Pump Man


Did you know 2,000 bob will get you 25.84 liters of kerosene in Kitengela? I didn’t.

But the guy who mans the kerosene pump at Kobil does. He wears a sweater underneath his lab coat even though it’s a few minutes past noon and the air is hot and parched. He sees handfuls of people each day. He injects kerosene into their jerry cans, then they go home and make their food with it.

He’s only a cog in the wheel of the giant that’s Kobil.

But much has changed in Kitengela. The bus stage has been moved further away, and the town council doesn’t allow PSVs to pick and drop at Kobil anymore. During the night, though, when kanjo has parked it for the day, the cats come out to play.

Kobil had more clout before the stage was shifted. Kobil was where Kitengela rotated.

If you ever got lost in Kitengela you’d just ask to be pointed in the direction of Kobil. There you’d find everything you needed. Mats to Isinya? Go to Kobil. Chicken feed? Behind Kobil. Nice overpriced jumpers? Kobil still. Potatoes for days? Stand at Kobil.

Kobil was that place.

It’s much quieter now, at the kerosene pump. No more honking matatus across the road. The authorities have reduced the size of the speed bumps. In the evening a policeman positions himself in the middle of the road to direct the traffic. In the evening Kobil is more crowded, more hasty. In the evening Kobil goes back to its glory days.

When you look at Kobil from inside a car it looks squeezed (Kobil, that is, not the car); you probably missed it when you were going to that nyama place that one time. Kobil will look like it’s been tucked away into a corner as an afterthought. Kobil will seem like a blue dot in the vast ball of dust and heat. And you probably wouldn’t see the kerosene stand either.

Only on foot will you see the magnitude of Kobil. You’ll feel it beneath your feet, activity left right and center. Buying and selling. You’ll smell smells of fried fish and smokies. And pineapples. You’ll come by drunks and men in hats with cigarettes smoldering between their fingers. You’ll meet sock peddlers and millennials with funny hairstyles.

Don’t make eye contact with a bodaboda rider unless you want to board, otherwise he’ll psst at you until you get to your house. And, if you stand at Kobil, at a very strategic angle, you’ll be able to see the hot chick who serves ice cream at Creamy Inn.

No one knows Kobil like the guy at the kerosene stand, though.

He uses a red pump. The stand is set up under a mabati shade along the low perimeter wall. He leans his body against a metal bar while he serves his customers. He keeps a cool eye on the rolling bank of numbers on the counter. Price in liters.

The customer being served looks at the numbers too. There’s a queue of waiting customers, they also look at the numbers. And, only a few inches away, on the driver’s seat of an illegally parked car, I’m also looking at the numbers.

All around me Kitengela is abuzz with movement. People come and go. There are shops and bank agents and market stalls and a pink-walled building that rises to the sky like a tattered giant. Its face is plastered with signboards of Petanns Driving School, and Minto Real Estate, and O’lale Agrovet. It’s ugly, to tell you the truth.

I’m stewing in the car. Thick drops of sweat run down my temple. I’m wearing a grey sweater that has now become prickly against my skin. I didn’t think the sun would come out. And I didn’t think 25.84 liters of kerosene would cost two thao.

I’m running errands with Mom. She needed to buy potatoes and I wanted a reason to get out of the house. At noon we parked behind Kobil, right next to the kerosene stand. Mom stepped out and walked towards the market place. And I was left on the lookout for the yellow lab coats of kanjo.

Only when the pump stopped at 2,000 did I pause to look at the guy controlling it. What did he think about the price of kerosene?

He held the pump with one hand and money on the other. A bunch of crumpled notes sat quietly in his clenched fist. I thought it was funny the way everyone was staring at those numbers.

Perhaps the only person that wasn’t looking at the numbers was this chick in a pink shirt with a colorless jerry can. She didn’t queue up like everybody else.

She stood beside the pump man. They talked heartily for a few seconds before the pump man moved to the next customer. Meanwhile, when she was sure he wasn’t looking, the chick brought out her phone and checked her reflection on the screen.

I watched as she parted her lips and checked her teeth as well. I thought it so bold, how she’d just check her teeth in public like that? What was she checking for, anyway? Did she have a kale stuck to her teeth?

I hoped she didn’t have a kale, because that would put the pump man in a weird position. (I know this because I’m a man. Also because it’s happened to me before, that awkwardness of a chick with kale stuck in her teeth.) Now he’d have to choose whether to tell her or not. If he told her she’d get self conscious and find a reason to go home, and he wouldn’t get the chance to flirt with her.

But if he didn’t tell her he’d be forced to actively ignore it, even though that green piece of kale completely stains the harmony of her face.

His work was to serve kerosene. He worked for Kobil. His red pump was the source of fire in many homes. He did his part in spinning the commercial wheels of Kitengela. He braved the dusty air every day. He wore a lab coat, for chrissakes. A lab coat! But nowhere in his job description did it say he’d be required to point out kales in people’s teeth. Let alone a chick’s teeth.

But maybe there was no kale after all. Maybe when the girl checked, she saw that her teeth were white, as white as rows of maize on a cob that just’s been harvested, and she felt good about herself. Now she could talk to the pump man without reservations.

Maybe while his pump was in her jerry can he’d regal her with tales about Kobil’s glory days. He’d tell her about the time when the bus stage was still across the road, and how he hated the blaring matatus. He’d lament over his favorite pineapple seller, who had moved his business to the new stage.

He’d explain to her how the pump worked, and then he’d say, “Do you want to touch it?”

The question would catch her off guard. She had never touched a kerosene pump before, let alone a red one. And the moment she puts a hand through the pump she’d realize it doesn’t weigh as much as she thought.

Then he’d say, “See? I told you it wasn’t heavy.”

And then she’d chuckle, her shiny teeth sparkling in the sun light.

Heck, maybe the pump man might be so charmed by her pearly whites that he might add a few extra drops of kerosene into her jerry can.

But he won’t – he can’t – because the pump man, unlike most men, knows when to stop.
Mike blogs at www.mikemuthaka.com

Boys just wanna have fun
Physics, and a little bit of Chemistry

Comments (4)

  1. Crappy Writer

    Okay dude, are we still talking about the kerosene pump?

    And it’s been a while since you fantasized about cupping breasts.

    • Mike

      I’m not sure what we’re talking about anymore, only the pump man knows.

      Haha. No, I fantasize about breasts all the time. Why? Do you have a pair I can cup?

  2. Merile

    Your style of writing is out of this world.
    Very captivating.

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Florence Bett-Kinyatti


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,

  • 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!


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. 


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.


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.)


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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