“Neither a borrower nor a lender be;For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!”
A short passage from Lord Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 3 which I then shamelessly proceed to borrow in order to illustrate a point.
It was Sunday morning. Woolie sat in the tiny living room, tucking into a king size breakfast of fried eggs, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, toast and ML spinach. In his right hand he held a huge mug of coffee and in his left, the remote control with which he surfed the various news channels. His continuous flicking up and down the channels was irritating and Babu, sitting opposite, took a sip of his black tea and shook his head. Woolie wanted to hear what the brightest brains in the land were saying about Obama and his amazing speeches. He wanted to hear why the killing of a single lion by a crazy dentist in Zimbabwe was making more headlines than the killings of hundreds of people in trouble spots around the world, including Zimbabwe. Was it true that the Governor was taking back the trees used to line the highways after the great leader left?
“ Look, switch off that telly and let’s talk for a bit. Explain it to me again, what really happened here, Woolie?” Babu asked.
Woolie raised his arm unconsciously making a sign for Babu to keep quiet. He was trying to catch up with the news for the few days that he had been incarcerated as he ate the food that Babu had prepared for him. Babu stood up and and switched off the telly. “Finish your breakfast first, then you can watch all the tv that you like.”
“Boo!” Woolie said, making a face.“You know how grateful I am for you coming to my rescue, Babu and those mushrooms are just the way I like them! What more can I say. You saved my life, boss. You’re my hero,” Woolie said, spreading jam on a piece of toast.
Babu shook his head again. “No, no, Woolie, I’m not finagling for gratitude here. You’ve been trapped in here for nearly three days! I tried calling you for ages and you were not answering. That was really odd, man. Scary.” He looked at Woolie intently and asked, “ Does this have anything to do with young Rubina?”
“Finango who? “ asked Woolie. “Where have you been learning new words, Babu? No, this has nothing to do with Rubina. I have not actually spoken to her since last Friday, before she left for Nakuru.” Woolie thought for a moment and said, “I’ll give her a call in a bit, I guess.” For Babu this was the information that he sought. It was an indication that the lawyer had not told Woolie of her plans for the near future. Babu wondered when she was going to tell him. Perhaps she wanted to tell Peter Malo first. That was why she had gone to Nakuru on Saturday morning, he mused. To Woolie he said, “Finagle.”
Woolie knew that he had plenty to be thankful for. He told Babu how after dropping Rubina home on the Friday evening, he had gone home to get changed as he was going out for a bite to eat and some drinks with his pals. The city was abuzz with the much awaited arrival of Barack Obama, the first US President to visit our fair Republic. That day the media were covering a single news item and Woolie had learned a lovely new word: Potus
Woolie explained that he had come home to a cold flat in complete darkness. All was quiet, save for the occasional screeching from the the cats in the alleyway at the back. It was early evening and the cats would be fighting for fish bones from the rubbish bin outside the rear gate of the Bahari Fish and Chips shop. As the night wore on the cats would move away leaving the alleyway for muggers to lie in wait for tipsy revellers, foolish enough to take a short cut home.
Woolie had run a bath, pouring himself a large whiskey in a small glass. He drew the curtains and turned on the tv to see whether President Obama had finally arrived. They were still waiting. It seemed Barack would land late in the night. This was Nairobi, not Camp Bastion! So much for all the grass that the Nairobi Governor had planted.
Woolie went into the bathroom, locking the door as was his habit when he was doing more than just a number one. He picked a nice book from the drawer and settled to read. When he was done he got a packet of sweet smelling bath salts from the drawer and sprinkled them into the water. He slid into the bath and lay back, shutting his eyes. He placed a wet flannel over his face, pretending he could not breathe. He lay there for a while as the tiredness left his limbs. The water became cold so he finished washing and got out. He had forgotten to bring a towel. When Woolie grabbed at the knob to open the door, it came away from the door in his hand.
“Nkt!”, he said, stooping low to pick up the screws that had also come away from the door panel. As he tried to push them back in he realised that he would need a screw driver. He remembered that there was one in the drawer. He had left it there when he adjusted the arm on the toilet ball-valve to reduce the water he was flushing. He rummaged about looking for the screwdriver. As he did so he recalled the day two months ago when the neighbour from two doors away, Cecil, borrowed the same screwdriver for ‘five minutes’. He had not returned it. As he fiddled with the knob the rest of the door mechanism on the outside of the bathroom fell away. He was trapped!
Woolie had told himself that there was no need to panic. Far better to take a calm and considered assessment of the situation. There had to be a way out of this predicament, surely. He was locked in the bathroom, that was certain. The window was too high and too small to offer him an exit. His mobile phone was in his bedroom next door. He had no tools, with him, in the bathroom, that he could use to break out. He may not have food, but there was plenty of water to drink. He started to panic. How did one pick a bathroom door? There was only one thing to do: shout for help.
Woolie had tried to shout for twenty minutes. He stopped to take a break when his voice became hoarse. The streets outside were busy and very noisy. It was patently clear that nobody would have heard him unless they happened to be in the bedroom next door. He wondered why he had not placed a land line in the bathroom. He tried to kick the solid door but it was one that opened inwards and had a very solid frame. The bathroom was tiny with very little room. Woolie realised that he could not run up and smash into the door with any power. He hurt his foot and gave up on that idea.
At 2:00 am Woolie drank another tumbler of water. He was getting quite hungry. He could hear loud music and laughter from the bar down the road. The smell of barbecued goat hung in the air. The streets were quieter and the traffic flowed quicker. He considered the numerous items that he had lent to his friends, never to see again. Should he even refer to these idiots as friends, in future?
That man Cecil, with the screwdriver, he was definitely an idiot and Woolie thought of him as an acquaintance rather than a friend. Mary who was an old schoolmate had moved to a house in a street behind Woolie’s. They had met at the local bar a few times and she was a good friend. There had been a power surge one afternoon, at Mary’s house and it had blown out her iron. She had come to borrow Woolie’s and he had done the neighbourly thing. Mary’s house was burgled when she was away for the weekend. They had taken everything that was not fixed down. Panye was in a class of his own. He had come to Woolie one lunch time, spun him a tale of how he needed 2k urgently to replace some filange part on his car which had broken down on the side of Mombasa Road, near the big Equity bank. He was never seen again and Woolie, upon learning that Panye did not actually own a car, had considered the 2k well spent in a lesson on friendship and money.
It was 04:00 am Woolie was getting cold. He had nothing to wrap over himself to keep warm. Woolie wondered why he had never considered hiding a small bottle of whiskey in the medicine cabinet. There was no pen or paper with which to write a quick SOS note that he could throw out of the bathroom window. He slept a restless kind of sleep, on the cold floor. He spent the whole of Saturday sleeping, only waking to drink some more water. Saturday night was party night. The streets were full of noise and celebration. Woolie slept a distressed sleep that night dreaming of soft towels, screw drivers and tool-boxes. The hunger made it difficult to think. The smell of nyama choma from the bar was torture and his belly complained loudly. He dreamed of Cecil running away with the screwdriver “Woolie! Woolie!” he said, “I’ll be back in five minutes, Woolie”. Woolie dreamed of getting himself a bow and some arrows..”Five minutes Woolie,” Cecil had said.
“Woolie! Woolie! There was someone inside the flat, calling him, shouting out his name! It was not a dream.
“In here, I’m in here. In the bathroom”, said Woolie, rather weakly.
When Babu kicked the door in he had been expecting the worst. Had Woolie disturbed some burglars who had beaten him and tied him up in the bathroom? Had they injured him, perhaps left him for dead? The sight of a hungry Woolie, shivering from exposure was not what he had expected. He helped him to his room, getting him a pair of pants and a dressing gown.
“Can I get you anything?” Babu had asked. Woolie smiled saying that all he wanted was his phone and a nice cup of tea.