When I was 8 years old, my dad bought me a bicycle.
It was not in any way extraordinary. It didn’t have the water bottle holding thingamajig, it couldn’t monitor my heart rate and it most certainly didn’t have gizmos like iPod docks. Not that I needed them. It came during that golden age when a father is a hero in the eyes of a son. My dad came home one lazy holiday afternoon riding a green bike like it was no big deal. It was a big deal. It was a Shimano Equipped, green in colour and bigger than my eight years. That green mountain bike defined my childhood.
In our family, women always were first. The first-born is a girl whom I followed two years after. When our parents had another procreation wave, it was a girl who led the way followed, three years later, by my brother. My sister and I we’re alright. I mean we sometimes fought bitterly but that was par for the course. I fought because it’s what boys did. I don’t know why she fought but I think she had some beef with me. In one photo, taken when she was two, she is clearly trying to strangle me; all the while smiling for the camera like she’s doing it for charity. I survived. That’s how I know God has big plans for me. It is in this pioneering spirit of my sisters that I found myself outnumbered at home. Initially, this didn’t bother me one bit because we lived in the same neighbourhood with my cousins; three crazy boys all older than me with whom we wrecked havoc on the neighbourhood in the name of fun. We even, briefly, dabbled in crime in the form of nipping monies from their shop to go buy chips, sausages and mutura. And as if to distinguish ourselves from real criminals, we stole Milo. It ended badly. However, and sadly, we moved to the outskirts of the city and I found myself surrounded by women. It wasn’t just my sisters but the neighbours too seemed to be girls. Back then, that was an outrage-oh, the bliss that is ignorance. Then came the bike.
This is a story about friendship, the kind that lands you in a police jail cell on a cold Monday morning. It is also a trip down memory lane.
That bike gave me wings. It gave me freedom to move. It made me friends. All I had to do was show up and if I liked you, give you a ‘round’. Then you’d follow me around. See, that didn’t start on Twitter for me. I was a neighbourhood legend, near and afar. Everyone knew ‘the kid with the green mountain bike’. All the glory that comes with winning the Tour de France can’t compare to the glorious ‘rounds’ that started on many a Saturday morning atop that Shimano. But for a story like this to be really complete, it needs a sidekick. There’s always a sidekick in these stories. My kid bro was born when I was ten so apart from sending him,I had no other use for him. That’s where Jesse comes in.
Folie a deux, to put you out of your misery, is a French term for madness shared by two. The French know a thing or two about madness. After all it was their queen Marie Antoinette-wife to King Louis the XVI-who, in a moment of epic madness, when told that the peasants were restless because they didn’t have bread to eat, retorted “Let them eat cake!” This sparked incidents that led to the bloody French Revolution and to her death at the guillotine. They didn’t have cake you see. Eating cake has never been the same ever since. My dad would never have taken part in such a revolution because according to him, bread was for kids.
In Meru, the hilly place I call my second shags, kids never had much. They never had wires and tins to make ‘cars’ or water guns to shoot each other or TVs to watch Tahamaki or Derrick. But they had the innovation to make carts out of wood that rolled downhill at formula 2 speeds. It’s from these hills that Jesse came from to live with us at the onset of my teens. He was one year older, mildly disliked authority and loyal like a dog. The bike became our bike. Together, we took on the institution that was my dad and, on many occasions, won. All we waited for was a directive and we’d do the exact opposite. He hated us. You could see the venom in his eyes when talking to us. Another guy who bore the brunt of our mischief was our gardener, Wamzee. One time, while we were waiting for my mum at the stage at night, we decided to be fake thugs and scare people. It worked. We’d just appear from behind and say ‘simama!’ then watch with glee their subsequent flight. It was downright hilarious. However one of the ‘victims’ reported that there were thugs at the stage. They came looking and we hid when we saw them but they found Wamzee sitting innocently at the bench. They gave him the beating of his life. I would like to tell you that we did not roll on the floor when he narrated it to us. I would like to tell that we learnt our lesson. I would like to tell you that Wamzee didn’t suffer at our hands again. But I’d be telling lies. We carried on without losing momentum. Allow me to state something glaringly obvious: we we’re a riot. We were involved in many a reckless prank that cannot all be told but I’ll tell you about the final one, the one that had us spend a whole day at Muthaiga Police Station.
One cold February morning in 2003, before the infamous 100 days of promise had lapsed, before MOU was popular amongst kenyans, before Kenyans stopped being the most optimistic people on Earth and before politicians had broken our naive Kenyan hearts collectively, around 7 am, we’re arrested for possession of fake currency.
To be continued.