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Monday, August 29, 2011

of bags and men

“Even the scariest of animals is scared of something.”

this is a saying that my cousin loves to repeat, he says it when we are walking down roads we really shouldn't be walking down. He says it when he feels uncomfortable about something or someone he has spied down the road, when he gets the creeps he says it and it assures both of us that whatever it is coming down the road is just like us.

The other day we saw two bag-men and they engaged us in conversation. We had been discussing school and prefects since we were with yet another cousin a young'un barely 17 years old and looking fifteen with it. Anyway across the road we saw these two bag-men, chokoras we would call them in kenya or street-men because nobody could call them boys. They were the kind of street urchin who carries around a bag made o' sackcloth, an interesting irony since in biblical stories sackcloth was the traditional material worn for mourning. It was worn by women who wanted to let their grief show, by Pharisees and people who would tear out their hair in grief and wail till the walls were deaf. And these people wouldn't bathe for the period of mourning. I feel like I made a judgement there that's probably not right, maybe a tad discriminative, I thought that bag-men don't bathe like the mourning Hebrews of old,and that their lives are sad meaningless sacks of mourning where the only thing they collect is the garbage they root around for in trash heaps while they themselves get treated like trash by the same society that may have failed them and doomed them to that life. But there are no wasted lifes and its entirely possible that there is no mourning for some of them and I know that they bathe because I have spied them every so often in rivers like the one near museum as I walked home from school.

Anyway the bag-men heard what we were talking about and shouted across to us in Swahili
you're talking about prefects, but what's a prefect to a head-boy?” at this point we were still uneasy about talking to them because of fear, but they were walking on the other side of the road so we figured there would be warning of a fight or anything like that plus the sun was still in attendance.
when I was in high school I was a head-boy, I was the great hope of my school a really smart, especially driven and multi-motivated young man. I cold read for hours at a time and i passed those exams every time they came.”

we listened to him as he talked, we listened to him as we walked, we listened to him from across the road as he spoke in a quiet, measured way. You know the kind of people who are so used to authority that they don't need to shout to assert it? The guys who quiet a room by talking really silent, the men who have that natural charisma that has assured them all their lives that people will wait to listen to what they are saying and as a result they do not rush over words or trip over sentences, instead they speak slowly, they speak deliberately and everyone listens, nobody jumps in or gets distracted. He was that kind of guy.

Soon we seperated and walked the rest of the way home with a lot on our minds. The truth was none of us would want to be living the kind of life this guy was. But he was a head-boy in high school, a smart, charismatic man and yet life in all its twists and turns had led him to this place where he was walking beside us in rags and a bag full of garbage. It made me think of how life is not assured for anyone, the only certainty is death and not till they put you in dirt is anything written in stone. It was an interesting encounter no doubt and I do feel like my life is a little richer from my interaction with the bag-man and a listen to one of the stories that he carries around in the real bag he and all of us carry around wherever we go, the bag of memories and experiences of what-ifs and regrets a bag that hardly makes any sense to even the best of us even as we go on adding more and more to it.