After tarmacking in the city and living in a bedsitter that hosted four us in the outskirts of the Nairobi, I finally landed on a job.
We slept across the width of the bed with our legs hanging out like a lorry carrying big electricity poles, only stopping short of tying our feet together in red ribbons.
I was hopeful that finally I would get my own small room and bed, and get to sleep longitudinally on the bed. I will not be gracious enough to call the job well paying, but it sorted a few of my bills and afforded me a few decent shirts and a pair of sharp shooter shoes.
I reported to work a day after the first interview. It was quite clear that my new employer was not very keen to formalise the employment agreement.
I did not sign any formal employment contract, and my salary was paid in cash, neatly stuffed in an unmarked envelope.
You counted the money carefully lest the untrustworthy looking paymaster short-changed you on a few bank notes. It was like selling a bag of potatoes from the busy city market.
After a few months where probably our employer gained some confidence in us, he formalised our contracts and invited a banker to the office to help us open bank accounts.
Our salaries would from then henceforth be sent to the bank where we would go and make withdrawals from. I was full of apprehension.
It was not very uncommon those days to hear that a certain bank had suddenly wrapped up its operations and went down with customers’ deposits.
I therefore fidgeted with the idea, and hoped that the process would backfire and we would continue receiving cash payments which I would safely keep under my pillow.
The banker showed up in the office one Friday afternoon.
We had been warned that she would take passport size photos of each applicant for the banks records. I did not want to disappoint her, and I shaved the night before, donned a new shirt and freshened my armpits with a deodorant.
The photo was obviously not going to capture the nice fragrance from the cheap deodorant that I bought from a street vendor in Eastleigh, but I was not taking any chances.
NEXT OF KIN
She had a full folder of application forms for each applicant. It took each applicant well over an hour to capture all the information requested for in the forms.
Among the details required were the names of your chief, sub chief, your province, district, division, subdivision and village. I had to excuse myself several times in order to call home and confirm some of the details.
Those days I was not married, and the question on my marital status was a giveaway and a low hanging fruit.
It however required for you to give a next of kin, or in my understanding, someone who would be left enjoying my hard earned savings in case I went to meet my maker. My mother was my obvious choice.
After we submitted the forms back to the lady banker, she perused them keenly over her gold rimmed glasses hanging loosely on her shiny nose.
It was another hour of back and forth as she marked some missing information with a pencil and requested for more details.
I saw the corners of her mouth curl into a wicked grin when she looked at my gross pay. In my imagination, she must have wondered if it were enough to afford her a decent weekend shopping.
She was however very friendly and she took us through rudimentary banking rules, terms and conditions. She emphasised that this was purely a salary account and did not attract interest, and therefore there were no chances of our money multiplying and bearing small baby bank notes while in the bank vaults.
She also clarified that you could not withdraw all your money from the account. You had to leave something small in the account in order to keep it warm.
This came as a blow to me, I had intended to withdraw all my money to the last coin every pay day.
She finished with the less pleasant information regarding banking charges. It was not going to be a free service. Viewed against our humble salaries, the charges looked steep and punitive, but we had to begin learning to live with the new status.
I have maintained the same account for more than 20 years now despite my personal banker’s insistence that I move it to a premier account where customers are served tea with croissants.
The truth of the matter is that I am still traumatised by my experience of opening the bank account. I don’t want to go through the same experience again.