Maish, Mama Nyokabi, hungry cops and my brown croc briefcase
- April 13, 2018
Just the smoky tail of the noisy Kenya Bus is visible beyond the junction. The front half is hidden by the vibandas lining the road. It’s missing the last window pane too. I am fixated by the flapping piece of the polythene covering the hole. Looks like a panicky bird attempting to fly away off a snare holding it back. It’s a pretty windy day.
The bus is half blocking the junction. It might be loading passengers on the road. Or someone else might be loading passengers in front of the bus, blocking it. Either case is no big deal. Patience is a virtue these sides of the City.
A bloke in a blue Peugot 504 saloon seems to know this. The space between the bus and the simu ya jamii kiosk is too small to squeeze his ride through. He sits patiently, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel to whatever song he is listening to. He doesn’t use his horn. It wouldn’t work. Never does.
But he doesn’t need to. The bus suddenly grunts, spews a thick cloud of diesel smoke and like an angry bull untethered, it lurches forward, the trapped bird flapping furiously. The junction momentarily disappears in the thickness of the pollutant as the wind hesitates. Then a dark blue silhouette sends a chill right to the blister bobbing in my toe. It pierces through the haze like a dolphin through the surface of an ocean.
I clasp my arm tighter and belabour to adjust the important asset back into position.
The 110 GK Land Rover screeches to a halt across the road. A swarm of uniformed cops spill out like termites on a hunting rendezvous and spread in all directions. I am supposed to bolt, take cover. I don’t. Not today.
The guilty, the suspicious, the fidgety scamper to safeguard their freedom. A few aren’t lucky. They are nabbed mid-flight and made to knot their shirts together. Handcuffs are too precious to risk on these captives. So they are made to sit on the dusty road in a line, hands on their heads.
A cop brushes past me and nearly pushes me into a nearby ditch. He turns and murmurs a “sorry boss”. I acknowledge the apology with a nod as I brush the tie back in place. The newspaper has also slid three quarters through my underarm. It’s now dangling dangerously from my armpit.
I clasp my arm tighter and belabour to adjust the important asset back into position. I clear my throat noisily while at it. The newspaper is to be noticed, not read. The date reads Wednesday May 5, 2004. That is a month and half ago. But no one is asking.
The suit I have on is courtesy of a cousin’s wedding two years before. It is my most treasured possession. That, the Sahara pair of shoe on my feet and the brown briefcase occasionally switching from my right to left hand. It was inherited from father, the briefcase that is. He was gifted it by a group of interning medics from Australia on an exchange programme of sort. My dad is a medical doctor.
The bag is genuine crocodile leather and pretty hardy. My old man donated it to me because he can’t stand the brown colour. That, and the fact that I needed a place to pack a few clothes when I announced a job interview in Nairobi a few months ago. Saved him from spending a few shillings on a new bag, it did. He is a pretty stingy man. Perhaps they teach them how not to spend in medical school. I don’t know.
The bag completes my official look as I watch police round up people at the Dandora Phase Four bus terminus. I look like a young accountant, or a budding lawyer.
Across the road, I see Mama Nyokabi in the company of Maish. There is a bulging black paper bag in her hand. I stare at it in trepidation.
They see the cops and instinctively hesitate, but just for a moment, then stride forward. Smoke is billowing out of Maish nostrils like twin KBS exhaust pipes. I look to confirm it is indeed a cigarette the tall fellow is smoking. It is. A few times, he has put the wrong stick in his mouth at very awkward places and proceeded to puff away. Very absent-minded, Maish is.
He is Mama Nyokabi’s right hand man and perhaps best friend. They are also cousins who grew up together in the expanses of Nyahururu, born just a month apart. If you didn’t know this and the fact that Mama Nyokabi is safely married to a very quiet, very shy Kamba guy, you would think she and Maish are a thing.
Conspiracy theorists like my roommate Oscar have even placed his tall figure in a number of crime scenes around the City.
No one really knows what Maish does for a living. If his cousin does, then she doesn’t tell. He spends a substantial amount of his daylight lazing around the changaa den, doing more smoking than talking. He is not heavy on drink too but makes up for that with pot. Fellow can burn an acre of weed by himself in a day.
But he is generous with booze, occasionally buying a glass or two for the guys around him. No one has been to his house that is in a flat on Phase II. Actually, no one even knows the exact flat. Very secretive fellow, this Maish.
The overwhelming belief is that he is a thug. Conspiracy theorists like my roommate Oscar have even placed his tall figure in a number of crime scenes around the City. Personally, I think the bugger is CID, but none of them will buy that. They say he is too clumsy to be entrusted with such a sensitive skill, arguing that he would blow his cover in a week.
Some elderly drunk even confessed to have watched the tall fellow grow up. He swore the only time Maish left the village was the day he fell asleep at the back of a Canter ferrying potatoes to Nairobi and found himself at Marikiti. The market nearly broke his long back offloading farm produce from lorries to earn a living, says the fellow, until Mama Nyokabi bumped into him one day and hauled him to Dandora. That seemed to blow my CID theory to smithereens but I still had that nagging feeling.
His kin is a really nice woman. She embraced me like a son when I came to live with my cousin in Dandora. I discovered her joint rather quickly because I like to get high. However, beers are pretty expensive. The alternative is wines or spirits. But a Cane Extra costs Sh55. I need two to get properly wasted. But I will get the same high from five glasses of Mama Nyokabi’s clear broth, at a pocket friendly Sh50.
I became a regular customer and soon gained enough trust to get credit. By and by, Mama Nyokabi started including me on her plate count for supper. I began spending more and more time doing her personal chores including helping her youngest daughter do her Class Six homework.
Nyokabi, her firstborn is about my age and does tailoring in Kariobangi. Njeri, the second born is in Form Three at a secondary school upcountry. I guess their mother wishes she has a boy. She tells any new face that I am her son. I feel like one most times. Even her daughters refer to me as ‘big bro’. Sometimes I wish they wouldn’t. And that’s so because Nyokabi is not bad looking at all.
Anyways, I’m now a part of Mama Nyokabi’s illegal booze enterprise. She sometimes leaves me to sell when she is overwhelmed by important commitments. But those are really terrifying moments, I tell you. That is because I’m still very much a reserve boy and wouldn’t know how to handle the cops if they came calling when I am boss. Always breaths a huge sigh whenever I hand back the reins.
Mama Nyokabi and Maish have been stopped by an army of cops. Towering above the sea of jungle uniforms, Maish looks like a chimney sprouting through a forest. I hold my breath as the officers fish coins, matchboxes, a bottle top and a flashlight battery from his trouser pockets. They must think he is mad. Perhaps he is.
A female cop stretches on her toes and reaches into his shirt pocket. She fishes out a glistening, rubbery thing. She quickly throws it down and it lands on a nearby colleague’s boot. He stomps his foot furiously to shake it off. It does. The female cop is, meanwhile, scrubbing her hands furiously with a handkerchief she is wetting with spittle.
Her platoon is dying in laughter. Maish is emotionless, just exhausting smoke. He disappears beneath the trees, sorry, cops briefly as he bends to retrieve his unwrapped condom and re-confines it in his shirt pocket.
The lengthy fellow might have put the latex in his pocket as a silent, sick joke on the cops. He might also have unwrapped it for the right purposes but promptly forgot to use it. Whatever the real reason for the rubber in his pocket, we will probably never know.
Mama Nyokabi has also been turned inside out. They know she sells changaa and are hoping to catch her with some stock. I am breathing again because I can see her repacking a packet of tomatoes and a bunch of sweet potatoes into the paper bag. She looks up and our eyes meet. She doesn’t recognise me.
The cops let both go. My left hand …where is my left hand? I look down to see it right there. It is clasping the crocodile briefcase so tight it has gone numb. I was afraid that Mama Nyokabi might have decided to add to the stock we got from the supplier down the river some minutes earlier. I was wrong. It felt good to be wrong.
The cops are leaving. Those prisoners who could not fit in the land rover are walking single file. Their linked shirts, T-shirts or vests make it look like a giant chain. A very unstable chain because now and then, someone steps onto the heels of the fellow in front disrupting the rhythm. Or some really drunk link stumbles over a matchstick and throws the entire chain off balance.
The cops who searched Mama Nyokabi and Maish seem disappointed. They would have loved to nail her with some merchandise. Such evidence would have necessitated a handsome handshake to get back her freedom. But they couldn’t find anything on her. And that’s because the stash is safe inside my crocodile skin briefcase.