Close Shave

A gust of cold air slaps my face when I step out of the house. It’s a dreary day. The sky is filled with grey clouds and like me earlier, the sun is still in deep slumber.

I woke up at 6.a.m. I should have woken up an hour earlier, but I had swiped the snooze icon on my phone several times and continued sleeping. Five more minutes of sleep became ten, ten became 15 and then 15 became an hour. The snooze icon is evil. It’s deceiving. It convinces you that you’ll sleep for only five more minutes and then you end up sleeping for five more hours. But I can’t totally blame the snooze icon though. I slept late last night. Fortunately, a cock somewhere outside crowed and it was loud enough to stir my sleep and get me out of bed.

But, I wasn’t saved by the cock. I’m still quite late but I saunter towards the stage. I know I should run or at least jog because I’m running late, but I’d rather walk than risk a stroke.

Because I’m quite chubby to tell you the truth. And the thing is, I don’t even eat much. I don’t exercise much either, but that’s besides the point. I’ve always been chubby. When I was younger I used to be really self-conscious about it. Especially when my classmates would tease me.

“No-no, no-no, no-no, no-no, Enock, oh yes!” they’d sing, corrupting the lyrics of a song from a popular advert from back in the day to make fun of me. Boy didn’t that song annoy the hell out of me. Nowadays though, I’ve learnt to accept myself for the way I am. I think it’s maturity. Also, I’m like this because of genetics and my slow metabolism. It’s just the way I am.

The grey clouds that had threatened to make it rain finally deliver on their threat. It begins drizzling. I fold an envelope I’m holding that contains my documents and stash it in my coat pocket so that the documents don’t get drenched. As I put the documents in my pocket, I realize I haven’t carried my phone. That’s the problem with doing things in a hurry. You always forget something important. Hopefully, I won’t need it.

The downpour gradually increases. I walk faster. If it keeps up like this, my already ruined suit will go from bad to worse. You should see it. It’s an elegant bespoke suit that I only wear on special occasions like today. I usually look super dapper in it but today I don’t.

I don’t because when I woke up there were no lights. Of all days the one day I needed to iron in the morning there were no lights. And it doesn’t matter who you are, no man in the world can look snazzy in a wrinkled suit. Maybe I’ll be the exception. But if my dressing doesn’t impress them, then my wits will, I console myself.

No lights also meant I had to face my worst nightmare—cold water. I usually take long showers, but today I was done in record time. Cold water cuts down shower time by half. If you want to conserve water and save time, you should try them out sometime.

As I continue walking towards the stage, the streetlights begin to flicker. If I was home watching telly I’d really be pissed. They give you hope and then take it away. Lately, the power outages have been too frequent. Sometimes I think KPLC should stand for Kenyans Please Light Candles, or Kenyans Purchase Lanterns and Candles or Kenya, Paraffin, Lamps and Candles. And don’t even tell me about them rebranding. KPLC was a more appropriate name.

A school bus with about three children onboard speeds past me. On the back, its rear window is emblazoned with the words NO UNAUTHORIZED PASSENGERS ALLOWED in huge red letters. Perhaps when they’re painted yellow I’ll be able to flag them down like taxis.

When I get to the stage, I take shelter at a nearby shop. The rain doesn’t relent. It continues pounding heavily. School buses pass. Private cars pass. Still, no matatus. The one day I need circumstances to be on my side they aren’t. When it rains it pours after all.

After I’ve waited for what feels like an eternity, two matatus racing each other come to a halt at the stage. Two conductors jump out of their respective matatus and run towards me like darts aiming for a bullseye. “Tao Kenyatta,” one says. “Tao Nyayo?” the other one asks as they both jostle for me. I opt to board the one using the Nyayo Stadium route because it usually has less traffic.

I ride shotgun. A lean man probably in his late 20’s who was already in the matatu has to move over to the small seat next to the driver. This doesn’t thrill him but he grabs his bag and reluctantly slides over to it. Not that I care. If he wants to ride in comfort then he should travel by car and not public transport.

“Beba, beba, beba, tao Nyayo,” the conductor says ushering two more people into the matatu filling it to capacity. And before they’re even seated we’re off.

It’s smooth sailing until we get to the main road—Lang’ata Road. There’s traffic stretching for miles. The man seated next to me rummages around in his bag, retrieves a book from it and starts reading it. I steal a glance at the title. It’s the 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. I’ve always been curious about people who read such books. I’m itching to ask him whether he has deployed any strategies in the book and how they’ve worked so far but I don’t. Instead, I mind my own business. Plus, my mind is already preoccupied with more pressing matters.

To occupy the silence filled by the two mute passengers next to him, the driver turns on the radio. “Coz it’s a bittersweet symphony this life…trying to make ends meet, trying to find some money then you die…” the singer on the radio croons.

Cars on the other side of the road dart past us. The traffic on our side ambles on. The song fades out. “That was Bitter Sweet Symphony by The Verve playing right here on your home of hits for the ages Timeless 95,” the presenter says. “If you’ve just tuned in, today we are talking about men without ambition. There’s a lady who dropped me an email recently complaining about her husband’s lack of ambition. She has been married to her husband for six years and in that entire time, their quality of life has never improved. The guy is just comfortable. They still live in the same one bedroom house they were living in when they got married. And her husband has never bought a car, thought of buying a plot or even building a house. Yaani, the guy hasn’t invested in anything the entire six years they’ve been together. Imagine! Ladies, how do you stick with such men? And gents, why do some of you lack ambition? Talk to me on 0711959595 that’s 0711959595 or text me on 9595. You can also hit me up on my Facebook page Maish in the Morning or on Twitter @Maish or @Timeless95 the hashtag is #TimelessBreakfast.”

The presenter’s voice fades out and the familiar voice of Michael Jackson permeates the matatu. The rain has refused to abate. It’s still raining incessantly and it’s like the traffic is getting worse. It’s a funny thing traffic in Nairobi. Whenever it rains there’s always more traffic on the roads.

I’m getting agitated. If I don’t get there on time I’ll have definitely ruined my chances. Don’t be late. It’s like one of the cardinal rules and at the rate we’re moving I’ll break it for sure.

I continue staring at the traffic ahead as if focusing on it will make it move faster. The matatu ahead of us has an illustration of hands clasped together as if in prayer on its rear window and the words PRAY UNTIL SOMETHING HAPPENS are inscribed below the illustration.

I’m praying alright. I’m praying the cars part and give us way like the Red Sea did for the Israelites. But it’s wishful thinking. The traffic continues to move at a snail’s pace.

As if reading my thoughts, the driver takes drastic action. He switches lanes and starts driving on the walkway. Pedestrians jump out of the way to give the matatu way. I’m usually critical of such antics but today isn’t that day. Frankly, I don’t care. I’m running late and whatever he does to get me to town on time is fine by me.

The lady seated behind me taps my back. “Pesa hapo mbele,” the conductor says. I fumble for my wallet, take it out, retrieve the only money I have, a tattered two-hundred shilling note and pass it to her over my shoulder. The conductor doesn’t return my change immediately and I decide I’ll have to remind him about it later.

The driver runs out of walkway and starts driving on the main road again. We’ve made some progress but we’re still on Lang’ata Road. “The time now is 7:50,” an announcer on the radio calmly says after a couple of advertisements. I’m really anxious now. I know I won’t get there on time, but to save face, I hope I won’t be too late.

“You are listening to Timeless 95 your home of hits for the ages and you are hanging out with me Maish on the Timeless Breakfast,” the presenter comes back on. “Now today we’ve been talking about men without ambition. And guys you’re not serious. Some of you are catching feelings online and defending this man? This man who has never invested in anything even a ka-plot. A man who is complacent doing the same dead-end job he has had since he got married six years ago. A job where he has never even been promoted. Come on guys. A man needs to have a desire to improve. A desire to progress in life. He needs drive. He needs ambition. Let me read some of your comments.

Frank Kamau on Facebook says, “Maish, do you know why they say behind every successful man there is a woman? Because women are supposed to push their men. That woman lacks ambition even more than her husband!” Really?

There’s another message here from Ahmed Khalid saying, “These women expect too much of us men. Some of us are trying our best but they’re not satisfied.”

Stephen Sang on Facebook says, “Ambition is relative. Not everyone’s ambition is the same. There’s no set standard for ambition. Ambition is different for everyone.”

Fellas you’re not serious. But at least there are some level-headed men who agree with me like Jason Chacha on Twitter says and this one is powerful, he says, “A man without ambition is like a boat without a rudder or a sailor without a compass at sea. Directionless.”

And then there’s a comment from a lady, Latoya Atieno on Twitter says, “A man without ambition is a man without vision.”

Then let me read one more comment from Charles Onyancha because it’s absolutely outrageous. He says, “Maish you are breaking homes!They’ve been married six years. If she was not satisfied she should have walked out long ago. As long as a husband and wife live together in harmony and he puts food on the table that’s all that matters.”

Ladies avoid such men at all costs. They’ll take you nowhere. Men why are you existing? You need to have purpose in life. And having purpose means having ambition. But ladies why do you stick with such men? And men, why do some of you lack ambition? Talk to me on 0711959595 that’s 0711959595 or text me on 9595. You can also hit me up on my Facebook fan page Maish in the Morning or on Twitter @Maish or @Timeless95 the hashtag is #TimelessBreakfast let’s keep this conversation going.”

The presenter’s voice fades out and a Brenda Fassie song I like but haven’t heard in ages comes on. If I had my phone I’d have tweeted Maish. I think many people are insatiable. I think it’s human nature to yearn for more. I think it’s good to want more out of life. The problem is some people are greedy. They want too much. And I think this yearning for too much is responsible for the discontent and emptiness many people feel in their lives.

I think we place importance on the wrong things. Material things. Things that could be here today, gone tomorrow. I think we pursue these things thinking they’ll make us happy at the expense of more important things like building relationships. Man’s gotta eat but too many people out here are overfeeding themselves. Plus, I think everything happens in due time but we’re too focused on how other people are progressing faster than us.

Speaking of time, my already critical situation is getting dire. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, as we approach the Nyayo Stadium roundabout, a police officer pulls us over.

I don’t believe in karma but it feels like poetic justice for earlier when the driver decided to drive on the walkway. It was wrong but deep down in my heart, I was cheering him on. Now I’m paying for it. Or perhaps events decided to conspire against me to ensure I’m late.

Luckily, the driver is back in a few and we set off. At least the rest of the journey there is minimal traffic and the rain has subsided. Thank heavens.

“Shukisha Agip,” I tell the driver as we approach the stage where I’m supposed to alight. The matatu comes to a halt at the Agip stage and I get off. I signal to a nduthi guy to come and pick me up and then it dawns on me—I didn’t ask for my change.

I have my ATM card but the bank isn’t nearby. Left without a choice, I start walking towards the building where my interview will (if it hasn’t already ended) take place.

A city clock in the distance indicates the time is 8:30. The interview started half an hour ago. I scoot to the interview venue. It’s the fastest I’ve ever walked in my life.

When I get there, I can’t access the building. Its been cordoned off. The police have erected a blockade and they’re marshalling a crowd of people gathered at the scene.

A section of the building is emitting smoke and firefighters appear to be extinguishing the remnants of what must have been a huge fire. Paramedics are rushing people on stretchers out of the building and into ambulances. Most of them have severe burns.

A babbly man in dark eyeglasses is addressing a small group of people nearby. I listen in to what he is saying and learn that the fire broke out at around eight presumably because of an electrical fault.

I leave the scene and head for the bank thinking it’s a good thing I didn’t arrive at eight on the dot. Otherwise, I may have been dead on time.








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