I woke up with a start like a man cheated out of sleep, eyes darting, trying to guess the time and
then opened the door to let the moonlight in. It must be four in the morning, I figured. I could hear the Imam’s call
of worship. Accompanying these calls were shrieks and screams but I sat, unafraid. I’d heard it all before anyway. People
were being robbed. It was a common occurrence at this time of night and I just hoped that the thugs didn’t extend their
‘services’ to this plot. Soon all was quiet.
I peeped out the door and star-gazed. I was thinking about my mother’s advice. How long had
it been? Twenty two years, Twenty three? I was six then. She had brushed her
tender fingers through my thick wavy hair, hair which had thinned through the years, creating a small air-strip around my
‘…My boy…the early bird catches the worm…’ she said each morning,
reminding me that I was getting late for school. She would caress my once chubby,
now gaunt, face while pointing towards the sparrows which were holding a ceremony of chirping. Now all I could hear were the
vroom of buses and small cars as they ferried people to their workplaces. My mind drifted back to the present, and the long
journey I must make to the industrial area’s PALITO Steel Mills in Nairobi’s South ‘B’ estate.
I rummaged through the pile of clothes scattered on the bed and pulled out a faded green shirt,
worn at the collar, then tried to find matching trousers. I settled for the khaki
chinos - though a cross between shorts and trousers, it still went well with the shirt.
‘…I’ve never known a path to be so congested…’ I mused aloud later, directing my speech
to the elderly woman whose head was bent from the heavy wares on her back but she walked on without looking at me. Everyone
seemed to be in a hurry to go somewhere. The school going children could not be missed either with rucksacks on their backs
laden with books, their green, red and yellow uniforms looking like beautiful flowers in a field of thorns and I wondered
what the future held for them. Would they end up jobless like us?
Forty five minutes later I approached the block surfaced path of the steel manufacturing firm. ‘EXCELLENCE
IN WHAT WE DO.’ The logo on its gates read.
man was trying very hard to wipe the dust off his shoes before he went in. I
looked at mine, wondering what I would brush – the protruding toenails or the tiny shreds of leather of the shoe that
remained? ‘So long as I’m walking no one will notice,’ I thought,
and carried on.
It was a quarter to eight when the employees trickled in. Soon all was quiet except for the hushed
tones of jobseekers waiting to be attended to. A man then appeared from the small gate; thick lipped, wide eyed and a bit
stocky --a little like me. The only difference was our belly sizes –his was big. It was the supervisor.
I smiled at him. – I had been here before and he was always saying that I should come back tomorrow—but
he did not smile back.
He rolled his head and his sights settled on the guy who was standing with his hands behind his back and in a husky
voice he asked, ‘Who brought you here?’ And the man answered.
‘Sorry. No job’
And the man left, disgruntled
‘And you!’ He started. ‘Who brought you here?’ while directing
his gaze at the guy who had pasted on an exaggerated smile on his face.
‘It’s Bwana Mwangula, sir. He told me report to this place by 8:30am and here
I am, sir.’
The supervisor unfolded the piece of paper that he was holding and asked. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Okay. Come in and leave your details with the security office.’
The man’s pasted smile increased as he jounced inside the gate.
It was my turn now and my smile broadened too.
‘My name is Mwaniki Mwarandu and I came here
to try my luck again today, Sir…’
‘Did you hear we offer luck
here?’ The supervisor retorted and the others chuckled. Not to be perturbed, I pressed on.
‘…I wish to apply for the construction
job going on in one of your warehouses.’ Referring to what I’d overheard earlier from the firm’s employees
as I was coming in.
The supervisor turned around, held his chin and a sly smile formed on his face
as he asked, ‘Who are you with?’ then looked at his watch.
‘I came on my own hoping to find a job, any job…’
‘…Ooh…’ the supervisor cooed. ‘…You seem confident
but tell you what. Come tomorrow and we’ll see what we can do. The rest of you wait here and I’ll attend to you
later.’ And with that he was gone.
All waited patiently, me included, hoping he might reconsider, wishing they might need extra people.
Soon the gates opened and everybody looked up to see an emaciated looking man dressed in a blue uniform. His trousers sagged
at the front and his shirtsleeves were folded three times. It was the security guard.
Michinka tu…!’ (Incompetent fools) His voice boomed at us from under his large bowl of a helmet. He was now waving a baton as he continued. ‘...Go Home.
Find something else to do. Go back to your farms even, but just get the hell out of my compound.’ All immediately stood up as he turned round, mumbling a little loudly in accented
Swahili. ‘Nani utapatia nyinyi kasi saa tano muchana?’(’who’d give you a job at 11am?’) And he banged the door after him.
How time flew by when one was hopeful. We had sat under the blazing sun for three hours without
realising it. We all dispersed in different directions and I hooked up with some of my also jobless friends from my neighbourhood
and headed for Bondeni area near Gumba estate and later sat down at the wooden benches of mama pima’s tin shack to our
illicit brew, ‘kumi kumi’.
In her smoke filled house, speech was conducted in varied tones, all concocted together to create
a big buzz and I ordered for a drink on top of the voices.
Tomorrow I must think of another line of work. I was now thinking as I screwed my face while I swigged
at the bitter drink. But what else can I do? Whom do I know so that he could fix me a place at his firm? I then lowered the
glass on the table. What of my college certificates? I think I’ll have to destroy them. Who needs them anyway? I fidgeted
with the glass for a while then ordered for another round. I had not paid for the first two rounds. Mama Pima came to my side
and I said ‘…kesho…’ (Tomorrow) before she could utter a word.
Until tomorrow will my fate be sealed. I concluded as I received the drink with wavering hands.