Moving houses is something I always despise. This explains why I have moved houses only on two occasions in the last years. But when our landlord increased the rent a staggering 10 percent—which is against the rents acts—I decided to move to another apartment. The move was not only prompted by this increase, but also the agony of being without water for hours every time after there is a power blackout. The apartment has a borehole that uses electricity to pump its water. And blackouts are a common thing in Nairobi. Oh, and another thing: the lift never worked for more than three weeks. In a nutshell, it was sort of “nightmarish” at times.
The new apartment I moved to is a year old and when I first surveyed it, the services impressed me though the apartment isn’t as spacious as the former one. But something else caught my attention in my first month as a tenant—the lift attendant. My house is on the eighth floor, which means I have to use the lift every day thus an everyday encounter with the lift man.
He is a young man in his mid-twenties, 5′6″ tall, small and round face with few pimples that make him look like a teenager in his indolence stage. He mostly wears a tight and rough patched jeans and neckless T-shirts that hug his chest. Though he is in mid-twenties, one will think he is still in his teenage-hood because of his baby face. And he always has on an earphone listening to music on his Huawei phone.
He always sits on a plastic chair which has an old pillow as a cushion in a corner. There, he silently presses floor numbers without even asking. He knows which floor every tenant lives on, which is quite intriguing because the apartment has more than 100 tenants.
At first I thought he was silent because he didn’t know me and we were alone in the lift, but I later realized he is always like that no matter what. Here is a man who, without saying a word, comes down with the lift, waits for the tenant to enter, silently presses one number after the other and goes up with it again without talking to the tenants, without looking at them, without smiling at them, either.
It is a behaviour that amazed me and I vowed to talk to him, interact with him and ask him many questions once I met him alone in the lift. Then one day last week, I happened to be in the lift with him alone. He was, as usual, sitting in the corner on his plastic chair. He had on tight black jeans, a blue hooded jumper and an earphone dangling from his ears. I said hi and asked him his name. He said he is called Shadrack and became reluctant when I asked his second name. I tried to ask him again thinking he didn’t hear me, but this time, he looked up at me and fixed his silent gaze on me as if to say, “Hey, I’m not ready to tell you my second name.” I felt quite embarrassed and looked away.
I slowly returned to the boring and weird conversation between us and asked, “So you know which floor everyone in this apartment lives?” He said yes in Swahili and went back to his music by nodding his head. I was left more intrigued by this behaviour and this gave me the appetite to ask him some more questions though knowing I will be given short and unsatisfying answers or nothing at all.
He said he abandons his best friend, the lift, only when he goes out to eat in the nearby food kiosks, which is twice a day or thrice sometimes when he has enough cash. He said there are some kids who will mess up everything if they do not meet someone in the lift so he has to eat hurriedly and come back to the lift. He also most of the times sips soda with a straw. You will often see him with a bottle of soda in one hand sipping it while the phone lies on his lap.
I asked him the busiest time of his job and he said between 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. when the kids are active. He said he can leave and go to bed from 9:30 p.m. when he is sure there are adults only who board the lift.
Shadrack looks like someone who has mastered his job and he always amazes me when I see him sitting in that corner pressing numbers for different people while listening to music or sipping soda with a straw. I don’t know why, but going into the lift and watching Shadrack do his job with those few never-ending routines (listening to music silently or sipping soda with a straw) has become the first thing I look forward to in the evening when going back home.