Every year in April, the short rains come, and in the April of 2016, they brought with them a man called Collins. We had just opened the bookstore then, and because we did not know anything about running an online shop, we depended on other people. One of these other people was Sendy—a startup that had launched not too long before. Obvious from their name, Sendy was a courier service that used bodabodas. These days they have expanded, but back then they were using bodabodas to deliver items for other small and medium sized biasharas. On the day I met Collins, there was a client who said she needed her book by 1pm. I wondered whether she could not see that the rains had come and there is no bodaboda person who is willing to ride his motorbike in that weather. But she was a customer, and the first thing anyone is told when they get into business is that the customer is king.
So Her Highness needed to get her book by 1pm. By 9am, I had requested Sendy to send a rider and they sent me Collins. Collins called and said that he was trying to get to me to pick up the book, but he had been cut off by the rains.
“Ni sawa tu bro,” I said. “Me I understand. Ni vile tu we have a kastoma who won’t listen. You just do your best.”
His best meant that he showed up at my place, drenched. I could not let him go out with the downpour, so I let him stay for a while, made him a hot cup of tea, and as soon as it seemed as though the heavens were going to let up, he got up to leave. It was already midday. With one hour to go, Collins wrapped my package in a polythene bag, tucked it inside his rider jacket and left. Never mind that it was still drizzling, and that the client was on the ooootheerrr side of town. I remember wondering whether this kind of commitment is inborn or made.
At around 1.15pm he called to say he had delivered the book. The client said nothing about it though. Usually, there are customers who acknowledge us going above and beyond the call of duty, and they at least say thank you. Or even tip the delivery guy. This one said nothing. I did not expect her to, anyway.
I called Collins the next day and asked him how much he’d love to work for our kiosk exclusively. You see, when you are a rider for Sendy, they take a percentage (I do not know how much) of your total fee. It is Uber, but for delivery guys. So my offer was basically Collins taking everything home. It was a win-win situation for both of us. The kiosk would get a rider with the heart to serve (a priceless thing) and he would be earning more consistently. He said yes.
We have had good and dedicated riders for the kiosk. Many memorable people. But none quite as good as Collo. At the time (as I later came to learn), Collins was doing delivery work so that he could pay for his own tuition fees at Mt. Kenya University, pay his rent, and then take care of his little sister who was also joining college somewhere in Nairobi. Maybe the burden of responsibility is what drove him to work so hard, but I like to think that is just who Collo was. There was not a single order that he fucked up, and if anything ever went wrong, he would call in and explain. Nani kama Collo? Hakuna!
After a year or so, I bought a new computer. I was making the big shift to MacBook – because I had taken up photography and someone had said that MacBooks were the best machines to use for that kind of thing—display, processing, and that whole enchilada.
“Si uniuzie hio comp ingine?” Collo had said. I did wasn’t so sure about selling my old computer to him, because as much I loved him and his work ethic, I did not want to ruin our friendship with debt.
“20k. You have?” I asked, knowing that he would say that was too much for a second-hand machine, and ultimately give up.
“Chukua 16k. That is what I can afford.” He said.
I accepted, but only because I knew I wasn’t going to use that computer anyway. To spare myself the agony, I told myself that I would give it to him, but not expect anything. If he paid, then well and good. If he didn’t, bado ni sawa tu. And true to my worries, he only ever managed to pay 10k. After a while, he simply stopped sending money, and I never chased after him.
Collo would later on call to say he was quitting the delivery business to do something else that would allow him focus more on schoolwork. By then, he had served the kiosk well, and there was nothing we held against him. The goodbye was a phone call just less than two minutes long. No tears were shed. No sniffles. This was, after all, just business. But it would take a while before we found someone as good to replace Collo.
It had been two years since Collo and I last spoke. Then the other day, I got a phone call a little after 8pm. It was an unknown number. I called back.
“Heeeey, George niaje! Ni mimi.”
“Collins? Which Collins?”
Oh, by the way, his full name is Collins China. I always giggled at that surname. Because this man was Luhya from Vihiga. What the hell kind of name is China? Which mother in Vihiga names her son China? After a country in the Far East side of Asia? Africans do not name children after countries. That is what black Americans who give all of two flying shits about Africa do when they are trying to connect with the motherland. So they called their babies things like Kenya when they cannot even point it out on the map.
“Ohhhh! COLLO! Sema. How have you been? Many days.”
“Very many days my friend. I am fine.”
“That is good to hear.”
“OK. Look, you know, I owe you some money. I had a balance of 6k, remember? For the computer?”
“Yeah…I remember…but listen, that was a long time ago bana…ni sawa tu.”
“No, I want to pay you back…”
“It is OK. Do not mention it.”
Of course I was just saying that to be nice. While I bore him no grudge for not completing his payment, who can ever say no to money? Kwanza thao sita!?
“I have to pay you back, boss. You held me down with that job when I really needed it. So I am MPESAing you that balance right now. I feel very bad for even staying with it for this long.”
He insisted I pretended not to want it. But then I “gave in” and accepted the money. This was sometime last month. Coincidentally, around the same time when I first met him. Sometime in April, when the cold sets in and the short rains begin without fail.
Collo will be graduating later on this year.