I was at ‘Carwash’ in Watamu earlier this week, waiting to meet up with its owner Jaymo. Suddenly, I heard a loud voice: ‘ANN-TOE-KNEE!’ Now, the only people who call me ‘Anthony’ (and pronounce it ‘Ann-toe-knee’) are childhood pals from Nairobi West. In high school, I got rid of ‘Ann,’ and Tony and I are doing just fine.
Anyway, I go to a corner table to see which ghost from decades ago awaits me, and almost run out of the door. It is none other than ‘Doper’ in the flesh, a big guy I was pretty sure was long dead.
Let me tell you a little bit about Doper - he was big and well-built and mean as a devil from hell. Doper was that dude from the estate next door who, when you’re nine, he’s 14 - and beats the living daylights out of you because he is badass bully-beef.
At Nairobi West Shopping Centre, there was this place called ‘Mararo’ where we’d play pinball. You know, those glass-top games where you put a coin in then, using plastic bats called flippers, you try to stop a rubber ball passing you? (Some kids even made pinball games from wood and pegs, and ohhh, what a Generation of Innovative Inventors we lost from that era, we’d be like South Korea; coz tois these days ‘engineer’ nothing, just go check round your estate).
So there you are, about to put a coin in and enjoy your game when you hear a sinister whisper in your year: ‘Kid Bro, weka halafu uwache tu nikuchezee hii game …’
Other kids would want to leave Mararo, but Doper’s two hench-boys, Daddy and Lexxy, two young psychos, would be waiting outside to collect one shilling exit tax from would-be leavers.
These were the years where ‘morning shows’ (mostly Chinese kick flicks) at Rainbow Cinema were two bob per show upfront (stall), five bob in the middle gallery and 8 bob at the balcony.
At first, Doper was content sidling up to a ‘barbie boy’ with ten bob and saying ‘tumia change kuninunulia ticko!’ But then one day I remember a dark figure sliding up next to me at the balcony. ‘Ann-toe-knee! Shingo yangu imepata sprain kuanglia movie juu ka msee anatafuta dush mbinguni! Hebu tu-exchange ma-ticko.’
And that became Doper’s random modus operandi – film-seat exchange students! From way-laying tois sent at night to the duka for ‘kiosk tax’ (and better say you lost the money, not ati Doper took it) to breaking the leg of one Jimmy ‘Chimpanzee’ Kabanze during inter-estate soccer, Doper was one rough customer.
By 15, he’d been booted out of home and became a street urchin outside Jeans West Bar. By 16, he had become a hardcore mugger, complete with dagger, at the West-South C bridge area. ‘We’d even mug Muslims on the way to that big mosque opposite YMCA.’
By 17, Langata Cop Shop had put a ‘Wanted’ on him as a hardcore gangster with a crew. At 18, a mob caught up with him and beat him unconscious.
As they poured petrol on him, he came awake and said ‘God, Save Me!’ as the strong smell of gasoline filled his nostrils.
It must have been the Lord of Samson who got that phone, because with superhuman strength and a loud scream, Doper threw two tires off his body as he leaped to his feet and took off – leaving behind lynchers too stunned and startled to give chase.
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From there, he went to hide in interior ‘ushago’ with his grandmother, started high school (surprisingly, he’d done well in KCPE four years before, before all the ‘Mafya’ madness started. Turns out he had a brother, six years his elder, who used to beat him at night from when he was about five till 12 when he began pumping iron, then badly beat his bully big brother).
After Fourth Form, Doper went to the United Kingdom with some Christian organisation, eventually left them to join the British Army, met a divorcee while they were in ‘Nanyuki’ in Italy – and now they are in Malindi to invest in cottages on land they bought.
‘We were just having a drink with signora,’ Doper said, ‘when you walked in, Ann-toe-knee. How’ve you been?’
‘Fine,’ I said vaguely. ‘But how are your old pals, Daddy and Lexxy.’ Doper’s face grows somber. ‘Lexxy was lynched by a mob, while Daddy was executed by cops.’
There’s only one more question left to ask – why was he called ‘Doper’?
‘Because I was on dope (weed) permanently in those years, dupe!’