Today Junior came home from school very upset by the day’s lesson on tribes, clans, and races. In short, on the diversity of human beings and the differences between them. Until then it would not have occurred to him that in the eyes of society he was different—it would not have occurred to him, for instance, that he was so different from his friend Moses Muhutu, whose parents are from Rwanda. Moses’s friends called him by his nickname, Utu, “humanity.” Now Junior’s upset, inconsolable… The day’s lesson had made him question humanity for the first time.
Yet at school Junior refereed the soccer games between two teams named after the two ethnic groups that were reputed to be the most terrible in all of Africa, the most irreconcilable…
Exhausted, he threw himself onto the mattress belonging to Mista Gilbati Olé Kaparo, the twenty-four-hour security guard at Wanja the polyandrist’s house. Junior’s beloved mother couldn’t answer all of the questions her only son asked her. Why did Kaparo spend the night outside on a mattress when everyone else spent it inside on comfortable beds? Why do I have three fathers when all my friends only have one each? Why don’t we go visit my grandparents in the country during the holidays? Beautiful Wanja didn’t know how to answer any of these questions.
Wanja was one of those brave and beautiful East African ladies who, instead of navigating the unforgiving job market, decide to enter into a financial arrangement with a group of men, each tasked with fulfilling a different duty: one for renting a house, one for beauty treatments, one for this and that… A sort of division of labor between men who could be exploited at will, because it was unthinkable that they would unionize. Wanja had come to Nairobi for her studies; after graduating from Graffins College in Westland with a degree in secretarial studies, she had no trouble finding a job at the Ministry of Public Works, but her monthly salary only stretched until the end of the week. It was a “serum wage,” as one researcher in the starving academic community termed it. A serum wage merely keeps the salaried patient in a comatose socioeconomic state; so much for the social diagnosis.
In addition, Wanja was burdened financially by her family’s various needs: her parents’ healthcare, the school fees for her younger brothers and sisters…
A pensive woman, Wanja often wondered how her old office friends could afford to live on their wages in Nairobi and enjoy all the city had to offer, given the complete financialization of the economy. Perhaps they had relatives in the US—on green cards obtained through family—who sent money home…
The currency here is the pesa. You either have it or you don’t! Pesa: the word in Swahili probably comes from the Portuguese or Spanish, but it doesn’t matter, without pesas you weigh nothing, you weigh zero.
Once she realized how the other beautiful women in Nairobi reconciled a serum wage with the expensive cost of living, Wanja enlisted three men from her social circle who didn’t know one another. But this did not achieve the intended result: she wasn’t attending high-society parties after work, nor was she driving the latest Clio…
So one day she decided to spread her wings: she abandoned her three companions and resigned from the civil service.
Through a friend, she found the right man in the right place: a Togolese by the name of Koffi Napoé who was at the height of his career at the United Nations Environment Programme, here in Gigiri.
The housing crisis, which was dire in Nairobi, was solved for Wanja, but was it solved for good? That was the question. She settled in the Buruburu Centre on Jogoo Road, which was rather far from Lavington, Koffi’s main residence. But one man is not enough. You need at least two more to be able to live the good life inconspicuously: a lover of beauty, and a real lover.
Through force of circumstance, Wanja found herself a Taita at the Karen branch of Barclays Bank and a jovial disabled Rwandan among the Hutu refugees. The latter, who always wore jewelry, had made his fortune in East Africa; he was difficult to track down.
Wanja will rule her three-man team—the UN Worker, the Banker, and the Stateless Person—with an iron fist wrapped in velvet, and with the utmost discretion. This was during the authoritarian regime of Daniel Toroitich arap Moi, the last of the African nationalists who had fought for independence. Under the regime it was illegal to congregate in groups of more than three people without police authorization. A police state, but a peace-loving people. Our three men will meet only once, on September 11, 2001, at the birth of Junior… There was panic at Wanja’s but also general panic over there in the US. The question on everyone’s lips was: Who among the three potential candidates was Junior’s biological father? And: Who had demolished the Twin Towers?
Translated by Louis Greenwood Lüthi
2 May, 2023