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PRINCE OF GITHURAI




Lavasta did not wake up one morning and decide to be a street boy. His life has been a constant anthem of ‘shit happens.’ Shit happened and our hero was plunged into the murky world of Nairobi streets. His family wasn’t the proverbial happy one. His parents were trying to make it work but it was clear that their stark differences couldn’t be cast aside because of their only son.

One evening, his father doesn’t return home. He wasn’t friends with him, but his presence made him calm and felt protected. That night, he slept hoping to see him the next morning. The next morning, he doesn’t see him. He asks his mom, “where is dad?” she replies with ice in her voice, “I don’t know.”

Immediately, he knows that they’d had one of their big fights. And his father most likely was holed in some drinking den drowning his anger on cheap booze. His father doesn’t return home after a week. He doesn’t see him again.

They are staying in Githurai 44. His mom isn’t employed, she does menial jobs here and there to keep them afloat but it’s not enough. Lavasta wants more from life and her mother isn’t the one to give it to him. She’s trying her best, but her best means they are stuck in the same place. Barely enough to eat. With his twelfth birthday on the horizon, he ran away from home. The streets swallowed him.

We are seated on grass. Immaculate green grass, U turn for Christ grass in Kenyenya. Lavasta had been harvesting maize the whole morning. A small radio protrudes from his pocket. His only communication from the outside world. His lips are swollen, I didn’t ask from what. It could have been a fistfight, you never know, or that’s their natural state? I can’t say but I found them to be odd, they seemed like Diamond Platinumz lips. A mavin covers his head. There is that distant gaze in his eyes. Here they call him Githurai, the Prince of Githurai. I had finished my interviews and was packing up to leave when the supervisor came up to me.

“Have you talked to Githurai?”

I had not.

He joined a gang at twelve years old. What drives a young boy, to such extremes? If we are honest. There is no person who just decides to hit the streets.

“I joined a gang to get food. My mum could barely provide for us, my father had vanished. All I wanted was some food and dress like other cool gang members.”

He began pickpocketing people in the hood. Once in a while he would snatch a woman’s handbag and melt into the crowd. The handbag would change numerous arms that there’s no avail in pursuing.

 At seventeen, he has been involved in about four mob justices, all of them he’s managed to escape. Doggedly hanging on to life. Thug life fuels adrenaline in him, he could do this forever. The stealing, the running away, he feels happy, he finally belongs.

He’s arrested, cutting off the party. Lavasta spends six months and twenty-one days in industrial area prison. Here he learns of different charges. Words like ‘assault’ and ‘robbery with violence’ pop up. This leaves him scared shitless, he wouldn’t want his name to be on a charge sheet with such words. They are bad words.

He’s released from prison. For two months he keeps his head down. Avoiding tough jobs, he decides to be a carrier. What does he transport? Guns.

“You can’t know you’re carrying a pistol. It’s packaged with scrap metal. You dress shabbily. You walk past police officers who don’t suspect anything. You take the gun to a specific location. Most likely where crime will be committed in the evening.”

The money is good, he upgrades from the street. He now lives in a neighbourhood in Githurai 44. Rent is two thousand per month. One thousand to cover the costs of electricity. Once a while he brings a girl home. He’s living the dream. But Lavasta is a young man with wild ambition. He doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life transporting guns. He wants to make big bucks, move to the other side of town. Wine and dine with the elite.  Dressing in rags and moving weapons was too tacky. Too tasteless. He requests to join on ‘field assignments.’ His is vetted and welcomed to the team.

One day after completing a job, they’re running away when suddenly the police are on their tail. Two of his friends are felled by police bullets. There’s a girl on the team, they dive into a nearby tunnel and make a run for it. Bullets fly overhead. There’s a blankness in his mind. He just wants to run and run.

I did not ask him about the girl. Now as I write, I feel sad. The girl? Who is this chick who participates in armed robberies? One day she will get married, have kids maybe. Will she tell them how she brings the dough home? And of the man who marries her, will he know of her storied occupation.

“After that, I stayed indoors for weeks. Only going out at night to buy food. I spent a lot of time praying to God. I asked him what kind of life I was leading but no answers were forthcoming. God ignored me. I would go out thinking that this was my last day on earth. I dreamt about my death. Where would I be buried? Or my body would be left to rot in some forest. Would anybody really miss me? They were moments of intense loneliness and sadness. I felt worthless.”

Weeks vanished. One of his friends reached out. This is in 2017, during the final jubilee rally in Kasarani. Before the country goes into election mode. Before Raila contests, the result and that SDA chief justice shocks the world. Elections are repeated and Uhuru competes against himself.

At this political rally, the plan was to steal phones. Which would be easy picking as the place was teeming with humanity. Thousands of people dressed in red and chanting UhuRuto. Kikuyus and Kalenjins are brothers. Nobody can picture the handshake in the offing.

Lavasta is dressed in red from top to bottom. His hair is matted in dreadlocks. He has stolen phones from seven people, handed them to a transporter. He is planning to steal more. He sings the jubilee anthem, “UhuRuto, tano tena!”

I find it funny, while Uhuru and Ruto are selling pyramid schemes. Bullshitting Kenyans. Promising world-class stadiums in every county. Telling toddlers that they would have laptops. Big four blaring out of speakers. Lavasta and his crew were emptying people’s pockets.

Folks complain about the pickpocketing and lost phones. Plainclothes police swoop on any suspicious-looking guy. He doesn’t escape the dragnet. A week in Kasarani police station awaits him. Men and women walk in identifying guys who stole their phones. Fingers are pointed, mean policemen drag away boys who were just trying to survive. Nobody hears from the boys again. They vanish. No names. No pasts. No future. They leave nothing behind.

“It’s one of the moments where I felt the presence of God. There’s a woman I had snatched her phone. I was sure she would point at me. But she pointed at another guy.”
At the end of the week, policemen let him walk. He heads to his place and lays low. Flying under the radar.

 “I couldn’t stay hidden for long. I needed to get money for food and rent. I decide to rob James Situma’s house.”

You went to steal from Situma’s house? I laugh. You know James Situma? He played for Sofapaka at one time, a very good right back. Kenyan international.

“I knew Situma’s house. It was on the third floor of this apartment block. I am the one who emptied his dustbin. One day, I pass by the gate and the maasai watchman is sleeping. I peek in and see Situma’s football kit hanging to dry; boots, socks, and jersey. I want to steal them; I ran up the third floor. Not knowing the watchman was pretending to sleep. He calls for back up and the next thing I know is five other guys coming up the stairs.  On their arms are those ugly Maasai rungus.”

At that moment, he knew his time was up. Those guys were going to beat the life out of him. Maasai watchmen are not popular for their mercy. He sees life’s choices flashing across his eyes. Day blurs.

“I wasn’t going to let them catch me. Thus, I jumped from the third floor. The watchmen couldn’t believe it. Clubs left their arms. Hitting the ground, I ran a few paces then my legs gave way. I was in so much pain, I couldn’t move. If someone wanted to kill me, that was the moment. I was a waste, utterly helpless. The watchmen did not follow me. They stood back conversing among themselves and shaking their heads. A boda boda guy racing past picked me up, dropping me at my place.”

He lived in Kona ya bata, Githurai 44. It’s a place of sorts. You can get anything you want in Kona ya bata. All drugs in the world are available. Women who sell themselves. Underground hitmen who can eliminate someone at a fee. He uses pills termed as ‘red devils.’ The pills make him high and drunk. The last of life ebbs from his soul. One of the things which mess up young folks in the area is reggae night.

Come on man, reggae is just music, how does it fuck people over?

“All gangs would congregate in a club for reggae night which was normally on Wednesday’s. Ladies would enter for free. Gangs from Kayole, Githurai, Thika, Kawangware and many more neverland places would show up to pay homage to Caribbean musical acts. Every gang would want to show that they are kings, true heroes of the underworld. Everyone is flashing their guns, it reaches a time where the music dies down, emotions are on the ceiling, men are breathing like timeless beasts. Guns loaded, cocked. Everybody is walking on a knife's edge. A misstep and bullets fly.

Many folks have died during reggae night. Police walk in and pick a guy. They drag him out and search him. You here distant gunshots and that’s it. A finality.”

All this happens but you steal rollback to the streets?

“There’s nothing to do. We don’t have jobs, no education. Our families shattered, even if we die on the streets, we die belonging. We died trying to live.”

We died trying to live. That line breaks my heart.


This is his second time in rehab, Lavasta. The first time he ran away. U turn for Christ has changed him. He no longer wants anything to do with crime and drugs (red devils). Who came up with that name anyway? His dream to play football keeps him going. Most of the guys he played football with are featuring in the national team. The likes of Danson Kago and Francis Kahata, he played with the latter at Kivumbi grounds.

His parents never supported his dream to play football. As a kid, he would walk to the training ground, kilometres. Forced to wake up early so that other folks find him there. No breakfast, no money for lunch. Other kids would be dropped in guzzlers and have packed lunches. All he had was his football kit which understood his pain. Worn out socks and tired boots. Evenings he would return home and his parents would erupt.

“You can’t sleep in this house and there’s no food for you. Go eat that football of yours.”
“I would scavenge for leftover fruits from stalls around the area. Eat them and sleep in that cold. In the morning my friends would shake me awake.
Kwani ulilala nje?  I had no words to tell them.”

What do you like most about this place?

“There’s a lot of peace. The air is clean. There’s no noise, which is a far cry from Nairobi. I read my bible in peace and play football when I can. I am happy. whenever my sponsor sends money for upkeep, I wire some of it to my mother. I am still young. I can’t say what the future holds but at this moment, things are good, which is all that matters.

Those words echoed in my head for days.

I can’t say what the future holds but at this moment, things are good, which is all that matters.





4 comments:

  1. Dunia haiaminiki Sana bana.life is too unpredictable.We need to mind those in need,we need to think of the street urchins.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well said bro. life is all about uplifting others.

      Delete
  2. Your blog has been nominated for the Versatile Blogger Awards by a fellow blogger at Kenyan rhetoric. You can check more about the blog nominations from here https://bit.ly/2UbwKYQ.

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