Horace is sitting astride his boda boda outside the new Magunas Supermarket in Murang’a town. In terms of business, it is a slow morning. It is already 10 am and he has one hundred shillings in his pocket, having made only two trips. The supermarket is almost empty, so there is hardly any hope coming from that direction.
Horace is not very worried though. He has seen many days like today, which ultimately turned out to be profitable. Maybe there will be an influx of shoppers in the evening. You never know.
When Horace sees her stepping out of the supermarket, her hands heavily laden with shopping, something about her tells him that she is a wealthy young woman with a car parked nearby. Perhaps it is her expensive dressing, or perhaps it is the way she is conducting herself. She is walking with an air of confidence, her red heels carrying her shapely body gracefully as she steps away from the supermarket’s exit door.
She is in her twenties, or at the very most, early thirties. She is a stunning beauty, and in spite of himself, Horace steals a glance at her then looks away quickly, feeling guilty. His colleagues are openly ogling at her, and Horace knows that they will make lewd jokes and share their carnal fantasies about the girl with each other throughout the day.
Even Githu, the old man who has a wife and nine children, usually participates in the discussions about women and their bodies. One of his favorite stories relates to the place he claims to have been working five years ago. He claims that a relatively well-to-do couple had employed him as a night watchman. The man was a soldier who stayed in the barracks, while the wife was a secondary school teacher. Their children were all in boarding school.
According to him, the woman soon took notice of him and invited him to her bed. He usually goes on to give the explicit details of his relations with the woman. The first time Horace heard him tell the story, he was thoroughly embarrassed because of the choice of words.
“That was the best job ever. I had a salary even though I wasn’t working (I was spending all the nights in my boss’ bed), I was having carnal relations with my bosses’ wife (who was very beautiful by the way) and I was eating fine food in that house,”
“So what made you leave Paradise?” someone had asked.
“One day the boss came home unexpectedly. He hooted several times but I could not open the gate because I was lying on his wife’s bosom, fast asleep. So he called her on phone to ask where I was. The ringing phone woke us up. She told him that she assumed I was somewhere in the compound. Then she told me to leave through the back door and pretend I was doing rounds.
When I finally opened the gate the man was furious. He assumed I had been asleep. Which was true. But if he had, at that point, known where I had been sleeping, he would have shot me or run me over with his car. But he didn’t know, so he just threatened to fire me the following day.
After he had gone inside the house, I realized that I had forgotten my phone in the bedroom. But at that point there was nothing I could do about it except to hope that he didn’t see it. But I had no such luck. About half an hour after he went into the house, I heard him beating his wife. When he opened the front door and started coming towards the gate, I quickly opened it and fled into the darkness. Fortunately, he did not know where I live.”
“You left your woman to be killed? What kind of man are you?” another of the riders had asked.
“She wasn’t my woman. She was his woman. He could do whatever he wanted with her,”
“She was your woman because she gave herself to you. You should have fought for her,”
“Get myself killed because of a woman? No way,”
At that point Githu and his audience had roared in laughter.
When Githu’s first wife died, she left him with six children. Their first born son is Horace’s age mate while their last born is a class three girl. Githu remarried and already has three children with his new wife. One in Std. 2 another in pre-primary while the last born is barely two years old.
Githu’s two eldest sons, who are also boda boda riders, avoid hanging out with their father. It is not difficult to see why. Listening to your father publicly describe in detail how he used to cheat on your mother is not pleasant, even if your mother is already dead.
While the wisdom of publicly telling his exaggerated tales of bedroom prowess is debatable, there is no question as to whether he is still active in that respect. Githu’s current wife, a woman half his age, delivered his ninth child almost two years ago and there are rumors that she is pregnant again. The flipside of his abilities is that he is condemned to keep working until the day he drops dead. And that might come sooner than later, because while wealthy oligarchs can continue working in their posh offices well into their nineties, men who make a living through manual labor may not have that luxury. Githu is not even that old, he is probably in his fifties. But poverty and hardship have conspired to make him look like the living dead.
Riding a motorcycle is less strenuous than excavating stones in a quarry, which is Githu’s immediate former occupation, but pneumonia might fast forward his date with his maker. When he started the riding business, Horace bought the appropriate heavy clothing to shield him from the cold. But with five school going children, one toddler and an allegedly pregnant wife, that is a luxury that Githu cannot afford. His three eldest children are done with school, or rather they dropped out of secondary school, but they cannot help because they are also struggling to survive.
Horace does not say anything during the discussions about women. The guilt in his Christian heart, coupled with his inexperience in that subject, does not let him. He even feels guilty listening to his colleagues, but he listens anyway because where else will he go? When one is not out riding, a boda boda stage is the best place to be to get customers. And Horace’s favorite spot is outside the supermarket.
His experience in women, in a romantic sense, is very limited. He has always been a good Christian boy who shuns immorality of any kind, but especially of the sexual kind. As a child, many mothers in his village used him as an example to their children. He did his KCPE at St. Mary’s Primary school and proceeded to Maragi Day Secondary School. Both schools are mixed day schools in Murang’a. Many of his classmates secretly paired up, but Horace did not get a school girlfriend. Initially, some of the bolder girls made moves at him. But he always threatened to report them to the school administration and they eventually learned to leave him alone. Unsurprisingly, he was nicknamed ‘Pastor’.
He got his first girlfriend three years ago. She was the secretary of the youth group in their church. He was, and still is, the chairman of that youth group. Since they were frontline Christians, they had agreed to abstain from sexual relations until they got married. In preparation for marriage, he moved out of the house he shared with his brothers and built his own two roomed timber house on the plot his father had shown him. He and his parents went for introductions at the girl’s home, in preparation for dowry payment.
It is around that time that she started trying to sleep with him. But he resisted her advances, insisting that they had to wait until they got married as they had earlier agreed. She sulked, pouted and whined but he put his foot down. Her new change of attitude disturbed him. A lot. But he found out soon enough why she wanted so sleep with him so urgently.
She was pregnant, and was looking for a way to legitimize the pregnancy. Heartbroken, he called off the dowry negotiations and broke up with her. He has not dated anyone else since.
“Mzee, si upeleke huyu dame nyumbani?” one of the riders asks Githu, and they all laugh at the double–entendre . Well almost all. Horace does not even smile. By then all the other riders have started jostling for her attention, but Horace has not bothered because he has already decided in his head that she has a car and therefore not worth the effort.
The girl stops in front of the riders and scans their faces. She wants to take a motorcycle. Horace feels a tinge of regret. He has made the wrong call, and is therefore not in contention for this customer. But then, after looking at the riders pushing at each other next to her, she nods at Horace, who has been watching his friends tussling with an expressionless face. Horace is surprised and does not respond immediately. So she comes closer and stands next to him.
“Utanipeleka Mumbi?” she asks.
Horace starts his motorcycle.
He takes one of her baskets and puts it in front of his stomach and asks her to hold on to the other one. After she settles on her seat, he guides the motorcycle onto the street. Mumbi is within the township, so the road there is tarmacked. This is going to be a swift and smooth ride.
When she mentioned Mumbi, Horace assumed he was taking her to the staff quarters of Mumbi Girls High School. Instead, she guides him to the lower parts of the Mumbi locality, off to a dirt road and asks him to stop outside a black gate.
She alights, extracts keys from her handbag and opens the gate.
“Nisaidie kuingiza hizi kwa nyumba tafadhali,” she tells him.
Horace switches off the engine of the motorcycle and takes the shopping bags inside the compound.
A beautiful brick house emerges on the other side of the gate. The girl walks to the door and opens it. There is a car in front of the house and Horace wonders why the girl did not use it to go shopping.
“Karibu. Niwekee hizo pale kitchen,” she says.
Horace enters the house, puts the shopping baskets on the floor then walks back out and stands just inside the front door, waiting to be paid. The sitting room is spacious, bigger that the entire of his two roomed house. The leather seats are cotton white, and there is a fluffy white Persian carpet on the floor.
There are various photos of her on the wall, and on one of them she is standing in front of a soldier in uniform, and he has his hands wrapped around her waist. For some reason, the first thing that comes to his mind when he sees the picture is the image of Githu running away from the soldier who had caught him sleeping with his wife.
“Karibu uketi nikupee chai,” the girl says.
That is a request Horace hardly gets from his customers. This is actually the first time he has entered a customer’s house since he started riding.
“Hapana, wacha nirudi kazi. Asante lakini,”
“Please?” she says in a pitiful voice.
Horace looks at her then looks away. She has very beautiful eyes, and he knows if he continues looking at her he will give in. But his mind is still on the soldier on the wall, who he presumes to be her husband. If that man comes and finds him sipping tea while sitting on his expensive seats, how will he explain the progression of events from leaving his motorcycle outside the gate to sitting down to take tea? No, he decides. The risk is too big. He will forfeit the 50 bob that she owes him and walk away. 50 bob is not worth getting shot at.
But before he moves, she glances outside then quickly wraps her hands around his neck and kisses him deeply on the lips. The jolt of electricity around his body promptly informs him that he has lost the battle. He is now at her mercy.
Suddenly, someone appears at the door, which is still open.
“Catherine, what do you think you are doing?” a male voice booms.
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