Gentlemen of the Round Table

Women. Women are horrible creatures. We seesaw on the extremities of love and peace, war and hate.

Women don’t sit on the fence. Not because we can’t see the fence, or because the fence can’t handle our weight, but because we are about sides. We take sides. We take a millennium to make a decision but with a snap of the finger, we chose which side of the fence we will stand.

Women don’t know what in-between are: it’s either 1 or 0. Green or orange. Maroon or crimson. Either a tragedy or a triumph. We know no free lunch – every debit has its credit. Every action, its double-edged reaction.

That same heart that falls in love with our puppies and our neighbour’s kitten and the breaded garlic chicken we made for dinner last night (using a recipe lifted off Gatuiri Mwangi’s food blog, Leo Tunapika?)  is the same heart that detests another. That same mouth that spoke love and made love, is the same mouth that speaks ill about the next person. Those same eyes that saw boatloads of adoration in your baby’s first poop are the same eyes that throw spiteful glances at the watchman whom your very pregnancy hated. Ironical, eh?

Women are horrible creatures. Any wise man knows not to have too many of them at his Round Table. Oscar Wilde once said, a little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal. So goes with the women in your life: a little of them is a dangerous thing (already) and a great deal of them is absolutely fatal.

But listen, this isn’t an anti-feminist whitepaper. Or a retrogressive agenda at the constitution’s support for the woman. Neither is it an attack at the global appeal for the girl-child.
This is about lessons I picked up from four fine gentlemen. Gentlemen who showed me what it was to stop being just a woman, but be a wiser, better person.

Njogu, my mechanic
My pal recommended Njogu as a mech for my first moti.  You will love Njogu, he said. He has the honesty of a thermometer.

Njogu lived on the border of Karen and Dagoretti. The local folk call it Karinde, which means ‘Karen end’. Njogu mingled with the bourgeois of the suburbs and the slumdogs of the ghetto with fascinating ease. Engage him was amusing.

Before his mechanic gig, Njogu worked in a government office that procured supplies for the Ministry of Health. He hated every day of it. One Tuesday, Njogu stood up and walked out of his office building. He left the cursor blinking in the middle of a laborious Excel worksheet. His half-finished cup of tea sitting on an unsightly desktop of old cup rings and procurement docs. His coat, hanging on the back of his seat. Njogu walked out of that office gova style and never returned. He walked out to do what he loves most: repairing yours and mine car.

My arrangement for service with Njogu was that he picked the moti up from my office parking mid-morning, and return it at the end of the workday. I had little idea where he took it, or what he did with it. I trusted him.
It was on one of these mid-mornings that Njogu found me in the moti crying my eyeballs out.

He rapped on the window twice.  I rolled it down.

Are you OK?

Never been better, I said.

He nodded, his forehead knitted with worry. I asked Njogu to give me three minutes to recompose myself. But he didn’t. Njogu disobeyed me. And you must know how insulted a woman feels when she’s disobeyed, yes?

Njogu walked around to the other side of the car and rapped again on window.

I let Njogu into the car, and I let him in. Thing is, when a woman lets you see her tears, it means she has let you have a glimpse at her soul. At her fragile femininity. It means you have the power to rob her of the self-dignity she wears with such fickle pride. You have seen her at her weakest. You have seen that she can be weakened. That she is weak. That she is a woman.

Njogu thought none of this. All he thought was that I needed a shoulder; he had the option to walk away when I asked him to but he didn’t.

Njogu took my hand in his. I understood then what we were: him, an openness of tough. Me, a ball of precious. Like a pearl in a clam. Or like God. Like God with the whole world in His hands.

Njogu rubbed my back in three firm circles. It wasn’t what he said next that stopped the tears but how he said it: with an innocuous certainty. Everything is going to be okay, fra. Believe in that.

I did.

After that episode – an episode he never brought up again – Njogu joined my Round Table: the day I quit my corporate job, I called Njogu to tell him. When I got published the first time, Njogu was one of those whom I WhatsApp’d. I figure he used his lunch money that day to buy the paper. When I decided to, I called Njogu to tell him I was letting the moti go.

Njogu is still out there, somewhere in the city, doing his thing.

I wonder if he still smells of masculinity and sunshine.

Njoro, my shoe guy
Njoro and I started off on a tragic foot. The first time I walked into his shoe shop on Moi Avenue that February, Njoro was surrounded by three cheap-looking women who pinched his bottom and hang on his frame as they threw their heads back in unnecessary laughter. Laughing so hard their weaves almost flew off their heads.

I hared out to the exit, disgusted. I don’t know about you, but no self-serving woman would want to be associated with a man who services the red-light district in whichever capacity.

Njoro called out after me, Come back next Saturday. Please.

I returned the next Saturday. But only because he said please.

Njoro was pleasant. Too pleasant it was suspicious. He had a Zen-like aura of serenity and uncommon welcome to him. People, women especially, sought him to hear them out. And he listened. And he gave them sober advice. I realized then what type of man Njoro was. Njoro was a natural fixer, a do-good kind of guy. He was a man who got a fix from fixing things, from doing good for others.

I returned Saturday after Saturday to lay about in his shop. We became boys. Njoro told me he ran his little shoe shop so he could finance his greater dream of travelling the land, and becoming a bass guitarist.

That September, the day the City’s Council towed my moti for double parking, it was Njoro I called to bail me out. Njoro came – no questions, no hesitations, no berations. Njoro came because this was the type of selflessness that made him who he was. Njoro later declined that I settle the debt. He said that it was enough I’d called him.

Then one Saturday that November, Njoro was gone. His phone number was bust. He didn’t leave a forwarding address. His pals, no one knew anything. All they knew was that Njoro sold his Golf to start a tour company with a local franchise.

Last I heard, Njoro played with a band called Styrofoam that performed every Wednesday evening at a nondescript disco in Kapenguria called Kazeto Comfy.

I need to take a trip down there sometime.

Ronne, the man of the cloth
You need one of these at your Round Table, a man of the cloth. I met Ronne on the first day of work, during orientation, five years ago. Ronne isn’t his real name.

Ronne is kao – short, skinny and of sunny disposition. Hairy. Well-mannered. Wise beyond his years. He has seen too much for his age.  Ronne has the personality of a radio with eyelashes the volume of a camel’s. He opens his eyes wide when he is speaking and squints them when he is listening. Squinted so that the lashes of his lower eyelid intertwine with those of the upper eyelid, and it’s difficult to see past the wire mesh of lashes, into his eyes.

We became pals after our first conversation:

I can tell you are a broke person, Bett, he said.

Excuse me?

I can tell you are broke. It’s in your signature, it’s too long. And you are dressed up to come to work. Those are habits of broke people, Bett. You have to break these bad habits before they become you, he said.

Ronne was a man about truth – brutal truths that lacked the malicious intent to injure your ego or bruise your personality. He wasn’t about positivity or negativity or any of that New Age energy shit either. Ronne was about truth. Biblical truths. Wise truths.

When someone asks for your money, he once said to me, make sure to take it out directly from your wallet. Don’t mpesa him. Don’t write him a cheque. Don’t swipe your credit card. You take the notes out of your wallet, feel its weights between your fingers and consider the help you are giving. So when it lands in the open palm of whoever asked for it, you know you have saved a situation.

A few months before he left our jobo to work with a Christian NGO for children, Ronne said this in response to an unfair appraisal:

Have you ever been on a farm during harvesting season, Bett?

I told him I haven’t. I am a city girl.

He laughed.

I am a village boy. I have. The mood on that farm as they harvest? It’s unequalled. They are reaping their harvest, the product of their honest work. It wasn’t for the farmer to decide if it will rain or not. It wasn’t for him to lick any boots so he could get a harvest in return. All he needed to do was plant the seed and tend to his crop the best way he knows how. Then wait for the harvest, Ronne said.

Truth stands on its own, Bett, he continued. Truth isn’t about me and you. It isn’t subject to how much tighter your knickers are today than they were yesterday. Truth is bigger than our egos. Truth is the truth.

The February before I myself left that jobo, I sought the counsel of Ronne. We met at Java Upper Hill over lunch break. Ronne spoke. And spoke. And spoke. Plenty of what he said is worth mentioning here. But one thing stuck with me since. Ronne said,

“All this investment you are making toward leaving your job, it’s a good thing. But remember, Bett, unless the Lord builds the house…” he trailed off.

I pick up his sentence to complete it, “… its workmen labour in vain.”

“That’s right. Psalms 127. Unless you have the Lord at the center of all your plans, all this investment you are making toward them will be in vain.”

We closed with prayer. It was 4PM.

Last Friday, I called Ronne to invite him to my kid brother’s wedding.

How’s the wedding planning going, Bett?

Busy. I have little energy left to write.

That’s what happens when one more woman comes into the picture: she takes away all of your energy, he quipped.

I chortled.

Wise people, they never change.

Mystery calls himself mystery because that’s what he wants to remain: a mystery. I am killing his mysterious vibe writing about him here.

Mystery has come on this blog, left a few comments on previous posts. Some comments made sense. Others didn’t; they read like they were extracts out of a conversation he had had with himself. But you can never spite a man who likes whiskey, chess and a good book, can you?

Mystery has held down the fort while I am out here chasing my dreams to be a better writer than myself.

There isn’t any more mystery in that than either of us now realize, innit?

Trade-ins for a lifestyle
Sizzle, no steak

Comments (18)

  1. CottCom

    Beautiful! Every single part of this writing! Beautiful!

    • fra

      Thank you. And let the Mystery remain.

      All the best with BAKE Awards 2014. I pray it turns out as your heart desires.
      We are behind you.
      Hebu share the link to the ballot box so that we vote for you.

  2. Joe Mugendi

    I am curious of this mystery guy, intrigued by Njogu’s ability to comfort crying women (Fra/you), and i envy Njoro’s ability to make women comfortable around him. Regarding Ronne, that’s a man of the cloth who is cut from a different cloth. Nice read.

  3. MIMI

    I read this piece twice
    In the middle of busy season
    Fra, you know better what that means

  4. JB Ali

    Well, intriguing read. Almost choked on something I’m drinking here.

    Cheers to the mystery guy, and to such great writing!

  5. Mwende

    This is beautiful….Keep writing!

    • fra

      Mr Bett? As in, my Ol’Man, ama?

      I do have women in my Round Table. It’s only that they have more balls than breasts, hehhe.

  6. Chess

    I like the story’s rhythmic pace, and how amazingly you make the characters irresistible.

  7. Nicholas Chepkurgor

    But you can never spite a man who likes whiskey, chess and a good book, can you?

  8. Okoyo

    Good writing and follow ur passion…it’s good to appreciate and celebrate wise counsel

  9. Debz

    Good job! Confirmation that it is better to follow your dreams.

    • fra

      Thanks Debz. And welcome on here.

      I hadn’t realized that ‘follow your dreams’ was a theme that cut across all the characters. Hhhmm.

  10. Jurgen

    I like Njogu, most men get uncomfortable around Women, I know Ronnie I could not help laughing at the bit about long signatures and broke people. I wish you knew what went through my mind as I eavesdropped that conversation that day somewhere in Upper hill.
    I am not sure but I think you writing is evolving and it getting better with every post.
    Keep going keep going.. this is lovely

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