The gentle Monday morning sun had begun peeping through the small old-fashioned windows in the hallway leading to Hon. Hajji’s office. Everyone on the queue began shifting slowly to the magnificently lit side of the hall way to warm themselves of the chilly morning. It was 9 am and scattered murmurs and muttered coughs could be heard springing up all over in the queue. Hon. Hajji’s hallway always looked like this on Monday morning and throughout the rest of the day. The narrow hallway was littered by a snake of people stretching down from one end of the building to the other. Monday was the day he dedicated to his constituents and their petty issues. Nothing was too small for the Monday meetings at the Mheshimiwa’s office. Everyone who needed Mheshimiwa’s attention had to come on Monday morning or wait another week to vent appropriately. Not everyone got a chance to see him, so the queue would begin forming at the crack of dawn as no one wanted to miss their opportunity to speak to the Mheshimiwa, to have him change their lives. Mothers held their babies close to their breasts to feed them, while the men held their chins looking around impatiently. A few street children lingered trying not to set the others off with their foul smell while pregnant teenagers sat quietly though uncomfortably on the cold cemented hallway; some staring at their protruded bellies sadly. But none left that queue.
Everyone in that queue wore a glum look on their faces. It wasn’t entirely discern-able if this was because of the stuffy smelly hallway that most had been standing in since dawn or because no one ever came to see the Mheshimiwa without having a monumental problem that they believed only his extensive wealth and all-mighty influence could solve. His askaris would arrive just before dawn to make sure the queue was straight and that the ‘lowly civilians did not erupt in a frenzy of violence and disorder’; Mheshimiwa’s words exactly. They also came in handy as many people often fainted in the queue. They always said Mheshimiwa’s office was the best place to fall ill as he would order his askaris to rush you to the public hospital and Mheshimiwa would clear all your bills too. Heaven for the ailing peasant!
That particular Monday morning, Hon. Hajji strolled into his office building at 12:15 pm exactly that afternoon. Everybody in the queue noticed it on account of being forced to stare at the enormous grandfather clock in the hall all morning; it played the most horrible bell ensemble on the hour, every hour. Women could be heard ululating and celebrating his arrival while some shifted uneasily readying their unworthy selves for his presence. Pregnant mothers stood up in a haste clutching their stomachs, to meet him while he shook hands perhaps catch a glimpse in his eye and rack up enough sympathy to raise their children on charity. The men on the other hand cleared their throats, stood up straight and tried to get a word in before he moved on to the next ‘victim’. Street children all swarmed around him while mothers held their sons and daughters back as they tried to join the filthy clan at Hon. Hajji’s feet. In that moment, at 12:15 on a hot Tuesday afternoon, every man, woman and child on Hon. Haji’s executive floor held the illuminating hope that Today Mheshimiwa would solve all their problems and begin their cycles of blessings and prosperity. All their hope and faith they put in him, every single one of them. He found quite cultic, to be honest, as if they fasted and prayed in his name and worshiped him with great song around their dinner tables (or mats) before they partook in what might be the last meal they ever had.
Nevertheless, Hon. Hajji knew very well, this was what politics was about. Where he was from, the only requirement for politicians was a band of fanatics. Public officials rarely got elected unless they built the largest ‘fan club’ usually with money and empty promises or they were endorsed by another politician’s large fan club; that cost a large sum too and even more loyalty. Hon. Hajji had built his voter army in the small rural community where he was born. His mother had always been a vocal part of the community and before she puffed her last she had made sure her influence flowed smoothly over to her firstborn son. Even so, he still had to keep buying it somehow like a magazine subscription; hence the enormous queue outside his office. He gave the crowd one last wave before he stepped into his office and slumped heavily into his seat. His assistant followed him closely, closing the door behind her.
“The governor called, he wants to see you today.” She began, with no salutations while Hon. Hajji used an antiseptic wipe to kill off everything he may have picked up shaking hands outside his office.
“Tell him I’ve got a million constituents at my door, he can wait with them if it pleases him or make an appointment.”
“The bridge project has stalled.” She continued, ignoring his disrespect to the governor
“What? How? Call that Njoroge and tell him if he doesn’t start soon. We will put out another tender. A real one this time! We both know he’d never win one of those”
“Yes, sir. Lastly, how many people do you think you will get around to seeing today?”
“How many did I see last week?”
“Today, make it fifty. I want to be home early.”
She nodded and turned to let the first constituent in. Hon. Haji first walked over to his office safe. From it he retrieved four large bundles of cash notes and lined them up at the edge of his desk closest to him. He returned to his seat, closed his eyes and began to gather all his wit and patience for he was about to deal with a constituency’s problems. It was a malnourished middle-aged woman, with her three equally malnourished bashful children who interrupted his meditation as they stumbled through the doorway. Her children all stared at Hon. Hajji from behind their mother’s skirt; one she had been forced to patch one too many times. Hon. Hajji sat up in his leather recliner.
“Madam. What is your name? Would you like to have a seat?” She shook her head vigorously. Hon. Hajji knew she was not accepting the offer because she felt unworthy to sit right across from the Great Mheshimiwa Hajji; most of them did the same.
“Ok then. How can I help you, Mama?” He resorted to the native language, trying to make her feel equal, comfortable.
“Mheshimiwa,” She bowed even if she didn’t have to. She truly was not even meant to. “It’s my husband.”
“What about him can I help with?” Hon. Hajji already knew where this was going. It was always the same story in a way.
Her husband was an alcoholic, “My husband likes to drink,” She swallowed hard, she was embarrassed, “A lot!” He urged her with an energetic nod.
He rarely comes home, maybe never? “Mheshimiwa, me and the children have not seen him for five days now. Five! Five!! Mheshimiwa, five!! ” She waved her stretched-out palm in the air as if it were the weapon she’d use to ‘discipline’ her husband when he finally decided to return. Hon. Hajji spoke calmly, leaning in.
“Do you have a job, Mama?” She shifted uncomfortably
Of course, he wouldn’t let her work, “I once worked at a salon in our village making young girls look pretty. But I was very young then myself. When I had my firstborn son, my husband insisted I stay at home and look after him. He hasn’t allowed me to go back since.” She dropped her head and began to stare intensely at her feet. Her face was now burning with shame and guilt. She didn’t speak for a moment but Hon. Hajji already knew what she would say next.
Give her money, She wants money. “Mheshimiwa! I am not a charity case. I am able and I know that. And very soon,” She pulled her eldest son from behind her, “this one here is going to be old enough to do casual work. And might I add, he is very strong for his age.” She went silent again, now staring at the top of her son’s head. Her eyes began to moisten. She rubbed a rogue tear away hastily when she noticed her other two children peep up at her from behind her skirt.
“Mheshimiwa,” she spoke softly now, “It is just that this man has left me all alone with three of his children and no source of income and we do not know when he will return. My children cry at night because they cannot sleep because they are hungry.” She moved closer to his desk so he could see her bitterness, he sat up to move further away, “We haven’t eaten for three days and two nights, Mheshimiwa. I am afraid I am not able to feed or care for my children. I am scared for their lives and their health.” Tears began to choke her when she saw Hon. Hajji pull out two notes from his first bundle.
“Mama, I know you are loyal to your husband. But you also said you are able. You must go out and find yourself another job, no matter what it is, no matter what they pay. You hear me, Mama??”
“Yes, Mheshimiwa” She replied without shifting her eyes from the two notes in his hands.
“Take this. Feed your children. It should keep you until you find work.” He handed her the money. Her lips curled so wide while she crumbled the notes and stuffed them deep in her enormous bosom. Her children instantaneously began dancing around knowing three days of torture had just ended.
“Send in the last one!” Hon. Hajji bellowed over the intercom to his assistant. He had seen so many people all day, he was getting grumpy and irritable. Not to mention, everybody who ever came to his office wanted something from him.
“Sir, There are still about 60 people left waiting for you.”
“No! One!” He stood up from his seat. “You hear me! I will only see one more. I’m bloody tired and they all stink! It smells worse than a cow pen here now.”
Seconds later, a young man dressed reasonably better than everyone at his office that day walked confidently into his office and stood right in front of him. Hon. Hajji was still concentrated on counting the money left on his desk when the young man began to speak.
“My name is Jabari and I have a proposition for you. May I have a seat?” First, Hon. Hajji was startled by this man, his pristine appearance, his choice of words, his crystal accent-free of the mother tongue interference and the young man’s English which was so polished that it surprised Hon. Hajji who had been forced to speak in mother tongue all day to accommodate the other constituents. Most of all how for the first time in a long time he could not tell what the young man needed from him.
“Yes, please. Sit. I am eager to hear from you now.”