that M-banking of yours still isn’t working, kwani you bank with some microfinance bank in Kapsabet?”
He calls you immediately and says, “Look, I’m sorry I didn’t update you. Juzi after speaking to you my grandmother calls me. Actually, she beeped me and I called back. She had fallen and fractured her hip, and my folks, si you know retired? So I had to send some cash home for her to undergo some surgery. Pole bana. I don’t have the whole amount now and I don’t want to send it in bits, so how about I send it Friday? I’m really sorry.”
You honestly couldn’t care less if his grandmother had swallowed a wooden spoon. She has a sore hip, fine, but the world is full of people who are nursing something sore. She has lived her life, she has grandchildren, surely, she is allowed to have a sore hip. Besides, it’s not like that sore hip has completely messed up her yoga classes.
Anyway, you tell him “Sawa basi, Friday it is.” That night you get into bed, instinctively place your hand on your woman’s hip and tell her the whole story right up until the folklore of the grandmother with the broken hip. She’s quiet, processing this story. Of course she’s a woman and she’s wiser than you in matters of life so she is going to open this situation up with a scalpel and give you a sound diagnosis. She finally murmurs, “I don’t see him paying it back. The easiest way to kill a friendship is to lend money to an unreliable friend.” You sigh and kill the bedside lamp. With a very heavy heart you sleep holding a boob.
December comes and you celebrate Christmas, 2017 comes and you survive the cheesy new year’s resolution forwards. Valentine’s Day comes, flowers die en masse, and that goes as well. Once in a while his posts are washed ashore to your timeline and you see him in a selfie on a desert safari in Dubai. #Wanderlust. #GoEverywhere. #DubaiOrBust. You stare at his pictures for a long time and control the dark thoughts that try to fill your mind. You close your eyes and mumble, “Saitan, please not today.”
You tell God, “Lord, you know me. You and I go a long way. So you know I’m not a bad person even if I ask you to send a bad form of constipation to this guy. Open your cupboard of constipations and pick the very worst of them, something that will make his eyes turn very red and pop veins out all over his forehead. Make it last a month. Put a stone in his stomach. But if you can’t do that, Lord, I would understand because you are all about being the bigger person. Get one of the angels there to do it, instead. Pick one of those who sit under a tree the whole day, practicing their harp and eating natural yoghurt.”
Of course the Lord ignores your request because you still see some of your friend’s loud updates on Facebook, posting a picture of a new watch he calls a timepiece game. “Time will tell,” you mumble, stroking your beard in a very evil way.
One day you call him and he cancels your call with a “Sorry, in a meeting. Call you later,” message. He doesn’t call you. You say, well, you lose some you win some. You go on with your life, he goes on with his. One day you are at the bar in Kilimani, you are seated at the counter scrolling through your phone as you wait for someone who doesn’t keep time. It’s a cold Friday evening and the counter is yet to fill up. You are on your first double, ignoring the complimentary peanuts and the dried bananas. R Kelly croons Feelin’ on Yo Booty from the TV hanging overhead.
Then guess who walks in?
He can’t pretend he hasn’t seen you because you are not made from moisture. He looks embarrassed as he walks over to you and you get off your stool and you do the whole shoulder bump thing like you are brothers. He says with forced enthusiasm, “How you doing, man?” You say you couldn’t be better. Then you ask him the question you have been dying to ask him; “How is your grandmother?”
He laughs because he has forgotten his grandmother was supposed to have broken her hip. Which says a lot about someone who breaks his grandmother’s hip. He asks, “Why?”
You say, “Her hip has healed?”
“Arrh yes, yeah bana…wah, that was crazy. She is fine now. Can I get you a drink?”
“Nah,” you say. “I’m good for now.” (Human beings would rather buy you a drink than pay you back your money.)
All this time you are talking you feel something nudging the small of your back, and when you turn back slightly you see a trunk; it’s the elephant in the room telling you, “Ask him, ask him!”. You make strained small talk. He seems okay, meaning he doesn’t seem to have had any bouts of serious constipation lately. He never mentions the money. Eventually he goes and joins some people at a different table.
The pal you have been waiting for finally shows up and hangs his hat. At some point when you are on your third drink our antagonist ambles over to the counter. He puts his hand on your shoulder like he’s your uncle and says, “Look, I haven’t forgotten that storo by the way…”Oh, now it’s a storo. You can smell cigarette smoke on his breath, “ I know my word must mean very little now, but I will endeavour to malizana with you on Monday, I promise.”
You know it’s another lie particularly because he has used the word “endeavour.” People who use words like “endeavour” in conversation are not to be trusted. If a man tells you, “Darling, I shall endeavour to pick you up at 7pm today,” please prepare for an after 8pm pickup.
You tell him, “Look, do what you feel is best.” Then he laughs uncomfortably and says, “Ah you, don’t be like that. I will settle it on Monday, I promise.” You say, sawa and he goes back to his table. Your pal asks, “That guy looks familiar, is he a lawyer?”
You tell him, “No, he’s an ass.”
Tuesday, he M-Pesas half the money with a promise and an endeavour to settle the rest the following day. Of course he doesn’t. He won’t. But you won’t unfriend him on Facebook. You won’t stop being friends on Instagram. You want to be like God and be the bigger man. When you run into him in a bar you won’t go out of your way to go say hello at his table but should he come over to yours you will never mention the balance, you will make the smallest of talks as common decency dictates. But if you ever find yourself driving through the bypass in Kile at night and you find him burning in a ball of fire and you happen to have a full bladder that can put off the fire if you pee on him, you will opt instead to pee on the carcass of a dead dog.
In bed one night – when the bile has settled in you and the Lord has tempered your thoughts somewhat – your woman will ask you about him and if he paid you and you will say, rather ruefully, that he paid half. She will be lying on her side propped on her elbow, looking at you with eyes like you are the prodigal son who has just come back home. The first time she met him she had asked you how you know him and you had said, “I met him through a friend,” and she had said, “He doesn’t seem like someone you would be friends with. There’s something very phony about him,” and you had defended him and said, “Oh, come on, you barely know him. Kwani which of my friends do you like apart from Paul and Steve?” She had shrugged and said, “I’m just saying. I’m sure I’m wrong and he’s a great guy.”
Now she has that small triumphant smile but won’t say, “I told you.” Instead she asks, “Are you angry?”
“Not anymore,” you mumble. “ Now I’m more disappointed than anything else.”
She plays with your beard in silent consolation.
“Think of it like the price you pay to rid yourself of baggage in your life.” She says softly.
“Explain your wisdom, woman,” you growl staring at the pimple on her chin. That pimple is never a good sign for you. It’s a party pooper.
“Sometimes we have friends who we don’t need in our lives and nature has a way of purging them out of our lives.” She says. “Sometimes, like in this case, it’s through debt. Think of the other half he owes you as money you have paid to free yourself of this obviously soiled friendship.”
“Why do I have to be the one to pay for that?” You whine like an adolescent.
“Because it is you who will benefit the most .”
You stare at her pimple for a minute. It makes sense. (The pimple doesn’t, though). You feel free when you think of it that way. Lighter even. You ask God to let the angel continue practicing his harp. Music is better than constipation.
Before you drift off in sleep, one hand on one boob, you whisper in her hair, “Don’t you think it’s time you started paying me for these free breast examinations?”
Ps: Registration for the 12th Masterclass is now open. The class will run from 6 to 8 September. Email our Admin to lock down your slot, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ps2: We are taking a week off to vote and other things. We will be back on 15th if God allows. Happy voting.