I remember an easier time, when Thika Superhighway was just Thika Road. Nothing was super about it, not even the traffic. We were regulars at a bar and lounge just before you get to Kahawa Wendani, I cannot recall the name. Next to the bar and lounge was a small timber yard, also memory fails me on the name of that timber company. It was so tiny, you would have thought they dealt toothpicks. This was a time when we were young, living in Nairobi with our hearts filled with endless adrenaline and possibility.
We worked and we drunk. Sometimes, we drunk then worked; we did not have a schedule really. When we got stuck in traffic on Thika Road, that was only two lanes, we pulled out Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o from our bags. Sometimes we read, sometimes it was to impress the girl seated next to us in a matatu. We were young, full of zeal and formidability.
There was a company in Thika that launched around that time, that one I can remember the name, it was Urithi Sacco. Hell, we even knew the founder. While we stopped at a bar and lounge along the road, he headed straight for Thika, bought a one-acre piece of land, split it and sold it as plots. All this while, we drunk and toasted to our youth.
It was a time when we watched former President Moi give an annual address at state house during the New Year’s Eve. We heard what he said but we were not bothered enough to listen. We had LG television sets in our rented apartments because we felt that there had to be a distinction between our sets and the Greatwall television sets we left at our parents’ homes. It is the futility of youth, always being extra in comparison to their parents. That, to any young person, is the standard of success.
We did not have green beer bottles. That came with the generation that dances to Skrrrr Skrrrr music at 3 am in the morning. All the beer we knew was in brown bottles. A couple of such, and you would sleep alongside the meandering Thika road, in a gutter, well into the next day. They were beers that made you the opposite of the Lion that was on the branding label. So, we stuck to only two if we wanted to sleep on a bed. Any bed, even when it was not ours.
We asked a lot of questions like all youths do. Democracy was a distant dream, so we hushed our criticism in between the belches. We gossiped about the popular ones that had disappeared in the dead of the night for criticizing the government. Imprisonment without trial, or worse, Nyayo torture chambers. The thought of this made us pee in our pants. So, we befriended those close to the president and lifted one finger to the air to salute the president screaming ‘Kanu, Kanu, Kanuuuuu’ like the pussies we were.
Ati Police Brutality, haha. Back then, that was Police Normal Conduct. Saying things like ‘freedom of the media’ was like asking for a recipe for the death of media members and not even their kin would find their remains. I wonder where the bodies went to though. I sit on my balcony in the evening and speculate on places they were secretly buried. Maybe in unmarked graves or cremation chambers hotter that Satan’s armpits where they were disgracefully erased from the face of the earth.
These were easier days, therefore, it was easy for a man to set course for his destiny. It was no wonder the toothpick timber yard grew and became the largest timber yard in Nairobi. Urithi grew to Urithi Premier and related Urithi Housing Co-operative Society Ltd with billions in shares and deposits, Thika Road matured to Thika Superhighway. Even the bar and lounge we drunk in matured up and was replaced by an entire estate. The only thing that remained constant was our relationship to the bottle.
While men shaped their destinies and built legacies that would last lifetimes, we used that time and money to drink. Success ran away from us like a gazelle does to a Cheetah in the Kenyan Savannahs. It was so close, yet at the same time so far away.
Then now there was Kahawa Sukari, Kahawa Wendani, and Kahawa West. Later came Roysambu and the hundreds of estates along the superhighway. Initially, the only popular place along those lines was Githurai, we even made songs about it…
…na wasee tumetoka Githurai, Githurai, tumekam kukupa rhymes zingine dry, tuki fry whack MCs ka mayai…
There was Kasarani too, but only a few lived there. A handful of loners. But we went there to watch Gor Mahia play at the stadium against A.F.C. Leopards. The Leopards always won.
We watched as these places grew up like a jealous neighbour watches the neighbourhood kids grow. We saw people build estates in Runda, Kiambu, and Muthaiga, while all along we just moved from a two bedroom apartment in Juja to another two bedroom apartment in Roysambu. We felt unprogressive and slow but we had already committed our souls to the devil. The devil dressed in a bottle.
Now we just drive our very first cars along Kiambu Road to our small pieces of land and homes in Banana, Kiambu. If it is on a Friday, we park beside Jikonis and Sidai Oleng’ and watch young people drink. It pisses us off. Young men with young women clinging to their arms like their lives depend on them. Drunken, with footsteps, slowed to a jarring Frankenstein walk. Couples with half nurtured relationships simply founded on the fact that they smash (who even says ‘shag’ in 2018?).
Often we decide to walk in and take a single beer in a green bottle because the habit never dies and there we see the same young men, using tens of thousands for a momentarily high, ‘a good time’ and a hangover. Living is a choice, dying is a decision. Or the vice versa, they say and I shudder at their commitment to futility.
And then you almost walk up to them and tell them to focus on what is important. Build their relationships slowly and carefully then move to their careers and camp there. Not for anybody else but for themselves. Because we made the same mistakes and now we grind our teeth in the darkness and get intimidated by successful people. A chance we all had two decades ago because we went to the same schools they did, got employed in the same jobs as them, and, we even married same women they did.
But you do not want to be the buzzkill who brings such to a club while people are trying to forget their real problems. So you sip your beer, get into your car and before you start the engine, you take one last look at the crowd walking in and the other walking out. In your mind, you ask God for another chance to do things in a different way before you start the engine and drive off to Banana, Kiambu.
Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri.