“The president is dead!!” someone whispered. “What?” Jane asked. And then she wished she hadn’t. See, the President-Jomo Kenyatta-wasn’t supposed to die or at least, one wasn’t supposed to imagine his death. It was treasonable. And yet, as if defying the expectations of his followers, he was now dead. So Jane and the other girls hurdled together in the school’s compound in Murang’a and imagined the chaos that might follow when a President who wasn’t supposed to die, dies. One could feel the gloom, the fear of what would happen next and the shock of what had happened. It was everywhere, this fear-laced uncertainty. The high school students talked about it in hushed tones as did the teachers. But the thing about life is that it never ends. Even in death. It’s a continuum. We found it here and are predestine to leave it here. The phrase larger than life is a lie because how can anything be larger than life when in the end, life stands alone? So as the old man’s life ended, Jane’s was just beginning.
She was baptized by Cardinal Otunga. Ask any devout Catholic and they’ll tell you that to be baptized by a cardinal is a big deal; a very big deal. Jane is no different but it’s different for her because it’s not just a big deal but also the biggest deal in her life so far. That’s the sad part about it because Jane is 14 years old. At 14, that’s the only good thing she can say about her life. Sure she’s in high school now but do you know how she got here? Do you know what she’s doing here? Jane is a house help for a high school teacher. That was the only way Jane was going to high school. The first time she sets foot in a high school compound at 14 is on her first day of work as a house help for a high school teacher.
But Jane has a plan. Yes, she has a plan because you gotta have a plan. There some corny saying about not having a plan; apparently that’s a plan in itself. Jane’s plan was small and simple; her plan is to just live life. It’s a simple plan for a simple girl. But here is the problem with this plan so far, it’s not going well. Sure it’s a simple plan but that doesn’t mean that she has to be a house help, does it? Why not a simple doctor? OK doctor is kind of a stretch because Jane never made it past Standard 4. So she’s 14, can’t read and write properly and hasn’t learned any trade yet. Oh and she’s a woman. It’s 1978 so this sort of a setback. How did she get here?
She is the 1st born. But she is also a woman so school is optional for her. The option being her father’s because if it was Jane’s, she would have stayed in school. But it’s up to her father and so Jane can’t go on with her education. But let’s say her dad is willing, where is he going to get the money from? Sure he has coffee but those are trees not a plantation. And who doesn’t have coffee anyway and what has it done for them? In any case coffee farming now is on its’ deathbed ready to be euthanized by old greedy politicians. OK, so he gets some money from the coffee but what about his drinks? Huh? What about his boy’s education? That’s a dead end. But let’s say he is willing and with the money he makes as a carpenter working for Indians, he can see her through school because she really is a bright student. This is what he will tell you and have you believe, because he believes it himself; money from Indians can’t help you because they’ve made it so. They never give it to you by hand because then it would help you so they put in on the counter for you to pick. This is the money that could have been Jane’s school fees; money that can’t help the owner. Now do you see the superstitious odds against her schooling? She can’t beat them but she has a plan and her plan, despite the odds, has to work because it’s so simple.
Now what? That’s what everybody is asking since the president died. The answer to that is Jane’s plan; life goes on and it has to be lived. So Jane and the country go on with their lives. It’s 1982 now and Jane is a mother. She has a little girl. Jane found herself a man. Tall, dark and handsome she’ll tell you. It’s the 80s and romance is not yet dead. It hasn’t died yet but it’s in witness protection these days only accessible to the privy few. So what they live in a one room mud house in some ghetto? And so what he drinks himself silly and gets into fights and comes home without buttons on his shirt? These are the eighties man and love is all you need. Like that hit song says, that Bon Jovi song; Living on a Prayer. Jane went and got herself a trade. She’s a tailor now. It’s a noble trade isn’t it? Clothing people is noble, covering their nakedness. See, the plane is working. It’s so simple to fail. Jane is living.
May I speak to your boss? The client asks. And Jane steps in and asks ‘How may I help you?’ It’s 1990 and Robert Ouko has just had the most gruesome of deaths. They shot him, broke his leg then burned him. Even animals get better deaths. But life has to go on. Just ask Jane. She is a boss. She has a small place in Gikomba market where she sells her clothes. School uniforms, kids clothes etc. And she employs tailors. She lives in a house with other rooms now. See, it all works out.
Calm down! This phrase has been repeated several times now. Everybody in the room just needs to calm down. They are in a meeting trying to reconcile the parties. It’s 1995 and Jane has left her home with her kids. Again. Remember that tall dark guy she married? He hasn’t changed like she told herself she would. He still drinks but at least, his shirts have buttons. But her’s don’t. He beats her up. They argue invariably; arguments that last hours into the night. They argue about everything. Even about things that happened in the 80s because then, he was the man. But now he’s down on his luck and things like that, if you let them, can eat you alive. He lets them. Still, she stays because she has her business and her kids to worry about. She only leaves when it gets worse because what kind of woman let’s her family fall apart? Plus she prays about it. Prayers help. OK so this part of the plan isn’t working out as it should but the thing is, the plan is too simple to fail.
Industry. That describes what Jane is doing now. She’s in Nakuru Town now. She’s selling clothes and pots, kettles, bags, batteries and machetes. In Aussie, they call it hard yakka, hard work folks. Jane has another shop. She’s come along way, this Jane. It didn’t fall on her lap. Nothing did. Jane figured that to increase her sales, she could take the goods to the clients. So once a week, she’d pack most of her stock and get on the highway. It’s not genius really. Everyone else was doing it so it’s a survival for the fittest scenario and Jane was very fit. In time, she knew people in Nakuru and-because people are property- in time, she was a shop owner so now clients had access to clothes all the time. See how fit she is now?
This can’t be happening! She thinks to herself. Only it is happening. Right in front of her, a fire razes down her life’s work. It burns down her hopes and momentarily flattens her will to live. It’s a chilly 2001 morning. It’s one of those Gikomba fires. It’s one of those days. Ok it’s not. How many days do you sit and watch your life’s work burn down? So Jane sits and basks in the warmth from the fire. At least, it’s not very cold the day her life as she knows it is consumed by a raging fire. The plan comes to a screeching halt. What about prayer Jane? Not right now. She’s shaken but it will pass. She’ll see God in this, you just wait.
Fly Emirates. That’s the only thing Emirates Airlines asks of you and that’s just what Jane is doing; flying Emirates. It’s 2004 now. The hostess asks what she’ll have and she says lemonade because if she can’t have it now after making it all her life, then when? Besides she’ll need lots of fluids because Dubai’s heat can eat you alive or if you don’t take fluids, suck you dry. Jane has come too far to give in to heat. Besides, she’s here to buy stock for her shop. Yes, Jane has another shop now. See there was God in that fire, just ask her. The plan is just dandy.
Let’s go. Those are the only words she needed to hear. It’s 2005 and Jane is talking to another Jane. You know where they are going? China. OK so everybody goes to China nowadays but this is 2005. These Janes board a plane and they don’t know where they going. Sure they know they are going to China but that’s like an American saying they are going to Africa. Where in Africa? The thing is, they’ve never been there and couldn’t find someone to take them so they took themselves. They’ll make it but they’ll learn valuable lessons. The plan just can’t fail.
There’s an anecdote about China and creation. They say that God created heaven and earth but everything else was made in China. That’s funny. It’s 2009 and Jane in at the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport for the umpteenth time. This is the busiest airport in China. The world’s invasion of China is full throttle and that girl who was baptized by cardinal Otunga is in the invading crowd. Do you know how China markets itself? It says it’s the factory of the world. We are now living in the future and even America goes to china. That’s why everybody is here. That’s why Jane is here. That’s why she keeps coming back here, because this is the plan.
It’s all about people. That’s what Jane will tell you when you ask her why the plan is working. You’ll need people in this life, Jane will tell you that. All kinds of people, she’ll add. And because people will help you on the way, you gotta help them too. Money might be the legal tender but people are the real currency, she’ll say. What about life? There isn’t much to it, you just gotta live it. And worry? It’s useless, she’ll say and wave it off. She’ll tell you that only death kills you. The rest… well it might make you weaker or stronger but the most important thing is to learn something from each experience. Then she’ll quickly, before that point settles, add that some things you’ll never learn. That you’ll do them over and over expecting different result despite previous disappointments because that’s what human beings do.
You must agree that this is one hell of a plan; a fail-proof plan. Or maybe, it really wasn’t a plan. Maybe, it was just living life as it should be lived; one day at a time.
Jane is my mum.