I may have had selfish motives for helping out, but I will cherish the smile forever.
|I am a Muslim. This December 25, 2015 was my first since I converted. I shouldn’t make a big deal out of Christmas because most of the observers of my culture feel that birthday or death anniversaries, regardless of whom they are organized for, go against the tradition. Frankly, I don’t know whether I celebrated yesterday or not.
For the record, I am not an expert in Islam. I break many of its laws myself; for instance I am still a potential drinker, though I have tested none alcohol since I converted.
What I know however is that my religion is a peaceful one; a religion that respects women; a religion that does not encourage violence in any form. Islam is the facsimile of goodwill. You only have to be at the mosque to see this spectacular unity; how the rich in their silk kanzus and the poor in their tattered jeans sit closely together on the bare floor, with the handicapped by their side. It is an example that I have seen nowhere else.
Forget that. I am here to talk about how I spent Christmas.
Yesterday was Friday, my prayer day. I woke up late: 8:13AM to be precise. I worked until late the previous night, so this was justifiable.
These days, the first thing that comes to my mind when I wake up is food. I let my system choose what to eat. Thankfully, it rarely directs me to the high-end foods like chicken, sausages, chips and the likes; it mostly shifts between omena, plain sukuma, kienyeji, mama Nafula’s chapattis, sossi, occasionally pork, or beef…things that I am happy I can now afford without sitting down to balance equations.
On this day I felt like eating Githeri. I filled the stove with paraffin, poured two cups of beans into the pan; did the same with the milky seeds shelled from the two fresh maize cobs that I stole from the landlord’s farm in my backyard (I know. He went to shags with all other tenants; left me to take care of everything. It’s only two cobs, right?).
While the food cooked outside, I smeared three bread slices with the “low-fat” content from the BlueBand container, wondering what the tag “Pictures for serving suggestions only” on the lid means. I gulped down my sugarless tea together with the tasty toast. Afterwards I unlocked the computer, and for the next two hours, prepared drafts for my next articles on VPN servers.
At 11 sharp, I closed down everything and saddled my bike to the mosque. On my way back I passed by Tuskys to get spices for my Githeri.
Tuskys was full to the brim. This was definitely a wrong time but I went in anyway. I literally had to hold my breath to create space for my stomach as I passed through the clogged corridors. Thanks to the air conditioners in that building, they do excellent work.
In a way, my presence here gave me a childhood déjà vu that I surprisingly find nostalgic. There was nothing pleasant in those days when I walked 8 kilometers to Nakumatt in Kisumu with only a five-shilling coin or note in my pocket and a full stomach after a visit to 3 or 4 neighbors. Yet I still remember them with nostalgia.
I enjoyed munching those chappos, chickens and fish from neighbors, while my brothers and sisters, made shy by age, could not engage in what Luos refer to as “wanyo”. They would stay at home and feed on boiled maize or sweet potatoes.
But I hated the after-feeling that came with an excessively full stomach. It was a feeling of boredom, slight pain in the waist, weakness, and at time nausea. I think my digestive system is unique. Biologists have not discovered much as they think; this stomach (patting it) still holds a number of theses.
At one time I tried to climb a tree on this full stomach; I slipped and landed flat on my right side with hands still stretched towards my head. God, the pain! I am still surprised to date that the shock did not rapture my spleen. Probably Father Christmas had not put my name on the naughty list.
Anyway, I decided that climbing trees on Christmas was not a good idea. That’s when I took the new habit of going to Nakumatt every Christmas.
Until I abolished this habit in class 8, I don’t remember a Christmas day that I ever had more or less than five shillings in my pocket. It was always 5 bob. My five bob would not buy anything much, so I kept it to buy “jwala” water for drinking when trekking back home. I would stand opposite the tellers at Nakumatt and watch as they served the long, endless lines of buyers.
I was not alone in this observation spree, other kids too were there- poorer than me. I could judge this by their tattered clothes. Like my legs, theirs too acquired thick layers of the Kisumu dust, worsened by the excessively smeared “Ng’ombe” jelly.
But I swear I was richer than them- my fellows at Nakumatt; I had 5 bob and I swear they had none. Sometimes I kept it in my plastic shoes, sometimes in my pockets, that is, if they were not torn. Sometimes I wrapped it in a small polythene bag in my hands when I had no shoes nor pockets. I would also have kept it in my underwear, except that I wore none most of the times.
I hoped that God would make me a teller in the future so that I would handle so much money. Now I know that I cannot stay more than a month in that kind of job. Being a teller requires patience and tolerance. I am not that patient. I don’t swallow shit from people for too long.
And I think a lot of shit goes on in supermarkets. Shit from supervisors who want you serve faster when you are already doing your best. Shit from customers who insist that you give them two shillings change when you only have sweets. Shit from customers who insult you when their Lipa na Mpesa transaction jams, as if you own Safaricom. Shit from people who pick goods worth ksh500 when they only have ksh480 and expect you to fill in the ksh20 for them. Shit from staring Christmas kids in tattered clothes that wait for you to look the other way so that they can stuff sweets into their pockets.
That is why I must commend Tuskys Kakamega, for what I saw yesterday was wonderful. There were lots of idlers in the building yesterday. Some were standing right beside the tellers. But I never saw any of the staff shoo them away. Definitely this is too polite for my taste, but still commendable anyway.
I joined a line after picking my Tropical containers. Two steps ahead of me there was a young boy in green t-shirt. He was rather clean and well dressed, most likely from a middle class family.
He had three sachets of chocolate bars in hands. I admired the way he stared at his catch, especially the red sachet- like he wanted to give them a keynote address. Probably he was going to tell the red sachet, “You will be the last one my dearest, because you are special”.
When the boy’s turn reached, I noticed that his chat with the lady at the counter was taking too long. The teller’s right hand was raised over the “escape” key but she didn’t look like she wanted to strike it. I think she wanted to help the boy. Probably she had helped many other people with shortage and was considering if this should be the last one for the day. I can smell good people from a distance.
Anyway, I did not let her finish thinking. I heard a voice saying “Mpatie tu namlipia”, my voice. I had already raised the ksh500 in my hands towards her.
The teller returned to me Ksh260 change. The boy had picked chocolates worth 240 shillings! The goods I had picked were around ksh400.
I don’t know whether or not I did this in good will. Part of me tells me that it was goodwill. However, I have very many judges in me who usually come out at such times to analyze my actions. One tells me that I only did it to save my time, because I feel so superior standing in a line with people visiting the supermarket for the first time since last year. Another judge says I did it to show off to the beautiful girl who was queuing at my back. He/she says it’s natural for men who think that “wameshafika” (they have “reached”). What do you think?
Anyway, as I was taking out more cash from my wallet to cover for the deficit, a small, closed fist was raised towards me. It belonged to the boy in green. I opened my right hand and he poured a couple of coins into it. They totaled around ksh120. I caught a smile on his face as he quickly retracted.
I may have had selfish motives for helping out, but one thing I will cherish forever is that smile. It was a genuine smile. It is rare to see genuine smiles these days. Yes, I earned his smile for Christmas.