Fifty bob for a fake fiance: My hilarious encounters with Kenyan hustlers

Traders and hawkers at Gikomba Market continue with their daily normal business. [David Gichuru, Standard]

In their wild pursuit of the slippery legal tender, Kenyan hustlers can put one in a situation that would make sitcoms seem normal. The other weekend, I was walking into a social function somewhere, my well-tended kitambi leading the way. Fate, or perhaps divine comedy, had a lady strolling by my side. There was no prior agreement to march in like a blissfully married duo, just pure coincidence.

“Snap!” A young man immortalizes the moment with his camera, lens pointed our way. I ignored him, feigning mild annoyance and dug into pilau Njeri and that mandatory slice of melon they serve at functions in central Kenya. The incident vanished from memory until I was leaving, and Mr. Camera-Man reappeared, proudly brandishing a low-quality snapshot of me and the dashing mystery lady.

“Kiongos!” The young chap hailed me enthusiastically, smiling ear to ear. “Look at you with your madam here,” he added with a cheeky wink.

“That’s not my madam.” I barked back, my fingers forming into fists. By madam he meant my First Lady-a status which the dashing lady wasn’t. The determined hustler was not fazed by my denials. Instead, he whipped out a pair of scissors from his pockets. Then with one deft movement, he cut the photo into two and handed yours truly my half of solo shot. Mad as I was, I couldn't help but smile at his audacity, even if it cost me fifty bob. Some things can only happen in this beloved country.

But this is not the first time I found myself in an embarrassing misadventure that almost made me a bachelor. Once, in our weekend hangout, bantering with the lads, a cheerful fella strolled past, humming a gay mugithi tune. "Success cards na mbao," he shouted. I jokingly asked for five. The young hustler hurriedly packed my package and melted into the night, as fast as he came. The next morning, I woke up to an enraged First Lady who wanted to know to whom the five tattered Valentine's cards belonged.

In my extended tour of duty in Northern Kenya, I once convinced the First Lady to join me for a weekend getaway to Garissa. Not her favourite place, but I sweet-talked her into it, assuring her our bus wouldn't be blown away sky-high by religious zealots. En route, she dozed off, tired from the journey. Enter a group of Kamba women selling zeituni (guavas). If you have never eaten Ukambani guavas, then you haven’t tasted life yet. Life's flavour, my friends, is found in Mwingi guavas.

“Baba, oja hio usikie utamu wake,” one buxom lady cooed, tossing a plump guava on my lap. The First Lady, who had been asleep all along, woke up abruptly.

“Nini hio unaojeshwa?” she said. For a while, I fumbled with words.

“Madam,huyu ni customer wangu wa miaka mingi,” the guava lady interjected, making the First Lady frown. We travelled the remainder of the journey in icy silence, with yours truly enjoying the juicy guavas solo.

That aside, this marks my 150th piece in this column. Can we get a round of applause, or at least a celebratory dance from the office plants? Let's raise a glass to surviving 150 rounds of my scribbles.



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