He was always that way, like a school kid, walking around with a pen and a paper. Even when he was delivering water with his cart to clients in Pipeline, you will spot him tightly holding on to a pen with his teeth while the black and white printed A4 page is safely tucked in his favorite blue shirt’s breast pocket.
His name is Mwas, at least by the name I’ve heard most of his water clients, and those in his circles calling him. He is a strongly built, medium-sized man in his early thirties with a contagious smile and like most young men today, he too dons an outgrown beard, not so well kempt though. Lives in a rented single room in Pipeline Estate, Nairobi, just a stone-throw away from the Kwa Njenga slums where he sources his water from and later on sale to the residents of Pipeline Estate at a profit.
Before venturing into the water selling business that has now become synonymous with his name, Mwas used to work in a pharmaceutical company in the Industrial Area. He later left and rumours were that he resigned shortly after being introduced to betting where he won some money, but some say he was kicked out of the company due to his wayward ways. The Indian owners could no longer tolerate his absenteeism and his sudden obsession with his phone, sneaking it into restricted production areas.
Mwas had a young beautiful family. Jane, his wife had just bore him a handsome bouncing baby boy who they named Jason, about a year ago. Even though they didn’t have much to their name, they were happy. He loved both his wife and son so much and wanted the best for them. He wanted his son to grow up in affluence, unlike him. He wanted to give both his wife and their son a life he only dreamt of as a kid. He wanted his wife to dress well and have all the beautiful things women desires, and at the end of the day prove to her parents that he’s capable of taking care of their daughter. He wanted to prove to them that he wasn’t that useless poor boy they thought he was. And he always thought of Teressia, his mother. She meant the world to him.
Mwas and his siblings were raised by only their poor mother after their dad, a civil engineer by profession, had left them for his second family. Afterwards life got so tough for them, and especially for their uneducated single mother. Raising five kids is no simple job. She had to toil from dawn to dusk just to put food on the table. From early in the day she did odd jobs like working in people’s farms, bend down weeding crops, and in the evening selling dried fish and vegetables at the village market. Had her stall near mzee Buluma’s posho mill where she sat until she heard mzee Buluma banging his heavy metal doors, closing for the night. Then, she was sure no more customers would be coming. She would size up her goods and the accompanying paraphernalia and head home to go and prepare supper for her children. Some late customers followed her to her house to buy some tomatoes or onions, some just fish, kales, or some both.
When they entered their grass thatched living room, the one that leaked during the rainy season and they had to keep shifting things to prevent them from getting wet, they would find him half reading and half dozing, just like his siblings. And the customers never failed to leave a comment.
“Mwas, my son! How are you doing today?”
That would be Abindi the white bearded old man who smelled like a he-goat. Mwas never understood why it was always him who did the shopping, and not his wife like other men. One day after he had left with a mbuta fish safely in his coat, he asked his mother.
Her mother told him that Abindi was a twisted man. He cooked most of his meals by himself even though he had a wife and older children. It was rumoured among the women that sometimes he made marks or even drew a rabbit on the surface of the flour so that he would know if his wife cooked while he was away, and equally, intentionally closed a fly in the sugar jar so that when he comes back and find the fly missing, he would know someone made tea while he was away. What a man! Her mama admitted that she was only telling him that story because she didn’t want him to grow up and be like Abindi, a useless man. She wanted her children to grow up straight people, people who can be trusted and command respect.
“I’m doing fine, thank you sir!”
Mwas would reply with half his attention on whatever he was doing, and the other half on the bargaining that was taking place on the table, the same one he had his study books on. Sometimes he just stared into the flickering kerosene lamp that stood in the middle of the table that lit the small mud-walled room, creating scary shadows on the wall. Sometimes he smiled at the shadows, wondering why some were so enormous.
“Wonderful! Very wonderful to hear that my son. You continue reading those books and be an engineer like your old man.”
Abindi will continue addressing him while on his way out. Teressia would be leading him with her spotlight. When there’s no moonlight and outside it’s too dark to see, Abindi would stand at the door for a minute or so trying to adapt to the darkness before he finally left, pulling his dirty bike along.
Mwas was a bright kid and despite the hardships he had to go through, made it to highschool, but at the expense of his older siblings. His elder brother John was forced to drop out of school to help their mother raise them, and so did her elder sister Emma. Shortly after Emma got impregnated by a neighbor’s son who denied and didn’t want anything to do with the child, mind you the girl was just a copy of the father. Afterwards, for Emma, it was just marrying and remarrying that even Mwas has lost count.
It was an ultimate sacrifice, one he is still grateful for up-to-date. He has never forgotten it, and not that he has a choice anyway since his mother never forgets reminding him each time he calls on her back in the village. For this, Mwas loved his family and more so his mother. He always prayed to God to give her mother many more years so that she can at least enjoy the fruits of her hard work. The pain she had gone through in raising them should not be in vain. She had promised her a big, permanent house and connect it with electricity, and then get her a big television so that she can spend all her evenings watching News and wild animals on National Geographic channel. He knew she loved watching nature. Had she received formal education, maybe she would have been like Professor Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Laureate.
After high school, where he had performed outstandingly well for someone who spend half of his four-year study on the road between home and school — school fees problems. He later came to the city where he stayed in Kibera slum with his brother John who had moved to the city earlier in pursuit of greener pastures. Mwas managed to get a job in the pharmaceutical company but only after agreeing to give all of his first salary to the lady who got him the job. A year later, met Jane, a third year college girl and started living together and some twelve months later, received Jason, their son.
They were doing okay, honestly. Had a two bedroom rental house, complete with the basics and a few luxuries like a pair of leather couch he had bought second-hand, a thirty-two inches TV, a sub-woofer stereo system, a fridge and a water condenser. Even little Jason could afford his own room, stuffed with dolls and toy stuff they got him, mostly toy cars, the ones he kept crashing and crying for new ones.
Jane, his wife was even considering acquiring the services of a house help when she starts going back to school to finish her studies. She only had one year left to go before she dropped out after she couldn’t stay away from Mwas. Who can blame her! She was in love with him, and loved more the road trips they did together. Always coming back too tired to even think about school, missing out on the continuous assessment tests, poor attendance and eventually she could no longer do it. She was lucky, came from a well off family in Westlands. Her folks were really disappointed and even at one time threatened to put Mwas in prison. But they later gave up after realizing it would only hurt their daughter instead. They chose to let her go with the agreement that one day when she decides to go back to school, they will still pay her college fees. No matter what, she was still their child, their only daughter and they loved her so much.
Everything was going well with Mwas. His young family was well taken care of. They had enough to eat. Jason was healthy, already learning how to speak. He could call “mama” and “papa” pretty well. And then the devil came in form of his friend Titus.
… (to be continued)
(A short story I wrote a few months back.)