White Collar

   138    
470

I sleep with him. This man. Most days. I also eat with him, on occasion. He eats using his left hand while he writes notes and opens doors with his right. Ambidextrous. He’s a quiet man with a spongy sense of humour, yes, like fungus. His humour sponges off yours, the kind of guy who makes your jokes better. A last laugh kind of fella, which makes him the annoying kind. If you go with him to a party he will tell your jokes, passing them off as his. 

He’s not a man who easily gives himself to anyone. You could say he’s mysterious, or bashful. Maybe proud. What’s for certain is that he’s forming, he’s becoming. Sometimes I see myself in him, other days I might find myself in him, and that’s usually as enchanting as it is surprising. Sometimes his very personality is like the pungent odour of burning rubber. On some days, someone will say something and I will think to myself, “..aaah that’s what he’d say too⁠—minus the long pause.” I drive with him. I attend meetings with him. When I’m at the airport’s check-in and I’m asked, ‘Sir, do you have luggage to check-in?’ I ask myself, “Would this man be the kind of man who checks in his luggage or the kind of man who packs five boxers for a two-day trip?” I don’t see him as that man, to be honest. I see him as a man who wears his underwear and then washes it and hangs it to dry next to an open window. If it doesn’t dry, so what? He will walk about commando like Early Man until he gets back home. So, no, we have no ego to check-in, thanks. 

This man has been coming alive in my head since last year. A character. An oddball. He’s going to occupy the main role for a project I want to start but I’m not entirely sure how to go about it because it’s in the deep reaches of creativity, that place where everything sinks.  

So for now I’m testing him, this man, against other men but also against women. I’m testing him against himself and a world that’s resigned to a safe hammock. 

Having said this, it’s not easy to flesh out the authenticity of a character you release and share with someone. Sometimes complete strangers poke the best holes in these characters. Do you know the best people to try these creative ideas on? People who read. Which makes a bookshop the best place for me. So often, in the past six months, when I find myself at Yaya Center I go to Bookshop to walk around, smelling books, reading sleeves and looking out for a shopper who I can run this character by. These are strangers who have no reason to lie or be polite to me. They don’t know me. They don’t owe me shit. They will listen and say, ‘Naah, I don’t think that storyline is real.’ Or ‘I can’t entirely imagine someone living a life like that’ (an aging lady once told me), or a young fellow with cool Jordan sneakers who said, ‘But why can’t he just return the money?’  It’s difficult to do it in a bookshop because bookshops, books, are intimate; you are interrupting magic and disrupting a moment. 

So I will walk up to someone flipping through a book and say, hey, my name is Steve, I’m a writer of sorts⁠—might you have a minute, please? Women are harder to approach because they will be thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, this jerk isn’t trying to pick me up in a bookstore, I really don’t have time for this, plus why is his forehead like that?’ Some people will ask, have you written anything I  have read, perhaps? I will say, I don’t think so, it’s mostly collaborative things. If I’m in an extra mood I will add, And it’s mostly in Swedish. They might say with raised eyebrows, ‘Oh, you speak Swedish?!? I will say Yeah, and a bit of Yiddish. Only because it rhymes with Swedish. Sorta. 

Anyway, I will run this character by them and ask, well, what do you think of this guy? Of this premise? Do you like him? Do you dislike him? Why? Would you leave him with your cats? With your child? 

And so I’m asking you if this premise grabs you by the collar. 

Here goes. 

This man in my head grew up in a polygamous family. His father sold hides. He was gone for long stretches of time, traveling, his skin squarely in the hide game. His mom was a secretary in a small-town bank. The type of bank that has goats chewing and chilling on its verandah⁠—perhaps waiting to apply for an overdraft. His father led a double life until he died and three families emerged from the woodwork. Some looked like him. He was 13 years old when the truth came out. He never wanted kids. The very idea of it filled him with anxiety. 

What he wanted was to be an author. Studied literature and then a Master’s degree in business management. He wrote one terrible book that nobody read. Then started another, that he has been writing for years. To earn a living, he got into banking, earning a pittance, which naturally led to white-collar crime, siphoning money from the bank and stashing it offshore. He’s a brilliant man. When the anti-graft police started sniffing too close, he walked away from the bank, a very wealthy man. He ran off to the village where his mom was aging, dug a hole in the ground and stashed the money away in three different spots in big metallic boxes. Then he planted banana trees over them. 

He then closed all his social media accounts, changed his name from Tobias to Job and ran off to study theology in a small-town seminary. A place on a misty hill where committed men murmured to God and wafted about, heads bowed, in flowy gowns like ghouls. There he found refuge. He ate with these men in pursuit of virtue and purity. He communed with them. Loneliness descended on him like the hammer of Thor. He read the Bible like you would read erotica, with rapt but disbelieving concentration. In his free time he smoked a cigarette he rolled himself under a big oak tree and dreamed of the day he would leave the place. Apart from Jesus, he hardly made any friends. He never called home. Never called his mother even when arthritis gnawed at her joints. After a few years, he graduated and got into the church, wearing a different white collar.

He was attached to a church in another small village town. A place with a flock of great naivety and unquestioning faith. A place where it rained a lot. The trees constantly wet, Woodsmoke constantly hanging in the air. He had a big stone house to himself with an erect chimney that thrust straight into the sky, a great mockery of his celibacy. He settled in as a respected clergy, a man of the cloth. Local politicians held their hats in hand while talking to him. Old village women revered him and left fruits, vegetables and fresh milk still smelling of cow tits outside his door. He stoically rode his bike everywhere, never saying a word to anyone, an old hat perched on his head. Everybody mistook his silence for puritanism. On Sundays, he stood at the pulpit⁠—a bony, slight man with a wisp of pencil moustache⁠—and led a spiritual charade. He extolled the congregation to live in virtue while the big shadow of his checkered past and rotting present loomed large above him. Once or twice a year he slithered back to his village, undug some of his stash and poured some of his illicit libation into this desperate village; he built milk collection points, a hospital ward, school toilets and sponsored a women’s self-help group. A little penance to the church for giving him this temporary freedom. An ode to the white-collar that clung to his neck like a vengeful fist. 

Occasionally on a random Sunday night when the howling yearnings of his flesh became too loud to ignore, he made a call from a small phone and a fleshy woman showed up at his doorstep. See, he had a fetish; he liked hookers who dressed up as chefs. He loved that top hat thing they wear. They seemed to raise them, elevate them, above him. He’d sit⁠—fully dressed in his church garb⁠—at his long lonely dining table and ask her to pretend that she was taking his order. His order would always be ‘pumpkin soup.’ He then loved to watch them stir the broth on his stove. And just like his father, he lived a double life. 

People confessed to him in the confession box; politicians from the nearby towns being eaten away by the worms of greed, adulterous housewives embarrassed of their insatiable desires, petty thieves, village hoodrats, a gallery of deviants and miscreants who had stolen poultry, bicycles, hay, honeycombs, men and women of sooted souls who wanted out of that chimney of sin. He sat behind the wooden screen and half-listened to them as he played his Sudoku. He was bored out of his ass with this small-town villainy. He was bored out of his pants with this repetitive cast of spiritual hooha, an unending Rolodex of souls convinced of their eternal demise in the furious flames of hell. It was like watching someone scratch a mirror with long nails. A gnashing of teeth, they say? God, he was bored. When he prayed for drowning souls, he did so with his eyes open, like a fish in prayer. His very deception bored him. It became unbelievably easy, too blasé. 

Well that was until one day, a man in a suit that looked too suave for the village settled in the confession box, cleared his throat and instead of saying, “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned, it’s been a month since my last confession,” the man said, “OK, Tobias, let’s make this snappy; I’m here for the money.” 

Then shit started unraveling from there. Some really bad shit. 

I’m looking for voice-over artists, both male and female. And ‘voice over” here doesn’t mean you necessarily sound like the intrepid Mwalimu John Sibi Okumu [who sounds good, by the way] but just folk who can read in their own unique character. And – most importantly – who sound “Kenyan.” This means if you pronounce ‘water” as “warer” this project isn’t for you.  

Email me a small voice test [a minute or less] on [email protected] 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

470
138 Comments
    1. (Imagine a wedding reception) The time stamp was me putting my bag on a seat so that I can queue for food.

      My mind is literally fragmented and has been planted in every village Tobias trailed. I don’t know what to make of this. With no collar and no unique voice.

      ❤❤

      13
    2. Also, this is the African version of Impastor- feels sacrilegious to recommend a series in a blog post so this is not a recommendation but you can take a peek for visuals

      8
  1. Very sweet indeed more so this part “……..ok Tobias,…………..I’m here for money”.
    I couldn’t stop laughing.

    1
  2. That’s a thriller in the making. Something like this novella we loved way back in primary school: “The Cruel Burden”. I bet this can make Stephen King pay attention to the increasing competition from “Africa”, as they say it.

    I want to enroll for your voice over assignment but I just realized that I pronounce my hard “R” and roll my “Rs “ too, and Kenyans hate that. I shouldn’t blame myself though because having to live away from home and having to daily communicate with people from around the world has made my tongue and lips adjust and get used to my current predicament.

    3
  3. 1. I believe the character. I like him already. Can’t wait to read the finished product.
    2. One hole to poke: Getting into the seminary in these parts of the world is an arduous affair. More competitive than getting into a top tier high school. How does Tobias/Job get in?
    3. Please don’t let the hole-poking kill the character.

    3
  4. I love this man, many people live like that, with one life for the public, one life for the people they are close to and another life that only they know about.
    Thor’s hammer, erotica, fetishes, this sounds like Eddie.

    3
  5. A thief and a priest-the layered character is endearing. Very believable, almost too believable. We wait, with breath baited.

    2
  6. Ngai Biko!
    I thought this is going to be a book and I was so excited and wanted to say ‘and to think you once said that you can’t write a book’

    A priest who has a dark past and a fetish for chefs?Me I love it.

    I saw someone on the comments section last week was irked by some small grammar mistake. Please don’t come for me for saying me I.

    8
    1. No Ma’am, I won’t. I took the pieces of advice generously given me so I am away exploring whether one of those suggested ideas might prove a viable project – rearing pigs. One concerned interlocutor reminded me to be wary of one of those potential lifestyle maladies – unhealthy blood pressure. However, being a disciple of Mr. Biko, I had to stop by and listen to the parable of the week!

      4
  7. I love this book already. What a fascinating character! I can see the title. ‘Toby’s secret stash.’
    As for the voice-over, where do the people who are adept at code-switching stand? Because Kenyans have their own unique accent; it can straddle between Kenyan TV presenter accent (where it doesn’t harm to say *warer or wo-ahh*) and the Sheng-anized accent. Ama we throw in all variations and wait to be ‘called’…hahaha..

    2
  8. Felt like a line of coke this one. Where you sniff,l from one nostril, then back away to let it hit wherever it is that coke hits. And then, you want to dive into that sack of coke, face first because HOW GOOD IS THIS STUFF!!!??

    I’d definitely wanna know more about Tobias’ fiascos (it’s always the niggaz with Bible names)

    Can’t wait to see what you have in store for us!!

    5
  9. The fetish. The double life. Captivating read.
    On record I sound like a child. Upside is my T’s remain T’s. It doesn’t harm to try I suppose.

  10. After that stranger arrives in the village extorting money from Tobias, how about we now see his true nature. A lover of money, a greedy fellow , one who would go to any length to protect his reputation. Even committing murder. There he can now collude with the very criminals who confess there sins to him.
    The plot is good. The very idea of a double life is exciting. This book will be a good read.

    3
  11. I hope this is going to be a book. Every man has a secret. If it’s not money, it’s women. For Tobias; it’s both…

    2
  12. Could this be an …gasp! an audiobook??!!
    First of all, if it is an audiobook, is the book already done? And if it is done, where is it? How can I get it?

    2
  13. Well Biko, you asked for our opinion. Here goes mine.
    What motivated the guy? Did he steal because he had an opportunity and couldn’t resist? Is it that he wanted to prove that he was smart enough to steal? Did he steal to give back to society, a Robin Hood of sorts? What happened to his dream of becoming a writer? Does he still want to write or did that dream die when he started stealing? How did his childhood and father’s secrecy mold his character, other than his distaste of having children? Did he suffer as a kid from his dad’s absence? If he was smart enough to stash the money offshore, why was he dumb enough to bring it back to the country in cash and stash it in under a banana tree? Why not stash it in untraceable cryptocurrency? Why not stash it in diamonds?
    An escort in the village? Come on Biko! His fetish doesn’t seem plausible.

    6
    1. Clearly you have never lived in a small village.
      Cryptocurrency is the biggest crime of our current day.
      Poking the poker LOL or is ROR.

    2. That’s what I thought too…..May be a little more research on the seminary/ theology school life too? The sequence of events doesn’t sound real. The fetish ? I laughed in disbelief.

      1
    3. You really don’t know much about village life. Scandals after scandals of men and prostitutes, bored housewives and new catches… and yes, fetishes too. Criminals hide in the villages.

  14. There’s a story in my head I’d like to be written in your voice, or how I read your works.

    I love the character, goes to show the duality of persons and the illogical nature of life and lives.

    Have you read, The First Seed by Lydia Mumbi?

    1
  15. A very likeable and strong character. This will be amazing to read when you expound on the confessions from his viewpoint, and the ensuing drama. A writer to banker (nearly thought you were talking about Kombani-though his books are well accepted), then to a priest – a great twist. You haven’t dwelt on his physical attributes, soft spoken maybe, masculine, resceding hairline, e.t.c; and his general character (maybe that makes him fit the priest role that well), and other traits other than his unique character (understand its a character still under development). However, I would expect by the time he leaves banking, after studying to post-grad and writing for some years, he is a middle aged man. I know you can develop a convincing twist of how he is able to join the monastry and into priesthood, but so far it feels like a hard sell since joining monastery is reserved for the youth (by the way there are guys called ‘brothers’ in Catholic who are ‘not priests’ but tend to have that celibacy oaths and live in churches, running the church business, e.g. Catholic schools – maybe he can be Brother Job, abbreviated – Br.).

    5
  16. What a colourful character. I can’t wait to see him brought to life! The chimney part had me laughing so hard!
    You write beautifully Biko.

    2
  17. Hahaha, when we got to the hooker-dressed-as-a-chef-fetish I died laughing. It’s all over the place! But I’ll read it. I read/like books for a lot of reasons, as long as a story is well told and has feeling (i.e. tries to explain the human condition) – I’ll buy or read it.

    2
  18. ‘The type of bank that has goats chewing and chilling on its verandah⁠—perhaps waiting to apply for an overdraft’……….. or playing games on the roof of the bank manager’s car.. he he he

  19. How did the money he was stashing offshore end up as solid cash and he had to dig a hole to bury it??. Which era is this man living: in this era the money will be sitting in Crypto currency cold wallet not in a hole in the village.

    3
  20. Changing from Tobias to Job…cheeky . Good read as always s. Also, would love to know what ensued after this lad came for ‘confession’

  21. Good read. It reminds me of the book The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. That character Soaphead Church with a double life. Only that at the end comes a moment that he is forced to face his truth. And he writes that letter to God.

    Nice piece Biko. Can’t wait for the play or book.

  22. Hehehe
    I almost shouted some nasty word here; ‘… instead of saying, “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned, it’s been a month since my last confession,” the man said, “OK, Tobias, let’s make this snappy; I’m here for the money.” ‘

  23. Why Theology, how theology? How does a writer/ banker, go to being a priest in the village. What happened in his past to lead him to this. Is he a closet christian or is God a fetish of his too? Also an escort in the village is really reaching. I am hooked though i want to see how it all plays out.

    2
  24. Very curious on who ratted out the goodman of the cloth. Here for the full unraveling.

    “And so I’m asking you if this premise grabs you by the collar.”

    And as for your question . YES.

  25. Have you read “The partner “ by John Grisham? Patrick Lanigan watched his own funeral from a tree…… this whole white collar madness is soooo up that alley I’d totally get down with it

    2
    1. Grisham or Ludlam. The bourne Series. Biko I can see your life in High School and Uni… Real 90s coming out through the pen. Complete with bank lounging goats. (Banks were a once a month visit kinda place for bunduskis)

    2. “The partner ‘was on my mind all the while.Read it ages back….
      Do these people always get caught?Sad….
      Am the kind who always hope they live happily ever after with their new identities……

  26. Well well Biko, Good storyline and a very easy character to hook and reel in our interests without a sweat, because one thing is for sure half of the human populace will fit in this very mould of Tobias, readily associate themselves with him, feel his burden and understand his struggle albeit in different ways and the other half will go crazy with their hollier than though attitude to judge the “good father” for leading a charade of a life and mutter judgingly in undertones for God to forgive him for his despicable behavior not knowing that Jesus’s biggest headache was from the Pharisees for this same attitude. Personally I’m caught in the middle understanding that human folk are weak and when push comes to shove we usually go the easy way out which is usually the dark side of crime, underhand dealings and corruption, but then also aware that there is an internal radar which keeps us in check to ensure we keep the straight and narrow which if we ignore
    then we are asking for trouble. The easy way as the name suggests is usually the destiny of more of us than we would like to admit.

    2
  27. A lot of smoke in this story.
    If you follow the money trail, it usually leads back to the mother/wife/girlfriend.
    Surely it didnt take 5-6years of seminary school plus another 2-3years posting at the dioceses for the suited guy in the confessional to track Fr. TOBIAS?

    Nonetheless, perfection is overrated. Biko twende kazi. Super intrigued.

    1
  28. This is a real thriller just waiting to be shot. I would love to be part of production, interesting insight. Several reasons why we should speculate about the back stories of the white collared.

  29. Women are harder to approach because they will be thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, this jerk isn’t trying to pick me up in a bookstore, I really don’t have time for this, plus why is his forehead like that?’
    Dead!!!! You always talk about your forehead I always picture “Popeye the sailor man ”
    Cartoon character back in the day the way he used to eat spinach and every part of his body swells only that this round it’s your forehead

    1
  30. A brilliant man who is competent enough to siphon money from a bank and stash it offshore but when the antigraft police show up he goes back to the village instead and stays there? What was his motivation for stealing this money if he was able to live a small life all this time? Sitting on the money until someone comes for it doesn’t sound all that brilliant. No wonder he gets caught. & if I can see it coming I’m already bored.

  31. And I oop!
    Lol when you put that disclaimer down the end Biko you’ve really thrown me for a loop.
    That disclaimer “you have to sound Kenyan” ah even for us who speak like we do because we have an ear that picked up every form of English because we loved the language, not from private school hallways eh?
    Sawasawa no worries, my tongue has never been able to keep up with the raucous thoughts in my head so it endlessly trips over itself.
    Can the real Kenyans please stand up?

    Also I love how Mwalimu John Sibi Okumu is a three-namer. Like villains are always two-named but the truly worthy, are three-named Always

  32. Biko, i love your writing. My honest opinion is that a fetish for hookers in a small village cannot be kept secret. Also, if one is trying to hide, the last profession they should engage in is that of priesthood. They can become monks though.

  33. It’s too obvious. It sounds like something you’ve read somewhere before. In another novel. That’s how I felt it.

  34. The opening line “I slept with him….” made me have conclusions that this was going to be about a holy-gay priest. But lo and behold! …..Biko always has a way of writing that’s never predictable.

    I love the character and I love one of the titles suggested up there -‘White Collar, Black Cloth’! This house is definitely full of creatives.

    Fr. Tobias must have been very old by this time…having worked in a bank for several years then being in a seminary for not less than 7years, being on apostolate for 1year and then being ordained into a deacon, then priest!! Anyway, how the money comes from being in offshore accounts, into metallic boxes in the village is a twist I’ll love to see.

    Did someone ask themselves how Fr. Tobias was able to go to the village and into the shamba/farm and dig up some of the stash, while wearing his white cassock, without being seen by nosy villagers….and returning the rest of the stash huko underground and still having the banana plant upstanding and unmoved? I think I’m imagining too much.

    1
  35. ..”.his skin squarely on the hide game…..” Made me smile at 0319hrs as if I am having a sweet ilicit affair

  36. I have a few points, and I want to give a disclaimer that I respect your art and the effort it took to form this character…
    This man in my head grew up in a polygamous family… This paragraph sounds like a partial embodiment of Ashioya (sorry, Eddy) and almost everyone who grew up in the 80s (again, sorry)

    What he wanted was to be an author… This paragraph sounds like a combination of Nigerian literature male characters and Prison Break.
    I like the paragraphs that come after.

    All this to say, I like the character and the things he does but not the back story. I think it would take a lot of effort and creativity (which you just might have) to make the back story not sound cliché. There’s a writers’ podcast I listened to where a writer says she removes the first (approximately) 100 pages from hers and other authors’ manuscripts before publishing. I think that might be exactly what this character needs…
    ALL SAID IN A VEERY HUMBLE TONE.

  37. This is captivating.. just thinking that you might have given some adept readers who have participated in the NYS heist some things to consider while they are hiding.. but I wonder if they will be willing to close all their social media accounts..

  38. The character is interesting but the storyline needs more research to make it believable. Case in point a sample of a few questions below that arise

    If he had stashed his ill gotten wealth in offshore accounts why would he then need to bring it back in boxes?
    Did he uproot the bananas everytime he went to make a withdrawal?
    How much realistically could he fit in three boxes that changed his life from scavenging to wealthy and not rich?
    Given the no. of years underground was their an inflation factor given that ‘dug’ money accrues no interest?
    Did he stop writing? Given that money was a hindrance 1st, he could then have adopted a pseudo name and write away to his pleasure once he acquired wealth?

    1
    1. *All on a light note
      -He he he he dug the money like a yam when he needed some.
      – He probably hid the money in the old Kshs 1000 and now he finds it all worthless, so the guy can as well take it

  39. I’m intrigued…. I like this character, the story even more so, so many directions it can take from here,and that is what makes it all the more interesting.

  40. I wouldn’t leave Tobias with my child, but maybe Job with my cat, after all cat’s think they are god and don’t care about the façade, just wants to be “worshipped” .

  41. He’s strange, this man. Why go through the trouble of stealing a lot of money only to end up in the village? As a priest. Who wants that for himself?!

    But the way you present him is hilarious

  42. “He ran off to the village where his mom was aging, dug a hole in the ground and stashed the money away in three different spots in big metallic boxes. Then he planted banana trees over them.”

    @Biko Zulu…. You may want to wrap the money in a plastic bag or put in plastic pipes to prevent moisture from destroying the cash. Otherwise itaoza….. but then again that can be another plot twist…..mhhhhhh

  43. “He ran off to the village where his mom was aging, dug a hole in the ground and stashed the money away in three different spots in big metallic boxes. Then he planted banana trees over them.”

    @Biko, How about putting the money in plastic bags or plastic pipes, then in the metallic boxes, otherwise itaoza, but then again this could be another plot twist….mmhhhh

  44. Just when he was thinking maybe he should hang his cloak. I loved this piece. If it was about accents, I’d do it, voice overs will be biting more than I can chew
    Off Biko, as usual.

  45. Frankly, the motivation for him to shun childbearing is not plausible. Probably half of us are from polygamous relationships, and that never seems to bother anyone that much. Not the men, at least. Probably because by the time we get to thinking of having children, we have done some polygamy shit ourselves. So we aren’t that better than our fathers.

    The stash. A character who has that kind of money and yet choses a life of a poor clergy is, to say the least, very intriguing. I just don’t see his motivation to live in such loneliness and poverty unless there is a hint of what his future looks like. Some one who steals that much money must have a grand plan. and if there is a grand plan, I must know it so that I keep track of it.

  46. His patience is a bit difficult to believe. Seems like he’s suffering quite a lot for money he can’t really spend.
    I also don’t get why some say they like him. All he’s done so far is fail at his dream, ignored his mother’s plight, stolen and become a lonely hypocrite.
    The story sounds good though. It piques one’s curiosity. Sounds like a thriller. I definitely want to know more about Tobias.

  47. He had a big stone house to himself with an erect chimney that thrust straight into the sky, a great mockery of his celibacy. Hahaa
    But yeah I’ve seen priests behave like that all the time though you must have inside friends to find out

  48. Biko, for a second I thought there is nothing like Yiddish, because you know, you can’t be trusted. Great read. After realising that people get married in the comments, I decided to come out of the hood.

  49. The type of bank that has goats chewing and chilling on its verandah⁠—perhaps waiting to apply for an overdraft. ..I want a goat to apply an overdraft on my behalf!

  50. The man is too far removed from reality, perhaps a movie. He doesn’t seem to have any principles to stand on. A man, living a double life like him needs justifications for his kind of life and personal convictions, even if illusionary, that can at least sustain his kind of life. His character does not come out sharply as a real person. It almost seems like you’ve squeezed three four personalities into one person.