Daniel was handpicked for an unpaid internship program. The city he lived in – Jerusalem – had been besieged by a bearded brute called Nebuchadnezzar who installed himself as King. Some folk called him Nebu, others Nebusizzle. But if his men heard you call the King those nicknames, you’d be hanged from the cedar tree in the middle of the market square in your underwear. So Nebuchadnezzar it was, a name as drawn out as a donkey’s long intestines.
How Daniel ended up in this unpaid gig was that he was handsome. All the broads of Jerusalem agreed. But unlike the instagram hunks who spend time taking pictures of their beards, he also happened to possess great intellect, was a quick study and showed great aptitude for every kind of learning. These are the kind of young men King Nebuchadnezzar was looking for in the [unpaid] internship program. These boys were to be taught the literature of the Babylonians. Oh and I forget. These boys need not have any physical defects. So no extra fingers. No limping. No squint eyes. No protruding belly button that looks like a grape coming out of your belly. No missing teeth. Or eyebrows that look like shaggy curtains in a seedy brothel. No heads that look like Mt. Longonot. And certainly no large foreheads.
Ashpenaz, the man tasked with putting together this internship crew that would eventually enter the King’s service, met these selected boys in his office in the east-wing of the palace and walked them through what was expected of them. His office was kitschy and loud and had large windows that overlooked a garden teeming with herbs. Robbed extravagantly, he sat back, manspreading on his big desk, chomping at nuts while his nuts hung loose. Like most Babylonians, Ashpenaz didn’t fancy wearing underwear. I don’t know if it was their culture or just a shtick they favoured, but their men walked about commando. It was quite a spectacle when a strong wind occasionally blew through the city; men scurrying to hold down their flying robes, nuts swinging, Babylonian children pointing and giggling, the womenfolk kneading dough from kitchen windows blushing at the sight of glorious Babylonian shlongs. A spectacle, Gang, a true spectacle.
Apart from Daniel, the other chaps chosen for this internship included Hananiah, who looked so beautiful his chin could have been cut from a block of cheese. There was also Mishael whose face women described as abnormally symmetrical, and Azariah with his magnetic presence. They were a bit like those strapping Kupe boys, only these chaps could hold an intellectual conversation without referring to themselves in the third person once. Or their fathers.
“Because this internship will not be paid,” Ashpenaz told the boys while swinging in his creaky chair, “the King has instructed, instead, that you be fed royal food and wine, to, you know, make your stay here more, uhm, comfortable. Besides, we don’t want the King’s men looking scruffy.”
“And what’s in the royal menu?” asked Azariah, crossing his long athletic legs.
“Well,” Ashpanaz tossed a nut into his gaping kisser, “We have great cheese from our excellent sheep, we have curd, we have fresh lentils, we have a bakery run by a talented baker called Noa. She’s the one who batted her eyelashes at me while we walked in here, you might have seen her, quite a looker too that one, only if I didn’t already have three wives and my knees didn’t make so much noise nowadays….” he cleared his throat and sipped what could have been wine or water—who knew with these Babylonians. “We also have some fresh cuts of aged beef here which you will love. And we make some great chapos – “
“I love chapos!” Mishael said.
“Everybody loves chapos, Mishael…it was Mishael, right?” Mishael nodded, “and our chapos are legendary…just legendary, you will see. We only use Cowboy.” He stood up and walked to the window. Clasping his hands behind his back, he looked down at the garden of herbs. A man he didn’t know was hoeing the soil. “You may drink all the wine in this palace. Rest assured, we have the best wine in the land.” The man in the garden turned to look at him expectantly. “Not you!” Ashpenaz barked at him.
“Sir,” Daniel spoke up. “I’m afraid I won’t be eating your palace food and your wine.”
Ashpenaz slowly turned around and stared at Daniel. “Why the fuck not?”
Shifting in his chair. “Well,” Daniel said, “I appreciate all that, I appreciate all this, but I will not defile myself with your meat that I understand is usually not drained of blood, or your wine, which I’m sure is excellent.”
“Why? Is this some half-ass Israeli rule?”
“No sir, the blood thing is just a Jewish law requirement.”
“Oh for fucksssake. Y’all should lighten up.” He spat. [I forgot to mention that Ashpenaz was born with a potty on his mouth.] He walked back and stood before them. He smelled of the “excellent sheep” they got the cheese from.
“Does this guy speak for the rest of you?” he asked the rest.
“Oh hell no, I will have the royal food and wine!” Mishael said. The rest nodded like owls.
“I request that I be allowed to completely forgo the royal food and wine and just live on fruits and vegetables.” Daniel said. “It’s a personal choice.”
There was silence in the room.
“You shittin’ me, Daniel.” Ashpenaz said.
“Nay sir,” Daniel mumbled. “I shit you not.”
Ashpenaz sighed and addressed him more calmly, “Look here, Daniel, you can’t live on fruits and vegetables alone. Why should the King (Nebushizzle) who has assigned your drink and food see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The King will have my head because of you. And I still need this head.”
“I have a suggestion, sir,” Daniel leant forward. “Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink for ten days then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.”
Ashpenaz held eyes with him for a while.
“Okay then,” he sighed. “If you want to eat like wildebeests, so be it.”
Hananiah suddenly spoke up. “I think I will also go with Daniel on this one.”
“Me too,” Azariah said.
Ashpenaz looked at Mishael who sighed and said, “Oh for fuck’s sake, I guess I’m in too.”
Turns out that after ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.
Of course you know what happened with Daniel. He survived the lions in the den he was thrown into by Nebuchadnezzar, patting them on the head like they were cats (probably survived because his farts were smelly vegan farts). He also never fell in love with a woman and never married. He interpreted dreams, served the Lord and got a book named after him in the Bible. We also know what happened to Nebuchadnezzar; after becoming a great King who forced his gods made of bricks and sticks down people’s throats, he was eventually dethroned and exiled but even more tragically, he ended up a vegan; on his hands and knees, eating grass like an ox.
That was Daniel.
Then there was Solomon.
I shared a room with Solomon in uni. Solomon Okal was his full name—of course no relation to Solomon from the Bible—but everybody just called him Solo. Exceedingly charming fellow. Easy going. A man of the people. Life of the party. We lived in a penthouse overlooking a church in Kansanga, Kampala. Well, that might sound cushy but it was anything but. It was a massive old brick house owned by an ageing widow who had bleached in her younger days so her face looked like she had microwaved it. Because we were on a budget like students should, she sublet her one-roomed space. It was just small enough to swing a puppy in, enough for two beds and not much else. You could call it a pentroom- if you want, seeing as it was a room and not a house.
The door opened to a small balcony which could have been ideal for smoking but unfortunately, neither of us smoked. However, I once fleetingly saw a girl who smoked. Most nights she would walk out to the balcony with her matchbox and cigarettes. Often she’d get off bed to walk out and stand there buck naked, blowing a stream of smoke up at the starless sky, absentmindedly tapping her burnt ash below. That tableau was hella sexy.
The room went for a prayer. We must have been paying rent of 70K a month…Uganda shillings. Solo, with his ferocious appetite for the nightlife was prone to stumbling home in the wee hours of the morning [if at all] after a night on the tiles. To access the pentroom at that late hour, you had to first softly knock on a bedroom window downstairs, occupied by the landlady’s grandson, a skinny, meek boy of about 11, who would then open the heavy main door to let you in. You then tiptoed through the kitchen, down a small pathway adjacent to the living room leading to a treacherously narrow stairway that led you up two floors up to our penthou-room. You didn’t make noise because you didn’t want the landlady hearing you coming home late and disturbing the peace. She also quite fancied Jesus, so we always tried to act pious – and failed constantly. We failed her but we also failed Jesus.
Often I’d hear Solo stumbling up the staircase, tipsy, then eventually emerging into the room, chatty talking about how the club was. [I never drank booze till I was 28]. If he had a girl, her giggles—amplified by the narrow stairway and the still night—would echo up the room as he helped her up the infamous stairway, missing their steps in the process because you wouldn’t dare switch on the lights and wake up the landlady, then finally spilling into the room, breathless, giddy, tipsy and intoxicated with youth. I would then hear the girl whisper in panic, “What is that?! Oh my God, is there someone in that bed?”
“Yes, that’s Biko, ignore him.”
“Yes, my roommate.”
“Oh my God! You didn’t say you have a roommate! Is he asleep?”
They were talking about me like I was a monument, or a roadkill. I wanted to speak up for myself at this point and say; no, it’s 3am why would I be asleep?
Solo was patient—one has to be at the final stretch. So he would say patiently that , yes, he is asleep and in fact he’s a very heavy sleeper. [Depends]. I’d hear the girl hiccup. “Are you sure?”
“I dunno, Solo…”
To prove that I was unconscious to the happenings in the room Solo would say a little loudly, “Biko?…Biko?…are you asleep?” My only job in this situation would be to keep my mouth shut. And not to stir. So I’d lay there, holding my breath, feeling rigor mortis settle on me. “Biko? Are you asleep?” He would ask again. Then I would hear him whisper to the girl, “See? He’s dead asleep.”
She’d hiccup again. “What if he wakes up?” At this point I would want to throw away the cover and say, Damn it, lady, your whispers will wake me up! Just get into his bed and sleep, OK? I won’t wake up.
“He won’t wake up. I know him.” Solo would reassure her. “He sleeps through anything. I could place a rock on his head and he won’t wake up. Besides, he leaves very early in the morning for his classes. Don’t worry about him.”
Without even seeing her I would hear her hesitation. It would fill the room like a nebulous gas. I’d try to picture her from her cadence; what did she look like? What was she dressed in? How small were her hands? Did she have a trace of a dimple on her cheeks? Did her hair smell of coconut? She was most likely light skinned because homeboy fancied them light. “Let’s sleep, it’s late,” Solo would whisper. [Oh so now it was getting late.] “Let’s take off our clothes, it gets really hot up here.” [Oh you don’t say.] They had brought the smells of the club with them; stale alcohol, disco lights, old bent cigarettes…the distinct muskiness of hedonism.
There would be rustling of fabric as clothes got pulled off bodies, clothes now soaked in the noise of music and smoke. I’d hear Solo ask, “You are not removing that?” and I’d naturally assume he’s referring to her hairband. She would giggle and whisper with the indignation of a Catholic girl, “No!!!”Then they would get into bed followed by brief whispers under the cover punctuated by her muffled hiccups. The last thing I’d hear before I drifted back to sleep would be the girl whispering, “No! Are you crazy! He is sleeping right there. He will hear us!”
No, I won’t! I wanted to say.
Oh, by the way, in case you just joined us, this story is about Daniel from the Bible. Somehow.
Suffice it to say, we had a whale of a time in that pentroom, a real scream of it. We were broke and young and fearless and all we measured ourselves by were sound intentions and misplaced desires. We had chained ourselves to idealism—the wrecking ball of youth. Through this euphoria, time remained our closest and faithful ally. It was a good time to be alive because children had not come along with the desperation and anxiety of the unknown. Our mothers were still alive; death had not sowed its vengeful and hurtful seed in the soft earth of our innocence. We often spoke to them on our mobile phones while standing on that balcony against the pressing dusk of Sunday, urging them to send money. Oh our poor departed mommies, how the earth remains fractured by their demise.
Everytime I’m in Kampala, I go to Kansanga and stand outside that house and stare up at the balcony, eyes filled with nostalgia and a useless longing for times gone by. Often I sigh heavily then send Solo a picture of the house with a caption; the metaphor of youth. His reply: “Ondiek, uko UG!? That house! Have you gone in to salimia madhe? Is she well?” Then I’d go in to salimia madhe, still strong, and she would ask, “and how is Solomon?”
In 2009 Solo packed up his shit and relocated to Canada. We lost contact for a couple of years, then we reconnected and started chatting on and off on Whatsapp. He had changed a great deal; not only had he embraced veganism and become a herbalist. [Yes, I know]. He now believed in the healing power of herbs and nature. In December he was in Kenya to meet the parents of Esther, his fiance—to ask for her hand in marriage. He invited me to join him and a delegation of his uncles, aunts and some friends. So with his hat in hand we went to Langata. It went well; he was given her hand.
During one of our drink-ups he mentioned how he stumbled upon veganism and herbalism. He told me how he had grown overweight and unhealthy. He mentioned how he was constantly listless, his shadow dragging his body around like a carcass. He had headaches. He had no taste for anything. He drank copiously. He felt old inside. When his libido went south he decided to see a doctor, then he saw a herbalist, then his life changed forever. He got onto herbs. He cut off animal products and ate nothing but fruits and veggies. He lost weight. His greying hair turned black. His energy spiked, he says. His libido came roaring back like a bull bit by a tsetse fly. He exercised. When we met, he looked trim and energetic and positive. I found his enthusiastic account of his lifestyle change fascinating. He sells herbs now, rattles out their names and what they do like machine gunfire. He came over to my house and as he came up the staircase, he looked at a plant against a hedge and said, “that is a herb, mixed with another, it can help reduce the effects of kidney failure.” He says things like, “how come a baboon only eats shoots and leaves but is that strong?”
One time we were having a drink at iBury Lounge when he said, “why don’t you try fruits and vegetables for a month and see how you feel?”
“So I can’t even eat fish?” I asked.
“No. Just fruits and veggies. And salads.”
Honestly, I didn’t like any plan that came between me and fish and chapos.
The last time I tried that shit was seven years ago for a social experiment/ story I was writing and it was only for a week but I was miserable. I constantly dreamt of biting a live cow’s leg. [ I wonder what Daniel would have made of that!] I didn’t see colour; I saw the world through the prism of food. I was cranky.
I finally agreed to try it out because I believe it’s a mental challenge more than anything else. Because I don’t need to lose any weight nor do I have any health issues apart from the occasional gastritis or IBS. Besides, I figured it might make a good story.
Today is Day nine of fruits and veggies and I can report that it’s a real struggle. He gave me herbal nutrients and a cleanse to support this diet. I think of food all the time. The other day I was kissing Kim, my son’s cheek and I swear his hair smelled like sauté potatoes. When I watch people eat in restaurants I feel resentment for them rising in me. How dare they eat chicken curry and rice? It doesn’t even help that I’m not drinking this whole month—not that that would have helped. I have come close to giving up many times but I don’t want to fail myself. If I fail I will feel weak mentally. That I have no resolve.
I’m tired of fruits and salads. [Note: the best salads are at the Zucchini, General Mathenge drive]. I can’t stand another apple. My nutribullet is always roaring, sometimes in the middle of the night. I miss the sound of a frying egg. Well done. With guacamole. And some bread, butter, black masala tea. I miss carbohydrates. Carbohydrates if you are reading this, I miss you. I love you. I’m sorry I took you for granted. Please take me back. I promise to be good. I promise to eat you. Screw proteins, it wasn’t love.
The other day I called a very good pal of mine called Gacheri to wish her a happy new year. By the way, she owns a clothes shop called Gachy’s over at Elysees Plaza, Kilimani Road, just opposite House of Leather. Very beautiful women’s clothes, if you ask me. She has an eye for clothes, Gacheri. She is also generally good people. I like her. She said, “Biko, when are we having our lunch? Are you avoiding me?” [She’s dramatic].
I said, “February, Gach.”
“February?! It’s only the first week of January?!”
I said, “I’m on this fruits and vegetables thing. It’s killing me.”
“The Daniel’s diet?”
“No, fruits and vegetables diet.” I said.
“It’s called The Daniel’s diet.”
“Which Daniel? Do I know him?”
“Daniel from the Bible, Biko.” She laughed.
“The one with the lions and things?”
“Yes, the one with the lions and things. He fasted for 21 days, eating nothing but fruits and vegetables. Didn’t you learn anything in SDA?”
I ignored her. “Did he die?”
“Not from the fruits, but he died old.”
“I feel like death.” [It was Day 3]
I figured if Daniel did it then I just have to dig in my heels. Maybe I will be able to interpret dreams and things. But one thing I know; I can’t be vegan. I just know it. I’m not cut out for that. I will not be balanced. I love chicken and I love fish. Also, I realise that being a vegan means reading the menu longer than any human should and I don’t have the time to give menu literature time. I always wondered why some people spend so much time reading menus with pained looks on their faces; now I figure they must be vegan.
Anyway, Happy New Year, Gang.
I hope you have started your new year in better shape than I have. I hope you are all stuffing your faces with meat and eggs and chicken and bread. I hope you are glad. I hope you are glowing. Good for you. I’m off to make another damn smoothie.
I know I should write another book, and I will, but if you haven’t read the two I wrote or know someone who hasn’t, why don’t you buy them a copy HERE?