“Hello,” I answer the phone. The number is new so my voice is somewhat inaudible. You know the way you respond to a new number while trying to see if you can make anything familiar from the voice on the other end?
A very long read ahead.
“Hello Justine. My name is Roebuck and I would need your help in something. Can we meet and discuss about it?” The voice responds.
“I would love to, only if you’ll tell me what kind of help,” I exclaim. I was down for it even before he said it because he didn’t sound like someone who would need financial help. Such people never call, they only text and they’ll hide behind that text hoping that you also won’t call. Sometimes it is not that they urgently need the money for a true problem but for immediate pleasure. And that is why it is tough for them to call and request your help genuinely. When someone is in deep shit or has an emergency they’ll call. That is because it is a genuine circumstance.
“Someone close told me you’re a terrific photographer,” He says. “I require your services for a day or two.”
This sounds good. Financially, I am in a very poor state so I need any dime I can get my hands on. I really need it. I haven’t been able to handle myself well lately. After YALI, my life has been on a pendulum, swinging back and forth without a rest; simply a confusing conundrum. I have been lacking the motivation to work. Nothing inspires me, not even my girl friend. I bet she never even realizes that my laziness is unusual. Instead, she gets reeled by it. The fact that she finds my laxity funny astounds me. She comes from a filthy rich family where doing nothing is a daily routine. I wish that was my side of the bread, buttered.
“That someone did lie to you. I am not only a terrific photographer but I am the best North of Limpopo and South of the Sahara. The last kind of this breed.” He chuckles loudly. I like it because if I am able to make people laugh and like me way before they even meet me then I simply have played with their emotions and I will win the bid quite effortlessly. I now know I have him in my pocket. “When do you propose we meet?”
“Today is a Monday, is it possible tomorrow morning?”
“I am down. Tomorrow it is.”
“Meet me at Hilton. I’ll be at the lobby by nine.”
“Okay sir. Don’t keep me waiting.” I hung up. He tries to say something but I don’t give him a chance because that is how a deal is supposed to go. He must know that you’re a serious person who has a successful life and a booming career which you can always revert to if the deal goes sour. You might not hold the cards but you can always control the game.
It is long before I had such a deal; the last being importing electronics for a guy who would later make me teach her 27 year old stunning daughter computer studies and photography. The deal involved a transaction of half a million plus. Perhaps the biggest I ever handled in 2017. She ended up being my girlfriend. I couldn’t resist it. Don’t ask me how things are because they’re not well. I am like a little puppy now.
“Could you come and pick me? Take an uber. Where are we going to eat today? I am going to shop, si you can accompany me?” This is what my life has boiled down to. And I hate it. Of course there are so many advantages coming with this kind of life; well, she pays every single bill. She always reaches for her pouch faster than I do. I never complain and she never complains. It reached a point and I had to ask her, “Why do you always insist on paying all the bills?”
“What do you want to me to do with all these money?” She asked. I had much to say about what she can do with the money but I lowered my head and said to myself, fuck it, she knows nothing other than spending. That’s how she’s been raised. I was raised to understand that money has two phases: earning and spending. She only knows spending because her multi-millionaire pop does the earning.
There are times I want to encourage her to venture into business or something like that, times when I want to pinch her left hear and pull her close and whisper to her that she needs to grow up a little bit, times when I want to see her discuss something different apart from missing me and my funny bones, times when I want her to transfer all the money she has into my bank account so that I can invest in something. Okay, invest for her and us, if at all our relationship goes beyond the second anniversary. But I have only wished for the moments… never tried to be pragmatic about them. I realized she’s not dumb the other day. She also has plans, and for the first time I felt like I was grooving with a true woman.
Tuesday morning finds me in a Citi Hoppa bus to town. My girlfriend wanted me to take an uber but our worlds are different. I would only use a cab because she’s the one who pays. I don’t have to live such an extravagant life…except for the food. I spend most of my money eating.
With me is a bag with a Nikon D5200 with around three different lenses. All these are borrowed. I don’t own one simply because I have not decided what I want to do with my life. But even prime is because I don’t have money to buy one- a camera. Every time I save to get one tragedy strikes or the mouths I am feeding double up. At this point I have to ask myself whether I have to be selfish or I have to touch someone’s life. The latter wins.
I have a soft heart and it succumbs to even simple needs of other people. But of what importance is life if you can live extravagantly while your neighbours are beggars? How can you smile if all around you are sad faces? How can you laugh when you’re surrounded by hungry faces? How will you feel safe if your neighbours are poor and have to do everything to survive?
And so my life has had little progress because of my magnanimity. Even in such circumstances, my heart bursts with pride when someone calls me and says, I can’t thank you enough. I can only pray to God to bless this gift so that where it came from can increase ten-fold. Such gestures simmer my heart in joy. I sleep a happy man.
A butler (for lack of a better word) welcomes me into The Hilton. Normally, people who come to Hilton arrive in big cars or even cabs. When you step into the entryway, you start to understand that some people live and others just survive. I belong to the food chain of survivors. In this level, the fight for survival is real.
There is a different scent. The one that only the rich bear. It is almost sudden that you start noticing the discrepancies of life. There are several brown-leathered couches of different shapes at the lobby. Some white guy in a pair of white shorts, blue t-shirt and flip flops is busy on his tab. I really don’t know who I am supposed to meet beyond the name, Roebuck. That name sounds like a name of a moneyed person. I suspect he must be white.
To avoid awkward encounters, I take a seat at the furthest couch and call the number. It goes through and it is not picked. The same with the second one. Signs of frustration start attacking my face. I can feel thin streaks of sweat starting to drip down my back. I hate it. I hate this moment.
I am rescued by the voice that lazily comes through when I place my third call. It is now 19 minutes past 9. In my not so good life, I try to keep promises, especially those that have to do with punctuality. That one little second is what makes a difference and I hate it when I have to waste someone’s time, leave alone someone misusing my time.
“Hello,” The voice breaks my tension. Then it goes on like from someone who just jerked out of sleep.” Is it nine already?”
“Hello Roebuck. Yeah it is nine already. In fact, it is twenty minutes past and I have been at the lobby for that long.”
“Sorry, give me a few minutes I’ll be there.” He tries to sound apologetic. Do I buy it? I do. Maybe he found a sweet girl at the bar who he took to his room and the bitch couldn’t get enough wood for the fire until late in the morning and he had to sleep late. Men you never been in such a fix? You are out in a very chilly night trying to find happiness in a day that has been robbed of happiness by heavy rains all day. You’ve just ordered two fingers of whiskey at the bar when God sends a very beautiful woman to you. Okay, let’s say it is satan tempting you because she just approaches the counter and orders tequila. You can’t help to notice her. She is so beautiful that there is no way you can’t afford to shut your mouth. You’ll regret if you ignore her because then, later on you’ll see her with another not-so-handsome dude exchanging kisses by a nearby table before they leave together. You’ll regret all your life.
Perking up courage, you move a few inches closer.
“I bet tequila must make you happy. It is has been a gloomy day after all.” It is a weak pick up line but it is better than none. She will not look at you but you know she heard you. She looks straight ahead till the bar man shoves the glass to her. She brings the glass to her lips and closes her eyes and takes a quick sip that is followed by a moment of feeling it move down the throat.
“Having a rough day?” There is a tinge of concern in it but it has nothing to do with concern itself. All you want is to break her ice. So you have to rake down into her soul and find the soft spot that the rough day didn’t manage to steal from her.
“What do you care?” She suddenly bolts, in a voice that doesn’t threaten nor push you away.
“That is not a nice way to start a conversation you know.” You’re looking down at your glass.
“And why is that?” She asks now looking at you. For the first time you see her wryly eyes, weary and strained. They are empty, showing signs of someone who has either had a longer day or someone who has not had sleep for days. The only bright thing about her is her blue dress and her accompanying flamboyant heels. Her nails are shiny and a bit chipped nail polish glows in the weak lights of the bar.
“We’ve all had rough days. But we cannot end a day in a sad mood. That is why we’re here- to grab a drink to cool our nerves and find something happy to cool our rough days with,” You say in a very nice manner. You take her hand and lead her to an abandoned table nearby. Before you know it you’re in your crib yanking off her knickers and romping her honey pot wildly chasing the frustrations of the day away. She takes all your anger and then releases it when she orgasms.
First, second, third, fourth round, it is 2 am when you surrender into each other’s arms and drift off to sleep. The next moment you open your eyes it is when your boss calls to ask where you’re at because you’re late. You only wake up to find it is 10 am and you have to feign an excuse that you were feeling terrible the other night.
So yeah, maybe Roebuck had been in a similar spot. Though for a first meeting, that was unacceptable. The only thing that gave me comfort was that he was within the Hilton. He shows up after 5 minutes.
He is a tall and fat guy with acres of baldness growing on his vast head. That is a bad way to describe a person, especially if he ends up reading this post. Okay, he is not fat but he has extra weight on hanging somehow loosely. For a man, this is utter carelessness or simply laziness combined with binge consumption of both food and alcohol. As a fitness enthusiast, I wanted to ask him, how is this body taking you? It is bigger than your real suit.
“Pleasure to meet you,” I say as I squeeze and shake his hand too firmly. He complains with his face before I release his arm. I wonder if he would say it was a pleasure after that handshake.
“Thanks for showing up on such a short notice. Sorry to keep you waiting,” He says. I knew he wouldn’t say it was a pleasure.
“It is cool. The faster we get down to business the better,” I say.
“Well, if you say so. What are you carrying in your bag?”
“My paraphernalia. Why do you ask?”
“I want us to leave immediately. I have a job in Narok and I want you to take some good shots of it. Might take two days.”
“Didn’t know you’d ask that much from me. I thought it would be around Nairobi.”
“Is that a way of saying no or?”
“No, I’ll go. How much are we talking about?”
“I expect you to tell me. You’re the one running the show.”
He is not easily likable nor can you hate him. He has these sharp eyes that poke directly into yours as if they’re used to reading people’s souls through their eyes. Sometimes you have to duck yours to avoid his because they’re piercing. You have to find others ways to face him. We agree on the price which roughly comes to around $700 dollars. It is a jackpot I say.
We head out for Narok. He chauffeurs the car, a V8 that hugs the tarmac like they were made for each other. All my life I have never been driven at such a high speed.
“You might not be afraid to die but I don’t wanna die today. At least not before you pay me,” I say. He laughs and ignores my vaguely put request. I am the passenger seat trying to keep myself busy before my mind switches off to motion sickness. I roll down the window (is there another word for it?) and try to enjoy the fresh air that is brushing me at a very top speed almost nibbling at part of my face.
We don’t talk a lot. Sometimes when you travel all you need is quiet time to listen to your thoughts and reflect upon your life. Silence treats the environment and I love it- because I sleep.
I only wake up at The Mara when he stops the car. Does a V8 qualify to be called a car or a vehicle? It always sounds funny when I refer to any SUV as a car. Do you have that problem too? The view is fantastic.
“We’ll stay here for the night. Tomorrow and the following day will be busy.” I can feel the effects of promethazine weighing on me. This is a drug that people who suffer from motion sickness take when travelling. It is a good one, except that you’ll sleep for the longest time ever in your life. You can even sleep for a full day (24 hours) without a single moment of waking up.
He had two rooms booked at the Kempinski Mara (Ole Mara Kempinski Masai Mara). I usually wonder if there is anything someone who can afford to pay $900 for a night is worried about in this life. If someone can rake out $6000 to only buy a watch or suit, that person should never worry about anything. Upon his death, he will die a happy man as he had enjoyed the best the world could give. I also enjoy part of it, the best of the best this night.
I look at the alcohol-full cabinet (with every single type) and wish I was a drunk. I just take a long shower, have a meal, throw myself on the king size bed and forget my troubles. There is nothing as wonderful as sleep, well, except ejaculating and peeing when you’re super pressed.
Of course there is a lot to tell. But the following morning we head out into the interior of Narok- a vast, deserted land that has no end. When you try to look at it, you only see it connecting with the skies. We go deeper, passing forests and open fields until we reach tilled land full of maize and wheat on one side and an open field on the other. We move further and beyond there we see a small hut in the heart of a small forest connecting to a bigger forest and the Masai Mara National Park.
Here, we alight the vehicle. A lot of rain has visited the place and you can smell the warm moisture emanating from the ground. I look around and try to make sense of it all. Why the hell were we out here? It was far from human life. The only thing that shows signs of life is the decent hut nearby which looks like it was recently built.
“Now this is it,” He says
“This is what?” I ask, baffled.
“This is the place. If you look around there is a small forest. There are very rare species of trees that are very special.”
“So if I connect the dots we’re going to spend the day sampling plants and taking photos of some special trees?”
“Yes. That’s right,” He exclaims with excitement. Of course, it doesn’t sound like fun to me. Do I have a choice? It is only for two days. I can either choose to make them memorable and fun or just sulk all through and spoil my days.
“What makes them special, Roebuck?” This peaks his interest because he just lights up.
“They make very many cures. I am a scientist, a botanist to be particular and I spend my time examining these plants. We use such plants to make medicine.”
“What kind of medicine?” I ask. He hesitates. He grabs two canned sodas and throws one to me.
“We should get to work before the sun starts to bite hard.” I want to know what medicine but then I realize I am asking too much. Maybe if I stick to my job we would be good friends and the job will be done within no time.
I pick my bag, fix the right lenses, play a little with the settings to get the right mode to take good pictures at this time. I hung it across my neck and it rests on my stomach. The sling is long enough. I throw my bag at the back after choosing carefully what I need and leaving the rest behind.
Roebuck is a wild buck. He maneuvers the forest like a maestro while I follow closely like a faithful dog, only taking shots here and there of whatever he asks me. He takes samples of each plant I shoot, labels it before collecting it into a special bag. I only observe in most cases waiting for commands.
“Take a photo of that!”
“No, the other one behind it.”
“No, damn it. The one next to it!”
I like messing up with him. What else do you do when you in a forest in the heart of Mara with a white man who has a gun by his belt and you rarely know him? You test his patience so that you know how far he can go before he reaches for it.
You wanna see if he has ever used his gun on people before and if he can really use it on them. You cannot imagine that he only uses it to kill wild animals if they try to attack him in his wild excavations in the jungle while finding and studying plants that make medicine to cure the whole cosmos. That part of medicine really weighs on me. Why didn’t he tell me what medicine?
I reach for my pocket and get some chocolates. In this forest, it is hard to be happy or have happy thoughts. Indeed there are numerous things to be worried about, starting with this white man. You get drunk of fear- a wild cheetah might spring from anywhere and just like that you end up becoming lunch. Anything can happen when you’re far off the grid of real people. The chocolate makes me upbeat and energetic. I need it; this nigger has a lot of it.
I lose count of the shots I take. His bag is also getting heavier. I am not in any way planning to help him-well, unless he tells me what kind of medicine he makes with these ‘special’ plants and trees. I stick to my lane.
We retrace our steps carefully to the hut at around 6 in the evening. The forest has been swallowed by the darkness. There are shadows everywhere, making frightening scenes of boogeyman shadows. I stay close to him as we head back.
“We shall spend the night here and finish the rest tomorrow before we head back,” He says.
“In this deserted hut?”
“Yes. It is warm and well-stocked.”
I don’t have much choice. Inside me rebellious voices tell me to say no. A very thin, shrill voice tells me to stay. I obey it blindly. Let it be known that this is not a choice I made independently. Some shrill voice coerced me to.
The inside of the hut is actually plastered and finished quite well. It has two rooms and a lavatory. There is a store which also serves as the fireplace, and one room which I suppose is the bedroom. On the verandah, there is a thin white carpet. A huge, comfortable mattress sprawls on it majestically.
We make ourselves comfortable. I light the fire. He retrieves dried meat from one of the cabinets and places it over a mesh for it to roast. We trade stories a little from the corners of the fire. We’re seated on huge stones covered with soft cushions. We talk a lot about our backgrounds. As often, I try to tell as little about myself as I can while I milk everything about others.
When the meat readies, he cuts it into small pieces and we churn it away joyfully with bottlefuls of sweet wine. The fire flickers and it is the only source of light in the house, plus the small torch belonging to Roebuck.
It is around midnight when we surrender to bed. Our stomachs are extremely full. The hut is warm so I take off my clothes and only remain with a pair of shorts. I pull a thin clothe over my body and tried to catch some sleep. Next to me, Roebuck also turns to the other side and slumbers.
I can hear hyenas howling, and sometimes laughing. It is a little bit scary. Being inside the hut gives me confidence that maybe they won’t reach me. I shut my mind and stay still. It is one of the things I learnt during my meditation classes- to have control over your brain. You can actually shut it and not think of anything but listening to your heart pump and the flow of blood within your veins and arteries. When you want to sleep, you only need to shut it down and stay still. You’ll actually sleep.
In the middle of the night, I feel something touch my butt. I think maybe it is Roebuck curling himself up so that his knees hit my butt. I just ignore and sleep.
This happens again now struggling with my pair of shorts. My mind jerks up. I stay alert and wait to hear the next move before I can respond. Then I feel something like a hand going inside my shorts.
“Roebuck, what are you doing buddy!” I shout. There is no response. I can only feel something moving up my ass and trying to pull my shorts down.
“Roebuck stop whatever you’re doing. I don’t like it man! I don’t like it!” I slowly take my hand and grab it thinking it is Roebucks arm.
It is not a hand but the thing seems to have life. Have you ever been so freaked that you don’t know what’s going on? At first I thought it was Roebucks knee. Then I later thought perhaps the bastard was gay and that he was trying to deflower my ass. But now I don’t know what to think. I just grab the thing, pull it and throw it at the wall. I feel it hit the wall with a thud and drop down.
“Hey Roebuck, wake up. There is something in the house.” He wakes up in a jolt and fumbles with his hands searching for his torch. He finds it and lights it.
Before us is a long snake starring at us. There is nothing in this world that scares me like a snake. Even with my million-bucks confidence, it waters down to negative when I see snakes.
“Do something man. Do something,” I urge him sheepishly. “I told you it was a bad idea spending a night here you couldn’t hear me. Do something.”
“It is only a snake. Relax.” How can he tell me to relax when the most threatening thing in my life is before me? It had tried to eat my ass you know. A freaking ass-eat maniac of a snake. And now it is staring at us.
“It is not poisonous. Take it easy,” Roebuck says reassuringly.
“So what do we do?”
“We let it be.”
“You’re joking, right?”
I am ready to jump out of the window. But I am not sure if it is safe out there either. But I only stand behind him trembling, with weak bones.
“Man I can’t sleep with this thing in here. You know it was inside my pants, almost going into my ass.”
Roebuck stays cool. He then springs onto it and holds it by the neck, opens the door and throws it out. I stay up until the first bird comes to life. I am taken away briefly by sleep.
“Wake up my friend. The day is here.” Roebuck wakes me up. My eyes hurt from lack of enough sleep. My head is heavier than a sledgehammer and it hurts. I force myself up and take a bath. We proceed to the forest after a breakfast of canned beef and beans. We throw a few snacks and drinks into our bags and head west.
The events of the previous night haunt me still and everywhere I step I am super cautious. This day, we move deeper into the forest where even if you cry no one can hear you. Walking alone wears me down. Coupled with sleep, I become a liability.
“Hey man, let’s have a rest,” I complain. “I am very worked up.”
“With a start like that we may end up staying here for an extra day. We will be done in a few hours.”
So we headed into the forest and did our shit for another day. There was no fun doing it. I don’t remember any word he told me because the words were mostly scientific. That is the reason I didn’t write on Wednesday last week.
The dude has not given me the money yet, not that you’ll know when he does.
Let’s keep the fire in here burning. If you feel a story is great, leave a brief comment. If it doesn’t water your nuts well, also critique it. We shall appreciate.
Where shall we go, we who wander in this wasteland in search of better selves?