It had been a long week for Roy and his companions. They had sat in front of documents since Monday, looking at forms released by the IEBC, looking at the official results as announced, looking at voter registers, looking at voter turnout, names and names and names. 290 constituencies added up to some 33,000 polling stations. 86% voter turnout, more than 11 million votes cast and 10 people looking through these things. It had been hard work, mind-numbing work.
One thing that helped was the importance of what they had been doing. The orientation program on Sunday was organised like a political campaign. They had been told about the gravity of what they would be doing, it looked like and would at many times feel like busy work they had been told but it was also important work.
”You are the eyes of the country, guarding democracy, preserving faith in institutions, what you do is something whose effect will run down generations. What you work for, what you achieve, whatever the decision will influence Kenyan life and politics for decades, be proud that you were called here. This is not about political affiliations but about the defence of the nation.”
Words and their effects wear off but the money helped. Oh, the money helped. Mikey had not been joking when he said they paid well. 10,000 shillings a day, every day for paralegal work. When at the end of every day 100,000 shillings was brought into the room they worked in and they were dismissed each with 10,000 shillings in hand it made everything so much better. The first thing Roy had noticed was how tiny an envelope is needed to fit in 100,000 shillings, no bigger than the envelopes he would put letters in back when he wrote them. The second thing was how numbing it was to receive so much money, day after day. Money had stopped meaning so much to him, a nagging voice told him to save but on the way back to the hotel room he and his friends would feel the need for a good meal, they would walk into a restaurant and make their order. 3,000 shillings later they felt sated and went and plonked themselves in their beds. Woke up early the next day and began again. Then that evening they would all get another 10,000. Add this to the 5,000 shillings saved from the previous day and he had 15 to do with as he pleased.
Tonight they were at a club in Westlands with women famous for their gold digging ways. There was a thing about money that people could sense. Roy felt it tonight as he had been feeling it all week. He walked a little straighter, his confidence was a lot more evident, and he didn’t have to look for girls. They could smell it on him. The girl he was currently with asked for another shot and he got impatient. There was really no reason to keep feeding her alcohol in such small quantities, plus stopping to call the waiter always reduced the intensity of their necking. The next time the waiter came around he just asked for a bottle. The music was too loud to hear anything she said and today he didn’t really care; this was not a girl whose giggle he would be thinking about in a week, this was not even a girl whose body he would be thinking about in a few hours. She shot back the bottle of tequila like an old pro and suddenly he was tired of her. He reached for his ultimate excuse,
“I need a smoke.”
He walked out and found Anto, one of the few smokers working on the petition, already there. He walked towards him, struck a match and a conversation.
“Didn’t I tell you renting a room for the three of us would be a good idea?”
“1,000 shillings a day and no worries about waking up late because the office is right there, I have to admit it was a good one. One thing though.”
“And what’s that?”
“Have you given thought to how early you’re going to have to kick this girl out of your place? We have to be back on the paper trail by 8 in the morning, if she continues drinking the way she has been she won’t be awake till 8 in the evening.”
“don’t worry about that, we have that pill at home that we’ve been using to keep ourselves fresh despite nights like this, a few of that, a friendly taxi guy, knowing her address before we go to sleep and I’ll be good. How about you?”
“My girlfriend, remember she was against this whole thing about us living together until you talked to her, well this was the reason, the temptation. What did you tell her anyway?”
“The truth, well some of it.”
“And what was that?”
“That I couldn’t live at home while I worked for what my father calls the enemy and I couldn’t afford to live by myself and all the reasons about not being late to work.”
Saturday night was when Roy had told his family about what work he was going to be doing.
“You’ll be working for who? Doing what?”
“Its important work and I doubt I will ever get to meet him.”
“You’ll be contributing to his baseless claims by researching them? Have you no respect for the fairness of an election, for this democracy that you talk about. A decision reached by 6 people who we never chose can never have the same power as a decision reached by 6 million people. Remember what happened last time? You can work for the man who would not accept defeat until it was forced on him? Do you remember what happened to our country?”
“It wasn’t only his fault.”
“Yes it was. It was not the rigging that both sides did that led to the fighting, it was the incitement that one did”
And they had the same argument they had had so many times. Then he asked his father the question that he had really wanted to. He asked him why they should be so accommodating of a family that stole their land more than anyone else’s. How could tribal unity be a reason when that had happened , when there had been a crackdown on the Mau Mau and all those young men had been killed under a Kikuyu president just a few years back, he had finally asked him what loyalty he owed to those who had none even to their own.
If his father had not been drinking since 3 this may have been met with a stony silence instead he cracked.
“Me against my brother. Me and my brother against my cousin. Me, my brother, and my cousin against our village mate. Me, my brother, my cousin, and my village mate against someone from another village. This is the reason. Roy, I know more than you about the wounds we have all suffered in this country. Do you really believe that I don’t know the Kenyattas have hurt us? Only the blindest and most fanatical Luo will not admit that the Odingas have done the same, molasses are not just a thing that is used to make sugar. Back in the mid 70’s there was an atmosphere of fear, the shadow of Tom Mboya’s death still hang over our country. You think it was easy being a Kikuyu then when every Luo looked at you as if you had personally held the gun to Mboya’s head? Do you think living in the recent past you have experienced hate? And just a few years later we began infighting. There were bombs and shootings and worst of all the rumours that all this was done by some of the northern clans to embarrass the old man because he had not shared enough of the tribal cake. 5 years later he was dead and Moi was president, 24 years in the cold taught us that it is always better to have one of your own inside than anyone else. And this man, Raila, have you seen his eyes, have you looked in them. The red of their hue is not the red of a forgiving man, he holds things in his heart, rage and anger and pain and if allowed to he would spill it all over us. You say you are doing this for the money? Well then if it is enough for you to forget about your nation it is enough for you to find somewhere to live. I cannot imagine coming home to see you every day after you have been working for that man, I can’t tell you what to do but I can tell you where not to. If you are going to work for him I don’t want to see you living here until after he has well and truly lost.”
So Roy had found a place to live. The first night he spent in the lodging he would take girls to when he couldn’t take them home. By the second night he had sown the idea in the heads of some of his friends who were also working there. There were no down sides, none of them wanted to be going back home every day, it was the ultimate bachelor’s getaway and they had all grabbed at it. Well Anto’s girl had to be talked to though Mikey had jumped at the opportunity without a look backwards. He finished his drink and went back in.
“Let’s go,” he said to the girl.
“It’s time to go.” He repeated a few hours later, bundling her into a taxi and then ravenously eating all that was left in their room. By 8 they were all back at the office, up to their socks in numbers and numbers and numbers. A lot had to be prepared for the filing of the case and the petition team held everything back until the last possible minute. For those last hours adrenaline soaked the air, there were all the various strata of the legal profession sitting down and collaboratively working. The paralegals along with people who had just become advocates doing the bulk of the donkey work, the advocates of a few years doing research on the results of various presidential petitions, comparatively studying constitutions from different jurisdictions, looking for articles by well respected and admired jurists, the senior counsel taking all this information, distilling it into a coherent argument, figuring out how to present it to court.
This is how it was for some moments in every day; the workings of a finely tuned clock were on display as things were passed up and down and back again. Sometimes the famous people would pop into the room. The love and loathing felt for them by so much of the Kenyan public gave them an aura as if they were the Greek gods of old who became more powerful with each new supplicant. They would come in and have a quiet word with the paralegals, here away from the cameras their voices were rarely raised. Instead they were measured as if to fit the room. An instant intimacy and connection was created and when they squeezed his forearm in gratitude Roy felt as if he would fight to the end for them. He could tell how they had made it this far in politics, charisma leaked out of them even when they walked.
“Good work guys. This is very impressive, today we can turn in early, you can finally sleep for a bit before going out to drink.”
There had been crowds outside the Supreme Court waiting for this announcement. Well not the announcement that they could go sleep and then drink but that the petition file was ready and would be taken to court soon. The sweat was dripping off the people in the streets as they shouted and made faces. They talked in a language Roy could not understand most of the time. When they spoke English they spoke it with a pride and a sense of entitlement that Roy could admit to himself disconcerted him. The way Raila had turned politics into a kind of religion with him as the deity was the thing Roy feared the most. If his father was right and the hate had never gone away then this man had an army of people ready to take back what he thought was his.
“Why look so sad? Is it because of the way you are stabbing your tribe in the back? Better to think about the woman you were stabbing in the morning, I heard you rush her out. Well in my friend, well in.” Mikey said to Roy
“ah the girl, to tell you the truth it was pretty boring, if this is how it feels to get a girl purely with money I can’t say I like it.”
“Empty experience, yer a guy once said sex without love is an empty experience but as empty experiences go it’s one of the best. Guess he hadn’t tried been sworn in as president without winning an election HAHA. So what’s the plan tonight? Come with us, some of the guys who’ve been working at the campaign for a while are going out for a couple of drinks, come join us, let us see if we can convince you that your vote was wrong”
“You don’t even know who I voted for.”
“That’s right, you had a choice of three this time. But my friend you are too much of a pragmatist to vote for Peter Kenneth and as it looks it was even less practical to vote for Karua than Dida. So… I think I can tell where you put your tick. Anyway too late for that, only 6 people’s votes matter now and you are hard at work swaying them, so we thank you.”