going to Nanyuki
Three years after my return from Penn State University with a Master’s Degree in Agronomy – and jobless – I’ve finally gotten a job offer.
“I just read your CV. You’re overqualified.”
“Try me, sir.”
“Can you milk?”
“A milker. There is a difference!”
The job is in Nanyuki, a chilly town where my grandfather worked for a colonist back in the 1950s. I want to go there- a decision my mother finds ridiculous.
My mother fears that if I take the job, I will marry a Kikuyu woman who’ll murder me.
“I’m not getting married, mother. I’m just taking a job.”
“But who goes to study in America only to be a milker. Why don’t you stay here? I’m sure your father can get you some money to start a sukumawiki business. Or you could use your father’s bicycle for bodaboda.”
I cringe at the latter idea. Don’t they say those who ride bicycles for long hours risk becoming infertile? I have no intention of squashing my family jewels against a hard bike seat for hours, and then plodding around like a violated crab. No, thank you.
Tomorrow I will leave Obunga—my home for thirty-two years–and catch a bus behind the dilapidated Indian house. I am morose. But if people are to enjoy dairy products, someone has to crouch under the cow.
Kisumu looks calm in the morning before bodabodas—marauding groups of bicycles, motorcycles, and Tuk Tuk, take over. An Indian man cycles down Oginga Odinga Street. The bicycle moans every time its tires make a full revolution. His balding head reflects the morning sun. After crossing the road, I take the sidewalk and pass by a street urchin taking a puff of smoke from the gum he is burning. He looks like he has been hit by a truck.
He opens his eyes and quickly extends his oil-stained hands toward me. I quicken my footsteps; people like him are known to pelt feces at people who aren’t enthusiastic toward contributing to their street indulgences.
Sweating and panting from the weight of my rucksack, I am relieved when I finally put it down next to the Mbukinya Executive Coach. It’s an old bus with peeling paint, a thousand dents, and broken brake lights. It leans to one side like a tree that has suffered a thunderbolt. The Makanga, a man in oversize basketball sneakers and a discolored T-shirt—on which is written Hell is Real Because I’m Living It—is shouting Nairobi! Nairobi!
A woman is seated on a humongous red sack and hugging her clutch bag between her extraordinarily large breasts. She knows too well about the shameless pickpockets. I’m not going to bother hugging things like that. I have my fare in my back pocket. The rest of the money is intact in my underwear. Whoever wants it would have to steal my balls first!
All bus stations in Kisumu are along a narrow, deserted, filthy street; smelling of piss and shit and infested with gum-drunk street urchins wandering about like zombies from The Walking Dead.
The bus is supposed to have departed by 9am. It’s 9.45am. A wiry Somali man asks the manamba what time the bus departs. He gives the man a fuck-off stare and then sneers, “Do I look like the driver?” I agree silently that he does not. He looks too drunk to even reverse a bus out of its parking spot.
At 10.05am, the metal wreck finally roars out of the station. A guy I am seeing for the first time, a stout man with ears that look like small snails pressed against the sides of his head, announces in his booming voice that we’re leaving for the city.
“You’ll be on the road for six hours. That’s if your bladders behave. It may take longer, depending on how many roadblocks your government puts on the way.”
An old man says “Bullshit…he was a chokora the other day.” He spits out the word in contempt and I turn to look at the man with the small ears. It is difficult to imagine him as a scruffy street kid like the old man says he was. “The bugger does not even know the price of a tire but barks orders as if he’s the bus owner.” The old man has my grandfather’s attitude and style of grooming; he has on a Charles Njonjo type of three-piece suit and a snow-white shirt complete with a pair of glittering gold cufflinks. My grandfather did not, however, have his military haircut.
The bus farts grime and smoke as it wheels through the town, which is now abuzz with large groups of bodaboda men, and scores of idling teenagers. We drive past construction workers trying to fix a leaking sewer and shield our noses from the stench.
Leaving this city to be a milker in a far-off land sounds absurd, and even more absurd is the fact that I’m traveling more than four hundred kilometers to squat under a cow. But the most absurd part is that Mr. Maina, my employer to-be, had asked me to carry my academic papers along.
Tich en Tich – any job is worth it – my father used to say. But I think he did that to make us excel in anything we put our hands on. It was working.
When I told him that I was going to Nanyuki to take the job, he said, “Take it, son. Tich en tich – excel in it. Get as much milk as you can from those goddamned cows.”
He, like my mother, cautioned against getting ‘cozy’ with Kikuyu women.
“Never, my son. At an arm’s length!” He jabbed a finger in my face.