Living in Nairobi is not an easy task. Surviving is not difficult, but then, surviving is not the same as living. The other day I was just minding my own business, reporting to work, my first job, for the first day, then all over sudden, I found myself in a police cell. Mind you, it was my very first day at work where I was supposed to make an impression of positivity and intelligence but there I was in a cell with drunkards and smokers hurdled in a corner for two hours, for simply being stupid. This is a true story, I swear! You know you people like carrying me stupid so much.
So this is what happened, it had just stopped raining but there was still faint traces of light downpour sparkling reluctantly to the struggling rising sun. I had just alighted from a matatu from Kiambu, and I was headed to board another to Mombasa Road where I was starting out as a Software Engineer. I was new to Nairobi, I actually still am. I never master anything in this town. It is as if buildings migrate at night. But recently I have mastered how to get myself to Kencom anytime I am lost. The other day, the one before this one, I went round and round Archives Building like thrice trying to find Choppies Supermarket at Commercial. I was frustrated. I ended up asking a taxi driver who pointed a place I had been through twice! I felt stupid. It is in Nairobi that the forest monkey realizes that it cannot outsmart the grasslands of the savanna with its climbing proficiency.
Anyway, on this day I alighted at Commercial. The day before, I had asked kina Francis the Lone Puppeteer to draw me a map of the city and for like an hour and a half, they described to me where to go and where to assiduously avoid. They told me that if I found myself on Luthuli Street, I would come out of the other end with neither money nor shoes. These people are good at scaring people. I, therefore, paid more attention to where I should avoid more than where I should go.
I was supposed to take an Embassava Matatu to Mombasa road but I forgot where they said the bus stop is. I remembered the second alternative which was to go to Railways bus station which is below Afya Center. I could see Afya Center from where I stood so I decided to go there- start with the known to the unknown.
I clutched my laptop bag tight, nobody was gonna steal from me. At least not today. I kept walking. All of a sudden, a guy with a heavy Somali accent stopped me. He was talking in a blunt insistent use of words that I could hardly make out. I could almost hear Mukiri Gitiri repeating to my ears like a hundred times, Never stop for a stranger in Town. Neeeeeever! You hear? So I was tempted to keep walking but then my villageness kicked in. In Nakuru and Nyandarua, we never leave a stranger talking, we are nice to each other. We are one big family.
Ah! Nairobi was not going to make me cold. I would rather lose my wallet and shoes. So I stopped. I asked him to speak slowly because his accent was something I was not accustomed to. If Mukiri had found me there disobeying her advice she would have never spoken to me again. He switched from Swahili to English and it actually helped because I now understood that he was looking for sijui Vision Tower. Is there anything like that in this city you guys? Sasa me I told him I was also new to the city with absolutely no knowledge of any Tower. The only building I knew was Afya Center because it is green, big and I was staring right at it. By the time we split ways, the stranger had actually shown me directions on where to board a matatu. The helper had become the helped. I knew all along Mukiri had been wrong about people in Nairobi. People are nice. I could almost feel the added weight in my body from pride.
I did what the stranger had advised me to do. I went to Railways Bus Station and waited for the matatu that had the conductor screaming Kitengela. It was quite a long wait but a look at my watch confirmed that I would still be at work on time. It continued to drizzle making the grandeur seem insubstantial and unreal. “Such a beautiful city”, I thought.
Kitengela matatu eventually came, and I boarded but not before I asked the conductor if he was sure they go through Mombasa Road. I asked twice and he lost his patience and screamed at me…
Unaenda ama huendi kijanaa?
I never liked the name Kijanaa. It is an insult to my adulthood. It hurts. This conductor had ruined my morning na venye I had been ‘feeling myself’. I boarded, anyway, and before I could even get my second foot on the car, it sped off. I tried to look for a seat and they were all taken. There was no place to sit. So that jamaa tells me…
Shikilia chuma kijanaa, tunafika saa hizi tu.
So, I stood. Let myself burn under the stare of more than a hundred eyes of passengers that were looking at me like they knew something that I did not. At some point, I thought, I just looked good, too good, so I minded my business and waited to be ferried to Mombasa Road.
I think I was busy estimating the amount of money my new job would be paying when all over sudden the driver screamed something I could not understand and the conductor lied flat on the matatu floor. I was confused, part of me immobile. The bus came to an emergency stop immediately. Everything inside me stopped. Something throbbed with both fists at my chest. More than seventy passengers in that vehicle and no one seemed interested in telling me what was happening.
Two police officers came in…
Nyinyi ndio majangili mnabeba excess? Ehe? Shika huyo jamaa amelala hapo akifikiria hatumuoni. Weka yeye pingu. Mtajua hamjui!
Let me translate that. It is important that everyone understands that part…
You are the satans boarding more passengers than the limit, ehe? Catch that guy sleeping on the floor thinking we cannot see him. You will know that you don’t know!
I froze, stunned in despair like those rats that lose hope in laboratory experiments and lie down in the maze to starve. And I swear I am not lying aki. This is not made up. Sasa who will we ask to confirm? You people do not trust me. This is what happened after that, the two policemen put the conductor in cuffs. They were to put me in cuffs too but I think they realized that that would put creases on the amazing expensive suit I got as a birthday gift, so they chose to just tell me to follow them.
Now, never have I ever been talkative except occasional pressured bursts but that day, on the walk to Nyayo Police Station I spoke, pleaded and swore. I told the buffoons that it was my first day in Nairobi but none was willing to listen. At some point, one of them threatened to put me in cuffs if I did not shut up, so I did. I was prepared to live life on the edge but not write a story about how I was in cuffs. Aaaaaaai hapana. All along I hoped that I would appeal to their sensitivity but these men are made of stone. I gave up.
We got to Nyayo Police Station. I felt like these were Moi days all over again and I was Kenneth Matiba (RIP) being taken to detention at Kamiti Maximum Prison. Alafu you guys, ebu imagine the conductor passed one police some cash notes before we got to the police station and he let him go ivo tu. I thought of protesting but then decided against it. I did not want to be cuffed.
These officers were decent; at least they respected my suit, told me to sit on a bench outside the cell instead of being squeezed in the crowded cell. Then they left to go catch some other innocent souls and I was left confused and stranded waiting to be taken to court. I started considering my options…
- I had watched enough episodes of Boston Legal to effectively evade fine and jail from a tired judge through lawyering.
- Pay money – Like do all that corruption shit I detest and be on my way to work.
- Ask for a cash bail.
- Wait like an idiot to see how everything turns out.
I chose the fourth option and after I was done waiting, I chose the third option. I chose decency. I was and still am determined not to make this city corrupt me. I have watched from outside, this city for far too long to know how people become after the city. Especially us, Nakuru people. I knew too well what I did not want to become. So I cleared my throat ostentatiously trying to get the attention of the office police. He did not even turn. So I decided to call him, Mkubwa. The guy didn’t even budge. I gave up. I took my phone out and started tweeting. I felt powerless at this point. If I was going to get fired for being late on my first day, well, there was nothing I could do about it.
In the cell there was this man, pleading with the officers, claiming that his wife just had a baby called Nadia (we will talk about this name later). He was actually crying, telling the officer that if he did not go back to work, his wife and Nadia would starve. He even tried to recruit me to support his bid but aki I did not want to be cuffed or thrown in a cell, so I just held on to my silence. He continued pleading, telling us all about Nadia. I wondered if that story was made up, this was Nairobi after all, so much is fake and made up. Somehow, I decided to trust him.
He had been arrested for not being in conductor uniform. I paused to wonder about these conductors, how much money they make daily. When it rains, fare to Kiambu skyrockets from KSh 60 to KSh 90 or KSh 100 like the roads suddenly became longer. They feast on disaster and misery of other Kenyans. They scream at you on the road when you are in your own tiny car, they disrespect you at will. Do they deserve mercy? Was I beginning to think like City people? That last thought shook me to my roots.
A lady police officer came eventually and I told her, I had examined my options and would like to pay cash bail. She enquired like twice whether it is the cash bail or the other one which she did not bother to give a name because I knew she meant bribe. I told her that I wanted the legit cash bail and just like that she threw me in a cell claiming that I needed more time to think.
Now I was in jail, behind bars. I called Mukiri to tell her to put some more money in my phone but her phone went to voicemail, I called Francis the Lone Puppeteer and he was laughing through my whole story. He kept asking…
Ati you are in jail?
For standing in a moving matatu, are you stupid?
When you leave jail, join Akon and release a convict music album.
So wait, wait, you got up in the morning, took a shower and applied some perfume for a date in jail?
This guy was having a field day with jokes and I was here getting stressed. Si, I told you people you like carrying me nonsense too much. Anyway, he fueled my Mpesa with enough money but I was pretty sure he would be laughing about this for like twenty years. He actually kept saying jail instead of cell just to amuse himself. All this time, baba Nadia and the rest were eavesdropping on my call because the cell was a really small place.
I called the lady again, told her I had thought about it and I wanted a cash bail because I had to go to work. She said cash bail was KSh 7000 and I knew she was lying so I asked her about the other one and she said KSh 2500. I knew this was not the place to ask for justice or to wait for the protocol. I was determined to do the right thing, at least drop my country from being number seven worldwide in being most corrupt to at least number thirteen but there was nothing I could do. It was already 10.00 am. I was two hours late for my first day at work.
The city was winning. The very first day. I was considering paying the officer and be on my way. I felt guilty. I thought about going to court, then I saw the risk of wasting a full day doing nothing. I told the lady police that I had the KSh 2500 in my phone and she opened the cell doors extremely fast. She was ready to take me to an Mpesa shop to withdraw this money and that was what she did.
As we walked back, so that I could take my bag, she told me to add her five hundred shillings for helping me. I was about to start protesting but I had already had enough of this charade. I had already become corrupted. There was no redemption. I made a move to hand her the money and she screamed…
Sio hapa kwa barabara, kwani wewe ni mjinga? Twende huko nyuma!
I was getting tired of people asking me whether I was stupid. I was not stupid, the city was stupid. Tragedy always happens and there is nothing we can do to alter by one jot the evil that awaits all of us. We went behind the building and I handed her three thousand shillings. On our way back she told me that I would not get fired and later went ahead to welcome me to Nairobi.
I hated her. I hated everything about her. I do not think I have ever had so much hate for a single person in one instance.
I took my bag, called an Uber and went to work. I was glad my Uber driver was one of the silent ones, that day was not one of those days I wanted any conversation. I thought about the life I was about to begin in the city, would I survive? The next few minutes were a haze of anger, doubt and bitterness. How was I going to create a first-day picture of a motivated employee with all the hustles of the city?
I called Mukiri while in the cab to tell her I was considering going back to Nakuru and it was surprising that she was not surprised by my ordeal at all. This one is a masterpiece of composure. Nothing ruffles her or makes her upset. She is always still, silent then thoughtful. That day she had one piece of advice…
Suck it up and survive!
She said, and I did. Sucked it all up and survived. That is what I am doing right now. Otherwise, I would not have had enough confidence to create a display of my stupidity.
That said, who knows another place I can get Kiambu matatus in the evening? These ones at Commercial are always too crowded.
If kama you have not voted for me yet, don’t talk to me L
Category 3 – Option B.
Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri.
© Convicted Criminal and Serial Survivor; Dennis Peters.