First, let me just say this post has very little to do with William Ruto. I saw him on Citizen TV a few nights ago, and he was giving a very passionate defense. I could almost swear the man was crying. He kept listing all his neighbours from ‘that community’. Turns out his sister is even married to ‘one of them.’ In conclusion, he said he can’t possibly have organized to have ‘them’ killed because they’re all so close to him.
And before you accuse me of anything, my little girl is from ‘that community’ and my dad is from ‘that other community’. As for me, well, I do speak a little French.
Anyway, I watched Ruto for a few minutes and ended up deeply confused. I mean, I know politicians are really good actors, and given what’s at stake, he’d have to act really, really well, but I have to say, he had me doubting the ‘hate speech’ I routinely hurl in his direction. I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime soon, he’s sitting in the State House.
But that’s not why I named the post after him. The real reason is.., well.., I’m confused. There are certain situations in life, like these ones, for instance, where you know the thing is wrong but you’re not sure what to do about it. I mean, what’s the appropriate response? That’s how I felt while watching Ruto, and that’s what puts him at the centre of this story.
A few weeks ago, I was walking home from work. It was about 8.00 p.m. and I was walking behind Kenya Archives. I don’t like being in town at night, because there’s too much to pay attention to – cops, loud makangas, blaring horns, lost children, potential muggers – and of course my own thoughts. It’s a well documented fact that I can’t multitask. Of course my pal thinks I can’t possibly be mugged since I have purple dreads and I walk like a guy, but that’s a story for another day.
I always have a backpack with me, and it almost always has a laptop in it, so every once in a while, I’ll look over my shoulder to make sure no one is trying to pluck it out. That’s how I first noticed the guy. He was walking uncomfortably close to me, and it was all I could do not to turn around and ask him to respect my personal space.
But before I could do that, it happened. The guy just sort of .., tripped. Of course I reached for my bag before I turned to see what was going on. As often happens in Nairobi, the crowd had parted for a second to let him fall, then everyone had gone on with their business. I looked just in time to see him take a few steps back and pick a brown envelope. I assumed he had dropped it when he fell, so I didn’t pay much attention. But when I resumed walking, I saw that he was still walking unusually close to me.
I decided to make a sudden stop to see if he was tailing me. [Yeah, I know, I’m paranoid like that.] He bumped right into my backpack, and as I started to give him a withering look, two things happened. He moved into the light, near a matatu, and slowly put the envelope into his pocket. At the same time, a girl in a pink sweater and high heels rushed past me.
I tried to figure out what had happened, but then he came and started talking to me. He said the girl had dropped her ‘mzigo’ and that he was running after her to give it back. As he said it, he took out the envelope, and I saw that it was a tight wad of thousand bob notes. There must have been 300K in there! I gave him a look – I’m not sure what look exactly – and walked away. After all, I was wearing headphones, and it was easier to assume I hadn’t heard him. The man followed me for a few more meters then disappeared in the crowd. I tried to spot the pink sweater lady, but she was gone too.
The incident bothered me all the way home. Who was that woman? Why did she have so much money? What was it all for? Did she know she had lost it? What would she do when she found out?
The girl had looked quite young, though all I noticed were braids, nice legs, heels, and a short skirt. She seemed like a regular Nairobi girl. I felt sad for her because I know how I feel when I drop even a hundred bob, so what about a hundred thousand? What is one supposed to do in situations like that? Grab the man by the collar and take him to a cop? Stand on a pillar and yell, ‘Stop the girl in pink!’ Ask the dude to split the money with you? Incite mob justice then grab the loot and walk away?
I didn’t give the situation much thought until today, when I found 500/= in the office bathroom. I could have used the extra money, but for some reason that I don’t quite understand, I took it to the receptionist instead. After all, if anyone had lost money, she’s probably the first person they’d ask. Well, either her or the office cleaning staff, and they were all standing in reception when I got there, so yay!
I don’t know if whoever lost the money knows they lost it, or if they thought to ask the cleaning staff about it. For all I know someone got a free chicken dinner, and maybe that’s exactly what the universe wanted. After all, I can’t argue with a force that reconnected me with my old friend simply by sending me into panic when the ATM swallowed my money. But I still wonder what we’re supposed to do in situations like this.
It was easy for me to hand over the money and forget about it because it was payday and I had a lot more than 500/= in my wallet. But what if had been mid-month? What if my prepaid meter had been beeping and the baby needed milk? And what about that tightly bundled envelope? What if it had been me that saw the dropped ‘mzigo’ instead of the shifty little man? Would I have picked it up? Would I have given it to the cops? Would I have counted it as a blessing from God? Would I have given it back to charity [after I had used it for profit, of course] or ignored it, pretended I hadn’t seen it, and walked on? I saw a sock in the ladies’ room once, back when I was an intern. I gave it to my supervisor, thinking he would find out who it belonged to. Instead, he slipped it into his pocket and walked away. Would I have done that with the several hundred thousand?
In an ideal world, everybody would be honest. Lost money would be returned to its owner, lawyers would protect the innocent, cops wouldn’t ask for bribes, and nobody would be killed because of their race, height, or mother-tongue. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and I don’t see what good can come of guilting myself to death. So while I don’t have any answers myself, I leave you with this: What would Ruto do? And.., what would you do?