I am involved in a project where I interview artists – singers, sculptors, painters, dancers, virtuosos in the form of children who play the hell out of a violin, animators – a project commissioned by the Godown Arts Center. It’s helluva lot fun. We sit and talk about their art through their eyes. The other day I went to interview Kevin Oduor, a celebrated sculptor who did The Dedan Kimathi monument and the freedom fighters monument in Uhuru Park. He also crafted the sculpture of Syokimau, the legendary Kamba prophetess who saw the coming of the “metallic snake” that is at the Railway Station, one at Radisson Blu and many more. So yeah, he is a big deal even though I shamefully hadn’t heard of him before.
We agreed to meet at Java, Sarit Center at 3:30pm for the interview because he was giving a talk at a function upstairs at 6pm. I got there at 2pm and to kill time I wandered off to the pet-shop to buy food for Tamms’ hamster. For the longest time she wanted a hamster but come on, we are Africans, we don’t keep rats as pets, do we? But she kept banging on about it so eventually I took up the offer of a True Love writer, Catherine, who had emailed me offering a hamster cage that her son doesn’t use because he’s 21 now and no longer thinks hamsters are cool. I went to pick it up in her house in Lavington, one of those modern apartments where you have to press a buzzer downstairs and then speak through an intercom before they let you in. Great for keeping off relatives from shags. And people from the County Council’s water department.
“Yes?” a young man’s voice inquired in the intercom. Everybody sounds like a pilot on those things, quite nasal.
“Uhm, this is Biko, I’m here to pick up a hamster’s cage from, er, Catherine?”
Catherine’s son – who bounded down to open for me was tall, polite and had really nice hair. Like a full head of black hair. I wanted to touch his hair and feel how spongy it was. He said he was Malcolm. Malcolm with the good hair. Upstairs, Catherine waited with the hamster cage on the table. It had all these bits and bobs that I had to figure out how to put back together. Her elderly mother sitting next to her. “You should write about this boy, he’s a musician and very talented. Malcom, show him your music.” She had white hair and had a shuka spread across her feet even though it was sunny outside.
I asked Malcolm if he had a CD with his music. He must have really wanted to roll his eyes. It’s like asking someone if they have a compact cassette in 2017. He said evenly, “No, but you can check us out on SoundCloud: revampke.” Do I even know how these things work? So I asked him to email me a link. I picked my hamster cage, tucked it under my arm, thanked Catherine, said something respectful to the mother and was out. Children played outside in the Saturday afternoon sun.
Tamms – in her infinite wisdom – named the hamster Olav. (I haven’t gathered the guts to ask her what Olav means.) A month later she had lost interest in Olav. Nobody seems to care for that hamster anymore. Now the hamster just eats, sleeps the whole day and grows fat. I don’t think it minds because it’s having the time of its life. Nobody bothers it. It swings and slides and it naps under wood shavings and drops little pellets. And it smells.
So anyway, I buy food for Olav and then sit in Java by 3pm, a massive iced Arnold Palmer set before me, as I wait and try not to eavesdrop on the conversation between two skinny Asian girls on the next table. The one wearing silver shoes is talking about another girl whom she obviously doesn’t like. The clatter of cutlery rises from tables as I wait for Kevin Oduor. I hadn’t bothered to Google Kevin Oduor because I like it when I’m surprised, And Kevin surprised me. Because he came with one arm. Not intentionally, though; his right arm was gone.
He said hello by grabbing my hand with his left hand and my only thought was, “Should I ask him about his missing arm during the interview or would that be rude?” Anyway, he was a complete sport, Kevin, so he volunteered the story of the missing arm which, curiously, spurred him into becoming the celebrated sculptor he has become.
This is not even the point of this story.
On Sunday morning I sat in a café with another interviewee, a girl called Lulu, who apart from being in development communication also makes pots. While you are drinking beer over the weekend she goes to Ngong Road where those guys sell pots and fills her time making the pots with them. She doesn’t expect proceeds from the sale of the pots she has made, she just does it because she loves pottery. She loves the way something like a pot can rise from dust, something so seemingly innocuous. Which, curiously, is where man rose from.
Anyway, after the interview she says, “Sorry, but my younger sister Samira, is a massive fan of yours, she introduced me to your blog. She tagged along because she would like to meet you, would you please meet her?”
“Sure, but where is she?” I asked.
“She’s hiding somewhere in this café,” she laughed. “Let me fetch her.”
Samira turned out to be as smart and beautiful as the potter herself. The three of us got talking and laughing and then I asked her if she’s dating. Oh, come on, don’t give me that look, this is what happened. This younger sister dabbles in painting on the side too ( a family of artists) and I asked her if she has a studio and she said no, she paints in her bedroom. In my head I pictured that new Netflix series called “She’s Gotta Have It”: A man lying naked in bed watching his woman paint wearing nothing but a paintbrush, getting increasingly impressed by her strokes. So now you see why my question was relevant?
Anyway, turns out she isn’t dating. Neither is her big sister. I found that curious. Why aren’t these smart, beautiful women dating? “Because we don’t like these ‘cheers baba’ men, and that’s all that is out there,” Lulu said. “I meet a lot of married men, though, and they want to date and you should hear the things they say,” Samira said. I heard a few of them and thought, “Oh come on, we as a generation of men, can do better than that!”
So I asked female friends, single and dating, the craziest things married men have told them. It was hilarious, mostly because, really, who is going to step forward and cast the first stone? Who is so clean that one day they didn’t stretch the truth with a bird in a moment of weakness of the flesh?
Gentlemen, I combined a few lines that we use that are no longer working. This is a mirror to what we say according to women we say them to. Most are ridiculous and recycled, some are funny, others are sad, others insulting. We seem set in the infallible belief that women will believe anything we say, even if we don’t believe it ourselves. Amazingly, sometimes they do. Or they just don’t care enough to interrogate those lines.
So here we go. This, by the way, is in no order of importance.
1.“We sleep in separate bedrooms.”
I’m surprised that this line is still used in 2017. I thought it was last used just before Franco died? Surely guys, if our fathers used this line, why can’t we at the very least develop it? Make it better for future generations to also take it to the next level? Are we that busy not to? Here is something that might be slightly less cheesier. “We sleep in separate bedrooms because my wife has arthritis and her knees are really painful at night so she hates sharing the bed because they hurt when I turn. And I turn a lot.”
2. “She doesn’t even like my mom.”
Who wouldn’t like my mom? She’s amazing. She sings in the church choir. She is part of the women’s group in shags that takes care of orphans. Orphans! Anybody who doesn’t like Mom is just nasty. And I’m unhappy that she doesn’t like Mom. I’m looking for someone who can like Mom, because Mom needs to be liked. Hang on, let me show you a picture of Mom….here, look at that smile, do you like Mom?
3. “My house has a problem with network.”
I like this one. I really do. Because it blames the big guy, it blames Safaricom. They make millions in profits, surely, they should be able to take one for the team for just this once for a brother.
4. “I will leave her for you.”
This is a problem because every time we are packed something happens. There is a leaking sink and surely we can’t leave her with a leaking sink, can we? Or worse just as we are about to leave she falls pregnant, and it’s not cool to leave someone during the first trimester when they are throwing up daily. Even God would be like, “Ahh, hapana, I didn’t steal a rib for this kind of nastiness.” But we will leave. When things are great.
5.”My wife joined this new church, so ati she’s off sex.”
If your wife joins a church where the pastor has many white handkerchiefs, that’s a bad sign. No man should have that many white handkerchiefs, unless he’s in Koffi’s band.
6. “This is not a wedding band, I have a low iron condition.”
“Oh, so how does it work?”
It slowly “deposits” quantities of iron in my system.
“Oh no. How long have you had this condition?”
Since primo. [Puppy face]
“Oh no, you poor thing.”
I will be fine. It’s not that bad, only that sometimes I feel dizzy. Like now. Can I lie on your lap?
7. “Of all the places I’d rather be in the world, I’d rather be here with you. When I’m at home, I’m just there physically but my soul lives here.”
Shakespeare, move over with your dreadful moustache.
8. “We are going through a rough patch.”
Gentlemen, we all have to agree to stop using this one. A rough patch is when you are constipated on top of having a sore throat.
9. “She’s a crazy woman who is always fighting me and doesn’t understand me.”
Oh you poor thing. I think any older, wiser man will tell you to never talk ill of your wife to another woman. In fact, never talk about her, period. Not her name, not what she does, not what she likes, not how you met, not what gym she goes to, not if she wears rollers to bed, not if she drinks a lot…nothing. If that conversation is brought up, shut it down.
When you hear of those crazy stories of someone’s wife being called by another girl, chances are that genius is always talking ill about his wife to that girl who now feels it’s open season to just call her. The wife sits on a throne, everybody else is a peasant around her. Including you.
10.“Lucy, I really see a future with you.”
This is always delivered in a whisper and with a pained expression, as if the bra he is fiddling with has factory defects.
11. “Nizalie mtoto mmoja tu, mpenzi.”
This sounds like something our brothers from coasto would say. I just see the guy drinking soda and wearing open shoes, little beads of perspiration on his hairline.
12. “I’m married, but it’s not serious.”
I like this one because it’s funny. It’s funny because it makes marriage sound like a condition: “Mr Biko, you have a rash but it’s not serious. It should be able to go away if you stay away from direct sunlight.” Or like a small toe you have hit against a doorway: it hurts, yes, but it’s not that serious not to wear a shoe. So when does a marriage get serious? Does 30 years into the marriage make it serious? Well there is not one single answer to adequately answer that question. But a good guess would be “After she has finished paying the loan she took to help him build the roof to the family home.”
13. “I’m temporarily staying with my mom.”
Of course, and Mom, apart from forcing you to eat all your vegetables, has a no-phones rule after 7pm. So don’t call me, I will call you. In the morning.
14. “She trapped me with pregnancy.”
Meanwhile you have four kids. Those are four traps.
15. Lastly, “I’m not married.”
This worked before the internet and mobile phones. When communication was through post. Now it’s pointless for us to lie about our marital status because women know when you are married. They smell it off you. They see it in your body language. You can use their loo and when they walk in there later they will know because a married man’s urea smells different. A single man’s urea smells of eggs and overnight fries. Women will tell you are married by how you hold your spoon and chew your food. They will look at our shirt, the way it’s ironed, and know you are married. There is a sheen to a married man’s face, even one who is unhappy. In a bar married men’s gazes are always unconsciously drifting towards the wall clock, or to their phones.
But let’s say she is one of those very trusting women who believe in the greater good and honesty of mankind. As nature would have it, the universe has a way of protecting this kind of girl; in the form of one annoying girlfriend who sees all the things she can’t see. The friend constantly wears flat shoes and a cynical look. You will be introduced to her once, and she will tell her girlfriend, “Jennifer, darling, that man has been married for as long as I have been wearing acrylic nails.”
So we can hide a coin or a flatulence condition but we can’t hide a wife.
Here is the most amazing thing about these lines, gentlemen. They haven’t worked because they are clever lines, or that they were delivered with some pizzaz, no. They have worked because the recipients somehow choose to believe them, to give them a life. And most of them will continue to work until someone says, “hang on, but my pal lives on that road and she always has network.” To which you will say, “Does your pal own a Blackberry?”