You can almost always tell whether someone is a storyteller or not. Storytellers have this atmosphere around them that they carry everywhere they go and when they take a seat, their stories pull up the seat next to them. Such people do not even ask questions or wait for your contribution. They just dive right into their stories. By the time you check your clock, it is two hours later, the sun went down and everybody left their offices for home. Sam is a storyteller. I could sniff it even before when we spoke on the telephone. Our meeting takes place along Moi Avenue in the Views Coffee House on the fourteenth floor of Bihi Towers. He arrives thirty minutes later than our agreed time but the view of the sunset over the city from the window is something to kill for.
Before he arrives, two gentlemen take the table next to me and I immediately recognize one of them as Chanchori. I am dumbfounded. I, however, have to recover fast because Sam walks in almost immediately.
The coffee house is almost full to capacity. And loud. I begin to get alarmed that I might not get everything I needed on record but push the conversation forward nonetheless.
Sam grew up in Nakuru and attended Masinde Muliro University studying Computer Science. After university, he knew clearly that he did not want anything to do with employment for several reasons. One of the reasons was that he had a family background that had excelled in business, in fact, it was business that put him through school together with his siblings. Another reason was that he looked ahead and realized that a salary of about thirty thousand a month from a job at the entry level would not fulfill his desired targets.
At this moment, it would be important to understand that Sam was also about to get married to his four years university sweetheart. Marriage, as is an African custom, requires dowry and a lot of other resources to pay for the wedding ceremony. As Sam describes this girl, I can read the commitment he once held for her.
“My girlfriend and I had been in the same class. We had dated since the first year of campus. She was one of the four girls in a class of 60. She was a very beautiful girl,” he says.
It was for this reason that he decided to practice the family business where he would get Sausages from his father’s factory in Naivasha and supply them in Nairobi. He had performed a feasibility study and discovered that Githurai was a market boiling with potential and that was where he moved to even before graduation. He took his first bold step and walked to his father with the idea and when he received support, he launched his business in a new place, straight from university with zero experience. Business picked up almost immediately and in three months, he was making a profit of up to forty thousand a month, still, before graduation.
From where I am seated, I see Chanchori signing a few copies of his book, Zoo. He is holding the copies of his new book in his hand and with every copy he signs, I can see the grin of satisfaction and pride. A book is like a baby, you spend too much time writing it and when it is done, even before anybody else reads it, you have created something with your own hands and it is complete. I have not written a book yet, these are just thoughts of future feelings.
Sam is taking a cup of a concoction the waitress graciously recommended for his cold. One day in his usual activities, he received a call from a multinational company he had interned at for his industrial attachment during his course. They wanted to offer him a permanent job owing to the good work he had done while interning there. Employment was not something he was willing to consider so he told them that he was going back to school for his masters and instead would send someone else as good as him for the same position.
“So you lied to them,” I ask.
“No, it was true I was going for masters but not the usual one, I was going for masters ya juakali” he says with a smirk written across his face. Sam made the second bold step. He sent them his girlfriend and they gave her a basic salary of eighty thousand upon confirmation. Things were looking up. She was working, he was working, and the best-laid plans were in full operation. He immediately started planning the wedding, the dowry and everything else that would be required. The only problem at this point was that with both of them working, there was little time to see each other than they were used to.
One Sunday, Sam did what I assume every man does at one point in their lives, being extra. He took a matatu to town and another one across town after church, then he stopped by Uchumi Supermarket and bought a gift basket, filled it with nice lady gifts: chocolates, wine and a bouquet of flowers. He was going to surprise his girlfriend in a way he was certain would be thrilling to her. Sam believes that if you have to do something, then do it right including dating.
Have you ever knocked on a very familiar door then you are so anxious to get in and announce your presence but instead you hear hushed movements and a voice from inside inquiring who you are and then after identifying yourself there are more hushed movements before the door slowly slides open lazily and unwillingly like you are unwelcome or unneeded? I do not think I have and Sam had to explain to me every bit of emotion that runs through your head when you walk in and another man is seated on your girlfriend’s couch, the couch you surprisingly also like and having a mortified set of two eyes stare at you like you just walked into an alien planet.
“Surprisingly Dennis, this was a person I knew from her Facebook posts. He used to comment under her photos and posts in a suggestive way but I had never paid attention. I thought that our relationship was beyond doubt” he points out his pupils darting from edge to edge in an excited manner. Sam puts a lot of energy in his words that they reach me with a lot of intensity like a pounding wrecking ball.
“What did you do to the flowers and the gifts?” I asked, hoping that it was something dramatic like throwing them over the balcony or smashing them against the wall but then this was not a movie. This was a real life. This was a man who felt his heart sink as a knife was being buried deep into his back by the one he had trusted his life with. He had just placed them on the table calmly and took a seat adjacent to Mr. Steal your girlfriend on Facebook. He picked her phone from the table, walked to the kitchen, pulled up a stool and went directly to her conversation with this guy.
At this point, I am curious what the lady was doing. What happens when you get caught with your hand in the sugar jar and there is nothing you can do about it? She had followed him to the kitchen and Sam remembers bits of her words.
I wanted to tell you about this
Do not keep looking into the phone you will just get hurt
Sam says in a voice mimicking a voice that I suppose belonged to her. He is a very dramatic storyteller but the theatrics do not cover the emotion and the extent these lines were cutting into his conscience. At this point, we sink into a momentary silence as he lets the scenario sink into my conscious.
“So what happened after that?” I hear myself struggling to get back in control of the conversation.
“I walked out and took a matatu and left” he answers curtly like it was what any normal human being would do. I sure as hell would not do that, I do not think many of us would have made the choice Sam took at that moment of high amounts of adrenaline. Halfway through the estate, he made one huge discovery, he had not acquired concrete evidence of infidelity, which meant his decisions moving forward would leave room for doubt on the possibility that he had assumed this betrayal. He took his third bold step, he alighted the matatu and took another back to the lady’s house. At this point, we are referring to her as the lady, not as my girlfriend.
The door was unlocked so he just walked in, Mr Snatch your girlfriend with nice comments on Facebook was still on the couch, the lady was now in the kitchen crying her soul out probably coming to terms with the weight of her actions. Remember the wine Sam had brought as a gift, Sam took a glass from the kitchen and poured himself a glass and then another one and another one after that one until it was no longer and a bottle of wine, but an empty wine bottle. Then, he unwrapped the chocolate and chewed on it slowly without any urgency from the couch. When he felt thirsty, again he walked back to the kitchen, took out another glass and poured himself some yogurt from the cupboard. If you have to get betrayed, then go down on a full stomach.
At this point, Mr Facebook comments saw that the situation in the house with the three of them inside was a volatile active volcano begging to explode so he just got into his feet and sneaked out of the house. He never even bid his cheat partner goodbye, he just left.
Sam was full, he had one problem less to worry about but what he was really after was her phone. In secret during this entire charade, he had managed to get his hands on the phone and taken her sim card. He is a Computer Scientist, he knew with a sim card he had half of all her activities online. He was determined to obtain proof.
He left the house, directly into a Cyber Café, and that was where he was able to reset her Google password and access her Google Chat, a common application at that time that was later renamed to Google Hangouts. He emailed himself the conversation before he got into a matatu and headed back to Githurai.
“This file became an obsession and source of misery for a really long time. I could not eat, I tried chapo and beef, my favorite, I tried chicken. Three days passed, my sausage business crumbled and went under since I had no intentions of reviving it. My driving force was gone, and without it, I was just a ghost walking around the house like a shadow. I would read the conversation like you would a torture book, carefully and deeply as it tore me from inside piece by piece” he narrates.
I linger a while longer on a phrase he mentions, my driving force, and when I come back into the conversation, Sam is talking about a song that really messed him up, a song by Chris Martin.
Oh lord don’t let me cheat on my boyfriend, as far as I can see…
Sam breaks into the song and I join in. We sing a whole verse until some ladies from the next table are staring at us wondering why in hell we were changing the word girlfriend in the song to boyfriend. We eventually run out of words, because this is a really old song and a sad one, plus, no one really wants to carry a sad lyric in their memory for close to seven years. Especially not Sam.
“I used to cry, Dennis. Then I used to go back to those messages and even cry some more. Until you fall in love you will never understand that the heartbreak is as painful as a physical injury”, he continues, “I did not eat, it was easy to stay asleep than be awake and stressed” he adds in a voice that has now become low as he scoops memories from his past.
After several more weeks, he did what every man does when they think they have reached the lowest point, he called his mother and asked her to pray for him because he felt like he was about to slip. His mother told him of a dream she had and by the time she finished narrating her dream to him, he knew that in her own divine ways, she understood what he was going through. Mothers always know. After a lot of prayers in which Sam referred to as talking with God or consulting with God, he made his fourth bold move, he made the decision to leave his girlfriend with a lot of finality. There was no going back now.
“Dennis here is a life hack,” he whispers as if he ready to reveal to me who actually killed Michel Jackson, “if someone looks at you and you know you have lost a lot of weight but they do not comment about it, then it is serious. If they avoid it in their conversations like it is a bad idea, then you truly are thin. I had lost a lot of weight and the fire that once burned was out.” He made his fifth bold move and moved back home to his parents in Nakuru County.
For him, it was a time to reflect and re-evaluate. He worked under his father in his factory where he got a chance to learn directly from him about running a business and operations in an organization, things that are never taught in university. These were skills that would later come in handy in his life. He stayed away from girls and got more involved in the community and committed to the church. When he thought he was ready after a period of more than one year, he made the sixth step and took a Systems Analyst job at Westlands. He was back to the city again. He worked for a while there before he applied for a scholarship program in Strathmore which became his seventh step, he quit his job and went back to class.
At this moment, I cannot help but admire his promptness in decision making and flexibility in testing out his life over a wide range of possibilities. In class, he did not just learn, he went beyond that and founded a partnership with an old classmate and built their own Value Add Service start-up firm and within a few months, they had Safaricom as their client. They had a successful launch of the company and a good run until after graduation he felt that the partnership was not working out and his eighth bold step was to drop the partnership. The company had begun deteriorating with high overhead costs and almost zero returns so he decided to give employment another chance and this time, he found a position most fitting to his skills, wit, and passion. He excelled.
On the other hand, he prayed to God to send him a partner who would make all these achievements worthwhile and God smiled upon him one day, during a friend’s wedding, he met his wife but at that moment she had no clue that she was going to be his future wife. She never even knew he existed but to Sam, she was what God has planned out for him. She was everything he had ever wanted, proving himself that good boys do not always finish last.
“I made my ninth bold step and asked her to marry me and she said she would and God confirmed. It was as if all the lessons, the decisions and the pain I had gone through were leading me to this moment”, he says barely unable to conceal his happiness. She said, I do and took Sam’s last name.
Another silence spell fills the atmosphere and all the noise from the rest of the café seems insubstantial. We all look back and see how long this journey has been and how many corners Sam has had to take. The initial plan was a wedding at 24 years old but ended up marrying at 29 and to an entirely different person. The twists and turns only to get to where he always wanted. At this moment, I somehow feel like Sam has the secret to life, the secret to surviving the twenties and my next question almost sounds like I am crying out for help, for information and for a life hack on how to do it right.
“What is the most important thing to chase? Is it money, happiness or is it love?” I ask.
“God”, he answers simply, “he answered me every time I was at crossroads, showed me my next step before I sank into the abyss. Pursuing God came with a lot of answers in my life. However, this is not exclusive. Different people receive insight in different ways and it is your duty to identify how to listen. Others its art, music, skills, and proficiency in their operations. All of it is God and you have to be willing to listen when he speaks to you in your own way”.
I look back and wonder whether God has ever spoken to me and how he could reach me if he wanted to speak to me. I make a mental note to push this thought forward after we are done with the interview.
“It is important to have a plan. What is it that you do that you are really good at? Make a plan on that and stick with it, and no matter the number of fatal failures remain patient and objective. If you are persistent with what you are good at, eventually it will bear fruits” He says coming to an end of a seven years life tale.
This is quite a story and I needed time to chew on this information. I notice my cappuccino has gotten cold and neglected throughout the two hours we have been speaking with Sam. I put my phone off the record mode and we talk a little while longer about Nakuru. I studied and grew up in Nakuru and I had a lot of opinions about the town. Eventually, Sam’s wife calls him and tells him that she was parked outside waiting for him. They were headed for a dinner at a friend’s place. I bid him farewell and ask him to pass my regards to his wife.
I remain in the same position as I was after he leaves thinking about the conversation we had. What is your driving force? What makes you wake up that early morning and do what you do?
I walk over to Chanchori’s table where he is having something that looks like a meeting and introduce myself. He recognises me almost instantly and I can feel my body begging to break into a dance. I tell him I would like a copy of his new book, Zoo, and after a few words, one of which, he tells me that his story is being produced into a movie, I leave the coffee house with a million thoughts racing through my mind. I wonder whether someone would one day feel butterflies in their stomach because of something I created with my own hands.
I replay Sam’s parting words in my mind again before I jump onto the lift, “…If you are persistent with what you are good at, eventually it will bear fruits”.
How did it all start for you? Rather, how is it starting out for you right now? Mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org wherever you are and I will come running with my coffee pot.
Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri