Last weekend I went to ocha –one of those shindigs Nairobi city-slicker relatives organize to get away from the city’s hullabaloo and pell-mell. They want to get away from car loans and mortgages, from rude bosses and crazy matatu drivers, from assignments and deadlines. They want to run away from the sad charade they have learnt to call life. They want to go to ocha and remember – remember the life without the fracas and turmoil that The City thrives on; just a temporary reversion of the utopian lives they once had. I like them (the parties) mostly because I get to eat meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And also free booze. We all exchange pleasantries and get on to the food. As I gobble down chunks of unhealthy red meat, I witness something awry, perturbing even. Maya, my little cousin that looks like heaven, steps out to answer a call. This is not something you see every day. Two well-built mechanics fighting over a girl somewhere in Riveroad; that’s something you see every day. But this here -a small girl with no more than 6 people in her phonebook stepping out to answer a call- is a spectacle. I look around and I’m the only one that seems appalled. You’re probably wondering why. Here is why. Maya is 8. Not her body figure, I mean she’s freaking eight years old! Class two! And she has a phone; better than my dad’s. And she can step out to answer a call like she’s closing a multimillion shilling deal. Who can even call her? A classmate asking whether the assignment was to draw a horse or a dog? Or maybe it’s a friend asking if she caught the previous episode of Phineas and Ferb? So I turn to her elder brother to clarify my elusive concerns.
“Kwani Maya got herself a sponsor?” (He didn’t find this funny)
“She has a phone…at her age.”
“Mom got it for her after she passed her exam.”
“Is there anything to be failed at class two?” I think he thought this was rhetoric. He didn’t answer.
Anyway, little Maya here got me thinking about the first time I got my own phone. Calling it ‘my own’ is actually pushing the line because any slight mistake and it would be taken away for a week by mother. I was in class 6, right at the precipice of adolescence. Almost everyone in my class had a phone that time, or at least they said they did. I’d given my parents sleepless nights asking for a phone that year. They always gave me some banal answer- that I was too young. I’d already given up and decided and save and buy my own. I was at Ksh.105 when mother came home one evening and gave me her old phone; A Nokia 5080- A beat up old machine that made me the happiest adolescent at that moment. It was as thick as Vera Sidika but I loved it anyway. I mean, this phone was better than all my friends’. She (the phone, not Vera) was a coloured screen, would connect to the internet and had a freaking camera! I knew I would get them all jealous and shit.
I treated her like she meant the world to me ‘cause she did. She was my first real girlfriend. I’d take everywhere I went but not let anyone touch her. Every night, she’d sing to me before I sleep. Her storage was crap so she could only manage five songs at a time. Any new song would mean deleting an older one. In the morning, she made it her duty to wake me up before mother violently banged my door. She helped me with other girls. (Yes, we were in an open relationship). She’d send texts to girls I’d been fancying; no questions asked. To top it all off, she made me the star of the estate, the Don Corleone. I would be referred to as, “Symo, ule msee phone yake iko na camera.” My name was colossal all through the estate and beyond. Tales of me, the young boy with the camera phone, are still narrated as bedtime stories to children today. Hehe.
But like all good things, my glory days came to a tragic end. We were playing football when it all went down; some oaf called Mwanzia. He was this rich kid from a flamboyant family that lived a few meters away from my place. We all revered him for the goodies he had; a PS 2 with two pads and FIFA (with one pad, you could as well walk around with an “I’m A Selfish Prick.” T-shirt), a leather football and a mountain bike. I suspect his mom used to hate us. She would find us (dirty neighborhood boys) in her house playing the PS as we cleared the fridge of all edibles. She finally got a reason to chase us away for good one day when Kama poured juice on their white woolen carpet that cost more than our two months’ rent. Mwanzia was also fat, kids like him are always fat, and you know that. He screwed me when he came that afternoon to the pitch with his new gem, A Nokia N95. If you’re a phone enthusiast, you know that this machine is no joke. Apart from having everything my phone had and more, it was a slide phone. You didn’t compete with a slide phone. You couldn’t. I could even see in Kinoti’s eyes that he wanted to make the phone disappear. (He once made my Ksh.10 disappear, I’ve never trusted him ever since.) Suffice to say, the match stopped and we all gathered around him to admire his new shit. I remember feeling a burning sensation in my throat. That burning one you get when you’re about to tear up. And just like that, the spotlight had been snatched away from me. I was reduced to a kid with a phone and not a kid with a cool phone.
I can’t help but think life’s like this. One moment you’re on the top, invincible and unshaken and the next you’re nothing, you’re just a shell of what was once beautiful and attractive. I think it’s fair though. We all get a chance at the top and what we do while there is what matters. Whether we decide to be all superficial and debauched or profound and benignant about it, it all comes down to one harsh reality; it will all end. OK, I’m now done sounding all Mahatma Gandhi and shit.
I saw Mwanzia recently after almost six years. He’s back from rehab and looks as healthy as ever. (He fell addict to the monstrous pandemic that is alcoholism after high school). He’s back in campus doing some mind-intensive course since he was always good with books. I don’t know what phone he has now, but next time I see him I’ll be sure to ask.