Traffic along State House Road was light for that time of the morning and Woolie’s niece eased her car carefully round the bend past St Andrew’s Church hugging the inside lane. She came to a stop just before the traffic lights. Woolie thanked her again. Looking quickly over his shoulder, he opened his door and got out of the car. He was just in time. The lights changed back to green and his niece took the left turn into Uhuru Highway heading off towards Westlands.
Woolie waited for a chance to get across the highway before heading north onto University Way. He walked past the entrance to the UON main campus noting how the tight security at this great place of learning was a sad commentary indeed on the present age. He hurried on past Harry Thuku Road and the name Donovan Maule came to mind. But that’s someone else’s post. A little bit further on the road merged into Moi Avenue, which for a while, some nostalgic types continued to refer to as Government Road, especially with the primary school just there.
Across the road Woolie caught a glimpse of the Jeevanjee Gardens. It was sad to think that this tiny park with it’s ancient Jacaranda trees was the only public green space in the whole Central Business District of a city with the stature of Nairobi. The park had been bequeathed in perpetuity to the poor people of the city by a philanthropist by the name of Alibhai Mullah Jeevanjee in 1905. Over the years there had been plans and schemes by City fathers and developers to take over the park and bring it into commercial development; to build huge shopping malls, a multi-storey car park and that sort of rubbish, but these had been met with strong opposition from the likes of the Green Belt Movement, Bunge la Wananchi and other environmental activists. Woolie feared that the day was soon approaching when powerful developers and their friends in County Hall would finally get their grubby hands on this beautiful piece of Nairobi history.
Woolie spotted a camera shop to his left. Perhaps these guys would have what he was looking for, he thought.
He stepped into the shop and walked up to a young lady who was standing by a display cabinet checking some stock. She stopped and looked up, smiling pleasantly, “Can I help you?”
“Good morning”, said Woolie smiling back. “I just wondered, do you sell watch batteries?”
The lady shook her head slowly. “No. We only do camera batteries here. Try the phone shop two doors up. They might do batteries there.”
Woolie thanked her and walked on. He got to the phone shop. It was large and busy. There were huge displays of the latest smart phones, tablets and other must-have gadgets. When he made his enquiry the young staff members looked at him as though he had two heads.
“Try a shop that sells watches,” they told him, shaking their heads. There was a shop that sold watches on the same side of the street, as it happened. The man at the counter informed Woolie that their watches came with batteries already inserted and no, they did not sell replacement batteries.
As Woolie left the shop the store watchman whispered to him “Jaribu fundi wa saa.” He said this pointing in the direction of Tom Mboya Street and beyond.
Woolie followed the road left around Khoja Mosque towards Tom Mboya. He walked along the pavement by the old Nation House. Across the road was the Main Fire Station. He stopped by another phone shop and asked the lady at the counter if she knew of a watch fundi.
“Oh yes”, she said. “There is a nice guy who has a stand at the entrance to one of the office buildings, sijui inaitwaje, but its just before you get to Jade Collection he is always open by 8.00 a.m.”
Woolie thanked her and set off to find the fundi. The clock in the tower by the matatu park showed that it was 08:50
Moments later he found the building. A young security guard confirmed that this was indeed where the watch repairman traded from. She showed him his stand by the entrance door and she explained that although the fundi lived somewhere out of town, it was unlike him to be so late for work.
Woolie, a self-confessed people watcher, found a quiet spot out of the way to wait for the fundi. He idly observed the general comings and goings on Tom Mboya Street. Now as he watched 3 fire engines emerged from the Fire Station and with sirens screeching, headed in the direction of River Road.
There was a dusty white saloon car parked with its nose to the kerb close to where Woolie stood. As the noisy Fire Engines sped out of the Station a young lady had been making her way across the road to get onto the pavement. She bumped lightly into the saloon’s off-side wing mirror which was sticking out. The mirror became dislodged and was now hanging as if on a thread. Almost immediately a clearly angry man leapt from the driver seat of the dusty saloon. He stopped the young lady bringing her round to the other side to examine the damaged mirror. After some rough negotiations the poor girl parted with what might have been forty shillings.
The man pocketed the money and let her go. This had all taken place in the blink of an eye and Woolie could not believe what he had just witnessed. But there was more to come. A second man emerged from the back seat holding something in his hand. It appeared to be a small bottle of superglue. The two men applied glue to the ‘damaged’ mirror and fastened it back onto the car to await the next ‘careless’ pedestrian.
At 09:50 Woolie decided he could wait no more for the fundi. He had an appointment with a pal on the other side of town and if he left now he would have plenty of time to get there. He figured he would sort out the watch battery some other time. As luck would have it mats for his new destination actually departed from the stage at the big roundabout near the fire station. He crossed over into the mat park and found one with a free front seat.
Woolie was just reaching to open the front door of this Nissan when he felt a heavy arm on his shoulder.
“Wewe!” A rough voice shouted in his ear, squeezing the shoulder “Wewe…umevunja gari na hii bagi yako. Sasa utafanya nini?”
A man thrust a piece of plastic trim in Woolie’s face, declaring that somehow it had been ripped off some vehicle by Woolie’s little rucksack as he brushed past.
Woolie was lucky to recognise this as a variation of the scam that had cost the girl across the road Ksh40. With a sad and ironic sense of Deja Vu he had asked the man to ‘go away’.
Happy Madaraka Day