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By WAHOME MUTAHI
Now I think you all know that there are people who
carry a whole one million bob in the boot of their cars
and then call that petty cash. It is so little petty cash
that when their wallets dry up, they dispatch their
drivers to go the boot to refill the wallet.
I know all about it because I have been reading about
certain Kenyans who have been borrowing millions
from banks and then pretending that they owe what I
owe Man Kiboro, my local kiosk man.
I have been getting the idea that all they need to do
to have a million in their pockets as part of their
lunch money is walk into the bank at around mid-
day.
Once they are inside, the manager opens the safe
and asks them: “How much today? A million or three.
Please don’t take less than a million. You will break
my heart if you do so.” The fellow would not like to
break the heart of the manager so he takes two and a
half million very reluctantly.
If that is not what has been happening, then I don’t
know how those Kenyans we have been reading
about and their millions have managed to get so
much from banks, the same places where hunters
and gatherers like Whispers the Son of the Soil are
not welcome.
Ask me how the manager looks like and I will tell you
that I have absolutely no idea. I have made attempts
to meet them but next time, I will try to shake God
with my own hands instead of trying to talk to a bank
manager.
I have tried to meet those characters called bank
managers and they have made me understand why
they are called so. They are called bank managers,
because they operate from bunkers where the likes
of Whispers the Son of the Soil are not supposed to
come near.
So what happens when I present myself wearing a
borrowed suit because none of mine is fit to be worn
when one is seeing a bank manager? I go to the
counter where appointments to see the manager are
made and I meet the kind of character I was telling
you last Sunday is found in a bank.
The character is otherwise called a stone face
because as I said, bankers look like funeral home
attendants and think smiling is a crime. I announce
my name to the stone face and I say I want to see the
manager.
“What about?” asks the stone face giving me a look
that suggests that I have just escaped from Kamiti
Prison. I reply, “1 am interested in taking a loan.”
The stone faced sizes with my head. I add, “just little
money to finish a house I am building. Stone face
asks: “would you by any chance be having an
account with us?”
The way he asks suggests that he expects a No. I tell
him that I have an account. He cannot believe me
and he looks at me in a way to say that if indeed I
have an account, a mistake was made by whoever
allowed me to have one.
Stone face demands that I produce documentary
evidence to show that a mistake was made sometime
in the past. The mistake happens to be for anyone to
have imagined that I qualified to have an account.
Relevant documents
I produce the relevant documents to prove that
indeed I have an account. Stone face takes the
documents and disappears into the stomach of the
bankwhere I cannot see him. I assume that he is
finally impressed with me and has gone to book an
appointment for me with the mysterious character
called a bank manager.
The fellow returns after half an hour and asks me,
“Yes, can I help you?” I mutter things to the effect
that he had taken my documents in and that I was
expecting him to come and tell me whether I can see
the manager. He scratches his head as I pray to God
to strike the man with dandruff and other afflictions
that affect the place he is scratching.
He makes a quick turn and this time returns after
five minutes, holding my documents. He asks again
why I want to see the manager. I tell him that I have
always wanted to join the class of landlords and
therefore that I need a loan to build a house.
The man manages a smile and I tell myself that he is
pleased to know that I am an investor. I expect him
to open the door so that I can meet this mysterious
man called the manager.
I discover that I am very wrong when the same stone
face, now wearing a face that looks like granite asks
me: “Do you belong to a co-operative society by any
chance?” I say I belong to one. The man then asks:
“Why then don’t you take a loan from it?”
I give him the look that I normally give the landlord,
that is the one that says that I would like to see him
in a coffin. The man does not get the message and he
says, “if your co-operative society is not co-operative,
why don’t you try your funeral and benevolent
society?
“You know the Nyaituga Burial and Benevolent
society. Such societies are known to help the less,
fortunate members of society.”
The man is telling me that it is easier for me to die
than to see the bank manager. In other words, the
man is offering me sound advice that my kind does
not qualify for loans from banks. My kind can only be
trusted by co-operative societies. However, I still
insist that I must see the bank manager.
Stone face now puts on a face that suggests a hard
rock and says: “At the moment, we are not lending
for house building. It is our company policy.”
The way he says “we” and “our” suggests that he is
the chairman of the bank. The next thing I know is
that he is very busy opening the door to the
manager’s office, for a fellow who carries petty cash
in the boot of his car.
The man has come to try and not break the
manager’s heart by agreeing to take yet another
three million shillings from the bank. Once again I
cannot get a chance to see this mysterious man
called the bank manager. May be I will see him in the
next millennium.
It was one man called Bill son of the Spear Shaker or
William Shakespeare who said something to the
effect that neither a lender nor a borrower be. Of
course Bill was not living in Kenya where if you don’t
borrow, you are not a Kenyan. He also did not live in
Kenya so he would not have known that try as you
may, you must lend.
I only wish Bill could have offered some sound advice
on borrowing because those of us who live by
hunting and gathering live on borrowing. The only
things that we own and are not borrowed are our
names.
I have yet to know how to count a borrowed million
shillings lent to me although I hear it is some
hundred thousand multiplied by a ten. However, I
know what is to borrow from Mama Mboga who has
never handled a million either but sells those vital
greens.
Apart from those greens she also owns a dog-eared
book where she is willing to put your name and enter
what you have borrowed. Mama Mboga does not of
course lend to anyone. She does not lend to civil
servants.
She is old enough to know that they are very good at
telling stories about an item called the computer.
She is very familiar with a story that emerges from
some civil servants at the end of the month that
goes: “Mama, the computer has broken down and as
a result I cannot pay you.”
Very simple argument
Her argument in that kind of case is very simple. It is
that in the first place she did not lend to a computer
so it is not her business whether that machine broke
down or not. In that case, the next time the civil
servant wants to borrow from her, she is very firm
that her dog-eared book does not welcome his kind.
She still makes the mistake of lending me sukuma
wiki (kale) and associated greens believing that since
my life is not controlled by a computer, I will pay. She
does not know that by the time I am taking those
greens from her on credit, my neck is wanted by
those others I have borrowed from.
She does not know that in the previous days, I have
behaved like other Kenyans who are permanent
borrowers because they are hunters and gatherers. If
you are one, you know how they behave.
A Kenyan who wants to borrow two pounds from you
does not come waving his title deed and declare that
he has no bus fare. Instead, he will come to where
you are obeying your thirst and first of all observe
your buying habits.
He is trying to see how much you are worth and
therefore how much he can get out of you. He is a
patient creature and will stick at your table as he
chews that packet of groundnuts costing five bob
that he took on credit before he came to where you
are.
The man will chew as if he is contemplating on the
future of the world’s economy. Then he will finally
say: “Son of the Soil, it is you I wanted to see a small
one.”
When a Kenyan tells you that he wants to see you a
“small one”, he is not likely to talk to you about the
dangers of liquefying your liver and brain with Pilsner
Ice but you might not be aware so you rise.
The man leads you to a corner as if he is about to
make you take an oath and he says; “Whisey, I know
that you are a busy man and I would not have
disturbed you.
“Why I needed to see you a small one is because, you
know . . . It is like this. I had a cheque that was
supposed to be cleared today but you know how
banks are these days. They behave as if they feel
pain when they pay.”
“This is to say that as you are looking at me, the
mother of my children who really is also your wife
because she and yours are the same age does not
have anything in the house. The bank of course does
not understand that pain but I am sure you do. How
about just one hundred and then – I promise in the
name of our God – I will pay you back in two days.”
You part with the money but you don’t see the man
for the next one week. When you bump into him in
the streets, he seems surprised to see you and says,
“Chief, you are a lost man. I have looked for you all
over, kwani, did you change your swallowing places.
Heehe! Hee! I have looked for you really. I have been
touring this city like Vasco da Gama looking for you.
“Just imagine, the day before yesterday, I had a
whole three thousand shillings and guess what? We
had fun and we all missed you. Anyway, you know
how money is these days. It just vanishes and I
cannot believe my own pockets that as we are
talking, I have nothing in my pockets. Would you by
any chance have a ka-fifty? I will pay back with
whatever else I owe.”
Since you are not as wise as Mama Mboga, you part
with another fifty. Mama Mboga is not that foolish
and when I have vanished for days because I have
been evading her, she maintains surveillance on my
house. She keeps a close watch until she is sure that
I am having tough visitors. Then she strikes.
Holds her waist
When she strikes, she is a tornado. She enters the
house and plants herself at the door and holds her
waist. She does not say a thing for a moment. She
just surveys me and my visitors.
Then she says: “I see! I see! So you think my own
children can get scabies if they also eat fried food,
eh? So you think they can become sick if they eat
butter, eeh!
I cannot silence her by calling her the local mad
woman. I have to silence her by calling her aside to
ask for extra time or paying her.
All this is to say that I would not mind to carry petty
cash in the boot of my car. I would like to assure the
banks that I am a good borrower just like the others
and so I will not pay back the loan.
Any offers?

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