Debt Pass

There is a day the devil pays your house a visit. And because you are nowhere close to Jesus, he does not come with the niceties like bread; on his hands is a mission to fuck up your day, and where possible, pretty bad. The games of the devil is something like M-Pesa undergoing maintenance when your KPLC tokens get depleted 4 am in the morning. The month is around the corner, corona is in the bedroom, but your landlord is on your phone, “Please remember to pay your July rent on time. The relief was only for June, thanks.” It is like telling you, ‘Hey, I’ve been good to you last month, now behave!’ That’s before Netflix politely tells you, sorry we couldn’t process payment, try again? But in real sense they are telling you ‘Buddy we don’t offer free service here, get your things in order.’ Then you would think they partnered with Zuku to mess up your day,because within a short time you receive a message that ‘your subscription ends in 5 days, how about you load up that your shitty account to avoid disruption?’

It is the life of the city. Hard cores live, soft copies vanish. The odds won't always be against you. Sometimes I reminisce.

“Osano is home.”

Silent whispers.

“Really, how do you know?”

“SI saw that his tuktuk going that way yesterday evening…” pointing to the feeder road that leaves the main main highway to our home. It won’t be an hour before the phone calls start streaming.

“Come greet us.”

But you know too well that gone are the days when greetings were done by mouths on an empty stomach. After half a day’s rest at home, my legs will lead me to the centre, it’s called Kobala Centre. When you take a break from the city you must meet your people, you must make an effort to meet your people and talk about the new developments; this is a village, so we are not talking about bypass or a blocked sewerage line (you are lucky if your village has such luxuries, I have none to speak of.) The developments we talk about are things like the newly elected MCA not picking his calls since he got into office, or that principal of Kobala secondary being blamed for the deteriorating performance of the school since he took charge. 

Not much goes on there, you might think, if you are a visitor, but we know otherwise. The shops here have no names,they  are known by the owner’s. There is nothing like Jubilee Entreprises as the name of the shop, when you are sent you’ll be told to go to Ochieng’s shop, he cuts for you a bar of soap worth 20 shilings, equivalent to your budget. Ochieng’ might take the money you are given for the bar soap, confiscate it and ask you to go back to your mother and tell her to pay the debt of 50 shilings she owes the shop before she can buy anything else there. 

"An ok ati tij kanisa kae"  - "I don't do church business here" he says as you leave. Of course he knows you are a smart kid and you will choose what to report back to your mother and what what to keep to yourself.

As a child, a humble servant of the Lord, you will have to take this message first to your mother thinking that she must have forgotten about the debt to Ochieng. It is a 15 minute walk back home, home is not too far from the Centre (you can call it shopping centre as English people demand, Centre will do for me).

“Ochieng’ has taken the money."

You report back to your mother, who seems baffled by your empty hands and running mouth. Both the dishes and your father have been waiting for this soap; in fact, your father’s warm water had been taken to the bathroom 5 minutes ago, awaiting the arrival of your soap which is even five minutes late. To teach you a lesson, a small cane had been brought prior to your arrival by your younger brother to welcome you for your lateness. In normal circumstances, it should take you fifteen minutes to the shop, but for a kid like you who should be running whenever he is sent, cutting that period to half is all that is required. Not too much to ask for from an eight year old.

Your mother is boiling, does Ochieng’ think he is the only person with a shop in Kobala! Even if push came to shove would she run away with his 50 shilings?

Gop Chieth!” (debt my ass!she curses as she goes for her leso.

She unwraps the tied edge of the leso to reveal some folded notes, probably two fifties and a hundred shilings and some coins, gives you the coins and asks you to run back to Ochieng’, give him the coins and tell him that your mother has said he gives you soap, she is not running anywhere with his debt. She could pay the whole debt you know, but who says Ochieng is the only one eating in this village today?

As you leave back to the shop, your father asks you to make your legs useful or else he will leave for you that water to bathe with. You wouldn't mind a hot bath but you know too well that he is just being parabolic; hot baths are meant for parents. He has his towel wrapped around his waist, mumbling how these boys who their mothers came with (boys born outside the current marriage) - like Ochieng’, were now giving them ultimatums on how to live in the village.

Back to the shop, Ochieng’ cant resist the 30 shilings you’ve taken to him, there will be another debt of twenty if he gives you the soap, and he must, because this is Kobala, and every business however yours, is owned by the community.

And in front of these shops we sit, 20 years later. Some have beaten the odds and survived like this one for Ochieng or even the posho mill of Mama Kili which is said to have been there before our mothers were married here. See? Community debts never killed a business. In fact, as we sit under the Obino tree, with a crate of soda at our feet, the only acceptable greeting in Kobala, Ochieng is the first to serve himself with a bottle of Coke on my bill.

He tells us “Del nyaka gone pole” (you must say sorry to your body).

A cold Coke in the middle of a burning sunny day in Kobala is a sorry enough for the body. Mixed with the humor that never lacks in my small space of peers, time will fly, the sun will waiver its commitment to keeping us company and invite looming darkness over our heads. The women will be heading home to cook for their husbands, barefooted kids (once me) will be taking the cattle home in a huff, lest maugo (tsetse flies) bite their asses as they graze on the lake shores. The girls will be at the posho mill getting the flour ready for the evening. They have clear instructions to slap the funnel as their maize is being crushed to ensure that all their flour get out, the next person must not benefit from their two gorogoros (tins). It is not a good evening for a few of them though. Some will have to go home without floor. One of them had been too careless and left a 5 shilling coin, the big one with Moi on it, in the maize basket, which found its way to the machine tray, into the sieve, and tore the sieve. It will take half a day to repair that, tomorrow perhaps. Tonight, they will have to holo (borrow) unga from the neighbours with a tin, and repay the following day after milling in the same tin; the earlier you borrow the unga, the better.

Not all your neighbours are always willing to give. The point that the borrowed unga reaches must also be marked well both visually and verbally, because when returning, it has to be at the exact point, no more or less. The person giving the flour will tell you something like “Ineno kumochope?” ….You have seen where the floor has reached, right? “E ng’ut kikombe kanyo?” …there at the neck of the cup.’ This is the verbal confirmation part. The repayment must be done in the same tin. During this process you will also learn a great deal of patience; some neighbors will go and check in their kitchen as you wait for their feedback before telling you “Tell your mother I only have little unga for tomorrow morning.” You take the message home. That must be a family that eats Ugali in the morning, they would have to spare some to start their day tomorrow or maybe they are unhappy that every time you borrow white flour from them, you always return the yellow one (nyamula) or even worse; they could be holding a silent flou-ry grudge that the last time you holo-ed unga, you did not return it at the exact mark that you received it. No worries though, Kobala is not a desert, there is always a neighbor on stand-by to come through. Kobala denyo but we don’t sleep hungry.

We break camp. Head home for the night.

The full moon smiling on me. For some reason it has always been there but you never notice it when you are in the city. Save for the restless mosquitoes that will always want some fresh blood from the city, the night is full of calm. A glass of Belaire Brut under the moonlight will seal the day. You do not even need a Netflix for this one.


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