“Street fighter five. That’s what I am playing. By the way, I know it’s none of your business, but I just won.”
Lyesa says as he proudly stands from his swivel chair and walks towards me. He picks the black teacup from his desk and holds it in front of me. I raise a brow and he smiles sheepishly. I shake my head before picking the thermal flask resting on the shelf.
“Congratulations, but we need to recruit players.”
I say as I pour him some tea. I nod at the white mug on his desk, and he hands it to me.
“If we are to be well prepared for the Global Esports Game, we need to have a solid team by mid-February.”
Lyesa narrows his eyes as he leans on his desk and quietly sips his tea. I pick my cup and lean on the desk next to him.
“I gave you a list of potential professional gamers for our team, but you rejected all of them.”
Lyesa complains and I pat his back.
“I want to use this chance to help my people back at home. Find the unexplored and give them a chance.”
“Aiyoo Wandia, are you sure that you want to take the chance of getting beginners who barely understand anything about the esports industry? The amount of money and time that you’ve put into starting this club, is alooooot.”
I give him a small nod and turn his laptop towards us.
“Now Ly, the workshop begins tomorrow. Show me the list of those who have signed up.”
We go through the list together.
“Twelve people? That’s better than I had hoped for.”
Lyesa snorts and I give him a questioning side glance. He tries to fling his hands up but fails as he keels over in laughter.
“Remember uncle’s expression when you said that you want to study video game development instead of medicine?”
A small smile forms on my lips and I turn to completely face Lyesa.
“I remember. Then he turned to you. ‘Simiyu, talk some sense into your cousin.’ But you were going to study theatre arts.”
Lyesa wipes a tear from his right eye.
“Eh, Wandia, I am telling you, I will never forget that lecture. Ati ‘children, let me teach you the importance of not being foolish.’ Wueeh. Now you want to take us back home because of a gaming project?”
I laugh as I pack up my laptop bag.
“Papa is probably going to say, ‘You have decided to lie to people’s fine children too. I hope they will be smarter than you and get themselves proper jobs.’ And mama, I don’t even want to imagine.”
Lyesa stands from where he is lying on the carpet.
“Auntie will call for Bishop Onyango to come and pray for you for the umpteenth time.”
“Yes, because she believes that one should be persistent in prayer.”
Lyesa and I laugh for a few more seconds before walking out of his office. As we each walk towards our cars, I make sure to remind him not to miss our flight at 8 a.m. Eh and remind him something else too.
I call out to him as he unlocks his car door.
“Please, it’s Wilson…WIL-SON airport not JKIA.”
“I confuse airports one time, ONE time, and you decide to make it a daily thing.”
I wink and get into my Mazda Axela. I roll down my window and yell,
“I can never be too sure with you brother. Drive safe.”
“Sure. I hope you get stuck in traffic.”
I shake my head and drive away.
The first day of the gaming workshop can be ticked off as successful but let me tell you, Kitale seems to have more vehicles now than it did seven months ago. I mean, traffic was never as bad as it was this morning.
“You know, I could just sleep here. I mean, This is an entire self-contained five bedroom we’ve rented for the workshop.”
Lyesa says, and I can already hear my mother on the phone with his father, “Wandayase rura ndure, my elder brother, your son seems to not love his auntie anymore. Imagine…”
I shake my head and proceed to lock up.
“Do as you wish but remember, she specifically said, ‘Tell that brother of yours, if he does not show up to eat the ugali and chicken that I have prepared, I will store his share and feed it to him the next time he decides to visit. It won’t matter how many years later that will be.’ So, think carefully.”
Lyesa cringes and I can’t help the laughter that escapes me. Sometimes it’s hard to understand whether my mother is joking or not. Most of the time it’s safer to never find out.
“I change my mind. Let’s go home.”
As we stand outside the gate waiting for the uber, a young boy approaches. His black T-shirt very faded and the jean trouser slightly tattered. On his feet are roughly made akala. He looks at the ‘DUMA GAMING WORKSHOP’ banner hanging outside the gate for a few seconds before cautiously moving closer to us.
He sheepishly says, all the while avoiding Lyesa’s piercing gaze.
“Hello, how are you?”
I ask softly.
“I am fine, thank you. I am just wondering if people like me can join your workshop. If… If…If we have a chance at being chosen to be part of Duma even if we don’t have money. Normally, I can’t play because I can’t afford to spare the 20 shillings, but I have watched when others play.”
Before I can reply, Lyesa asks him,
“How old are you?”
“Sixteen.” He replies.
Lyesa and I look at each other.
“If your parent or guardian allows you to participate then, yes you can.”
I say and the boy’s hopeful expression turns sad.
“Oh, what if there is no adult to sign my approval?”
“Not even an auntie?”
“I’ve lived in slums alone for three years now.” He deadpans.
Lyesa gives me a look but says nothing.
“What’s your name?”
“Chol, you can come tomorrow at around 9.a.m”
I tell him just as Lyesa’s phone rings.
“I think the Wasili guy is here.”
Lyesa says while waving the phone at me. I grunt my acknowledgement, then turn my attention back to Chol.
“Thank you.” Chol says.
I nod. Five seconds pass as we stand in silence. I wait for Chol to walk away but he does not. I study his face carefully and he looks like he is having an internal debate. I decide to give him a push, so I smile and ask,
“Do you have another question?”
He quickly glances at Lyesa who is busy talking on the phone before nervously asking,
“Can girls play too?”
I laugh despite myself and before I can filter my words, I hear myself answer him,
“Am I a man?”
For the first time since he stood before us, Chol’s lips stretch into a smile. A small smile but still, a smile.
“I have two other friends who would like to come. They couldn’t come with me now because one had to watch the akala shoes that we sell and the other has to go and hunt for old car tyres that we use to make the shoes.”
As the uber reverses, I start walking towards Lyesa.
“The others can come too at the time that we agreed on before.”
I call out to him before walking into the car. As we drive away, I watch Chol staring at the images on the banner and smiling. I don’t know if he realizes it, but the smile makes him look more his age as opposed to when that frown graces his face constantly.
Sometimes I think that the night is a little too short for my comfort. It’s 8:45 a.m. but I can’t help the constant yawns that escape me. Lyesa and the other two facilitators, Tony and Musa keep giving me judgmental side glances.
“Let me guess, you stayed up until 4 a.m. with Auntie convincing her why you in a medicine class would have been a bad idea?”
Lyesa asks. I nod, slapping my palm over my mouth as another yawn escapes.
“Ms. Wandia, let me help you with the keys.” Tony sweetly says while rubbing his hands together to keep from freezing. I stop fumbling with the lock and hand the keys over to him. Before we can get in, three people walk into the gate but do not make a move to approach the building. As Tony and Musa get in. Lyesa looks at the three faces and whistles.
“Well, these ones are timekeepers.”
I look at my watch. 8:52 a.m. I smile. Chol really did come on time. He is still wearing the same black faded t-shirt and worn-out jeans from yesterday. The girl beside him looks to be around his age. She is wearing an incredibly old black skirt that seems to be out growing her and a pink t-shirt full of tiny holes around the shoulders. The other boy seems a bit older. Maybe around seventeen or eighteen years old. He is wearing a black faded t-shirt that has a picture of an old lady and written ‘Rip Grandma’. His trouser is similar to Chol’s.
“Good morning, Chol…and?”
I call out to them as I descend the three stairs on the veranda’s exit.
“Ekal. Ruth Ekal.”
I stop in front of them and fist bump each of them.
“Good Morning.” The three murmur.
“Aiyoo, let’s do the talking inside, it’s freezing out here.” Lyesa yells from the veranda and I agree with him. It’s so cold and none among these three souls is wearing a sweater, or anything warm.
As we walk in, a notification comes through my phone. It’s an email from the investigative journalist friend of mine that I had asked to look up on Chol and his friends. I reply to her my thanks and then return my attention to the three following me.
“Let’s get you three to fill in and sign some forms and then get you Duma t-shirts as we wait for the others to arrive. Afterwards, I’ll hand you over to Lyesa.” I point to his retreating figure. “He will introduce you to the rest of the team and give you an orientation.”
An hour later, Lyesa takes them out for an orientation, and I sit down in the kitchen to open the email that contains information on Chol, Ekal and Kago.
Kago Goko. Seventeen-years-old. A form three high school dropout. Parents and relatives died in a bus accident when leaving a funeral. No other live relatives are known.
Ruth Ekal. Sixteen-years-old. A form three high school dropout. Parents died of cholera. No live relatives known.
Chol Ekai. Sixteen-years-old. A form two high school dropout. Mother died during a brawl in the slums. Father, unknown. No live relatives known.
Sigh. I have heard of several cases like this and, I know that I can’t help all of them but surely even though esports is a thing in the community that people find hard to see as a professional field, there must be others like these three who are interested that I can help get off the streets.
“What has you spacing out?”
Lyesa asks. I snap out of my thoughts and look up to find him leaning on the door. I give him a small smile and say,
“Nothing much, just wondering how I can benefit the society at home, you know, the society that resides out of Nairobi with the two things that I love most: Gaming and Game design and development. Be it to offer jobs as gamers, as designers or as developers etc.”
“You are already starting from home; Kitale. You understand that around here, talking about gaming as a professional career is like talking about aliens existing on earth. Especially to people belonging to our parents’ generation. You’ve seen how yours look at you.”
Lyesa says as he pours himself a cup of white coffee and heats up some smokies. I understand very well what he is saying. It will take awhile for people to embrace the world of esports and support it. Before I can reply, Musa peeps through the door.
“Wandia. The Tekken 7 strategizing session has begun.”
“I’ll be right there.”
I say while looking at Lyesa with unhidden judgement as he tries to quickly down four smokies.
“Ly, slowly. Don’t die here. I do not know the process of filing a police report neither do I want to take classes today.”
Lyesa makes a face and I stick my tongue out at him before adjusting my blazer and walking out.
Two weeks later and a happy Wandia as the workshop progresses smoothly. One week left of the workshop. Three strategizing brains, and seven potential souls for the main team but today is Sunday. Everybody gets a day off. After missing service, the other Sunday, my mother sulked the entire week.
“Omukoko, my daughter, you have decided to follow in your father’s steps and choose to not see the light of God, eeeh. It’s all right. I shall pray for God’s mercy upon you.”
Today, as we walk out of church, her hands holding my arm. She is all smiles. I can tell that despite all the, ‘All you do is play every day, I don’t want to be seen in public with you,’ mama seems to be happy that I am with her today.
“Eh, eh Nasimiyu, daughter of Gachohi.”
My mother whispers as she pinches my arm, not so gently.
“Aish, mama that hurts.”
I pull my arm away from her. Whenever my mother addresses me as daughter of Gachohi, she is usually up to no good.
She says, pointing with her mouth at an afro haired tall man.
“It’s that youth leader. Look at that jaw line. Nasimiyu, go say hi, he is a fine man so be sure to smile. You only look approachable when smiling.”
Before I can say anything in return, my mother has pushed me towards him. I almost trip on my heels but Lamiye quickly holds my arm and steadies me.
“I am a fine man Wandia, please smile.”
Lamiye says, trying to suppress that smile that I can clearly see trying to erupt from his lips. I look at anything but him.
“I see that your mother is still trying to find you a husband. Have you never thought to tell her that I am your ex-boyfriend? She might just stop trying to push you towards me.”
My gaze quickly shifts to him, a shocked look on my face.
“OR she might start trying to fix whatever she will think was the problem between us.”
Lamiye laughs. I smile, thinking quietly to myself, ‘She will probably think its because of my job.’ Wait, she would not be wrong or maybe she would be wrong? I am sure that I am the one that broke up with Lamiye, but it’s been five years and I can’t remember why anymore. Lamiye puts his hands in his pockets, and my eyes follow his movements. He looks as fine as the cake mama bakes on Jesus’s birthday. The kind we eat until full but still want more.
“…Ah, Mama Wandia, I am telling you, it is those things she does for work. Game what? Now she has come to tell people’s children that playing every day instead of getting proper jobs is ok.”
“Eeeh, she is exceptionally beautiful, that playing thing must be why she is twenty-nine and hasn’t found a husband yet.”
The loud voice of Njeri and Salome, two of my mother’s mates ring out from where they are standing. Lamiye smiles sadly and pats my back.
“Do you want to get out of here?”
Lamiye whispers and I nod,
“Mmmh, let’s get something to eat, I am starving.”
As we bid the bishop and the church elders at the gate goodbye, I can hear my mother loudly say,
“That boy, Lamy makes movies. I hear his field and hers are not far from each other. He might be able to tolerate her. He might be the only one able to marry her.”
The agreements from the other women are so strong that Lamiye and I find ourselves laughing.
“You know, now that you’ve settled, you could marry me. I wouldn’t mind marrying you.”
Lamiye casually says and I hear myself blurt out,
“Yeah, I mean why not. I find that I don’t seem to mind the idea of waking up to your face for the rest of my life.”
Both of us stop walking the moment we realize what I have just said. Aiyoo, could this be why I have never been able to move on, even after five years?
Lamiye pulls me to the side of the road and then puts some distance between us. We don’t want to give the mamas content for next Sunday’s gossip.
“Are you serious? If you are, I will go buy you a ring this instant.”
My stomach suddenly feels very cold and for a moment I contemplate laughing it off as one of my jokes but instead I nervously ask,
“Don’t you Mr. Film Producer already have a girlfriend?”
“Not in the last two years, after I called a girl by your name when we were, err…you know…doing the…”
I say frantically and Lamiye suddenly finds everything but me very appealing to the eyes. We stand in silence for a few seconds, me observing his face and he, staring down the clouds. At once, I knew that I was tired of running from him and his marriage proposals.
“I was serious. If you’ll still have me, I will marry you.”
Just like that, after five years of being single, I have a fiancé. Not a boyfriend, a FIANCE.
Monday morning of the last week of the workshop is so alive. I have already signed up the seven main team members for the Duma gaming club and everything else is going so well. In fact, everything has been moving soo well that during the two weeks that have passed, the numbers of the gamers around have gone up by seven from the fifteen that we started with. I suppose it would be best if I buy this compound that we are currently renting, and set up a Gamers Hub, a coffee and snack place. Then the other players who did not make the cut and many others that may want to join, will always have a place to game.
“Wandia, we’ve got another sponsor. The Fizzla drinks Company.”
Lyesa says as he quickly runs to me. He stops when he sees the glittering engagement ring on my finger and the conversation digresses.
“Ah, so that’s what auntie meant by, ‘Nasimiyu is now gone, you need to do something about your situation too.’ Aish Wandia. When did you and Lamiye get back together?”
Before I can answer him, the noise from the commotion at the front door attracts our attention and we run to check it out. We meet three angry Mamas and two furious Babas yelling for the boss of the operation.
“Calm down, calm down.”
I say and the lady at the center adjusts her leso and sneers.
“Who should calm down? We need you to leave. You are fooling our children. Tom might be twenty-two, but he knows nothing of the world. This thing you have put up here should be shut down, it’s not helping anyone.”
The old man in a suit scratches his beard and nods.
“Yes, all these children should find proper careers instead of wasting their time playing around with you in this useless place. Playing does not even pay them.”
Out of nowhere, Ekal comes to where I am standing, fury emanating from her.
“Doesn’t help anyone? Doesn’t pay? What do you know about esports. My friends and I had nothing. As high school dropouts with no families to depend on, we could barely feed ourselves. Ms. Wandia came, gave us a chance when we had nothing. She even pays us very well to play. I think that there are some like me and my friends who could benefit from an opportunity like this. Maybe instead of fighting the esports industry, you should think of supporting it. The more functional industries there are, the more your children benefit, so don’t you dare attack her, she deserves nothing but respect. Maybe you could change your mind and support us as we aim for a championship at the global esports game.”
Everyone suddenly goes silent, even the parents. I see the proud look on Chol’s face, the smile on Kago’s and the shock on Lyesa and the rest of the gamers. I am with Lyesa and the rest of the gamers because, ever since Ruth Ekal joined the Duma workshop, most of us have barely heard her voice. Some of the boys even thought that she didn’t speak. I did not think that I would one day see her speak so many words at once and so fiercely at that.
The angry parents turn to whisper among themselves for a few seconds before turning to look at me.
“Wandia, you say, err, this, playing video games pays, what did you call it? Esports?”
One of the parents asks and a little hope sparks in me.
“Yes, as esports professional gamers they get paid just like the athletes and footballers get paid. They participate in tournaments and championships. They practice extremely hard to get to the top. The players sign contracts if they deem the terms and conditions to be good, if they agree to the pay offered. Also in my club house, the gamers get accommodation too.”
The parents look at each other and then back at the players in their Duma jackets.
“Maybe, we should give it a chance and see how it goes.”
One baba says and the rest of the parents grunt in agreement. As I watch them walk away, I can’t help the smile that erupts from my lips, maybe there is hope after all. I look at Ekal, standing by herself, a little frown on her face and feel like I am soaring. E-sports might be something different from the norm, but it can be used to impact people too. There might be space for it here after all. This little victory towards acceptance is just but a start.
2 thoughts on “CHILD OF THE CONSOLE”
LikeLiked by 1 person