It was a routine as old as the rooster’s crow. Every evening after school, I would get home, drop my bag at the door and shed my uniform on the way to the bedroom. On the way back outside to play with my friends, my mother would threaten me with grievous bodily harm if I didn’t pick after myself.
One evening, after school, I dropped my bag by the door, walked to my bedroom and shed my school uniform there. My dress was on the floor and my sweater was hanging off the bed’s poster. My socks were trapped in the door’s joint. And I can’t recall to where I kicked my shoes. When my mother walked in a few minutes later, and almost tripped over my bag.
“Wangui!” the evening doom chorus began. I panicked, looking for a place to hide. Never had I known abject fear like this. My heart was in my throat. I could barely breathe. My body temperature went up to the thousands, guilt and fear boiling me. In that eternal minute, I had run to my barred bedroom window trying to escape, I had crawled under my bed trying to hide, eventually I stood by the door bracing for what would befall me.
My mother pushed it open, her eyes bulging out and a vein almost popping on her forehead. In her hand was the most effective weapon designed for wayward children. My father’s belt. The beating I faced had me crying to my God, the gods of my ancestors and whatever other deities exist when you’re in a situation of total alarm.
After the beating, my mother left me to my sniveling. She instructed me to pick up after myself and promptly told me that if she ever had to repeat herself again, then she would make me cry milk so that we could have tea. Translation: I would be beaten to within an inch of my life.
Needless to say, I never once left my stuff lying around again. That honed response to the fear of the belt made me a moderately disciplined child. As an adult, things aren’t exactly like that.
The moment I get home, I drape my jacket over the couch. I then change in my room and leave my clothes on the floor, to be picked at my latest convenience or after I trip over them. I don’t know whether this is because of the unsparing way my mother used her rods to avoid spoiling me but I now do what I want and get some sick satisfaction from the fact that my mother can’t take a belt, slipper or mwiko to my hide again. At least, when she doesn’t know.
I believe this could be the reason why Nairobians behave so badly. Growing up from the 90s and back, disciplining children was a social responsibility. Every “elder” from your neighbourhood to your school to your church could whoop your ass if you so much as mumbled during prayers or decided to mock gravity by hanging off a moving truck.
When you become an adult, the immediate freedom overwhelms some of us. Some Kenyans do things that make you wonder what kind of upbringing they could possibly have had. They become mutinous in the face of their parents’ teachings. And embrace the freedom with the recklessness of Gomorrah.
There are the divas that act like everyone around them exists for their entertainment. They constantly badger their compatriots for their attention, their money, their food, their anything. They have a sense of entitlement that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. There’s also the absent minded social media experts that constantly have to be on their phones. They hold up lines to take a selfie or fail to watch the road because OMG! Kim K just posted a nude pic of herself.
You also have the fellows who will hang off the side of a speeding matatu from Kikuyu to CBD and at some point will even do pull ups against the door jamb. There are those women who tend to be on the extra side of life: extra-large clothing, extra seating space and they also tend to have bags that only a bags salesman should have. They swing their enormous purses in the aisles of matatus uncaring for any bodies that may be partially in the aisle space because the bozo sitting adjacent to the window has to leave some space for his imaginary friend.
You will go to a restaurant and have a patron who will shout obnoxiously and complain unnecessarily and then still refuse to pay and tip after eating his meal. Then there’s the ones who go to hotels with communal tables and will ignore a seat for one but have to himself a table for five and the guy is just drinking a soda waiting for his uncle to arrive and give him some money.
I think all these people had a very straitlaced childhood. They felt oppressed by the rules they had to follow and as they grew up they lost all consideration they had learnt and decide to lash out by misbehaving as much as they can- within the letter of the law. They turn making others miserable into a sport. They will spit on your car. They will scratch your vehicle’s upholstery when you give them a lift. They won’t scold their children when their brats almost maim you by dropping glass bottles from the fourth floor. They will continue behaving badly- probably until their mothers show up with the father’s belt. Then maybe, order will be restored.