You left your phone in the house and went to run an errand. You come back to three missed calls, it’s your contact who co-founded a company a few years back. You wonder what could be so urgent that one missed call couldn’t do it. You think for a moment and your brain agrees with you that you don’t owe him anything, neither does he have a beautiful sister with wide hips that you can remember so you call him back. Turns out he wants you to do a project for him, he’s putting together a tender and he needs your help to make it work. He asks how much you will charge him for it. You tell him you are not in a position to say that until you look at the brief.
He asks for your email and your outlook pings before you can blink. You give the brief a critical eye, it’s going to be a lot of work. You will need to call suppliers and negotiate costs. You will have to call in favors and get data that supports your hypothesis. You call him with two burning questions. Your fee and the deadline for the work? He tells you he will call you right back. Huh, he’s obviously a busy man. He has employees to supervise, issues to take care of, petty cash books to sign, meetings to attend, a girlfriend or two to take out so you give him time.
In the meantime you go to the kitchen and make yourself tea. You could be doing other things but you don’t mind an extra check. You grin and think, ‘Huh, this election drought is scorching other people’s pockets not mine.’ You will be having a check soon so instead of putting one beef brawn between four slices of bread like you usually do you put three. (What is money, eh?) You go with your cup of tea and extravagant sandwich to the living room and put on Startup. If you follow me on twitter you have seen me making noise about Startup. If you’re not that active or you don’t have an account consider yourself lucky, you’re among a few people who have not been bitten by the bug of thinking they know more than they actually do. Startup. Great series. Go watch it.
That night you sleep with a smile. The next morning you call him and he apologizes for not calling back. It’s okay, you say, after all he’s a busy man with employees to attend too, petty cash books to sign, meetings to go to and a girlfriend or two to take care of, so you excuse him and you tell him it’s no big deal. You tell him your fee and he says it’s too high but because he’s in your contacts and when you interacted with him he seemed like an okay guy you ask him what amount he’s comfortable with. He goes down almost by half and gets into hubbub about how it will be worth your while after he gets the business. You take him up on his offer and tell him you will send the work by close of business. He refutes and says that won’t work and gives you a deadline of noon.
It’s the kind of work that an entire team in an organization takes over a week to prepare. But you have never turned down a challenge so you tell him it’s alright. You sit down with your laptop and open an excel sheet and a PowerPoint presentation, pick up the phone and start calling in favors. Your phone rings, you look at the clock, the hour and minute hand are cuddling at twelve. It’s your good old contact telling you to send in the work because they are pressed for time. You tell him you’re almost through but you need another hour. At one pm he calls again. You tell him you’ll have sent the work before he breathes out. He calls again and says the figures are okay but the PowerPoint needs to be touched up. At this point you have a migraine for five people, you get out of the house and buy Mara-Moja and something to bite because you haven’t had anything in your stomach since morning. You call in more favors and you get research data and put something together and before you can push send he calls you and tells you to attach your resume as well because it will help with the process. Before you hang up you ask him how long the payment will take. He tells you three days in a matter-of-fact way.
You did the project on Wednesday. Thursday comes and goes, Friday evaporates into the air and the weekend knocks on the door. On Sunday you put on your flip-flops, there is a fish vendor who has opened at your area and you think to sample her dried fish. You buy a tilapia the size of an arm (What is money, eh?) and comeback with it to the house, fry it with soy sauce, make ugali and sukuma wiki and have a feast. You need the energy, if not for chasing your money, for withstanding the political climate in the country.
Monday gets here and you call him, he doesn’t pick but a text comes in saying that you should text him instead. Come on, he’s a busy man with employees to take care of, petty cash books to sign, meetings to attend and a girlfriend or two to wine and dine so you text him: “Boss, it’s been over three days, my payment?” You shove your phone in your pocket and mind your business. You go for a meeting and have a bite at Chicken Inn. You pass by Text Book Centre and think, ‘Huh, I will get Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing after that Mpesa assaults my account.’ Your phone bings, he wants you to send an invoice, you ask him if that is really necessary and he says it’s a must so you sit down with your laptop and fill up a template and bill him. He tells you that you will have your money, latest the next day in the morning.
Tuesday gets here, morning comes and goes. Baba pulls out of the elections, still nothing. You text him, “Its vipi?” but your text goes unanswered. The day goes to sleep and Wednesday gets here. ‘Political analysts’ everywhere are in a quagmire. Like the bible, our constitution has a million interpretations and nobody knows what happens next. You text your good old contact: “What’s up, I thought we were supposed to finish this payment story yesterday morning??” Those two question marks are very important, they say you need answers now or your tolerance will start eroding very quickly. You leave your phone in the bedroom and go to make breakfast. You’re startled by a lizard in the sink. You drop the spoon you were holding and lift your hands in the air as if to say take my spoon, take my sufurias. Hell, take my beef brawns but just let me live. It’s a light brown lizard, almost fading to the point of being colorless with black patches from its head to the tip of its tail that give it a mysterious beauty. It’s the size of your middle finger and its staring at you dead in the eye, unyielding, as if challenging you to a duo.
In a Jeff Koinange rattling bass:
“Come on buddy, I don’t want sufurias and spoons, I known you did a project recently that paid you good money.”
“I haven’t been paid, swear to God.”
(Moving towards you)
Who are you fooling? You think this is some kind of game? (It pauses for effect) Listen to me and listen to me good, buddy (I don’t know why it calls you buddy, buddies don’t come with threats) that’s no longer your money, that’s my money now, say it with me—“
“That’s no longer my money, that’s your money now.”
You say in a high pitched, trembling tone and scamper from the kitchen, scared shitless like a little girl. You go to the sitting room and peek at your phone, still nothing from your good old contact. You log into twitter and one of his tweets washes up to your timeline. It was tweeted one minute ago, it’s something about youth and mental health. (Look, probably less youth would have mental health issues if they were paid their dues on time. I’m just saying.) You call him and he doesn’t pick up. You look at his contact picture. He’s in a suit and a bowtie and you think that there is no way someone like that can take your money but then again this is Nairobi, a city of smoke and mirrors. A city that leans more on appearances than it does substance.
You start wondering what your next step will be, do you log into twitter and drag him? Should you find his mom’s number and call her and tell her she raised a fine young man who knows how to tie bowties but unfortunately he doesn’t know how to pay his debts? Do you let bygones be bygones and forget the entire thing? Pay people their money when you say you will pay them you might be having a bad day because people are walking around cursing you.
The payment comes in when your emotions are just about to splatter on the walls and you feel like a big idiot for overthinking things. You wonder what world you live in where people don’t keep their word. Where people have to be chased with a stick to do what they know they should. You get up from the couch and go to the kitchen. The lizard is no longer there, you wonder if another cartel got it, perhaps a militia group. You wonder if it knows you just got paid and you realize that you will always be guarded in your own kitchen just like you will always be guarded when a man in a suit and a cute bowtie asks you to work on a project.
Wollap Sexy friends? (Yes, we will be using wollap too) Crazy that we’ve only got two months left before the year packs its bags and runs after the sunset. I had thought that before the taste of Christmas was on the tips of our tongues I would have finished the second part of The Engagement and published it but life always has other plans and we will have to shelve that for 2018. I had also spoken about featuring stories of the heroes and heroines among us who don’t wear caps when we were winding up 2016. You know; single mothers, single fathers, people in the LGBT community, cancer patients; folk who have fought or are fighting things that are bigger than us. I had a tete-a-tete with one such person late last month and the story is in the pot simmering and hopefully it will be out next week.
If you have such a story burning inside you and you would like to share it, feel free to drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org. We will have a coffee. No croissants nor brioche’s, my pockets have not gotten that deep (yet) and you can unpack your heart on my laps and give one or two people perspective, expand our worldview, give us something to chew on and another way to see things.
There was a bit of a hitch yesterday, see you back here next Wednesday.
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I like to think of myself as a reader who writes, a Pan-African who thinks with the tips of his fingers, but when I’m not molesting the keyboard I’m usually destroying yogurt (not Frusion) or staring into the vastness of space.