Is Not Just a Word


It has now mushroomed into an accustomed routine that I should be on that road that shouts of Kibaki’s legacy; Thika road once a month. Before then my undertakings avoid that side of the city like plague. Not that I have anything personal you Thika-rodians but it is all a matter of trying to concentrate activities one side of town to avoid falling prey to the granny-old traffic jam menace. That place is amazingly great someone can even miss Debonair ice-cream for it. Will keep coming somehow more than once a month in future.

Talking of routine, mother nature has it that whenever I get off mat at the famous Allsops, some rusty matatu splashes dust on my shoes as it snarls away towards that road that leads into lucky summer. This is totally beyond my stretched beyond capacity imagination people. It’s a phenomenal only Mother Nature can explain. Just perhaps. One action leading to another then another. The destination is supposed to be Zakheem; a contractors company tucked just adjacent to the Johnson’s family company; the cahps who came up with or is it invented Kiwi shoe polish. To that extent do we have any other shoe polish after Kiwi? Look now it started sounding correlational that my shoes catch dust just outside a kiwi manufacturer. Can it have something to do with marketing strategy? Guys in marketing anyone?

Just outside the Johnsons Company on the side facing the depression rising to mountain mall that introduces you to garden estate deep Thika road, is a man pitched on a low lying stool under a patched umbrella. In front of him sits a stool that is slight taller than the one he is seated on. Beneath where he is seated is a man-made ‘cabinet’ that well, houses his tools of trade; several brushes, mattress cut-off sponges, some tins of shoe polish in a variation of colors and some shoe cream to boot. In between his legs he places two tins cut out carefully from an old Bidco oil tin. The half empty tins contain water that is browner than the earth with water-soaked sponges floating on top. To his left side stands an overly re-used five liter capacity Keringet water bottle full with water that is not keringet water. Who would use Keringet mineral water for dusting shoes? Point of correction; the owner of this joint is not a man but an old man the age of your toothless granny. Once in a while his peers surround his place of trade and they speak in low tones about city politics and mostly Jubilee and Kanu. In most cases however he is alone and lonely. A sony AM receiver with Eveready batteries supported by rubber bands from outside dangle from the roof of the umbrella; its branded between tatters “Old Mutual” a donation possibly that has overcome the taste of time.

Normally I sit and he greets me in Kiswahili to express a pearl of tobacco-tint teeth that express that he grew up tending goats down the slopes of Mount Kenya may be deep down Muranga. His Kiswahili is not polished but it should not be either. Come on not at his age when he is seen the entire four regime changes; he says. Mine is just a quick service of dusting but he insists that my shoes need Kiwi. Kiwi he says is medicine for leather. It’s how he knows it and am quick to oblige obvious to the fact that a little kiwi goes a long way with regards to price change. On average he charges thirty shillings when he applies Kiwi but ten shillings when he just dusts. Cleaning without polishing attracts twenty shillings. His is a simple model. He takes his time doing it with thorough perfection giving key attention to details. Which is a good thing. He does not do it in a rush like the city boys bundled in a booth outside of Nakumatt lifestyle end of Monrovia Street. We talk. Talk and talk. He mostly tells me of stories of when he was growing up always remembering to start from where we stopped a month on! Good memory isn’t it? It goes something like “…nilikuwa nakwambia..” I enjoy the short stay here majorly because of the conversations unlike the way it’s done in the CBD with mum attendees who are more worried about the next customer than when the county askaris will strike next. Ours has become a bondage built on exemplary service and great story telling; the old man and me not the attendees. It makes me look forward to the next visit.

Early this month when I visited, the place was empty. Empty of him save for a lonely umbrella struggling against the winds with no chairs beneath it and no one in vicinity. Just boring empty lonely! That meant no justice for my shoes. Sob. Sob. I walked away but then my mind drifted towards thinking about that my old man. I wondered whether he owned a phone. Look we had been seeing each other once a month and talking through his services like we were comrades who chased after goats in Muranga together but we had never bothered to exchange numbers like when you meet the chaps you schooled with hurrying in opposite directions on Moi Avenue just outside Galitos. You bump shoulders for greetings then pick their phone number with promise to call then forget to call as soon as you give each other the back! I walked on and on towards Zakheem with dusty shoes mind you totally not at peace. I thought of him once more, how many shoes he had dusted, cleaned then dusted. How many tins of Kiwi had he opened in his ‘shinning’ career? Did he keep a record of how his business operated? I remembered the last time I slipped coins into his hands, the smile that engulfed his aging face. I thought of how many ten bob coins, twenty bob coins and then thirty bob coins his hands had picked in exchange of his service. Does he find satisfaction in what he does? What is it that he tells his wife in the morning as he left for this station of work? Could it be that he has done this all his lifetime? Mostly he is the one who talks as I contribute by chipping in here and there. He talks without giving time for questions but he laughs a lot in between. Now he was not here. I missed his service already. Why dint he show up? Was something a problem?

A video of a high profile news presenter hurling insults at a waitress in an upmarket restaurant went viral on social media recently. From her own comprehension she alleged that the waitress presented her meal with a serving of attitude! Social media these days is amazing. I don’t know of social media of yester years though. Tom, Dick and Harry gave their piece of coin with regards as regards with the insult milling incident. Some were in favor of the helpless waitress. Others chose for reasons known to them, to side with Madam Newscaster. All I did was read the comments over and over and wish I considered Law for a career.

Biggest challenge however is how do we relate with those who offer services we consider as secondary yet very innate? Do we treat them with respect, utter arrogance or a fusion of both? Do we ever consider what would happen when perhaps they were nowhere to render such services? Does it make us feel empty such realization or still chest thumb? Come to think of it all the way from the house; the nanny who religiously takes care of the home while we work our asses out, the gardener who keeps the hedge kempt, the gateman who sees you in and out on a daily basis. All the way to the bus attendant who ferries you to work, the park boy who rushes to pick your bag. The office cleaner who puts your disorder to perfect order and the tea guy who delivers tea on time. What of the office messenger who makes running errands at work place a walk in the park. The shoe shiner who dusts your shoes as you rush into the high profile business meeting? The waiter and waitress who serve you lunch at the restaurant although not as to standards harbored in your hypothalamus. It’s an empty situation when we take such services for granted and live with the illusion that they are just that; empty. It leaves us empty as a human species not unless we learn to share our joy and not empty egos! Men sharing is caring.



2 thoughts on “Empty

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