Four Con Artists, Dr. Phil & Me

Once in a while – more often than I proudly admit – I watch Dr. Phil. He had a show sometime titled Project Single Girl or something like that, where married women gave advice on how to get a man. There were also functions where singles hung out and Dr Phil dissected the dates one-on-one.

One thing I took from that show was to assess your effect on others. Many people are so ingrained in being themselves and have a screw-what-anyone-else-thinks attitude. Others, like me, are at the other extreme, overly considerate of peoples feelings. I’m fairly outspoken, but even while being loud and brash, I choose my words carefully to avoid offending anyone. It’s the constant INFJ conundrum – telling the truth vs hurting somebody’s feelings. PMS and temper tantrums sometimes help me ignore the latter.

But a  few days back, I was wondering just how I come off to strangers. It had nothing to do with dating. Actually, it was more to do with conmen. It was a Monday, and I started my day playing Sweepstakes because I was feeling lucky. My scratchcard had three 100s on it, but the lady claimed it meant nothing and began to scratch a second card. Perhaps I should explain this more clearly.

I hadn’t played Sweepstakes in a while, so I looked utterly green asking which papers cost how much. I picked a 20 bob card, scratched it, and saw six numbers, three of which said 100. I was sure that meant I’d won something, but the lady snatched the card away and said, ‘Hiyo haina, chagua ingine.‘ She’d asked me to pick another card, so I assumed the first one was faulty and asked her what was wrong. She said the card was fine, but that I should continue playing if I wanted to win. I declined.

Half an hour later, I met this woman with a strong accent. She asked me the way to the mortuary, and I said I’d show her, since I was headed that way. She asked for my phone, claiming hers had run out of juice. My phone is pretty cheap – it’s a 1200 Mulika Mwizi, but it has a cute ringtone, and I’d probably negotiate with thugs to let me keep it. So I gave her a look that said WTF? She responded by giving me a number to dial.

Note that we were on Museum Hill, and there are no pavements, so I was half scared I’d get knocked over. I dialled the number and she had a two minute conversation in Luhya before handing me back the phone. We walked on in silence – well, I did. She talked about funerals and chicken and Uganda, explaining how her cousin had died suddenly with millions hidden in the house from their rental flats. Apparently, they had no clue where to find the money.

The story was told in a typical rural fashion, and I could easily have been talking to my favourite aunt. But then she asked where Moi Avenue was, and said she’d taken the wrong matatu and ended up in *some-place-in-Nairobi-whose-name-I-cant-remember-and-had-never-heard-of* Then … she almost got hit as we crossed the road.

A few metres ahead, we meet this guy in a  pulled over pickup, and he asks for my phone so he can call his pal and confirm a meeting. Ati?!  I told him I had no airtime, and he asked if he could just flash. I explained that the lady had used all my airtime, and she chimed in enthusiatically, saying I had been very generous that day. We walked on.

I left the lady at the Chiromo parking lot entrance. I was going to fly-over, which is closer to the main mortuary entrance, so I could have let her tag along with me. But I was wary by now, especially when she asked about the other gate, and wondered where exactly I was heading to. If she was so lost, how did she know there was a second gate? I directed her towards the watchmen and left.

Two hours later, I was wondering what the incident was really about when this guy walks up to me asking for 20 bob fare to get home. I shook my head. I then watched him as he asked the people in front of me. I was curious because unlike the usual stragglers, he walked rapidly, and didn’t ask everyone he met. He seemed to suss out the target to see if he could get anything. I followed him for a while as we walked along Koinange Street. By the time he reached Kenyatta Avenue, he was walking more slowly and was visibly distressed.

I crossed the road, wondering if he would ever get home, and as I was considering whether I should have given him the 20 bob, I met a Gideons guy. Come on now, four in one day?

He gave me the usual spew about wanting to find the Gideons building and said he had chosen to ask me because I looked respectful.Respectful? Fuck that, I have purple hair. Anyway, he started to ask if I’d seen him on TV and I cut him off, saying I was in a hurry. He took the hint and left.

Now, Dr. Phil, I don’t suppose you could tell me which part of my Northstar shoes and dreadlocked hair makes me  target for conmen – and women. Once is okay, but four times in one day? Was I wearing Eau de Gullibility or something? Maybe I should to figure out what clothes I had on that day … so that I can burn them.


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4 thoughts on “Four Con Artists, Dr. Phil & Me

  1. It could actually be the hair. I have long dreadlocks that go down to my lower back, and on way too many occasions I’ve been stopped and asked for food or money. And there was one who claimed that “I looked like a nice lady who’d help him out” because he’d come from FAR to do a job interview and now has no bus fare to go back home. I told him, I had been walking for over an hour because I didn’t even have fare for myself. For some reason they never seem to believe me when I say I don’t have money.

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