SHORT STORY: The hungry graduates

Tuesday October 22 2019

 Labi Wagalo is offering the daily papers to Guga as if he had pre-ordered them

He is now three cars away from the junction on Karen Road. Ahead, a young beaded man is walking in-between cars carrying newspapers. Labi Wagalo is offering the daily papers to Guga as if he had pre-ordered them. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA | NMG 

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The last hour of darkness slithers away as clouds part and the moon disappears. Guga winces as he tries to steal more time in bed. He smiles at Gracy’s sweet face, she’s still fast asleep. He runs to the bathroom and in a quarter of an hour he is off to work.

The darkness is yet to fully clear when he gets on the road. There are already people walking on the side with their watchful eyes and keen ears.

Guga cranes his neck with impatience to see the road ahead. He adjusts his neck tie aware of how clumsy he is under pressure. The traffic eases, but just a little.

“Magadi road traffic is never this bad on a Friday,” he says to himself.

Guga is an early riser. He blames the bad traffic on his playful wife. She had surprised him with her cheekiness, the way she had grabbed his back suggestively. Her laughter warmed his heart. He concluded that no man however strong ever escapes the traps of his woman.

The cars move again and Guga sighs with relief even if it’s only for a short while. The what ifs and whatnots come to mind.


“What if we had a working public transport system or just discipline on the roads?” he thinks to himself, but stops himself from going down the rabbit hole of wishful thoughts.

He is grateful that he has a white-collar job. If matatus stay on their lane he could make it to the bank on time.

The traffic has inched closer to the barracks and cars are bumper to bumper. The army is building a new wall around the barracks. Guga believes it is a safe wall like the one America is building on the border with Mexico.

Closer home he equates it to the one Kenya is building on the border with Somalia. He thinks a wall is noble idea and a logical solution to keeping the country safe from terrorists.

He doesn’t understand why it has taken decades for the government to figure this out. Multimillion projects always end up as white elephants across the nation.

At the army gate, there are two armed officers checking the documents of blue collar job seekers at the barracks. The cold and unfriendly look between the job seekers and the recruiters surprises Guga.

He diverts to Migori Road opposite the barracks to beat the punishing traffic on Magadi Road. It may not be a safe road but it is faster.

A traffic cop with a big round stomach is directing cars aggressively. His cap shakes in tandem with his round belly at the slightest movement of his hands. He is a jolly man. His mood is contagious as motorists smile back at him.

“Keep Nairobi moving? Kenya is moving. Let’s go,” he yells.

He gets on the road to Soweto. The traffic is better here but there are more people walking on the road, oblivious to the cars.

Guga knows better than to hoot his horn to warn them off the road. They are jobseekers headed to Industrial Area in search of the few opportunities.

Guga is facing the underpass that leads to Soweto West. The sun is finally rising and its rays illuminate Otiende estate in splendour. He can see Soweto spread out from Makina, Soweto East, Muriranjas to Line Saba.

He is now three cars away from the junction on Karen Road. Ahead, a young beaded man is walking in-between cars carrying newspapers. He has a T-shirt with bold inscription. Guga reads it loudly, its an abbreviation of his CV.

Name: Labi Wagalo

School: University Of Nairobi

Degree: Bachelor of arts-Philosophy

Labi Wagalo is offering the daily papers to Guga as if he had pre-ordered them.

“Wuod baba-son of our father, things are thick. I am not a professional vendor but I should sell these to buy food today. Take three. All the dailies,” Labi says, his expression frank and competitive.

Guga tells him: “Sibuor,’ meaning lion. This is real effort. Manliness is about effort. It doesn’t matter whether you stand or fall. I will buy three. Thing is, I have to support you.”

He pays with a five-hundred shilling note.

“See all these people with big cars. They don’t support us. I did philosophy at the university. This is what I believe. Hardship strengthens those it does not break. But this will change. We shall change it,” Labi says.

Guga views Labi as a radical based on his looks and the way he talks. His mind dwells on the situation in Soweto West and on how to save Labi. The immediacy of it catches him as though he is the only stranger in Jerusalem.

“Keep change,” Guga says.

“What we need in this country are not handouts but enablers. Mostly a good business climate, funding and leadership. Men are willing to work. In the past they accused us of chasing white collar jobs. Not anymore. Is this a white collar job? You tell me. Does this look like a white collar job to you?” Labi replies aggressively.

He stops talking, his voice now shaky. His eyes turn chilly and sombre.

“You’re on the right course. Keep at it. Send me your CV. I will try to help you get a job. Your efforts shall bear fruits,” Guga says but he notices that Labi now looks grim.

“Let me tell you my brother” Labi shouts, “Something will have to be done in this country. How can you have thousands of jobless graduates roaming the streets hungry? How? Knowledge in an empty stomach is lethal.”

Labi eyes burn with rage. Guga wonders what has provoked him.

“This country belongs to all of us. Men must eat with dignity and consideration. Eat and leave space for water and air to breathe well. See what they are doing.

They are overfeeding and puking on our naked feet. There are no crumbs falling off from their tables and we are unable to eat their vomit. We must topple them. When the drums roll and every one of us rises, not even that new army wall will stop us. It will be like a locust invasion. We shall take all that is ours. All that they have unjustly acquired for themselves,” Luga says loudly and defiantly.

The traffic eases and Guga turns to Karen Road. He thinks about enablers, climate, funding and leadership.