PATIENT AND FLEXIBLE
James is leading the way. We met right outside the Galleria Shopping Mall gate. When I alighted a Rongai-Nairobi bound matatu at Galleria, looking right in front of me, I saw him standing at the footway leading to the mall close to Karen matatu stage, a backpack on his back. After the niceties, memory recollections and two three laughs, when he asked where we can grab a cup of coffee, “Hapa ndani,” I suggested. At the entrance, the security (a lady) unzips his bag to ensure he is no Alshabaab planning to bring down the premises and hold ransom everybody inside. Satisfied that the bag contains nothing illegal, she let’s us in.
I ask how long here’s staying here, he says just a day. He came to present a quotation and sign for money for a given project at the head offices in Karen (when somebody you once sat with in a mathematics department and marked maths exam papers with tells you they came to Karen to sign for money, big money, you just find yourself smiling). He catches my smile halfway and we all burst into teary giggles. Come on! Just four years ago, James, while on a school board payslip at Sigalame High School, he’d wake up to teach 6 am remedial classes and 8 pm classes that would earn him 200 bob. He’s now here seeking approval of six figure cash. “Sasa how long does the money take,” I ask.
“Processing it takes one to two weeks. What happens is, you come, sign for it and get back to your station. Within the two weeks, you’ll receive a notification…” I ask what happens when he orders for let’s say 2M and realises that by the end of the project, they’ve only used 1.5 M, so what happens to the extra 500, 000 bob. He cackles, then turns to me and asks, “Now you tell me, what would you do in that case?”
We are now past the Couture shop, on our right is Java. James* branches and leads me into Java. We spot an empty table near the counter. The table has three seats, two standing opposite each other like a dating couple, and another seat left without a partner. The third seat seems lonely and detached. When we finally reach for the table, James occupies the left chair as I grab the seat directly opposite. A waitress finds him placing his bag on the floor and implores him to rest it on the third seat. Which now makes me understand why the seat seemed detached when I first saw it. Look, even if it were you, how’d you feel if you were always the one left to carry people’s bags when your colleagues get warmed by people’s asses and booties all the time, how would you feel? Trying to be kind, I wanted to shift to it and warm it with my ass so that it also feels good like its colleagues. But thinking about it, maybe it doesn’t like my ass(do I even has an ass?), maybe it only likes plump asses like Vera Sidika’s. So I stepped on the idea and let the bag sit on that seat.
“So is this your first posting since you quit teaching?” I ask. He works with an NGO.
“I’m on my second contract, the first contract expired in 2016. But the important thing is that when you are working, create connections and networks. That helps so much. Like by the time my contract was expiring, I had already spotted greener pastures elsewhere. So I got another job through the people I had known and worked with,” he recalls. I ask him his expectations of the first contract and if it was fulfilling.
“Actually, when I applied for it back in 2014, seeing it had a 35K basic salary and I was earning 15K as a board teacher, that was such a deal. But when I got in, I realized 35 thousand bob was not even enough as I had first thought.”
“So you earned 35 for three years and it was enough to fend for the family?”
“Yeah, but you see, I only depended on my salary for two weeks each month. For every two weeks of every month, we had projects to work on and that meant that we’d depend on the allowances.” A waitress in a red t-shirt and black trousers walks to our table with two menus. She’s wearing a beautiful smile. A Colgate smile. She’s the kind of girl that you’d meet on the streets and the sight of her flawless white teeth alone would turn you on. You’d want to surrender your ATM card and MPesa pin, give her all your cash, hold her right arm and say, “Girl, go buy your mama a house, go spend and make yourself happy, and when you finish, come for more.” So she greets and hands the menus to us and remains standing beside that lonely third seat that has James’ bag. I’m tempted to ask her the last time that seat hugged an ass but decide to keep that to myself cause I bet she won’t get. We both order ‘cappuccino single’. There’s cappuccino single, double, and there’s a third option but I guess single works for me.
As my eyes trail the waitress getting lost into Java’s serving point, “That girl is blessed bana,” my lips affirm. We both laugh and make fun out of it. James tells me to get a wife and stop this habit… “Soo you were saying 35K was just enough,” I suppose. He laughs, I chuckle.
“Of course it was not enough, it’s never enough. But atleast it paid my bills. After all, everybody has a starting point. Remember as a board teacher, I’d be paid 15K per month with very little allowances. Now this is 35 and has allowances. What I can say is, sometimes breakthrough takes time.” He spots the waitress from a far and chimes, “Your girl coming, at least know her name,” he taps my right shoulder. “Hahaha, wacha mchezo, how’s the wife by the way?” another laughter. “Wife ako sawa.”
After adding two spoons of sugar into my drink, its bitterness persists. But because I don’t want people to look me badly and start judging, I decide I’m not adding a single grain of sugar. After two sips, I swallow that ka-cake.
“So James, if asked, what would you tell a university guy scared about the future?”
“Ok, just like I said, making it sometimes takes time. It may even take years. You have to be patient and flexible. Don’t just fix your mind to the course you are studying. These internship opportunities like ‘Relief International jobs’ and other jobs being advertised all over, apply for them.”