The Long Walk

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Say one day you are having lunch alone, across the road from your office in one of those small restaurants which lay out a buffet and someone – without asking – pulls the empty seat across from you and sits. Irritated, you look up from an article you are reading on your phone at this uncouth person, even though this is Kenya and nobody cares much for personal space given how close we stand behind each other in queues or how we grab the saltshakers from other tables without excusing ourselves. 

 

But your irritation quickly dissolves into something gooey when you discover it’s an attractive female. Suddenly her action doesn’t seem mannerless anymore. Maybe she’s just proactive. Or bold. And surprising. She’s all adjectives that mean valorous. She’s also very welcome. To sit. At your table. With her big hair. Because isn’t sharing caring? Besides, what kind of a crazy person eats lunch alone with an empty seat for company? This is the kind of antisocial behaviour that should be discouraged in schools at an early age. People should eat like they did in the olden days; together. And salt shakers? Those are for everyone. Nobody is born with a salt shaker. We will all die and leave behind all these salt shakers we fuss about. Folks have to stop being so stuck up. And learn how to share. And sit. Together. 

 

The article you were reading earlier was by an intrepid sports writer called Jonathan Liew, on how Thierry Henry transformed English football forever. You are a big football nut. You go gaga over it. You are an AFC Leopard fan because, well, you are from Butere and being a Leopards fan isn’t a choice in Butere, it’s an heirloom. What you aren’t is an Arsenal fan. You are a Liverpool fan who also loves Barcelona, so you have loved Thierry for a minute. Plus, he’s black. Yeah. Anyway, that article isn’t important anymore now that the energy at your table has been disrupted and your chi slightly unmoored. What’s very important isn’t that article but that there is a very attractive woman seated across from you who could have sat anywhere else in the world but she chose your table. Which could mean many things, least of which is that she has been sent to induct you into some secret sect where you are not allowed to shave your legs. 

 

When you look up at her you smile and mumble, “Karibu.” She smiles back demurely.

 

Suffice it to say, you can’t focus on the Thierry article now. She has – as Samuel L Jackson says in Pulp Fiction – “broken your concentration” with her smell and spell. She smells like a Kiwi fruit that was forgotten overnight in a bowl of desire. Your head is bent over this article on your phone but because you can’t entirely focus, you keep reading one sentence over and over: Henry was at its heart; a pure creator even as he laid the rest of the league to destruction. You are ignoring her. Or pretending to ignore her. But you are afraid she can hear how your breathing has changed. Because you are now breathing like a deer. And you hate yourself a bit for that, because you are an adult male from Butere, a man born of a long line of males with strong backs and stoic resolve. Omwamis. Strong. 

 

Henry was at its heart; a pure creator even as he laid the rest of the league to destruction….

 

Oh, screw it. You look up. Her eyes are so white it makes you wonder briefly if that’s the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. She has big hair. Yeah, I know we mentioned that already, but it’s worth a repeat. It’s massive hair. She’s in team natural hair. They look like dreadlocks but they could be anything because this is 2019 and not everything is what it seems to be. She has a red ankara-like hair wrap holding these locks up, giving her that very African look. Her hair reminds you of a granary, at the top, at least. A good looking granary that feeds a whole village with life. Long earrings dangle from her ears. She looks like the heir to something. She’s having veggies, fish fillet and two small potato wedges. Of all the things you will remember about this chance meeting – save for her hair and how her skin soaked in light in the room – are the two potato wedges. You will remember the wedges because she didn’t even eat them in the end. She ignored them. Pushed them around her plate, made them think that she was saving them for last, the final encore, only to turn her back – and fork – at them in the end. No potatoes deserve that. Nobody deserves that. And you don’t have to be a potato champion to know that it’s wrong. You just have to be human. 

 

But from this potato saga an important hypothesis emerged; that chances were she wasn’t Kikuyu. Because no Kikuyu worth their potato would walk past a waru, let alone leave one on their plate. Many a Kikuyu has been lured by potatoes. Many a great man from the house of Mumbi has died from his inability to turn his back on a potato. Potatoes have changed English idioms in the cold lands below Mount Kenya; for instance they don’t say “To fall on one’s sword” they say, “To fall on one’s potato.” A stitch in time doesn’t save nine down there, it saves a…you get the drift. Her skin is dark chocolate so she could be anything. 

 

When she finally speaks, she does so unprompted. She says, “I’m in solar.”  Her voice is aloof and confident. You are confused momentarily. Solar? As in the sun? Since it’s neither a question nor an answer you say, “I’m James from Butere.” She laughs – like everybody else usually does when you introduce yourself – because people normally think you’re joking when you introduce yourself like that. But you aren’t. You are James from Butere. And proud of it. It irritates you whenever people laugh at your introduction. But this one could never irritate you. This one is attractive and mysterious and she can laugh at you all afternoon if she so desires, you won’t even bother going back to the office. HR can stuff it. 

 

“I want to give you a chance,” she says after her laugh that really sounded like a jingle. A laugh that can sell Coke. And Sunlight bar soap. 

 

“I’m sorry?” 

 

“I said I want to give you a chance.”

 

“A chance? For what?” 

 

She takes her time to deliberately slice into her fillet. She makes you wait in this gathering pool of mystery. 

 

“I want to give you a chance to be anyone you want to be. To start over. To reinvent yourself. Here,” she waves her knife around the room, “or anywhere you choose.”

 

It’s your turn to laugh. 

 

“Who did you say you are, again?” 

 

“I didn’t.” She chews thoughtfully. “I said I’m in solar.” 

 

“You are in solar.” 

 

“Correct.” 

 

This is getting strange. This is getting pretty strange. These are the type of strangers your mom told you never to speak to. Who would have thought they’d wait to show up in your adulthood? These are the kind of women who you might watch in Women Who Kill on Netflix. Only you didn’t imagine they come in black. You start getting anxious and she notices because she says, “Don’t be nervous, I don’t bite.” 

 

“Oh, I don’t…” you stutter, “…rather, I mean, I don’t fear…being bitten.” 

 

She puts down her fork, dabs her lips with the serviette and smiles. 

 

“One chance to reinvent yourself. Just one.” 

 

You look at her. She can’t harm you here, she wouldn’t dare. The place is full of people. You will scream…as sacrilegious as that sounds, because Butere men don’t scream. The part of the brain that controls screaming never evolved. 

 

“And you have the power to do this how?”

 

“I just do.”

 

“And I’m supposed to believe you?”

 

“Why do you think I chose this table?”

 

“Because I gave an air of charisma and animal electricity?”

 

She laughs out loud at that. It stings you a little but you don’t show it, you have to play your cards close to your chest. 

 

“Well… sure. That played a big role in my choice, I have to admit,” she says.

 

You stare at her. She has a small tattoo on the side of her neck. A beetle, or some bug. 

 

“Are you going to give yourself a fresh start?”

 

“Naah, actually I needed to finish reading the article about Thierry Henry.”

 

She sighs and says, “Look at that flame under the buffet stove. I’m going to turn all of them off by tapping my fork against your glass of water.” You stare at the flame burning in the chafing dish burners.

 

She taps her fork against your glass of water and all the four fires go out at the same time!

 

You stand up instinctively. Shocked. 

 

“Sit,” she says. “It’s not voodoo. It’s not magic. I’m not here to harm you.” 

 

You shake your head.

 

“Please sit. You are standing in my sun.” She laughs at that. Obviously an inside solar joke. 

 

She rolls her eyes when you refuse to sit and taps the glass again with her fork and when you look you see all the fires light up again.

 

“Fuck!” you mutter. “Who are you?!”

 

“I’m the queen of solar. I’m not from around here, obviously. And I want to give you a chance to be anybody or anything you want. Please sit, James!”

 

“I will sit if you tell me why? Why do you think I need a chance to start over?”

 

“Because a sunrise is God’s way of saying let’s start again.”

 

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we have redesigned the website. We are starting over. This is our second make-over in the past nine years. And the website is a metaphor for life as I see it. The older website had a bit of bells and whistles, you know, a jumpy background, slightly chunky lines running across, wider at the hips, more impressionable. The young’uns who designed it -3 Geeks – did a good job. But then you get restless at some point and you want to move about, throw away old furniture and feel like you are onto something new even if it’s still old wine in a new wineskin. What I wanted for this new look was something simpler, because as I grow older I’m trying to shrink my world. Seeking smaller and more intimate rooms, perhaps something with a fireplace or at least a potted plant with big leaves. 

 

So the web designer who did this – Delasoi of Mwangaza VIP Ltd – followed the brief; something simple, functional and good to look at. No frills. Something with big windows and lots of light, one that’s easy to navigate. Delasoi doesn’t work for free. She hasn’t started a foundation that builds websites to give back to local youth like me. Like most things that aren’t free, there are certain operational costs that run a website like this. Bills. And since not one of you has ever been kind to Mpesa me something and say, “Biko, have a Fanta on me.” I have started a section up there called 

LIGHTS ON. Do you see it? It’s a section whose job will be to keep the lights on in this website. 

 

So on Thursdays – depending on who is buying – there will be products, ideas, events in that section. Anything appearing there will be paid for content but it won’t just be about things, it will be about their stories,  because isn’t everything about a story here? So LIGHTS ON is like a classified story section of the blog if you will, but a very cool classified story in less than one thousand words. (If I can help it). So say you are selling a big sofa that your grandfather left behind after he died. We will tell the story of that chair. 

 

So if you are one of those chaps who is always complaining when I write about brands here, don’t read this blog on Thursdays and certainly don’t go to the LIGHTS ON section because I will be paying bills there to keep the lights on here and I don’t want to intrude in your important reading.  

 

And because we have just moved here, we are doing a small housewarming with  Johnnie Walker Green because what drink personifies a journey, a long walk, other than Johnnie Walker? The striding man has always walked since we knew him. We don’t know where he’s from. Some say he’s from Kilmarnock in Scotland but we can never be sure. He could be from Komarock. But those are mundane details, because where a man comes from doesn’t really matter. It’s where he’s going that often matters. And we are all going some place and sometimes we aren’t even sure. We just follow the route that has the most traffic. Or the person who seems to know the route. Some of us prefer to use shortcuts. Others take the high road. 

 

But over and above walking, we forget to appreciate that sometimes the most important part of walking is not walking. Stopping, voluntarily or otherwise. We hate to stop because we see it as a lack of progress.  But stopping is perhaps the most important part of walking. Not only do you catch your breath but you have a chance to look back and appreciate how far you have come because it’s easier to beat yourself by looking at how far you have to go. I don’t know how far we have to go here on this blog, but I know we have come very far – nine years and counting. We had old readers who left us and are now reading The Economist and The Financial Times . We wish them well. There are new guys who joined, most are ghosts who read and go, some comment. 

 

And now we have a new digs and we have a bathtub for those who love to drink wine under bubbles reading a book. Like the Butere man up there who loves Liverpool, not because it’s the best team, but because Liverpool promises that you will never walk alone, we keep striding like our striding man to wherever this literary journey chooses to take us, together or as lone wolves. 

 

So, cheers to the next phase. 

 

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103 Comments
  1. The very first time I came here was 2010,And I thought,here is a guy, he is selling words to people.Words are hard things to sell.So, I said a small prayer and asked the Guy above,please help that guy of that website.Then you said that you almost killed a man(Remember the lawyer guy?) I almost thought you were a bad person but with good words.Well, I now think you are a good person with good words and that is what matters.Right?Good luck in your new place of doing things. We keep walking.Here’s a little pledge I made a little over eight years ago, I will follow you wherever you go.

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    1. This is the first time, in 7 years, that I’m commenting or replying to a comment here; and it is to say, Ndugu, I love your comment. Damn!

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  2. I need more on James from Butere, was already hooked to that story… As for ‘Lights On’, I always welcome any well executed ad, I’m the type to even seek them out, like Timeless & Crocodile Inside by Lacoste. Looking forward to those bonus posts

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    1. I would want to think that the James in the story is Biko, and the solar lady is Delasoi from Mwangaza ltd. So Biko upon meeting this solar lady cum Delasoi, he chose to light up this website by churning out the idea of Lights On from which now Biko can run classified ads on products, which he can subsequently earn from and help run this blog website. Get it?

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  3. It’s always good to have a fresh start, even if its a brand new old start. And no matter where this journey leads, we will all be there tagging along. And when that day comes when we get stranded in Butere, we will huddle together at the fireplace, sip from the old wineskin and take it from there! Always a good read Biko!

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  4. I am new here and I’m alredy liking it. Cheers to the next phase indeed.
    I’m I the only one in suspense from the James story??

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  5. Women and a man at work got me laughing although I was sad couldn’t get to read article when I wanted to yesterday.
    Always a good read. LIGHTS ON IT IS.

  6. But over and above walking, we forget to appreciate that sometimes the most important part of walking is not walking. Stopping, voluntarily or otherwise. We hate to stop because we see it as a lack of progress. But stopping is perhaps the most important part of walking. Not only do you catch your breath but you have a chance to look back and appreciate how far you have come because it’s easier to beat yourself by looking at how far you have to go.

    This cut write into my aorta,we often forget to stop and breathe.

    Congrats on the new website,asanteni sana 3 greeks karibu Delasoi of Mwangaza VIP Ltd.

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  7. What a nice way to pass information. Am a new reader, I started this year and i intend to go on. Wishing you nothing but the best because you have a way with a words and i happen to have a way with reading. Lol

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  8. Well done for taking the next step! I am here to keep your lights on.
    Brilliant way to introduce the new journey

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  9. I hope before this year ends, I will formally join the Masterclass. Then maybe I will celebrate my lights on too. I wish you well in this new phase, Biko! Always a pleasure to follow you and your words around!

  10. If my mum & I were paid for everytime we read and re-read articles on this blog, we would have already built a bungalow on that Ruai plot. Thanks Biko.

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  11. Representing the ghosts who read and go . Cheers to the next phase! I looooove love this space! We shall walk with you Choclate Man!

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  12. Great read as always brother Jackson! I have been one of the many ardent ghost readers for years. I read, laughed (or shed a tear) and left. I didn’t even bother tell you how anxiously I waited for Tuesdays. Being in Boston MA, I get to read your articles at my work desk 8 hours after they were posted. By then, the comment section is flooded. So I figured, my comments will not be missed. But I think I should once in a while cough. Or scratch something on the wall. Just to leave a mark that says “kiriamiti was here..”

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  13. Hey Biko you have a way of fusing things(words),just like the way God fuses sperms and ovum to make babies in wombs.I mean you know how to capture people’s imaginations.So many ideas fused to bring out a certain point.

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  14. Will keep walking with you Biko. This is one blog I look forward to reading every week.

    PS: Waiting for the sequel to DRUNK

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  15. Been reading your articles since you took over from Oyunga(and maybe before that) but I’m yet to put a face to the name. Anyone with Biko’s photos?Anyway, always a delight being here, and the change is welcome.

  16. Biko, I promise you that you will never walk alone. As a ‘ghoster’, I just want to appreciate your work and our new home!
    The lady gave me chills at some point!
    Keep doing you and yes we will switch the lights on, on Thursdays.

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  17. No wonder the website was down, got the notification but the woii no story. I was shooketh. Anyway, kept checking (she’s loyal…so loyal…) and voila the post was up.
    Raises cup of tea! To new beginnings. Change is good and looking forward to LIGHTS ON. Get that schomoney chocolate man and secure your bag.
    Kieleweke we are in it for the long haul. And yes! The simple look rocks.

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  18. Aaaaaaarrrgggghhhhhhh Biko, you just went and dropped ‘in Solar’ just like that? And there i was, wondering about all the ‘in Solar’s’ in my life, and how their story ended, and then you just go and drop her, quite unceremoniously it must be said, like a a plate of cold warus the morning after?

    Who, really, is ‘in Solar’? Is she an allegory for something i clearly missed? Is she telekinetic, zima-ing and wakisha-ing methylated-spirit-fuelled buffet heaters at will, kwanza from a distance, flames shooting from her sharpened nails painted the colour of……..?

    Was she wearing closed shoes, heels or sandals? How did she walk away when she finished with her lunch and with you? Did she vanish in a puff of smoke? Or did she sashay off, your neck involuntarily moving this way and that way, making your head appear much like of a cobra being charmed by a little Indian man somewhere in the streets of Udaipur?

    No. We will not accept this. Tell us about ‘in Solar’. Please?

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  19. Hello. Great effort there.

    This font is atrocius though. It attaches a certain seriousness to the prose. Makes one wonder whether they are reading WSJ or Biko’s blog.

    Some of us come here to decompress, have a laugh & learn a thing or two. & we would wish to do that in a relaxed environment. The previous font just did that.

    Kindly consider.

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    1. I like the previous website better. This new look is just disturbing. Font nightmarish, Colour scheme unpleasant, who knew there was such a thing as too much white space? But meh, whatever floats your boat.

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  20. I was a bit disappointed on Tuesday when I couldn’t find the regular posts on fb. Came here to check but still couldn’t find a thing! Tonight I finally succeeded and was hooked on the James wa Butere story only for you to leave me wondering what happened next.

    Anyway, here’s to wishing you well as you keep on walking. We’ll be right here cheering you on.

  21. Hi Niko! This is Sammy from Kigali. Apart from a Man U win (which is getting rarer as days pass) the highlight of my week is reading your weekly stories. The tales you tell speak of life in a pure yet profound way, a maestro comparable only to Brandon of the Humans of New York. You are a Godsend.

  22. “We hate to stop because we see it as a lack of progress. But stopping is perhaps the most important part of walking.”
    I felt and related to this. Cheers biko.

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  23. I love this article. I just turned a year older and these words resonate with me. So Biko here’s to many more sunrises Because a sunrise is God’s way of saying let’s start again. Cheers

    I have read this blog for almost nine years and i’ll be reading for many more to come. I hope my Sunrises will include amazing things like lights to pay my bills!

  24. Hi Biko, at first I thought this a bikozulu Jr website. I’m still hanging about the ‘solar woman.’ The font did a trick on my eyes, maybe it’s coz am used to the older one. I’ve been reading n letting but now I’m game all through. Waiting for the upcoming series.

  25. To be honest I think I’m going to miss one thing about the previous place, the fact that the like button was at the top before you even red the story, I mean that spoke volumes to me, I always said to myself “here is a guy who not only has a huge forehead *I still doubt this*, but an ego big enough to match it” I mean who else knows you would like their article before you even read it , it was a really good thing though it showed me that you know you are good at this and you’re not afraid to show it, it portrayed courage and someone self assured of what he is doing, so even though that like button is gone I’ll still be here to red every story you post and the lights on section too because you never dissapoint, looking forward to this new experience.
    #TGFT

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  26. My one prayer is that this re-design also sorts out the “first-to-comment” business. The new look is alright for a 40 something-year-old with a bulging forehead.

    Good stuff Biko, keep walking.

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  27. ……….,”because as I grow older I’m trying to shrink my world. Seeking smaller and more intimate rooms, perhaps something with a fireplace or at least a potted plant with big leaves. “I feel the same way,and for this reason we will walk together like the liver pool fun from butere.I think the story of “butere fellow”might easen this journey.shall we?

  28. Just left us in suspense. We will be waiting for part 2. Indeed it’s a milestone. Glad to see the new look in the webiste. Change is good.I have been a fan since 2016 after the post on, ‘When we were refugees’. Looking forward for more.

  29. Let’s keep walking. And it’s only timely that e lights come on. Am so waiting to be in “solar”!!!!

  30. LOL. I am one of your ghost readers 🙂 I guess you summoned us from the hole we hide!
    On behalf of the ghost readers community, we wish you well. we will continue to follow you and support “lights on”- if ghosts are allowed 🙂

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  31. haha,am in solar and the birth of a new website..bills lazima zilipwe,ain’t going to The Economist. like James from Butere I am Terry from Kwakulu

  32. Loving this new look. Let’s keep walking. Good job Biko. Ohh am very curious which stories you chose for the play. I can’t wait to see it.

  33. You are a wordsmith! Every time I read your write ups , I never want them to end! Let’s keep walking. I’m a newbie here though

  34. I’m a writer from Rwanda and all I can say is that your stories keep me going. My friends say I should write a book because the short stories I post on my blogs are so funny; but as funny as I get, I think you win at this humor thing. I learn a lot from you and I laugh a lot too. God bless your work, Biko.

  35. I enjoy these stories from Half way across the world, thousand miles away from Kiambu where i grew up! I sit infront of my work computer, 2.57am on a Thursday night shift and my mind wonders in the streets of Nairobi as Biko masterfully paints in his works of art.
    Thank God for your gift to us your readers, may you keep growing and blessing us with your words.

  36. Hi Biko, I’ve been hooked to your blog for the longest time ever, which is a big achievement beacause I’m a man of many interests which fizzle out quickly. I’ve been a silent member in this captivating boat which I’ve come to love and adore.
    Keep walking…I’ll be walking with you.
    Cheers!

  37. Oh C’mon Biko, Dont be like that!! You cannot leave me standing next to James Butere wondering if In Solar is going to shut off the sun…..You must finish this or I report you to the madam that you left waru on the table un-eaten or worse off; I will call you The Forehead man in this new looking site. I swear I will call you Forehead man, dont dare me!!

  38. Because ‘US’ MOBA stick together we shall also pop in to see whats up under ‘LIGHTS ON’ tab. We have been here from the beginning but never commented because we were so engrossed in the stories…Cant also wait for the Women & Marriage. ….Tony Braxton once said ” I’ll probably be 80 years old and still performing. Music is like fashion, it changes. But some things will always be the same” hope it will be the same for you and writing…Keep on Keepin On….

  39. Almost ten years! Truly we have come from far. Some people would say this is a weird sect seeing that some of us (I personally) have visited your website three times a week on average. Your stories never get old. I shall walk with you wherever this journey takes us.

  40. This made my day “She smells like a Kiwi fruit that was forgotten overnight in a bowl of desire”. You’ve blessed us with good reading for along time, we will definitely keep the lights on!!!

  41. This one was nicely choreographed Biko, it’s like you’re served a coke, but halfway through you start tasting amarula!! Nice job by Delasoi of Mwangaza!

  42. I started reading this when the email notification popped. However, for some reason, I did not finish it. I just did. I think the new changes unsubscribed me and a few other guys because I had to google the website, go to the subscribe section and true to it, I had to subscribe again.
    Anyways, its always a nice fete reading Biko. You have a way with words that somehow when you feel that life is taking you too fast, you will find a story here that re-centers your coordinates.
    Cheers to new beginnings.