Kwe was living the life he left the vastly populated lands of Nyang’oma Kogelo, a village in the former Karemo Division for.
He was now in the sandy beaches of the Indian Ocean, never in one area for more than 2 weeks. He met lots of white women. “Elderly white women”, he corrects himself with a smile. He had left the poverty of Nyang’oma behind and now he was posh and classy and sophisticated. He smiles as he reminsces.
Kwe is the typical Luo man, as I am told there is a typical every tribe man. Kalenjins are tall and almost malnourished-looking, Kiuks are usually light-skinned and pot-bellied, Luhyas almost always have strong jaws and Luo men are, typically, the ideal TDH. Kwe is extremely TDH.
I was walking through the grounds when I removed my phone from my backpack to look at my face. (Don’t judge me, we all do it). I wiped the sweat off my face for the second time when he came to me. Not Kwe, the guy who took me to Kwe. Dena.
“Color iko sawa?” He asks with one of those sheepish toothy smiles.
I look at his striped suit and try to keep myself from judging. Maybe he also thinks my sweatshirt is a bit too big for me, but that is what I was comfortable in, so I let the striped suit man escape with his fashion mishap.
“Hello,” I say.
“Hello. I am Dena. I stay here.” He says with a grin, the subtext to his statement being..’as if I have a choice’.
I introduce myself to Dena, whose name I wrongly think should simply be Denno like normal Dennises and who immediately thinks I am a world class journalist because I have a notebook and a Multimedia University pen in my left hand.
He goes on and on and on about a “friend who is around and whose story is news”. I get intrigued and ask if I can see this newsworthy friend, hoping to heaven and hell that it is not a disease thing or blood related because that would without a doubt make my skin cringe. I tell him this and he goes “No, you’ll like his story. I’m in it so I know it’s good”.
Dena took me to Kwe. At first glance, in his loose fitting pants and shirt, he is the epitome of man. Tall, “6 foot 7” he had said when I masked my embarrassment and asked him.
He suggested we sit on some rocks by the side and I welcomed the idea. Looking up at the building he was had started cramping the back of my neck. He was the perfect shade of dark. Not black, not brown. A toned kind of dark chocolate that brings the universe to it’s knees. His face was okay-looking. I don’t think I noticed because I spent the whole time lost in his eyes. He had so much pain in those windows to his soul that my heart broke for him.
“Hi, Mirriam, you said?” He confirms from me.
“Yes” I whisper.
“I’m Kwe.” He waits as I struggle with the spelling. He chuckles when I put in a Q. “Kay, Daboliu, iiiii,” He spells it out for me.
He then goes on to give me the full introduction. He is from Nyang’oma Kogelo, a village in Siaya. I tell him I studied in Ng’iya Girls High. They told us in school to always find ways to connect with people you talk to. He seems to like that. His sister went to Ng’iya Primary School. He loves his sister. I see it in the way he speaks about her. He doesn’t know where she could be today, or what she could be doing. Just that 7 years ago she had a baby boy.
“This ka-jamaa,” he places a broad strong arm on Dena, “He started it all”. Dena smiles. Dena is also his real second name. He showed me his charge sheet, because they are not allowed any personal effects.
“What happened?” I ask, already pressing the record button on my phone.
“We had just finished form four,” Dena starts. “Two dashing young men with our whole worlds ahead of us,” I look at them both. Still dashing.
“Dena proposed we go to Coasto, find some jobs, make some money then join uni after a year. It seemed like a great idea.” TDH adds in. He has a deep enticing voice.
They told their parents the plan, and after a month and a few breakings of tin banks, the two brothers from different mothers were in a Coasto-bound bus. They had so many plans. They would definitely start small, “kazi ndogo ndogo as we build our way up the chain,” he explains.
Coasto was exactly as they imagined and more. They spent their days hanging out by the beach and their nights working at Hypnotica, a club, I gathered, as waiters. They were doing alright considering the circumstances. Payment of the double room they shared was always expected on the 5th but they always paid on the 1st.
“We never took any chances with the rent money” Dena adds, trying to find significance in the story.
My leg starts cramping but I can’t tell this demigod that I can’t perform simple tasks like sitting on this rock because how then will he be able to tell me about ‘Coasto‘? I decide to suffer through the pain.
“I met Sheila in Coasto“, I feel he is misusing the word since he senses it bothers me. “I never thought much of it. We met when I had started a bodaboda gig. She wanted transportation and I could provide it. Numbers were exchanged and I became her official Mombasa caddy.”
Sheila was one of the elderly white women. The kind that escape winter to come pretend to enjoy sunburn in the scorching Coasto sun.
Kwe tells me how she kept asking him to “hang” with her at the beach, and once he agreed to that due to her constant pestering, she started inviting him to her hotel. First for coffee. He doesn’t drink coffee so he had refused. He wished he hadn’t. His refusal made her angry for some time. She even stopped calling him to ferry her to the beach. One month, two weeks and 5 days. He had counted. One month, two weeks and five days and she had not called. He was always by his phone for when Shay would call. She had insisted on being called Shay.
On the 6th day on the 7th week, they bumped into each other. It was partially cloudy and the tide was low. His shirt had been draped over his shoulders, unbuttoned. She had on a yellow bikini with white polka dots. Kwe says she looked 30. And really pretty. It must have been the heat.
He recalls taking her to Hypnotica. She paid the bills. He then “gave her a push to her hotel”. She suggested he go up for a night cap. Kwe had never had a night cap. He thought it was a hat worn in bed, “like a marvin” he explains.
He found himself falling for her. Hard. He developed feelings he had never experienced for any lass from the robust countryside of Siaya. She moved him and Dena into an apartment complex as big as the lake. She changed his wardrobe, furnished the apartment and even paid their bills. Dena was along for the ride and they all knew it. It was Kwe that she wanted and he is paying the price to date.
I shift on my rock. By butt is more numb than gums at a dentist’s, and I should know, I’ve played the dentist game almost all my life. Kwe sees my discomfort and stands, saying that we could stroll around the grounds. I see Dena eyeing the Dasanis we had come with and I excuse myself to go get them some water. They must have never seen Dasani since they came in here.
“August of 2010 was when she asked if I would like to go with her the states. I was young. And stupidly in love with a 55 year-old” he continues after a sip of water. I think he likes how it tastes because he smiles at the bottle. “I called my parents and told them I had been given a sponsorship to go study at a University in the states. The United States University.”
“Is there anything like…”
“Don’t judge me,” he says with a laugh. “I did not know any universities there, and if I didn’t, how could my parents know of any? So I lied with the first thing I could. By now Shay was living in the apartment with me. She got us two tickets. Said that Dena would come after a month,” he sighs. “I wish I had broken it off before I packed that suitcase. She even got me a suitcase! Can you imagine that?” He asks me. I can. His first suitcase! He was so excited to put his clothes in it. Made sure he packed his mother’s handkerchief first. For good luck, he says.
Events at the airport are hazy for him. Shay had given him a bag to carry. He had been stopped by security for a patdown, taken to a room that smelled of freshly coated paint. He remembers he touched the wall just to ensure his nose wasn’t playing tricks on him. The tip of his index finger was still a pale yellow when Shay’s bag was brought in by a man who “looked important”. He had asked to see Shay but they didn’t let him. Nobody believed the bag was not his. His mother’s handkerchief was in it, covering a white powder in polythene paper that he had never seen before.
“After that, I don’t remember much. They put me in cells, I was taken to court either once or eight times. I only remember those gates closing,” he points at the entrance to the prisons. “My life has changed so much. I have no contact with my family. Dena was brought here two years later, I couldn’t recognize him. He was the one who knew me. Came up to me one time on the breakfast line and was like ‘Hey bro, been a minute huh?’ and we became brothers again”
I ask him about Sheila. If he could see her again.
“I don’t know. But I forgave her. I can’t live in the past anymore. I have been taught design here, they bring us lessons and I found I was really good. I want to be done with my sentence and go back home. I hear my sister has a 7 year-old son. I’d like to see my nephew. To teach him to not be swayed by the ways of the world.”
Kwe suspects she put the cocaine in his bag when she realized she could not board with it. He looks at the perimeter wall as he tells me how much he had lost trust in people when he first got to prison. It was his first heartbreak. I can’t imagine him broken hearted. He lost faith in people, and in himself. Life was grim. He has tried to take his life, three times. But you can’t hang sheets by the cell’s frail light bulb because it comes loose and there is no time that he can take sheets out under a tree. He managed to accept his fate. His mistakes. He says he learnt a lot about “wazungu wa Coasto“.
There are bad people out there, mixed with the good ones and with the faces of humans. But deep inside, they will take the first chance they get to screw you over just to save themselves. Be wary.