Do you really know your neighbour?

How well do you know your neighbours? Well, I have been asking myself this question for several weeks now, after I caught some of my neighbours engaging in questionable acts in questionable places.

On a trip to town late last month, I bumped into Baba Jane entering a dingy lodging room in a seedy part of town. He was with a female companion whose looks and manner of dress seemed to suggest they were not heading to that room for some praise and worship.

Baba Jane is a respected figure in my neighbourhood.

He is a member of the school board, and he is respected as a family man and a prominent member of Mama Jimmy’s church.

Thus, I was shocked to find him at that particular establishment.

“Hi Baba Jimmy,” he saluted me with grin. “I would never have imagined meeting you here. Kumbe pia wewe unatembeanga haya mashimo?” he said.

I replied that I had come to see the owner of the establishment, who happens to be my village mate.

We then chatted briefly over random matters as his companion stood impatiently beside him, after which they went upstairs.

Being the good citizen and neighbour, I felt I should report this incident to the local authorities — which includes his wife — but I decided against it later on.

Mama Jimmy, however, felt that I should keep off my neighbours’ private lives.

Thanks to the Nyumba Kumi initiative, you are authorised to poke your nose into my neighbours’ businesses whenever you feel like it.

By the same token, ten of your neighbours are at liberty to conduct police business on your person. Thus, as you spy on ten of your neighbours, those ten neighbours will spy on you while spying on each other, meaning that a hundred neighbours will be closely observing your every move.

A few days later, I met another neighbour in another dingy pub in downtown Nairobi.

My business in the city’s dingy bars and restaurants is not of importance to this story, dear reader, so I will not address it here.

What shocked me was meeting this young bachelor, who is renowned for his flashy manner and pretensions of class, imbibing the qualitative equivalent of kumi kumi at such a seedy address.

“Haiya, kumbe unakujanga kuburudika haya mashimo Baba Jim,” he croaked on seeing me. I could tell from his mien that he was a little embarrassed to be seen in this area code, so I spared him further embarrassment by accepting his offer of a quick drink.

“You know, even a lion eats grass once in a while. I hardly come to places such as this, but a beer gut needs a change once in a while, hehehe”, he said.

I could, however, tell he was well-known in the establishment when two waitresses addressed him by his first name.

His ties to the joint became clearer when, as he was paying for the drinks, a waiter reminded him of an unsettled bill from the previous week! Clearly, my friend was not new to this particular joint.

“People put up a show  all the time”, my friend Odhiambo told me later as we discussed the matter.

“Do not always believe what your acquaintances tell you about themselves, as most have dark sides that might shock you.”

Indeed, your neighbour could be a respectable banker by day, or a great lawyer or an engineer, but this might be the same person who steals your chickens at night.

Thus, for security reasons, I will watch my neighbours, colleagues and other associates even more closely.