I received an email. It was the length of a fish finger. I read it from my phone, at home. I had just watered my plant. Yes, now I’m the guy who has a plant. I bought this potted plant recently. Drove all the way to Galleria Mall with my kids to buy it. Kim was bored. He kept saying, “I’m a bit hungry.” I kept telling him, “Tell me when you are a lot hungry.” So he was sulking a bit because I had also refused to buy him ice cream because it was a bit nippy and I’m not fathers who are told, “Are you serious? You bought him ice cream in this weather? Why didn’t you also buy him a beer?” Tamms picked the plant. It’s called Ponytail palm. I wanted a Bonsai but they didn’t have it. I bought the plant because I’m trying to take care of another living thing. Something that doesn’t eat a whole pizza. Something that won’t try and wear the right shoe on the left leg. Most importantly, something that won’t try and entrap me to buy ice cream when it’s cold.
It’s early days between me and this plant. We are still in the part of the relationship where I sometimes just stare at it. Then I sigh deeply. You must have experienced something like that in your life before; when your car was new. Or the first time you saw your woman without clothes. Anyway, I read the email as I stood at the sink in the kitchen, with my mouth slightly open. That’s how I read emails at the sink. It was from a lady. She said her job is to spike men’s drinks and steal from them. Those ladies of mchele. If you are reading this from Kigali or Helsinki, mchele is an urban slang for the drug that some women put in men’s drinks with intentions of knocking them and stealing from them.
I looked at her email address. It seemed real. I read it again, this time at my desk, my plant next to me looking unbothered. She wrote, “I’m not a prostitute, I think I’m just a thief.” Then she said, “If you are interested in my story, let me know.” We did a few emails then she sent her number. I WhatsApped her and said, “I’m meeting some friends for drinks. Wonna have a drink? Ha-ha.”
She replied, “Is that like a test? You said drinks and guys in one sentence. [Smiley].”
I expected a dodgy-looking chick with eyebrows drawn or tattooed by an alcoholic tattooist and a big furry hat on her head made from Cape Buffalo’s hide but which I only realise later when she’s leaving is actually a weave. I expected a woman with those grievously long and curved nails that you see in those painful Tyler Perry movies, painted some horrid bright colour that attracts bees. I expected her to show up in knee-high boots, chewing gum and with smoky dangerous eyes, carrying a small handbag with a tacky golden chain strap. From her voice on the phone, I placed her at 32-years old and with a forehead that can crack a walnut.
The lady who shows up at my local is 23 years old. I can’t describe her further than that for obvious reasons but she isn’t anything I expected. She looks normal. There’s nothing dangerous or risqué about her. She’s beautiful. But not that in-your-face beauty like Toni Braxton but a kind of beauty that lingers. She has make-up on, foundation, eyeliner. She ran a darkish lipstick across her lips. Her eyes are like looking at a soda you just poured in a glass, what’s it called again, yeah, effervescence. But she also has a hardness about her, a streetwise about her which you will miss if you are just caught up in looking into her eyes. It’s a vibe. She won’t be intimidated. She wouldn’t cry if she broke a nail. We are about seven on our table and the average age is 40 but she’s unfazed. She hooks her purse under the table and orders a whisky, neat. Atta girl.
She got into this thing in 2017 when she was 21 years old, a mother to a small baby. She had been dating a married man who suddenly went quiet. Cold turkey. The guy simply stopped picking her calls, what the younger folks nowadays call “ghosting.”He had rented for her a house in a Nairobi suburb and paid her monthly upkeep. She had been seeing him since she was 19 years old and knew him well. He was tall, liked brown belts and always wore a hat. He ran a timber yard. Maybe he liked woody scents as well, we will never know.
So this timber guy falls off the face of the earth leaving her with a child to feed and a house she doesn’t know how to pay for. By this time she’d had one stillbirth at 17 years of age, an abortion at 18 (“it was in Kawangware, horrible place; they made you carry the dead foetus home”), and she would have another abortion at 22. So, yeah, she’d been through the small intestines of life and come out of its anus with a bloodied nose.
There was a chick who lived on the third floor of the apartment who she would sometimes chat with when she was outside basking in the sun with her baby. This chick would always be home all day but work at night. “So one time she asked me why I was so sad and I told her my problems and she asked me if I wanted to make quick money,” she says. She was at the end of her tether, so she said, sure anything. What was it about? “She said kudunga wanaume.”
“Na kisu?” She asked.
“No, na dawa,” She said. “Na mucere.”
It sounded interesting. So she was given a crash course. The following day they hit the bar, a local in Kikuyu. She told me its name but I don’t remember it. It was frequented most by the blue collars. It was loud and smelled of meat and beer. The cashier peered behind a cage. Diamond Platinumz blasted loudly from speakers that croaked and choked. There were always some brave men attempting to dance and failing because they would be dancing to Diamond songs with Mugithi moves.
They held court at a table. She wore a sweater top, polka dot tights and an old trench coat that smelled of paraffin smoke. “Those are the days I was dressing badly.” It was 12:30am and a slow night. They ordered one drink each, a Snap. Time passed. They took very small sips of their drinks, just enough to wet their lips. Shortly, a guy wandered over. He wore a brown jacket, a most useless description because in such bars most people generally wore brown jackets. He was drunk, obviously. He carried an unlit cigarette in his hand. He didn’t excuse himself, just sat and started chatting with them. Her partner gave her a signal. They had a signal if the guy was a mark: she would retrieve a small make-up mirror from her purse and look at her face in it, patting her hair. This guy was a go.
“I knew what I was to do but I was very scared at this point,” she says. “Very very scared. I had stuffed two pills in my bra, two blue and one white pill. We hid the pills in our bras or in our weaves.”
“You never know what can come out of those things,” I say.
“The pills are Dormicum and Stilnox, sleeping pills. The blue pill – Dormicum – knocks you out completely but it has a bitter taste. The white one doesn’t knock one out completely, but it’s great because you can slip it in alcohol or coffee and he’d never know.”
“And where do you get these drugs from?”
“There is a guy who supplies,” she says. “I will come to that.”
“So, anyway,” she continues, “we have gum, chewing gum, PK. It has a very strong peppermint taste that masks the bitter taste of the blue pill. You chew the gum until it’s still a half pulp with its sweetness and all then you break the blue pill into pieces, spread them on the gum and cover it. Then stuff it in your bra. When you are ready to strike and you are making out, you slip the gum in his mouth like a playful lover would. At this time, most men are drunk and horny and they will think you are being raunchy so they will chew the gum.
Even better if he takes you home. You will say you are hungry and he will probably say there is food in the fridge, which you will offer to get. If there is meat you will put it into the slice of meat and add a lot of pepper or black pepper on it. You can do this with eggs and whatnot. If it’s his car, because some men want to finish it in the car, you just feed him the gum and before long he will be knocked out so you are free to clean him out. We prefer people who take us to a house, though. That way we can steal electronics and things. I will come to that, later. So, si now I’m now about to put in practice what I was taught?”
The man after a while leans in and says, “Si, twende,” which is a form of foreplay. They walk to his car parked at the edge of the club and drive out. As they pass a section of the road that is dark and secluded, he stops the car by the roadside. “I’m panicking now, this man could kill me,” she says. “He starts touching me and all, saying he wants it there. I retrieve the gum that’s already been prepared. I had hidden it discreetly as soon as he stopped the car. All this while I’m pretending to chew. When I give him the gum, he takes it and throws it out the window. Now, I’m screwed. I’m scared and I’m shaking.”
I tell him that I can’t. That I’ve changed my mind. I plead with him to take me back.
The man somehow agrees to drop her back. She finds her friend there seated with two guys. One of the guys end up taking her back to his place, a rambling block of apartments off Thika Road. There was meat in the house so it wasn’t a problem spiking it and feeding him and he blacked out. “The drug also kills your libido. You just get sleepy and boom!” When he woke up, whatever time that may have been, he found his phone, money and the electronics they (she calls backup) could carry missing. (She forgot the TV remote, which reduces the resale value by like 2K).
“I was scared but also excited that I could make money that easily,” she said.
So she got into it.
There was the dread-locked man who she met at a club on Waiyaki Way on a reggae night.
“He was so handsome, ngai!” She exclaims. “He smelled nice and he was so neat. My friend told me in the loo, ‘Hiyo ni mikono ya laptop.’”
“What does that mean?” I ask.
“It means he most likely has a laptop in his car or house. We can see from your hands. Men with laptops have a kind of hand.”
He took her back to his parents’ house. (“It was such a nice house, mwathani! Very nice house.”) His parents were away, abroad. He was a photographer, so he had all these cameras lying around and laptops. She cleaned him out. There was a man in a car who blacked out faster than he could say, ‘Ponytail Palm.” The men who took her to furnished apartments and woke up confused, missing wallets, phones and their dignities. Men fell like dominoes.
“It’s simple,” she says. “After midnight, which is when we go to the club, most men are drunk and when you are drunk you are not very aware of what’s happening right under your nose. I will be pretending to be drunk but watching you and noting your phone-lock combination, your Mpesa and bank PINs. These details are easy to get because they are already drunk and careless. Once I have access to your phone, your PIN and your ID number, we can access your money from your phone and your account. We can take all the mobile loans we can get. We can wire money from your bank account. We will take your laptop and your TV. If you have CCTV you are lucky because we hate those.”
She broke ranks with the one who introduced her to the game and ventured out alone. She met more girls. (“If I walk into a club, I can tell who’s out working.”) She started hitting many clubs in Kikuyu, Kinoo, Langata, Ongata Rongai, Ngong Road, Dagoretti, Eastlands and Ngong. “When you do a good job, you don’t go back there. You wait a few months.”
She upgraded her wardrobe.
“Men are suspicious when you wear something very short and scandalous,” she says. “So I normally wear a nice pair of fitting jeans, and a simple top just showing my cleavage. I have to look like a normal chick out drinking with her pals. You never drink too much but you give the impression that you are drunk. It helps if you are beautiful, so like me I always get lucky most nights because when men are drunk they are always hitting on me. I’m a very good dancer. If you dance, you are luring them. They will see you dancing and come. Sometimes I pretend I’m not interested. Make them imagine they are working hard for it. Once you sit with him, you start picking details; his phone, is he swiping? What bank is he with? What’s his PIN? What phone does he have? We don’t like IPhone users because IPhone has useless resale value.”
“Are you carrying the tablets now?” I ask her.
She laughs. “No. I’m not working today.”
“But since this is what you do for a living, does your hunting instinct naturally kick in even when not working like now?”
She thinks about it. “Yeah. Of course. I think now it is second nature. I’m always looking, seeing who would make an easy prey.”
“Like who now on this table,” I ask her. “Who would you hit?”
She smiles and looks at the men at the table, oblivious to who she is.
“He would be my first target,” she says looking at my bro, Julius.
“He looks gullible. He looks like I would make him trust me the quickest,” she says.
“Second choice?” I ask.
She points at Maasai with her chin.
“He just looks like a horny guy,” she says. “If you are horny you are weak.”
“How do you know a guy is horny?” I ask laughing. “Is it his bushy beard?”
“No. I can just tell…I don’t know, just how he looks at someone.”
“What about him?” I point at Maasai’s bro, Anthony. He’s visiting from the US. She shakes her head. “Too problematic. Something about him that I find too calm.”
She looks at Kwach. “No. Too loud. I’d not bother with him.” She then looks at Japs and says, “He would also not be too difficult; he looks like he gets high quickly.”
There are men she regrets spiking and stealing from. There was a guy, a man in his early 50s, who was very nice to her. He was short and drove a nice car. Looked like those guys who wear their spectacles to read an sms. He was a gentleman; he treated her with respect. “He offered me his jacket when I was cold,” she says. She stole his laptop and a Blackberry phone. “I felt so bad. In the Uber home, I cried all the way.” There have been chaps she feels no remorse stealing from. The crude ones. Or the guys who wear bomber jackets. Or the rough and arrogant ones. If you are showy you are going down. There are the lucky ones who for some reason walked away and were saved. Maybe their mothers really prayed for them that night. “There are also the posh ones, the ‘Si we go grab a KFC takeout?’” She says. After grabbing a KFC she grabs your phone and takes out all your mobile loans.
There have been close shaves. Like when her and her two friends were picked by two guys from a club on Langata road and they ended up in one of the guy’s apartments in Langata. How one of them tasted the meat she cooked (it was 2am) and immediately realised something was off with that meat, that it had been laced. And how he walked out to the balcony and from the 4th floor called out to the watchman telling him that none of us should leave under any circumstances. And she knew shit had fit the fan and this guy started pacing up and down the house, telling his friend (a doctor, he said) to go brush his teeth and touch his teeth. And he kept saying aggressive things to his pal in their mother tongue (jango) which she couldn’t understand and she knew they were going to get beat up. “We were scared!” She says. “This guy, a very tall guy, was drunk and livid, and telling his pal things. “Eventually he calmed down and we all had sex.”
“Even after that?”
“Haha. I know.” She laughs. “What you have to realize is that when a man is drunk and horny he will do the stupidest of things. It’s almost like they are not themselves.”
I ask her if she has any remorse at all, spiking drinks and stealing. “Half my friends would not do the mchele thing. Some are afraid but most don’t have the heart to engage in such disgusting things,” she says.
She never knew her father, she tells me when I ask about him. Doesn’t remember him. He walked out one morning when she was a toddler and never came back. Her grandmother took her in. “My mom came into the picture when I was eight years old. My mom was a drunk who worked in a bar,” she says. “My siblings all have different fathers. One time I came back from school and walked in on my mom having sex with my stepdad. I cried so much. That image haunted me for a long time. It also happened with my other brother, he also saw my mom and another couple, naked. I was exposed to a lot; she would bring home different men drunk. Those were her irresponsible days. She ruined me. I don’t know what my life would have been if my grandma had raised me throughout, I suppose much better. My mom put me in an environment where nothing was wrong, anything went. There is something called ‘thithi” in Kikuyu. It’s zero chills. You don’t care about anything. A friend of mine had an abortion and she was so depressed she had to tell her mom and dad. Her mom spent a lot of money on counselling and medication for her. I had two abortions and my heart doesn’t break a bit.”
“By the way,” I ask, “When you did the abortion in Kawangware and you were given the dead foetus, where did you take it?”
“I threw it in a pit latrine,” she deadpans and I feel my stomach tighten.
“How did that make you feel?”
She’s quiet. “Not human..”
When she was in Form Three third she fell in love with a boy who ran a kinyozi. He was 23 years old and had sideburns. She was in love and school was getting in the way of this love and when it came to choose between school (the Periodic table) and love she chose love. So she quit to go play house with the barber guy and his sideburns. Inevitably, she got pregnant and had that stillborn mentioned earlier. Soon, their love ran into rocky shores. They constantly blamed each other over their dead baby.They fought constantly. Then he shaved another girl. (This is a kinyozi metaphor, guys). They broke up. She then met the married guy who she liked because he was “mature” and seemed “to know what he wanted in life.” (The greatest misconception of married men).
“The married guy also took me for adult education, which was cool. But our relationship was so weird, man.” She says. “It was based on money. He never came when my baby was born, never took me anywhere. When rent was due he sent money, when I wanted money to go to the clinic he sent money, when I wanted clothes for the baby he sent money.”
“Throwing money at a problem,” I say.
“Yeah.” She pauses then slips into a brief silence. I don’t know what she’s thinking about but I’m thinking about the foetus in the pit latrine.
“Men die from being drugged by these pills.” I tell her. “Does that not bother you, that one of these guys you mention might not have woken up?”
There is a long pause.
“A friend of mine says if we go out and we have a good night and make good money and the job was easy then we know God is punishing that person for something.” she says. It brings to my mind that quote from Martin Luther King about the arch of the moral universe. “Some men deserve to be stolen from.”
“Who does?” I ask.
“Some of those we steal from.” Pause. “I don’t know, but some jobs are too easy it’s like you were meant to destroy that person. I think if you are a man and you take me (23 years old) to a room to have sex then you deserve what’s coming. You have a wife at home, if I steal from you then God is punishing you for cheating on your wife.”
The irony is not lost on me, of course that she’s the one picked by God to mete out justice. To bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice. I want to say something sarcastic but I don’t.
“Do you use your number when working at night?”
“No. I have a number for the night that I give these men if they ask for it. I also use a different name when I introduce myself.”
I’m also wondering why people choose to tell their stories. Especially stories like this. What motivates them? Why do they want others to know? Why don’t they just go about their business in silence? Why invite attention?
“The reason why I wanted to tell you my story is because I want to see myself away from myself. As in, I want to read about myself, about these horrible things that I do with the hope of judging the character. I hope that I might read about this person, this girl, and feel remorse. Maybe grow a conscience,” she says. “You know, my mother fucked me up and I could just fuck up my daughter too, so I’m hoping to avert that. I stopped this business late last year. My last job was in December. I hope that someone will read this and vow never to be like me.” Then she adds with a warm smile. “Also, I wanted to meet you. I’ve read you for so long. I like writing. I write once in a while.”
“Won’t telling your story make it harder for girls, your friends, to do business anymore?”
“No. It doesn’t matter, imagine. Men know these things. It’s not like they don’t. A drunk man will always take a strange girl to a room. It won’t stop because you wrote this,” she says suddenly sounding older than her years. “Sex is a powerful. if you pour alcohol in it all reason fly out the window. So no, write it, and that week it runs someone who reads it will pick a girl from a bar.”
She finishes her drink, I call her Uber and leaves into the night that she chose. The table liked her. Even the girls on the table liked her. She was chill and easy. She made light funny jabs at how old the music was, how terribly “ancient” we all seemed, listening to someone called Keith Sweat, who she must have wondered why on earth someone would be called a sweat. Her drink never changed or altered her in anyway. She wore one look, throughout. Of control.
I had earlier asked her if she would take a job and how much she would want in salary to never go back to those activities of the night.
“Maybe 60K a month?” She says uncertainly, in form of a question, as if checking with me if I think she’s worth that.
You have a compelling story about life? I’d love to tell it, firstname.lastname@example.org