To each his own, devil and angel, alike.

A couple of days ago, I was able to experience in one evening, the disparity of people’s lives. I was able to mingle with the upper middle class on the one hand and interact with the destitute within the space of two hours. It has had me thinking for the last two days how abstractly we view other people’s lives and how different the experiences are.

The first part of the evening, I picked up this beautiful lady and we headed off to listen to Imani Woomera, a poetry and spoken word diva in Nairobi where she was set to enthrall our lives with erotica. Saxo, the upmarket jazz bar where she was due to perform is tastefully furnished in various shades of red and the walls are lined with interesting black-and-white, well mounted photographs – in some cases of jazz personalities.

The crowd was a largely corporate crown and I noticed a few members of the Corp. Diplomatique and some clearly well-to-do corporate types who had paid a cool five hundred shillings for the two hour event. A number of middleaged (well, in their forties) women sat in the table next to hours and whiled the performance away chatting about their house, pools, car and kids among other hoity-toity subjects. At one point, my date got quite irritated and asked them to tone it down, a matter that they quickly ignored.

It was interesting to note how often, the ladies pulled out their expensive phones from their designer hand bags (almost always pulling out their car keys first) and after a few seconds placed them back. Or the way all their fingers were laden with gold rings, wrists with gold watch and bracelets and necks with gold necklaces… it was especially entertaining to see them pretend to enjoy Imani’s rendition of “exclusive” by politely clapping and nodding approvingly to each other how much they enjoyed the art involved. Most interesting was perhaps the announcement of one that she makes a point of going to jazz bars just like these in the cities that she travels to, whenever she does.

It was entertaining to watch to young twenty-somethings make their way to Imani during one of her breaks to gush at how wonderful she was and to exclaim how “I had no idea!” while dramatically holding their chests and looking sufficiently enthralled.

Well. Yes.

After the evening was over and I had delivered my fair dreadlocked maiden to her residence I decided that I was decidedly peckish and that I would go down to ambassador area on my way home to find something to peck at. I ended up at a restaurant next to Munyiri’s (every real Nairobian, I understand, is well acquainted with this establishment, where they would stop after a long night of vigorous dancing at the Carnivore). The interesting thing is that that one block where the Ambassador Hotel is on Moi Avenue never sleeps. The three maize roasters were doing a roaring business – well blazing at least.

A number of girls and women of varied ages stood around provocatively in jeans and fancily designed skirts chatting away and trying not to be obviously marketing their particular brand of customer service. A drunkard staggered a few steps away from the upstairs bar that he had popped out of, bumped onto the wall and a few people and eventually fell onto a little puddle by the wall and – I guess – decided to rest there for a while he gathered the strength needed to get to a matatu and home (well, he was asleep by the time I was leaving there).

The restaurant I walked into was not busy and the waiters stood around by the counter and had an easy banter, A few tables were occupied – all by one person each – by people who seemed lost in their thoughts and in the business of shoving food down their throats. A woman seated at a table in the centre of the shabby-ish restaurant particularly caught my interest.

She was maybe in her thirties, and neatly dressed though she was a little shabby. She was sharing her dinner of rice, stew and cabbage with a baby, who I guessed was about 6 months old. She was dressed in a jeans skirt and black shoes. Her toes had peeling black nail polish and her hair was long-ish but in its most natural of states, combed into a pony and tied with rubber band. Her baby had a brown sweater on and a green and white shawl with matching socks and mittens.

Her eyes were far away as she chewed her food (when she wasn’t spooning some of the dish to the child or herself). She simply seemed to be. I couldn’t help what her life was like. What I found most striking is the fact that she had no bags, which are generally common with women with babies (containing nappies and things) – not even a hand bag.

What was her life like?

Next to the window sat a man, seemingly in his sixties. He was dressed in a thoroughly faded and threadbare grey suit and shoes that while intact, had seen many better days. His hair clearly had not been combed for a while and his beard was scruffy. He sat ramrod straight in his seat with a folk and knife and expertly ate his chapatti and stew dish quietly and with seeming aristocratic (it’s the only word I can find to describe it) dignity.

Presently, my take-away meal was handed to me and I walked out thoughtfully. At the entrance I was stopped by this man in his thirties, who was dressed in faded jeans, reeked of alcohol and sweat and whose bloodshot eyes peered at me through wire rimmed glasses.

“Excuse me,” he said to me with a conspiratorial smile, “have you a light?”

He was dangling a cigarette in his hand close to his mouth as if in readiness for my production of the required match. I was struck by that lucid and very clear diction but most of all, in his way of framing his words. The average Nairobian who speaks passable English would say, “do you have a light?” if at all they used the word light.

I apologetically said that I don’t smoke.

He said, “Good man. I’d suggest you don’t start. I’m averse to the habit, but one must while the night away, mustn’t one?” His English was so refreshingly good and lucid and old fashioned that I would have stood there for the rest of the night chatting with him. Then he floored me: “to each his own, devil and angel, alike.”

He abrubtly turned away and moved to the nearby maize roaster and after exchanging a couple of lewd jokes in fluent Gikuyu, bent over the stove, lit his cigarette and weaved away.

I had not even had time to answer him.

In the car, as I drove away, I answered him absently, “yes, one must.”

I read that quote in a classic many years ago and it was one of those phrases that seems to stick with you as you grow and when he said it, that exact way, I have been unable to stop thinking of him. What is his story?

Hmm…

To each his own, devil and angel, alike.

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  1. I love your writing style, there is so much I want to say but let me internalise what you have written before doing so.

  2. Fathiya

    I don’t know. I know of this movie that was called to each his own that was made in the 50’s or something that i watched on cable some time ago. The phrase was featured severally. And there’s a book i’ve read.

    You are right though. The people that you meet day on day are so diverse and many have such intertwining backgrounds that they might as well be coming from the same place.

    very well written Kags

  3. anonymous

    Social stratification is a concept that will stay as long as human populations exist. It is just one of those strategies in life that some will have a better life than others. The good news is that unlike in the past where it was difficult to move from one class to another (eg it was hard to move from peasantry to being royalty), today, one’s personal endeavour, education and good luck can move them between classes.

  4. Vee

    What gets my blood boiling, however, is when those in power (wanting to look like they are working) dangle some report on how we have glaring disparities in the Kenyan social structure… they form commissions and think tanks to come up with solutions. Whilst the money they use on that could change a numerous number of people’s lives at Ambassador. But as usual, that is the end of that. Indeed to each his own, devil & angel, alike.

    The Ambassador area really seems to get you into a pensive mood… write a proper short story about it sometime… this is a good start…

    :0)

  5. Vee

    Oh yeah and those hioty-toity women who ignored the plea to tone down… shall forever dwell in the bowels of never being able to understand the great words that come from poetic beings… therefore they shall lack in spirit…

  6. Man’s greatest challege is to look at another man and think of them lesser.
    We are sometimes caught thinking of our fellow humans as shady,,illetrate,,poor,,and all those terms that make them seem lesser.Sadly though is that they too will have tears shed when they leave this world, as we too will.They too will have someone cry in the knowledge that their beloved is no more.They too will leave a dear one,a friend,a spouse,someone they know will be sad that they left.And that too will be our story.WE who think of ourselves as gisty,as posh as literate and whatever else we call ourselves,,,we too will have someone cry for us.We too will have someone miss us…….
    Only through Christ’s eyes are we equal.

    Loise.

  7. Vee

    Loise it’s interesting that you should say what you’ve said. I was travelling to Lamu a week ago: And on seeing the bare land and the vast emptiness…where admist it all there were homes built with planks of wood – my first thought was “Poor them”

    But after I spent a few days in Lamu and was on my way back…I realised “Poor Me”… my aim in life is to achieve financial comfort, buy a car, home, clothes, socialize, show off, raise my kids, retire, travel… on and on and on and on…

    Poor me because here I am thinking that am better off…but in reality I am busy chasing things that are all material and won’t go with me to the grave… Who am I to look down on those that live life in the best way they can?

    Indeed, in Christ and Death we are equal…

  8. I am stalking you.. and joining in the bandwagon.

    You do write very very well mpaka I am jealous and since I am almost a mommy to be, I have decided my son will be as well read and written as you are!

  9. Jay

    Al Kags,

    I must tell you this, today if never again. I absolutely love the way you write, and what it says about you. I’ve come across it in other places and then I found Tenses. I come and go, but every time I come, through your writing, I am struck by….. the sense that you are an outstanding person. An A1 guy!

    I know, I know, heh heh even I am scaring myself but you know, just so you know.

    By the way, I couldn’t open Blue Smudges.




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