By Elder Casper
Everyone has those days they feel like it’s going to be their day. Like, nothing can go wrong on those days. These are the days you even hope you can win something from the many Safaricom promotions. Or know someone who does, one who will be sufficiently philanthropic. These are the days you feel you won’t take No for an answer. Nothing can spoil your day.
That was the feeling I woke up to on Tuesday. I even afforded someone a smile at 7 in the morning. I am one of those people who never smile in the morning. You could tell me a joke of the year at 7 in the morning and I’ll just stand there in silent indifference. I may even find the joke quite hilarious but it won’t show on my face. My face doesn’t register emotions before 10. It’s just there. And when you have a face like mine and you don’t smile, people think you are sad or angry. Or moody, you know, like am-on-my-periods type of moody. I am seldom angry. Few things get me moody. I haven’t been sad in a long time. The only time I am truly sad is when I see my mum in tears, and that was way back in 2011 at her mum’s funeral. So most times I am just disappointed, frustrated, or hungry. Or broke. Sometimes thirsty. Or a combination of all those aforementioned feelings. But never sad. It’s just that my face refuses to respond to external stimuli in the morning. Because I am a morning person and because the world doesn’t wait for your face to wake up, I just show them my teeth.
On Tuesday I had a genuine smile though. A smile so bright that I could feel it warm my intestines. The man shining my shoes in the morning made a joke about them. He wondered how a man could have such dusty shoes when it had rained in Mombasa the previous night. He said he would have concluded I was from Ukambani had it not been for the size of my head and the lack of bright colours on my clothing. Damn forehead, gives me away every time. I cannot claim to be a Taita or even an Arab with this forehead. This is a forehead that announces that my people were too lazy to walk any farther after they found a large water body to take a bath on their way from South Sudan. The size of my skull betrays the effort I make in my accent. I could talk like Sheikh Juma Ngao but with this forehead, people can tell you are a man whose primary reaction to surprises is, “Aaaiii yawa!”
I informed him that I live in the neighboring county where the local government has decided to plough down people’s houses in a bid to promote urbanization, or something close to that. The 10 minute walk from my house to the bus stage leaves me looking like a cattle herder in Pokot.
With my shoes looking like they wouldn’t disappoint those who think I am doing well nor attract the sneers of some of the women I have dated, it was time to look for a decent place to have breakfast. You see, on regular mornings, I go to this kibanda for mahamri. The mama who owns and runs the place claims that her competitors use unorthodox means like sitting bare butt on the dought to attract customers. Not decent. I have stuck with her because she doesn’t cough into the polythene to open it up. Again, not decent. She hands me the polythene with the instructions, “Nisaidie kufungua.” Because my poverty eradication measures have had some marginal gains, I deserve an eating place that doesn’t close whenever there are rumors of public health officials doing inspections.
I chose to pass over my usual cups of tea. I have been totaling a lot of tea lately. I take two cup on days I am in a rush. On other days, I just drink until I start sweating. It seems like my forefathers in Khwisero have finally located my whereabouts and sent a thirst for tea my way. My overlooking tea had nothing to do with the fact that I did not spend the previous evening drinking water. Besides the weather not being conducive for drinking tea away from your house where you can quickly jump into the shower to cool down, it just doesn’t make economic sense to me to purchase any beverage above 100 shillings when I am not in the company of a pretty lass. Of course, beer and vodka get exceptions, so don’t even go there. My peanuts, my rules!
So I walk into this restaurant which promises to have the most delicious African dishes with a banner on the front door. The thought of whether chapo madondo is an African dish crosses my mind and it amuses me. Is chapati madondo even African? I once read that it was the Indian rail workers at the turn of the 20th century who introduced the idea that wheat could be rolled and fried into a delicacy that would make us fat. But today is not the day for madondo. Today, I feel good and madondo is not a feel-good meal. Most of the tables are unoccupied. Two of the waiting staff are sitting on one table while the two men seated on another are making passes at them. The middle aged man near the entrance is shouting obscenities over the phone.
Predictably, I take the most isolated table. I like to avoid talking to strangers whenever I can.
A waiter promptly attends to me. I ask which foods are ready. “Beef, chicken and fish,” she says then adds, “yote na sima.” I enquire if its sea fish. She tells me it is tilapia. My face lights up. I ask if it’s from the lake or from a fish pond in Maragua. She gives me a blank look. She doesn’t know fish tastes according to its habitat. But I know that their fish is from a pond in Maragua, because fish from Lake Victoria is either eaten by locals in the neighboring regions (supplied on bicycles by weary fish mongers) or exported to those countries that import fish. I cross check the menu to ascertain that the delicacy won’t have me parting with an internal organ and then sends her on her way. You always do that when your finances are so shaky that purchasing an unbudgeted for pair of boxers could send you into an economic depression. Or when losing a wallet results in a significant hit on your net worth.
Within five minutes, the waiter emerges from the direction of the kitchen carrying two plates in a tray which she places on the table. Cooked tomatoes and an ensemble of green vegetables adorn the fish like a crown on royalty. There is a knife and a fork. Apprehension sets in, but the fish looks good. I wonder what the cutlery is for. Didn’t these people see Mark Zuckerberg, an odiero, eat fish the proper way? I forgive this as it may be a standard serving procedure. Perhaps every food here is accompanied with a set cutlery, I convince myself. So I push them to the side and delve into the fish. I yank a huge portion on Side A and stuff it in my mouth.
I want to exclaim, “Aiiii yawa!” The fish has too much make up. The chef poured all the powdery stuff he could lay his hands on this innocent fish. The fish in front of me had foundation, mascara, eye liner, eye shadow, concealer, oil paint, water paint and snapchat filters.t. The only thing missing was a shabby weave. Eating this fish is like making out with those shady women you meet in clubs with tons of lipstick that you have to go for a detox thereafter, or else you’ll die of heavy metal poisoning. My apprehension turns into disappointment. If disappointment was an animal then it would be this fish. What kind of a brute defiles a fish like this? A fish raised in a loving pond with both parents. Probably owned a pet omena with a cool name like Casper. A fish that was vaccinated and warned not to play with those ones from less affluent backgrounds- the ones from Lake Victoria that are weaned on dead bodies of drowned fishermen and swimmers and scum from Mbita residents bathing in the lake; those ones that have gone through a lot of hardships that they naturally taste better. Like kuku kienyeji. The one on my plate was fed fish food that came with instructions to keep in a cool, dry place to avoid contamination. It needed a little seasoning but like most girls and make up, it was overdone.
By the time I turn the fish over on Side B, disappointment has given way for anger. I am livid. The foundation of spices on my fish is appalling, but I eat through because there’s no way I am going to let my week’s supply of chapati madondo go to the garbage dump. Beads of sweat appear on my forehead. In the distance, I can hear the waiters congratulating the chef for kupikia mjaluo samaki hadi anatoa jasho. I want to protest that I sweat when I’m angry but I still have the head of the fish to deal with. Eating the head of a fish is the ultimate honour you can pay to the fish that has given its life for you. Especially if it has had indecent acts committed on its body. It’s the least you can do to a fish that was raised well, but that which has suffered a dishonorable fate. Also, it is widely known that the head of the fish gives you an excellent IQ.
As I solemnly and delicately suck omega 3 oils out of the fish head, I notice that most the restaurant has turned its attention on me. It seems eating the eyes of a fish is an indecent act this side of Tana River, and not applying makeup on fish. Not one to be fazed or ashamed by unwanted attention, I finish up and do a ‘proof reading’ just to make sure there’s no flesh that has been left uneaten. Satisfied, I wash my hands and request for the bill. On my way out, the waiter escorts me with an emphatic “Karibu Tena.” I turn to give her the same look I give people who add ‘Tinga’ to my name. (In my mind, I am whipping them with a nyaunyo).
When I see those pictures of fish served with waru, I’ve always thought that it is just propaganda to make Shiros look like a bad cook. But this shit is real, the injustice fish lovers have to withstand in this country is reaching unbearable heights. Isn’t there anybody outside here who can come up with a decent recipe on how to prepare fish? Can we have legislation on the do’s and don’ts of fish preparation? We will hold demos every Monday until the recipe is entrenched into our constitution and every cook has to adhere to it, or face life imprisonment. Just write the recipe and leave the rest to us.
As soon as I step out, I whip out my phone and call my mum.
“Mum, unafikiria samaki inaweza fika hapa bila kuharibika?”
“Nini mbaya ata leo husalimii watu?”
“Gima tek kapango ka. Kata rech waswahili kia tedo!” (Translation from French: Life’s hard)
“Anza kutafuta bibi…”
Noticing the direction the conversation, I tell her I’m busy and that I’ll call her later. I promptly text the missus: Babe, do you know how to cook fish? And when was the last time you cooked tilapia?
She responds with “What kind of question is that?”
By now my stomach is grumbling from chemical poisoning, disappointment and anxiety all mixed together and served in a single dose.
“Wewe jibu swali,” I shoot back.
I’m still waiting for an answer. I suspect am leaning more on the single side than on the ‘in a relationship’ side.
It was a false promise, it wasn’t going to be my day. I regret that early morning smile that I flashed my neighbors, what a waste of a precious smile!
PS: Of course, you know the writer’s real name isn’t Casper. But Casper is a cool name, and we like cool. Casper is the name of a person you’d find seated at the counter of a strip club, with his back turned to the pole, because there are days he just wants to have his cold Tusker, and not talk to strangers. Because he’s cool like that. (Photo: Courtesy and not the atrocity I had)