A boy grew up in a small town. They were seven children in the family, which wasn’t a big number in the 70s – their neighbour had 11 children.
His mother made and sold mandazis until 10am and then tomatoes in the market until 5pm. His father sold water, pumping it from a borehole that he dug when nobody in that area was digging boreholes, and selling it for one shilling a gallon.
He walked to school. He wore his first pair of shoes in Class Eight; by that time his feet resembled the bark of an old tree. He spoke English in his mother tongue. He went to the local high school and passed enough to get admitted to university. This meant coming to the big city of Nairobi for the first time.
Because he was the son of a man who pumped water and a mother who sold mandazis and tomatoes, he had business acumen in his blood. He started a small photocopy and printing business that he ran from his hostel room. He graduated and got a job that demanded that he knocks on doors.
MADE HER LAUGH
After three years of knocking doors, he knocked on this one door that opened to reveal a young lady seated behind a desk. Her name was Mildred. She was an intern manning the front desk. He remembers how well she spoke – like the words coming out of her nose were already purified.
Somehow, he made her laugh a lot because he was a salesman and salesmen have jokes. She was pretty and she smelled like tangerines. He got her number. When he asked her out on a date she suggested a restaurant in a hotel where jetset businessmen went for meetings and devoured seven course meals.
A glass of wine cost Sh820 there. A beer went for Sh400. Three glasses of wine set him back Sh2,460 and when, after the third glass she reached for the menu and said, “Can we order some tapas?” he was almost fainting because whatever that tapas was, it didn’t sound cheap.
When the bill came she quickly snatched it from the tray. He offered a protest, just feeble enough for her not to change her mind and strong enough to preserve his dignity.
When they left the restaurant, he waited with her at the entrance and his eyes almost popped out of their sockets when he brought her car around; a big BMW X5 that glittered like a serpent. This was before people were buying BMW X5s.
A few days later he finally asked her how exactly she was able to afford a car like that and she laughed and said it was daddy’s car. “I’m an intern at my father’s business because he believes that placing me at the front office will make me learn how to deal with people.”
Miraculously, she agreed to meet him again and again. She came to visit him in his house in a part of town she had never set foot. She seemed charmed by his childhood, intrigued by the poverty that defined his growing up. She listened to his stories like an owl, with wide eyes, not blinking or swallowing.
When he met her only sibling, her sister, she snootily greeted him with the very tip of her fingers like he had a communicable disease.
It bothered him why she would be with him when she could have been with those boys she grew up with in the leafy part of the city. She constantly invited him for dinner over at their house but he always made excuses because he was terrified of meeting her parents, of making a fool of himself. Of showing his pedigree. Of being inadequate. Of seeing the disappointment in their parents’ face at what she had dragged home. He became suspicious of her motives, of her feelings towards him and of her generosity. Why else would she love a small town boy whose mother sold tomatoes and mandazis?
Every time she would pick the bill in the restaurant or buy him gifts, it bore holes in his ego. Made him feel destitute. When he finally agreed to that dinner at her parents’ house, they sat at a big set table under a glittering chandelier hanging over it, and a uniformed help poured drinks for him and he worked his cutlery from the outside going in like he had learned on YouTube.
When her father asked him what his parents did he was vague at first and when he politely pressed for details, he lied. He couldn't say they sold tomatoes and still pumped water. And he felt terrible. Terrible because he had betrayed his parents, turned his back on their sacrifices, spat on their humility and values.
Soon after, he couldn’t continue with the relationship, not when he felt like she had the power and access, not when he had become that man who would have sold his parents for a few pieces of silver.
When you ask him why he had to walk away from her, he says, “There is a reason a river separates people. We were not yoked the same.”