This past Saturday, my best friend Henry got kicked out of the flat he has shared with his cousin Ryan in South B. They had been accused of among other things; smoking weed, playing music at unacceptably higher volume (Henry’s fault’s mostly) and carrying different women for a lay in different days of the week (Ryan’s fault mostly.)
Henry had mentioned that they were having difficulty getting along with the chairlady (South B neighbourhoods have chairladies, elsewhere we have caretakers). But I did expect that it was such a big problem, until I paid them an impromptu visit on Saturday.
Arriving in the house, it looked like a place hit by a vicious hurricane. Things were scattered, I wondered aloud, ‘what the hell was happening?’
“We moving,” Henry said in that pensive but thoughtful tone a man resorts to when he fails to reason with the illogical part of the female brain, which is most of the time.
“That happened too fast, you got a place you moving to?”
“We moving things to our friend’s place, pack with a friend as we adjust in the course of the month and move out.” Henry said, picking a pail, full of papers and a folded carpet and took them downstairs.
I felt pain and bile rising very fast to my throat. My volatile Kisii blood was turned on. I could not imagine a transgression big enough as to inconvenience two young men who are sweating to make it work in Nairobi, where landlords exploit us with abandon. Last Thursday, Henry poignantly pointed out that ‘affording a flat in Nairobi has proved ‘an herculean task’ to which we rapturously laughed, not knowing how premonitory that was.
As they carried their stuff from the flat, in resigned exasperation, on the hot Saturday afternoon, I could not help but empathize with the two young men.
Henry, only moved out of his uncle’s place a couple of months ago, at 26, after being housed by the uncle for the last three years since we moved out of campus. Being a creative, he is not on a regular salary. He earns big bucks periodically from his industry. While younger than me, Henry exhibits a certain work ethic that I envy so much. He is the only man I know who passionately follows his dream, obsessively. For long, it did not pay dividends, but in recent times, he has pocketed some big checks which herald a great future as his career picks.
When he moved out, his uncle, a gracious man who served in the military for long threw him a party, to which we were invited and we did warn Henry that life can be tricky, when one is starting. Personally, I told him that taking that leap of faith is the single most significant step; a man can take in his 20. And there is nothing like paying rent to liberate you, but also teach you how to be responsible. For shelter is the single most important basic need. And in Nairobi, we are housed by devils, unsympathetic and callous, at best.
Those initial months can be rough. I remember being kicked out of my house and my boy Eric housing me in Emba as I tried figured out where the rain had started beating me.I still owe Eric one.
Of course, for those of us who eke a living on our own, the vagaries of Nairobi living occasionally dictate falling out with your landlord, exchanging nasty words with a silly neighbor and occasionally moving out suddenly. Often, the rent proves too much. Often, you disagree with the caretaker or the landlord and being sensible, you leave him alone. At times, the caretaker is a thief who relieves you your hard earned electronics and sympathizes with you the most when you arrive. Moving out under such circumstances can be taxing, given you will not be given your deposit and Murphy’s Law dictate that it happens when you don’t have money.
Now, Henry had barely settled in the house. He was on course to furnish it when they were kicked out. He revealed to me that ever since he moved to the house, he has been at his most productive, given his sitting room doubles up as the office.
Now, he has to hang with a friend as he sorts out his finances and start all over again. Mostly, such a new start is always for the better. I can vouch for that. Being kicked out opens your eyes at the depravity of human beings and the shocking reality of adults who are so petty as to be concerned by the sexual activities of the young men living and paying their rent.
Now, I will not defend bad neighbors. Personally, I try to be as reasonable a neighbor as possible. That means I rarely interact with my neighbors. The lady on left side of my house is a single mother who I recently learnt works for the government. Nice lady, she always says ‘hi?’. The gentleman on the right on the other hand earned my contempt recently when he complained that some of the clothes my cleaning lady had unknowingly aired in the rails facing our main doors had spilled some color near his door.
He annoyed me, because men cannot be that petty. And secondly, it was a mistake, a first in the three months I have stayed there. Besides, the floor is washed every day and the ‘dirt’ would not last 24 hours there. But I recently saw the man for the first time. He is in his late 30s, and he looked spooky. The type that if you confront can piss himself, despite being tall. I will return to this.
So, as I stood with Griffins in the balcony of Henry’s flat, overlooking Mombasa road, we pondered on what moving out meant for young Henry. The door to the balcony was closed. We had a knock and on opening, there stood an absolutely gorgeous woman in a flowing kitenge dress that emphasized her buttocks. They were nice, the type you want to grab when they serving you chapatti-ndengu on a Sunday night. But she was in a foul mood. She asked where the owners of the house were.
“We are visitors; they are taking their stuff out.” We answered in that calm, measured way that only tall men are capable.
“Why are they making noise for everyone?” she wondered, giving the house such a disdainful look, you would think her child ever died there. Or she was just hating on the little world possessions the two young men had. The visceral attitude belied a certain unnecessary frustration, informed by something beyond our knowledge.
“May be you wait for them and you ask, we are only guests.”
I knew she was the problem. To call the music playing on the radio loud would be an exaggeration of hyperbolic proportions. Even us in the balcony of the same house would hardly make out the song singing in the background. Yet she stays two floors up. She seemed to have something personal against the two young men.
I loathe adults who are petty. The woman is probably sexually frustrated. Given she is in her 30s, I can vouch for this. What makes full grown-adults in middle-class estates such as South B so irritable? The fact that she is the chairlady for a flat implies certain flaws. For it is people with personal flaws who like taking up leadership responsibilities they have no clue about whatsoever. I am not even talking about Kidero.
Why would a woman in her 30s, walk into someone’s house with such an air of condescending entitlement? Pray, tell me, why? When Henry and Ryan came back and we told them, they exploded in fury. I thanked God she had not found them. They would have slapped all the stupidity out of her head. They are Kisiis, and I know a Kisii man can only take stupidity from a woman up to a certain point before he goes bananas. And I call the woman stupid for the reasons I’m about to enumerate.
For starters, I know Henry and Ryan well enough to consider them pricks even for a moment. They are rarely in the house. They are level headed, and if there was any problem, they would have readily agreed to sort it out in the most amicable way possible. But apparently, no sooner they moved into the flat than the lady started digging on them.
At one point, they were late paying their water bills and their water was cut. Like able men they are, before they could pay they decided to connect the water themselves to get some to drink and scrub their armpits with after a long day in the sun. The woman, the bitch she is, called the police and Nairobi water and made a tempest out that minor transgression.
At one point, they delayed paying their security fee by one second; she called the entire neighborhood, fuming at the slackness of the two boys. She formed a tribunal to investigate what the two young men did for a living. Never mind, that at times we have all been caught up that we forgot paying the lesser utility bills but we always pay them later, don’t we?
So they have been having problems. At one point, Henry had to confront the husband and ask him to rein in on the wife, but the husband sided with the woman. I wonder why he even tried. If there is a class of men that really makes my blood boil it has to be the henpecked men. Henry had to insult the man who threatened that he will beat him up into pulp, but since he can’t even control his woman, Henry was not overly worried. May be he is a kept man. Flex has even gathered the child the woman has is not his. Goes to show…
At some points, Ryan and the woman had an exchange of text messages and the woman insulted or questioned Ryan’s morals, as to why he brings home ‘hoes’ from the nearby bar every weekend? How idle is she as to notice that Ryan changes his women as she changes her panties-hoping she does. Or she wanted Ryan to lay her, you know, she could be envious. Ryan is a bubbly, energetic man who plays rugby, thus most women are likely to fantasize what kind of energy he oozes between the sheets.
This woman is part of Nairobians who have personalized the houses in flats that they do not own. We don’t own anything in this world, either way. But there are people you walk into their fifth floor apartment and they have stuffed every fancy electronic and furniture in the house, half of which s/he never uses. They have hung up photos of their families ( five generations, that is) on the walls, including that one of their kitten that died in July 2001.
While it is within their right to create a home out of the miserable flat, I hate when people get too familiar or too personal with what they do not own. You know the type that has personalized even clothing lines? You know the type that washes clothes every day and air them in all the existing clothing lines? The type that has noisome visitors from January to January. And I’m talking about annoying visitors who laugh so loudly at 1 a.m on a Sunday night.
I loathe entitled people. The spoiled brats. Petty adults and people with cats in flats. There used to be a cat that used to tamper with my garbage on the balcony every day and often shit there. I moved before I poisoned it.
My advice to everyone living in a flat is to try and be less personal. Mind your personal space. Be courteous. If there is a problem, find the most polite way to address it. Human beings are less complex than we at times imagine. Remember we will always have obnoxious neighbors.
You know…Those Kisiis who eat sugarcane, right of the cane, chewing the bark like a dog dealing with a particularly tough tendon. Those Luos who smoke omena unapologetically. Those Kambas or Luhyias who seem to be a big family you cannot figure out how the 25 of them fit into the two-bedroom house. Those Somalis who play their disagreeable music at maximum volume to your chagrin. That bachelor who seems to ooze libido the size of River Nile; he beds different women in different days of the week. That single woman who has male visitors, you will never figure out whether they are uncles, cousins, brothers, lovers, potential husbands…you get it.
Save for the times one is an extreme nuisance, some of these things are highly tolerable. I look at flats as temporary means of accommodation as we seek a more permanent home-mostly our graves- away from the cacophony of this earth. Those lucky to build their houses in more spacious and better neighborhoods can enjoy all the peace and tranquility they want. And that is what that woman should go after. Not who Ryan is shagging.
But getting too comfortable in a flat as to be its chairperson in the facility is a little bit foolish. What do you even benefit? Do you get a rental discount? Or are you exempted from paying some of those utility bills that measure in hundred shillings?
As for my boy, Henry, look at this as minor upset. A reminder that most adults are quite fucked up. Next time, choose your flat, and neighbors more cautiously. Not that you have too much choice either way.