I was born in a part of Nairobi that is no longer a part of Nairobi and I grew up there as well. Rongai. This was long before it was so far away that people had to start seeking out visas for travel endeavors there (this statement is not supported by fact). Believe it or not, bus fare from home to Nairobi town was once Kshs30. (Just believe it. You were not there so you cannot present evidence to the contrary. My word is law here, so just accept it and move on?).
Back then, I was a child. A happy child. I couldn’t play football very well at the time, but I was not afraid of dogs (not that these two are related in any way. One is not necessarily caused by the other.) SIDEBAR: Am I the only one who thought that goats were short cows when I was a child? Anyone else? No? Okay. Moving on.
On this ill-fated and god-forsaken day, my mother left early to go to work (I assume that is where she went. Let’s be real for 9 seconds here people; when we were kids it didn’t so much matter where our parents went during the day so long as it accorded us an opportunity to play throughout and forget our chores. Any such place where parents went was therefore immediately promoted in its stature and became “work”, or in more informal instances, “job”.) She had left clear instructions in the morning, “Warm up and eat the rice that is in the kitchen for lunch. And DO NOT go and play in the river. Mmeniskia?” At this point, my brother and I responded “Eeeh.”
The rice was eaten. As for the river, well friends, if it were not for the river, we wouldn’t be here, now would we? Ladies and males allow me to introduce you to River Kandisi (in absentia). This was the river that my mother had spoken against. Now it was not for no reason that she did this (I have not known my mother to possess psychic powers save for those times when she seems to). There had arisen an admittedly disturbing albeit normal trend in the children of our neighborhood. You see, coming home dirty was a sin worse than murder most foul. So, after a day’s play, the children of the neighborhood would go and bathe (read swim) in the banks of the river. Today would be no different. And it would take an act of the supernatural so undeniable to change it. We played Bano and Chako-Chako and Police & Robbers (pronounced “polisanroba”) and finally, to crown the day’s festivities, a nylon football was produced somewhere from the secret places of kina-Anto’s fence. SIDEBAR: If you did not have a friend called Anthony (Anto) or Kevin (Kevo) or Ian or Brian (Brayo) or John (Jonte) were you even ever a child?
Now friends, this was the age before NEMA came through to ruin childhoods. Nylon and Polythene paper bags were properly legal and in fact, it is not having them that was almost statutorily illegal. These bags, after being used to carry potatoes and charcoal (not necessarily at the same time but possible if circumstances forced it), would be curled together and hog-tied to form a ball better than the Jabulani ball. Forget World Cup, this was the stuff of nations. Lifelong friendships would be forged and destroyed in the chasm of the crucible of the test-tube of Chobo-Ua. When the game started, it did not stop until Anto decided that everyone else had an unfair advantage over him (unfair advantage being that he sucked and everyone else didn’t suck as much as he did). He would then proceed to demonstrate his power and might by taking ‘his’ ball and his ‘Sucks-at-Chobo-Ua-self’ home. This was part of the game however, and not in fact an interruption. No interruptions were tolerated. If your uncle decided to unceremoniously die while a game of ball of foot was afoot, you asked your bereaved aunt to mourn silently; the men were at work. It is therefore understandable that we got a little dusty at the end of the affair. To the river then, good-fellows. To plunge yourself in the murky, yet somehow cleansing flood.
I was too small (and afraid) to get into that river (if you think I’m short now, you should have seen me when I was hardly nine years old). And I was also thoroughly and unrepentantly convinced that R. Kandisi contained the particularly ferocious breed of reptilian lizard known as “Crocodile” (let it be known here that it in fact, did not). But it would not do to have me go home looking like a quarry worker and so my brother (concerned that if I went home looking like I did “ningemuuza” attempted to convince me otherwise). The insufferably inconsiderate idiot and his pack of brainless cronies (of course after vehemently accusing Kevo of peeing in the water; the little mouth-breather could never hold his water in the water), started trying to get me to get in. “Ingia tu si deep. Usiogope maji tutakushikilia.”
So, I got in.
There was a current. I never even got my hand to my Sammy’s outstretched hand. Suddenly I was floating away while thoroughly ingesting river water (and the contents of Kevo’s bladder). It was sad. And funny. In the sort of way, a cock flapping its wings in attempted escape from a knife before Christmas is funny. My brother was staring at me as if I was the Second Coming. I could see his mouth agape just above the chocolate-brown water (which incidentally; tastes nothing like chocolate). The buoyant idiot was not even attempting a rescue. He was just looking at me as if his pupils contained a life-jacket that is only deployed by violent eyeballing. So, Sammy came to my rescue. Truly, blood is thicker than water (and by ‘thicker’ I mean that my brother was too thick in the head to attempt a rescue).
I had seen God. My (admittedly short) life had flashed before my eyes. And when that ended, someone else’s life flashed briefly before my eyes. It was horror. I gulped water (and the contents of Kevo’s bladder) while trying to breathe. I realized I am not a fish (8-4-4 should have already taught me this, but a practical lesson is more important). And we never breathed a word of this to my mother. In fact, after this ordeal, my brother and I posed for an evening photo and nothing was amiss. Save for the fact that I almost died that day.
This same brother of mine and another brother of mine (regrettably, I have three) later dived with me (still tiny) into the deep end of a swimming pool where I also gulped water (and the contents of someone else’s bladder) on that day. Which is why I fear deep ends of pools. But that is a story for another day. And no, I am not a coward. I just care a little too much about my life than ya’ll.
This story had no moral.
By K. Rene Odanga
Rene is just about the one most hilarious person I ever met and to think that the water he gulped in River Kandisi together with the rest of its contents contributed to the wonderful person he is today warms my heart beyond degree.To read more of his writing, click on this link and get hooked like the rest of us: