Boy With a Sax


Everybody has their ‘Obama argument.” This is when one person holds a view, a theorem, a speculation, about Obama and the other person counters it passionately because we all feel invested in the man. But this wasn’t even an Obama argument, it started as one but then it became a Michelle Argument which is always even worse because it then becomes a gender argument. 

The Blue team was like, surely Michelle must have some regrets about ‘shelving’ some of her dreams and aspirations to support Barack. Surely she must look back at her life and wonder what happened to some of her dreams, things she wanted as a person. The Red team was like, are you mad? She was the First Lady of The US of A! Everything she wanted had definitely been eclipsed by any other ambition she would have dreamt of. By far. Do you know her influence and power then and now? Do you know how many doors her name flings open? She can pick a cause, any cause…plastic or even orchid conservation…and it will be a raging movement tomorrow midday. 

Blue Team: Fine, but maybe she didn’t necessarily want to be a First Lady, it was a consequence of her husband’s ambition! Maybe there is something she wanted for herself as Michelle, not as Michelle the First Lady. 

Red Team: She talks about these things in her book ‘Becoming’ but then isn’t that how life works. You walk into a room and you find a new purpose. A better purpose. 

Blue Team: I don’t know, man. I’m sure right now she must be looking back and thinking about Michelle who worked at the law firm and what she wanted and how this avalanche that was Obama just came and covered it. 

Red Team. Oh, I also think she might not dwell on that too long, that she understands the good fortune she has had. 

Yeah. That kind of argument. The type which isn’t resolved because someone always says, ‘you don’t know what you are talking about, you can’t speak for what a woman wants’ and then they go to the loo to powder their nose. Anyway,  we agreed that we couldn’t agree on this one. When they came back they sat there and we sipped tea in brief silence before, totally unprovoked, she said,  “You are turning 46 this year.”

I turned to look at her. My feet were up on a low wooden table. The type you fold and it turns into something that doesn’t look like a table anymore. 

“Is this still about Michelle?” I asked her. 

“No.” She chuckled, “But it just occurred to me that you are turning 46.”

She was born when the Berlin Wall went down, the end of the Cold War. 

“It doesn’t feel like it, actually.” I said. “Just yesterday I was a boy wearing Bata shoes. I often still feel like that boy.”

“I think men really remain boys until they die.” 

Yeah, it was still about Michelle. I did what Obama would have done, I ignored that statement. 

“In fact, I don’t even think about age until someone mentions it. Often someone younger. Apart from my runner’s knees, I feel ageless for the most part. I feel like I can start over again. OK, I don’t, I wouldn’t want to but I feel anything but 46. In fact, my inside age is 31.” I paused to reflect on the 31. Next to me, a dying plant seemed to be taking deep breaths. 

“What will you do?” She asked. 

“About my age?”

“No, on your 46th.”

“Whatever it is, it will be smaller than what I will do at 50.”

“And what will you do at 50?”

“Even smaller. I like the idea of going to live in a village in Asia surrounded by rice paddies. Not too long, like two months or so. Maybe learn something vital about life, about people, about culture, food, religion. Or maybe learn a skill. I like the idea of wood, of carpentry. Or maybe I will just learn that I have been breathing all wrong all my years on earth. Maybe breathing will help me remain calm when incited…”

She chuckled and leaned way back in her seat.

“…maybe learn how to pray. I will spend my days riding a bicycle through small brown patches of road running next to mushy grounds, home to frogs that croak during the day. Maybe go about in something like a sarong, you know, just tie it around my waist and fr*k off. No underwear. Maybe not shave my armpits…sleep on a mat, no screw that, a thin mattress on the floor. Eat rice and drink tea that tastes like your attitude when you are losing an argument…”

She laughed. “I wasn’t losing any argument! I don’t think Michelle regrets anything. I think it’s ridiculous to imagine that there is anything she might have pursued that can be more important than being the First Lady of the United States.”

I said, “I disagree. There are tons of things that are more important than being the First Lady of the US.”

“Like what?”

“Like changing the definition of ‘important.”

“Hmm.” She cocked her head. “You should write something about that.” 

“About what?”

“All these, being 46 and your rice paddy and not shaving your armpit. Perspective.”

I said, “yeah, maybe I should.”

So here, random reflections about this stage of my life. 

  • School events/ fatherhood

I dislike them. Unlike Tamms, thankfully Kim doesn’t swim which means I can now miss the swimming galas. However, I have to attend all other school events that happen in big tents in wide fields and open skies. Plastic chairs and samosas. Water in very small bottles, like those feeding bottles for toddlers, which is great because it means you get an excuse to tear yourself from the proceedings and get a refill, you know, stretch your legs. Great for avoiding blood clots and to give your eardrums a break because for kids to perform they have to shutter your eardrums by screaming and squeaking in the microphone. Their shrill voices, projected by the microphone, can be heard all the way to heaven’s door. It often feels like a Banshees mating season under those tents. In fact, days after the event  I will always still hear the very squeaky voice of a child screaming about global warming in my head. It’s terrifying. 

I have a mild case of ADHD, so my concentration is usually so screwed after the first hour and half. I always wish for a helicopter to fly right over the tent and blow off the tent, fathers running helter skelter, children cheering up in glee and mothers in dresses screaming and pulling down their dresses as the helm of those dresses flap up their faces. Because that’s the only thing that can have the headmistress call off the event.

Maybe It’s a factor of age but I have increasingly grown very weary of those school events by just how long they take. The long endless speeches! It’s like eating soap. 

I always sit there (at the back) thinking sardonically, how did I escape the long SDA services to suffer here in my later years in life? I normally look around the tent at the other parents who clap and cheer and sometimes raise their hands to speak and wonder guiltily if I’m not a good parent. Why are these parents enjoying this so much and I’m not?

I only go because it’s important for him. That he will remember when he’s an adult. He will never say, ‘my dad never came. He always had meetings.’ 

The reward for me in these long dreadful events is seeing my son in the school band in his baggy red and black uniform, like the Kenya Army Band, his big lovely eyes now twice their size as he blows the hell out of that shiny saxophone. During the last school function, I watched him on stage, standing behind a taller boy, cheeks puffing and collapsing, big eyes falling off his face, and thinking ‘Oh look at my adorable artistic boy, I need to buy him new shoes. His favourite sneakers looked like shoes you wear to maandamano.’ 

As saxophones and trumpets and other lung-filling instruments rent the air, I was aware of how fast he will grow up and leave and I will remember this moment, him on stage, me digesting two samosas. I wondered what kind of person he would turn into with his big trusting eyes and a heart that bruises easily. I wondered if I would be alive to see him chase his dreams and fail and try again and again, if he will make it, if he will be well adjusted. If he, in his community of artists or musicians, will meet and plunge heavily in an abyss of love with artsy girls with nipple piercings and tattoos of scorpions on their thighs. “Kim, your girlfriend, why are her eyes so red!” “It’s contact lenses, papa. It’s what’s in now.” “Oh, right, right, very bohemian. Do they come in other colours, perhaps?”

I watched him walking out on stage in a line of other boys and girls and wondered if he would ditch his piano and sax and say, “Papa, music is no longer for me, I want to try magic.” 


“Yeah, you know, like bending spoons with my eyes.”

“Oh yeah, of course, of course. Let’s try that out, then. Yeah, let’s do the spoon thing.”

I worry that the world is too cruel and too cold for his pure heart. That soon his innocence will be snatched  by the brutal hands of life. That he will be tainted and populated. I hope that he finds his God, whatever form. And I wish for a lifetime to see him cross difficult roads. Mostly, when I think of my age, I think of him. He’s too young and the road is too long and fraught with monsters and he needs a father for as long as he can.

Then there is Tamms…

Fifteen already. A young woman but also still a child. 

One day over the school break she went for an evening walk around the estate. Later I asked her how the walk was and she said it was ‘okay, relaxing. But some random old guy said hello.’ I said, ‘Oh.’ “Yeah, but I ignored him,” she wrote. I said, “Well that will happen a lot now. You are a pretty girl, men will start saying hello. Just know who you are. Don’t be intimidated.”

She’s already so tall and so beautiful, almost passing off as a woman until you look at her face and realise Oh shit, she’s still a child. I pictured some sleazy, old man, who might have even been 28 or 32, slowing down his car to say hello and I felt something like fear curl into me like some, helplessness even, that her world is about to open so widely, and she’s about to face such scary choices and scary men and questions that will seem unfathomable and I will not be able to stand in the way of some of her choices and decisions. I know that in three years she will be gone. The world will swallow her. She will swim away and find her own school of fish. And that’s wild because just yesterday I was holding her hand to cross a road. 

I interviewed a lady called Vicky Karuga and she was telling me about trauma and children. How raising a child now in his 20s turns out to be more daunting than a much younger child who is still at home and you can see all the time. When they leave for university, you don’t have control. How one time her phone rang at 3am and it was his son, he had been beaten by a mob of boys. Now she can never sleep when he is out. How the trauma of the first phone call, the one about the beating, still lives in her body. And it felt scary listening to her. Because when they are out there they could get into cars driven by someone drunk or they could be in an apartment with people with guns or drugs or a tattoo of a snake on their neck. 

But what to do? They are like ship; you build the best ship and you let it sail off into the sea where it will meet great weather and bad storms and you hope it finds its way. 

               II. On Death

My blood sugar and BMI are normal. I have always had a little bit more bilirubin than the next guy but someone has to have more bilirubin, right? Otherwise how do we expect bilirubin to live its life? I do a Prostate Specific Antigen test every year. My sugar is fine. My pressure is normal. I swim. I run sometimes. I don’t use a pillow. Apart from chapos and burgers I don’t eat too badly. And if chapos are to kill me, then I guess chapos should kill me. Because I’m not giving up on chapos

I never go over 110km/hr on highways. I don’t drink and drive. I don’t get in cars driven by drunks. I don’t go to concerts or soccer matches in stadiums because I hate crowds, which means nobody will ever trample over me, or stone me or put their hands in my pocket.(Not fatal, just embarrassing) If I get a pain in my knee, I will see a doctor. If a cough doesn’t go away in two days I will see a doctor. If I can’t stop blinking too much, I will see a doctor. I don’t Google symptoms, I just see a doctor. The disease that will sneak up on me deserves to kill me. 

However, I realise that a tree might fall on me. Or I might not wake up from a nightmare about a whole gang of fruits chasing me, wanting to make a smoothie of me. A rattlesnake might bite me outside my simba. A drunkard might ram into me as I wait at the lights at 11pm. A Nightrunner might pee on me, mistaking me for a tree. Death might come in many forms that I can’t even fathom. I am aware of all these. I know I will die. I just don’t think about it. 

My mom had varicose veins then she died from complications brought about by a blood clot. I have a varicose vein on the back of my right leg. It aches sometimes. When I fly for over fours I wear compression socks like a 90 yr old and take aspirins during the flight. I also occasionally see Professor Ogola, my mom’s cardiologist, every so often for tests. Still, I will die. 

I suspect that a blood clot is the bugger that will finally kill me one day. I can’t do anything about that. However, if I keel over and die after writing this sentence, the only regret I will have is not seeing my kids as adults. Because I’m living the life I wanted. I’m not half-assing it. I’m not living in fear or regret. Sure, I would love to meet Kagame and Obama but come on, there are more serious things in life. Like hair grafting. 

Elixir of Life.

Quite often someone of interest, an industry champion, I’m interviewing invites me to their home for an interview. These are homes that journalists love to describe as palatial. They often feature massive grounds, looming homes with winding wooden staircases. Rugs so thick you can hear the animals they came from sigh when you walk over them. I’m usually led into darkened studies, not living rooms. There is always a scented candle burning in these homes. Or a cat napping on the thick arms of a settee. These are cats that can tell you don’t belong from how they raise their heads slightly when you walk in and turn away, defeated by your mere plebeian presence. Rich folk decor seems to be neutral colours. Once I walked into a home and found a fire actually going in a fireplace. A real fire! I just stood there staring at it until a uniformed domestic manager came and I asked her dramatically, ‘Is it real?’ and she laughed. Three weeks ago, I went to interview this guy in Runda –  the original Runda, not this other Runda with imposters. While I sat in my car waiting outside his gate I briefly wondered if I should hoot but also knew in my bones that in such a neighbourhood you don’t hoot. However, the gate suddenly slid open like Ali baba’s cave [Of course he’d seen my car in the CCTV) and I drove him to find him seated outside his garage, the gate remote in his hand and a long luxurious W220 S Class, the colour of deep envy, idling in the sun amongst other cars. “I have to warm her engine every morning,” he explained. I ask all of these people about money and almost all of these people talk introspectively about the value of less. I never miss the irony, of course. 

Here is another thing. Never have I left those homes thinking, ‘Oh I wish I had a home like that. Or I wish I had a car like that guy I have just interviewed. Or I wish I had a cat with a neck that white and that thick.’ There is no one single person I have interviewed who I wished I had their lives. Not because I didn’t admire their lives, I did. I loved the W220 S but it’s not even the car I loved but the very idea of it. I don’t admire a massive house with six bedrooms and seven baths. If I can’t hear a cup fall in one of the bedrooms I don’t want that house. 

I know where that comes from. 

A few years ago I joined other journalists and some blue chip types for an elaborate seven-course lunch in some ritzy restaurant in Paris. When I say seven-course I meant that we were not eating food, we were eating art. Food came in small globs and leaves served in mad synchrony by gloved waiters with faces that looked sculptured. You waited between courses and during that time you were expected to engage in stimulating conversation. Guess who sat to my right? 

The Chairman and CEO of Schneider Electric. He was in his mid-fifties, very French,  very trim, sleek suit, very white shirt, no tie. Very unassuming fellow. 

We somehow got talking about the excesses of buffet as a concept. How we don’t eat more than our fists. He told me that his three kids had left the nest and they had sold the home the kids had grown in and moved to a smaller house. He went everywhere on a bicycle. During winter he drove a small electric car because men like that care about carbon footprint. I asked him, “So what do you use your money for?” And he said philanthropy and buying skiing equipment. He said skiing gave him joy and he didn’t spare the cost of the best equipment. He told me how, like the concept of the buffet, we don’t need a lot as humans. That most of it is wastage, thrown away after a meal. 

“Live a small life, not a life of abundance.” He said and that’s probably the most important thing I have ever been told in an interview. Well, apart from, “eat your beetroot, Jackson.” His words rang in my head on the flight back and when I waited for my luggage at the carousel in JKIA. I realised that he was also talking about contentment. And I truly think that’s the secret to happiness. 


Have a wonderful Easter, Gang. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

  1. “Live a small life, not a life of abundance.”
    As profound as this is, I can’t help but think most people who drop such lines are usually swimming in money.

    1. True. Money has offered them choices. He certainly doesn’t go for simplicity when he splurges on Skiing equipment.

  2. This line had me chuckling.

    Oh look at my adorable artistic boy, I need to buy him new shoes. His favourite sneakers looked like shoes you wear to maandamano.’

  3. This spoke to me as a young 24 year old woman with greater ambitions in life- sounds cliché, but what stuck with me is to be content with what you have, live in the moment, and know your rich. Thanks Biko(also quite shocked that Tamms is 15 now?) wow!

  4. A lot of food for thought! And hilarious – as always.
    It’s true. I remember an “empty-nester” – as they are called – being commended on what a great job he had done raising his 3 children who were, at the time, well-adjusted young adults, showing tremendous promise. He said he wasn’t done. It’s never really over. Parenting that is. Like Vicky Karuga observed. Even in their twenties, when they are away in college perhaps, they do not cease to need you, your presence or instructions.
    And Contentment? Words of the Apostle Paul come to mind; “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”

  5. Happy birthday Biko. Your writing is little piece of escapist joy for most of us – that’s a great gift to have. I’ve gone away to contemplate if I can say the same about my own life “that I am living the life I wanted. I am no half assing it …”

  6. Lovely article as usual. Indeed, finding true contentment is the epitome of life. However, understanding what true contentment entails takes a lifetime for many of us as we struggle to be better and have more than the other guy. Happy 46th Biko and Happy Easter!

  7. Have a lovely Easter, Biko.

    I’ve been wrestling the discontentment monster for a while now… Here’s to coming out on top.

    Also, on the off-chance that you will ever be looking to bless someone in transition with a sit-down featuring yourself (before you die), please pin this comment for reference.


  8. They are like ship; you build the best ship and you let it sail off into the sea where it will meet great weather and bad storms and you hope it finds its way
    Ooh this is Mantra.. I am raising a soon to be 10 Year old daughter, who looks, talks, dresses and behaves 15.. A lot of times I treat her like an older child until she bursts into tears when she disappoints herself or hurts herself.. Then I realise.. Oh she’s still a baby.. And needs a hug. And I hug her.
    I pray I am a better parent.. And that this ship will sail smoothly as it finds its way in 8 yrs.. ❤️❤️❤️❤️

    1. That makes three of us..For indeed in this life you can never be too sure.You got to be cautious but at the same time learn to live, indulging once in a while.

  9. wow! wow! wow! man. if you ever die just die empty. let us have all your experiences here. but aki staki 7 course tena sikushiba, I’ll have to top up on my way. Mr, you take us places. shukran
    wacha niende kususu sasa after that journey.
    though death is a mistry that is beyond our scope that even the best of doctors who save lives that were on points of no return dint make it to old age like their patients or rebels of hospitals . Believe like me our souls are enternal , where next after leaving this body behind? is what keeps me in Christ.
    let’s have beautiful experiences and put them down in beautiful stories like this one for our kids to find a beautiful world with lots of meals. hehe
    When I was a kid it was “when I grow up I want to be a pilot,” then I grew and I wished to be a businessman man I still wish (oh gosh if wishes were horses). Now am an excellent barber something am sure no kid or adult ever wish for including i except in day dreams or wishful thinking . I think just like mechel or death that this things chose us not the other way around. The sooner you make peace with it the better. it comes with wealth and lots of it , not just monetary but it all.
    die empty sir and you will have done your part of planting trees all over

  10. ”Oh look at my adorable artistic boy, I need to buy him new shoes. His favourite sneakers looked like shoes you wear to maandamano.’ -this i found real but funny to.

  11. Wow the spirit of contentment is what each of us need yet we struggle to have it. Happy Easter to you too Biko.

  12. Is my tiny comment even worthy of wrapping up this intensive, well-manicured, and thoughtful article?

    1. Get well soon Nyiva. Don’t miss the timing for the pain meds there is a reason they are meant to overlap so that you never contend with the pain. Godspeed

  13. Good ending, contentment, the secret to happiness. The apostle Paul said that he had learned to be content in every circumstance whether in plenty or in lack.

  14. I always wonder about rich people and when enough is actually enough, they always seem to be in an insatiable thirst for more. We should really learn to be content. Such a lovely read and thank you for always sharing your experiences in life. All the best to Kim as he explores all his interests.

  15. A very good read, I loved your perception of life in regards to you and probably humanity in general.

  16. Your articles are always riveting, I constantly look forward to these new posts.

    You’re an awesome parent, and I hope you live long enough to see your children achieve their dreams.

    Thus far, you’ve played your part well.

  17. Imagine being in the emergency room and the doctor asks you if you want a ‘do resuscitate order ‘ in case things go awry.
    Weuh..that quickly brings things into perspective.
    Good health shouldn’t be taken for granted.
    I read on twitter some folks saying they were grateful for the phone call that a matching pancreas, kidney and so forth had been found, and I felt for them because that’s a long journey of medications, and strict diets persuading the body to accept the new part introduced to it.

    May we live long healthy lives to see the children grow, and meet the grandkids.
    Happy Easter gang…remember its’ not about Easter eggs or bunnies. Jesus Christ is the reason for this season. He is the Resurrection and the Life.

  18. Wonderful Easter Biko.Eating soap…hehehe.
    Its safe to say that your are contented? I enjoyed reading every word.Thanks Biko,always looking forward to Tuesdays.

  19. After chasing my city dreams and having it all or may be not.

    I like the idea of going to live in village in Rwanda on a small farm, dry out my clothes on grass, Maybe learn something vital about country life, I will attend village gatherings under the moon light , I Will learn how to bake and every now and then send some food to my city kids. I will have a small cosy library overlooking the farm and i hope it rains every now and then for as long as i live.

    i will live a small life but of contentment.

    Happy Easter Bizokulu

  20. Good read as always. My contribution to the Michelle argument would have been that probably a brilliant mind like hers would have been going crazy to be so underutilized. If she was for example, pursuing a part-time doctorate degree while supporting her husband’s ambition, that would have been more acceptable in my opinion.

    1. She wrote books instead. Added to their retirement Kitty instead of removing from it. And honorary degrees do count no?

  21. “A Nightrunner might pee on me, mistaking me for a tree.”

    Beautiful read, as usual, happy Easter, Biko

  22. ….Or I might not wake up from a nightmare about a whole gang of fruits chasing me, wanting to make a smoothie of me…picturing this. Happy Easter to you too Biko. Great read.

  23. ” If I can’t hear a cup fall in one of the bedrooms I don’t want that house. ”
    Me and you Biko….

  24. Contentment. Amazing read, you are aging well Biko.
    Kids grow so fast, wow,

    The long endless speeches! It’s like eating soap. This cracked me up

    Enjoy your Easter too with fam, bless.

  25. ‘Live a small life,not a life of abundance’..true but difficult especially when you don’t know what abundance entails.The hustling and bustling must continue but don’t lose yourself,,learn to savour every moment of life,for this is what the daily grind of life is all about.

  26. “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” The Bible.

  27. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

  28. @Biko, thank you for allowing yourself to be you- I finally breathed out the guilt of all the opportunities I seem to have squandered. I don’t want a big house, I don’t want fame, I want a great life!! I want to feel at home in my own body,mind and soul so that wherever I am I am home! An abundant life – is not a life of abundance!
    That Asian trip is so eat,pray, love… find a beach somewhere in Kilifi or Kwale like little Bali-test the theory out before the big 5-O. I am a mountain warrior… to each his own.

  29. Did my comp hang or truly there are no other comments? Where is the gang?
    I love your musings chocolateman because we are agemates they help me re-reflect.

  30. chapos will honestly kill the two of us.

    Anyway, sometimes I think it’s easy for those with more than what they need to exhort others about living small. But then it occurs to me that it wouldn’t make any sense for that advice to come from those without much. So I guess we just have to work hard to get to a stage to give that advice without second guessing ourselves.

    An awesome piece. Enjoy your Easter.

  31. “I worry that the world is too cruel and too cold for his pure heart. That soon his innocence will be snatched by the brutal hands of life. That he will be tainted and populated”
    As a mom to a 2year old, I think about this a lot. I hope to protect him for as long as I can.

  32. Contentment it is..all i pray for is long life and good health for me to raise my son …our children need us…

  33. The school events are a beautiful description for some of us.
    The red or the blue that argument must still be on. May be Mitchelle Obama needs to write another book on this.
    Thanks Biko. It is a beautiful story.

  34. still, it is easier to be content with a lot than it is to be content with little, for the mathematics of financial accounts are impersonal and factual. contentment to a poor man is like an asthmatic person entering a breath-holding competition

  35. Bikozulu I have a special dedication song for you- Cat burns Live more and Love more..
    Please listen/watch it.

  36. So real. The more things change the more they remain the same. The image of the kind of life I desired in my 20s keeps changing and reducing. At 50 I now want to live away from the city and wake up to cows mooing and chickens pecking on grass. This one gets me. Thanks Biko

  37. Thanks, Biko. Happy Easter to you too.
    Having a sense of enough is the gateway to happiness. You hit the nail on the head.
    Two things: hem of a dress, not helm.
    The woman was called at 3am by HER son, not ‘his’ son.

  38. I googled ‘end of cold war’ ‘ fall of the Berlin wall and I have learnt something about 1989/90.
    Very true Biko, learning to be content at every step of this journey and living your best life today is something Very precious. Problem is, people believe contentment comes with having more which is in truth, is the direct opposite and the paradox of life.

  39. So that was you?! Next time I’m carryin my books for you to autograph as you digest two samosas. See you on open day. Nice article as always.

  40. I have younger siblings and whenever I see them off to school or when am leaving home, tears always feel my eyes because for some reason, I feel like am leaving them unattended; under no one’s care. I feel like no one can take care of them the way I do, no one can protect them like me.
    But this statement right here calms me: Children are like ship; you build the best ship and you let it sail off into the sea where it will meet great weather and bad storms and you hope it finds its way.

  41. I always admire your stories, God thought it right to give you this gift. The way you explain simple concepts shows how gifted you are, the creativity is on another level. Continue ageing with grace.