Some of you do not know that Railways was actually a train station first before it was stage ya Ronga. You have only seen it filled with buses to Ngong and Kitengela and Easy Coach. That inasmuch as it is the most common stage in this Nairobi CBD, it brought as many people to town even in the olden days. and you may think you knew this, but think about it. did you really? I know this because I was among you until I was enlightened. Brought to the light by the person who told me this story. Now, you must have figured out already that this is not a story a millennial. And you may sit down in a corner and ask yourself, “Didn’t this MIRAWU person say she would give us stories by millennials? Didn’t she say that she would not lie to us?” I know how you feel. But allow me to digress a little with this one story, told to me by someone who lived the life of the famous 70s and dressed the fashion of the 80s, but saw the same problems we face today.
I am made to understand that the houses that were provided for Railways employees were extremely big. In that time, you could walk in Nairobi without rubbing shoulders and holding on to your purse anytime someone bumps into you. There was space, and space here means you could do cartwheels in the CBD without bumping into anyone. In fact, I think they would just do somersaults around town on Sunday afternoons for the sake of it. Just because they could. Must’ve been nice. The people who designed these Railway houses had spent enough time in the streets that they thought the curtains should match the drapes. This, I was told, had both its positives and negatives. We will focus on the positives first. After all, who receives the bad news before the good?
He had five children. I’m not sure how many were girls and how many boys. They were children. They played together, lived and laughed in their father’s house. They were “Railways kids” [pronounced ‘RELWE’]. They were happy, as children from large households ought to be. No kid with more than two siblings ever says they had a dull childhood because children are cunning and stubborn and ruthless when it comes to having fun with each other. Plus, they had a big enough house to play in. They were happy children.
He, however, was not as joyous as his household. It was not that he was discontent with all he had achieved. I mean, he had laughter in his house. Any man whose walls vibrate with the laughter of his children is a happy man, to say the least. He could provide for his family –meaning he was happy with himself as well. His life was good. Almost perfect. People in ushago used him as a benchmark. A man would hit a calf on the back and think to himself “One day, I will be like So-and-so, with a big family and a big house in Narobi,” his dreams flooded by a time of no cow dung at the hem of his trousers.
This man’s children would set trends when they went to their visit their ushago relatives during the Christmas holidays. He would meet people in the streets filled with praises for his well-behaved children.
“Aah, Mr. So-and-so, this is you?”
“Ha-ha” he would smile coyly “This is me”
“You have come to visit us. Ei! that is good. The kids also need to know their home”
“How long are you staying? My Akech should meet with your youngest. You know they are age mates eh?”
The smile is wiped off his face. “That child is not mine”
“Aah, So-and-so, you play too much”
But he didn’t play. He was never one to mince his words and he did this, a lot. He said it to friends, colleagues, even relatives during holidays and family gatherings. He would be seated on a bench near the jiko that slowly roasted nyama choma when the wife would send one of the children to ask their father where he placed his socks because she wanted to do laundry. The child would come and whisper in his ear, since you do not speak of dirty socks near roasting meat, lest the hypothetical stench shifts gears. He would listen intently, as his face did things without his knowledge. A frown here, a scowl there. Tiny things that made no difference to someone who did not pay attention to a man whose belly was filled with kong’o. But for those who judged not and held no importance to a wig and gavel, conversations after one of his five children passed by him went a different way.
“That’s my oldest. Aah, I love this child. He is very smart too. You know he was number one again? He has remained in the position since class two. The brains on that child are like mine. Copyright!”
The second child passes: “That child is not mine. I don’t know where their mother got that child from but he is not mine.”
To this, someone would say, “Ah Buana, how do you know?” And he would reply, “A man knows his children”. But does he? Can a man say, without a sliver of doubt, that a child is truly his and no one else’s? How does he know? Is it the glistening of the child’s shaved head that he looks at and goes “that head glistens like my grandfather’s, hence that child is mine”? Or is it the child’s cough. Or his hands, in the way they grasp a cup at breakfast. It’s not black and white for a man. A woman can know. She has the possibility of having enough reason to believe a child is of a specific man… As a child is the mother’s before he is given to the father
[don’t fight me on this, I spoke to the elders first before I came to you with
When the wife started asking for another child, he was at a lack of words. He could not openly say no, because they had space for it
[notice we have began the negatives]
and his job was paying well enough that he could afford it. He just did not want to have another kid whose paternity he would have to worry about. But he could not tell his wife this, so he hid in alcohol.
He began drinking at about the same time Railways employees were suddenly retrenched. Some would say he did this because he lost his job. He could no longer provide and hence he felt like less of a man. That he drank to mask this pain. But people close to him know. The person telling me this story knows. He drank because of his paternity wrangles.
“What does the wife say?” I asked.
She said the kids are his. That no other man has gone where her husband has ventured. But in-laws always doubt these things. They have a way to assume everything you claim is a lie.
It did not help when he relocated his family to ushago at around this time. There was already so much going on that this one move seemed to tip the pile over. a normal person would have put up a house just enough for his family. The kids could have even shared a room in this said household. But you don’t come here for stories about normal people and because he was mtu wa Relwe, he built a mud bungalow. Talk of spare rooms that were never moved into (because they had to sell half their belongings to move upcountry) and a house so massive that people came over just to marvel at its size.
When it rains, they say, it pours. His drinking got so bad over the months and with his diminishing funds, he started seeking alternative sources to pay for his mug of froth. One evening, while sitting under a tree outside his house, he was looking at the roofing, and at the spare rooms that nobody used and he realized he was housing nothing when that effort could be taken elsewhere. So he got a hammer and a ladder, climbed up the latter and pounded with the former, then took his “spare” roofing material to pay for his drink. His wife tried to protest but at this point in their marriage, she had become white noise to his ears.
“He has been doing that for a while now. The house remains halfway roofless. Last I heard, he wanted the kids to share rooms so there could be more dues for his beer.”