He gets up from bed together with his wife at cock crow, even before the sun licks the edge of the horizon. The lady shuffles into the kitchen to make breakfast for him and the kids. He slides into his brown leather shoes and sips a cup of hot tea as fast as he can and he’s out the door.
He rolls his shirt on his sleeve and he battles for the best product in the market with others like him, sometimes it’s team work for the others, to widen the chances, but not this chap. He’s alone in this bloody war. But every time he gets what he wants, because he woke early enough, because he loves his job, because it has schooled his children. He loads the goods into a sack and he is gone, leaving the scramble behind him. He is gone to base.
This would be a great time to mention who this guy is but let’s shift a little bit backwards to where I got to know all these bits of the story.
So it’s a breezy Tuesday morning, you’re from a long and treacherous Philosophy class, you’re spotting light clothing and you don’t have enough money to buy those coffees that cost as much as the fare to Mlolongo after 4 p.m. You feel a slight rumbling in your stomach, you need something to eat. You step off campus and go to the guy that sells roasted maize outside. I hear it’s called cremated corn now. You know he’s good for it because even 20 bob can get you a big piece, plus his chilly is hot but sweet and doesn’t give you cuts on the tongue. You stand over the heating charcoal stand with your hands buried in your pockets, you enjoy the warm feeling against your face as he seamlessly slices it apart and hands it to you. You take the first bite as you’re walking away and realize you have a couple of more coins you could throw here; you turn back and sit close to him. You start to talk to him about life, about the city council officers, about his family, his customers and most importantly, about his maize.
Friends, this is Mburu. My corn man. Hehe.
His spot is just outside The Campus, along Argwings Kodhek Road. (My gum I love that name. Argwings Kodhek. Just jumps around your throat. And don’t you just love how Mike Mondo says it, like Arwings Kodek. But do I say)
Anyway, it was one of those dark days, when I walked around with no story welling up and down my gut, so I decided to chat up this man. To peek into his sack, to look for a story buried within his seeds. So I sat there next to him, grinding on the cobs and mulling over what questions to ask. Because he wears a serious face on him, he keeps looking at me through the corner of his eye and I get uncomfortable for a bit. I want to get some tarmac under my feet, but the story you see, the story keeps me there. So I take one last bite and turn to the man, having thought of the most creative conversation starter,
“Na hizi bidhaa zako ni tamu, naona nikikaa hapa siku nzima.”
And just like that, a bond was formed. I asked Mburu about his family, he is a father of four and has been at that spot since 2008, right around the time I was doing my second year….in class six. I asked him if this biashara of his is okay, if it works for him and he says to me, “Unajua, Muthaka,(and I can feel it coming now, wisdom) in this life, you do what you can and do it with all your strength.”
He asks me about campus life, how I find it. He tells me his clientele is mostly the evening students. The working class folk. He says not many day students stop by, those who walk with a swagger and earphones dangling from their ears along with sagged pants, those ones don’t know their way around the grain he tells me. I feel like I’m being attacked here because my earphones are hung around my collar.
The conversation drags well into the afternoon. There’s a traffic snarl up. For a brief moment he looks over my shoulder and lowers his gaze, I continue with my jabbering when one of those creaky yellow kanjo pick-ups passes by, he throws a quick glance at me, like he’s telling me to pipe down. He looks scared. He tells the story about how these guys can throw him in the back for not having a license, (not that his line of work can be issued with a licence) and that he will have to part with a k. “Lakini hii serikali imesaidia sana.” And I just nod, because politics has never been a fathomable subject.
That was the last day of the semester, I took home Mburu’s story, his picture, and another cob that he gifted me with. He wasn’t at his post this past week, there was just the pile of rocks standing there undisturbed, with the ash peeling off. I saw another guy who I suspect is Mburu’s brother working the maize; I will pass by and ask him. Every day I wonder what happened to Mburu, maybe he forgot to set his alarm. Maybe he’s still in ushago with his family. Just like a barber, a man does not change his corn man. If you happen to be in Kasarani and you see this jamaa chilling on a hot afternoon with shorts and a glass of gin, tell him he needs to get back to work.