BY MIKE MUTHAKA
In the last 36 hours I’ve taken about 10 mugs of water with lemon, ginger and honey. I have a flu, a flu that makes me lazy and woozy. I rarely get flu. My head feels like a vessel of mucus. On Monday I bent down to wash my underwear and my noggin felt like a sinking Titanic. I don’t know what day it is. I lose track of time. My nights are sweaty, and I’m woken up every few minutes with a cough that makes me feel like I swallowed some thick fabric. I blow my nose and my ears hurt like hell.
This flu comes at a time when I’m just joining the corporate pool.
I’m writing this on the balcony of Mirage Towers, along Uhuru Highway. It’s my second day of work, and I’m nursing a hangover. My contract says I’ll be on probation for the next three months. If anyone has noticed my puffy cheeks and baggy eyes, they haven’t mentioned it.
When I staggered home last night, at 11 p.m., I found Ol’ Man in the living room. He was watching the match between Man-U and PSG. He noticed I was drunk. He said, “Siku ya kwanza? Uta survive probation kweli? Ukianza kuenda job na macho nyekundu.”
It’s an open-plan office. My colleagues are a bunch of young folks like me. Millennials. Nairobi millenials. (Ha! Ati colleagues.) There’s Ken and George and Danson and Maxine and Nectar and Gloria and Francis and Maggie and Patrick and Muluvi.
They have huge headphones and fancy phones. They’re disruptive and cool and hip, and they’ve all made me feel terribly welcome. My boss is a tall guy with a deep voice and a toy car on his desk. (You want to know how laid back this place is? I’m sitting next to an empty bottle of Famous Grouse.)
I’ve come on as a copywriter. When someone forgets my name, they call me ‘Copy Guy’. And I’m starting to like it. Copy Guy. Yesterday my supervisor introduced me to the team by saying, “This is Mike. He’s our new copy guy.”
Earlier this morning I wanted to take a picture of the view from up here, but I’m afraid my phone won’t capture all the magnificence.
Speaking of which, I’ve had the same phone for four years. It’s a Samsung J1 Ace. The top left part of the screen is cracked. The storage capacity is truly shit, and a 30% battery level is as good as 5%. My wallpaper is a picture of (wait for it…) Hugh Laurie. He’s holding up a bunch of balloons. One balloon is yellow, and has a smiley face.
I never put a password or pattern or any of that crap, partly because I have nothing to hide. Partly because my phone is so dull no one would want to rummage around. My gallery is filled with screenshots of sexy paragraphs of Internet articles, and one selfie with my sister, and the picture I took of Bett during our office Christmas party last year.
My memory card has a virus. And Instagram can’t install because of the dismal storage space. If I switch on the Battery Saver mode for more than 10 minutes, the installed Apps – WPS Office, WhatsApp – become obsolete.
Still, this phone has served me well. All the stories I’ve done on this column began on the notepad. I’ve taken nudes with this phone. I’ve drunk dialed with this phone. I’ve read gut-wrenching texts on this phone. (“I can’t do this anymore. I think we have to break up.”)
Over time it has become less like a phone and more like a gross testament of a destructive cycle.
Every month I get salo, I tell myself I’m going to invest in a new phone. Then I think: “It’s far better to spoil myself with some vodka.”
I don’t want much from a phone, really. I don’t want a phone with the storage capacity of a mainframe computer. As long as I can browse and call and take some quality nudes, that’s pretty much all I need in a phone.
Anyway, back to the office. (Ha! The office. This is going to take some getting used to.)
I have a swivel chair, and I share a desk with three other people. There’s a landline on the table, too. And I simply can’t wait to hear it ring. I hope it rings when no one else is around, so I can pick it up and say the company name, and then say, “How may I help you?”
I imagine any call coming through the landline would have to be serious. Maybe the person on the other end would have a query about the Finance Department, or Human Resources. And I’d be like: “Sorry. I don’t know anything about Finance. I’m just the copy guy.”
I did three interviews to get this job. Two were on email. They wanted to see if I could write catchy headlines. For the third interview, I faced a panel of three, and stage fright gave me mad cotton mouth. Shish! Even weed doesn’t make me feel like that. My palate was drier than the freaking Sahara, for chrissake.
(By the way, my supervisor has just walked in. I’ll have to rush through this story.)
For weeks after the interview, I kept wondering if I’d get the call back. I hoped they wouldn’t call at a bad time, like when I was in the toilet, or when I was on my morning walks along the perpetually windy Namanga Road. Because how would that conversation go?
“Hi, is this Mike?”
“It is I.” My voice gets carried in the wind. A 20-wheeler truck whooshes past me.
“Yes, I can hear you.”
“It’s really noisy, Mike.”
“What did you say?”
“Maybe this isn’t a good time.”
“I said my name is Rachel.”
“You said your name was Bagon?”
“Oh, Rachel. Sorry. It’s a bit loud here. Hold on while I tell them to keep it down.”
Then I’d shout to no one in particular, “Hey, keep it quiet over there. Can’t you see I’m talking to Rachel?”
This would cause Rachel to laugh, and possibly even be the beginning of a flimsy office romance. Who knows?
I also took a personality test for this job, and the result was that I’m “The Mediator” and that I’m 72% ‘turbulent’, 71% introverted and 67% intuitive. My role is ‘Diplomat’, and my strategy (whatever that means) is ‘Constant improvement’, which has now made me doubt the accuracy of said personality test.
I’ve lived with myself for 23 years, and my strategy has never been constant improvement. ‘Winging it’ would have been near the mark. And that’s what I’m doing in this office, really. Winging it.
I’ve never worked in an office. Heck, I’ve never written while fully clothed. Many are the afternoons I’ve been in my room; pacing, bouncing ideas off the walls, smoking pot, rushing deadlines. Many are the nights I’ve pilfered sleeping pills from Mom’s bedroom. And many are the moments I’ve thought I’m not cut out for artistry, that maybe I’m just a garden-variety drug abuser.
But this here, this office, this job, this is exactly what I wanted when I took a break (quit?) from school in January. I’ve always thought I’d never have to graduate. I have this stubborn mentality that my art will be my redemption; from poverty, from heartbreaks, from mundane reality. And, to tell you the truth, it’s working well so far.
Last week I started a mini-series about ‘The Nairobi Millennial’. My first subject was Patoh Njuguna; 27 years old, music maker, husband, brother, father, all around nice guy.
Patoh, like most of us, is trying to make it as an artist. And not once during the interview did he seem worried if his art will sustain him. Or maybe I forgot to ask him. I’ll give him a call, then I’ll tell you guys what he said. Next week.
Maybe I should call him using my landline.
Follow Mike on Instagram: mikemuthaka