He was called Sultan. He reached for the door of the Tuk Tuk as soon as it ground to a stop outside Fort Jesus. And there he was helping the missus out like a perfect gentleman (something I should learn), there he was lifting my little girl out even though I hate when strangers do that, you know touch my kid. It’s intrusive and somewhat perverse. It’s even worse when the person looks like a yob, and Sultan did. How could I not judge him? He looked deadbeat and somehow disoriented; his shirt was stained, but not half as stained as his teeth and he was raggedy and emaciated -a strong wind would effortlessly blow him to India. And I judged him based on only this first impression. Me in my foolish shallowness promptly dismissed him as a good for nothing bum. But guys like him have seen my type, they deal with my type all the damn time; guys who go down to the coast with an overblown sense of importance, with a misplaced superiority. And he deals with them by being the opposite of them, by being decent human beings.
So I tried to dismiss him, I tried to treat him like he wasn’t there even though all he was trying to do was make a quick buck. But he was relentless. He ignored my unschooled behavior with an astonishing casualness and in the end I was left with no choice than to have him as our guide. That was on Saturday; little girl’s first time in the coast, and thus Fort Jesus, which come to think of it is like coming to Nairobi and going to stare at KICC. Bewildering.
So Sultan ran us through the history. He showed me, for instance, how the Portuguese used to take a dump; through this holes in the wall. They would sit there staring into the blue sky or just picking their teeth, their asses stuck in a hole in the Fort, taking a luxurious dump under the sun; easy, chilled out, the wind blowing through. Bliss. When did life get so complicated? Folks, when did we flush simplicity down the drain?
Sultan proved to be a competent and knowledgeable guide. He’s been doing it for 25years now, and nothing has changed; not the visitors who wander in their trying to make a connection with the past, not the building which has remained frozen in another century, not him who has been running the same commentary for a pitiful alms. And when he started telling me about himself, I started feeling guilty for being such a snob, for being so judgmental, for being such a thoroughbred prick.
But se he’s better than me, Sultan, better than most of us. He has raised two children; 22yrs and 18yrs all earning a decent living. I have one kid, only 3yrs old and I’m already whining and demanding a trophy. He prays five times a day. I can’t remember the last time I went to church, and yet I have the chutzpah to stand before God and ask for favors. He’s 45yrs of age; I’m in my early thirties, so that means he knows a lot more about life and all. He has better communication skills and clearly a better personality. Against him I have a personality of laundry peg. And lastly, and most importantly he has a dream, even though the odds are against him
he still dreams. He dreams to buy a big powered boat and spent his twilight years fishing in his shags somewhere in Watamu and live in a wooden house. He told me this as we walked around, pointing at skeletons of dead Portuguese and more Portuguese loos. At 45yrs, and he was still dreaming while some of us were starting to get unsure of our dreams. I felt foolish. This guy had a plan, but better yet he relentless nursed this seemingly self-destructive hope while he sweated through the fort showing unappreciative oafs like me around for a pittance. He had tunnel vision and I was convinced that he would get that boat. He asked me what I did for a living and I told him I write. He asked me where I was staying in the coast and I told him and watched his eyes squint cynically, “How –”
“I’m not paying for it.” I said quickly, then explained to him how it worked. He nodded. At the end of it we became good friends and he said told me a Swahili saying which he roughly broke down into something like, “Don’t be caught up with today, today is useless, it doesn’t matter what you are today, or who you are today. Think of how tomorrow will end for you, that’s all there is to life, how it ends not how it begins.” This guy was sent. I swear, he was. But how does it really end when we all call it in, when we turn 55yrs?
I’m not scared of growing old. I’m only apprehensive, not scared. I want to retire somewhere with open fields, like Isinya, or Tigoni, away from the madness of the city. But not too far away because I want to nip in once in a while to feel the heavy breathing of the city and the madness that lives in its bowels. But I won’t be one of those bored old folks you see having tea at the Norfolk, wearing grumpy suits and ties and staring into space as if they are waiting for their youth.
I don’t want to be wealthy, just rich because being rich gives you a slight sense of insecurity and I thrive in a bit of insecurity, keeps me alive. Wealthy breeds invincibility makes you forget who you are in the food chain and nothing is more important than knowing your place in the pecking order. I want to live in a sexy white home on a hill where I can watch the sunset and get reminded of my mortality. I want to own cows, grade cows and I want to milk them once in a while, when I’m in a good mood. I want to have a farm, nothing too big, two hectares, not because I need it but because every old man needs a farm. I want to have a room in the house that stares directly into God’s balcony, a room where I write from. And I want to do nothing but write for three hours every day – not a book – but assignments, racy commentaries or travel pieces for foreign publications. I want to write for National Geographic, Vanity Fair, CNN Traveler or UK’s Sunday Times all which hopefully will require me to be away for a month, in a bush somewhere living on canned food and taking pictures of baboons and children with flies in their faces.
I want to own two Rhodesian Ridgebacks, because, outside Rottweilers I can’t think of any dog more magnificent, more gorgeous. I want to own an old Land Rover, named after a Russian stripper, a name like Sashenka or Valechka…I haven’t decided yet, I have loads of time to make up my mind. I will drive it around the sleepy town, but not when I want to go to the city, that I will use the black Range Rover Sport (the 4.1HSE in 25yrs time) and I will drive it into the city wearing a bad hat, preferably with cigarette hole on it. I want to run every morning, eat loads of vegetables and still be able to have an erection without the help of a forklift.
I want to own an old phone, one that doesn’t connect me to internet or Facebook or whatever social network there will be that time. And it’s through this phone that I will want to hear the voices of my three little girls call from some distant land where they will be pursuing dreams that I won’t be in tune with. I say three girls because that’s all I want, daughters. I’m not the son kinda guy. I want to sit there and hear them- my girls- say that they can’t seem to meet the right men, only I will be hearing that they can’t meet men like their father. Hehe, bliss.
I want to collect wine, red Chilean wine to be precise and I want to drink nothing that is under 8years old. I want to know God, to be closer to him because really at that advanced age you are staring at something more than just your demise, you are staring at your faith.
Once in a while I want to go down to Zanzibar and scuba-dive. And I want to go back to Senegal (because I would have gone when I’m 35yrs) and revive old friendships, retrace my steps and see what I missed the first time. I want to mentor a young man, make him my project and see how my influence on him shapes him. I want to grow strawberries and pawpaw. I want to grow a white beard. I want to eat with my hands and love with my heart, not my groin. I want to support a charity, like this special school I once did a story on in Mwingi. Children possessed by the devil, small little girls who would talk, scream, pull their hairs at invincible people. Heartbreaking stuff. And once in a while I want to go back to the city and tend a bar wearing a black suit and a white shirt and a ridiculous bow tie.
I want to die because I control not such destiny, but I want to die when not much is left for me to do, when what’s left doesn’t leave me empty. And I will want to go back on this blog and dig out an old piece I wrote in my 30’s to see how far my thinking has developed but also wonder what happened to some of you who stopped here to make comments.