SHORT STORY: Crashland! Too long a service

Wednesday March 24 2021

His only private sin was to play Tamaa ya Kuku by Mbaraka Mwinshehe. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA


Musau tried to look harmless under the stare of the Asian boss but felt himself flush with guilt it made his collarbone hurt. He had slept badly the previous night contemplating his rebellion. He was also ageing.

His boss, Jibran, had those clear glassy eyes that looked like a mirror that could see into the souls of men, especially when he was always chewing those strange Indian intoxicants. They, however, made his temperament agreeable and his mind generous. Musau considered the need for numbing senses an intoxication for weak men. Or irritable ones, like Jibran, who found some sort of calm in Indian Kuber.

Jibran had grown handsome over the years his deep black hair sporting streaks of silver running through his temples like oiled sisal. His skin had the freckles of ageing dots that highlighted where it folded. He had known the young Jibran from 30 years ago.

A bespectacled teenager meekly walking like a saintless ghost among the vinyl records of his father’s shop. Then, Jibran barely took interest in the titles of the shiny black discs. He had hated the shop like it was a little prison.

Jibran would only light up at Fridays at noon when it was time to go to the Muslim prayer. Then it meant that he was free, to meet his friends and walk all the way to Nairobi’s Jamia Mosque then while time away and spend the better part of the afternoon away from the shop. It also meant Musau was left to the shop by himself because Jibran’s father trusted Musau with his life.

The pact


Unlike the other Indian shops who closed their outlets for Friday prayers releasing their African workers for the afternoon, the old man just upped and went to prayer leaving Musau behind the counter. He reciprocated the trust with unbridled loyalty, taking charge like the establishment were his own.

His only private sin was to play Tamaa ya Kuku by Mbaraka Mwinshehe. After the old man left, he would get the record, which he had stashed in a wrong sleeve so that no one could find and buy it. He would wipe it clean and place it on the stereo and watch it whirl.

Then the guitar strings would jump off the concentric grooves of the plastic black disk like a mystery being unravelled from a night of twisted circles. He would shut his eyes and picture the legendary crooner pluck at guitar strings as the dainty pin picked it up and converting grooves into angelic music.

Jibran’s father was member of a Sufi sect whose attitude towards men was like nothing Musau had seen or experienced. He treated everyone equally, was gentle, wise, extremely religious and only too willing to listen to his tales.

His son, on the other hand is what locals would describe as, ash follows a great furnace. Jibran’s body took on the turgidity denied his nimble father. His thick arms were covered with body hair and ran the length of the gold embroidered suit. He also loved glitter courtesy of a gold chain and silver necklace.

For 30 years Musau’s day began with cleaning counters, dusting shelves, wiping record labels and cataloguing boxes. The days ended in small talk with book-keeping then shutting the shop. But after a while, the old man died and Jibran took over. Musau spent the next 30 years just waiting to retire.

Small book

Maybe Musau should blame the old man, for he probably had not discussed the detail about a pension payout with Jibran before he died. The old man had said that for each month of service, he would set aside Sh10 towards Musau’s retirement.

Accordingly, Musau had marked out each calendar month in a small book calculating what he had accumulated, but had never asked for a raise in pension, and just went on crossing the last day of each month. The day came when he inquired from Jibran about his savings, but the boy, now grown, said he had no knowledge of any such arrangement.

The muezzin’s voice rang through green minarets. Jibran grabbed his green prayer mat and was off.

Musau’s workmate, Otieno, strolled over. Musau had brought in Otieno as his replacement as he was starting to feel his age. He was the same age as Musau when he started working for Jibran’s father. But he was not half as loyal.

Otieno was wily and soon tried to convince Musau to start selling some records off the books. He confirmed having a ready clientele from across the city who valued vintage record labels to play on their fancy antique music boxes.

Otieno was relentless, suggesting they could up the price or even ask fancy clients to pop in Fridays when Jibran was out at prayer. He argued that they could both make some real money, even more than the stupid pension Jibran had just wished into non-existence.

Dark thoughts

A young man came in, he looked excited and Otieno approached him.

“What are looking for?”

“Something African.”

He was holding a Harry Belafonte sleeve, but when he pulled out the record, it was a Mbaraka Mwinshehe! The man gasped and said: “I’ll take this one.”

Otieno offered two for the price of one, only if he could part with Ksh1,000 in cash and no receipt, but that he must also to leave the shop immediately. “Take your second pick quickly,” he said.

Musau watched as he saw his longtime companion Mwinshehe spirited to a new home just as his hard-earned pension had disappeared as he listened out for the closing prayer from the mosque.

Jibran snuffed out his cigarette and ground the butt underfoot at the city-designated Smoking Zone. He felt re-energised and needed to gather some nest eggs for his twilight years.

He marched purposely back to the shop. What’s mine is mine, he muttered savagely under his breath.