I bought Gavin De Becker’s “The Gift of Fear” this week, but that is not the story. The story is what happens before and after. In this story, I meet a girl with a cold, and a guy called Protus. An attendant tries to get me arrested for not having a receipt for my shawarma. A policeman tells me to cross the road, and a boda-guy asks if I want to cross it with traffic lights like a car.
As you can see, we have a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get straight to it. I’m keen on reading Gavin De Becker’s Gift of Fear. The premise of the book captured my imagination. ‘Fear is a gift when you are in danger but it’s a curse almost every other time.’ You want to know when to be afraid and when not to be.
Say you are in your deserted flat because everyone has gone upcountry, for example, and you are carrying two full bags of Christmas shopping. Maybe you are like the girl with the cold that I met. More on her later. A bit on her now: Slender, short sister locks on her head, big beautiful eyes, and even with her black mask on, you can tell she’s comely.
You get to the stairs and you are clearly having trouble carrying all the Wow Wows, Ringoz, and handkerchiefs in your bags, and a good Samaritan comes out of nowhere, offering a helping hand. You look at him and you get a cold chill down your spine. You say no to his assistance, but being the gentleman he is, he insists. You, trying to be polite accept reluctantly.
You get to your house and you tell him he can leave now, but he says he wants to make sure your Wow Wows and Ringoz are safely in your kitchen cabinet. He even says that the door can remain open if it will make you feel at ease, and you oblige him. You never get to open another bag of Ringoz after that. The Gift of Fear could have saved you a lot of trouble if you stuck to your guns and declined his offer at the very beginning.
But on most days you don’t need to be afraid, in fact, what you need is The Gift of Courage. Today is one of those days. I cross Mama Ngina St and enter Prestige Bookshop. The first person I meet is a girl wearing a black mask. She’s in a maroon sweater, black pants, and flip-flops and she is leaning on the counter. I look at her. She sees me look at her and I see her look at me and my words almost catch in my throat.
“Hi, I am looking for Gavin De Becker’s Gift of Fear,” someone says on my behalf with surprising eloquence.
“I think we have it,” she says while glancing at her colleague. She has short hair that is dyed white. She is built in a way that Gen Z might call “thick.” She gets up from her laptop, disappears, then comes back with the book and hands it to me. I lean on the counter, facing the girl with the black mask, and I start going through its pages, wondering if it will be worth my while. As I do, she moves to a different section.
“Umeenda wapi and I want to ask you some questions?” I say lifting my head from the book.
She comes back to my counter.
“Wewe ndio unaskia Covid kuliko kila mtu?” I tease her.
“Apana, I caught a cold this week,” she chirps.
Someone calls her on the opposite counter before I can get another word in—as I make up my mind to buy the book. “Payment is done on the other counter,” the thick girl says when I present the book to her while pointing to where the girl with the cold is.
I get there and find her talking to a guy behind the counter who is holding James Clear’s Atomic Habits. I can’t quite make out what they are saying, but it sounds like a dispute.
“How much is Atomic Habits?” I ask the guy.
“Two thousand bob,” he says evenly.
“Heh, kwani ni shamba,” I tease while handing him Gavin De Becker’s Gift of Fear.
The girl with the cold laughs. The guy holding Atomic Habits is not amused. He sends her away somewhere in the bookshop that is not in my line of vision. That should teach her to laugh at strangers’ jokes.
“Here you go Kevin,” he says after receiving my Mpesa message while handing me the book that is now wrapped in a brown bag.
“And your name?” I ask curiously.
“Protus,” he says.
“Protus?” I repeat the name; images of protractors blow up in my head but that’s neither here nor there.
“You must be from Western,” I say.
“Yes,” he says wide-eyed.
“The lakeside?” I ask.
“No, Kakamega,” he says.
“I have been to Bondo and Homabay. They were fun. I should make a point to visit Kakamega,” I say.
“We are Siblings you and I, you know,” he says knowingly.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“You are from the mountain, right?” I nod. “We are both Bantu’s,” he adds. “Nyeri?” he asks.
“Murang’a,” I say.
“You guys are the owners of Kenya?” he chaffs.
“No, you have already cleaned out my bank account with this book,” I say cheerfully while putting the KES 1550 book in my bag and getting ready to leave—with the pleasant feeling of having made a new friend.
“What time do you close?” I ask looking back. I don’t know why I did. Maybe I was thinking of bringing a certain someone Flu-Gone. A certain someone who was still nowhere to be seen.
“At 6,” Protus says.
“Nice to meet you Protus,” I say.
“Nice to meet you too Kevin,” Protus says as I head out the door.
I take Wabera St into Kenyatta Av and spill into where Simmers was; which has now been replaced by a shawarma joint. I find a beautiful hijabi woman who suggests that I should have chicken instead of beef. After paying, I pick my chicken from an equally beautiful hijabi woman and begin leaving before I am stopped by a quick-witted guy, who may or may not have been an attendant at the place.
“Usisahau receipt, ama kanjo watakushika,” he tells me.
I stand there waiting for the receipt, then I look at him. “Kanjo watanishika kwasababu ya receipt ya chakula?” I raise a brow realizing how absurd that sounds.
“Nilikua nimekupata,” he says charmingly while bursting into laughter.
I laugh with him and smile at my shawarma all the way through Kenyatta Av up to the junction on State House Rd.
It’s around 6 pm, and the sun is going down. The hoity-toity call it “sundowner,” and it has painted Nairobi city into a work of art. I remove my phone, take a picture, and slap it on my Instagram stories.
As I put my phone into my pocket, I see another work of art with one of our traffic police in it. I get closer, ready to take it. “Unataka nini?” he asks uneasily. Instead of saying I want to take a photo, I tell him I want to cross the road. “Vukia pale,” he points briskly, and as I do, a boda-guy—who I suspect does not need a lesson in the Gift of Courage—at full speed on his boda barks. “Wewe unataka kuvuka barabara na traffic lights kama gari?”
To the lovers of Katana on Trial and the lovers of everything else here. Let’s have a Merry Christmas!
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