Someone, please call the Lifeguard

BY MIKE MUTHAKA
I have a phobia for swimming pools. I’ve always hated them. I see them as nothing but chlorinated death-traps. I mean, sure, swimming pools are a great place to see half-naked girls drenched in water but that’s about it. Even if you prefer to only sit by the pool and read a book while you watch over your family’s things – towels, slippers, sunscreen, bottles of lotion – there‘s still the possibility of some show-off diving into the water and splashing water all over you.

I guess my attitude towards pools was fostered in class two, when I signed up for swimming lessons. At the time, my class teacher was Miss Corrine, a tiny lady who took us for Math and English. She had a stone face, like she was always cross about something. She smiled little and said even less. We had a love-hate relationship, me and her – probably because I loved English and hated Math.

When I think about Miss Corrine, it’s her plastic tin that comes to mind. She had a colourless plastic tin where she’d keep our desk keys and padlocks. (Initial occupant of tin: Toss detergent.) Every time the ‘home-time’ bell went off, she’d dip her bony hand into the tin and grab a handful of keys and spread them across the table. I always liked the jingle the keys made. It was the sound of home-time.

Then we’d flock to the front and take our padlocks. The sooner you locked your desk the faster you were released. The trick, it seemed to me, was to have a fancy key-holder or a big padlock. That way you could spot your key from the back of the classroom. You could get home before everyone else. Everything was a race back then.

Corrine also had a pet. And his name was Tony. This boy claimed top position in every subject. Teachers loved him. Girls liked him. Boys envied him. Tony was the class prefect, naturally, and he had a black wrist watch that sprang a tune every hour. It got on my bloody nerves.

You should have seen how kids were excited by this watch. During break they’d surround his desk and stare at the timepiece like it was a rock from outer space. Boy, you should have seen how Tony struck his arm out, like everyone was just waiting to kiss his hand.

And the thing with Tony is that I couldn’t avoid him. He was the boy with arguably the best handwriting, and I was the boy with the ugliest. Arguably. So what Corrine did, she assigned me to Tony. And his job was to teach me how to shape my letters. As if he didn’t already command enough power with the wrist watch, now he had to stand over me as I dotted my I’s. (“Small ‘g’ goes under the line. No. Not like that. It touches the margins. Yes. Like that. Okay, bring I mark.”)

These tutoring sessions usually ran in the afternoons. And the Thursday lesson would be cut short because that’s when we’d go swimming. We would change into our P.E kits (swimming shorts underneath), grab our towels, and walk in a single file up to the pool –a public facility that was a stone-throw away from the school.

At the gate you were greeted by the smell of treated water and a Ribena poster. The kiddies’ pool was on the right. The compound was fenced with stone and grass, and it seemed to me like they never bothered with cleaning the small pool. The bigger pool – separated from the baby pool by a column of tiled cement – sparkled with a brilliant blue, gently rippling under the afternoon sun. The baby pool, on the other hand, was green and had all sorts of dried leaves resting about its surface.

Our swimming instructor was a tall fellow with muscular legs. His deep voice would ring in the air as he ordered us into the shallow end. He’d instruct us to hold on to the metal bar and kick. This was the part I hated most because no matter how hard I kicked I just couldn’t keep my feet off the floor for more than 5 seconds. This would earn me a strict finger wagging.

“You boy, why aren’t you kicking? Kick. Kick like Tony.”

All the while, the chlorine would fill my nostrils and water would get into my eyes and it was all very unpleasant. The instructor never seemed to teach us anything else. After the kicking he’d let us play around the pool until it was time to go back to school. This latter part I also didn’t like because the instructor wasn’t watching much. The naughty ones now had an excuse to play rough. One time a bigger boy pushed me into the pool and I was convinced I would drown and die. Luckily I found my footing before it was too late, but I could feel the cold water flowing down my gut.

Someone, please call the lifeguard.

Perhaps the only person that made the lessons less dreadful was Fred, the school van’s driver. Sometimes he’d tag along and join Miss Corrine in walking us to the pool. While we were at the shallow end kicking, Fred would make his way to the deep end and somersault into the water. He’d curl himself into a ball mid-air, then he’d gracefully unfurl as he disappeared into the blue. All of us would stare in awe. Such poise. It was fun to watch Fred, it really was.

Sometimes I’d think if I was ever about to drown and Fred was around, he’d definitely save me. And he’d do it a lot quicker than the swimming instructor – who would be likely to be hitting on Miss Corrine. I was often amazed at Fred’s lung capacity, because whenever he’d dive in he’d remain under for what seemed like an eternity. I often wondered what he did down there.

Fred’s face came rushing back to me the other day. I was heading to school, and the morning sun sat in the horizon like a mild fireball. I had a CAT that day but I hadn’t studied for it. I had a bunch of notes in my phone, though, and I fancied I’d peruse through them on the long mat ride from Kitengela.

But early in the journey I spotted a yellow school bus parked outside the Kaputiei Hotel.

A bunch of kids were streaming outside the bus, towels hanging from their necks. The boys were bare-chested and they jumped around more than the girls, and I thought they just couldn’t wait. They’d get to see Rachael without a dress.

One boy had lifted his towel up and it was fluttering in the wind. He looked happiest of them all, his black shorts tight around his waist. He must be the prefect, I thought.

Then my mind shifted to the bus driver. I didn’t see him. But I wondered if he would be swimming as well. Or maybe he preferred to catch a nap in the bus, with the sound of joyous kids echoing in the distance. I wondered if he felt affection for those kids whenever he looked at them. Or did he just see them as goods, to be picked up and dropped twice a day? And could he dive like Fred?

When I got to school that day, as the CAT paper landed on my desk, I realized I hadn’t even looked at my notes. I had been thinking about Fred for most of the journey. I had been thinking about Tony and Corrine and that murderous boy who pushed me into the water. I had been thinking about the musical jingle that came out of Corrine’s tin at home-time. And now the questions were staring back at me with a wicked blankness. I was sinking. I needed a hand. I needed Fred to jump in and save me.

Again I thought, Someone, please call the bloody lifeguard.

Follow me on Instagram: Mike Muthaka

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Smells of Sunday
The Windmills in the Hills

Comments (2)

  1. crappy writer

    i think the lifeguard was in your phone all along Michael. All you had to do was fish him out

    • Mike

      Haha and then I’d get caught and that would be cheating and then I’d get expelled and then I wouldn’t have to go to school and then….oh wait. You’re right.

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@_craftit

Columnist Saturday Nation Writer Craft It Author of best-selling ‘SHOULD I?’ and ‘HOW MUCH?’ ~ Guiding word: Overdrive Subscribe to our Newsletter👇🏾 eepurl.com/igmN8P
  • Dear God, 
It’s me again.

I don’t pray as often as I need to, You know that. I don’t kneel by my bed in child-like humility, as Muna does. I don’t whisper a prayer in the morning. Or at noon. Perhaps just in the evening. 

This going-to-church habit is a constant false start. So is reading the Word. 

I’m often guilty but I also know: You and I have a language only we can understand. 

I speak to You through this gift You bestowed upon my Kale shoulders, this gift to write in colour. It’s a gift that sometimes feels like a curse, a burden I have no choice but to pursue. 

Yet other times – most times, actually – it’s the very breath of my essence. Everyday I sit to write, when the words flow from my head and heart through my fingers to the page, I feel You next to me. 

You are here, Lord. Hovering. Lingering. Swooshing about in Your regal robes, like a character from Bridgerton.

Sometimes You get so close I can feel You breathing on my neck and I’m like, ‘Err, God, do You mind, personal space?’

And You chuckle uncomfortably. ‘He-he, of course. Of course.’

I’m here to tell You, Thanks!

I hosted my first in-person event last March, Lord, thank You to all the lovely ladies who granted me their time and full attention. 

I’ve carried them in my heart since and every day, my prayer is that You bring them closer to the life of abundance they each seek. To their own version of wealth. 

I always call them by their name: Becky. Purity. Lindsay. Wangui. Naomi. Shiqow. Mercy. Liz. Winnie. Polly. Nduta. Lynet. 

And Mike. 

Dear Lord, I’m prepping for my next in-person event in June, Inshallah. 

Walk with me as I get there. 

Love always,
Me

#craftit
  • Highlights from our first-ever in person event hosted by Craft It and @financialfitbit 
Thanks to all the lovely ladies — and gent, hehe — who honoured us with the privilege of their time and attention. And colourful energy. It’s been weeks since and it’s only now that I’m coming down from the high. 

Thank YOU!

🎥 @mikemuthaka 

#craftit #author #MakeYourMoneyMatter #personalfinance #money
  • I am a woman.

I’m strong. I’m brilliant. I’m like a comet shooting across the sky, I’m so bright you have to put on shades to see me.

I’m almost 40, I’m almost fully realising myself as a woman and the power of womanhood I possess.

I’m so powerful that if KPLC connected me to the national grid, I’d power up this country and we’d never have another blackout.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Anyway.

To recognize and celebrate International Women’s Day today, I’d like to recognize and celebrate eight women.

I have eight things to give away to each of these women:
a) Two tickets to my upcoming event on March 18 with @financialfitbit Theme is ‘Make your money matter’
b) Three autographed copies of my book ‘Should I?’
c) Three autographed copies of my other book ‘How Much?’

To participate:
1. Like this post
2. Tag women who deserve a win of either event ticket or book (tag as many women as you like)
3. Tell us what you’d like her to win and why she deserves the win
4. Make sure your tagged women follow @_craftit and @financialfitbit 

Here are the rules for the giveaway:
— One woman, one win
— Winners will be contacted via DM
— Giveaway closes at the end of this week, Inshallah, on Sunday 12 March
— Only open to people living in Kenya

All the best!

(Swipe right to see the women I’m celebrating.)

#craftit #internationalwomensday
  • My 2022 word of the year was Wholesome. 

Wholesome meant engaging in moderation and in pursuits that didn’t leave me feeling yucky.

An example: there’re weekend nights I’d go out then have too much to drink. On the drive home, I’d tell GB to stop the car every half mile so I could throw up on the side of the road. Then I’d take three working days recovering. 

Ha-ha.

No more of that nonsense.

Now I have only two doubles of Singleton whiskey and chase it with water. I eat less food and I eat better. I take my supplements. I treat myself to an early bedtime and arise with my body clock, no alarm.

I spend a lot more time hanging with my kids, Muna and Njeeh. 

I buy fewer things. 

I play the piano. 

I created a disciplined routine for my work and take Thursdays off. 

You catch my drift…

Wholesome has become my lifestyle. 

(By the way, I was asked, ‘Where does this word-of-the-year come from, Bett?’ I don’t know about other people but for me, the words present themselves when I’m journaling. My spirit tells me what it needs; I must be still enough to listen and brave enough to obey.)

My word for 2023 is Overdrive.

My two books have unlocked new opportunities for me as a writer and creative. As an urban brand. I’d honestly not foreseen them. 

I know that if I adjust my sails to where the wind is blowing, these opportunities will translate to wealth.

Last Friday, I listed all the work I’m already doing and all the new opportunities – potential and realised – knocking at my door.

I asked myself, ‘What am I taking up here and what am I dropping?’

The response, ‘None – we go into overdrive and smartly pursue them all.’

#craftit #urbanguide
  • Years ago, my best friend said to me, ‘Bett, we’re almost 40 – forget makeup, let’s take care of our skin instead.’

I had to laugh because this was coming from Terry. Terry my Kisii pal, this fine gyal with skin the colour of honey, the only practising SDA in my circle. 

Terry had spent her 20s and early 30s sleek with Arimis. That’s right, the milking jelly with a lactating cow on its logo. 

Arimis addressed all her skin pickles back then. It was her problem fixer. Her Olivia Pope. It’s the one thing that always said, It’s handled.

Now here she was preaching to us about a consistent skincare regimen in the AM and PM.

Ha!

It wasn’t until Terry shared her selfies on our girls WhatsApp group that I stopped laughing. It wasn’t until we stood next her – and took these selfies – that I reeally stopped laughing: Terry’s skin was youthful and toned, plump. Hydrated. Moistured but not shiny. 

It looked like it had been kissed by the Greek goddess of radiance. 

So we gathered around her feet and said, ‘Forgive us, master. We are ready now. Teach us everything you know.’

She did. 

Terry and I now spend plenty of time before work and before bed squeezing out little portions of expensive skincare products from expensive tubes, we layer them on our face in a calculated measure.

This serum here is for the circles under my eyes and the fine lines around my mouth.

Turns out I’ve been giving away too much of my face: I’ve been looking too hard, laughing too easily.

I’ll have to spend the next year into my 40s with my eyes half shut and laughing little. I'll have a resting bitch face.

Don’t blame me, blame the retinol.

And age.

#craftit #urbanguide #urbangirl
  • I’m Bett. I’m the author of your favourite books about money. I’m hosting an in-person event in March, Inshallah: This is my personal invite to you.

#craftit #moneymaker #moneyinkenya
  • I am hosting my first money event this March, Inhsallah. It’s the first of quarterly events I have planned for the year. 

(Give me a moment here so I pull myself together long enough to write this. I’m smiling very hard right now, ha-ha, I look like a donkey.)

(Ahem.)

The event will be in-person. On a Saturday morning, a loose three hours which, I am certain, you’d have burned on some other pursuit you couldn’t account for later. (I’d probably be oiling the hinges of a squeaky door or decluttering my sock drawer.)

My guest host for this edition is Lynet Kyalo. 

Lynet is a personal finance coach under her brand @financialfitbit She also hosts @getyourbagrightpodcast 

Buy your tickets from our Market.

Early bird tickets are discounted until the end of this month.

Limited slots available. 

#craftit #millenialmoney #moneyevent #moneymaker
  • Sometimes I sit down and read my own book. 

Odd, huh?

Reading my own stories is like an out-of-body experience. Or getting introduced to myself again. An outward journey inward.

It’s fascinating.

I also read because I need to improve my writing for my next project.

We call them the Elements of Craft: things like sentence structure and punctuation, word placement, story length etc, they all inform your reading experience.

This is what makes the book easy to read, and has you turning the pages.

Cop your autographed copy and #betteryourmoney 

#craftit #howmuch #millenialmoney #moneymaker
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