“In that case I want two bags” I said. As stupid mistakes I have made go in my life, I would not say that this is one of the big ones, but it does gain a place in my personal stupidity hall of fame, along with calling my Std 1 teacher a bloody fool (on her face).
Raspy looked at me, nay stared at me for a while, then put his hand in his pocket and after a little digging pulled out a ‘joint’. He put it to his lips and one of his shorter henchman came over to light it. The short goon was almost comical, like an oversized school boy. Light skinned and stocky, but by and large a veteran at surviving the meanest streets of Kenya. He looked at me with a twinkle in his eyes as he held the lighter for his superior.
Then, he went back to his place in the dark, calmly and quietly like mist does in the morning once the sun comes up.
Raspy took a long drag of the joint, kept it in and let the blue smoke out through his nostrils. He was looking at me all along, he then said “This is the best shashe you will ever get” and stretched his hand offering the joint to me. I wasn’t too sure what he meant; whether the quality was that good or I would never live past that night.
I was squeezing my sphincter muscles with all my strength for fear of releasing my bodily fluids but I still managed to take a few small steps towards him.
After what felt like twenty hours, I was a hands breadth away from raspy. I could smell wood smoke and tyre fumes coupled with traces of tear gas and ‘changaa’ but his clothes were clean, almost freshly laundered.
I could smell the shashe. The acrid sweet smell of some of the best herb East Africa apparently had to offer. Rumour had it that after his death, Bob Marley’s ashes were sprinkled on the hills of Shashemane by his family. Therefore, in essence you were smoking with Bob Marley if you put some shashe to your lips and lit it up.
I raised my hand which had now decided it suffered from Parkinson’s disease. I took the joint from raspy into my shaking appendage and put it to my lips. It was a well rolled joint about the same size as a cigarette. The roach was good and the body was tight. A professional roll or a machine rolled joint.
Any smoker or toker will tell you, never rush the first drag. I was both of those but I was neither calm nor in control of my lungs, hands or body. I took a fast sharp drag. I felt the stabs of the smoke in my throat. I felt it biting in my lungs. I expelled it in a coughing fit. My eyes were tearing at both the pain of the uncontrolled drag and the humiliation.
Raspy was in fits of his own, except his were fits of laughter. I took a deep breath of air and hyperventilated the next few breaths. Experience had been a harsh teacher but I had learned that the fastest way to stop the burn was to do just that.
I stared at the joint, blew the ash of its tip and redeemed myself with another long pull. A slow ‘professional’ pull. I could taste the sweetness characteristic of the Ethiopian highlands at the back of my tongue. The slight acidity from the coffee fields that surround the Shashemane highlands. It was indeed good shashe, not the best like raspy had boasted, but nonetheless some of the best I had smoked in a long time.
I kept the smoke in as long as I could, exhaled, took another drag and gave the joint back to raspy. I was visibly calm and as I let the last puff out, I could sense the effects of the marijuana working faster on me. My senses were heightened. I could hear the rhythm from the background music bubbling and backfiring. I could hear the city stirring. I heard the knuckle of stocky or one of his mates crack.
“So you see mister, I give only the best” raspy waved at me with the joint in his hand. “Two bags is two G’s boss”
I was smart enough to have split the cash on my person. Craftily, I had only left 300 shillings in my wallet, which was in my back right pocket. My back left had a thousand bob note and my front pockets had an array of mixed denomination notes. I reached over to my back pocket, slowly, like people do in the movies when they have a gun pointed at them. I felt stupid doing that charade and probably looked even more stupid. I was constantly telling myself better to be over-cautious then to be under – six-foot under.
Taking the thousand from my back pocket, I amassed the mixture from the front pockets to get to the two thousand we had agreed upon. The I reached out to hand over the cash to raspy. He did not take it but his ‘accountant’ came over and took it. The tall guy in this instance looked like Lurch from Adam’s Family. He had a scar right below his chin that gleamed despite the low amount of light. I was extremely confident that the scar was not from a bicycling accident he may have had as a kid. He was at least one and a half heads taller than me and definitely many times more muscular than me.
He took the money from me gently, counted it to confirm the amount, whispered ‘asante’ and walked off, back to his corner, again like the mist. The money gone I was now expecting to be given my stash or my throat slit whichever came first. Raspy put a hand into the deep pockets of his jacket and pullet out a few bags. They were the usual cellophane ‘zip-lock’ bags that most dealers use. He counted out three and threw them in my direction. “Election bonus” he said and smiled as I caught them. A sincere smile or so I, apparently the new authority on human psychology, thought.
“Thanks man” I said and looked down at the bags in my hands. I wanted to sniff the bags to make sure I was not paying for gold just to be supplied lead. Given the hospitality that I had been afforded, that would be plain rude. Or suicidal. There was a thin line between both. A very thin line.
I had never dealt with a gangster in the middle of town in the dark of night so I did not know what the protocol was. So I waited for them to make their move. They just stood there, like the pillars of the ruins of an old city. Like they belonged as part of the existing scenery.