A Conversation with Tyson Ouma



It’s Saturday. The 21st of December 2019. I am at Mega City Mall, Kisumu at 3pm. I am waiting for my sister, Georgian. She had promised me a ‘post’ birthday treat. The place is chilled. Some soft music is playing in the background. It reeks of Christmas all over. A guy is acting Santa Claus at the entrance. He makes some funny sounds whenever he sees kids. Some adults are also fascinated by him. They ask him for selfies. But here in Kisumu we don’t judge. We don’t tell anyone that “Hey. Look here man, don’t you think you are too big for these Santa theatrics?” Here in Kisumu we are all God’s children.
Georgian is running late.
So I take a stroll into the mall. I can’t seem to recall the last time I was here. Ooh, wait a minute! It’s that time I brought over Joy and Josh to Kid’s Arcade last holidays. I vowed to never make such a mistake again. My pockets sunk that day.  Those kids know no mercy.
As I move around, I come to the slow and painful realization that Nakumatt isn’t where it used to be. In its place, there is Game Store. Game Store is like the new kid in the neighborhood trying to be friends with everyone. It screams pink.  I move around the sections from electronics to books to clothes and back to books. My mind is a whirlwind of memories now. I’m nostalgic. Years ago, my brother Frank and I frequented this place (when Nakumatt’s star was still rising). We did more window shopping than buying. We loved the mall. We’d skip tuition days to soak in the ambience of Nakumatt. We’d go gaga over the woofers put for sale and kid ourselves that we would save for them. I don’t even like them anymore.
Georgian is still running late.
I am still at the Books Section reading some reviews. My phone pings. A Facebook notification. Why I am still even on Facebook?  Maybe I have problems letting go. Facebook tells me that ‘You have memories with Tyson Ouma and 5 others.’
Tyson is now in my mind. I don’t recall the last time I texted him. Neither do I remember when we last spoke on phone. And then it hit me that he had requested for a Q and A. Damn! I had nearly forgotten. Hurriedly, I open my Whatsapp and text him.
“Tyson. Hello.” I type.
Tyson isn’t online.
So I get back to my book-scouting. A very nice song is now playing from the small speakers above. I know it from somewhere. But where? Oooh. Hold on! It’s from that restaurant at The Junction in Nairobi. What’s the name? My memory is failing me at a time when I need some personal triumph. I Shazam it. It’s ‘Glad I know You’ by Ezi.  I now remember the place. It’s Mediterraeno or something of the sort. This is just the kind of song you’d want to listen to on a Saturday afternoon. I’ll download it later, I tell myself.
My phone beeps. A Whatsapp message announces itself. I open it thinking it’s Tyson. No. it’s my sister. She’s saying she’ll be here in ten minutes. I’m getting irritated. But I take two deep breaths and calm myself. Maybe she’s still a little bit held back in church. Or maybe she’s bumped into a friend. Is there anyone that girl doesn’t know in this city?
Tyson is back online. He has responded “Hello Brandon”. We exchange pleasantries some more then I ask him to describe to me where he is at the moment.
“Alung’oli village”. Comes the response. “It is in Alung’oli Sub Location, Busibwabo Ward. It’s a place in the interior parts of Busia.” He adds that it’s where he comes from then loosely says that the place usually has some loose crocodiles because of its proximity to the banks of River Sio.
I want to ask whether the crocodiles have eaten someone this past week but I get distracted by a phone call from Bob, a friend I last saw nine months ago. Bob calls to rant. He is like “Kwani you’re home na huwezi sema?” I tell him “Bob ebu relax bana. Been here only two days…” He cuts me short and goes on ranting about how Nairobi changes people and other things that I can’t type here. When he’s done ranting I hang up. A few minutes pass. My phone is ringing again. Bob is calling again. I pick up and more tantrums follow. I tell him “Bob I’m held up somewhere. Let me call you in the evening”. Bob says ‘fine’ then hangs up in protest. He’s a good human being and friend but sometime he behaves like an auctioneer from Ngara (Good thing he doesn’t read this blog. He won’t see this).
“I have four siblings. Three girls and a boy I love so much. I am the first born” says Tyson once we resume our conversation.
I ask him about his parents and he tells me about his mum.
“My mum has shown me that hard work, perseverance and prompt planning are the keys to success. Further she has cultivated in me the virtues of forgiveness and sacrifice, especially for good courses in life.”
I ask about his dad.
Tyson is typing…
Ten minutes have now passed. Georgian is still no show. I minimize Whatsapp and give her a call. She’s receives after it rings for a while. There’s laughter on the other end. Seems like she is in a gathering or something. I can hear someone saying ‘Aki woiye’ in the background. Some other person is giving another a high five. I feel exhausted.
“Kwani ten minutes have passed?” She asks without shame.
I am short of words to tell her. The audacity of this lady.  I hang up, without answering, to make a statement that I am angry.
I am back on Whatsapp.
Tyson is still typing.
I am like “Christ. Is Tyson typing a Best-seller in my DM?”
Then the reply comes. “A story to do with my father is the least of things I discuss with people. Other than you, it’s only some lady I’ve ever told it to” He adds “It is a painful wound especially to my mum. I have never heard from the man since I was four years old.”
Sorry doesn’t help much in such situations but I say it anyway. Then we go down the memory lane to where he studied in primary school and what it was like back then.
 “I went to Alung’oli Primary School. It’s near River Sio. It’s a small school that is looked down upon by even locals. People tease it a lot in ordinary conversations from bars to community gatherings to small diners around. I tend to think that during my time at the place, I changed the narrative.” Tyson explains.
I ask the best moment in Tyson’s life so far. He says that they are two. When he joined Maseno School in 2012 and this year when he had his first ever birthday celebration. There’s never been a single doubt in my mind that Tyson has unfading love for the school. I always thought that I loved the place till we had this conversation. Maseno School is to Tyson what Hogwarts was for Hermione Granger. A place of acceptance and a propeller into the unknown future.
Georgian is finally here.
I give her a smug look in attempt to express my highest level of disappointment. But she knows me well to know that I am faking it.
“You’re smug Georgian. You know that, right? You’re worse than Sloan?” I tell her as she makes her ‘triumphant’ entry. She is laughing. She’s even more irritating now.
“Who’s Sloan?” She asks.
“A smug like you” I reply. “She’s from the ‘The Newsroom’” I add. “Perhaps you can write her an email and tell her you’re a fan.”
She sneers at me. I am glad I am making her angry. She deserves it. But I tone down. Lest she say ‘Men are trash’ any minute now.
“Where are we eating?” she asks.
I am tempted to say ‘right there on the floor’ but something holds me back.
“Let’s go to Funscape. They always have some world-class fries.”
“I don’t want fries. I am on a diet” she says.
“Well, good for you and your diet but I want fries. Besides, you’re so late. You don’t get to choose where we go.”
The sneer is back. I am so inwardly happy at this moment. I am revenging. How could she keep me waiting for over two hours? So I drag her along to Funscape where a waiter I know welcomes us so warm-heartedly you’d think she works for Fly Emirates.
Once seated, I continue my conversation with Tyson.
Tyson is now telling me about the things he does for leisure.
“I like running in the evening, teaching students, watching action movies and listening to Bongo songs particularly those of Mr. Blue, Dudubaya, Ferooz, Harmonize, Lutalo and others.” He says.
I am floating. I am not much into Bongo. Masiga could comfortably discuss music with Tyson now that they share the same taste. I’m mostly into African and American Jazz. The high-speed ones. Not the slow ones.
On asking about what he perceives home to be, this is what Tyson had to say. “To me, it’s a place where you get accommodation, feel warmth and love. By the way, I feel like I have a lot to change about it. What is there is only for the meantime.”
We chat some more on various things. He tells me that 2018 was one of the lowest years of his life. He lost his grandmother whom he had lived with since he was a kid. The loss was devastating but he has somehow come to terms with it.
And who would have thought Nakuru is Tyson’s favorite part of this country? I haven’t toured most parts of Nakuru but I always have a sense that it’s a nice place to be in. Besides, it’s the home to Binyavanga Wainaina, one of Kenya’s most revered writers.
“What kind of lawyer do you want to be when you finish school?” I ask.
“Corporate lawyer. But I will still defend people’s rights whenever I can.” He replies.
Obama is an inspiration to Tyson. He looks up to the former Illinois Senator. He admires the life he has lived and how he navigated through his presidency.
My sister asks me who I am chatting with. I tell her it’s a friend.  She says it is bad manners to be on your phone in someone’s presence. I tell her it is bad manners to show up late to meetings. She laughs. I laugh. Her food is brought. She’s ordered something that looks like a mixture of grass and Kei Apple leaves. I can’t control my laughter now. I ask her why she’s eating food that was eaten by hunters and gatherers of the 18th Century.  She tells me to mind my own business.
I get back to Tyson.
Tyson says that his greatest achievement, down the memory lane, is his tenure as an academic captain in high school. He says that he had so much joy seeing people pass their exams under his stewardship. He has a few regrets in life though. They are what I call ‘fancy’ regrets. He regrets getting 399 marks in primary school and failing to get 84 points in high school.
If he were to choose a character from ‘The River and The Source’ to whom he resonates a lot, Ouma Tyson would choose Aoro Sigu. Aoro Sigu, to him, was a relentless and very supportive guy.
“Do you have a best friend?” I inquire.
“Yes I do. A guy called Moses Tabu. He’s such a visionary. A God-fearing man too”
“Are you interested in campus politics?”
“I am not sure for now but I will make a decision in January.”
“Do you have any parting words?” I ask as we wind up.
“This may sound crazy but I would like to thank all the stakeholders in my life. I am grateful to all of you for being there for me. To you Brandon, Wesonga, the late Isaac Ochieng and others. I will continue writing a new script in my life.”
As I put my phone down, my sister is halfway through her food. She has also eaten a quarter of my fries. That says a lot for someone on a diet. We eat and catch up amidst the sweet sounds coming from an orchestra nearby at Mega Cinemas. She then gives me a birthday card with some writings I can’t properly read.
“Happy late birthday Bran. What do you think of the card?”
“It’s a typographical nightmare. Did you give this to Joy to write?” I ask.
“Shut up. I’m outta here.” She jokes.
We call it a day.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you.
May the last person here switch off the lights.

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