A loose Thursday evening in early October finds Alfayo and I seated on the first floor of Chicken House (along Kimathi Street).  It’s a few minutes to six. Chicken house is slowly gaining popularity in the city. I’m surprised at how most of the tables are occupied yet it’s only midweek. Alfayo orders fries, soda and chicken. I also order the same. What’s the point of coming to Chicken House and not eating chicken?
To our extreme right, there is a lady and a man. They look like a couple. The lady seems disinterested in what the man is saying. I guess they are having a rough time in their relationship. Most couples do have such times, trust me. Or maybe they are just fine and it’s one of those couples that don’t find joy in having lively conversations and holding hands and laughing loudly. 
Now Alfayo is a man loved by many and hated by few.  A friend once asked me to describe what he is like and my exact reply was that “Alfayo is Gussi’s handiwork and a clear depiction of Gussi excellence.” At a young age of 23, Alfayo takes me through the life he has lived for the past two decades.  He talks for most of the time because he is a natural talker.  And I listen because that’s one of the things I do best. 
In his early days, Alfayo studied at Nyanguru Church of God Primary School, a typical village school. At the mention of the name, I laugh and remember MEISAG. MEISAG is from the Moses book series by Barbara Kimenye? It is that school where Moses and his friends like King Kong and Itchy Fingers went to. The name was an acronym for Mukibi Educational Institute For Sons of African Gentlemen (MEISAG).  I always marvel at these creative people who come up with such long names for schools and wonder what their motives are (One would think that naming a school is an art on its own). Anyway, if you’ve never read any of the books please look for at least one of them. It’s never too late. And start with Moses and the Man from Mars. It’s the best.
Nyanguru is the kind of school where teachers of English give illustrations of tenses, verbs and propositions in the native Gussi language. It’s unlike Aga Khan nursery school where a child in Play Group uses words like empowerment.  Neither is it like some primary schools I know of where students in lower classes know the meaning of the word disenfranchised and constantly use it in their sentence construction. (I know some lads here are now Googling to find the meaning. Carry on. It’s not a crime).Alfayo spent four years at Nyanguru and was always top of his class with his best marks at the school being 218 out of the possible 500 marks. This was a great achievement at the school and its reward was six books and six pens. Yes. Each pen for a book. Nyanguru teachers must have been so creative to think of that.  As I said, this is a typical village school. They don’t give any fancy gifts like the ones given at St. Andrew’s Turi on their prize giving days.
Just when he was getting comfortable at Nyanguru, 16th February 2005 came and his life took a turn. That’s how he says it.”My father got some money and felt the need for me to go and get better education.”And before he knew it, he was at St. Don Bosco Primary School. A boy with no prior boarding school experience embarked on a journey and a new life that required him to stick to a schedule that was very unfamiliar to him.  He had to wake up early in the morning, do lessons till evening, take food that he found strange at first and go for evening preps. “All this while in class five?” I ask.”Yes. And that would be my schedule for the next four years”
I have always felt that the worst punishment our parents could give us as kids is take us to boarding school at such tender ages.  There is however no denying the fact that most lads who were “boarders” at young ages gained a high sense of responsibility than some of us who stayed in the cheer and comfort of our homes throughout those eight years in primary school. (If you’ve ever interacted with Alfayo, I bet you’ve noticed his near-perfect sense of tidiness. It all sprang from Don Bosco). That is of course not to say that there is no exception to this rule. There are obviously some people like my roommate at Form 1 who thrived in untidiness. His bed was never spread throughout the four years that I knew him. His suitcase had all his belongings stuffed in it.  There were dirty shoes, bread, dirty clothes and even wet towels all stuffed in.  He lived like a housefly. I guess he used to look at us and wonder why we all strived to be clean and tidy. Who could blame him?  Hygiene was just not his thing.
To say that life at Don Bosco was tough for Alfayo would be a great understatement. He and the rest of the students constantly felt that they had a huge task of climbing a steep mountain. And that the closer they came to succeeding the harder they fell on their backs.  The school was like a juvenile prison in most ways. The punishments were prison-like in nature. Those were the days when corporal punishment was not outlawed.  A simple mistake meant misery would follow. The misery came in form of strokes of canes that could transform one’s life forever (negatively or positively).
At this point a lady interrupts our conversation and asks for a charger as if it’s the most natural thing to do. Her voice is as beautiful as the sound of monsoon winds in a desert.  And she has spots of icing (of a cake) all over her face.
“Don’t mind about the cake” She says. “It’s my birthday”“I have one but it’s a very slow charger. Might take days to completely charge your phone.” I tell her and she walks away smiling. 
I ask Alfayo what he thinks and he tells me that maybe her friends dared her to come over at our table.  It’s her birthday anyway. The perfect day for her friends to pull one hell of a dare on her.I notice that there’s a camera facing me from the wall with the tag “Put a smile on your face. You are on camera” I find that funny.  It’s glad to know that even the IT administrator or whoever it is that put up that has a sense of humor.
Now Alfayo adapted and cruised through Don Bosco.  He earned himself leadership positions. He started doing well academically and made his mum the proudest lady on earth.  And by the time he was doing his KCPE, he was among the best students in the school. Under the leadership and guidance of Mr.  Gilbert Mauti,  the head teacher of the school, he got 399 marks and found his way to Kanga School which was not too far away from home.  He wanted to go to Alliance High School but God handed him Kanga. Those were the days when every boy wanted to go to Alliance Boys and every girl dreamt of Alliance Girls High School. Of course this changed during my primary school days. During my days, all the boys dreamt of Maseno School.  And all girls fell in love with the boys who wanted to go to Maseno School. The teachers too were not left behind. They pampered the kids who desired Maseno School and treated them as if they had already gained admissions there. Maseno School was like a sun that emitted bright rays of excellence.
Filled with high expectations of any primary school boy, Alfayo’s heart broke when he served his first meal at Kanga School. The one thing that is common about most boarding schools is that the food is pathetic.  The funny thing about being a student is that as time goes by one gets to love the pathetic food. It’s more of like the Stockholm’s Syndrome where a slave gets to like his oppressive master with time and refuses to be freed from slavery because he thinks of the world of his master.
High school shapes people in unimaginable ways.  It did so to Alfayo. He made some lifetime friends. (Jeffa Ombati and Chris Ngani I hope you are reading this). He met teacher Sally, one of the best English teachers of this generation. (Shout out to you Sally wherever you are.) And Sally was not just her teacher but also her mother at school. Sally gave him nice food and she inspired him to work hard.  She equipped and sharpened his vocabulary (Alfayo speaks very good English by the way). And in Sally, he got a lifetime mentor.
Even though surviving at the school was hard, Alfayo did what he did best. He adapted.  He learnt the tricks. He became a school prefect. He headed the student’s health department and was an exceptional leader. It’s at this stage that he knew definitively that he wanted to be a lawyer. Shortly after that realization, he founded the Law Society of Kanga (Don’t laugh at this. I wanted to laugh too but held my laughter back as he said that).He became a darling of the teachers. The school principal loved him. I listen to his story in great awe.  From what he says, I automatically conclude that he was God’s greatest gift to Kanga School at the time. 
He was a bright student and most bright students usually succeed in high school. My mind drifts at this point, at the talk of success. I think of my high school roommates. It must have been God’s plan to give me the brightest of chaps for roommates in high school. One is currently studying in China.  Nathan is in the US.  Of course Felix Nyabuto is in the Ivy League Dartmouth University. Only Nicholas Ochieng and I are bearing the brunt of this harsh Nairobi life. God is perhaps sending a signal to us.  Who knows?
Alfayo joined the University of Nairobi School of law after passing his KCSE exams. This was yet another life-changing experience. I ask him about his life in campus and he tells me that he has some few regrets.“I wish I’d studied more in my sophomore year” he says.It is in campus where he’d meet friends like Angela Okello, Cynthia Achieng, Clinton Nyamongo, Adero Brian, Scola Aoko, Rustin Omondi and so many other good people.
I only got to meet him in his final year. I met him at a time when life was giving me a terrible spin. I was spinning like a kite in a raging and unforgiving storm. He made life better for me. He treated us (Ian Keganda and I) like his own brothers and at some point like his sons. He was like a sensei to us.  And we sat at his feet and learnt everything about law school life and beyond. He gave us money even though he never had a job.  He sheltered us in his room. He prayed for us.  He gave advice on our difficult days.  He inspired us.  He was like a lighthouse that stood tall in our dark lives as first years. And we absorbed light from him.
He became a deputy parent to our real parents and we told him things we could never tell our old folks. Personally, I don’t tell my folks much and I bet their deputy parent knows more about me than they do. And we joked a lot. We laughed at these jokes (my jokes still remain the best though. His jokes suck a lot). And to date, he still leads the front as we go to church on Sartudays.
Our table is cleared by a waitress at 8.30 pm.  I decide to ask him about his dating life and he tells me that he has only dated two ladies in his whole life (If any of you readers have a crush on him, please move with speed for he is a free agent now. Plus, he dates ladies only). The first relationship ended because the lady wanted to ‘kill’ him. This gets me laughing hysterically and the couple next table stares at us for a moment with interest. They, too, like the one before them seem to be having a failed dinner. It’s written all over their faces.  Relationships are hard my people. 
His second relationship ended because the lady had too much unrealistic expectations of him and he couldn’t just meet them. I ask him for more details on this. I am a curious guy. He tells me about things that I will certainly not write about here. All I can say that the lady she dated was a dangerous lady. I guess that made the love a dangerous love.
He then tells me about how hard it is to successfully transform a long term friendship into a successful relationship. This gets me thinking. It had never crossed my mind before. But come to think of it, it works for some people. So if you reading this and you have a crush on some long-term friend, don’t be deterred by anything. You just never know.
As we near the end of our conversation, I ask about his fears, dreams and plans for his twenties.  He has three fears in life.  Death is the first one.  Getting a lady pregnant before marriage is the other one. And failure is the last one.  He also adds that he doesn’t want to die early (Nobody ever does). And that he would never wish for his pregnant wife (future wife) to board a matatu. That lady will be so lucky. He has big dreams.  Dreams about transforming his family, his church, the society and he wants to be a better friend to his friends.
I marvel at that.  He wants to be a mixture of Bill Gates and Mother Teresa. Money and humanity.  Philanthropy and sanity.  Generosity and love for people. He wants to cultivate these rare combinations within him.
As we speak in this restaurant, he currently awaits his graduation with so much optimism and enthusiasm in the coming days. There is a raging fire of dreams, desires and determination within him. I am not a fortune teller. Neither am I a clairvoyant, a soothsayer or a seer but one thing that I am a believer in is that young people with great ambitions have the capability of transforming our communities, our inner cities, our societies and most importantly our country. They, however, need to take charge and have a firm grip on their lives first. They should craft and master the values of patience, persistence and perseverance among many other virtues.
Alfayo’s story is a typical African story of a young man from a humble background with big dreams.  This story is a manifestation of the great depths that people can rise from in the quest for excellence. That a person can emerge from a bottomless pit is a great testament to the power that human beings wield over the destinies.  I hope his story inspires a young person somewhere to believe again.  I hope it changes the perspective of a young man or woman who is on the verge of giving up to hold on just a little longer.
It’s 9 pm and we have to part.  He to Uthiru, where he stays and I to Kisumu, where I got a burial to attend.  Outside, the streets smell of teargas. Kenyan streets have become accustomed to smells of teargas recently. I guess the police had an unpleasant encounter with the city hawkers. I bid Alfayo goodbye and head for Railways just in time for the 10.30 pm Easy Coach bus. At the bus, I get the back seat.  I hate back seats. But what choice do I have? None.  I sit, then adjust my seat and start reflecting on my day.  I also think about my cousin (I am headed to his burial by the way). Remember him? From my previous post? I think about him and a few tears slowly creep out of my eyes. I close my eyes.  Then I sleep. And I don’t dream.

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