Suzie has never liked Monday mornings. Especially not the kind that follows a boring weekend, said boredom caused by general brokeness.
This Monday morning is particularly bad. It’s frigid. It is wet and slick with that annoying constant drizzle that won’t turn into real rain (which at least would be useful to somebody) but makes everything wet anyway.
Right now she’s stuck in a matatu. Route 44. Muranga Road. It’s 7.00am and traffic is crazy. This road is crazy. Toyotas of all kinds, and matatus of predominantly one brand -Nissan – are slithering on recently smoothed, greasy tarmac like a huge pre-historic centipede. They’re backed up all the way to Githurai roundabout, possibly further. But it’s worst around the Globe cinema round-about, which is probably the root cause of the clog. The junction of Park Road and Muranga Road is pretty bad too, where, if there’s no cop, mayhem acquires a farcical meaning.
Suzie’s mat suddenly cuts lanes and a Muhindi, probably on his way to his spare parts business in Kirinyaga Road, is blocked, nearly ramming into the matatu. The Muhindi gets angry. He doesn’t come out of his car (in this case a perfectly maintained red Datsun, probably bought new in 1979 from DT Dobie) but loudly blows his car horn, pressing down on the buzzer in staccato rhythm, like a doctor administering CPR. He gesticulates wildly from behind the safety of his windscreen with his free hand – all windows rolled tightly shut – probably launching filthy but inaudible Gujarati potshots at the matatu guy, who doesn’t give a damn.
The matatu guy probably has a name like Njoro. He doesn’t give a damn because roads are his domain and the muhindi is inconsequential to him anyway. “He’s lucky I don’t come out and bitchslap him”, he thinks in Kikuyu, his bloodshot eyes glowing with excitement at the idea. He won’t though. Matatu is a cutthroat business and time a demanding whore which won’t slow down so an irritated Mungiki dude can bitchslap an easy target. So he drives over the kerb, swings round, sneaks through Shell and aims for Forest Road. Traffic is usually lighter on Forest Road.
Meanwhile, Suzie is miserable. She should be in tao by 7.30am, 30 minutes before she has to. And that annoys her. But you can’t trust Thika Road and Mr. Mbuthi’s got a rat up his ass about latecomers. He takes being a supervisor way too seriously.
The matatu has a sub-woofer and Njoro sure isn’t wasting it. As Tracy Chapman loudly comes to the end of her song, something about a fast car, Maina Kageni’s familiar voice starts cheerfully nattering way.
“Damn him!” goes through Suzie’s mind. “What’s he got to be so cheerful about?”
“It’s his job, idiot”, a scratchy little voice in her head answers. “He has to be cheery even if his leg breaks. Besides, he gets paid six figures and drives a Hummer,” the voice continues.
“Shaddup!” she retorts. “Anyway, the jamaa drinks too much and has no wife.” Her thoughts have acquired a bitter edge. Mwalimu King’angi says something insane and the matatu bursts into chuckles. Suzie misses it because her mind was on well-paid young men with no wives while single girls like her roam the earth.
As usual, the topic is salacious. Maina is on about some chick who allegedly called him; one of those crazy, self-adoring people who must unload their shit on radio. Suzie sighs and rolls her eyes. He plays back the call so guys can hear and phone in their opinions.
The caller begins her story and naturally, it’s kinky and outrageous. “Pare, Pare”, Maina keeps interjecting, savoring every syllable. And he’s not referring to the Indonesian town of the same name. Not to be left behind, the illiterate sounding ‘Mwalimu’ lobs a few chauvinisms himself.
Then the caller laughs. She gets to the climax of her story – which is describing how she climaxed – and laughs. And Suzie would know that laugh anywhere. Even on a frigid Monday morning in a matatu whose driver is probably a criminal. That is the laugh of Njeri, who’s married to Jaymo, the guy who works for a company that makes steel pipes in Industrial Area.
And she can’t believe what she’s hearing. “Njeri, you slut!” thinks a scandalized Suzie. “How could you do that to Jaymo?”
Suzie is shell shocked. “Why do the bad girls get all the good boys?” she wonders. “And me, Suzie goody-two-shoes, in church every Sunday, gets nothing. Except assholes who just want to hit it and run.”
Right there and then, she vows that maybe a change would do her good.
“Finally!” the voice agrees.
“Shaddup!” again she says to herself.
“Mwisho!” the conductor declares. It’s 7.20 and Suzie is already in tao. Now she can’t wait to get to the office and talk to Njeri – her soon-to-be mentor, before Mr. Mbuthi arrives and starts doing his job, which is to monitor everybody’s breathing.
The phone rings and rings. Njeri, probably pre-occupied by her newfound anonymous celebrity, does not answer.
Maina’s phone lines, as always, are red hot with naughty Nairobians trying to get in their two shillings worth. Njeri is the talk of the town, a hero and a villain.
Finally, the bitch picks up and “I know it’s you who called Maina!” explodes out of Suzie’s confounded mouth.The silence on the other end of the line is like a jackhammer. Loud.
Njeri simply asks “Really?”
“It’s your laugh,” Suzie says. “Now tell me the whole story – and how I can also beat men at their own game.”
The relief in Njeri’s voice floods Suzie’s phone like a tidal wave as she laughs- in that special way- and opens up, in greater detail, on her infidelity to Jaymo, the guy who got into the steel pipes business 6 months ago, just two days after their glorious wedding, cutting short their honeymoon in Naivasha.
“I wasn’t pissed off about the honeymoon, Suzie,” Njeri begins. “A man has to work. It’s the working all the time and the drinking all the time that did it.”
“Picture this,” she continues, “On Valentine’s day, we’re driving to work as usual. Except that am wearing my sexy red suit. Si you know the one with a slit? It’s a hint, but he doesn’t seem to notice. Then his boss calls ati there’s an emergency and he needs to go to a site somewhere immediately.”
“Imagine the fool leaves me in the middle of nowhere- Si you know pale Allsops? – and turns around ati he has to dash to Ruiru.”
“Suzie, I was pissed! Pissed! And don’t tell me ati I was being unreasonable! It was Val’s for God’s sake!
“But then guess what? Jeff happens to drive by, sees me and stops to give me a ride. Maze Suzie, I’ve never been so happy to see Jeff.”
“So I’m telling him I’m so grateful and he’s like there’s no way he could have missed me in that outfit. Then he’s like ‘Happy Valentine’s day’. Imagine that!”
“So he asks what I was doing there and I tell him. Then he’s like ‘Me, I’d have fikishad you at least to tao and then come back’ and am like ‘Yaa-ah!’”
“By now, the ice is thoroughly broken. I ask him why he’s still single and he says ati all the good ones, like me, are taken.”
“Okay, so maybe that line is a bit tired but Suzie, on that morning, it kind of sweeps me off my seat.”
“Maybe it was the warmth of his car, the smell of the upholstery or the Jazz he was playing, but I just felt like I was totally in the right place.”
Suzie is getting impatient now and it’s almost eight, so she shouts into the phone “Get to the point!”
“Relax”, Njeri soothes, verbally brushing off the angst. “I’m there”.
“So that morning”, Njeri continues. “Si I was in that red suit of mine?
“It’s impossible to sit properly in that thing in a car. The slit kept exposing my thigh. Anyway, so am going to fix it for like the 10th time when Jeff puts his hand on mine and says ‘Let it be. Maybe it’s meant to stay that way. I don’t mind. And my windows are tinted. So nobody else does’.
“Heh! That guy and his words. Yani, instead of getting offended am blushing like a school girl and that place between my legs? Feels like a blast furnace!
“Anyway, since you’re in such a goddamn hurry, lemme just say we were both late for work that day.”
“No you didn’t!” Suzie splutters.
“Yes we did.” Njeri chuckles.
“Where? How?” Suzie needs to know.
“My place, on our bed. We turned around too!”
“ Your marital bed?!” Suzie is madly incredulous.
“ Uh-huh. Si Jaymo was in Ruiru with his bloody pipes!”
“Fuuuuck!” Suzie lets out a slow whisper.
“Uh-huh”, Njeri whispers back. “Twice”.
“Dammit! Njeri, Mr Mbuthi is here. Listen. Tonight. Me and you. Drinks. Ok, gal?”
“Okaay, gal. See you then.” Njeri laughs that laugh and hangs up.
Later the same day, Jaymo fixes the Ruiru problem. It took all of one week but it’s finally done. Muddy water was flowing out of an important client’s taps because a pipe had inexplicably rusted through, and was letting in soil.
Anyway, the problem is now solved and he’s bringing the offending pipe with him so the chemistry guys can analyze it and figure out why the galvanizing failed.
But that’s tomorrow. Let it stay in the car. Tonight he needs a beer. So he drives to his house for a change of clothes and a shower. Then it’s off to the local.
When he walks into the bedroom he notices for the first time how sloppy Njeri has become of late. The place sure could use some tidying up.
He takes a quick shower and needs to find some fresh clothes but can’t find the keys to the wardrobe. Where the hell does she put them? And why the heck does she lock the wardrobe?
He checks under the bed- maybe they fell- and spots something metallic in the dim light. He reaches and grabs it. Dang! It’s not the keys. Instead, it’s a watch.
Collecting watches is an old hobby of his. He still has his digital Casio from way back in the day. You know the one which had two buttons on each side and could be set as a stopwatch or an alarm clock and one of the buttons made the screen glow at night? And the alarm clock went ti-ti-ti-ti? Anyway, he still has it.
The thing about a watch is its uncanny ability to tell you about the owner. Like the one Jaymo was holding, for example.
It had no embellishments whatsoever and therefore refused to betray whether it was cheap or expensive. It was just a simple strap (real leather) and a minimalist yet elegant golden face with gothic Roman numerals and slender arms. Okay, it’s expensive.
“This watch belongs to an educated and confident man,” Jaymo thinks.
Patience never was his strength. So he gives up on the wardrobe and puts on his earlier clothes. What the heck… He’s only going out for a drink anyway. It’s not like it’s at Carni or anything. Just Mwaniki’s. Which is a good thing because he’ll need to ask Jeff what his watch was doing under his bed.
So he walks into the pub – Mwaniki’s – and there’s Jeff, seated at his usual table, sipping his Jonnie Walker.
“Pretentious prick, why can’t he just drink beer like a normal Kenyan man? Who gives a damn if he went to University in New York? Why does he do Johnny Walker in a local pub anyway? Thoughtless fool, forcing Mwaniki to keep a bottle just for him.” Acidic thoughts sear Jaymo’s mind.
He sits down at his usual chair. In fact, at the same table, right next to Jeff.
“So is how with Man-U?” Jeff asks, by way of greeting, himself a Liverpool fan.
“1-0. Nil-Nil. Raundi hii, you guys will have to go to play-offs for the Champions League. Mtatoboa namba tatu at best!”
Jaymo’s mind is Chernobyl just before meltdown. Jeff’s words register but from a distance and only as part of the background drone. No more intelligible than the muscular dude yelling something across the hall, or the shuffling of feet, or the woefully synchronized music blaring from the cheap speakers.
What he does hear is Njeri’s laugh, that special way she laughs when amused about something. He clings stubbornly to this vision, refusing to let in the other one straining to assert itself on his mind’s eye- the image of Jeff on his Njeri, and the sound of her moan.
“No. No. No. No. No.”, he chants.
But the mind is a funny thing. It pivots like a gyroscope. By refusing to think about something, you’ve already thought about it. How does the mind’s eye refuse to acknowledge a mental image when it is merely a messenger of what the mind already knows?
So he sees Jeff on his Njeri, even though he denies it. And he hears her moan; even though he tries mightily to concentrate on the laugh he thought was so cute and so endeared her to him.
Someone pats him on the shoulder. He turns around and it’s his boy Mose. He sees him but is, in reality, seeing through him.
“Hey Jaymo”, Mose is saying. “You look a bit pale, man. And what was that sound you just made?”
“Yeah,” Jeff joins in. “What was that?”
Now things click into place. Like the Richot Brandy ad, where the fellow opens the top and there’s peace and quiet, Jaymo’s mind goes calm. No more people shouting or glasses clinking. Just calm seas.
So he turns to Jeff and says, enigmatically, “That, my friend was just the sound of a dam breaking.”
“I think you dropped this,” and casually reaches into his shirt pocket and hands Jeff the watch. He smiles, gets up, and walks out of Mwaniki’s.
Now it’s Jeff’s turn to go pale and his mind to reject premises.
Mose, in the manner typical of men, has lost interest and is wondering how best to execute a plan of attack on a girl he’s been eyeing for some time.
Jeff’s alarm bells are ringing. Loudly. But he doesn’t know what it means. He stares at the watch in his hand. He knows what it represents- Jaymo knows. Yet he refuses to acknowledge what it means.
So he sits there, Jeff does. Feeling eerily safe inside Mwaniki’s, his butt super-glued to his chair.
A loud slap cuts through the screeching of the Chinese speakers and across the hall. Mose had made his move but must have said something wrong because the girl hit him. He almost always says or does something wrong.
These are the moments the boys lived for. In better times, Jaymo and Jeff would be laughing uncontrollably and falling off their chairs.
But Jaymo has left and Jeff doesn’t know where he is, which scares him.
Mose shuffles back to the table with his tail between his legs and a rueful smile on his face.
“Bitch!” he spits. “Mwaniki! Leta ingine baridi!”
Mose is a resilient operator and will soon be back in the game. Jeff doesn’t worry about Mose.
“Sikiza, wacha I go”, Jeff tells his boy. “Kesho,” he adds, flashing a thumb up in goodbye.
He gets up before Mose can start protesting and hustles out of the bar to his car. He reaches his Freelander, fumbles for his keys and the back window shatters loudly.
He turns and standing there is Jaymo, holding a rusted water pipe, his face a psychotic grimace.
There’s perfect silence as the two men stare at each other.
There are moments in life when two beings are able to communicate telepathically to each other. Boy meets girl, eyes lock and, if boy is lucky and girl has had some alcohol, all inhibitions fly out the window and they’re locking lips or knocking boots inside a closet
In the Mara, Lion stumbles across cheetah enjoying an antelope. Eyes lock, claws open, common sense prevails, and cheetah takes off.
Jaymo and Jeff are face to face. Same height. Same build. Equal match. Except Jaymo has the advantage of the pipe he meant to take back for the chemistry guys to analyze. He lifts it and swings. Jeff starts to duck down, which is an error because it allows the rusted pipe to make contact with his jaw and smash his head through the driver’s window of his own car.
The autopsy report would later speak of ‘Death from severance of Spinal Chord by shattered glass caused by impact of blow to head by a blunt object.’ Or something like that.
He died instantly. The broken ribs and shattered kneecaps were inflicted immediately after, when he was beyond pain.
Back at the house, one hour later, Njeri is busy preparing dinner for Jaymo so she doesn’t see him when he walks in holding a bloody rusted pipe in his hand. But she hears the door.
“Honey dear, is that you?” she hollers.
She’s making dinner a bit late tonight. Her date with Suzie had fallen through on account of her boss having a last minute emergency, which kept her in the office. Still, a determined Suzie had called her back.
“Ehe,” Suzie goes. “Was it good? Was he any good? Those Luos I hear know their stuff.”
“Yes he was”, Njeri obliges as she types. “But it wasn’t the foreplay that made me wet like Budalangi. Although it did”.
“Uh huh!” Suzie is eager.
“Neither was it the sex that made me come like a hot spring.”
“What was it?”
“The danger, Suzie. The visceral pleasure of cheating and getting away with it. Goddamnit! I came!” she loudly whispers, as her boss is still in his office holding a conference call.
“Now I know how Bill Clinton felt when Monica was blowing him in the oval office. I know why he did it there, where powerful people meet and decisions that affect the planet are made. You know why he did it there, Suzie?”
“Why?” Suzie eagerly plays along.
“WHY NOT?!!!” Njeri shouts and laughs, and laughs. That special laugh.
“Hey dear, I didn’t hear you come in”, Njeri has walked into the living room and finds Jaymo slouched on the couch, watching K24.
Kenya is probably the only country in Africa with a dedicated 24 hour local news channel. The new station, K24, is determined to break into the market. So it takes advantage of its all day news format to bring breaking news when other stations would be forced to report it at 7.00 or 9.00.
So just as Njeri walks in, and Jeff is slouching on the couch, the ex-CNN baritone booms into the living room the news that a ghastly killing has just occurred in Zimmerman at a pub called Mwaniki’s. The victim is a Nairobi bank executive whom revelers only identify as Jeff (no relation to yours truly, the anchor feels compelled to clarify).
The bar owner, Mr. Mwaniki, vividly describes how particular the victim was about his Johnny Walker. Before Jeff came along, he had never sold such a drink. In fact, he didn’t even know it existed. But he paid extra, “Kwa hivyo, sikuwa na chinda!” he says. Mr Mwaniki sounds bereaved.
“You’ve got to hand it to that Koinange fellow,” Jaymo chuckles. “He really knows how to make the news come alive.”
One of the reasons Njeri’s boss relies on her is her ability to cut through data and connect the dots. So, Jaymo’s maniacal disinterest in the murder of his friend, his diabolical compliment to the newsman, and the bloody rusted steel pipe lying next to him, brings it all home to her in one searing moment.
She didn’t get away with it.
Then Jaymo stands, lifts the pipe and swings.
The police account of it later was not the usual “He ngave us fire and my mboys returned it” crap. Instead, it was a bizarre and therefore believable tale of a man who bludgeoned his friend to death on the parking lot of a bar in Zimmerman called Mwaniki’s.
Acting on a tip off, they raided the murderer’s house only to find him smashing what was left of his wife’s face into the floor with the same object he must have used at the parking lot.
He was ordered to surrender, but instead charged at the police officers who had no option but to open fire, killing him instantly. A weapon was recovered from the scene and dutifully displayed for the hungry cameras- it was a bloody steel pipe. The blood covered up the muddy rust which must have sent a chill through Jeff back at the parking lot, under the bright shine of the full moon.
“Further investigations will be carried out to establish the cause of this disturbing incident”, the OCPD of Kasarani, Mr. Waswa, concluded.
A few days later, Jaymo and Njeri were buried- far away from each other- in their individual ancestral homes.
Jeff’s burial was more complicated. It took two weeks for all his kin to gather at Kendu Bay and bury him in the style of a man who had studied Finance on Wall Street.
Suzie never followed in Njeri’s footsteps. Her mentor’s violent death jolted her in a manner she’s unlikely to ever recover from. She now teaches Sunday school at the church and is holding out for a good, simple man to make an honest woman of her.
Mose changed his local pub but not his tactics. Now he gets slapped, on occasion, at Njuguna’s.
Maina Kageni still enjoys his “Pare Pare” stories. He’s still not referring to Indonesia.
The Muhindi is actually in electronics and still goes to his shop on Muindi Mbingu Street.
As for Mwaniki, Jeff’s Johnny Walker is still in stock. Nobody asks for it anymore.
He might have to drink it himself.