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February 24, 2020
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The Pain and Anguish in the Fake smiles, as we Bet our Lives away

I first met Godfrey when I moved to a settlement – read, plot – in Membley, along Ruiru Bypass. Godie, as he was fondly known in the neighborhood, was a pretty decent guy, and made a living slaughtering and skinning hogs at the nearby Farmer’s Choice abattoir. He would carry home goodies from work – those tasty bits of meat we eat on the roadside every evening – smokies, and sausages.

He would call them spoils of war.

Godie didn’t have a family, just a bachelor slugging it out in this concrete jungle. He would share his spoils of war among the neighbors in our conglomeration of single rooms. A day after I moved in, I heard a knock, and found a guy holding under his arm what looked like a round electric kettle, with an heavy cable dangling.

Guy in the hood, at dinner.
Guy in the hood, at dinner.

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“Hey, bro. Mi naitwa Godie….” He says. “Nakaa ile room ya nne.” He points down the corridor, towards the washrooms.

I lean forward and spot the only door opened, it’s a few minutes to six. His door has a pile of shoes outside in different levels of use and disrepair. I can also see one odd feminine Gladiator sandal.

Sema Godie. Mi naitwa Lukas. Iko nini?” Am trying so hard to be polite. It’s a little past six. Mornings aren’t exactly my favorite part of the day, and my shoulder was aching. I didn’t have a mattress yet.

“Ah, welcome to the neighborhood, bro” Godie tells me. Well, I just stare back. I hardly doubt Membley cuts the cloth when it comes to neighborhoods that new tenants gets ‘welcomed’ to. Plus, hello, it’s a little past six.

“Anyways, kuna noma mahali, nataka uni save. I need to buy some medicine for my chic, na kuna deal nangoja haijaiva bado.” He pauses. For effect, I guess.

This is classic Nairobi City:  its either you have money, ama kuna deal unangoje iingiane.

A locality in Meru County, Kenya.

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I ain’t moved yet. None of the chords on that emotional guitar he was plucking at had even joined highway to my heart. I once saw a mother with 2 kids faint on the street outside a popular Mexican eatery in Westlands, had a crowd in a few minutes making contributions. Someone had hailed a Little Cab for her to be ferried to hospital, only for the trip to be ended a few minutes later.

She had disappeared. It was just an act. But I don’t tell Godie this, I have to see how innovative it gets.

“You have a daughter?” I ask, feigning a yawn. I am tempted to scratch my gonads while at it, for effect.

“No. No, man. Wacha hizo.” Godie smiles, and does that Kenyan thing where someone points to something with their lips. He points in the direction of his door. The odd Gladiator sandal. I suppose there’s a girl inside.

Godie thrusts the thing into my arms. I turn it around and realize it’s a state-of-the-art rice cooker. What the hell? I didn’t know there is an electric rice cooker. All I knew of rice is the age-old formula passed down by generations of African motherhood: One part rice, two parts water.

“Five hundred bob” Godie mutters, under his breath.

I’ve heard perfectly well. You do not take a selling offer seriously the first time.

“I don’t need a damn rice cooker. I don’t cook. Niko na soo mbili”. I say. Two hundred shillings. I could see this guy is desperate, despite the macho appearance. In the end, I buy the damn thing for 50 shillings more.

A day later, my friend Godie appears with a 21” TV, Samsung.

A fairly new, deep carpet. Probably Persian.

A lamp shade.

A glass coffee table.

A duvet. Mercifully, unstained. I ask to have it on loan. “Kuna deal mahali kesho nangoja iingiane”.

Guys in the hood, chilling at a local den.
Guys in the hood, chilling at a local den.

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Except for the lampshade, I buy none of these. My chips business is just picking up. I can’t say where he sells them. After a while, I don’t see Godie for a week or so, and assume he travelled upcountry, or away on some duties.

Every plot has that one neighbor, who should be on freelance basis with media powerhouses. This type has everything trending in the neighborhood on her fingertips. Or, rather, her lips. I do not even ask, when we meet near the washrooms one morning.

Turns out my house-furnishing associate and neighbor had got hooked into gambling, thanks to a funky gambling shop that had opened, a few blocks away. Godie had systematically gone into debt, messed up relations with a live-in girlfriend and when she moved out, he had started hawking household items. He had started missing job days, skipped on rent and finally had to bail out of town – loan sharks on his neck.

He even hadn’t time to come collect on that duvet I took on loan.

Suddenly, I hadn’t the slightest desire to even look at Godie’s state-of-the-art rice cooker on the bare shelf in my kitchen corner.

Guys in the hood, chilling at The Baze
Guys in the hood, chilling at The Baze

Like a painful epiphany, in a moment of awakening akin to fish scales falling from Saul’s eyes, I realized the danger that lurks just beneath the surface.

We lose track of the miseries and anguish our next door neighbors are living. We adore and follow the lavish lifestyles of the people driving the industry. The high end rides they cruise in: Rolls Royce. Mercedes. Et al.

We need a purge. Like, it’s long overdue.

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