My Standard Two class teacher, Mrs. Waweru, made an amendment, or a remix if you like, to the popular nursery rhyme ‘Row, row, row your boat’ when teaching us a lesson on table manners. This was during those days when the 8-4-4 Education System was the real 8-4-4 Education System, and everything was practical. A lesson on table manners had a practical session where we actually ate. This was followed by an assessment test where we ate again.
Mrs. Waweru taught us to sing before we started eating;
“Row, row, row, your boat,
Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream,
Gently down the stream,
The less you talk, the more eat,
The better you will feel!”
I had completely forgotten this remixed version of the song until last weekend when I had a meeting with a self-styled ‘Literary Agent’, Faraji Kimo. Faraji Kimo had read the synopsis of my novel online and liked it, bought the book, read it and liked it and decided to help me have it published by a mainstream publishing house, ‘for broader distribution and greater profit.’
I would have completely ignored him, save for the word ‘profit’ which had a good ring to it. Who does not want to profit, especially out of their hard work? I agreed to meet with him at the Gourmet Garage. The Gourmet Garage is the new restaurant on Mvumo Road, just across from Five Avenues Mall.
Our appointed meeting time was at half past twelve in the afternoon. I arrived at twelve noon and was welcomed by a hostess wearing a short black dress with a beautiful South African beaded neck-piece around her neck.
“Hi, may I help you?” she asked, broadening her fake smile.
“I am meeting someone here for lunch,” I said.
“So table for two?” she remarked to herself. “Do you have a reservation?”
“I am not sure if any was made,” I said. “I am meeting one Faraji Kimo.”
“Kimo,” she repeated, looking at her computer screen. “Yes, here it is. Kimo’s reservation is for twelve thirty this afternoon. Let me take you to your table.”
The hostess led me to our table and as soon as I was settled, handed me the food menu and a wine list. I looked at all the mouth watering dishes on the menu and could not make up my mind.
As I waded through my state of indecision, I heard somebody calling my name. I looked up and saw a young man smiling exaggeratedly and waving at me furiously. He strode confidently towards the table. I did not know if this was Faraji Kimo or not. He certainly did not look like a literary agent.
He had very short baby locks on his head and he accompanied this look with a scraggy beard. His crisp neat long-sleeved white formal shirt contrasted greatly with his hair. Furthermore, the shirt was so tight, that I feared it would tear at the seams as he continued waving enthusiastically. Around his neck, he wore a bow tie made of red and yellow Ankara fabric. His trousers were extremely skinny, and I couldn’t help but look at the crotch area and worry for his balls. He had no belt around his waist. His skinny trousers were also not what was generally accepted as the correct length for a man’s trousers. They reached way above his ankle, exposing sockless feet that disappeared into espadrille shoes made of the same red and yellow Ankara fabric as his bow tie.
His skinny frame made his clothes look even tighter. However, they looked like really expensive high-quality clothes. Probably tailored.
Presently he reached the table and maintaining his broad smile remarked, “You must be Didi.”
“Guilty,” I said putting out my hand for a handshake.
“No handshakes here,” he said, holding his hands open for an embrace. “You have to get up and lean into it.”
I obliged him and stood up. He hugged me tightly and then let go and holding both my hands in his said, “It is an absolute pleasure to meet you.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I am happy to meet you too.”
“Shall we sit?” he asked, moving quickly around the table and holding my seat out for me.
“Thank you,” I said again, sitting down.
He sat opposite me and said, “I hope you don’t mind that I chose the Gourmet Garage. I absolutely love it here and their food is to die for!”
“It seems like a nice place,” I said.
The waiter came to our table and asked us whether we were ready to order.
“I would like your tomahawk ribeye steak,” said Faraji without even glancing at the menu. “I will have it rare.”
“What will you have to accompany your steak?” asked the waiter.
“Can I have your easy Greek salad and vinaigrette sauce?” he said to the waiter and then turning to me he said, “I like to maintain a svelte silhouette.”
I didn’t know what a ‘svelte silhouette’ was but going by his choice of food, he probably meant a slim figure.
“And you madam,” asked the waiter. “What will you have?”
“Hmm,” I said. “I really don’t know. Everything looks so delicious.”
“Let me recommend for you the black pepper porterhouse steak,” said Faraji. “Amazing, I tell you. Your palate will be subjected to an almost orgasmic experience.”
“Okay. I will try the porterhouse steak,” I said doubtfully. I had never heard of food being described as ‘orgasmic’.
“Should I suggest that you accompany that with our hand-cut baked potato wedges?” the waiter asked.
“I will go for it,” I responded.
“Anything to drink?” the waiter asked.
“Bring us a bottle of good red wine to go with the steak,” said Faraji. Turning to me he said, “You drink wine, I hope?”
“Sure, I do,” I said.
The waiter disappeared with our orders and Faraji said, “I am so excited that you agreed to meet me!”
“Everyone wants to make a profit,” I said smiling.
Faraji returned my smile and then, looking around he said, “I really love what they have done with the décor here. Don’t you absolutely love the African fabric seat covers?”
“They are lovely,” I said.
“I hear the fabric was especially designed and printed for them by the Benin designer Idu,” he said. “You have heard of Idu?”
“No,” I said.
“He is top of his class in terms of designing African print,” said Faraji. “Don’t worry about me, I am a design enthusiast. I can go on and on about design and designers.”
Maybe that explained his wardrobe.
“What about you, what are your interests, besides writing that is,” he asked.
“I enjoy reading,” I said.
“Any good writer should be an avid reader, I suppose,” Faraji said. “I also enjoy reading and that is why I am a literary agent. I can read and read for days! Sometimes, I lock myself up in my apartment and just read and read and my girlfriend has to come and check on me. To confirm I am alive, you know. Because I just go offline and read.”
He smiled at me and then said, “I especially enjoy reading classic English novels. Charles Dickens really captures me as an author. I credit him for making me fall in love with the written word. I also love Catherine Cookson. Her works are so out of this world. You feel the emotion oozing out of every word. “
“I also love Catherine Cookson,” I said. “She really inspires me.”
“Good to know,” Faraji remarked excitedly. “No wonder you and I connected instantly.”
I was not sure what connecting meant, but I let his comment slide.
The waiter returned with our orders after a while. The steaks were sizzling on hot cast iron platters and my potato wedges looked so inviting. The waiter also presented us with a bottle of red wine, showing us the label and explaining, “This is Altamana Malbec Grande Reserve. It is a Chilean wine that has a mild aroma of meadow flowers and sweet spices. It is a medium bodied wine with a smooth texture that goes very well with red meat. Enjoy!”
He poured a little wine into our glasses to taste. Faraji picked up his glass, swirled it around, sniffed at the contents and then took a long draw of the wine.
“Mmmmh,” he said. “This is great.”
“It is our house favourite,” said the waiter. “I knew you wouldn’t be disappointed. Enjoy your meal.”
I immediately dug into the sizzling steak. It was amazing! It was very juicy and flavourful despite being well done. I had never tasted anything like it before.
As I was enjoying my meal, Faraji was busy talking. He had now moved from the topic of literature to that of wine.
“Wine tasting is one of those things I ensure I must do, whenever I visit I good wine destination” he said. “Whenever I go to South Africa, Carlifornia, Chile, France or Portugal, I must make time for wine tasting. I think I can safely describe myself as being an oenophile.”
“Hmm,” was all I managed to push out of my full mouth.
“In fact this is quite strange because in my family, nobody else takes alcohol,” he continued. “I don’t know where I got the taste for wine from. It must have been hiding somewhere in my DNA. My parents are very staunch Christians and I have never known them to drink. Even when people in the village go for chang’aa drinking festivities or such, my father never joins them.”
He paused slightly and then continued, “I come from a very humble background by the way. My parents were and still both are peasant farmers who had eight children. I am the last of their brood. Can you imagine that?”
I was only imagining how unfortunate it was that he was letting such a good steak go cold as he continued chattering away.
“I was the only one who was lucky enough to attend school, all the way up to college,” he said. “My older siblings had to drop out of school at very young ages to fend for the family and for themselves. My two elder brothers, for example have taken up the family business, which is peasant farming.”
He laughed at some kind of private joke as I continued devouring my meal.
“My two elder brothers are followed by two girls,” he continued. “One is married to a bodaboda rider and the other is married to a security guard. More of a gateman than a security guard if you ask me. I just want to be politically correct.”
I didn’t know what the difference between a security guard and a gateman was. However, I didn’t not want to encourage him to delve into this subject, so I just nodded.
He took this as an encouragement to continue speaking and said, “The two girls are followed by my fifth born brother who, together with his wife, brew chang’aa for a living. He, in turn, is followed by another sister who is a single mother still living with my parents. Our second to last born, the brother whom I follow, is a sugar cane cutter and then comes me, the lucky one.”
I don’t know why he was narrating to me his life story, but I asked, “How come you are the only one who managed to get an education?”
“My aunt, my mother’s sister that is, was working for the then provincial administration in Mombasa,” he said. “She was the Provincial Commissioner’s secretary. One day, she came home to visit and saw the state of poverty we were living in. She felt pity on my mother and wanted to unburden her by taking three of her youngest children into her own care. My mother could not part with three children. It was too much for her. She told my aunt that it would be easier to take only me because I was soon approaching school going age and could therefore start school with my age mates. The other two were already too old. My aunt agreed and that is how I went to live in Mombasa and get an education.”
“You were lucky indeed,” I said, taking the last bite of my steak and washing it down with some wine.
“I was,” he said. “Mombasa is a very vibrant city and that is how I developed an interest in art, music, literature and so on. I do not regret my growing up under my aunt’s wing. She has retired now and gone back to live in the village, but we are still very close. We talk on the phone every day! Can you imagine that?”
The waiter came to clear our plates and observed that Faraji had barely touched his food.
“Any problem with the food sir?” he asked, concerned that maybe Faraji did not like it and that is why he had not eaten.
“No problem,” Faraji said. “It’s just that the food looks like such an amazing piece of art. I am afraid of destroying it. And furthermore, my friend here is such an amazing conversationalist, we have been talking our heads off.”
The waiter looked at me doubtfully. From the evidence of my empty plate, it looked to him like I was more of an eater than a conversationalist. He cleared my plate anyway and left Faraji to eat his food at his own pace.
Faraji proceeded to take the first bite of steak and then closed his eyes and said, “Mhhh. Amazing. These flavours are divine!”
I sipped my wine quietly.
“You know, I am one of those people who eat life with a big spoon,” Faraji said. “I savour it and swallow it and enjoy it to the maximum. The school of thought of limiting oneself is not for me. I do not limit myself for any reason be it religious, cultural or whatever. If I want something, I go for it.”
“Take how I met my soul mate for example,” he said. “Three years ago, I was at a bus stop waiting for a matatu to go back home. It was raining cats and dogs and no matatu was in sight. I did not have much income back then and therefore it was with so much pain and anguish that I decided to flag down a taxi. Just as I was getting into the taxi, I noticed this amazingly handsome guy running to shelter at the bus stop. Being the kind soul that I am, I beckoned to him to enter the taxi and told him that there were no matatus in sight and I was willing to share the taxi if he was going in the same direction.”
Faraji paused a bit and continued, “He entered the taxi and confirmed that indeed, he lived in the same area as I did. In fact, we were almost neighbours. And, get this, his name was Faraja! Faraja and Faraji! What could be the chances of meeting such a person?”
He laughed and I simply nodded which he took as a cue to continue his story, “The conversation with Faraja was one of the most fulfilling I have ever had. It turned out that he was an artist. When he told me this, I knew that there was a reason I had been made to meet him. An artist and an art enthusiast! Besides that, he was a very intellectual guy and I was hooked onto every word he said.”
I doubted this. Could the Faraji I was seeing before me really be silent for long enough to allow another human to enthral him with words?
Faraji continued speaking, “We arrived at our estate and the guy gave directions to his house. He invited me for a drink so that we could finish the conversation and he could show me some of his works of art. Back then I was young and carefree, and I did not mind a free drink, so I accepted his invitation.”
I raised a brow.
“His house was very well decorated,” continued Faraji. “A real artists’ house. I was immediately taken in. He went into the kitchen to get us some drinks and that is when I saw her, my soulmate, that is.”
I smiled. Faraji had a really winding way of telling stories. I guess it was because he loved talking. From his story about his meeting with Faraja, I had concluded that Faraja was the soul mate he was talking about!
Faraji took a sip of wine and continued talking, “She was wearing a pair of shorts and a very old, shapeless, oversized t-shirt. She wore her hair in the tiniest neatest sisterlocks I had ever seen. There was a sad look in her eyes that made her seem mysterious. Like she was hiding a deep secret that she wanted me to unravel. Her dark skin was flawless. However, she seemed to be recovering from some kind of injury on her left eye as the skin there was dark and bruised.”
Faraji looked at me sadly and then continued to speak, “So to cut a long story short, it turned out that she was Faraja’s wife. They had been married for one year now. Her name was Amiri.”
I sipped at my wine, wondering when we would start talking about my book and the publishing deal.
“Amiri was constantly on my mind after that first meeting,” Faraji said. “I thought about her for months before I gathered the courage to go back and see her again. I prayed that they had not moved houses. As I said, I am a go-getter, so one Friday morning, I went to their place and stood outside their apartment building for some time until I saw Faraja leaving.”
Faraji paused again before saying, “I gathered my courage and went and knocked on their door, knowing that Amiri was all alone. She opened the door and looked at me fearfully. I couldn’t believe the state she was in! She was bleeding from her nose and had bruises all over her body. I did not wait for another minute or ask for any explanations. I knew now why my spirit had kept imploring me to come to her. It was I who was destined to rescue her from her abuser. The man she thought that she loved was mistreating her. He was brutalising her, and she was enduring it quietly.”
He took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped away the tears from his eyes. At this point, I was only praying that my face did not show my shock that such a tight trouser could actually have a pocket that could fit a handkerchief! Maybe the trouser had some percentage of spandex in its fabric. That could be the only explanation.
“Sorry about breaking down like that in front of you,” Faraji said.
“It’s not a problem,” I said.
“I just feel like I have connected to you so well and so fast that I can be myself in front of you and disclose even my innermost secrets,” he said.
By this time, I was getting impatient and exhausted. Further, I felt bad for his food which just sat there, abandoned and cold. What a waste!
“So I ran away with Amiri,” he continued after giving a deep sigh. “I cancelled my tenancy, sold my stuff and moved back to Mombasa with her. We wanted to be as far away as possible from her violent husband. We engaged a lawyer and she filed for divorce.”
“I thought one can only get a divorce after three years of marriage?” I said.
“They got married in the USA,” Faraji explained. “And so the divorce was filed there. Our lawyer was working with an American lawyer. After the divorce, she said that she needs space to heal and moved back to Nairobi. I also moved back to Nairobi after a few months and met up with her occasionally. One day she told me that she had met another guy and they had started dating. I was so devastated.”
Faraji paused here and took a sip of wine and then continued speaking, “I must tell you the story of this new guy she was dating. He was the greatest loser I have ever met. His name was Shawn. Now Shawn was a supposed ‘businessman’. He owned seven matatus and had apartment buildings in several small towns on the outskirts of Nairobi. I first met Shawn two months after Amiri had told me about him. I was setting up my office then and…”
Dear reader, at this point I was all talked out. I couldn’t bear to hear another word from Faraji. My ears were practically burning. I needed an escape.