Wednesday afternoon, Dan, Ian and Joe traipse out of their mid-morning lecture inexplicably more tired then they went in. Why inexplicably? The lecture did not happen. Big shocker. This lecturer had a reputation, and it was not good. Prof. Likhanga had taken them for yet another unit last semester. He had shown up to class only 3 times in the whole semester, that is 16 weeks, 14 if you disregard the two for exams. He had issued no cats, not sent any hand outs with notes, and yet the university considered the content taught. Exams were done, some people passed, others failed, by what basis this was determined, we can only speculate.
In this current semester, the three have a unit for which Prof. Likhanga’s from the last semester is a prerequisite. No one cares that they learnt literally nothing last semester. This realisation teaches even those students that once cared what a futile use of their energies it is, to care about things like these. Things like the proper running of a ‘world class’ institution. Things like this oh-so-important education emphasised by the preceding generation as the ‘key’. The key to what exactly…you may ask? To everything, would be their answer. Education is supposed to be the master key to the rest of your life. Yet here is Prof. Likhanga, changing the locks on everyone’s future. Our keys might be useless by the time the future comes.
“I spoke too soon it seems. Likhanga started this semester with so much steam, I actually thought he might have been a changed man. That perhaps his New Year’s resolutions included not screwing over any more students,” Joe mused.
“Well, Fluid Mechanics 3 has just entered my realm of self taught units, that is for sure. Never again am I bothering to come for this lecture when clearly the lecturer has no use for us,” said Dan.
“Why doesn’t this system work? Why is Likhanga even still here? It isn’t like other lecturers in our department don’t know about his truancy. Why do they make us go through this?” Dan was the idealist when they started uni. Now, he struggles to grapple with the fact that the world does not work like it should. Going with the flow makes it bearable.
“Education is a system built to screw us. Guys, quit thinking about this too much. We have a free Wednesday afternoon ahead of us…let us go be young. Young and wild and free. The way I see it, Likhanga has done us a favour,” said Ian, always the guy with a plan.
The three friends pass by a small wines and spirits, Jojawa, located right outside one of the school gates. 1.30pm and it is already flocked with a steady stream of customers. No doubt other Dans, Ians and Joes, tired of trying when the system always seemed to shoot them down. Resolving to let loose, to have some fun.
“Gold Medal iko?” Ian enquires through the blue bars between the shopkeeper with the merchandise and the high-seeking customer.
“Ehhh, iko. Chupa ni 8 soo.”
Money is quickly put together, there is silent consensus to get two bottles. That is enough to get them comfortably wasted. By 8.00pm, everyone can be back in their own beds. The shopkeeper, a small and docile elderly lady, indifferently receives the money and packs their wares. She makes eye contact briefly, then proceeds to her next customer.
“Barely past noon and already these children are drinking,” she will resignedly think to herself. Yet she will continue to sell, at all hours of day and night. Business is business. Anyone around school knows that Jojawa is open 24 hours a day. Even when it seems closed, they have a phone number plastered right across the metal window shutters. Call it, and the little docile lady will open shop in less than a minute, whatever time of day(night). At 3.00am, she may be cranky, tell you off for coming at this hour, but she will sell you whatever you desire as long as you have the money. Business is business.
Dan and Ian are house-mates. Their house is closest and most conveniently located, so they head there, as usual. Ugali and matumbo in tow to line the stomach before the festivities. Alcohol is kinder to the body when it meets companions upon consumption. Perhaps it gets lonely sometimes, thus forcing itself back up and causing great discomfort and suffering. Alcohol. Why do we even bother with alcohol? Simple, it fires up the fun times.
Coming up the stairs, they find Njeri, the lady who cleans the building busy hanging someone’s clothes. She has spent the morning bent over double scrubbing and her face tells it. Her tongue however, never tires of clever quips. “Nikuje lunch?” she says upon spotting the black polythene papers in the boys’ hands. Always an indication of food. They must be the cheapest most convenient packaging if all food places use them, the most detrimental to the environment as well.
Three flights of stairs later, Dan hands the alcohol and his food to Ian to free up his hands and proceeds to unlock the padlock. A padlock so big you might mistake it for an armoured vehicle among padlocks. Everyone in the area has an assortment of padlocks like these, padlocks that look more like weapons than anything else. Sufficiently imposing to make thieves think twice about breaking into your house. Sometimes, the thieves break in anyway, but then at least you can say you had done your part, bought a padlock that looked like it had it’s own alarm response unit built-in.
Dan and Ian’s neighbour from the floor above walks by while Dan is working at disarming/disabling the padlock. A neat and silent girl. She makes eye contact briefly and walks on not acknowledging their presence.
In the kitchen, finding clean utensils is a rare occurrence. Yes, boys will be boys, but Juja will be Juja as well. Water has not been pumped up to the tanks since Sunday. The building has two water sources, that supplied by the city council and a bore hole, yet the tenants have no water. Njeri, who very early every morning cleans the building will always have water. Once she has cleaned the corridors on all 5 floors of the building, she will wash the cars parked in the building, if any, and then ask to be payed by the owners when they venture out. She will also have water when a tenant pays 200 shillings to have their laundry done. But, you who pays rent, who pays for water, will only have water when it is deemed convenient, economical. Mondays and Thursdays according to the building timetable.
Several jericans and tanks are littered around the kitchen and bathroom, most are empty by now but one remains, the final frontier. It yields some water, enough to wash 3 plates, 3 spoons and 3 cups, which is all they need anyway. Soon enough, the TV is on and there is rap music blaring.
“So, what’s the deal with your neighbour upstairs? The girl who walked by us on the stairs,” says Joe.
“We should invite her over.”
“We have never spoken. She always looks so serious walking by, like there’s a fire she needs to go put out and if you stop here for even a mere ‘hello’, hundreds of people will lose their lives and thousands more will lose all their possessions,” replies Ian.
“You guys just haven’t tried, have you?”
“If you think it’s that easy, you try.”
Three quarters of a bottle later, there is a knock at the door.
Dan gets up to go open it.
“Ahhh, Felix, izhow?”
Peeking in, “I see you guys are set for the afternoon?” Felix comments.
“Just passing time, you know how it is. Our lecture bounced and we thought why not.”
“I know what that feels like. Anyway,” holding out an empty jug, “do you guys have some water to spare? I’m really desperate up there.”
“We have a little left, feel free to come in as I get that for you.”
“Ahhhh, you guys have stash? Mind if I join you?”says Felix in reference to the three little white and pink flowered rolls of weed lying on the table.
Everyone likes weed but no likes their house constantly smelling of it. The land lady would have you out on the curb in under 24 hours if she suspected ‘wewe ni mtu wa bangi‘. Drug use was unacceptable. Some might argue that so is lack of water for days on end.
The quartet heads to the compact rectangular balcony outside the kitchen. Here the fumes will dissipate into the nothingness beyond. Ian lights the first one up and takes the first puff, still sipping on his cup. The first bottle now completely gone, everyone is at a surreal mental state. All is well with the world. The beats of the music seem to will your head to bob of its own accord. Perhaps a little more progress with the second bottle and your whole body will start believing it has rhythm. Free…is what this feels like. Freedom. Happiness. Company. Fun.
Ian passes the joint to Dan and notices two girls on the roof of an adjacent building. The building, half complete, has no defined roof. It offers a nice flat surface where residents sometimes come to chill. To drink and smoke and talk. But really, it is an accident waiting to happen. A hazard. There are no railings on the sides to deter a fall. An accident waiting to happen.
Every day at around the same time, 5pm, this one guy with large red headphones will find his way to the pseudo-roof, sit on a little brick leftover from the unfinished building, the future wall of someone’s house if the building owner ever decides to continue construction. He will sit on it, this brick, and zone out to a world where it is him, his music and a pack of cigarettes. A whole pack he will smoke, staring into space, and when they are over, he will disappear. Not today though. Today, the boys are excited to have some eye candy.
“Hey ladies!” piped up Ian.
“Hellllooooooo! Hey, you over there, with the beautiful smile!”
The other boys laugh, each taking two puffs and then passing on the magic stick.
“Maria! Joan! Sarah! Wangare!” Felix tries his luck.
Martha chuckles on the floor above them, “Did you really expect that to work Felix?”
Martha joined the afternoon’s festivities.
Joe got to talk to the ‘no-nonsense’ girl from the stairs.
Felix ended up using the water he came to ask for to clean a cup for himself and Martha and they indulged in the alcohol.
It was a pleasant afternoon.