I suspect Njugu George may be a bit of a Casanova. Or at least fancies himself as one. There were hints of this earlier in our relationship. His face is particularly animated as he tells me how he wooed Nyambura, his girlfriend. He gives me the line he believes secured the deal:
Baby, your love is like a cup of cold water, being given to a stranger who is passing in the Kalahari Desert to quench their thirst.
I groan inwardly. He looks at me expectantly, chuffed with himself, waiting for the sign that I am equally impressed. The line lacks punch, panache, swagger, I think. It needs editing. I wonder if I should help a brother out. But I can’t bear to steal the sparkle from his eyes, so I widen mine and nod enthusiastically, making a hmmmmm sound in my throat, which I hope expresses the sentiment that it is no wonder Nyambura fell for such a smooth tongue.
He tells me how he takes her to City Park, and shows her the monkeys. Oh Lord, I think to myself. I hope these monkeys are literal and not metaphorical. I hope he doesn’t get her pregnant. Somehow, I just can’t get myself to have that conversation with him. About socks. You know what I mean. I feel completely inadequate in this setting. This is a man’s role; the imparting of deep masculine wisdom, through grunts and back slapping.
It’s probably his dimples Nyambura fell for. They get deeper when he gets excited, and he is still at that age when this happens often. Like now, when he tells me he is the captain of the football team at school. Or when he tells me about the books he has been reading. He is a lover of novels.
We are sitting in our usual spot, outside the petrol station in Parklands. I can tell he has tried to dress up for our meeting, wearing what probably started out in the morning as a crisp white shirt. We are eating chicken. Actually, I am eating chicken. He is inhaling it, stuffing into his face, as he takes big swigs of Fanta orange, swirling the liquid and chicken concoction around in his mouth. It is kind of gross, but I am used to it. This is our ritual. Once his belly is full, he is ready to talk.
He pulls out his report card for my interrogation. As I look over it, his left leg bounces, up and down. He declares proudly, that he is 6th in his class, and got a B-. Indeed, his mean grade is written as a B-. I look at the grades of all his subjects, and they are all C’s and D’s. Did they change the meaning of mean in the last 2 decades? I tell him this doesn’t make sense, and he gets even more fidgety. Finally we ascertain that everybody’s grades were generally not very good, and as he is 6th in the class, his grade as per the class average is B-. It made sense at that point.
I met Ngugu George over six years ago on Peponi Road, near Westgate, you know the road where they peddle those hopelessly cute puppies. He was selling peanuts, rolled up in scrap paper cones. He was smaller then, but still as earnest. I can’t remember quite how we struck up a friendship, but we did, chatting as the traffic inched forward.
One day, he saw a pile of books in my car, and asked if he could have one. He loved to read, he told me. He would unfurl the peanut wrapping, to read what was on the paper, before re-wrapping it. More often than not, the story would run out of paper, and he would feverishly unwrap all the peanut cones to find out what happened next. I nicknamed him Njugu George. He lived with his elderly mother then, both had run away to Nairobi during the Post Election Violence. He hadn’t been sucked in by the glue monster. He was sharp. Audacious. Sparkly. I started carrying books in my car to give to him.
He would disappear for months, and then appear during school holidays, report in pocket to show off his scholarly triumphs. Every now and then, I would help him out with new shoes or exam fees.
I remember once getting a frantic phone call from a friend who had borrowed my car. He was stuck in Peponi Road traffic, and a whole group of boys had surrounded the car, accusing him of stealing it, yelling that they knew this car was owned by a Muhindi mama. (Sigh. I am a mama now. When did I go from a mami to a mama??)
I had to explain to George on the phone, that my friend had borrowed the car, before they would let him go.
By 2011 we had exchanged phone numbers. I was with Storymoja, and it was the first year of the annual Read Aloud. We wanted to break a Guinness World Record in reading, for the most children reading aloud from the same text, at the same time. I bloody love Storymoja for its audacious dreams. This epic read aloud was taking place on the Day of the African Child, which as usual had some convoluted, long winded theme:
‘All for urgent action in favour of street children’
I had to write the story that the children would read. After weeks of fiddling about, I had nothing. What do I know about street children? So I called George up, who with his friend Enos, joined me for a Fanta Chicken concoction, as we cooked up a story together. I went home to write it, and through that night, every hour I would get an excited phone call from him, with edits and additions to the story. That year, their story was read by over 84,000 children around the country. With that, the writer beast was awakened inside him, and he would thrust torn papers through the open window, filled with stories he had written.
Meanwhile, Njugu George was growing up, and the next time I saw him, his voice had deepened, and he had wisps of hair on his upper lip. Along with chest hair, he grew a set of balls, and I started receiving late night messages of
Baby I miss you
Quelle horreur! I had to set him straight. This would not do. I chastised him firmly, saying this sort of behaviour had better stop, and he should cease from messaging women deep in the night, if he bore any attachment to his appendage. Well I didn’t say it quite like that, but I alluded to the fact that husbands would not look too kindly upon this sort of communication, and this he should take as a life lesson. He better screw his head back on, and realise I was not his baby. My harsh words worked. He stopped.
Then I started seeing George on the streets during the school term. He looked worn out, scruffier, his eyes were less sparkly. His mother had passed away. Having finished primary school, and with no money for secondary school, he was eking out a living selling peanuts, taking home whatever he earned to his step-sister.
One day, over our chicken and Fanta, I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He did that Kenyan thing that we do, of saying what we think the other person wants to hear.
I want to become a white collar worker
Really George? That is what your heart yearns for. What do you really want to do?
Promise you won’t laugh, he said to me.
I want to become an explorer. Or an archaeologist.
When I was his age, I would never have dared have a dream like that. A bloody explorer. How could I not want to support such an audacious dream.
George is now in secondary school. His grades aren’t the best, but who says only academically bright kids deserve a chance. I believe in George. His belly rumbles with ambition. His smile has the earnestness of one who believes he can change the world. I want him to explore, discover, conquer.
I have a friend who has a child George’s age. He goes to Kenya’s best private school, is coached by elite tennis coaches in the country, has every door gaping wide open for him. My friend adopted him. He was born to very poor teenage parents, and may have ended up being a street child himself. The lottery of birth is cunning.
So. I find myself in the financially precarious position of a bohemian artiste (unemployed), and right now finding it difficult to support George on my own. So I am swallowing my pride. Gulp. Can you hear it? It went down hard, that one, clawing and clutching at the insides of my throat, scraping on for dear life. Ok, It’s down. I am putting it out into the universe; If you would like to support Njugu George’s audacious dream, please email me at email@example.com – any little bit will help. After all, Kenya needs fewer lawyers, and more explorers.
Within days of writing this, I received emails from 5 angels. With their help, we were able to cover the shortfall of George’s fees. He is at school, and was number 1 in his class in their last round of tests. But do I say. To the angels. Thank you. Deeply.