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Somewhere down a damp, patchy-grassed, walled corridor separating two blocks of houses in a South B estate, a man bangs on a metallic gate in the shadows cast by the early morning sun. It’s 7:25am, a cat basking on top of the wall reluctantly rouses from her reverie and lazily looks down at that man who has interrupted her quiet Sunday in the sun. She’s bemused. So is the man, come to think of it. The cat is one of those nameless and cynical estate cats that have never experienced love. She has never had her own feeding bowl or belonged to a family. Nobody has ever been worried about her welfare when they leave town. Nobody has ever carried her in the crook of their arm to the kitchen to check if the stew is ready. She has never felt the love of “ooing and aahing” and “she’s-so-sweet” of visitors who lovingly rub her fur. This cat doesn’t even have a name other than “cat”. Which is sad. It’s like being called “man.” Even if you are a woman.

The man banging on the gate is in a hat that’s sunken at its center. Nobody would be surprised if they learnt that early that morning he had shooed away a hen that had spent the night on that hat. Hat by day, nest by night.

More banging.

Inside the small compound, in a crampy bed-sit smelling of overnight wine and cheap spirit and slumber, a lady is roused from her sleep on a small bed and listens to what she thinks is some banging. It is indeed banging, she confirms, and it seems to be coming from the gate outside. It’s the hot season so she’s naked. She’s a big, curvy girl with small breasts. She has a small golden stud in one earlobe.

More banging.

She turns and looks at the guy who is fetally curled with his back to her, the sheets gathered around his waist like a deflated swimming floater. She stares at his back, the musical arrangement of his vertebrae. They look like the keys of some medieval wooden musical instrument. She wants to touch them with the tip of her finger as she counts them. They might produce a low, woody tune. They met three weeks ago, through her friend. To be clear, she’s not the girlfriend of this man with the sexy medieval vertebrae. This man with the sexy medieval vertebrae doesn’t have a girlfriend. He hasn’t had a girlfriend for a few years now. But this girl in his bed? Oh, that’s what luck looks like in these modern times.

“Timothy?… Timothy?” She shakes him gently. He’s a heavy sleeper, Tim. “There is someone at the gate!” He grunts and turns on his back, staring at the ceiling, taking a moment to come back to earth and to his 27-year old body. It occurs to him that nobody calls him Timothy anymore. But that’s not as bad as being called by his childhood name, Baba. He hears the banging. It’s his gate.

“It’s not your girlfriend, is it?” the girl asks.

He sighs. His breath could float a hot air balloon.

“What girlfriend? I told you I don’t have one,” he mumbles turning on his side to reach for his phone from the floor. He holds it up to get a better look at the time. His head pounds. Hangover.

“Are you not going to check who’s at your gate?” the girl insists. You know how a chick can say something innocent but it has an accusatory undertone? That’s how she asks that question.

“Okay, mother,” he mumbles swinging his legs from the bed and sitting for a moment, as if he might faint if he stands up immediately. He stares at the floor, at the paraphernalia of strewn clothes that tell a story of how hastily they were discarded the previous night. He gets up painfully and walks naked to the small toilet that also doubles as a bathroom. The lady looks at his ass as he walks away. It’s a very black ass. If sin was an ass it would be Tim’s ass. From the bed she watches him pee, listening to the strong stream of urine. The loo flushes. He coughs. He picks his jeans from the floor, slips into them without underwear. They are those annoying jeans with buttons instead of zippers. As he buttons them up he looks at her lying there holding the duvet to her neck.

“Do I have to dress up?” she asks.

“No,” he says opening the door. “I will be right back.” Then he steps outside, shirtless and barefoot, squinting in the bright light.

His bicycle – an old, blue mountain bike – is propped against one of the walls in his small square. The small gate leading to the main house was blocked permanently by the tenants in the main house. On the corner of his square is a big, black dustbin and some old bottles of vodka gathered in a crowd next to it. Two mismatched dumbbells. Very old Nike basketball shoes. A broom, propped up. A dead plant in a brown pot. He stoops under the looping network of washing lines to get to the gate.

“Tim, sasa?” the man says nonchalantly, when he opens the gate.

“Ahh, sasa Meshack,” Tim says, not too thrilled to see him either. (You know it’s not going to be a great morning if the first person you speak to is called Meshack.)

“Mzuri,” the man says, “I have been trying to call you.”

“Aaargh, yeah,” Tim says ruffling his long, thick hair. “Pole, my phone keeps acting up. It keeps hanging.”

“So, now?” the man asks impatiently. “You owe me two months’ rent. End of this month will be the third month and we can’t have it anymore.”

“I’m sorry, but there is a client who is supposed to pay this week,” Tim says stepping outside so that the girl in the house doesn’t hear this embarrassing conversation. “I will sort you out as soon as I get that cheque.”

“I don’t want to know about another client and another cheque, Tim. I want money. When you were moving in here I told you that I don’t want to follow you around for the rent. Now this is all I do. You are making me come here on a Sunday to ask for my money!” He sighs. “And I was told not to rent out this house to young people like you; you guys are just trouble. You want to be followed for rent. Why can’t you just be responsible and pay when you are meant to pay?”

Tim wonders who else would stay in that hole if not for “young people.”

“I know, I’m sorry,” he says, “it has been a bit tough – ”

“It’s tough for everyone, but this is a business,” the man barks. “I really need you to pay that money. I don’t want to come here with auctioneers.”

Tim grimaces. Auctioneers? What are they going to take? My hand-me-down bed from my cousin? Who would buy that old creaky bed? My old TV that isn’t even that smart, with a remote control that doesn’t even work. Are they going to take my one duvet and two bedsheets and my meko and Harpic and three sufurias and a handful of plates and glasses and shoes and socks and a dozen pairs of underwear and toothpicks? I have nothing.

“I will sort you out, just give me, like two weeks, I will have the money,” Tim says.

“I want that money in one week’s time, not two weeks. I will expect an Mpesa of 30K and not less,” the man says, walking away. Then he stops and takes a step towards Tim. “I have been patient enough with you but this is a business. If you can’t afford the rent here, just move out, let’s not skumana over rent.” Tim hugs and rubs his bare shoulders as he watches him walk down the corridor and turn out of sight.

The cat watching this scene unfolding from her front row seat lays her head down and purrs as if to say, ‘Boy, am I glad I don’t pay rent!” She knows Tim. She sees Tim come and go. Sometimes on his bicycle, other times on foot, a laptop bag slung behind his back. She never bothers with his garbage because Tim never really leaves left-overs and if he does, it’s three-day old chips and the occasional bones of chicken. Who wants to eat old chips? Not this cat, for sure. She might be homeless but she’s not desperate. His garbage is always egg shells and used tissue, pieces of used paper, onion peels, stalks of vegetables, meat wrappers, occasional used condoms, empty cans of beer and often discarded dreams. Tim is almost always home. She knows by the music from his laptop or when he’s on the phone, sometimes shouting, “I have told you a million times, I have started and restarted my router a million times and I still don’t have wifi.” Most times he’s alone. An occasional friend will visit on the weekend with a bottle of vodka or something cheaper. Sometimes there is the smell of weed, but it could be from the dodgy promoter in the main house. Tim listens to a lot of hiphop. You hardly ever see a girl in his house and when there is one it’s always a chubby one. He likes them chubby. The chubby ones laugh the loudest, she has learnt.

“Who was it?” the girl on the bed puts down her phone as he closes the door behind him.

“Oh, just a friend,” he says stepping into the bathroom. He looks irritated or glum. He comes out brushing his teeth and draws the curtain and opens the window above the bed. Light falls on the bed. The trapped smell of passion and moans and dishonest words escape the room. The curtains flutter happily in the breeze.

“Kwani what did they want?” she asks. (She’s the type who wants to know everything).

“Noffuing,” Tim says with a frothy mouth full of toothpaste. He closes the bathroom door. The loud sound of the instant shower starts. She gets off the bed and fetches her dress from the top of a suitcase on the small table at the foot of the bed and dresses in silence. When Tim walks out from the bathroom he finds only her black hairband on the dresser. He holds it between his fingers, studying it, then he brings it to his nose and smells her.

Tim draws. He’s an illustrator. He has always drawn. He started drawing landscapes in primary school: the sun and acacia trees and Maasai’s standing on one leg. Then that got tiresome, because how long can you keep a Maasai on one leg? In high school he studied art and design and discovered the human form, especially the human face. He obsessed about the human-face. He liked to get close to the human face, so close he could count the strands of hair in a nose. He’s the guy who would tell girls on school outings; “Your face curves beautifully against your facial bones.” Some found him creepy. He noticed lines and grooves and how some cheeks puffed out and how some skin came with unique texture. Tim observed faces like you would observe a fruit in a grocery. He knew which faces absorbed light better than others.

Although he joined the university to study Economics, he spent more time than he could remember reading up on the forefathers of art; Rembrandt, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Van Gogh. In his room a massive black and white picture of Pablo Picasso took up one wall. In his final year he was introduced to animation and he went on Youtube and spent many hours learning tips and tricks in animation. He brought down the picture of Pablo Picasso and replaced it with a smaller (and grainy) one of Hayao Miyazaki. He started drawing animations and loved it. He realised that as a firstborn he was socialised to show “seriousness” at all times, to always hold the hands of his two younger siblings, and be “mature” and so when he discovered cartoons as an adult, the child in him came out through them. It was the only time he could be silly and free and feel unjudged. He’d draw into the middle of the night when he was supposed to be studying Public Finance and Fiscal Policy. He slept through History of Economic Thought. He barely graduated. During graduation, under his graduation hat, sitting in the middle of the throng of the newly educated, the sun beating down on them he thought, “No way in hell am I going to use my economics degree.”

His mom fought him. His father thought he was taking drugs. That’s how folks explain children who don’t want to be doctors or engineers. It must be the weed. His mother – an accountant – told him that drawing (she refused to call it illustration) was something boys who failed did. “Nobody eats art in Kenya. Here, call this person and go see them.” So he called this person and this person told him to go see him and he went and met him in his office that had a desk globe. He was a healthcare analytics specialist or something suit-y like that. On the strength of his relationship with his mother, he gave Tim a job as a junior policy analyst and Tim took it to get his mom off his back. The job was as exciting as drinking oatmeal porridge through a straw. His days in the office were long and dreary. The people he worked with spoke in acronyms. They gathered around the water dispenser saying things like EPSDT, instead of just saying early and periodic screening diagnostic and treatment services…because they will get boils if they say it in full.

He couldn’t wait for the end of the day to go home and draw. He started getting side jobs. Small jobs that paid 5K here and 4K there. Funnily enough, being paid those peanuts was better than being paid the 45K he was making in salary.

One day his mother came home in the evening and said, “I’m told you have not reported to work in three days!” He said, “Yes. I quit.” She said, “Why?” He said, “Because that job is not for me, mother. Office jobs aren’t my thing.” (There are those strange families where children call their mom, “mother.” It’s like that cat of ours called “cat.”)

Mother was furious.

“Office jobs are not your thing?! You think feeding a grown man who wants to draw cartoons is my thing?”

He stared at the floor. (He’s Presbyterian, they stare at the floor when being addressed.)

“If you don’t go back to work tomorrow, you will find your own house and do your thing.”

So he quit in protest or what his former colleagues would have said “QIP”) and moved in with an old friend.

A couple of months later he moved to that small house in South B, joining that estate cat that runs shit from her wall. He eats chips, mostly. He also eats eggs. He doesn’t care for meat anyway, so he never misses it. Sometimes he eats in a kibanda. Sometimes he drinks tea and bread. He illustrates all day. He draws at night. He loves it. He’s good at it. He keeps getting better at it. He gets odd illustration gigs that keep him afloat. His mom came to visit him four months after he moved out. She stood at his door, looking inside with such sorrow, like his house was a funeral home. “I don’t understand why would you choose this life,” she muttered.

She doesn’t understand, of course. Nobody does.

Most months he works for rent and wifi and food and, if lucky, a night out or two at a happy hour bar with his mates. He keeps his expenses low. He will wear his yellow helmet and cycle somewhere and save on the fare. He hasn’t been on a date for months, some girl is going to order bolognese and “a glass of rosé.”

This is the same guy that will be found online by some chaps who have a fancy-ish office. They will look at his work and call him over to their office. He will take two matatus to get to them. He will wait at the reception, holding his baby, his life, the keeper of his dreams; his laptop bag. He will think that perhaps this particular job will be the job that finally pushes him out of the basement of life. The one that takes care of all the bills and all the debts with one wave of a magic wand. He thinks this because it’s a big company and their reception has a big important look and feel, like they do important things and their receptionist is called Melany or Marjory and she wears brogues on her feet and an accent on her lips. He thinks this because when he sits there he sees employees who pass through chattering, looking like they want to work nowhere but there. They have lanyards around their necks. He hears their laughter in the corridors. The phone won’t stop ringing, which means that they are doing good business.

He’s led into a boardroom. He asks for water and sits back with his hands on the table. He remembers his phone is on ringer and quickly puts it on silent. The glass doors opens and two guys spill in carrying notepads and a laptop. He jumps to his feet. Handshakes. They say they checked out his work and they admire it. They love it, the other gentleman says. He’s the Yang. He’s a great artist. Great illustrations. He knows this, of course, but for these important looking guys with their nice shirts and expensive-looking watches to say it? Wow.

“Well, the reason why we called you,” they start and they pitch a project they are doing. It’s not a big project, they say, but it feels like a big project otherwise only one of them should have come to meet little him. Actually we are not making much from it, Yin says. They are wondering if he is interested in being a part of the team of illustrators. Well, technically he’s the team. Ho-ho-ho. They all laugh. His heart is beating faster. Of course he’s interested, he says. Sure, let’s do it. “Perfect,” they say with beans. Yin then clears his throat and looks like he swallowed a TV remote. “Unfortunately we don’t have a budget for this particular project so we will not be able to pay this time round,” he says but then adds quickly, “but we have many more projects lined up and those come with some budget. This is only a start. I think it will be good to show the bosses what you can do. Is this okay with you?”

Two matatus later it all boils down to this. He has to prove himself even though they loved his work. “This work can catapult you out there,” Yang says, using that word ‘catapult’, a word full of flatulence. They are offering exposure. That’s their currency.

But what’s a starving man to do? Besides, everybody has to do their time in the trenches, right? Everybody has to make their bones. So he takes two matatus again and he comes to your office twice a week for a month working on the project. He stays up late, drawing and scribbling. He sends them concepts after concepts. Good shit. They ask for a tweak here and a tweak there. Finally it’s approved. The project kicks off. Maybe they make money off it. Maybe they don’t. Maybe the guys who roped this man in get patted on the back by the suits upstairs. They never call him for the bigger projects they promised. The ones with a budget. It was a gambit. It’s a story you tell to keep your overheads low. Besides, it’s just drawing right? Why should they spend money on someone who draws when they can promise him that he will be seen by the world?

But he’s used to that. Used to being offered promises and exposure and a free lunch which somehow his landlord won’t accept. Men with hats with a depression in the middle don’t eat free lunch for rent.

Maybe he will one day hit pay dirt. Maybe he won’t. Maybe he will keep getting shagged over by more smarty pants who won’t pay. And people like him are many; boys and girls who carry guitars on their backs, playing for free month after month. Writers. Designers. Photographers. Singers. Painters. Dancers. Interior decorators. Comedians. Acrobats. A whole legion of them, starting out, trying to make it with their art, with their hands, with their hearts and getting paid with promises of never-coming cheques, of exposure, of barter that landlords refuse to take.

If you refuse to pay Tim. If you lie to him that if he “does just this one for free, more will come that will pay” , when you refuse to reward his talent, his time, his passion, you are breaking his art. And you are breaking him. Because you are not only challenging his art but his confidence because to create, and to create well, you have to dig into your confidence as an artist. Creating is much about confidence as it is about belief. Many men and women, men with weaker resolve, will succumb to this wretchedness of the market and get a desk job. And their hearts will wither and fall off like leaves in winter. The stronger ones, like Tim, will stay this rough course.

Sometimes when the lights are out and Tim is lying in his bed, unable to sleep, listening to the dogs of the night bark and nameless cats rummage through the trash for love, in this occasional moment of weakness, of desperation, he wonders for a fleeting second, if it’s all worth it. If, perhaps, mother was right. If, maybe, his life would have been better in an office with white walls, using acronyms with the rest of men and women in the cotton farms. But he turns his back to that option and curls those beautiful vertebrae to sleep in a fetal position because he’s an artist, he creates from his heart, and that position of sleep instinctively protects his heart.

***
Registration for the Writing Masterclass is now open. It will be on 5th-7th December. To lock down a slot, please email info@bikozulu.co.ke

108 Responses
  • Irene Cherono
    02.10.2018

    I had so waited for this since 9 a.m. I would have killed myself if you didn’t send. Now let me go back and read

    4
    • xx
      02.10.2018

      Biko, ona huyu anataka kujiua

      7
      • Sylo
        02.10.2018

        Hahaha XX,,i think Biko is the best person giving us hope to look forward to tuesdays

        3
  • shee
    02.10.2018

    If you refuse to pay Tim. If you lie to him that if he “does just this one for free, more will come that will pay” , when you refuse to reward his talent, his time, his passion, you are breaking his art. And you are breaking him. Because you are not only challenging his art but his confidence because to create, and to create well, you have to dig into your confidence as an artist. Creating is much about confidence as it is about belief. Many men and women, men with weaker resolve, will succumb to this wretchedness of the market and get a desk job. And their hearts will wither and fall off like leaves in winter. The stronger ones, like Tim, will stay this rough course.
    These really got me,,,I wish the big firms can get to read this and let it sink in their bones,,,

    57
    • Bumble Bee
      02.10.2018

      I wish everyone would understand how this works. Paying in exposure is very insulting. Asking questions like, so besides art, what else do you do? Is also insulting. We don’t go around asking you besides working for that insurance company, what else do you do!
      So yeah, maybe we’re not balling out of control right now, but we love what we do! We don’t sulk at Monday mornings, we don’t hate our bosses and we thoroughly enjoy creating! It’s fulfilling and what more joy in this world than to love what you do!

      55
      • berina
        03.10.2018

        If I never got a friend who showed me that staying at home and finding my passion, who encouraged me to stop worrying about making money quick and follow my passion, I would still be depressed.

        19
  • Irene
    02.10.2018

    Shame on executives who use artists without paying them

    27
  • Nyambura Kagwe
    02.10.2018

    If sin was an ass it would be Tim’s ass!

    Great read!

    Living your dreams is tough!What a big shame on those men in suits who just use artists, their currency being exposure! Exposure my foot!

    16
  • Mark
    02.10.2018

    He started drawing landscapes in primary school: the sun and acacia trees and Maasai’s standing on one leg. Then that got tiresome, because how long can you keep a Maasai on one leg?

    Pretty long actually. They’re like the Michelangelos of balance. In another life, they’d be yoga instructors and that would be the new Warrior Pose.

    In other news, Tim’s story seems oddly familiar. I’ve been paid in exposure once or twice before. Exposure tastes like a cascading waterfall of brine. Like getting stuck in a sewer. Like the hills are alive with the sound of weeping. All in all, it’s breathtakingly horrid.
    Not getting paid for your work steals a bit of your soul each time. You end up like Tom Riddle, a character we would never have known had the author been paid in exposure. Although Tom was actually saving bits of his own soul in order to become immortal… but that’s not the point.

    The point is, I hope things change and creatives get the pay and recognition they deserve.

    64
    • Wahu Kariuki
      02.10.2018

      Artists are professionals just like those executives in expensive suits. No-one likes to be used only to be discarded because they appear desperate. The very same thing happens to actor. Most people assume what they do does not appear to require much effort and hence should not be remunerated. We need to change our mindset regarding all talents in this county.

      10
    • Akinyi
      02.10.2018

      I like how you write, Mark!

      *waves wand* “Crucio” to those that deny creatives their rightful dues.

      5
      • Mark
        02.10.2018

        Thank you, Akinyi.

        *Looks for the Elder Wand*

        • Akinyi
          02.10.2018

          *Points towards Albus’ tomb*

          Perchance, do you write, Mark? If you do, Share a link, maybe? I don’t know, it’s something about the short sentence structure with drawn out vividness…has me curious to your writing.

          If not, I think you should really consider it, I think you have a knack for it.

          2
          • Mark
            02.10.2018

            I do actually.

            You can venture yonder to thispostisabout.com
            If that doesn’t work, you can always click on my wonderfully fabulous name. It’s a link in itself.

            1
        • Charles
          04.10.2018

          Still waiting for your next post. I’ve gone through your blog yote. Just one week.

          2
  • Rehema Zuberi
    02.10.2018

    This is a story that many if not all artists can narrate. I am watching some keep at it, I don’t know how long they can hold on with the pitiful hope that is spewed.

    https://reshonlineblog.wordpress.com/2018/09/27/the-cave/

    1
    • Yvonne❤
      03.10.2018

      Beautiful stories you tell.i love your blog

      1
  • Ronald
    02.10.2018

    …and draws the curtain and opens the window above the bed. Light falls on the bed. The trapped smell of passion and moans and dishonest words escape the room.

    8
  • Rehema Zuberi
    02.10.2018

    This is a story that many, if not all artists can relate to. I am watching some keep at it, including myself but I am unsure of how much longer we can hold on to the pitiful hope that is spewed.

    https://reshonlineblog.wordpress.com/2018/09/27/the-cave/

  • Jen
    02.10.2018

    This is quite unfortunate. Those people who want you to work for free. Those who tell you that give me this discount here coz you will get more more projects. Such bull. Nobody should take such crap. No one!

    7
  • Wesh - Peter Wesh
    02.10.2018

    I feel for Tim. The amazing part is that creatives do it from the heart. So, the heart is often full after every creation. The legion can relate to odd late nights of staring at blank pages and screens. To pouring sweat and soul into art and its children. The damning joy of each piece created.

    It is orgasmic when this passion attracts enough bread. The opposite, the side of Tim, is a battle of surviving the path of art and constantly dealing with doubt, desperation and the pricks that bring these things along.

    And getting judged by a cat living on your wall.

    Every piece patches the disappointment a little but a heart can take only so much. Such hearts that gave up are found in double careers. A doctor that paints. A plumber than sings. A teacher that sews. Only the tough beings, I bet like Tim, keep at it with everything they got.

    17
    • Sylo
      02.10.2018

      The worst part is dealing with doubts and questions,thinking that maybe this is not good enough..i write articles but they never go far from my notebook. I have been thinking about starting a blog but in my head am thinking what if am not ready to show the world what my minds thinks, how far i can go with words. Will it make a difference..Hoping that the fear of the unknown goes fades away soon

      6
      • Joseph
        02.10.2018

        You will never know until you try it out. I bet you are a great writer…

        2
        • Sylo
          02.10.2018

          I dont know maybe i think so am really thinking about it. i will give it a shot

      • One day out of the blue Forrest Gump begun to run..he ran from one street to the other, then from town to town and gradually covered a state then decided to run through the country. After a while for no particular reason, a small crowd had gathered around him and ran behind him. Maybe they were curious, or perhaps they were looking for someone to start for them to follow.
        Point is, there are always people out there wanting to read something. They may like your voice and decide to follow you. Even though your writing voice is shrill and squeaky, someone out there will dig it. Even though it’s a deep baritone, there are folks who will love it, even the voice that seems to be a childlike scribble will have an audience.
        So go ahead, you’ll never know until you try…

        14
        • Sylo
          02.10.2018

          Woooow i feel like this did it for me i will make a step then two and maybe start running eventually..
          Thanks

          3
      • Bett
        03.10.2018

        Join us for the December Masterclass, Sylo.

    • Lucille A nyikuri
      03.10.2018

      Well put.Creativity comes from the heart.

  • abdullah omar
    02.10.2018

    to sleep in a fetal position because he’s an artist, he creates from his heart, and that position of sleep instinctively protects his heart.

    6
  • Wa
    02.10.2018

    Because Presbyterians stare at the floor when been addressed!….. splendid piece Biko, it feels wrong to read it for free

    7
  • clif the tall
    02.10.2018

    An incredibly great post! Exposure is not payment!!! Creatives in this country are always chocked with exposure vibe. Does exposure pay bills? Nope. Tim’s story is one among many. It is sad that some people get so upset or uncomfortable when creatives want to be paid to do their work. It is service offered and service costs money. It is that simple.

    10
    • Sylo
      02.10.2018

      This are people who dont understand the beauty of creativity and the joy it brings

      1
  • Doryne
    02.10.2018

    Today i read before peter wesh

    2
  • Mushie
    02.10.2018

    They are offering exposure. That’s their currency…Wooow!!!..as if exposure will pay your bills and put food on your table..

    So sad…

    1
  • Mark Philo
    02.10.2018

    Maybe he will one day hit pay dirt. Maybe he won’t. Maybe he will keep getting shagged over by more smarty pants who won’t pay. And people like him are many; boys and girls who carry guitars on their backs, playing for free month after month. Writers. Designers. Photographers. Singers. Painters. Dancers. Interior decorators. Comedians. Acrobats. A whole legion of them, starting out, trying to make it with their art, with their hands, with their hearts and getting paid with promises of never-coming cheques, of exposure, of barter that landlords refuse to take. ”
    This is so true. A lot of corporates like using young people like doormats with excuses of ‘you should be grateful I’m giving you exposure’ Artistic work is no difference from white collar jobs.

    4
  • Ken Kago
    02.10.2018

    Very little has changed, hasn’t it? How many ‘creatives’ are languishing behind desks they hate just so they have a regular income? What ought to be done so folk such as Tim are encouraged to create and enrich society? Anyway, a 27 year-old parent isn’t so sold, are they? Surely, they must have witnessed evolution of knowledge and should appreciate that traditional jobs – like those office-based ones – won’t be here with us much longer! In any event, people have began living off their talents and have even created jobs for others! But it is unfortunate that creatives starting out – like Tim – often get taken advantage of and endure untold frustration trying to fulfill their potential!

    1
  • Moses Sila
    02.10.2018

    Start up journey. ‘He will think that perhaps this particular job will be the job that finally pushes him out of the basement of life’. Nice piece

  • chichi koyo
    02.10.2018

    Nice one, just do what you like and have passion in! Meanwhile shame on organization and managers who dont pay artists, you are killing our unique breed!

    2
  • Magunga
    02.10.2018

    Agency peeps are the worst. Fucking assholes, I tell you. Always in a rush to get you to meet your deadline, but never in a rush to meet your deadline. I swear someone will give you a job, you will finish and invoice, but you won’t get paid. They will come again, 2-3 months later, with another job without having paid for the first one, and shamelessly offer it to you like nothing is happening. If you complain, you’re a crybaby.

    Halafu there is the paying with exposure. Or lunch. Or free goodie bags with lanyards, notebooks and branded tees inside.

    Sigh. I could rant a whole blogpost about this. Maybe I should. Maybe I will.

    31
    • jammy
      04.10.2018

      Please write, we are waiting.

      1
  • Jerono
    02.10.2018

    This explains my story. I quit working for a “big company” to be a freelance writer. My mum says I play with the computer the entire day. I’m not even close to making half what I was earning. I’m content and happy though.

    8
  • Rubana
    02.10.2018

    Dreams are being crashed like this. And one day we forget to dream anymore. We become a walking who work for money only………………………….Loved it Biko

  • Malaika
    02.10.2018

    This is sad! Waiting for that breakthrough is a roller coaster. Being taken advantage of by big brands or the well connected people, they dangle that exposure carrot like it is a gateway to the good-life. You start seeing how your world will change, how they shall respect you for your work. But know what, respect is fought for, walk away from that carrot. It shall never pay your bills. now your worth, then add tax.

    3
  • Maki
    02.10.2018

    Nice one biko…. Felt like you were talking about me

    1
  • Nava
    02.10.2018

    Tim’s star will shine, one day

  • Muthoni Kimani
    02.10.2018

    If, maybe, his life would have been better in an office with white walls, using acronyms with the rest of men and women in the cotton farms…..

    Sadly I resonate with this …and am thinking no it wouldn’t be better since those white walls also do have their struggles at this day and age the cotton farms have just been replaced by some fancy seats and computers…oooh don’t forget the all suited up tyrants and their long tittles…Modern day Slavery

  • Ythera
    02.10.2018

    I hope Tim gets a great gig soon so his heart doesn’t break further. Maybe he should consider leaving and going to countries where art is celebrated. Perhaps he could market himself differently too.

    1
  • Brian
    02.10.2018

    Love this story. Kudos for Tim having guts to follow his passion. Am currently in a desk job & I used to draw way back and loved it but my folks told me “art is not marketable”. How many of us were told that by the way?!. I think I’ll go back to it! Hope guys will have my back.

    P.s. PAY TIM!

    1
  • Biegon
    02.10.2018

    “You’re breaking his art” this broke me

  • Mo
    02.10.2018

    Thank you for highlighting the plight of young artists. They need to be respected from the beginning and not only when they have made it.

  • Emma
    02.10.2018

    The job was as exciting as drinking oatmeal porridge through a straw. His days in the office were long and dreary. The people he worked with spoke in acronyms. They gathered around the water dispenser saying things like EPSDT, instead of just saying early and periodic screening diagnostic and treatment services…because they will get boils if they say it in full.

    Continue doing your thing Tim,

  • Raindrops
    02.10.2018

    The story of millenials… our fathers have failed us.

  • Oscar
    02.10.2018

    This exposure currency is killing the current generation. The truth is that we all have to start somewhere. The other truth is that we can’t always be starting and it’s every day. There comes a time when we have to find our voices and say no top shit. Be the landlords to our service and say, “You either pay or you pay.” Either way, I like Timothy’s resilience.

  • Pree
    02.10.2018

    Well unfortunately Kenya is full of shit corporates that pay in form of exposure :/

  • Salome Caroline Gachiku Wandui
    02.10.2018

    Every art should be appreciated just like any 8-5 job; the creativity, the hours, they are the same as any job just a different concept.

  • Paul
    02.10.2018

    If you refuse to pay Tim. If you lie to him that if he “does just this one for free, more will come that will pay” , when you refuse to reward his talent, his time, his passion, you are breaking his art. And you are breaking him.

    2
  • Steve
    02.10.2018

    Tim, don’t short change yourself. There are bullshitters out to take advantage of people. I have major contempt for anyone who doesn’t pay what is owed. Shame.

    4
  • MsichanaMwafrika
    02.10.2018

    Thunder fire all those people paying artists in stale party food, dubious gift bags and questionable exposure. Especially the large corporates – shame on you. How sad that the ‘starving artist’ trope is still alive and well.

  • That-bloke
    02.10.2018

    i felt this one, wewe wewe, i felt this one

    1
  • Daina
    02.10.2018

    This is such a wonderful write up and an encouragement and especially to all writers. I can only imagine how many times have been turned down or my work taken for granted or used without my permission. I would just see actors dancing to the tune of my lines on TV. A script that i wrote on coffee, water, tears and lack of sleep.

    This story is invigorating.
    Thank you Biko.

    3
  • Mugure
    02.10.2018

    Cotton farms…

  • Eligash Mbugua
    02.10.2018

    “It’s the hot season so she’s naked. She’s a big, curvy girl with small breasts. She has a small golden stud in one earlobe.”.Very deliberate and picturesque words.

  • HomeGirl
    02.10.2018

    I am a ‘Tim’ … sometimes you take a bus from the village to the city for a gig. Other times it’s your friend offering you a job paid in exposure.
    On both days you show up and deliver and keep hoping tomorrow will get better. You write and hope. Eat and hope. Sleep and hope. Pray and hope. There’s never certainty in the hustle, we live hoping

    2
  • Exposure huh?
    Wrote for a free diaspora magazine here for many years..their excuse was …”We are a free magazine distributed in this region and neighbouring countries.”
    They would have paid me as well as other contributors a little something, thanks to the advertisements sprawled all over their content which earned the small office some mega bucks and deals, but they never did. Anyhow, since they have a wide reach..the exposure didn’t go to naught. I met big organizations and many important people through writing for them..some were lawyers who helped turn the tide in my immigrational battles. Eventually, when I applied for my Masters and scholarships to boot..it was my writing and references from the magazine that helped me have a foot in the door.
    If you have to be “exposed” do it a while and with companies/organizations that matter, that have a name enough to help you climb a step up in the direction you want to go..but discourage people from misusing you. Some companies are headed by psychopaths who feel nada for the fact that you have bills to pay, yet you paid alot for your art…very heartless individuals especially in Kenya. Creatives should look across the border for resources and folks that pay.

    4
    • Oscar
      02.10.2018

      Very well said, Caroline. I was also caught up in the same conundrum. I had a passion for writing since when I was in campus and I had my first article published in one of the national dailies back in 2015 while still pursuing Media studies. The funniest part is that after sending the article to the media house, the only thing that they asked for was a mugshot. On the Friday of that week, I got news through the class WhatsApp group that my face was in the magazine. That was a good sign. I then went on the write for other two national dailies who published the articles but had zero courtesy of responding to the emails. Not even, we will publish the article or anything. I felt demoralized. I’ve realized that we live in a country with a lot of scam exposure internships but no jobs. They are taking advantage of graduates who work for no pay or at least get transport money. it’s up to us to take the challenge. Exposure is good. But getting overexposed is bad for the skin.

      2
  • koffia
    02.10.2018

    Tim and all those pursuing their dreams.. it may not pay but its fulfilling … i feel you .. i have been there and everyone things you are chasing the wind, … but hold on for a fulfilling life is better that shortlived wins

  • Sos
    02.10.2018

    The good thing is they can’t fool you twice and the one time they managed was a lesson from desperation and timidness. They helped you make your bones at least right?
    Biko, Somethings are better left out of mentions brother, more so things already in the garbage can.

  • Koey Ngunyi
    02.10.2018

    Tim’s story is breathtaking.
    It is the same untold tale for many others like Tim who have constantly had to prove themselves.

    what a shame!
    I wish society would recognize, reward and embrace young talent

  • Chebet Nelima
    02.10.2018

    I have a daughter who draws very well. She is very artistic. Loves DIYs. I always encourage her. Deep down I ask myself if she does follow through, will it really pay? She is super gifted! She can score 100% in math or 96% in Science, and still manage to draw a pair of eyes that will look right back at you with such depth.

    Chocolate man, how about just letting Tim know we care about Art. For those who dodge paying Tim, you will one day be forced to pay!

    4
  • P
    02.10.2018

    It’s 2018,54 years after independence and people are still offering to “buy you coffee” in exchange for picking your brain (consultation). Coffee is not currency!Learn to separate your emotions when it comes to your work. I have done jobs for people because they “seem nice” and they have screwed me over. I have refused to ask important questions because “how will they see me?” and I have wished I did.With that said, pray for the power of DISCERNMENT. Trust your gut and know what to take up and what to drop. These streets are tough. This is not to say there aren’t any good opportunities. There are many great people and opportunities but they are hidden in a sea of scams. After some months, you start learning what works and what doesn’t. And it is okay to say NO. It is okay to work for FREE sometimes if it grows you/ your brand.
    Also if you have no intention of ever working with people, stop wasting their time with nonsense business meetings and “fake opportunities”.

    2
    • Rita
      02.10.2018

      Conmen masquerading as opportunities. They are everywhere.

      5
  • Raha
    02.10.2018

    My day has been shiitty. Reading this at 2313hrs and am surprised to see 7 responses. Why? Are most of the gang among the executives who ride on artists’ backs for free?

    2
  • berina
    03.10.2018

    My husband does animation. This is his story, he finally rose, he is not at the top yet, but I know he is heading there. Except for the humour in the story here and there, It was sad reading this.

    I love to write, never been paid for it, but I will never give up.

    4
  • Joy Ruguru
    03.10.2018

    …the rest of men and women in the cotton farms.

    I see what you did there
    #modernslavery

    1
  • Sare
    03.10.2018

    If Tim wasn’t a fictional character I would have contributed to pay his rent!

  • Erick
    03.10.2018

    This is the cock of the word.

  • Wamugi
    03.10.2018

    As a writer, this post really got me. We are creators, we love what we fo, which makes us an easy target. Many times i’ve done writing gigs for clients, they fail to approve kt and the next day they are using it. Its fate, its life – it breaks us but we keep to it. We write blogs, people read them but wont share with their friends, it breaks us too, and drills a little hole in our hearts, a hole in which confidence oozes out like a liquid swirlwind. Thank you Biko.
    Wamugi,
    Tuketi .com

    3
  • Switch
    03.10.2018

    Was this fantasy?
    Were you there while Tim was waking up to the girlfriend, and leading to the bathroom with a black ass?

  • Mercy Kangsy
    03.10.2018

    Exposure exposure! Maybe in another world those people think that’s what’s used to clear bills!

    Good read.

    1
  • Eddah
    03.10.2018

    Such a shame and its very unfortunate…I sometimes wonder if I was in the same position as some of these guys would I behave the same or would I be different?? whatever happened to guilty conscious. Nice red.

    2
  • Frederick Keino
    03.10.2018

    1. You receive a call for a brilliant idea
    2. The idea is shared and everyone is excited
    3. Constant calls as you are reminded of the deadline (unrealistic)
    4. Back and forth with amends, more calls
    5. Send out final document
    6. Elation
    7. Silence
    8. Prolonged silence
    9. Calls go unanswered
    10. More silence
    Moral of the story: Kenyans are not good people to conduct business with since they don’t respect time and effort put into the job. If you relate please stand up. #Shindwe

    11
  • Judy
    03.10.2018

    … On the strength of his relationship with his mother, he gave Tim a job as a junior policy analyst and Tim took it to get his mom off his back…. I can identify with Tim on this one. At a point in our lives, this comes to pass.

    The job was as exciting as drinking oatmeal porridge through a straw….now this made me laugh. It’s just funny haha..

    1
  • Louis Wamukoya
    03.10.2018

    It’s really rough for Artists. No appreciation. Great read as always.

  • Nelly
    03.10.2018

    Tim should say he won’t work for exposure

  • SoLodified
    03.10.2018

    Amazing…I have no words man. This is truly a reflection of all the hope in that dustbin with the eggshells, tissue and old chips. That dustbin is Kenya.

  • Michubu
    03.10.2018

    Masterpiece. Loved every line.

  • Shombs
    03.10.2018

    As an interior designer, I feel like you have literally taken the words out from my heart,from all the experiences I have gone through. And I truly hope with time, the future generation will be appreciated in the creative world.

  • Tony Olaka
    03.10.2018

    I’ve never stayed in the toilet this long. You’ve actually detained me in the toilet! Not that I’m a slow reader but had to re-read some paragraphs to such every drop of juice in them.
    I like the way you quickly slide into different scenarios without our noticing.
    Amazing article.
    Now I can exit the chambers….

    1
  • Kaimuri Magu
    03.10.2018

    Once in a while you write something that opens a window into my life. It isn’t often, but, when it does happen, I hope your​ words are audible to the suits and the moneybags… because ours sure aren’t.

  • Black Parrot
    04.10.2018

    That description of the sleepover, like you were there…but you pass a very somber message amidst this humor, soul’s of artists do indeed wither and fall off in the wretchedness of the market..

  • TheBlackKennedy
    04.10.2018

    Somehow I can relate to the fortunes (or lack thereof) of Tim…

  • P. K.
    04.10.2018

    My hubby is a Tim. I have a friend whom I lived with who is a Tim to boot. I thought he shared the story with you but that ain’t his name. And he wasn’t my boyfriend (the divergent details). I love Tims. They appreciate the essence of life and not just the privilege. And that is more important than being in any C cuit. Luckily both are in C suit now and are able to advise people who bring in “exposure” as a strategy and they are able to help them understand why that is more like slavery than strategy. Tim will arrive, he will survive because he is alive more than other people will ever be. I still am a Tim trying to pierce through my glass ceiling.

    thanks for this chocolate man.

  • jammy
    04.10.2018

    This is my life right now, I am broken. Too many exposure, I wish I could move my life ahead with exposure. I am tired.

  • Mwenginator
    04.10.2018

    The gift of Art is the most valuable expensive gift a human can have, yet we humans don’t pay it’s worth.

  • Henry
    05.10.2018

    The simplicity of the words used and rightful portrayal of the bare realities in this life hooked me up to the last full-stop of this piece. It leaves quite a bitter taste and tearful reflections.

  • Jimmy Notorious
    07.10.2018

    Did Tim get his rent? Did he get the big break?

  • Dido
    08.10.2018

    ‘Creation is as much about confidence as it is about belief.’ Chocolate man is on song with this piece.

  • Grace
    08.10.2018

    At succumbed and went to work in a Bank for some years… Those are the most joyless years in my life… When the job ended I was so relieved… To all the Tims out there… It gets better… Trust me… Stay the course… And don’t sell yourself short… Dig in… Good honest work pays…

  • Humphrey
    09.10.2018

    This is certainly me… That’s my journey.. only got employed for a week then left for the unknown.. 5 years later I have 7 people working for me
    Do Your Thing!!!

    1
  • Biko
    11.10.2018

    I love this piece Biko. Like am listening to you arguing my case. But we are strong anyhow with our freelances. You are right, art is like a bilief that what you are creating is perfect.

  • Wambui_sha
    11.10.2018

    Biko i read your blog post because they are authentic #Kenyanstories (Yes am a millennial ,i have to hash tag every thing) …So when i read the line that has a bicycle mounted on the wall i started to zone out because that is a white people shit ,i cannot relate .Don”t get me wrong i don’t mind white people shit but i have a place i go for that which is not here….Am still Drunk btw

  • Bourgeois
    12.10.2018

    Brilliant, sad, painfully true for us creatives in Kenya. I felt Tim’s pain. And shame on family members who do not support their kin.

  • Maina Gakere
    14.10.2018

    Great Post. Indeed this is the predicament that creatives have to go through in Kenya. Clients need to pay on time! We cannot live on exposure alone.

  • Mumo.
    14.10.2018

    This is utterly beautiful

  • Rowbow
    20.10.2018

    “Unfortunately we don’t have a budget for this particular project so we will not be able to pay this time round,” he says but then adds quickly, “but we have many more projects lined up and those come with some budget. This is only a start. I think it will be good to show the bosses what you can do. Is this okay with you?”
    I have heard this statement countless times and I just wish I had known how mean and greedy were 10 Years ago. Most of the time it actually has been said over Lunch or dinner which ended up being my payment. A while later you meet the same person/people with heavy grants or sponsorship but they deem you unqualified etc to work with them. Some avoid paying consultancy fees by terming as “Picking your brains!”
    60% of the perpetrators have been ‘Wazungus’ especially in the NGO World.

  • Sylvester Ngumbau
    22.10.2018

    A every interesting story. Good to find out that there people out there who deny themselves the comfort of having a formal job for the sake of exploiting their natural talents and gifts. I suppose those are the people who change the world.

    Do your thing.

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