“What have you come here to do?” asked Wanjohi’s mother, astounded that her son was standing right in front of her.
“I have come to visit my mum,” he answered. “You don’t come to visit us in ushago so I decided to come myself.”
“Who have you come with?”
“Hakuna space yako hapa, you cannot stay here, huku ni kwa wenyewe,” she said bluntly, shaking her head, “you cannot spend here, I am giving you fare to go back to your shosho and don’t come back here unless I have invited you.”
Before Wanjohi’s bag could touch the floor of his mother’s house, he was already on his way out, and back to Nyeri.
He was thirteen years old, and had just finished his primary education. He had decided to visit his mother who was living in Nairobi and spend his Christmas holiday there. He had been living with his grandmother since he was an infant, in Naro Moru, Nyeri County and had never been to Nairobi. Being a curious boy, he had found out the estate name and house number where his mum lived.
On that day he alighted at Tea Room in Nairobi, asked for directions to Kencom bus stop where he took a bus to Ayany Estate. He found line P, then found house P1 and knocked. Nothing in the universe had hinted to him that he will be going back home the same day, dejected, like a wounded soldier coming from a battle he didn’t sign up for.
He made sure that he arrived in Naro Moru when it was dark. He couldn’t risk being seen by his friends who knew he was having the time of his life in the city. Coming to Nairobi was such a big deal then.
“How did you feel when your mother did that?” I ask Wanjohi as our tea is served, at the Citam Valley Road cafeteria where we had met for the interview.
Three years earlier, when he was 10, his mother had visited home during Christmas together with her husband. Wanjohi was under strict instruction to call her mother “Auntie” but he just couldn’t resist. In the back seat of his ‘parent’s’ car he asked, in Kikuyu, “Mum, you also know how to drive.”
“Mum got furious that I called her ‘mum’ and that’s when my problems began,” he says, “I was interfering with her new found man and she decided to block me from her life.” In the car, his ‘step dad’ had turned and curiously looked at Wanjohi in the back seat for a couple of seconds without saying a word. Wanjohi’s mum decided not to be visiting home, until he decided to visit her in Nairobi after class eight.
His KCPE results came out, he had passed. He joined Chogoria High School in Meru, his mother catering for all his needs. She was okay with that; she just didn’t want him in her home and in her life. His surname was his mother’s name and in a school that was predominantly Meru by ethnicity, where children are not given women names, he was ridiculed. He decided to change it.
In school, Nairobi fever was still bugging Wanjohi. Coming from Nairobi was such a consequential thing and Wanjohi wanted to be in that group that boards Nairobi bus on closing day. He decided to surprise his mother, again.
Just like the first time, she was in the house when Wanjohi arrived. This time she was more upfront, she told him he’s not sleeping there. He had to go, gave him fare and told him to get moving. It was raining. Not even a cup of tea, not even a step inside the house. He was addressed and let go from the corridor.
That got to Wanjohi. He started contemplating the reason for his existence. Not knowing his father, being rejected by mother, what was there to live for. He went to his grandma’s place with only one decisive task for the holiday, to kill himself.
He did his research, asked around on which of her grandma’s assortment of herbicides could kill a human the fastest. He settled on one. He wanted to be gone, like the pests that bothered his grandma’s crops. To make sure they wouldn’t come looking for him in his crib, he told his grandma that he would be away the next day for some errands in Naro Moru. That was just in case they found him alive after taking the herbicides, and took him to hospital and he somehow got better. No, he wanted to be dead and dead.
But before going through with it, in those moments of contemplation, closely examining the herbicide that’ll take him to the other side, one voice kept banging in his head, his mother’s and specifically her words; that it wouldn’t bother her if he died.
“Why would I want to die and make someone happy?” He asked himself. “I would rather live and be a thorn in her flesh. Whenever she sees me, she’ll feel bad and that’s better than her pretending to cry at my funeral and then being happy.”
He went back to school with a new strategy that made him live like a king in school. Anytime he didn’t have money, he made sure a message reached his mother that he was going to Nairobi so that she can give him money. She didn’t want him near her, so she always sent money, more money than he needed in school. He had found a way of getting back at her.
“I had so much money even my uncle (a teacher at a nearby school) would borrow from me,” he remembers. “The school bus would not leave for any funkies without me, all the prefects were in my box and my name would always be in those lists.”
But then his education suffered. He passed his KCSE, but not enough to get a place in the university.
Any attempts to reach the mother to request to be taken to college were met with, “sina pesa” and so he resorted to teaching in a local primary school in Naro Moru.
Two years later his cousin convinced him to go and stay with him in Nairobi. Anything to do with Nairobi was always sweet to Wanjohi’s ears and so he packed up and relocated to Nairobi. “Little did I know I was coming to be his house help and not to go to college as he had promised,” he remembers. The house chores, including washing clothes for his cousin’s girlfriend made him regret leaving his teaching job. He also introduced Wanjohi to alcohol.
After one year his cousin got a job in Mombasa and Wanjohi had two options; either go back to shags or go to his mother’s place. It was 4 years after high school and he had not done much with his life. Going back to shags felt like a slow fade into oblivion. He would be a forgotten man and that would mean his dreams being erased like a whiteboard before a new lesson. It wasn’t an option.
“I am going to my mother and this time I am not leaving, I am going to stay”, he told his cousin. Third time lucky?
On that Moi day (before it was removed, or became ‘huduma day’), like the other times he had tried to visit, he found his mother at home. He had come with a huge bag that not only carried all his belongings, but also declared his intentions and whispered his desires of a motherly bond. He had not come to the house; he had come to his mother.
“You have come!” she exclaimed surprisingly.
“What have you come to do with this big bag”
“I have come to my mum’s place to stay”
“Were you not staying with your cousin in Kinoo?”
“I was, but he has relocated to Mombasa, I couldn’t go with him and I can’t go back to shags”
“You know you can’t stay here, hapa si kwangu, hapa ni kwa my (husband). So, you will go to shags and we can talk about you going to college while you are there”
“Mathe skiza, nimekuja kwa mamangu na nimekuja kukaa”
“Hizo bangi unapewa na cousin yako na pombe utarudisha kwake sio hapa”
She was drinking juice in a glass and she left it fly towards Wanjohi’s face. The juice christened him, the glass hit his face and disintegrated on the floor below him.
Getting agitated and furious she retorted, “As I have said there’s no space for you here, you cannot stay here.”
“Even if you beat me, I am not going anywhere, nimekuja kukaa kwa mamangu”
“I will call security to remove you”
“Call them, I will shout useme kama hukunizaa. Siendi mahali”
“Tutaona”, and with that she left the sitting room and banged the door.
That was in the afternoon around 2pm. Nobody came to the sitting room for the rest of the day, not the Wanjohi’s sister who was a preteen, or his brother who was a less than five or even the househelp. He was being ghosted.
At 9pm the lights were switched off in the other rooms and everyone went to sleep. Wanjohi slept on the sofa.
“Wait, did you eat?” I ask.
“No. Nobody came to the sitting room at all”, he responds.
At around midnight his stepfather came home. He sounded drank and was told a fugitive had taken over the sitting room and that he should not go in there.
At 6am, Wanjohi’s sleep was rudely interrupted. “Wewe, mwenye nyumba amesema huwezi kaa hapa and if you don’t go, I will call him to remove you”, it was his mother.
“Go and call him, am not going anywhere”
He was called and he tried to ask Wanjohi to go but he was having none of it.
He figured the fight was beyond him. He’d actually been wrongly informed that Wanjohi uses marijuana and other drugs and so he decided not to mess with him. But it’s true Wanjohi didn’t know him. Despite being with his mother for over 15 years he had not gone home to be known officially.
His mother came back and insisted he leaves but this time he had an offer for her. He wanted her to pay for his college fees and a hostel and then he would leave. It’s all he wanted, nothing more, he told her.
Feigning acceptance, she asked him to go to shags and find a college in Nyeri and she would pay.
“I will be forgotten in the village if I go there, I can go to Nyeri and bring the documents and fee structure to you, but am not going to the village before you pay.”
“You are not staying here, even if I don’t pay for college hapa hukai,” she turned.
“And I am not going anywhere,” Wanjohi stood his ground.
She swung at him but he caught her arms and sat her down on the seat. He reminded her that he wasn’t a child anymore and was beyond being physical with.
She went to work, diffusing the tension that saturated that morning. His step father also left, the step sister went to school leaving Wanjohi, the house help and his four-year-old step brother at home.
The house help, feeling pity for Wanjohi, gave him some food and showed him where he could put his bag. He refreshed and bonded with his brother who quickly became fond of him. That was his brother, the same half-blood ran through them. He even put him to sleep that afternoon to the bewilderment of the mother who found them together in bed when she came back from work.
He was in his mother’s house but not at home.
Since he wasn’t moving, they decided to keep him busy with house chores. The house help was given lighter duties and Wanjohi had to pay for his stubbornness through physical work. From being a house help at his cousin’s place to being a house help at his mother’s place. That sounds like a possible book title for Wanjohi’s memoir in future. Or something like ‘From a house boy to a multi-millionaire’, that’s if he ever becomes a motivational speaker.
Wanjohi is not a multi-millionaire now, don’t start bothering him with fundraisers or ask him to run for political office. It’s just that the way he was talking about plots around Nairobi in our side chats, I figured he could just be headed in that direction and he’ll have an amazing story to tell when he gets there. He could motivate people, for real, without calling himself a motivational speaker. Motivation is one of those things that shouldn’t be done intentionally, but should be a consequence of people excelling in their fields. You shouldn’t outrightly set out to motivate others, lest you end up like those motivational speakers with superficial counsel lacking any foundational bearings.
Wanjohi would iron his step dad’s clothes in the morning then he would change his mind and decide to wear other clothes which he would give Wanjohi to press. One time, having lost his phone during his drinking escapades, he took Wanjohi’s phone which he found charging in the living room after being instructed by his wife. Wanjohi only found his sim card where he’d left his phone to charge. Mistreatment was in high gear and he seemed able to deal with it.
Privileges like some allowance for personal use or even going to a party of a family member were denied. They laughed at his misery when he cried one time, because he couldn’t go to his cousin’s party who was going to the US. His step sister had been picked up by a cab and taken to the party.
In November of that year, he applied for a pharmacy course at Nairobi Technical Institute on Park Road. He was due to join in January but his mother said she didn’t have money despite them living large.
His grandma gave him some money for down payment at the college. He would get sixty Shillings daily from his mother for fare that was supposed to cover him from Ayany to Ngara and back home. In the second semester they needed more money, his uncle sorted him that time. But he still needed more money before sitting his exams.
Lack of fees and his waning passion for pharmacy met in a way that ended his education at Nairobi Institute quietly. But he was still passionate about getting an education.
A friend advised him to start doing CPA. His good uncle sorted him registration and exam fee but he still needed a college to study for the exam. One of his aunties heeded his call and paid for him to study at a college in Nairobi CBD. He did his section one exam and passed.
“My mother was somehow happy and decided to pay for me section two,” he says.
He passed section two but again she had no money for section three, something that Wanjohi took with a pinch of pepper.
He got an accounting job in a school in Kajiado which he did for one year before he got in contact with his cousin who had relocated to Mombasa. His cousin convinced him to move to Mombasa and so he resigned from the school and went express to Mombasa. While there, he decided to cut off from his mum, he wrote her a long text, reminding her of all the abuse he had suffered in her hands.
“I am an orphan, you do not have a son called Samuel, forget me, never look for me, you even told me that if I die you would not care” read part of the message. When that message was delivered, he destroyed the sim card, got a new line and started his new life as an ‘orphan’.
But Wanjohi’s debilitated relationship with his mother was far from being resolved.
In Mombasa, Wanjohi got a job as a petrol station attendant to which he qualified for by only showing his form four certificate as advised by his cousin.
With many trucks fueling at the Total Petrol station where he worked, he found himself making more money on the side than his salary. He moved to his own place and started living the life, drinking, partying and going out with girls. They were many to the point that his landlord knocked on his door one day and simply asked, “Samuel, kwa hawa wasichana wote hukuja hapa, hakuna hata mmoja ako na ile kitu unatafuta.”
Was he trying to fill the potholes left by lack of maternal love? With every new girl it seemed the potholes were getting deeper and every other day a new one was being dug.
One time a mama mboga tried to get the attention of one of the girls. “Wewe msichana, unajua wewe ni wa ngapi kuletwa hapa, kwani haujihurumii, na vile uko mrembo, unaenda tu kama wale wengine”, she couldn’t stop admonishing her and berating him in typical Coasto mannerisms and the girl was getting concerned. He had chomaad enough and had to move to another estate.
Then he met Aisha, a Muslim girl who made him forget all the other girls. Three days into their relationship, he had paid for her fees in college and did that until she finished. He had also rented a house for her. Wanjohi went to Madrassa because of her and almost became a Muslim. It was her condition for them to get married. He was into her like Kipchoge is into running. His dalliance with Islam came to an end when they started telling him that he will be given a Muslim name, like Ishmael or Suleiman and be taught a new language, Arabic.
He went to her parent’s home to introduce himself because he wanted to marry her but they gave him more conditions than he had anticipated and so he decided to put it on hold. He managed to convince Aisha to become a Christian and even christened her ‘Leah’, his grandma’s name. She was baptized at JCC Mombasa. But not long after he caught her with a Muslim guy in the house that he paid rent for and that relationship ended there. She immediately went back to Islam.
“Would you come home?” I ask.
In 2009, he came for one of his aunt’s funeral where he got to meet his sister who was studying Chinese at the University of Nairobi as she waited to join university and brother who was at Riara school. That his siblings had such fancy education and he couldn’t be supported for college drove him nuts and he left without greeting his mother at the burial.
Back in Mombasa, his mother called, she had gotten his number from a relative. They had small talk that didn’t lead anywhere.
His love for education hadn’t been quenched and even in Mombasa, while working at the petrol station, he was able to do CPA section three and four.
Then he got sick, so sick that it completely changed the path of his life.