By Ken Mwirigi
It was the first Valentine’s Day I was spending with a person. I was relatively new in this relationship business, so the fears and jitters I had were real. I could not think of ways of coming up with a perfect surprise, at least to impress the person. The furthest I had gone in the ‘treating’ business was occasionally throwing in ‘smokie chinjaz’ when we took a stroll to the Stage to procure ka-quarter ka supper. You see, we had a lot in common. We played the same game, which gives you an idea on how we met. Unlike Tedd Mosby, I did not have a story to tell. I just saw the fundamendoz while on the pitch and fisi mode kicked in. Two days and we were locked. Again, back then, I was not like the current me. Closed.
So where was I? Right. We played the same game. We had a joint supper account, occasionally slept in the same bed, either in her room or mine. We never exiled anyone, just to put things straight. Back to ka-quarter. You see, while operating a joint supper account, it is imperative that both of you go food shopping together. Back in the day, the nearest butchery was at stage, and if I remember correctly, ka-quarter was going for like KES 65 (up from 55). That amount put a huge dent on the budget, but for our bodies’ sake, the energy had to be replenished. So during the Stage trips, I popped one or two chinjaz, from my pocket, not from the joint account.On February the Thirteenth I hatched the perfect plan. I had to pull the most audacious surprise, if not sweep her off her feet, and then make her wobble in the wind of love. For us who were in the campus in the mid 2000s understand that spending more than a K at once was suicidal, at least for us who lived average lives and depended on HELB. That was my intended cost of the surprise. The largest I had spent for a female special treat was on Chapo Peas at Valley Hotel, and I was tricked into spending it by a foxess (sic) who also tagged along a foxlet (sic).
In total I ended up spending an amount that stung me, particularly because men hardly spend on ladies they are never going to score. Story for another day. I had to bring my best of creativity. The good thing is that Mrs. Chibole, our drawing lecturer, had taught us to visualize oblique objects in different perspectives, and exploding their plans, hence creativity I had. But this time, my brain failed me. The pressure was immense. It ate me up. I did not want to fail. Failure was, and still is, my phobia.So the planning began on the eve of the big day. Good thing we were from different schools, so meetings on weekdays during the day were rare. But we had to meet at the pitch in the evening, but then, when in a team, the entire lovey-dovey goes away. In fact, you tackle your loved one hard, a perfect excuse to go and give massage after the game, genius, isn’t it? Well, our schedules had kept us apart for the better part of the day, but the supper was to bring us together. The topic about the following day was bound to crop up somehow in our conversation. I never wanted her to know I had plans. You see, for a perfect surprise, the surprisee is not required to know the surprisor’s plans, right? Movies came to the rescue, and mumble jumble that I had a CAT the following day let me off, back to my room. But deep inside, I was worried.
I can’t recall whether I slept, but morning came fast. Contrary to the other days, there was no ‘Good morning, I love you’ text. I did not want to pass any hints. Coming to think of it today, this could have been the best sell out for the girl to know something was cooking. But thank God she never deciphered. Off to the town I went, without a clue of what to get, but I knew I had to come back hands full. First, was a round of window shopping, and then I settled on what to buy. You see, back in the day you had to carry the whole amount. M-Pesa was relatively new and most of us were not yet registered, and a bank deposit would reflect the amount after midnight. So if you run short of cash during shopping, then ungejipanga.I picked up a card, then 7th Heaven sparkling white wine, and I could hear (sic) the jealousy the other shoppers had for this ‘lucky’ girl. Since everything was Valentine’s themed, it was not difficult to spot what was needed. I strolled to the Teddy Bear section, and twitched my nose at the sight of the price. I am not sure whether I was audible or not, but I scoffed at how ‘expensive’ they were. In my mind, I said, ‘Kama ni Teddy bear nitahug, sawa!” The shock was to hit me when I went to the chicken section. Things were not going according to my ad hoc plan. The birds were tiny, and darn expensive. If the ‘kwani’ phrase had been invented then, and if quails had been domesticated, this would have been my remark, “Kifaranga ni mia tano, kwani inakam na quail egg kama attachment?!” I walked swiftly with my two items to the till, dejected. Here, I picked the largest chocolate bar on display, and take into account the largest chocolate bar I had ever eaten was fudge. Things we men sacrifice for you ladies!
End Part I
For the journey back, I was engrossed in the set-up of how to introduce my items without appearing usual. I sat with some guys carrying bouquets of roses. I presume they were delivery men. It then hit me that I had forgotten the fundamental Valentine’s principle. A rose flower! It was almost hitting noon and I had seen posters that there would be sellers at Studie. Perfect. A single stalk would be sufficient. Yes. But the hard part would be carrying it from Studie to J, so I had to devise a way of concealing it. Unluckily, I found the best flowers already sold. A few withered ones remained. Haisulu. I bought one and I could see the sellers giggling. Perhaps they saw the naivety in me, or the tension, or both. I put on a brave face, and carried the rose in the glare of the public. I just wished the proverbial earth could open up and swallow me whole. (Remember that phrase back in our primary school days?) Luckily, the other items were in my backpack, so when I knocked and she opened, she just saw the rose flower, grabbed it and a series of ‘aaaws’ and some words I cannot recall followed suit. Oh, this is the point I say she was a fresha! So imagine the envy of her fellow freshmen in the room. Didn’t the lady walk on clouds!
I lied about how the CAT had been tough, how I passed by Studie to get a rose and how I did not have credo to call in the morning. (The lowest credit scratch card then was bamba 50 so I was justified in claiming so.) The friends and the roommate read the cue and left us. Then came my next phase. I wanted chicken, and a crime scene to plant my crime paraphernalia. I asked her to prepare, twende tukasake kuku. I think the Valentine god was with me that day, because she had not yet showered. That gave me the perfect opportunity to execute the surprise plan. When she left for the showers, I scribbled the card and placed it under the pillow. Then I took the chocolate bar, and in her frequently used handbag it went. To clear the air, I opened the bag with my eyes closed. I never saw anything inside of it. I swear! The 7th Heaven found parking at the hardest place to reach under the bed. And the ground for more “aaws” was laid.
It was a hot afternoon, and the red dust of the university with a difference was merciless. At mabs we found a chicken vendor, but his were emaciated and starved. In fact on first sight one risked losing appetite. I suspected that one had rickets. I kicked into overdrive mode and suggested we go deeper into the village. We went knocking on people’s doors. Here is a man and a woman on Valentine’s, scouting for chicken, inquiring whether there were chicken on sale. I bet people were already wondering. “These campus kids! Smh” would have read one of the updates at that time.
Disappointingly, many told us no. But just when we were about to give up, the Valentine god came to the rescue again. In one homestead, there was a rooster up for sale. I won’t use the other term for obvious reasons. There was a problem, however; the kukus were not in an enclosure. I had to chase. The jogoo was fat, and it was a chickenizer, a chicken version of womanizer. A whole lot of mieras (hens) flanked its left, right, front, and back. The first trick I had to use was to throw some maize on the ground. But the jogoo was a gentlecock, again, chicken version of a gentleman. It did not eat but instead called upon its girls to eat while it watched over them for any signs of danger. I tried to dive on it, but angrily the chicken dispersed, their wings flapping against my face. The plan failed. I was red faced, short of being egg faced. The villagers giggled, perhaps at my idiocy.
The first attempt had failed, and to plan B I went. This one was a more cruel form of chicken hunting, used back in the days when I had not visited the good doctor who transformed me to adulthood. You understand. The plan was to chase the chicken until it tired and then corner it. It would not have the strength to flap its way out. So we formed a team, and all the probable holes in the fence were manned and I started the chase. About 23 minutes later, the rooster was tied up, hands shaken and money exchanged. The girl got busy wiping sweat on my brow. I am glad that by then video phones had not proliferated the market like today, because the video of how I chased and eventually captured the kill would have crashed YouTube by the number of views. All I can say is that it was hilarious.
Getting back to the campus was like a triumphant entry. Jogoo under my right armpit and the girl under my left. I owned the place. By bad luck, I met some of my closest friends. Up to today, taunts of how I carried that rooster still follow me every time Valentine’s approaches, as evidence below.
Everything was to be done in the girl’s room. Again the Valentine’s gods had sent her roomie to her boyfriend on the other side of town so we had the room to ourselves. I did justice to the chicken, and contemplated on how to break the surprises. I requested to take a bath. (I had never bathed in a female hostel before so this took her by surprise.) She did the wifely things of heating water and taking it to the bathroom. In the meantime, I slipped her phone in the same bag I had put the chocolate bar, ensuring that she would get the chocolate first before the phone. Again, my eyes were closed during the whole process.
I can say that was the longest I had ever taken in a shower room, because every time I wanted to get out a lady would come in and I had to stay put until she left. How men lived in female hostels, sleeping, loo-ing, and showering for a whole semester still baffles me. Anyway, not to bore you, the chicken was simmering and we were on the bed chatting. She was already thanking me for the wonderful and adventurous day she had. You all know we were not seated, right? I made that up for the story to have a general family viewing, though the furthest it would have gone was PG 13. We were not at PG 18 yet. I “accidentally”, or should I say incidentally, tripped the pillow, exposing the white envelope. How I was pushed off that side of the bed, up to today, I have never comprehended.
The first “aaws” as she read my scribbled text, were accompanied by lip-plants on my face. Still struggling to find the right words, her phone rang (I had it on speed dial) and as she rushed to pick, she fished the chocolate bar. The look on the face was priceless. Tears were already welling up in her eyes. Before she could compose herself, I methodically shoved the card under the bed, only for her to come out with the card, and the bottle…
Ken Mwirigi is a man full of surprises, clearly. Literally. He is a geek. Coder. Turns out he is a writer too! This piece made me appreciate men’s troubles over Valentine’s even more.