Second Chances

I sat there looking at Sam. Smiling and wondering how second chances can be real. For Sam, this was actually a second chance to several other second chances that life had thrown his way. Let me explain:

Sam was the neighborhood drunk. Not that he drunk more than anyone else in the hood or sang the loudest when he was staggering home at 10 PM – he was actually not the type that sang. Maybe staggered once in a while but he never sang – at least not when staggering home.

Sam was witty, intelligent, exposed and a drunk. There were worse drunks in the hood but because he came from a particular family his drinking was more conspicuous. Let me take you back a bit.

Sam was born in the UK. So were his elder sister and younger brother. His firstborn brother was born in Kenya before their parents moved to the UK on a diplomatic assignment. Being children of diplomats they did not assume UK citizenship despite being born there. In the late 80s, there was a major political development in Kenya and because they belonged to a tribe that was considered rebels by the Moi regime their parents were recalled from the UK assignment. Their dad settled for a university teaching job, their mum was lucky to still get a government job but was posted to Kisumu. That is when they came down here. We moved into the neighborhood around the same time with them.

Growing up Sam was everything I wanted to be. Spoke good English with just the right amount of twang – of course, he had to speak good English. He was neighbors with the Queen!

Sam loved the local. He typically lived there. You see everyone who drinks at a local is an alcoholic – let’s not argue about this. There is no social drinking at the local, everyone there wants to get high.

There are those like Sam who literally live at the local. They check-in in the morning say 10 AM and won’t leave till 10 PM. Sam did not need to have money to drink. He did not have a job, his siblings did not send him money and neither his dad nor Nyarseme his mum – a staunch Anglican would give him money knowing the drunk he is and how much of their money he already wasted in school.

Sam, as I said, was very bright. In 1994 he scored 625 marks out of a possible 700 at Pandipieri Primary School in Nyalenda, Kisumu. Was the first time anyone was getting anything above 500 marks at Pandi (as we called it then, the ‘pieri’ suffix was too vulgar to be pronounced aloud by kids my age) and would be the last time.

He was admitted to Mangu High School where he only lasted two months before being expelled. He would be expelled from Six other schools before finally landing at Mbeji Academy in Siaya. His crimes were always smoking, alcohol, sneaking out through the fence and petty theft – at least that is what he told us.

Mbeji Academy back then was the school where rich parents took their children who have defeated their eyes – when you hear a Luo parent say “nyathini otamo wang’a,” know it’s bad. If that parent was rich they would take ‘nyathi ma otamo wang’gi’ to Mbeji.

The conversation with their friends would be something like,
“an aol yawa. Be asetemo ndii. We watere atera Mbeji dipo ka owuok gi certificate wamanyo kumoro watere.” These rich kids, their parents always hooked them up with everything from schools to jobs.

My mother Nyakisumo would only say “nyathi ma okalo penj iluongo gi barua.” There was nothing like finding you a school. You went to the school you were called to. You could not even dream of being suspended from school leave alone being expelled. There wereno barua schools sent to ‘luongo expelled students.’ If you tried that BS in Nyakisumo’s house you were on your own.

I don’t know if there was a version of Mbeji Academy for girls.

Mbeje never had that much form ones. By the nature of their business they mostly had form 3s and 4s. It was the place you were taken just to finish high school. The rules were relaxed. It was like campus life in High School. They had six different uniforms – not pairs of uniform but different uniforms!

They had uniforms for Monday and Friday, Uniforms for School Outings, Uniforms for when their school was hosting an event and so on….

They ate fish and chicken and chapo – yaani kids ate chapo in a boarding school. Something some of us only saw at Christmas and if your parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses like mine and did not celebrate Christmas you only saw it on Viusasa (lol, we ate enough chapos though).

I still wonder how Sam was expelled from Mbeji Academy too. Fidel Odinga was never expelled from Mbeji, Otieno Didi was not expelled from Mbeji….I could go on mentioning a lot of people who were not expelled from Mbeji but somehow Sam got himself expelled from Mbeji. Being expelled from Mbeji can be compared to the devil throwing a sinner out of hell. That had to be special.

The story according to Sam was that one day as his colleagues were asleep he collected their shoe yiote, put them in a sack, made a hole in the fence and sold them in the village. He had done this before with textbooks but thought he should try shoes. He needed the money to buy chang’aa. He did not tell us how much he sold the shoes for. The following day was a market day some of the students had asked for permission to go out to buy new shoes – these rich kids just had money enough to buy new shoes just lying around. At the market, they stumbled upon a seller who tried to sell them their own shoes. He was frogmarched to the school with the help of the villagers. Sam did not wait to be expelled. The moment he heard someone had been arrested with the stolen shoes he made good use of the hole in the fence. He did not even take his box or other items that were of value to him during his school life at Mbeji.

Sam’s story with education could have ended here but thank God for a system that allowed for private candidates and Alliance Francaise. I do not know what he scored at KCSE. He speaks fluent French and German too.

Sam’s father being the university lecturer he was had a huge library in the house. We would borrow the World Book Encyclopedia and Encyclopedia Britanica from their library. I only know two people who have read the entire volumes from cover to cover – one was my father (he used to send us to borrow them for him from Sam’s house) and Sam.

You could not start a conversation on any topic under the sun that Sam could not constructively chip in. He was also very witty. He was creative with his hands and mind. When not drinking he was always fabricating stuff. The first time I heard someone talk about a ‘scroll saw’ it was him. He wanted to create something that he could only do with a scroll saw and because he could not afford one he made one from scratch! Google to see how complicated that machine is, then imagine Sam making one from scratch.

Remember I said he had no job, so how did he support his drinking? His brightness and wit got him free drinks at the locals. He was such a witty storyteller. At times he would surprise strangers by making an informed comment about a discussion they were having. Once in a while, he got some money from repairing electronics for people or from his wife when she wanted to buy his affection. I did not tell you he was married and with three kids. The oldest is in form one now. A very sharp girl. Let’s stay with the wife here a bit.

Sam had a wife he always referred to as his mother’s wife. He called her so because it’s his mother who insisted he marry her when she got pregnant with their first daughter. The lady was a girl from the hood. Not from a family, Sam would have imagined that someone of his caliber – here we are talking family, should be marrying from. Class difference.

He did not love Nyamalo as she was fondly referred to in the hood. But Nyarseme being Nyarseme stuck to her guns…so they lived together for a few weeks before Sam sneaked to go to Nairobi. Life in Nairobi was a little too difficult and he soon returned. Back to life as he had left it just that this time he built himself an extension in his mum’s compound. Nyamalo was never allowed in that two-room extension. She was a persona non-grata in his little cubicle.

So Nyamalo slept in the main house with Nyarseme and her daughter. She would only come into the cubicle to clean it or to set Sam his breakfast or dinner. He was never home at lunchtime and he rarely touched his breakfast still he will cause too much drama if breakfast was not brought.

There were days Nyamalo slept in the cubicle though. These were days he bribed Sam with a little drinking money. That would probably earn her two or three days sleeping in the same bed with this guy who came home dead drunk each night.

One day I asked Sam how come he had three kids who look exactly like him if he really hated this woman the way he claimed.

“You know Nyamalo tricks me when I am high. I have told you before that is my mother’s wife not my wife.”

That must have been some serious tricks…But Sam loved his children. He just loved his drink a little more.

There are only two people I almost speak to exclusively in Luo. One is Tonny Ovich and the other is Sam. We were sitting at the Java on West End Mall. I was helping Sam renew his driver’s license. Sam, a guy who taught himself how to drive by stealing his dad’s Mazda 323 while in class six has not driven in over a decade. He had no idea that you no longer go to KRA to renew your driver’s license.

As the rest of us embraced technology people like Sam had stayed behind. He is now on WhatsApp though and on Facebook. Twitter is still a foreign concept but I am sure he will catch up.

When I lift my eyes up from my keyboard to take a sip of my ice tea with passion juice he opens his mouth:

“Omera Dan, I always knew ni you will make it. Ne inga focused chakre chon owadgi Orengo.”

I honestly do not know how to respond to that so I just smile. Sam thinks I have made it in life – but that’s because he doesn’t know much about me. We try to keep in touch but he only knows what he sees – which is what everyone else sees, the things I let them. No, I haven’t made it yet but I am not going to burst Sam’s bubble with facts. Maybe I am the only person he looks up to and imagine what making him realize it’s not all that might do to him. Not today, maybe never.

Sam is about to embark on his second real estate project. He just finished putting up a 12 – units apartment block at Polyview. His first tenant got in in September, now all the 12 houses are occupied.

Sam does a thorough background check on his potential tenants. You have to provide him with a one-year bank statement and/or payslips for a similar duration. Each of the units fetches Sh. 25,000 every month.

By now you are wondering how he could afford this. See Sam’s dad made good money as a diplomat and during his days teaching at the University. He had bought several properties in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu.

He is now unwell and he did not want to die when one of his kids was still unstable financially. So one day he called Sam to Homabay where he now lives and told him the only way he would inherit a cent from him was if he quit alcohol and took control of his life. He showed him his final will and testament which had left Sam out because of his drinking.

That is the day Sam quit drinking. Six months later his father gave him money to set up apartments at a plot they owned in Polyview. This was two and a half years ago.

Today he has just gotten a loan from KCB which he intends to use in putting up another apartment block in Kanyamedha. He says this one will be for his daughters.

I am so proud of Sam, proud of the turnaround he has made in his life and I am happy for the kids.

He is still not living with Nyamalo but if ninja stopped drinking, it’s just about time till that is worked out too.

We talk about the past, the people we grew up with. Some still go to the same locals we went to. The Alcoholics. You see at the local there are peeps like Sam who came in in the morning through the back door. Locals defying Mututho laws always have a secret entrance. Then there are the functional alcoholics who come in at 5 PM after work through the front door. Drink till midnight and go home to their depressed wives. They wake up with a hangover, do not take breakfast. At times they have to sneak out of the office at 10 AM ‘to remove lock.’ They think they are not alcoholics.

Most of these people drink because they are frustrated with something, some have just realized they can never rise to the occasion so they sink into drinks. No, woman would want you touching her when she was already dead asleep and definitely not when your breath is reeking of alcohol. She has resigned herself to being serviced by the bodaboda guy. If she is rich she has a Ben 10 in one of those houses in Nyalenda Railways. She is only staying with you because of the kids. You are not bothered either. She got her Ben 10, you got your booze. This is the real definition of a win-win. Others have dysfunctional families, there is the guy with a boss who screams at the slightest opportunity.

Then there are people like Sam who did not even know why they were drinking – but it was the only thing they could do.

The Sam sitting on the opposite end of the table on this hot Ksimu afternoon was a very different Sam, one I never imagined I would ever meet.

BTW in the first paragraph I said “the Java on West End Mall,” that was not necessary because there is only one Java in Kisumu. It’s at West End Mall.

Sam, has made it. If he stays this way he will never know poverty in his lifetime.

Featured Image Courtesy of Adobe Stock.



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