When I raised up my eyes from the pile of clothes I was selling, I met with Rehema’s steady gaze. She had obviously taken her sweet time to study the creature she once knew as a class representative at the University of Nairobi pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology…who had now turned into a “Mutumba” seller.
For those who don’t know, I had been in this second-hand clothes’ venture at Moi Avenue for almost one year. By venture I mean, I had two huge sacks on which I spread clothes on, each evening, mostly after 6pm when most Kanjo police had left for their homes.
I had to wake up at exactly 3:00am, and criss-cross through Mathare Slums to Gikomba market. I had to be at the market at 4:00am for me to catch up with the ambitious traders who opened their bales at that time. Arriving late meant that I wouldn’t get “cameras” [the best clothes].
I usually spent around Kshs. 800 for purchases and was sure to cash in not less than Kshs. 1, 400 each day as gross sales. You can do the Math to discover my profits; which were often shared between changaa, rent and food. The rest was not important.
You might not understand this, but it was suicidal to walk at that hour from Mathare slums to Gikomba. I will give you just two reasons…
One; the devilish cold was likely to put you down in just a week. Coupled with the awful stench of raw sewage and acidic-alcohol, it was almost impossible for one not to contract pneumonia, a deadly inhalation sickness or some unique and persistent homa (cold). The result was sudden death.
Assume that you tricked your way through this, then, you had to worry about the idle, drunk and dangerous gangs that roamed everywhere at that time. They could take everything from their victims and leave them dead.
With about Kshs. 1,000 in my pockets each morning, I couldn’t walk “naked”. I felt safer with a machete tacked on the left side of my waist, down through the belt…I was rarely attacked by the gangs because of the long unkempt hair I had kept, the dirty clothes I usually wore and the unique walking style I had adopted that blended in so well with how the gangs walked. Having seen me almost daily through the same route, they must have assumed that I was one of them.
However, one day I was attacked by 4 young boys of about 7 years of age. I quickly extracted my machete and ensured that they saw it. They also pulled out theirs, which were longer and seemingly, sharper. I quickly decided what to do. By the time they realized, I had jumped two or three trenches, leaving my machete on the ground… and was on my way to another street.
What most people didn’t know (those who met me at Mathare, Gikomba and Moi Avenue in my spirited work) is that, I had a second class upper division degree. How could they know that I had even vied as a student Leader-Academics. In the estimation of our professors and academic staff, I was going to end up a politician or a highly respected civil servant. Maybe that’s why I was nicknamed -Ambassador Vincent.
That was before, when I had a loan from HELB which I used for expensive clothes and beer. I secretly had 3 photocopy/printer machines which supported my lavish lifestyle at the varsity.
Now you understand why Rehema stood looking at me that fateful Wednesday. She couldn’t imagine that Ambassador was now a hawker and a pauper; begging beautiful women and men.
Before I saw her, I was busy shouting “Mia Mbili, Customer Kuja” “Beba Beba na Mbili” “Chukua Mali safi”. I didn’t quickly identify her. In my haste to sell to her, I called her “customer karibu”. She hesitated and just looked at me.
Then, our eyes met. I almost ran away.
I was ashamed!
And you could understand why. Let me help you…She was in black glasses, those expensive ones like Lapaire’s. I estimated the value of the watch she wore and quickly settled at slightly over Kshs. 15,000. The colour of her blue suit that matched her pair of shoes must have cost lots of money. She dangled a car key from her left hand that had the insignia of Mercedes. Well, anyone could ask, if she was that rich, why did she buy Mutumba clothes? It is later that I learnt that she had a charity and was in search of a partner who could be getting her cheap but nice clothes for children homes.
She called out, “Hi, Ambassador”
Rehema: Sasa? Ni mimi?
Me: Pole. Sikukumbuki. Tulipatana wapi? I was not going to accept that I was the one she had referred to as “Ambassador”.
Even my fellow hustlers noticed her inquiry and almost stopped selling to know how I “had struck gold.” I had never introduced myself by my official name. They all knew me as Morrio.
Rehema: Vinny? She smiled.
She insisted such that I found myself saying sheepishly, “Oooh, Rehema, ni wewe?”
That’s how we started talking. I tried to juggle between selling to customers and talking to an inquisitive former school mate but failed. She also noticed that I was not intending to lose a precious Kshs.50 talking to her. So she asked me how much I made in a day, I said Kshs. 2,000; just to raise my standards a little. She handed me Kshs. 3, 000. I folded my clothes and walked with her to a fast food restaurant just behind KenCom.
That short distance, almost made me decide on suicide. Thousands of crazy thoughts passed through my mind trying to investigate why I had sunk so low when my classmate, who was not as sharp as me rose so high. I refused to accept!
We didn’t talk much. I just followed her, mostly a few centimetres behind her. At the entrance of the cafe, the guard looked at me thrice. He saw how my sack was positioned at the left side of my shoulders, hanging down slightly. He also noticed that my shoes were muddy when the entire Nairobi was dry; not knowing that the mud was from Gikomba. For the first time, I also noticed the nose-breaking stench that emerged from my armpits and dirty clothes.
So, when he said, “Madam, can he wait for you outside?”
I turned and walked away.
She had to run after me and beg me to accompany her to another hotel. I accepted after about 10 minutes of persuasion. I didn’t deserve to be humiliated in such a way.
When we finally sat in a place where we could both be accommodated, we spoke at length…mostly about her life.
I discovered that just like most youths she didn’t find a job immediately after University- at least for 3 months. It is on the fourth month that she managed to get a vacancy at a local NGO as a secretary. She gladly took it. Even then, she didn’t stay for two months…the CEO fell in love with her and they decided to get married. Notice that it is the CEO who fell in love.
He found her a job in another organization as a program officer where she was still working when we met. She was blessed with 3 young daughters who were studying at Brae burn because they lived at Lavington area, on Gitanga road. She had also done her Masters with a South African University on Online Studies.
As she spoke about her prestigious life, I was busy eating the sumptuous chicken and ugali she had bought me. These kind of meals never came easily. Yes, I was poor and unsuccessful, but, I was not going to let it stand in between me and a free meal. Either way, I had only taken “KDF” and porridge in the morning and for lunch.
When she asked about my life. I told her about the millions of emails I had sent to various organizations without any success. I narrated how I had walked from one office to another looking for a job. I didn’t hide the fact that I had even started a few businesses without any success. Going back to the village to the quarter of an acre my parents owned whereby 4 of my brothers had decided to subdivide it without me; was going just another trouble. As the only learned person in our family, they claimed that I had taken my share of inheritance in the school fees parents had paid for me.
So, I stayed in Nairobi and waited to die. When I was going under for lack of food and a place to sleep, a friend accommodated me and showed me how to make money in Mitumba business. I came back to life.
I had nothing much to tell her.
We spoke for some time before parting ways. She left for Lavington and I went straight to Mathare…with a promise that we could meet the next day.
She also asked me to get her clothes for which she gave me Kshs. 10, 000 in cash!
Stay with me.
I still don’t remember how I got to my one-room iron sheet structure at Mathare. I was lost. I didn’t understand how one could be so lucky and the other sink into abject poverty. There should be a balance, right? For everyone to get a little…not more than the other. There are occasions that I thought that it was because she was a lady and to me, at that time, they seemed better placed in life….after all, one only needed to be beautiful and be heavy at strategic places…maybe at the chest or behind, I don’t know.
I was tempted to disappear with the Kshs.10,000 and change my place of business. With that money I could increase the clothes I bought on daily occasions…or I could travel back home and face my hateful brothers.
I discovered that tears were rolling down my cheeks. I hadn’t noticed.
Don’t take it lightly when you see a man cry! I had faced so many challenges; I had been beaten so many times, I had slept hungry severally and in the cold but never did I shed a tear. However, when I looked at myself that night…. I felt broken. I saw myself as never before. A failure. A reject. A University loser.
I swear I almost committed suicide just to end that miserable life. I thank God for bringing unexpected sleep.
As usual, by 3:00am I was up. I thought that I could as well just get her the clothes she wanted and continue with my life because even suicide was hard for me to accomplish.
I skipped two or three sewage trenches and trekked all the way to Gikomba as usual.
At the evening, she picked her clothes. I had a Kshs. 1,730 balance which I handed to her. She tried to give it to me but, I refused. My fellow sellers almost beat me up for being stupid, inconsiderate and mad. Some even asked me to take the money and hand it to them.
I ignored them and Rehema and started shouting, “Mia Mbili” “Chukua Mali safi” I had a fresh stock to sell.
I might have continued with my business for about 10 minutes without turning. I had many customers. One of my colleagues asked me in Sheng, “umeacha madam asimame hapo?”
Rehema was still there!
She said to me, “Vincent, you have to let me help you!”
It is true that she helped. She took me in as her brother and gave me basic needs and their family business to run. I did very well. I couldn’t disappoint them.
Today, I live in Ongata Rongai. I have 9 greenhouses and more than 2,200 chicken for eggs. I have a hotel in Kilimani which we co-own with Rehema. I have found jobs for all my brothers and friends. I am also married. My wife and I have a son and in three months, we will have a daughter. I also have a charity organization for street children…but, am not happy.
We lost Rehema to skin cancer about 3 months ago. I tried everything I could to save her, including flying her to the UK for better medical treatment. None paid all her expenses expect me. I have money. I want to spend every coin on her, but she has left.
I am broken. Tell Rehema that I want us to meet.