Secret Handshakes

Once or twice in a lifetime, a man must reminiscence on his vitality. That day a man will lay out his laundry to the almighty jury of Twitter. On such a day there is nothing like bedroom affairs or surreptitious handshakes. It is a day like no other. Such a day does not come often but when it does a man has to be heeded.



The other day I typed twelve hundred words about how I was working for Kenya Power and shit. It was a good story that made incessant hilarious commentaries about how I would get fired and we all laughed about it. News just in is that I have not been fired yet. The adventure continues. I continue to bring the light to your bedsitters, and kitchens. In your bedrooms where whatever happens must never be brought to the light. I continue to rise before traffic in the city to redeem Kenyans from doom and darkness, from candlelight, paraffin lamps and the devil.



The other day in the office these three gentlemen, well into their prime years, walked into the office. From the old suits these men wore, I could tell they were the millennials of their time. The suits were old, unfitting but neat. You could tell that the shirts had been thoroughly washed and iron using the charcoal iron box because by the mere fact that they were in the office means that they had not received the light. These men are the kind of men you would effortlessly write two thousand words about without breaking a sweat. They spoke, they walked, they dressed the fifties.



One of them was first to speak up, it was in Kikuyu, deep Kikuyu. It was the language of few, it contained secrets of Gikuyu and Mumbi, the knowledge of the Mau Mau and the pain of Dedan Kimathi. Kikuyus always speak Kikuyu whether in Central or in Western, in Asia or in Europe, in America or in Africa. They always want whoever is on the receiving end to be Kikuyu. So they will not care that your forehead is written Luo or it is sunny outside but you are still in a brown leather jacket, a signature move for Kales. No! You are Kikuyu as far as you are on planet Earth.



Earlier in the year when I used to work at NHIF. I had successfully established that a Kikuyu who speaks to you in Kikuyu should always get a response in Kikuyu. The opposite will make them hate you for it. I do not like to be hated. Hatred has always sets a cold shiver down my spine. I am a people’s person, I never see a reason why people should hate me. I digress.



I replied their greeting and introduced myself as Njenga and asked how I could be of help to them. Before such men you are a subordinate and they are your bosses. You do not respond to such men like you would to your peers or a usual customer. You do it in such a way like you do to your boss or to your father. They could fire you and they do not even work there. They could make you lose your self-esteem in an instance. They are men you do not want to be at loggerheads against.



They explained their problem. They had been supplied with forms for new electricity connections but could not fill them because the letters were tiny. Age always aims at your eyeballs first making it impossible to write or read. I remember in my earlier years my grandma would ask us to read out hymn books for her across the heath. She loved that shit. She hated reading using spectacles. I do not know who reads the Kikuyu hymn book for her now. That is probably how I should spend my Christmas instead of drinking every cent like Jesus was born so that whiskey could ferment.



Before I could respond, one of them pushed a form across my desk and from where I was seated I could see a five hundred note beneath the form. What intrigued me most was the way he did it, he first made sure I had seen the five hundred shilling note before he casually asked if I could fill in the form. He did it in so much aptitude such that the three of them could see my face melting away before them. My shame tried to hide while my veins gave a standing ovation. I could see them looking right through me, waiting, imploring and commanding. They wanted me to make the right move. They stood on the shore of the ocean hoping to pull me into manhood, for Gikuyu, for Kimathi and for the Jubilee Government. They were good.



I have never been bought. I have bought others though, I have tried to buy an NTSA police officer when they did a number on us at Nakuru the other day. We were caught red-handed, hands down driving at 118km/h while the limit was a hundred. I have bought a school guard so that he did not have to inspect my stuff as I go through a gate. I have performed poorly out of ten when it comes to annihilating corruption in this country. I have no excuse for my actions, judge me if you must but I have bought people more than thrice or four or five times in my twenty-two years of age. I plead guilty.



This was different, someone was attempting to buy me for five hundred shillings. Moreover, to buy me to do my work. The world had turned upside down, the monkey had been taken to a plain where there were no trees and it had to learn new skills to survive. I took the five hundred shilling note casually, barely concealing the thousand thoughts running through my head. I was unskilled wondering how bribes are received. Are they received in secret and with a smile? Can you ask for more? Are you supposed to act like you are a bad ass accustomed to such stuff? Are you supposed to say thank you? If your boss sees it, are you supposed to share your bribe?



I took the money, held it tightly in my fist, took the three form and filled them and returned them to the three gods for them to put their signatures. What they did not realize is all these time I was staring my life in flashes. Wondering what a five hundred shilling note meant to me. A good meal perhaps, a lot of browsing data, a good energy drink or a yogurt to chase of the afternoon heat? That was as much as it went. This is what I did, and I swear am no lying you guys.



I took back the forms after they were signed, pin the KRA certificates and ID copies. Took the note, pushed it across the table, back to them. Told them that the forms were in good hands and it was my job as a worker at Kenya Power to serve customers and I did not need extra payment. I swear, that is how it went. If you think I am lying, mail me, I will give you the assurance of my voice.



Then it got me thinking, maybe we do not need anti-corruption units in this country, maybe we do not need to yap all over that we need to stop corruption. Maybe we just need to be us, remind ourselves of the high regard we hold ourselves. Even better, maybe corruption is not supposed to be fought, we just need to experience it to feel the kind of shame, the lowlessness and lawlessness, downgrade and loss of dignity that comes with that secret handshake.



So Jamuhuri day is here, our resident photographer’s birthday and my dad’s birthday all over again. 2016 heads to an ultimate terminus. Happy Birthday sir, Happy Birthday love, Happy Jamuhuri day guys. We do this again soon, yes?

Moments 2016 coming right up.


Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri




Dennis Peters


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