He goes by the name Thomas, or rather Tom as most guys know him. He has barely passed the silver jubilee mark. Tom lives with his siblings in the Kariobangi South area. He dons those Rayban shades which we Nairobians normally buy from the street vendors in an attempt to shade ourselves from the sun or look cool. His dress code is appropriate. He had a funky hairstyle which he described it to us as a mathematical equation.
“But why name it a mathematical equation?”
“Because everything around me revolves around arithmetics.”
We are at a joint in those seedy parts of town where the purest of souls wouldn’t dare step foot. Only those whose hearts are made out of stones and their eyes are accustomed to the midnight sun prevail here. This pub was a simple one, with clean wooden chairs and tables that had hideous mats of senator keg. Hideous but clean. The air smelled of cigarettes and cheap spirits. Those vodkas which would make you cringe your face as its contents went down your throat. It smelled like a distillery. Barrels of keg had been stacked up at the back of the room. What lay before us was All Seasons Whiskey. We were doing it neatly. Thomas would occasionally chase his with some Stoney.
Thomas is a graduate. He cleared campus about two years ago. He has to send cash home every month. He says the figure at times goes up to 5 grand depending on how much he would have earned. He gets the occasional beeps from mzee asking him what his plans for his younger brother are. He is constantly reminded that his younger brother back home who had just finished his secondary education needs to go to school. Apart from that, there are also the mid-week calls that mean “tuma kitu“. He knows the mid-week calls would end up by probably the mzee kunywaing the money.
Thomas takes another sip. He then talks about his mother. She would also give him religious calls when “mwezi imefika kona“. He knows very well that he can’t ignore his mother’s calls. And those calls all mean the same thing, “send something small”. The rent he pays is a blanket figure of eight to ten grand. He wants love, but he knows he can’t afford it. He longs for the tender touch of a woman but he can’t have it. Tom can’t have a woman sleep next to him as they cuddle and watch Netflix because, where would his siblings go as he enjoyed the throngs of passion once in a while?
Welcome to the world of the Kenyan youth. Where most people like Thomas want to turn up like his age-mates but can’t afford it. They wonder why Thomas is so serious with life that he hardly has time for himself. The main difference is that most of his peers are sent turn up money, while his mother sends Chama, hospital bills and whatever is needed back home.
Thomas is often sorry that he has to cancel date plans because he can’t afford to take that pretty lady out to that posh place like his peers. If he does that he would miss rent for next month and the landlord would let him go just like pharaoh did with the Israelites.
“One thing people don’t understand is that the black tax is tough, and one can’t complain about it. If you do, you are told to take it like a man. Papa needs new shoes, mama needs a new dress, and bro needs to go to college. But what about me? What about me?” Thomas asked. He does not know what his other siblings do with their money. Whenever they talk of financial stuff shit just goes south. He wonders if his parents give the other siblings the same treatment they accord him.
Tom does not mention the material privation but it is evident that they are causing mental health on him. A toll he just cannot ignore. So he has been drinking a lot more lately. The pain of stolen youth. So a cheap Chrome and Kane Extra over there and some weed to calm the migraines. Most of the times when he gets back to the house he shares with his siblings he changes and goes to the shower and takes a bath. He lets the shower on cries silently. He hides the pain away from his siblings. He tells himself everything is going to be alright. He assures his mother and younger brother back home he’ll break his back just to make things work. But would things be okay?
“So when you see a fellow brother on the street be nice. When you see a sister be courteous. It is a hard life and most of us are here on our own with no support systems.” Thomas told us. One of the boys told Tom that it was okay to go through all that. Staying with family, being broke and all the likes, because the 20s are tough on every youth out there. What was not okay was that it was wrong to have friends that would push him to keep up with their lives. Seeing a person only to leave them once they are in such his predicament was wrong and faking standards.
We told him to Thank God each day he wakes up early. Being consistent was key, and that he should drink less and pray more. It may or may not get better. But we all come out stronger from such precarious situations. All of us have had similar or rather slightly different situations and it does get better. It is the life of the normal Kenyan youth.
One thing we all learned from Tom’s story was that no one should be ashamed of what they do. There is beauty in the struggle. We might not be out of the woods yet, so let’s keep our heads high since the old ones are watching. The vitality and fortitude for this was the arena. We should also learn to say NO to random requests from family and friends unless it is urgent. It is part of financial discipline. A discipline I’m yet to master.
His biggest fear is if his siblings ever conveniently forget of the times he came through for them. Being a firstborn is hard for him because everyone expects him to do things the right way. There is so much pressure for him to deliver at times he forgets about himself. He has been heartbroken, disowned by various people, alienated, and spit on just because he is from a lower social class. All he does is by keeping his head high and live to struggle for another day.
This is the sad reality of things happening in our day to day lives. But we have to keep fighting while we still sailing in that boat. They would be better days ahead. There would be a sight of land after long days spent at sea. And all in all, whichever belief you have with the guy residing above the clouds, makes the bond stronger. I’m sure that he will hold back the seas and put out the fires for you. You’ll be counting your joys after every struggle has been won, cause he can see the light in you.
We parted ways with Thomas as he had to leave early to go and take care of other matters that awaited him.