You can’t count on anyone anymore

Nothing smells better in the morning to an ambitious man, than dreams. And the odor of his soon-to-be girlfriend’s armpits as she pulls him into a good morning hug. “Waking up so early?” she asks and he tells her that his empire has no plans whatsoever of building itself.

“Didn’t our fathers use to say that they have to wake up early to build the nation?” She asks, aiming to pull him into yet another philosophical discussion.

“Well,” he swings his feet off the bed, wraps a towel around his waist and heads for the bathroom. “They were naïve. In this hotbed of capitalism, you don’t work to build the nation. You work to build yourself. The nation will reach into your affairs in form of taxes and build itself.”

Don is in the middle of setting up his ambitious film production company and today, and I have to drive him to Ngong Road for a meeting with a tycoon interested in funding his first feature length film project. A coming-of-age drama about growing up with autism in Dandora.

During the meeting, the tycoon has gone through Don’s project proposal and how he (the tycoon) will expect to benefit from the project. After all, this is business, not charity. They discuss figures, deadlines, film marketing strategies, and within 45 minutes (if a business meeting lasts more than one hour, that’s no business meeting. That’s a date) Don is assured of getting funded to the tune of 1.2 million shillings.

He grins all the way back to the makeshift office in his home.

In the car as I drive him home, he calls his soon-to-be girlfriend with the news. They jubilantly agree to go to their favourite restaurant tonight for dinner, bring home with them a bottle of wine they both like and spend the night having bed breaking coitus, to celebrate.


Over the course of the following week, Don puts together a film production team and everybody is on standby for the tycoon to come through. Don calls him on a previously agreed Wednesday and the elated tycoon assures him that as soon as his lawyer has drafted the requisite documents, this show will be on the road.

Don prepares everybody rigorously for the project, so that as soon as the money comes in, they hit the ground running.

In the evening, his soon-to-be girlfriend says to him over dinner which they, as a rule of thumb, eat from the same plate, “You remember that poem we used to read in high school called ‘Building The Nation’?”

“Today I did my share in building the nation.” He recites. “I drove a Permanent Secretary to an important, urgent function.”

“In fact,” they both recite this last line. “To a luncheon at the Vic.”

Referring to the poem, she says she misses the times when people had a sense of patriotism.

“But the poem is not about patriotism,” he counters. “It is about wastage of state resources and malfeasance.”

She falls silent after mumbling something about him only ever being a glass half empty kind of man. “No,” he says. “I’m just a pragmatist.” When he tries to kiss her goodnight later, she turns and faces the wall.

Another week passes. The tycoon keeps on telling him, “I’m in a meeting. I’ll call you back in an hour.” The hour never seems to end. Finally, the tycoon stops communicating with him altogether.

His soon-to-be girlfriend was to come over to his place over the weekend. She says, “Babe, mum wanted me to run some errands for her this weekend. Rain check?”

Don calls the team and updates them on the financial status of the project, which is pretty much zero. His lead actor, a famous actor by Kenyan standards remains enthusiastic about the project. “I would spend my own money to stay on this project,” he says enthusiastically.

And that’s the last thing he says to Don, before he too, vanishes like smoke in the wind, never to reappear.

Next weekend, Don’s calls to his soon-to-be girlfriend are met with a text, “Call you back in five”. Five minutes? Five hours? Five days? Five years? Finally, he concludes she must have meant five decades, because she never talks to him again. Ever.

Months later, Don wakes up knowing that people communicate through lies. For whatever reason, this seems to be the trend. Armed with this information, a more cautious Don starts again from scratch, because his empire has no plans whatsoever, of building itself.

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Ngong RoadCharles Chanchori