They call me Smith, Word-Smith. Usually I do not have a coin on me but if you slight me I will pay you with your own coin. Mostly though, I just coin words and phrases. (Thought I said I brought you take away, yani: thayo mbili na uweke juala. Unadhani ni kuku porno lakini tukifika home si ni ngono!)Growing up, in the boondocks, all I really wanted was to write. But as it were that was a dream and we were too poor to afford dreams. So they kicked me onto the streets: “Bread, Kumanina!”
Bread or no bread, I just kept on writing even as Maslow’s middle finger kept pointing out the upward mobility of my new found street friends; friends who believed they could find self actualization by selling your kidney.
Some of those friends made it; some made it to the other side and others even made the headlines maybe because of what they had done with an AK 47 or what an AK 47 had done to them. For the rest of us, the scribbles continue…
Abuse your employer’s bandwidth a little more and let me tell you a story. The story of a once upon a time close friend of mine. The story of one of those kids who made it, a kid from this neighbourhood that I kicked with back then when we were straight out of high school. Yes those days when armed with our perfunctory O’levels- that were worth nothing more than casual labour at The EPZ sweatshops- we resolved to beat the system. We had high hopes of cheating a system that was determined to- with our plebian roots and no hopes of tertiary education- keep us at the nadir points of society’s food chain. A system purposely designed to maintain the status quo where the privileged classes took a surfeit of the national cake while we- the hoi polloi- elbowed; knifed and robbed each other for crumbs at the foot of Dives’ table.
We were young then, like really young. I was seventeen and a half and my boy- let us call him Roba, just in case the five-Os are reading this- had just turned eighteen. There we were, sitting on these very stones listening to EPMD and the Lost Boyz; Tupac Shakur had been dead a couple of months and Biggie Small’s own bullet was in its chamber. Waiting. Biggie took it a short while later.
Those gangsters, or so called gangsters weren’t what you would call our idols but their music and purported life stories were our inspiration. Those were kids, or so we thought, whose life chances were once as bleak as ours. But they had hustled (it is almost always the hustle where we are coming from) their way into Pimp’s
My plan back then was to write a couple of stories for Young Nation, get the name; get the fame and then move on to bigger, meaner fora. With time, I hoped I would pay for a liberal arts education then cap it with an MBA. In the meantime I would get my gig- Potash Infotainment- out of the ghetto and be custom paid.
I guess my plan was too mainstream, nay elitist. It is no small wonder that I am still sitting on these stones over a decade later, with no college degree and no gig worth talking about writing stories that no one ever reads. Maybe I should have chosen the hustle. The real hustle! Roba did and now he is a once upon a time friend of mine. Nothing really changed between us, we are still cool but when a brother is pushing a VX into the leafy suburbs and you are still in the hood: chilling for a half-life then I jua wassap…! you cannot stay tight, can you?
Now Roba looked at my plan and said, “Yeah, Potash, this is all neat and tidy… real right and dandy but your daddy never played golf with two Editors and a Vice Chancellor. In fact they never heard of him. You see for us folks in this dump, we never have it cut. We have to cut it ourselves- with machetes and axes because They will never let us near the power tools. At least not here. Not now. The thing is, you do your thing and I do mine then I’ll be seeing you from the back of my Pimp Mobile!”
And as sure as the ghetto is sick, Roba does see me now from the back of his souped up VX, or other. He sees me walking to the city with my sheaf of notepaper and a pocket Webster that I borrowed from the second hand book vendor as the City Council askaris were him for his last finje. Yes Roba has long crossed the Rubicon but I am yet to get past the pretty girls at The Nation Centre reception.
That Roba who made his first fifty grand pushing jay to rich kids at a Lost Boyz concert in a century gone by. With that fifty he moved out of retail. He said to me, then: “In this game the peddler doesn’t get squat. All he has coming is five-Os when someone has got to take the rap for the big boys. I want to be a big boy; a bigger balla. The good lord knows I do!” And that he is now.
Wholesaling was not easy. Like they say,
Choo namba nane!
Now that is a war zone. It is a violent stretch where you deal low mark ups and thrive on volumes. That was a street that knew no honour among thieves; guns blazed everyday but no brand name academic got hit so it never made the papers; there were no Americans caught in the crossfire so it didn’t get on CNN. Kids were dying, getting dropped faster than mosques in the Christian assault on Fallujah and everyday, bodies were shovelled off the street into the back of the waiting police Land Rover. The winner of the duel joined the cops at the back and on the way to City Mortuary they took a detour to toast to life and street supremacy.
Roba insisted that there was virtue in dying for your next meal and two gunfights and four knifings later he was top cat. I remember him laughing that he was top cat in a street where, unlike in the carton Top Cat, the Inspector Dibbles were on the take. Roba kept his rivals down, the cops well fed and his game up.
In the meantime he was growing his empire: franchising, Brand extension and (insert Business school jargon phrase of choice). He even discovered a niche: American exchange students. Students from: St. Whatever,
“Low grade crude from a bunch of ne’er do wells is what that is, “Roba said to the Americans. “Say what if I give you a week’s supply of the real shizzle on the house!” Roba offered while blinding them with his bling. That bling that he bought dirt cheap from the same, so called, “bunch of ne’er do wells”. The Americans knew they were gonna love this cat.
And they loved him until the next week he came in screaming: “Show me the money… Show me the money like fucking Jerry McGuire!”
“He is kinda cute…” said the tall one with the green eyes.
“Yeah like really cute, in a Cuba Gooding kind of way.” Laughed the other with the blond curls.
It seemed that Roba would be getting himself a lot more than a premium rate for his low grade crude.
That was all a long time ago. Roba made his money and caught jungle fever. Some enemies of his development (you jua those with miro vibe of: hako kamewekwa na mzungu!) say that he caught jungle fever and made some money. Anyway, Roba’s preferred pussy flavour is all besides the point, all I wanted to tell you is that the dude is living it. Roba made it.
And all that while I was waiting at the Stone Zone: sitting on these derrière depleting rocks outside Mutua’s kiosk: snoring under a wobbly bench at One Love licker store; masturbating to the on and off flickering light of the grainy porn videos at Kamwana’s Video Parlour and swapping half-lifes, sips of napshizzle and starring in our own tales of myth bound libidos at Dimosh’s Kinyozi.
So today I sit at The Stone Zone and wink at my boy Timi: “Remember last night kid?” I take a liberal sip on the napshizzle and try to banish the thought of all those who have made it. I lick the stub of my pencil and begin writing yet another story. Yet another story that no one will read? I doubt. This one will be read I know. But most importantly I know that I will not be here this time next week. Everyday I hear the conference circuit calling out my name.
Bye bye Potash Book Club, it was great reading all those dog-eared books with you but now I have to go to all these writer’s workshops to write my own book.
Bye bye ‘hood…
Bye bye mean streets…
Bye bye the Kenyan Urban Narrative????