Time 1.30pm EAT
Place Luthuli Avenue Nairobi.
It was a slow day, this. Unlike other Saturdays where scores of upcountry-bound-folks buy stuff to take to shags, this was an exception. It was going to 2.00Pm and Kimata had only had one customer from morning. One. His is one of those shops in Luthuli Avenue that houses 5 or more sub-shops. Only the Mpesa lady had a steady stream of customers. There was nothing much for the rest apart from engaging in small talk and trying to persuade passersby to enter and sample stuff promising them friendly prices. The few who did enter the shop would offer to buy at very low prices that the shop owners were not willing to sell at. Others would leave the items after an hour or so of intense and protracted bargaining on the premise that they were looking for items shipped from the Chinese port of Lianyungang and not Guangzhou. Others would say nitakuja which in business circles is practically a euphemism for the middle finger.
He received an unexpected call from a long time buddy. Leshttin. A guy he had schooled with in Pwani Universlity though taking different courses. They had actually shared a room for the better part of the four years they had spent in Mtondia Kilifi. They had come to meet years later in Nairobi. The friend having been employed by a local bank while he had ventured in electronics business.
It was almost one year since he last heard from his friend.
Man where are you? Are you still safe with the Lord? Asked Paul Leshttin in a rather haughty manner.
I am in the shop.
Can you come over to Gabis? I just landed in the country yesterday and I haven’t forgotten that I owe you some money. Do come so that we can catch up over a beer.
Leshttin had at some point borrowed money from Kimata.This was after he lost his job as a banker. It was rumoured that he had engaged in gross misconduct soliciting money from customers to favour them with loans. He however defended himself vehemently to friends saying that it was a mere witch hunt from the bank management who had planted on him the false claims on fraud.
Kimata saw it proper to call it a day. It was way much better to go for his 10k now that Paul had resurfaced than staying in the shop where no sale seemed probable. It was better than sitting in the shop watching trolley pushers and persuading potential customers who entered the shop staring at an item wistfully only to get a little anxious and feel somewhat guilty right before they made the purchase.
He boarded a no 9 matatu to Eastleigh and alighted at Ngara Equity walking the distance to Gabis bar and Restaurant Desai road. Here he found Leshttin at a corner table. Alone. Sipping from a Tusker Malt Lager bottle. No glass.
Leshttin rose from his seat to meet Kimata performing an arm-wrestling grip handshake with a follow-up forearm chest bump that lingered for seconds too long. They did not care to mitigate any suspicion or misunderstanding about their sexuality.
“Hey! Long time bwana” remarked Leshttin.
“Yeah, it has been a long time. An year?”
“Almost. It is 9 months. I saw you last in April.”
Paul summoned a waitress, a young lady in the restaurant’s uniform of black pants and a white blouse. She had flat canvass shoes. She looked immaculate and she could pass for a big corporate’s sales executive.
“Lilian, Mambo” Said Paul referring to the waitress by name. Maybe she was known to him or he just read from her name tag clipped to her breast pocket`.
“Give my friend something to drink”
Kimata ordered for a cold Pilsner Lager.
“You have not acquired a taste for another beer?” Asked Paul.
Nope, I still love my Pilsner.
Imara kama Simba! By the way this Nairobi needs you to be beady-eyed. Life is tough and unforgiving. Otherwise, you drop your guard like this and you are f#*ked up.
You could think that there existed another Nairobi somewhere the way Paul referred to it as “This Nairobi”
The two confabbed on different topics as they continued drinking bottle after bottle of beer. Paul narrated how he had moved to Rwanda to look for greener pastures after Nairobi gave him intolerable levels of misery. He maintained that he could not regret his decision and implored Kimata to join him over in Rwanda where business was booming. He reckoned that the central African country may be tiny, but the demand in certain sectors of the economy far outweighs local supply, and that has prompted the government to actively kneel down to investors begging them to go and fill the gap.
He recounted how he had been lucky on landing in Rwanda. The first person he made contact with was the son of the renegade Bosco Ntagada “the Terminator”. Him of the ICC. The son introduced him to their family business empire so that he could run it in the absence of the father who was cooling porridge in the Netherlands. He had made a fortune in the short time he had been the face of Terminator’s empire. He also mentioned that he had become buddies with the boyfriend to Kagame’s daughter who occasionally sent him on some errands to Northern Kivu where he ended up making the money one could only make in Nairobi in one year.
Leshtinn said he was torn between going back to Rwanda and vying for an elective post in the forthcoming election. He said he was weighing the options; going for an MP’s seat or a gubernatorial one.
“I can make you my campaign manager.”
As time went by, Paul would order beer for all and sundry, every other leveler in the club. Everybody including the habitué ladies-of-the-evening.
“Il n’y a pas de pénurie d’argent. Kila mtu apewe chenye anatumia”. Paul would utter these words every now and then to the delight of the levelers who continued ordering drinks to his name.
By 6.30pm Kimata was feeling woozy and only fell short of asking Leshtinn to allow him leave. If only Leshtinn could give him the 10k, it was an opportune time to go home. As a rule, from the time his wife delivered, he saw to it that he was in the house latest 8.00pm. He had not had that many beers for quite some time.
“What time is it?” asked Leshtinn who seemed to read the growing restlessness in his friend.
“It is 20 minutes to Seven, I should be leaving now” Answered Kimata checking time from his HTC One M9 phone.
“I had left my car in the garage and I believe they are done by now. Allow me to go for the vehicle so that I can park it just nearby. After that you will be free to go home. But I am disappointed in you…”
“Why so now?”
“I can’t invite you to come and drink on my name and you chicken out just after a few beers. You can’t be getting into the house before the fowls. ”
“I have to go.”
“I understand. When you get married to Katherine Knight, you got to be careful not to cross her. You must always get in the house before her no matter what.”
Kimata tried to defend himself but in vain. He particularly did not know whom the hell Katherine Knight was.
‘’Let me go for the car, I’ll not be long.”
He made to leave but turned back to Kimata.
“Assist me with your phone just in case I don’t find the mechanic at the garage.”
“Where is your phone?”
“I was mugged as I came to this place. A very expensive phone. I borrowed a handset from one of the club bouncers and that’s what I used to call you.”
Kimata removed his SIM card from the phone and handed it to Leshtinn.
“Be careful with that phone, if yours was expensive, this one costs the earth.”
“Hehehe….. Mine was a Samsung Galaxy S6. No need to tell you how much it costs. You deal with electronics you should know better….”
Paul Leshtinn left for the garage. Kimata poured the last glass of beer fidgeting with it as he waited for his friend to come back. Minutes passed. Lilian the waitress came to collect the empty beer bottles.
“Where is your friend?”
“He just stepped outside and will be back in a few moments”
“Should I bring more beer?”
“Nope, I had had enough. When my friend comes back, I will just leave.”
“Who is paying for the bill?”
“Him of course, he is the boss….”
Kimata passed time watching the 7.00pm news. His attention was especially caught by an item about a ring of conmen that had been broken by the police earlier in the day.
7.30, Paul had not returned. Kimata started to grow apprehensive. Lilian came with the bill. It was totaling to Kes 14,500. This was not much for a guy who claimed to have made a fortune in Rwanda. A guy who was contemplating vying for a gubernatorial seat. You don’t vie for such seats without real dough. He had mentioned North Kivu. You never know which rock he might have carried back home from this Congolese Province.
Lilian came and informed Kimata that he was to pay for the bill if his friend didn’t appear by 8.00pm. With him, he had kes 1000 only.
Leshtinn didn’t turn up by 8.00pm. Lilian was there on hand to demand the bill. Kimata told her that he could not pay for the bill since he didn’t make any order.
Voices went a notch higher attracting the club manager and two security.
“What is the matter Lilian?” asked the club manager.
Lilian explained the matter to the manager who was staring peremptorily at Kimata.
“My friend, said the manager, you don’t have a choice. You friend is gone for over one and a half hours as we speak. Believe me he is not coming back. We have seen many of his type. Kindly do the honourable thing and settle this bill. Failure to which we are going to offer you some modest massage at our own cost and then call the police.”
Mimi! Kuna pombe niliitisha mimi?
Kimata would later regret those words and his decision to go ballistic. They took him to an inner room to try and settle the issue where the three, the manager and the two club bouncers, worked on him proper. His Kung Fu training did not help him primarily because he was drunk and two; unlike in movies where they come at you one by one, here blows rained on him from all over. A kick in the thighs, a punch in the stomach winding him up, a knock on the head making him to see stars a punch to the face sending him reeling until he called for ceasefire.
“I don’t have money with me but I am going to look for a way to settle this bill.”
They removed his shoes, his jacket, took his wallet and offered him a pair of mismatching flip-flops.
“I need the wallet to go and withdraw some money from the ATM”
“You only need the debit card” Countered the manager.
Kimata was planning to disappear and forfeit the shoes and the jacket if they had made the mistake of giving him the wallet. He walked to Equity Ngara and withdrew ksh 15,000 from his account and trotted back to Gabis. He was hoping to find Leshtinn having returned and settled the bill but this was not to be.
He paid up the bill and got his items back. He was immensely miffed not so much because of parting with kes 14,500 and receiving a dogs beating as knowing the list of people who had drunk on his name. Even the girl who had on a yellow weave and red lipstick and green eye shadow and blue mascara. The one who looked like a Hezbollah flag. And the other one with a gross lipstick who looked as if she had licked a grisly murder scene clean.
With confidence that he would still get his money back from Leshtinn, he decided to go to club Supamambo and chance on finding his friend. Leshtinn had worked there as a procurement manager sometime before he landed the bank job. But first he instinctively decided to walk into to Desai Villa Bar and Restaurant. As he walked through the door he was greeted by a racket. The club security was descending on some helpless fella. Here, it seemed, they kept an open door policy of some sort. There were no inner chambers to inculcate discipline into errant levelers. The exercise was carried out in the open.
Paul couldn’t believe his eyes. Leshtinn was on the receiving end. He was not making the slightest of attempts to block the blows raining on him. On a good day, Leshtinn could fight four men and even though they might in a way end up subduing him, they would feel that they had been up against a resolute bruiser. Here he was being knocked senseless by four club bullies without seeing the need to cover at least his head.
“Hei! What is going on here?” Asked Kimata jumping in to keep his friend from further beating
“This guy came here yesterday and slopped off without settling a bill of kes 5,000”. Said one of the guys who appeared to be a waiter.
“Not true. The bill was paid” Quipped Leshtinn who seemed to be emboldened by Paul’s presence.
They all wanted to descend on him all over again. Paul restrained them.
“Who paid the bill? You left your friend here and he was claiming you had gone out to withdraw some money. After a while he also went MIA.”
“My friend told me he paid the bill. I refunded the amount to him. I can’t pay for a non-existent bill. ”
Kimata having had received a fair share of a beating at Gabis didn’t want to get bogged down in another tussling and haggling. He asked the club guys to allow him some moments to talk to his friend to which they obliged.
“Why are you doing this, you left me at Gabis to receive a dogs beating because of an unpaid bill?”
“Look! I came to the garage and found them not yet done. I then decided to come here and drink one or two beers as I wait for them to finish with the car. On entering this place they immediately started claiming that I was here yesterday and escaped without paying the bill. What is 5k? Who runs away with unpaid bills of 5k? I think it is a case of mistaken identity”
“You better pay up this bill. I don’t want more trouble.”
“Why should I pay this a phony bill?”
“Because if you don’t, these guys are going to beat you into a pulp. Let’s go to the mirror so that you can understand what I mean. It is not worth dying over 5k.”
Leshtinn’s right eye was swollen shut and he didn’t even seem to realize it. He had a cut on the inside of his swollen lip. He was lucky to have his teeth intact.
“They are going to pay for this, I swear.”
“Do this, pay up the bill and then take action later.”
He checked his pockets for money. He checked from all his trouser pockets. There is a maxim to the effect that “If a guy checks more than 3 pockets for money, he ain’t have it.” But Leshtinn had some money.
He removed a few notes of kes 1000 from one of his back pockets. It amounted to kes 5,500.
“They have pickpocketed me! I had with me more than 40k cash. Bastards, they were emptying my pockets as we fought!”
Kimata came close to laughing out loud. Here was a guy who had been beaten senseless claiming that this had been a fight.
“Pay their bill first we will sort out the rest.”
They paid the money and left the club.
“Where is the phone?”
“Ooh! I nearly forgot. It is at that Mpesa shop over there. The battery drained and I left it there to charge.”
Kimata was surprised at how fast the phone had drained the battery. It was almost full at the time he was giving it to his friend.
Leshtinn suggested that they hire a taxi to his home in Kiamumbi so that he could fetch some more money to refund Kimata the amount he had paid at Gabis and also pay the 10k owed to him. The roads were fairly deserted and therefore the journey to kiamumbi didn’t take long.
“Tumefika. Look for a place and park. I will rush into the house and will be back in a minute.”
Kimata could not tell whether this was the actual place. During one of the schools holidays, he had visited Leshtinn’s home and spent a few days before they visited his home in Nyahururu. The neighbourhood had developed tremendously since the last time he had visited years ago. They waited for Leshtinn for 5 minutes which turned into 10 and then 20. The taxi driver became uneasy.
“Are you sure you are not planning to steal my car?”
“Nothing of the sort. I am not a criminal.”
“I am not feeling safe here”
Crickets chirped and a dog howled soulfully from the distance.
The taxi man was nonplussed. After waiting for half an hour, it started dawning on Kimata that his friend could have turned into a crook. What is it that was taking him too long just to fetch money from the house?
Like the taxi man, he started feeling anxious too. When he put two and two together and analyzed what had taken place since meeting his friend, he felt ominous. A bad taste formed in his mouth. He could feel a lump in his throat which could not go away even after repeated involuntary swallowing.
“Let’s leave this place. I will park next to Kiamumbi police station. He will find us there if at all he is still coming. ”
“There is a big problem. He doesn’t have a phone and neither do I.”
“Then what do you suggest we do then?”
“Let’s leave, let’s go back to town.”
On the way back, Kimata narrated to the taxi guy what had transpired from the time he got the call from Leshtinn that afternoon. The taxi man sympathized with him telling him never to trust friends whom he had not seen for more than half an year.
“You are going to pay for the taxi?”, the taxi man said in a half question half statement.
“I only have kes 500 with me at the moment.”
He had kes 1,500 but he was not going to pay the full amount and remain with nothing. He needed his fare home and at least something like a half chicken to cool down his wife who was no doubt so jittery at this hour with his husband not at home and unavailable on phone.
“You have to pay me.”
“I can pay the 500 now and the rest I pay latter. Just save my number.”
He read out his number to the taxi man deliberately giving the last digit as a four instead of two. He was not going to spend any more money covering for Leshtinn.
“Send the money first thing tomorrow.”
They were back at Desai Villa Bar and Restaurant but Kimata was not interested in going back to the hotel. He wanted to pick his phone from the Mpesa shop. Hefound three girls manning the counters and a man seated further inside perusing some exercise book.
“I gave my phone to my friend and he has directed me to this place. He told me that he left it here charging. A HTC One M9.”
“The phone is not charging. It has a bill of kes 6,050” Said a man behind the counter.
“What do you mean a bill of 6,050? Has it been drinking or what? Or it laid one of your mpesa ladies here? They are beautiful no doubt but don’t you think 6,050 for a few hours is a lot of money?”
“hahohaha… We assist people who are somehow stuck financially with some little cash and they in turn leave an item with us just so that they can remember to pay us back once they sort out their issues. We assisted your friend with kes 5,500 at a modest rate of 10% per day.”
Kimata would have to come for the phone tomorrow. He had no money either at hand or in the bank.
“Do not sell that phone. I will be here early tomorrow with the money.”
“That’s fine. Be here before 9.00am with kes 6,500. Come any minute past nine with kes 6,655.”
Kimata left, banging his fist viciously on the counter.
It was heading to 11.20Pm but late as it was he had to go to Supamambo just to hear a thing or two about Leshtinn from people who had worked with previously. It is here that he came to learn that his friend had turned into a professional conman. What he had seen was amateurish stuff. Leshtinn was playing in the big league of who is who of conmanship in Nairobi.
“He has been telling people that Supamambo is on sale for one million bob. He comes to you and says he has 500k you look for the other 500k for a joint venture. Many have fallen for this fooled by the fact that he was a big gun in here sometime back. ”
Kimata broke in some sweat knowing that at some point he had been asked to look for kes 250,000 for a joint venture in Supamambo, which was apparently on sale, with Leshtinn and two other guys. He had had the money on the ready only for his wife to oppose the move emphatically.