I am looking at him, a short plump man with rickety legs that spread out to dirty green all-star shoes. He is hammering down a shaft door. It wasn’t opening before he got here. He came with a hammer, a screw driver, a lot of jokes and a purple T-shirt whose back read “Only in darkness can you see the stars”. He is focused on his job but he does it with moving conversation.
“Eyo njisobola” he responds to Brenda.
Brenda is my new landlord. A young lass with the manners of a Ganda girl. [I really hope she doesn’t read my blog]
Brenda and Rasta – she calls him Rasta – are haggling over the price of a Bluetooth speaker. Brenda wants a good fee, Rasta wants to pay less. His dreadlocks are unkempt but push back against an easy morning sun. Rasta fixes doors for a living. He knows what key opens what door and can recreate it. He is an undiscovered comedian though. That’s the one door he hasn’t unlocked.
I ask him about the words on his T-shirt. He has never read them. He can open a door lock but the words on the back of his shirt? That’s Jah’s job.
“Olaba ebigambo ebyo?” he starts “Babiwandikira bazungu nga mwe abandi emabega”
A joke. A real good one.
I ask him where he’d love to see the stars if money could afford him. He says Zanzibar – at the lake “Nga ndi ne ka demu akakabi nkasazewo”
Rastas have a thing for life on the lake. Okay, not Rastas – people with dreadlocks. They also have a thing for festivals and concerts at festivals. They go there and dance their life’s troubles away, smoke one and pass it to the left and engage in a lot of carnal activity. Carnal activity because children also read this blog!
At festivals, they wait for the dub part of reggae music. The part where the guy on the guitar literally takes it away and strums his strings to their hearts and heights. Their stories connect and they make a life of friendship.
David is the guy on the guitar. He strums many songs. Three Little Birds is one of them. He strums to bring life to music but when I ask him why he really does it he says some intelligent stuff like; “My desire is to inspire people to be the best they can be”.
He has played at many concerts, in many parts of the world – Zanzibar just a footnote of them. He has played with Lillian Mbabazi and the Sundowners. It was a gig he did every week. He also played small time gigs where families gathered around pork cubes, spoke fancy English that reduced with each wine glass. “Man, when people drink, you just have to keep playing but they don’t see you” he says.
It was a good gig. He knew guitar like the back of his hand. He carried a guitar at his back almost daily. He got awkward stares whenever he folded his bag to get into a taxi. It was hard to tell him apart from an assassin. Both boxes looked the same.
He chuckles when I ask him if he has ever been arrested.
“So how did it start” I ask him as I fix myself a cup of tea. His line breaks a bit. “I can’t hear you”
“Can you hear me now” he asks again. A cup of tea in my left now and the phone down a brown coffee table.
“You can’t believe I used to be good in school” he starts. I would score distinctions in all subjects and my teachers suggested that I should be a Doctor. I had all the credentials for the vocation except I had a good handwriting.
“Hahah, shade my guy, shade”
Life in school was going fine. David was scoring distinctions and topping the class and being referred to by all teachers as the model student. Then one evening, the mock results returned. The teacher lay them out on a table and grumpily stared up. “How?” he asked? “How can you people embarrass us like this?” The voice grew stronger as he approached David.
He knew whatever embarrassment they were talking about wasn’t him. He was a Grade A student. So he shifted in his chair to look at the ‘embarrassing students’. The papers were handed out to each of them, to his right, an F9, to his left an F9. The results weren’t encouraging. He started to work out his score. Definitely a C3!
“When the paper got to me, I wanted the ground to swallow me” he says.
I had got an X. A whole X. Ungraded. All the hard work I put in to the paper returned naught. I got depressed. I wanted to do Biology and become a good doctor at an uptown hospital in an office where you’d see streams of cars passing by down the road. The receptionist would refer patients; “You’ve come for the doctor with a good handwriting? To the left please”
All his dreams were making way.
He turned to music during his depression. He listened mostly to John Mayer. Depressing music. He waited on his world to change but not much was happening. Then he took up dance class. And he did well at it.
I learnt to dance like Michael Jackson. It was the in-thing then. I even went to MJ competitions at Steak out with my white socks and black blazers. I won a couple of those. One day, during a dance class, something in his back skipped. A sharp pain tore thorough and he had – from then to give up dancing.
I’m trying to finish David’s story but Rasta has now finished fixing the door. It now opens and closes with ease. He is bobbing his locks away on the balcony and making signs. He has to go and I have to pay him.
Let’s return here for Part II next Friday….