And so we were his wise men, his cohorts, his men. There was Arturo, 5’8, built like a generator, heavily tattooed, dreadlocks, Chelsea fan. Then there was Gidi, an aberration of Gideon, a stocky guy who spoke with a thick Ameru accent and was in charge of food preparation. We ate together, our merry band of men. Iano came next in this nefarious hierarchy, a tiny guy, Roots’ trusted confidante, in charge of all our money. Roba, who in spectacles didn’t look like the sort of fellow one would expect to drown bottles of makali without feeling a pinch, and who with his Dickens-esque manner of speech and behaviour hinted at a privileged background. MK and Olwang’, both of whom would be expelled together with Roots and Arturo. Peter, also called Scrum, because of a brief stint as a rugby player. Michael, also a rugby player, a star even. Nado Sugar. Binui. My roommates and I. And all the other hangers-on, the faceless nameless ones.
One time when we were in Roots’ room, no, actually in Arturo’s room (the very next door, 521), preparing supper. Most of the time we ate our nighttime meals together, one big happy family, Roots and his wise men, a conglomerate of college boys with ruffian-esque habits and manners, so there was nothing odd about our preparing supper together. Gidi was in charge of getting the groceries, condiments, unga ya ugali, and rice, chapatis, and whatever else would be required for the meal. Iano was in charge of making sure that the dishes were clean, and because none of us ever saw the need to eat/cook in the day, this meant that at eight, or nine, Iano would be found at our floor’s taps washing last night’s cutlery, a tiresome task especially when no one had bothered to soak the ugali sufurias immediately after the ugali was cooked. On this particular night, Roots and I were in charge of the cutting: tomatoes, onions, kitungu saumu, dhania, potatoes, and everything in between. This was not a task I was adept at, seeing as I had hardly had to cook before joining campus. Every couple of minutes, Roba would butt in and laugh his head off at my inadequate attempts at splitting the potatoes into four. Roots would laugh too, but then labour to show me the right way, to hold the potato in this manner, peel like so, and slice it at this angle. And on and on.
So on this night we were to have a meal of plantain and Irish potatoes – interposed with periodic sips of makali – and we were in our kitchen – a part of Arturo’s room partitioned off with a flimsy sheet – and Roots and I were slicing and dicing the tomatoes, waiting for Gidi – who was late – and Ian – very late – and interrupting our silences with brief remarks about the state of Arsenal’s season – Roots and I supported the same football club. It had been a good day business-wise for Roots, and so he bought a few Tuskers and Guinesses – a welcome change from the harsh reality of spirits – for our indulgence. Arturo was on his bed puffing away and Reggae was playing from the stereo; Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, Peter Tosh, Johnny Cash. I remember Roots singing along Sly and Robbie’s (presenting Tre’jur) Everything I Own and Arturo asking Roots how high he was. It was all happies at this point, that brief of moment where two boys are cutting potatoes behind a curtain, and a third is hotboxing the room, and the three are screaming that they are Mr. Bombastic, so fantastic, a nirvana, when the door burst open and two SWA officials stepped in.