Sam sat under the dancing sun of Nairobi digging for gold in his nostrils.
“Hii jua ni kali eh?” Njoroge, the matatu driver, Sam’s best friend asked lazily. He was dressed in a pair of torn dusty coloured trousers, a shirt begging to return to its original whiteness and the maroon half coat which was uniform for most drivers in this city.
Sam responded with a grunt, his mind elsewhere. He saw a woman pass by, her supple behind bouncing up and down with each step she took. It reminded him of the yoyo he had stolen when he was a boy. He whistled, “Sasa mrembo?”
She walked on, barely registering his call. He could try again but the heat drained his energy to give a damn. Njoroge laughed at his efforts. “My friend if I had your looks I would have any girl I wanted in this city, I don’t understand why you sit there and struggle like the rest of us. Aki you don’t understand how God blessed you. Beauty is power.”
Sam smiled. He knew he was fairly attractive. Ma had been half mwaarabu and he had received her soft curly hair. His skin colour always caught strangers’ eyes, a shade not unlike that of dusk, intertwined dark and light. As if you could rub dusty powder off his skin. What Njoroge didn’t know was that Sam had found a way to use his beauty as power.
It had been a year to date since Sam had met Godspeed Okeke, a man who would change his life forever. He had laughed when he first heard his name, “were you named because when your father was done conceiving you, your mother cried astonished ‘finished already? My God how speedy are you ohh?’” He teased his new Nigerian friend and mimicked his accent. They became fast friends.
Godspeed was in Nairobi on holiday with his rich, old, white wife. When he first invited Sam out for lunch at the posh Grand Regency, Sam whistled like he did when he saw a fine woman walking down the streets. “Cha ukweli Mungu, I would give up women and miraa for this life of the rich.”
Godspeed laughed, “Your miraa, maybe, but women I doubt it. I notice how they are attracted to you like flies to honey. Tell me, can a man truly say no when a woman throws herself at him?”
“Ahh, my friend you exaggerate my relationship with the other gender. I may have looks but what are looks to an uptown girl when your clothes smell like shit and the only place you can take her is to mama Njeri’s for ugali and Sukuma, ama Chapati and beans. Women these days are looking to date money not looks.”
“I like you Sam which is why I have decided to help you.” Godspeed with a mischievous glint in his eye spoke. “What if I can tell you, your looks can get you both money and women?”
Sam looked at him suspiciously, “Ayiii my man. I have heard about the jigger life but I am not ready to become magic mike for a few extra coins. Believe me, it is not as glamorous as that white boy on screen makes it seem. Also, I would never have made you out to be a pimp.” He said with curiosity.
Godspeed burst out laughing from the depth of his gut. His guffaws reminded Sam of hyenas, which was ironic considering he had just revealed he wanted him to be a fisi for a living. After he could finally swallow air, Godspeed wiped his eyes and spoke, “I am not asking you to be a jigger, magic mike. I am asking you to be one that eats jiggers for lunch, a catfish.”
Sam was taken aback by his bluntness and it took him a few seconds to regain his composure. Even then he could only ask, “What?”
Godspeed’s dark brown skin crinkled upward in a knowing smile. It seemed he was ever smiling with his perfect white teeth. Sam imagined if he faced upward they would reflect the sun.
“Let me tell you a story my friend, the story of a fisherman and his fish. Long ago fishermen would carry sea fish to the small rivers to reproduce closer to home. But there was a problem. These new bred fish of the river were tough and not as tasty as they once had been. Discussing among his fellow fishermen, he came up with a theory. The fish were living dead. This means they solely existed in the small boring river, being born to die. With no excitement in their blood and no adrenaline to pump them, the fish died long before they were killed by the fishermen; metaphorically of course. The fishermen reasoned this to be why their meat had become tough, their taste bitter.
Alas, it wasn’t long before a traveller passing by had heard of the news. He came to this fisherman and offered him a solution saying, “I have heard of your problem with the fish and I know of one which can help. It is a fish itself, yet with whiskers like the cat. Fill your rivers with these creatures and your fish will be tasteless no more.” The fisherman thought through what he had heard and decided he had nothing to lose. He bought the strange fish and allowed it to reproduce in the water that brushed his feet. As the catfish grew, being predators of the sea, they chased the other fish round and round, stimulating their blood. When they were caught the fish was no longer bitter but sweet meat between the teeth of the villagers. The fisherman held a feast to celebrate.”
Sam looked keenly at Godspeed as he grew silent, his story coming to a close. The story was nice but he was slightly confused, “And?”
“Well, my friend before I tell you what I have in mind you must first understand the catfish does an honorable profession. He uses his strength to stimulate the weak for soft and tender meat. Do you not agree?”
“Good. Then I have another story for you. The story speaks of how I met my wife… I used to be a street boy on the sidewalks of the bright city of Lagos. Nobody likes street boys in Lagos but that’s because we are a mean bunch.”
Sam noticed he said ‘are’ instead of ‘were’ as if it was still ingrained in his identity.
“One night, as the moon danced in her fat glory above me, the wind sang in tongues of cold causing unwanted shivers, a man who owned a twenty-four-hour cyber café took mercy on me and allowed me to enter. He gave me a cup of hot chocolate and said I could use the computers for an hour only. That night I found the internet…”
Find part 2 here – The Making Of A Kenyan Conman Catfish – Part 2.