The super highway pierces through the small town like a deranged surgeon, and beneath it, forms a cool but dusty shade where the town lives and blossoms.
Githurai, for folk not fortunate enough to know it, is a small town that thrives under insecurity, immense dust, loud noises emanating from buses and their touts and market vendors. You need to see these things in your mind to get the lurid feel of Githurai. For some reason, also picture Githurai to be always sunny. It should never rain in Githurai. In your mind depiction, place a foul smell that rises above the clouds into intergalactic space, a smell that grazes the insides of your nose; a concoction of rotting fruit and burst sewer systems. Also when you think of the town, picture a lot of public vehicles – all beat up, angry drivers and irritatingly loud Kikuyu music from their stereos. Consequently, be angry as you picture all these, to get the ambience of the place.
Everything has a price around here. From a human life to the earphones dangling from your ear. It should go without saying that the ear itself has a price. I don’t mean to tarnish the place’s name, but all that I’m saying here is the objective truth. The gospel by Githurai.
As you’re travelling to Nairobi in a nice comfy Lopha minibus sited by the window texting, the woman beside you will whisper ever so delicately, “Chunga simu yako.” She’ll say this because she knows. She knows the town is infested by outlaws out to make a quick buck. She has seen robbery in action. A man snatches a cellphone from a slow moving vehicle and darts off into the cracks and crevices through which the town breathes. Sure, a few chaps will dash after him but either, a) They are all together, and have gone to sell and divide the loot or, b)They want to steal from the lone bandit. That’s how it is here; thieves stealing from thieves.
In Githurai, they say, they can steal your socks without you even feeling it. And without removing your shoes. They are masters of their art, these dwellers. As the matatu you’re in stops to fill up here, you will see them. They’re there at the stage filling it up. They’re high. They are always high. A close look at them and you’ll see their thin shriveled faces with furrows, red rheumy eyes that know no emotion, dry noses with tattered skin from sunburns, and dark parched lips. You will see a desperate hope that will break your heart. You’ll see their brown malnourished hair. You’ll see their grubby clothes. Their few remaining incisors will be charred and will stand out. You won’t miss the slur in their words. The bright sun and floating dust makes them languid. They will take ten seconds to tell you, K.U ni kumi. But they make up for their slow speech in the dexterity of their hands as they clean you up of valuables.
If by any chance you find yourself stranded in Githurai, pray to the dear Lord. Pray that they (the chaps above), do not see your face. They read faces. They will see how much you have, what phone you’re carrying and its market price; if it’s worth snatching and risk lynching, the price of your clothes, and if you look them in the eye they’ll see your bank account balance. They are actuaries, investment bankers and auditors that live on the streets.
In Githurai, it’s a frenzy of markets, each vendor shouting at the top of their lungs a reasonable price. Nothing’s exorbitant here. Not even a Gucci bag. No money is little money. You want a shoe at 100 shillings, it’s there. Or a watch at 50 shillings, it’s also there. There’s no financial discrimination. You need it, Githurai’s got it.
If Githurai was a person, he’d be Njuguna, a guy in his late-thirties but looks fifty, that lives and would die for money. He escaped from home long time ago after being forced to school. He hated it, that he had to sit on a chair and listen for twenty years before he could start making his money. So he ran to the streets. He navigated through life with his wit and adroitness. With his swift conniving tongue that said anything it had to say to survive. He is not a clean man, you see. He’s got his hands dirty more times than he could remember, but it all paid off. He now owns a fleet of matatus, an old pick-up that ferries potatoes from Nyahururu to the City and rears chicken at his small compact compound.
We (the bourgeoisie that like hashtags) may hate him; his loud and boisterous demeanor, his hardly buttoned shirt that reveals his hairy belly when he enters the bar, and his filthy beard. But once in a while, we’ll revere him because his obnoxious nature makes him speak (and show) us the truth. And the truth – it’s a rare gem these days.