Its about respect

He was out with the boys last night, I hear it’s called squad now.  He pulls himself and his hangie out of bed, jumps into a cold shower and leaves the digs. He can’t take tea because he still has that terrible after-taste in his mouth that can only be tackled with another bottle; those who have had a serious tipple on the rocks know what I’m saying. He walks the dusty interiors of his place, past the smell of mandazis in low budget cafes and rocks up to his workstation. I had breakfast in one of those cafes by the way, not too bad for 140 bob, someone should write reviews about some of these places, they don’t have to be samaa swanky coffee shop along Argwings Kodhek road and have skirts serve your breakfast.

Anyway back to this jamaa. He goes up a spiral staircase that leads to his shop; he fiddles with the keys a bit then opens a door to a pool joint. Next to it is a boutique and then at the corner somewhere is an MPESA place that he runs. Like clockwork guys start coming in from nowhere to play pool, generally guys with nothing to do with their time and spend the whole day throwing coins into the table. I don’t get pool, it doesn’t tickle my fancy when I’m seated at a bar, I mean a chic beating some balls with a long stick is always a spectacle but that’s about it for me,  maybe it’s the word pool, because me and swimming, that’s anaa story. Once in a while a couple of ladies (there’s always a lady with her friend) come in to buy a shoe or a top, the MPESA biashara does very well for him too. At the end of the day he stops by the watering hole, takes one or two…or three and goes home to do it all over again the next day.

I’m in Kahawa West, I know a guy. He’s called Martin. He sounds like the guy that prepares your pizza behind the counter right? Marto is the one up here; he let me crash at his place for a couple of nights. This is how you know a guy is doing well without necessarily driving Njoki Chege’s blue SUBs. You walk with him to his house and a ginormous screen greets you, you sit down on the couch and he asks you,

“Niko na Fifa, utacheza PS2 ama 3? Kuna chupa kwa fridge.”

Bliss my friend, bliss. Gentlemen?

He leaves and goes back to the shop. This chap didn’t like school, it wasn’t for him, he didn’t go to university either, not that he can’t but this is the life that makes him tick, biashara. You only read about these people in the papers, people who wear the hustle on their sleeves, business-minded folk. He says that he can’t learn anything about life on the streets in a classroom because he has done his bit without books, he says isn’t done yet, he still has to work his way up a little more and do his time before he can take his place at the table, that’s the kind of attitude that makes him a great man. This is his hustle, he stands by it and takes pride in it, he holds his hat against his chest and he respects it enough to do it with a hangie, he says he has to do it otherwise he won’t eat that day.

And that’s what this is about. [Cue in a slow song here] Friends, twenty posts we’ve done here, we’ve had our laughs, we’ve watched the sunset, and we’ve stayed up till 2 a.m. to get over the stumbling blocks. We laid the foundation and you gave me the blue ticks, we did the thorny stuff and we said goodbye to a prince. We started off with just the camera, and then we went for writing, we came up behind it, pat it on the shoulder, and took a stab at it, it has stayed with us ever since. But I believe tis time we took a break from it all, I haven’t stopped having the camera against my face and telling the story, it’s just that sometimes what you love doing wears you out and you feel like you’re dropping the whole ball of wax, you can only take some time off it because you want it to pitch tent within you so you respect it. You let it go for a while. If anyone asks tell them I’m on sabbatical. See you in three weeks.

Prince of Bel-Air

I didn’t post here last week, just when I thought I was getting the hang of this but it’s the block you see, the block. We should all point our fingers at this beast, we should make a fire and dance around it half naked so it can feel ashamed, so it can run away and hide, so it can tuck itself away safely in Maralal and never show its ugly face again. Seriously, this thing makes guys like me feel like they’ve been clobbered by a log, they should make this block a thing in hospital, you walk into a room and the doctor asks you what seems to be the problem, “I haven’t been sleeping, I look at the cursor blink and then I have the urge to hang myself, I can’t seem to grease the page like I used to, what do you suggest doc?”

“Just take four bottles of beer then you will be fine” wouldn’t that be so cool? But what’s cooler are the kind of answers I get to give to those who ask me why I haven’t posted, ‘This block had kaliad me proper’ don’t even pretend you don’t like how that sounds. Anyway let’s not make this post about another block, let’s talk about more interesting stuff like hair, I know what you’re thinking, I’m about to talk about the beard but stick around, there’s a story here, even you ladies, we could talk about weaves if you want.

So I got a haircut on Thursday, meaning I had to go back to my usual place, Bel-Air Barbers, the place where I’ve had my hair cut since I was a minute old. If you are in town and use Jogoo Road to get out of the city you will find yourself in Makongeni, (a jang’o will call it Okongo to make it clear they own the place) if you go on a bit longer you will find yourself in BuruBuru, you have already gone too far, turn around, go to a place called Jericho, on the other side is a village called Jerusalem,(and no, this has no relation to the Bible, that joke is tired, leave it alone) that’s where my roots are planted. Go there and ask for Zakayo, and you will be asked ‘Zakayo mgani? Fundi wa nywele?’ just to show you they know what they’re talking about but don’t be fooled, there has been no other Zakayo there since 2006. Zakayo is my lunje barber. This man never smiles, and he never says much, instead he listens to Fred Machoka on Sundays and smiles from the sides of his mouth, and he doesn’t like how people admire themselves after he’s done, like they have no faith in him. He is one of those guys who look like they wouldn’t support the gay bill for shit. I’ve not always liked this cat; he was my second after Oloo left us one weekend.

Oloo had this deep voice that like those chaps from Congo, which when you think about it, Oloo could be short for Olomide; I never got the chance to ask him. His voice was enough for you not to introduce your lady to him, because when you walk away she will point it out, that he has a nice voice and that will sting, she will see it in your eyes that you wish you also had an Adam’s apple like that and she will pat your back and tell you not to worry, you compensated it elsewhere, and it will hurt even more that she’s lying.

Bel-Air isn’t one of those places where you get your head massaged by a pretty number called Beth about to do procurement in KU, no; you get your hair cut, slap on some spirit and leave. But as soon as you sat on Oloo’s chair he made you happy that you went there, he talked to you and asked you how everything is at home, and if you couldn’t keep your head steady he would give you a lollipop to distract you. Oloo had a beautiful beard, which further fuels the Olomide theory; it ran down the side of his head thinly like it’s afraid to touch his cheek then it would come together and gather around his chin. Oloo would ask your twelve year old self if you wanted side-burns like his, you couldn’t say no, it was art the way he used to chonga the side of my head and thus the dream of the beard was planted in me. A picture of this man was hanged on the wall; it greeted you as you walked in. Now it’s not there, Oloo is not there, death crept into soul and ran away with it towards the sunset.

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Now I have Zakayo, another great barber although we got off on the wrong foot. The first time he shaved my head he overdid it, it was all gone, and the bump at the back of my head was exposed, yes Njeru, I know it’s there. The next time I went there I wanted to go for another barber, and he saw it but he looked at me like he didn’t give a hoot what I did, so I went back to his chair with my head down. We have learnt to live with each other, he knows how I like my hair and he likes how I don’t start random conversations with him, also because he scares the shit out of me. I couldn’t get a picture of him even if I wanted; me and Zack don’t like each other that way.

Game of thorns

From the corner of your eye you can see her; she stares at you, she’s talking, saying something about what happened to her earlier in the week, always been talkative, this one. But you drift apart as soon as she opens her mouth, you think about the constipation you had yesterday, she knows you’re not listening but she has learnt to live with divided attention when it comes to you. You tell yourself you should be listening but you’d rather not, so you choose to look at the beard that just walked in, and you wonder what you have to do to get a beard like that. Whatever you do you don’t look back at her, you don’t meet her eyes because what you have to say will be a little difficult for both of you to handle. Now she’s quiet.  You sneak a peek towards her direction tactfully as you lift the glass to sip the fizzy drink. The afternoon light illuminates the table in which you sit, just enough to catch her face, this face that is in quiet conflict with itself. You can read her thoughts; she can’t figure out if this spontaneous gesture excites her or scares her, you called her to lunch today without her asking you to. You haven’t talked for two days but now you’d like to talk, discuss the way forward, is how you put it, clearly a shoe has been dropped here. You have come to a decision that you might regret and someone will get hurt today. Goddamn it why can’t you just get it over with? Tell her you fool.

You inhale deeply; you hold your breath for as long as you can and then you let it out, slowly you place your elbows on the table, you cross your fingers to stop them from fiddling with themselves.

You’re about to tell her now, and then, like clockwork she starts talking again, even the waiter at your table doesn’t stop her. You suddenly get the urge to grab that waiter by the collar, (Eddie Murphy accent) “You gotta get me out of here man, please.” Her big anticipating eyes are like a thorn in your chest. In the distance of your thoughts you can still hear her voice, maybe she’s figured it out now; she’s not stupid my friend, but you don’t want her to figure it out; this was your battle, a test of your courage. You open your mouth but you can’t find the right words for this, instead, “You look amazing today.” She smiles from the corner of her mouth; you can see her effort to force the smile. She knows.

You bring your eyes back to the large window beside you, she thinks you are looking at the family outside there, chewing on pieces of pizza, she thinks you are picturing you and her and your kids, it became clear to her very quickly that you liked to spend most times dreaming about your future, she fell for one with ambition. But no, you are looking at your reflection, your almost fading reflection. What have you become? You are about to go back on your word, you had said you would stand naked in a blizzard for her, now you feel less of a man because you couldn’t handle the whole arrangement, also because you lack a beard on your face. The words you spoke to her the first time you held her close, the words that she said to you, now they’re coming back to haunt you, like echoes of kettle drums. It’s water under a bridge now really.

Why did you love her in the first place, if at all you did, why? Perhaps it’s because she was there when you were a lonely heart. When the other one that you really loved left you for a photogenic case of piercings called Chris that could also pass as a fashion model. Because she was there to save you from your endless imbibing of liquor just so you could sleep. That’s the only reason you loved her. Now you’re bored out of your wits, not that there is any form of discord between you two, you’d just rather talk to a wall.

The skies above begin to close, the blue disappears into the darkness of the clouds, and you start to walk her back home, holding her hand doesn’t make sense to you anymore. A cold breeze swirls dried leaves across the path in which you walk. You will not tell her, not now. You will put your many thoughts down on paper because that’s where you find your voice. Maybe someone else would have had the guts to say it out loud, but not you. Dating a writer is after all, a thorny issue.

The downside
The downside

You’re all thinking that this photographer is going soft right? It’s just one of those days today. Writing has become a little real now for me and my good chum Mike Laria, anaa deadly blogger over at mikelaria7.wordpress.com  .We’ve decided to throw our names at BAKE and see how that goes, you can expect us at your door asking for votes soon.

It’s a girl!

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You see this picture here, it has nothing to do with this story .I’ve always not liked security checks that much, some are pretty useless while others leave you feeling like Osama was a great uncle of yours. Those ones are the worst, they come inches close to stripping you to your underwear, and you leave stuff behind, your dignity even- when the guard wants to confirm that his detector has the ability to ‘see’ metal so he asks you take out that five shilling coin. Don’t let me get started on those who insist on me leaving my camera. No seriously, can we talk about this? Why all the variation in procedure? Everywhere should be like the airport, you know what to do where, you don’t have to be told, you even know where to take off your shoes. We all want to feel safe so I will respect what those chaps do but in a minute you will understand the reason for that little rant.

It’s a chilly Tuesday morning; I’m on my way to drop off my University application form at the institution. At the gate I’m met by a lady guard who looked a bit too pretty to be in that uniform. She takes down my details as another chap frisks me and opens my bag only to see, you know who, Sonia.

“Hii utawacha hapa?” but he wasn’t really asking.

“Sawa soja” (feeling very Kenyan right now)

They let me through. In the far distant I see them, campus people. I find them very weird, these ones; they always look at me strange but today I don’t blame them, my shoes are muddy and I’m sweating like I’ve walked from Kinangop. Moments later I see her, this damsel with a camera to her face, trying to focus on a bug upon a leaf. By gum she looked beautiful, gracefully holding that lens, carefully caressing it, I felt jealous for that camera really, you should have seen her my friend, totally isolated from the world. There’s something about a lady with a huge camera that gets me, I rise up on my saddle in some ways. Wink wink.

I stood there for like three minutes just staring at this phenomenon, pretending to be holding up my phone in case campus people over there at the corner start raising questions. I badly wanted a shot of her but Mr. Frisk back there has my camera. Sorry friends. I walk by and finish with the application process but this girl has some trouble escaping my head. I think, and this may seem weird, what if this was my daughter? Hold on to your knickers now, I’m talking about the future here.

I’ve always imagined that my firstborn child will be the one to carry on this spear that his photography, I’ve always pictured a boy with a cool laid back name like Ben. I would hand him Jacky as soon as he could walk, his age mates would have fancy toys but Ben would have a camera called Jacky. He would be that guy. I’ve always pictured myself stuck in Mombasa Road traffic with Ben in the passenger seat,

“Dad, haipigi picha.”

“Ah, zima uwashe.”

Now there was another picture. My firstborn being a girl, that’s a scary thought, I mean, I could see her with Jacky, taking pictures around the city, completely unaware of some other photographer with piercings and sagged pants called Jamal also with a blog, rising up on his saddle, hehe. And Jamal would approach my daughter wanting to know if she liked big black cameras like the one he had, very cheeky this Jamal guy. One hot Saturday I’m enjoying a cold tusker and she walks in with Jamal who tells me he would have come to introduce himself sooner but he was waiting for his new tattoo to heal. Jamal would stagger back home with a black eye that day.

So I didn’t get that shot of the girl with the camera that day, I didn’t talk to her either, but at least I came out with an essential teaching on parenting, I will say this to my daughter, “Baby girl, go outside and take pictures, but if a guy walks up to you and says he’s called Jamal, run as fast as you can sawa?”