Life thrust marriage at Frank, like you would a bribe in the hands of an unwilling official. He didn’t go looking for it like some men who plan engagements with a ring, bended knees and starry eyes. He was a bystander in life when fate veered off its path and hit him with a wife.
What happened was that he liked this girl who lived with her parents 200 meters from his house. She was older and hella sexy. She also had a penchant for making him laugh. If you knew Frank, you would know that that wasn’t an easy feat. Her dad was a badass, never smiled with anyone in the estate as should dads who have sexy daughters because when you smile with these phallic-excitable boys they will take it as an invitation, open season to start speaking to your daughter. They will get too familiar. So he always scowled, ignoring Frank and other young types in the estate. But Frank is the type of guy who slips through the eye of the needle silently. So before long the girl was sneaking into his house on her way from work, making them a meal and they were boffing like rabbits. One chill Sunday afternoon she told him casually as they lay in bed in various states of undress that she had missed her period. He remembered thinking, what?! As if he had been a virgin all through. As if he didn’t know how fertilization worked. The next day after work she peed on a stick. A red line glared back at them.
Of course her father was going to kill him. He was going to dismember him and spread his limbs all over the city; an arm in Ngong, a leg in Uthiru, another leg in a farm in Kitengela, a head buried near Kamiti – his body parts a homicidal jigsaw puzzle.
There are two types of men in this scenario where one finds oneself with a pregnant girlfriend. The first is the type who sneaks out in the middle of the night, never to return. The other type says, “Fine, why don’t you move in with me, then?” And that’s how some women transition into wives. Frank is the second type of chap. But since her father looked murderous, he decided to play this by the book; he had to officially go their shags and announce his intentions before the pregnancy became a matter of public scrutiny.
“All of a sudden I had moved from this guy who lived alone to a guy who was about to become a husband and a father. I didn’t have time to process my impending transition and what it meant. I had to look for money and go visit her parents,” he says. “Problem was that I was broke. I work in one of the local banks and banks pay shit, you know that.”
He then started selling weed to raise funds. Why weed? Why not charcoal or capsicum? Well, he had been smoking weed since 2013. He knew how it worked, what good weed was and where to get it. There was money in weed because there are tens of hundreds of people who smoke it. Good weed, according to him, was from Kahawa area. “I had friends in Kahawa, and there was this pal of mine called Brayo [it’s always a Brayo] who knew the dealers. Do you stone, by the way?”
“Stone?” I ask. He’s 27-years old. Stone at my tender age of 41 is a piece of rock, something you can use in a riot. However, I know what to be “stoned” is; it’s to be high. I didn’t want to take chances though, because in 2019 to “stone” could mean anything.
“To stone is to smoke weed.”
“No. I don’t stone,” I say.
Anyway, he makes calls to Brayo, who makes calls to other guys and a kilogram of weed is bought and rolled and he gets a guy who pushes the product for him. Frank holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree, so he figured he’d stretch it.
“One kilogram of weed was like 20K and if I sold it in a week or two max, I’d make like 60K,” he says. “I was starting to make more from selling weed than working in the bank.” He could have said screw this job and gotten into the trade with both feet but he realised that he needed a cover, a legitimate career, as he sold his weed.
He raised 100K, gathered his people and together, they went to visit his girlfriend’s people past Thika huko, I forget the name. He sat quietly as the proceedings went on, allowing his older relatives to navigate the introductions. He was a graduate, he worked in an important bank, he combed his hair, he had clean shoes and he spoke well. They approved of him.
His girlfriend moved in with him as a wife as her bump grew bigger and bigger. They started fighting over silly things at first and he thought, aah, it’s the hormones. She is stressed from carrying all that weight, plus she must not enjoy how swollen her legs are and how big her nose has become. Then she started saying she hated it when he smoked weed, that she didn’t want him bringing weed to the house. So he stopped smoking it. “All this time she didn’t know that I was selling weed, of course, but she knew I was smoking it occasionally, from back when we were dating,” he says.
We are at the new Coco Jambo in Valley Arcade, seated at one of those long tables in the main bar. He’s having a Tusker, I’m having a whisky, and Wanjiku, with whom I was having a drink as I waited for him, is having a liqueur. We are also joined by a million mosquitoes and the waiters have to light some mosquito coils around us.
“I had a maternity cover from work that was so small it couldn’t adequately cover her at the hospital she wanted to give birth in. By this time everything was just irritating her, so I needed to raise more money to take her to the hospital she wanted,” he says.
One day during his lunch break at the bank Brayo rings him and says, “Dude, I have a pal called Salim from Eastleigh who says that there is some good, high quality weed from Moyale which we can sell and really make a killing.” He says, “Oh yeah?” Brayo says, “Yeah, I think we should get this stuff instead of the weak stuff we’ve been buying.” He continues, “We need to go straight to the source for this to make business sense.” Frank laughs and says, “The source is Moyale!” Brayo says, “Yeah, cut out the middle men!” Frank says, “That’s a mad idea. How are we going to get all that weed back to Nairobi?” Brayo says, “I know a guy.”
They sell this business idea to their weed-smoking friends – chaps in their mid 20s, mostly professionals who you are likely to see waiting for printouts at office printers. The idea is for them to grab the opportunity. They are sold. A few days later they all agree to meet Salim. They – the famous six – wait for Salim in a cafe in town. Salim turns out to be a lanky chap with rows of small teeth, like a barracuda. He speaks fast and in small jerky sentences as if his words are running out of fuel. The plan is for all of them to raise cash and travel to Moyale to buy this special weed. They will also split the cost of transporting the weed back to Nairobi, which they will then pick up in Eastleigh. They ask Salim, “How are we sure that we will get our stash in Nairobi? What if something happens? What are the guarantees?” Salim leans back and says simply, “Leave it to me,” like someone who has done this umpteen times.
The next day Frank applies for leave. A week later, they go downtown and hop into a ratty Moyale-bound bus, the six of them spread all over the loud bus in order not to arouse any suspicion. They are all graduates. They are all in their 20s. They all are in this weed business to supplement their incomes – the half of them who have jobs at least. Moyale is between the toes of the country, it turns out. It takes them 16 hours and many police roadblocks to get there. It’s dark when they finally arrive at the tiny village at the edge of the town. A perfect full moon the size of a giant saucer hangs over them, presiding over their entrance. All sound has fallen away. Trees look like amputated arms of ghosts that refuse to grow in the dry earth. They pass lone huts that in darkness look like humps of hippos. It’s hot and musky, their shirts cling to their backs.
A skinny man receives them and leads them to a compound where they are settled in a hut with a low roof and tiny windows. A lantern emitting soft light dangles from the roof. They spend the night seated, backs against the wall, shooting the breeze, smoking weed shirtless and waiting for dawn. Occasionally someone would leave to piss into the darkness outside, hoping they don’t piss on a sleeping camel. If sleep came, it came in little pockets in form of a nap filled with adrenaline.
At dawn they all step out to lay their eyes on Moyale in the light of day; dry, dusty and inhabited by goats and men in sandals. They wash their faces from a cupful of water and then the skinny man says, “Okay, now we walk to Ethiopia.” So they set off on foot. They are in vests and open shoes because it’s blazing hot. Frank calls the man a “pedi”, the word they use for peddler. (Imagine now a pedi who gets a pedi.) In a file led by the pedi, they walk slowly in the rising dust until all civilisation falls behind them and it’s just them and gnarled trees and a sky with not one ball of cloud. It’s hot and they are sweating. Their feet are now so dusty you can’t tell where the earth ends and their feet begin. They start looking like part of the landscape.
They cross the border, which isn’t much to speak of because there is nothing specifically that shows that you are now crossing into Ethiopia, and they walk for another hour to finally come upon a large farm where the special weed is grown. They are received by an Ethiopian, the man who runs shit there. He has a crooked nose, perhaps good for smelling trouble. He shakes their hands, one at a time, while mumbling something in Amharic.He then gives them a tour of the farm, telling them about the weed and why it’s worth the trip from Kenya. They are shown their stash, which will be sent to the village in Moyale on a badass donkey (the money had been sent before hand), and which will find itself onto a bus (the weed, not the donkey) and will come to Nairobi and land in Eastleigh. The boys will then send their pedis to go pick, sort and start selling the weed.
That all takes two weeks. Unlike food from UberEats, you can’t monitor the progress of the weed; you just wait and trust that it will get to Nairobi. Indeed, it gets to them two weeks later.
Business blows up in Kahawa and Juja. Their clientele are mostly university students, touts and drivers. Word goes around that there is some good weed doing the rounds. Everybody wants it. Frank never goes to the ground, he largely runs his business from the bank. He’s a bank teller. I ask him how he manages to do that Aren’t tellers not allowed to use their phones at work? “I have my phone in my pocket at work, and we mostly operate on SMSes. If there is something I need to handle I will call during my break. But at the end of the week I’d go down to meet my pedi and we would reconcile our books,” he says.
“We were doing so well that this one time the six of us were at a party in Juja and these guys were talking about this new strain of weed that was so dope, not knowing that the guys who brought it in were right there in that house.” He chuckles. Frank doesn’t do eye contact. When he speaks, he looks straight ahead as if reading from a teleprompter.
Then in 2017, his son is born in the hospital his wife wanted which, unbeknownst to her, was paid for by the money from his weed business. He names the boy after his father who died when he was four years old. He’s now a new father. “I was someone’s father now and I felt the weight of it, the responsibility,” he says. The first day he brings his wife and the baby home, he sits at the edge of their bed and looks at the little thing swathed in a bundle like a parcel, only slightly bigger than the weed parcels they sell.
Life continues. His business is thriving. He wakes up and goes to the bank, sits at the counter and smiles at his customers and says things like, “Kindly write your ID number here and sign here, here and here,” and, “How are you today, Mr Kisero? Would you like that in dollars or Kenya shillings?” and “Do you want some of this on M-Pesa?” During his lunch break he’s on the phone, moving weed from one location to another, monitoring his sales, saying things like, “Haina ngori, mali inamak.”
Back at home the marriage wasn’t going as planned. “She just didn’t seem satisfied with anything anymore,” he says. The harder he worked, the more fights they seemed to be having.
But his wife was the least of his problems because, unbeknownst to him, the Kenya Government in the form of the “long arm of the law” had gotten wind of their new brand of weed and was silently shaking up folk for information on its source and dealers. They grabbed one of their pedis at a bus terminus in Kahawa West when he tried selling it to one of their undercover agents. They walked with him to a riverbank and tried to get him to talk but he was a man of honour. He wasn’t going to snitch. So they told him that he had to leave town or they would find him and drop him. (For all the old guys at the back reading us from country clubs, ‘drop him’ doesn’t mean give him a lift. It means kill him.)
“Word spread that cops were now on our tail so we had to be very careful. I stopped my weekly visits to Juja. The six of us avoided being together in a room. I minimised communication on SMS with my pedi and made calls instead,’’ he says. Basically shit we watch on Homeland. I could see him at the bank’s breakout area at lunch, making a call and then removing the sim card, snapping it in two and disposing of it in the dustbin. Of course, I’m being over the top. I’m sure none of that ever happened.
“One day I got a call from Brayo, saying that some of our friends had been busted at a party in a house belonging to this engineering student and hauled into the police cell,” he says. “We got them out by paying 30K and after that I knew that everything had to change. The cops were now too close for comfort.” Not long after, Salim disappeared. “We tried to reach him for days but couldn’t find him. We freaked out because we knew they had either killed him or he was in jail. Then one day he showed up, nervous, shifty and restless, and he told us what had happened. Apparently the cops had found him and driven him to the swimming pool at Kasarani at night. They told him that they knew he had brought in some weed from Moyale. He was made to lie down with his head hanging over the edge of the swimming pool and they placed a gun to his head and told him that if he ever sold weed again in this town they’d bring him back there and kill him. They told him to leave Nairobi if he wanted to stay alive. “The last time we saw him was that day in 2017. He was really shaken. He said he was going back to shags, Nairobi had become too dangerous.”
Meanwhile Frank was still smoking weed occasionally and spraying himself before he got home because wives can smell deceit and bullshit, perfumes that don’t belong to you, strange soaps, sweet smelling hand lotions and hugs. He was hiding from her.
He had to change his business model. He struck a deal with his pedi. He told him he would not be involved with buying the weed anymore. Instead, he would loan him an amount of money, like a capital investment, and the pedi would use it to buy the weed, sell it and in turn he would remit a certain amount of money to him every week for a year. The math added up. He turned into a financier, as opposed to a dealer. So every week he would get his share of the cut. I asked him how he trusted the guy enough to expect his cut weekly.
“Well, some weeks he would claim to have had bad sales but I made my money back in a few weeks time and what I was getting was purely profit, so I wasn’t stressing. Besides, he always paid me my share.” Sounds like something from an episode of Sopranos, the honour thing.
This went on smoothly for a while and would have gone on forever if a friend of his – a nutritionist – had not told him about her cancer patient who was undergoing chemo and had zero appetite, flesh falling off her bones.
“She asked me if I could get her weed, which she would extract and mix with porridge for this patient. It seemed like an okay idea, so I started handling weed again, supplying her. Amazingly her patient – who didn’t know that her porridge had weed – started getting an appetite and eating and putting on some weight,” he says. “Everything was fine. I was happy, my friend was happy and the cancer patient was even happier, all the time taking our weed.” He laughs.
Things took a turn when one day the cancer patient’s 8-year old daughter took the same porridge by mistake and the lady’s husband noticed that their daughter was acting funny – she was spaced out. On investigation, he found out that the porridge had weed and he hit the roof. The nutritionist was fired and Frank lost that, erm, account.
And when it rains it pours because soon after his wife found weed in one of his bags and was so mad she took pictures that she sent to his family members. “She was so angry. She felt cheated. We had a row. I was angry that she involved my whole family in this. She said she was not going to raise her child with a weed dealer. I asked her how she thought I sustained the family on a lousy bank salary. ‘You have seen my payslip. How do you think all this is paid for? How do you think I paid for your maternity and stuff? How do you think I pay for everything in this house?’”
She didn’t care; she packed her bags and left in an Uber, took his son with her. “That day I remember crying because of losing my son. The house became so empty,” he says.
His mother was even more disappointed to hear that he was dealing weed. The night she came to see him after his wife left, they spoke for many hours and she was categorical; “You have to stop selling weed. It’s not who we are. It’s not how I raised you. It’s wrong. If you want money I can be giving you money, but you are not a drug dealer.”
“My mother is everything, man. I even have a tattoo of her here.” He shows me a tattoo of his mom’s name. “She was disappointed in me given that she had struggled to raise us after my father died. She said that my wife was right, that selling drugs was like being a drug dealer.” So he stopped dealing.
“Do you think you were a drug dealer?”
“No. I was selling a product with less effects than ciggies,” he says. “I don’t see how she couldn’t understand that I was making sacrifices for the family that I would never make for anyone else. I wasn’t going to make ends meet with my bank salary. We were going to starve.”
“Would you recommend weed to your own son?” I ask.
“If he is underage, no!”
“So if he was 18 would you be fine with him smoking weed.? An adult can smoke weed.”
He pauses. He’s looking faraway where his teleprompter is. His brow has a thin film of perspiration. He shrugs and says it’s a matter of perception, like the chicken and egg. He has no regrets selling weed to provide for his family. He doesn’t see himself as a drug dealer because “weed isn’t like cocaine or heroin.” He asks me if I think El Chapo’s wife saw him as a drug dealer or as a provider. He can’t get over the fact that his wife tarnished his name to his family members. That she refused to come back. He thinks her punishment was too severe for the transgression. “I think she left for other reasons, not because of weed. I think she left because she found me young. She was a few years older than me. Maybe she found me childish. I don’t know.”
“Do you miss her?”
“Sometimes. I miss how she challenged me to be better at work and even as a person. During the time we were together I grew. Friendship came before love for the two of us. We still talk and laugh. We don’t hate each other.”
He sees his son all the time. When he talks about his son he smiles that sweet boyish smile. When we leave he gives Wanjiku a stick of weed. He calls it a flower. “Tell me what you think,” he tells her.
Frank is now a full-time banker with no distractions. His phone never rings with updates from his pedi. He wears a tie daily, something he hates because a tie, he says, represents “slavery.” Which means he feels imprisoned in that job. So after working hours, he leaves his tie in his drawer and he’s free. He’s 27-years old and separated. He still smokes weed occasionally. He’s a father who lost because of “providing” for his family. At 27-years he also has that laissez-faire thing going on; maybe he will meet another woman and marry her, maybe he will just stay the way he is. I ask him if he smoked something before coming to meet me because he had said he was nervous. He says he wishes he had smoked something earlier today because “bank clients are a pain in the ass.”
Well, for now his nose is clean. He wears a tie and politely tells those clients, “Please sign here, here and here.”
I feel bad that I have no announcement to make here today; the writing masterclass is on tomorrow and I have enough Men and Marriage interviews to last another month. So perhaps I should just say that if you are not underweight, haven’t been in jail the last ten days, or doesn’t do drugs, haven’t had sex lately with anyone who takes money or drugs or other payment for sex, or is breastfeeding could you kindly go donate blood at any major hospital? There is someone who will lose a lot of blood during surgery this weekend and they will need your blood more than you will. Plus they will give you a cold Fanta after you donate.