Mingling with the morning breeze, is the smell of sweet victory, driving away all defeat and despair in my weary soul.
These were the opening words of ‘Sweet Victory’ my first novel, written over three months when I was nineteen years old. I conceived the idea in the washrooms of Kiwi Factory in Baba Dogo, off Outering Road and near Thika Road.
My hands were sweaty because of the heavy plastic gloves that I was wearing. They were clasping an equally heavy brush with which I was scrubbing the toilet floor.
I was postponing cleaning the five toilets and was spending too much time in the urinal section. It was my second week of casual work at the factory and I had been assigned to clean the toilets. With casual work, you did whatever the foreman told you to do on any given day. That Monday, he had told me with a smile to that my work for the week would be to clean toilets.
What! I thought in disbelief. I John Bwakali (back then I rarely used David) would be cleaning toilets! Someone who was always top three in primary school and top ten in recently concluded secondary school was now expected to wash toilets! You must be kidding.
But Njoroge, as the foreman was known wasn’t kidding. He even had the courtesy of fetching the black heavy gloves and a similarly black bucket for me. The colour of the cleaning equipment captured my moods perfectly.
And so there I was, cleaning the men’s toilets of Kiwi factory. Every once in a while fellow casual labourers would walk in to relieve themselves and look at me as with pity as if they were managers wouldn’t be earning the KES 105 (almost two USD at the time) that casual labourers were paid at the end of each day.
When the actual managers did come to the washrooms, with their navy blue suits and clean haircuts, they would barely glance at me. I don’t think they even noticed that a fellow human being was in the room, cleaning up their mess. One of them hurriedly entered one of the five toilets and banged the door. The explosions that followed must have been the result of a weekend full of nyama choma (roast meat) and beer. When I gathered all my courage and entered that particular toilet half an hour later, I almost fainted out of despair. Although he had flashed, his weekend exploits had refused to depart gracefully from the toilet bowl. I was about to walk away in defiance when God spoke to me through the manager’s sheet.
It doesn’t matter that he earns one hundred times what you earn. If he can’t clean his own sheet, then his life must be full of other sheet that needs cleaning. So in that regard, you are much better off. Take heart. You are both human beings and if you fancy it, one day you can be a manager. His manager.
These words didn’t come from a trumpet in the skies but they just appeared gently in my mind. I smiled as two additional words appeared – sweet victory.
I decided there and then that I would write a book whose title would be ‘sweet victory.’ The book would be about the unlikely triumph of a young man when faced by the seemingly unbeatable challenges of life.
Later that evening, Papa bought for me two 36-page exercise books. I sat down on the coffee table of our humble one-room Umoja house and began writing my first novel.
Thus began my love affair with writing.