I didn’t post anything last week because I was thinking. I was seated at my desk at home, leaning all the way back in my chair and staring out the window dreamily. I have a massive wall to wall window that overlooks the verandah of the neighbouring apartments. There was a bird standing in the opposite balcony. She had just done her nails. She was leaning on the balcony, balls of cotton wool stuck between her toes, rifling through her phone. I could hear her nails dry. She couldn’t see me through my sheers, but I could see her which technically made me a peeping Jack. She had on her house clothes; tired-looking track bottoms and a well worn t-shirt. She had a physicality about her that seemed to magnify in the sun.
My mind drifted. I thought to myself, I would like to run away to some place. Some place far away. Some place with a beach and an old boat with paint peeling off the sides. A boat that is constantly moored at the shore and gets slapped slapped by waves. Sometimes children play in it. Sometimes it gathers puddles of water when it rains. Other days a bearded, wiry old man sits there, sucking on a homemade cigarette wedged between his bony fingers, looking out at sea through eyes that look cataracted. A boat whose owner nobody knows. A boat without a name.
But I can’t run away to a place like that now because our coastline is now choked with Nairobians on holiday. Do you know the most common thing guests at hotel buffets at the coast say in the mornings now? Come on, don’t be lazy, guess.
“You look familiar.”
And this is when you are waiting for your waffles to be done. Another person from Nairobi in his beach shorts. Now you have to stand there with your waffles growing cold as you guys run through all the places you might have seen each other.
No, I was in Moi…uhm, Caribea? [It always goes back to bars]
No, I don’t go there, well maybe once for Gogo’s birthday last year.
Gogo? The one who sings?
No, that’s Gogo Simo. This one is Gogo, just Gogo. He’s a farmer, or rather, he farms for people who are too busy or too posh to get mud on their shoes. His company is called Tukalime.com
That’s an interesting concept. [He turns to the chef] Yes, omelette…. everything but ham…just a little green pepper. Yeah, that’s enough. Make it well done. [Back to you] Do you work at KCB?
No. Do you?
No. But I bank with them so I thought maybe you are a teller.
Haha. No. I don’t count money. I spend it.
[His face lights up and he snaps his fingers]
Queens? You go to Queens?!
[A baby shows up and starts pulling at his shorts] “I want more juice! I want that green juice!”
Is that your daughter?
Nah, I don’t even know whose kid this is.
[The little insists] “Dad! I want that green juice!! That one!!”
But she is calling you dad…
I have never seen this child in my life. She’s been following me since we checked in jana.
Aaah, then let’s move away from her.
So, no. Coast isn’t what I was thinking about. That boat without a name might be there but so are people who go to Queens.
I swung away from the window and Whatsapped a friend.
“If you were given one chance to run away, where would you go?”
I stared at the message. It remained grey tick for a over a minute, so I gave up waiting and swung back to the window. The bird with balls of cotton wool between her toes had gone, carrying her drying nails with her. My view was now a white wall, reflecting the sun. The sun shone brightly but not harshly. I nibbled on my pen. Then I heard a message come in.
“Phu Quoc,” she wrote.
I quickly Googled Phu Quoc: Small island off the coast of Cambodia, in the gulf of Thailand. Damn. What a coincidence. It seemed like a place that would have an old boat moored at the beach.
“I think this is the kind of place that has a boat that nobody uses,” I wrote.
“A boat without a name.”
She started typing. Then stopped. Then started typing again. Then she typed and typed and I wanted to ask her, what the hell are you typing for that long, a dissertation? There are people you can’t chat with because they write long blocks of chats instead of chats in each line. They make chatting so arduous because you have to sit and watch them type a bloody scroll. Does it kill people to write one line then another then another? Then what’s with the stopping while typing? Type and send. Type and send. Type and send. Goodness!
She was still typing. Then she stopped typing. Finally her message came in.
“Imagine I can’t swim?” she wrote. Goodness grief! She typed for three hours to write she can’t swim? I bet she also can’t ride a bicycle. Or make good dough for mandazi. Or can’t whistle. There are people who can’t whistle; they fold their tongues out and try very hard to whistle but only air comes out. And you say God doesn’t have a sense of humor?
I wrote: “By the way, how long can you have balls of cotton between your toes before the polish dries?”
I put away my phone and turned to the laptop and wrote about the highlights of my 2017.
Here we go,not in any order of importance.
Here is how I knew Tamms is slowly getting into that womanhood zone. I was in a bar on a Friday night. About 9pm Tamms Whatsapps me and says, “Papa, my stomach is paining.” She had been acting very needy because her mom had travelled and she was feeling abandoned and so she kept saying her stomach was paining. She took Relcer for her hyperacidity and I told her to sleep early and dream of nice things like strawberry. Now she was texting again.
“How bad is the pain on a scale of 1 to 10” I texted back, “1 being ‘not bad’ and ten being OH MY GOD, MY STOMACH HURTS SO BAD I WANT TO REMOVE IT AND PUT IT IN THE FREEZER!”
“What do you mean?” she wrote back curtly.(Either she has no sense of humor or she never wants to laugh at my jokes.)
“I mean, how bad is the pain, darling?”
“I want to go to the hospital,” she wrote back.
I whatsapped her mom because mothers know what should be done. “Take her if it will calm her down,” she texted back. I was secretly hoping she would say, “It’s fine, she just needs to sleep, if it persists in the morning take her.”
“Okay, dress up, I will be there to pick you up at 10:15pm,” I Whatsapped Tamms.
Then I went back to my drink. At 9:45 pm she Whatsapped me.
“Is there jam?”
“Jam for bread?”
“No, traffic jam.” (See? I can never make her laugh.)
“No, why, darling?”
“Because I’m waiting.” (She’s as impatient as me.)
I wanted to write to her, “What time is it where you are? Because where I am – IN KENYA – it’s still 9:45pm. But that would have made me a bad father. So I downed my drink and went and picked her up and we went to Aga Khan’s pediatric clinic and at the nurses station they took her vitals (all fine) and asked her to go step on the weighing scale. The male nurse was an enthusiastic, young, cool guy, probably fresh out of nursing school. Great with children too. He even made Tamms chuckle, which is something I do once a year if I’m lucky. Maybe she was just chuckling to play me against the nurse or maybe she just found him funny. Whatever it was I was going to be a bigger person because I had had two doubles, so I was in a very happy place.
Anyway, we went to that weighing scale and she chucked her shoes and stepped on the scale and it read 50kgs. I wanted to say “Darling, just how heavy was your dinner?” but I didn’t. Here is the thing, she asked me how many kilograms she was and I told her 50kgs and for a brief moment there I saw in her eyes what I believed was panic or disappointment. “Is that a lot?” she asked casually and I said, “No, that’s okay, I’m 87kgs, that’s a lot.”
“But you are big,” she said and it didn’t hurt my feelings one bit because I had had some whisky and I was in a good place with my 87kgs.
That 50kgs then hung between us like an unspoken taboo. Nobody wanted to touch it. It hung in the car as we drove back after midnight, her snoring softly on the passenger seat and me afraid to drive over 50km/hr.
MY BEST FEEL-GOOD STORY OF 2017
I wrote this story about my grandmother on IG/Facebook in May. She’s knocking on 90. I wrote about how she thinks I’m a boss at Nation. How she thinks I know Raila personally, like I can call him. How she is convinced I know many important people. I said how I shamelessly and unapologetically perpetuate this belief of a poor old woman. I tremendously enjoyed writing that piece. They are pieces I write with immense love. This piece about her was one of them.
One of my cousins told her I had written about her on this strange thing called the internet and now “eeeeeevrrybody” knows about her, she is famous! She called me so happy and excited, to ask me if it was true that I wrote about her on the newspaper (she can’t wrap her head around what the internet is) and now the whole world knows about her. I lied to her again, I said “Yes it’s true, the whole world now knows about you.” She laughed so much and felt so good and I felt so good. I think at her age it is such small things that give her a reason to smile in her world of arthritis and aching back and an empty homestead with only her cows and framed pictures of her children on the wall (half of them dead) for company.
Today I will be seeing her in shags and I will show her the story from my Instagram and read her all those comments. So please if you want to send shout-outs to my grandma, do so here Instagram post tell her she is still young and beautiful. She will love that. Who wouldn’t?
MY BEST BUSINESS DAILY INTERVIEW – 2017
Joe Mutugu, CFO, Old Mutual. HERE. Business Daily Africa
He’s a recovering alcoholic who was peaking in his career but then plunged into the watery arms of alcoholism and then dusted himself off and got back on the horse. He allowed himself to be vulnerable during the interview. And when we really got into it, he was so raw and honest talking about his problem with booze and how it felt to be down and out. There wasn’t enough space to capture this man’s essence in 1000 words. He needed pages and pages because he’s like tons of us; functional alcoholics who wear suits and because we drink single malts our problem isn’t termed as a problem.
Speaking of booze…
I wrote a small book. I spent a year writing it. I respect people who write books, because that shit sucks everything from you. It’s laborious.In fact, it’s like labour, because you forget how painful it was and you keep going back like I want to do in 2018. You can buy the book here Fireplace or here Amazon I will be printing a few copies because some people say they can’t read books on devices comfortably. They want to smell the characters. Look out for that.
BEST TRAVEL DESTINATION
Nobody in their right mind goes to Europe for the beaches, not when we have Watamu. But should you ever find yourself in Barcelona and you have a day to kill, take a train to the small coastal town of Sitges, an hour away. It’s a small charming seaside town with little cafes and restaurants and narrow cobblestone streets that open to the beach area. We sat in the verandah of a makeshift cafe at the beach. Before us were tourists and locals sunbathing and reading in their loungers and recliners. It seemed like a normal beach tableau, save for one thing; nobody was wearing a bra…including the men who should have been in bras. If you go with company and you are a breasts-man you are in trouble, buddy. Because then you have to pretend that you aren’t noticing the myriad breasts walking up and down the beach, from the ones pointing up at the sky from their the lounge beds to the ones pointing true north.
I didn’t like the beach because of those topless birds, I liked it because they served fantastic grilled sardines and prawns and amazing burgers and our waiter was ever so curious about Africa. I drunk bourbon, ate enough sardines to start a fish farming business in me and napped on and off until sunset.
MY WORST INTERVIEW – 2017
Most people in the public light have two faces; there is the face they show the media and then there is the face of who they really are. The most deluded of these people are those have forgotten to separate the two and, as a result, have come to believe they really are who they show the media. These are people who have bought into their own façade. What this means is that an ugliness normally simmers just below the surface of this charade. This particular woman was one them. She said things on the record then she went home and freaked out and demanded to see the copy before it ran. She threatened us with lawsuits and bullied us and became this extremely ugly person who was a complete departure from the person I had met. Hers was a textbook case of delusion of grandeur. I hardly regret meeting people I run into in the course of work, but I deeply regret meeting her. Her story is the one story I am embarrassed to have my byline run under and I emailed her and I told her as much.
MY BEST BLOG STORY God is a Gentleman loved writing it because I didn’t know how to write it. I felt unworthy to touch her story. And when Lydia came to Java to meet me – with a face carved by the merciless knives of her tragic past – I suspected she didn’t come alone. I think God sat there next to her to listen to her account because sometimes when I think of God I think he likes to show off just a bit.
MY MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT DURING INTERVIEW- 2017
I went out to Kaddu Siwe Ssebunya’s house in Karen to interview him. He’s the president of Africa Wildlife Foundation. Very fresh and sharp Ugandan guy. There are massive and tastefully furnished houses that never feel like home. Kaddu’s wasn’t one of them. It was that kind of house you want to and say, “I could live here,” because it has a warmth to it. It’s a home, not a house.
So we are in the middle of the interview when his two children troop in from school (it was their holiday break) herded by a young and strikingly beautiful lady. They are those children who go to those posh schools. They were so self-assured and well-spoken. You know them, those children who make eye contact? The children hugged their father and he introduced me to them and they all had small excited banter before leaving.
Anyway, we go back to the interview and I ask Kaddu, “was that your daughter?” and he grins and says, “No, that’s my wife.” You could feel my foot getting shoved into my mouth all the way from the end of the Southern Bypass. “She is beautiful and so youthful!” I muttered. He laughed because everybody wants to know their woman is arresting. “I married well,” he said modestly.
I wanted to hide behind one of his paintings.
I carried my own bottle of whisky onto this yacht in Santorini, Greece. The yacht sails around the neighbouring islands the whole day, stopping by some islands for people to swim and what not. It was the morning of my 40th and I didn’t want to partake of the complimentary beverages offered on the yacht – basically beers, wines, some odd spirits etc. I was the only black skin there, and I got on board with my own box of Glenmorangie tucked under my arm like it was an important map to a treasure island.
Boy didn’t the mzungus stare?!
I didn’t care. I was 40 years and two hours old, I had paid to be there and I wasn’t about to drink complimentary whisky that I wasn’t going to enjoy. I sat next to this siren on the deck, lying down, drinking, going down to fetch food, drinking, listening to music. Midway through, an old couple (Americans) started conversing with me. The nice lady said her husband loved whisky so I poured him two fingers. He loved it. Then these two Asian/ American couple started a conversation. She said, “He knows all about his whisky,” which is like saying, “He has been staring at your whisky since you opened it, won’t you pour for him a bit? He is embarrassing me.” So I poured some for him. He loved it. Later, at lunch downstairs someone said, “It’s his birthday, he is turning 40!” then the whisky lovers thrust their glasses at me for a fill. Then they sang that silly happy birthday song and I blushed a little because I hate that kind of attention, but I was 40, when else is a group of white folk going to sing a happy birthday song for me on a yacht off the beautiful islands of Greece?
There is a moral here. If you drink lots of whisky in the sun on a moving boat, you will imagine that boat will never dock and when it does, you will step on solid ground and you will turn to the person next to you and ask, “Wait, do you feel the earth move?”
LONGEST ASSIGNMENT THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN
I visited Maseru, Lesotho in May. I was staying at this hotel called Avani Lesotho and Casino. It started raining when I landed. It rained the whole of that afternoon which meant I couldn’t go out for my assignment because the hills were muddy. Thankfully the hotel was very posh and my room was something so I stayed in and sat facing the Caledonspoort border of South Africa beyond the hills. At night I went to the bar and had dinner and eavesdropped on boring bar conversations of chaps in seminars . It rained the whole night, which meant my assignment was impossible during the morning. Next morning, I walked for an hour down to their small CBD to roam about in the very slight beautiful drizzle. I bought tracksuit pants in a local store and walked back to the hotel. It rained all afternoon and I wrote up in my room then came down later and flirted with Fifi, a female staff member, who possibly saved me from going brain dead from boredom. My assignment, by this time, was dead in the water. Then a Kenyan lady I had interviewed ages ago – Mary Njoroge – saw my IG post and said, “Biko, I work here! Where are you!” I was super excited; Kenyans!!! Kenyans! It was like seeing a ship after bobbing at sea on a small dinghy with no water or food.
So they came to my hotel and we had dinner at the Chinese restaurant next to the Casino. The next day I flew back with no story to speak of.
KIM STARTING SCHOOL
You pay a tidy sum of money for them to go and colour within the boundaries, sing, slide, eat and then nap in the afternoon. They wear oversized shorts and these colourful bags and Bubblegummers which are the ugliest shoes children will ever wear because they look like unfinished sea vessels but they are hardy. Besides, those kids don’t to go school to catwalk, they go to sleep in the afternoons.
And it’s beautiful to see them start and catch colds and flu from other people’s children and when you go to pick them up they look like the school has a mine where they are forced to work for free. The best part is when you find all of them in the corner of the classroom, sleeping shoeless, some snoring, others’ legs spread wide, a clutch of little people starting life with power naps.
WALKING WITH LIONS
You can pay some money to go to Johannesburg and walk with lions. I don’t know why anyone would do that. I did it because I was getting paid, otherwise I wouldn’t have. I’m black. Plus, World Animal Protection (WAP) doesn’t like it when people walk with lions or kiss giraffes, or kick stray dogs. I bet when they saw that picture of people burying dogs many people at WAP got migraines the whole week. Some took leave to go pray. Would I walk with a lion again? Yes, if they can spell my name.
WORST DAY IN 2017
I woke up one morning to find someone had tweeted (twat?) me: Toni has married Birdman. I remember thinking, “Nooo, she can’t do that. She can’t marry that primate.” But she did. My day never recovered from that news. Neither have I.
Thank you the editors here, Linda, Mutanu and Ochieng for cleaning my mess here with your big hearts. Thanks to my dutiful travel agents Wahu and Catherine of Saffara Travel Ltd, for always pulling a rabbit out of the hat. Wahu particularly for being ever so patient about my obsession with Exit Seats. Thank you, Jo, for being the unofficial eye in the sky and for always calling my bullshit. Thank you, Vera and Alex of Moran Capital Management for always knowing where to place my eggs because left to my own devices I would fry them.
BEST PEOPLE IN 2017
You guys. No, I mean it. You could be doing a million things with your lives on Tuesdays but you come here and give me your time and it’s mostly a laugh. I appreciate your numerous emails and your wide ranging comments. I know everybody despises the first-to-comment brigade but come on, every family have that special child and it’s our duty to show them love and to continue praying for them.
As per our tradition, I will give you an opportunity to ask me anything between now and 5pm today and I will answer. Nothing personal surely. Don’t ask me what you wouldn’t answer yourself. So then, no mention of foreheads.
Assuming that this post has been posted at 10am sharp, I’ve probably just landed in Kisumu and I’m probably driving to shags as we speak, so I might not respond immediately to the comments, but when I arrive in shags (which is NOT Kisumu!!!) I will sit under a tree and get cracking on my laptop.
Thank you again for reading and for being absolute sports, have a wonderful holiday and stay safe. Shall we meet here again on the 9th of January, if God agrees?
So long, fancy pants.