Just Who is Wahome Mutahi “Whispers” – A Drink with a Conman

Wahome Mutahi

Wahome Mutahi

The father of satire and humour in Kenya was for years the most popular columnist in East Africa. Behind the mirth, however,  was one of the most vicious critics of government who penned award-winning novels like Jail Bugs and Three Days on the Cross.


Over a week ago, a dear friend of ours, a man full of theatre in his blood, spoke and said: “I am taking a nap. It might be a long nap but anyway, I will dream about you.” That man took the nap and never woke up., and we from it. After that we had nothing else to do but to return him to the soil.

So last weekend we went to Siaya to return the Son of Siaya to the soil. The Son of Siaya and the Son of Kenya was Lenin Ogolla. and, As you read this, the man is probably having a long chat with Jaramogi Odinga or being shown around by Tom Mboya in the other world. He is most likely getting orientation on how things run in the other world from Tom Mboya. Lenin, may you give that other place as much theatre as you gave us down here on earth.

After we put that Son of Siaya into the soil, I did what he would have expected me to do. I went to Kisumu to have a beer at the right place and at the right price because I knew that if Lenin saw me weeping tears, he would wake up from the grave and say: “Whispers, what is this thing about crying, Bwana? Have four on my account and stop behaving as if you have hyacinth in your head.”

A Drink With a Conman

A Drink With a Conman

That is what made me end up at a place called Taratibu in the town that those who live there sometimes call Kisumo. The people from the Slopes of Mt Kenya who have a quarrel all the time with pronouncing anything right call it Githumo. I found myself perched on a stool in that town at that place called Taratibu. I found myself there because I knew that another son of that land called Ochipo irrigates his throat there. Indeed, Ochipo was there and did not notice me when I entered.

I found him addressing the fellows at his table as if he was a retired professor. He was saying: “The emergence of the water hyacinth on Lake Victoria has had profound psychological and physiological effects on the mind of the Luo proletariat. The weed will definitely impact on the interactive capacity of the Nilotic in his social dimensions and particularly as it relates to his economic dynamics. I am saying this while cognisant of the raw data that has emerged from recent bio-social studies by eminent scholars whose close acquintance I have enjoyed in my wide travels.”

I listened and said nothing for a number of reasons. One of them was, of course, that I did not understand a word of what my friend Ochipo was saying. I was sure the characters who were listening Ð so attentively that their teeth seemed to be nodding Ð did not grasp a thing hwere not understanding a thing either.

Two was that although I know Ochipo was seen in school somewhere, he had not seen enough books for him to speak English as if it was manufactured in his father’s simba (hut). Then I remembered that Ochipo is a man of theatre and he must have memorised what he was saying.

Three Days on the Cross

Three Days on the Cross

The character who was sitting seated next to me on the counter nudged me and said: “Young man, do you hear what eating fish does to the brain? It makes the brain think. That is why that man Ochipo is talking more sense than all professors of our Maseno University put together. combined. I will buy him a swallow although I bought him five only yesterday.”

It was then that Ochipo turned and saw me. He welcomed me to his table and called for a swallow. Just as it was being opened, another fellow entered Taratibu and stood at the door as if he expected us to stand up and welcome him with thunderous clapping. I blinked three times ice when I looked at him and the sun outside. He was in a woollen three-piece suit and the sun outside was blazing shining as if if had come down a few kilometres. It was the kind of weather that would tempt anyone to walk naked but here was a character who looked as if he was dressed to go and visit the eskimos in the snowland where they live.

The fellow walked to our table as if he was afraid of the ground breaking and shook hands with all the people there – except me. Then he examined me as if I was a laboratory specimen and said: “We haven’t met, have we? Anyway, my full and official names are Juvenalis Edwardson Winston Churchill Mc’Otieno from Gem. What might yours be?”

Ochipo was quick to answer for me and say that my full names are Whispers Son of the Soil. The fellow offered me a limp hand and then looked at Ochipo as if he had stolen his fishing boat. He told him: “Ochipo, bwana, why are you fraternising with peasants like this fellow you are calling the Son of the Soil? I thought you were a man of greater substance. Haven’t I always rightly said that breathing the same oxygen with peasants is like giving added value to their lives?”

Wahome Mutahi

Wahome Mutahi

Ochipo nodded as if the man was speaking all the sense in the world. Then he stepped on my shoes to tell me to say nothing. The three-piece suit man looked in the direction of the bar and shouted: “Steward, bring us a swallow. We did not come here to gather dust.” Then he picked up Ochipo’s bottle and told me: “Ochipo man, why are you suckling an empty udder? It is not wise in this age of modern technology, at this time when the world has become a global village, for a man of your calibre to suckle from an empty udder. I mean to have a bottle that is neither full nor empty. Have something on me”.

Ochipo nodded as if he was in class and was getting instructions from the headmaster. Then he Ochipo then said: “Mc’Otieno, as I was telling you, this man is called Whispers the Son of the Soil and . . .” He was cut short by the figure in the three-piece suit who said: “This Whisperer, where did he go to school? Certainly not Maseno and later Alliance like myself. I went to those places but have you heard me going to KBC to announce it? I keep it the information to myself and my close friends. This Whisperer looks like the type that went to Ng’iya Harambee Secondary School or Kamagambo. He does not look Maseno or Alliance material to me.”

The warrior in me was beginning to stir and Ochipo noticed it. He stepped on my shoes and told Mac’Otieno: “Whispers is not even from anywhere near here. He is from the Slopes of Mt Kenya and he is . . .” Mac’Otieno cut him short again and said: “So he is from Kukuyuland? That place has yet to produce a Maseno. Okay, there are one or two people I am tempted to respect from there. Mark my words very carefully. I said I am tempted to respect them and this does not mean that I respect them. One of them is that fellow called Matiba. The other one is Kibaki. At least I have reliable information that they went to universities which are almost like the one I went to. I don’t want you to broadcast this but Ochipo will testify that I am Mc’Otieno, Bsc, London, Phd, Massachussets and Diploma in Management, London School of Economics.”

Ochipo nodded and said: “Mac’Otieno, you have forgotten that you also went to Dar-es-Salaam University to study law.”

Mac’Otieno said: “Thank you my brother for reminding me. That is why I say that when I die, I want to be buried next to you. You know so that we can exchange intelligent information. I keep forgetting that I went to Dar. One is inclined to forget places like Dar when you have been all over the globe.”

Mac’Otieno looked in the direction of the bar and once again announced: nd said, “Barman, I said I did not come here to sit like hyacinth. Bring us a swallow.” Then he turned to us and said: “The barman does not understand that we are among the very few highly paid Kenyans. I’m talking about an eight-figure salary here although I am not saying this so that you can broadcast it. This sort of information that I share only with close friends.”

He held Ochipo’s bottle up once again and looked at it as if it had hyacinth growing inside it. Then he said: “Ochipo man, why are you drinking Omo or is it Ariel? These things made from froth are for peasants and their sons. How can you use Omo to wash clothes and drink it at the same time? Get serious, Bwana. Be in tune with the world of dot.com. Did I say dot com? I amSorry for talking so much computer technology to people who might not understand it. I just meant to say that you man Ochipo should live your status.”

By that time, the barman was standing behind Mc’Otieno with a black book. The man in a the three-piece suit looked at him and said: “Where is my Vodka and soda water? Don’t you know that I am doing you a favour by coming to drink here? I am supposed to be at the Kisumu Grand Imperial with people of my class and where they serve Vodka in a Vodka glass and not in one of the kind used to serve tea in the kiosks of Nyalenda.”

The barman said: “Mac, now I know, kukopa harusi, kulipa matanga! The Mswahili was not wrong when he said that. I agree with him totally”. Mac’Otieno raised his nose in the air and said: “Are you addressing me by any chance? If you are, then I would like you to know that you are breaching protocol. Customers of my kind are not addressed by barmen at the table when they are with their contemporaries. Yours is to serve and to speak only when you are spoken to.”

I heard the barman let out the kind of cry that is heard in Kisumo only when the ghosts called nyawawa emerge come from the lake. Then he said: “Mac’Otieno, I don’t care how many degrees you have in your head. You must pay your debts now. You have been drinking on credit for the last six months. Enough is enough! Why are you treating me like a guok?”

Wahome Mutahi

Wahome Mutahi

Mac’Otieno rose and said: “So you now want to fight me over small overdrafts which I did not need in the first place, eh? I won’t lower my dignity by fighting you back. But just you wait! My personal assistant will deal with you. Let me go for him.”

The man then shot out of the bar with the barman chasing after him and telling him that he must pay. Ochipo then looked at me and said: “Son of the Soil, welcome to Kisumo. That is our world. That man Mac’Otieno is a messenger with the Kisumu Municipal Council. If he saw school it was Pand Pieri Primary School. That’s the life here. It is more dramatic than what our friend Lenin did it on stage. However, may Lenin have a bigger stage wherever he’s gone.”

I could only say, Amen!

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