It’s Monday, or as Kenyans would call it; Utamaduni Day and as I would call it; Signing Books Day. I’m at Junction Mall looking to buy a pen. Junction Mall is usually a bevy of activities but being a holiday most shops are closed including Text Book Centre where I buy my favorite uni-compo pens. I might have to use the kawaida Bic pens. My stomach roils at the thought. I have a weak stomach, more on this later.
Carrefour however is wide open and ready for my business. After adjusting my mask, checking my temperature, and sanitizing my hands, I leave my bag at the luggage area, walk to the stationary section and start going through uni-ball pens. I can’t seem to find uni-compo. I pick one among the many uni-ball pens and take it to the counter.
I find a pleasant lady with her hair done in cornrows, wearing a crisp white blouse and blue sweater. She picks the pen, runs the barcode, and asks me if I have the Carrefour app? I tell her I have the app and actually it has four thousand points. If she doesn’t mind, could she use the points to pay for the pen and maybe buy everybody in the Hypermarket a—round, on me?
She coughs and eyeballs me, I have seen that look before, it borders between, ‘Are you kidding, or drunk?’
“Actually, you need at least ten thousand points,” she says while giving me a look that says; this is a hypermarket, not your local kiosk.
“So, 137 bob, how many points will that get me 13.7?” I ask and grin.
“137 bob?” she asks while raising one of her drawn eyebrows and pointing at the black screen with green numbers on it, indicating the price of the pen that I so boldly brought to her counter. “The pen is 294 bob,” she adds.
I groan. A Bic pen is beginning to sound like a good idea.
“You know you can always change it?”
I hesitate, wondering if I want to compromise on quality, or if I want to burn such a deep hole into my already punctured pockets. I pick the pen reluctantly and head back to the stationary section. Turns out I left uni-compo right there on the shelf.—Yes, I wear glasses.—It’s going for 135 bob, this price is a bit closer to my tax bracket. I pick the pen and walk back to the lady.
“This one isn’t going for a thousand bob, is it?” I ask after she runs the barcode.
She gives me the look again while scanning my Carrefour app, this time convinced that I’m drunk.
I get my 13.5 points, pick my bag at the luggage counter, and head towards the stage. I want to have an early lunch at KFC Hurlinghum while I sign the books. I like the space. Their upstairs is spacious, with big glass windows that let in the sun. They also have decent waitresses who mind their business that don’t look at you wondering if you’re kidding or drunk.
“Thirty tao, thirty tao,” a makanga is singing.
I enter the matatu and take a window seat. I give the makanga a hundred bob. “Ngonjea change,” he says expansively. I stare outside the window as the matatu starts moving, probably wondering what is the point of Utamaduni Day? The next thing I hear is the makanga saying, “Watu wa Kenyatta washuke.” I jump out of the fifteen-seater box and as it disappears into the horizon, I come into the painful realization that I forgot to ask for my change. If only matatus had the Carrefour app, those are ten points gone with the wind.
I clench my jaw and start walking towards KFC Hurlingham. I get to the Shell, then to the entrance of the fast-food joint. Mask adjustment, temperature checks, and hand sanitization later I’m at the counter telling a tall gentleman wearing a white hairnet, red polo shirt, and black pants that I will have the streetwise two. “Spicy or non-spicy?” he’s asking. I usually like my chicken non-spicy but being Utamaduni Day, I’m living on the edge and I ask him to make it spicy.
After a minute my order arrives. I pick up the red tray and climb to the upstairs section. I put the tray aside, remove the books from my bag and start signing them. I come up with a few good lines. It’s not me, it’s the uni-compo pen doing all the heavy lifting as usual. After I’m done wrapping them, I pull my tray and start eating my spicy chicken which is now cold. It disagrees with my stomach immediately after I finish it. I will walk it off. I think. I look at the waitresses. No, they are not giving me the are you kidding or drunk look, they are collecting the leftovers, wiping the tables, and minding their business.
I walk to the stage and get into a matatu heading to the city center where I will be dropping the books for pickup at Nuria bookstore before I head back. CBD is just as empty as Junction Mall with most shops closed. Kenyans take their Utamaduni Day seriously, don’t they? I think while entering the lobby towards the Bookstore. Nuria’s shop is also closed but I find a kind lady who agrees to hold the books and give them to him the next day.
I walk out happy to have finished my task for the day. I am feeling good, I think I will take a walk instead of taking a matatu. In any case, walks never disappeared into the horizon with anyone’s change.
I walk past Sarova Stanley enjoying the black and red pavements that have been laid out ever so meticulously for us by the county government. ‘What a great day that the Lord has made,’ I whistle while walking past I&M. My stomach roils just after I make it past Tuskys. We will walk it off, don’t worry I’m telling it. I get to Kipande House and I realize that I will need a washroom, sooner rather than later.
All the places I know are closed. And the thought of City Council toilets is making my stomach roil further. I decide the best place to go is KFC Hurlingham. The place that caused this, should solve this. Call it poetic justice.
“Hapa shell Hurlingham ni how much?” I am asking a boda guy in a green reflector. Walking it off is definitely out of the question.
“One hundred and fifty.”
I start walking away.
“Uko na ngapi?”
“Niko na hamsini.”
“The boda guy gives me the are you kidding or drunk look then shifts his gaze away from me.
If I walk quickly I can probably make it, I think while taking measured steps towards the next boda guy, least I soil the meticulously arranged black and red pavements.
“Hapa Shell Hurlingam ni how much?” I’m asking the second boda guy in an orange reflector written, ‘safe-boda’ on the back.
“Two hundred and fifty.”
I start walking away.
“Uko na ngapi?”
“Aih, hamsini haiwezi.”
If I run I think I can make it. I can barely walk, how will I run? I wonder while taking my measured steps. Each step weighs a ton.
“Hapa Shell Hurlingum ni how much?” I’m asking the third boda guy in a puffy blue jacket, black pants, and black leather shoes. It’s gotten worse. If he says a thousand bob and sticks to his guns. I might just take him up on it.
“One fifty,” he says.
“Niko na mia.”
“Sawa, panda twende.”
“Ongeza speed,” I say after what feels like an hour of climbing on the seat of the boda.
We get to the shell at Hurlingham. I pay him and start walking quickly but carefully towards KFC. I cross my fingers hoping the guard doesn’t stop me because I might leave him something more than my temperature reading. He is not at his station. I skip the mask adjustment, temperature checks, and hand sanitization and climb to the upstairs section where my hope awaits in the form of a white seat.
My fingers are still tightly crossed and I’m praying that the washroom is not occupied. If it is, I might knock it down or go to the ladies. I push the door to the gent’s and I almost drop a tear when I see that it’s unoccupied.
I roll down my pants and seat down and as beads of sweat form on my forehead, I realize for the first time how important the seat is and how much we take it for granted.
I’m sweating profusely as I get out of the gents. My gaze meets that of one of the waitresses as I walk to the stairs. I don’t know if it’s the glint of the sun from the big windows because she’s also wearing that look that borders between, are you kidding or drunk? Well, I just had a shitty day, I’m allowed to be both.