Nairobi is a city of con-artists and failed lawyers.
Now, before you come for my head, listen. I didn't say it, I saw it on Twitter; direct any righteous anger you may have there, as everyone does. Still. I can't help but agree; stand atop KICC one day, pick up a stone and throw it: chances are that it will hit one of our learned friends.
My father, if I dared ask him, might also agree. In his mind, I am both a failed lawyer and not just a con-artist but an extremely talented one. But you have to forgive the old man, he is slightly bitter and not for nothing. He did, after all, take me to university to become a lawyer.
Paid through the teeth for it too, and for what? Bragging rights, of course. But I had gone the way of the strays, abandoning the noble profession he could casually bring up in conversation with his friends to become an actor.
I'm sure a part of him would have preferred a grifter—industrious and clever. Sure, I would still be a thief, but not just any thief: the aristocrat of thieves. I can almost feel the suppressed pride swelling his chest at the thought. I would still be a black sheep but a black sheep with finesse, with gumption, the best of all black sheep.
Ah, poor dad, I was not cut out to be a swindler, and not from a lack of trying. I once did try to sell slimming teas. Three months into the business and I had 90 percent of my stock still intact, staring at me with smugness. I'd like to claim I at least sold the 10 percent, but no, those were given out as free samples to potential customers.
Anyway, I gave up on the whole enterprise but not one to waste: I eventually did drink the tea: all 20 kilos of it. Morning, noon, and night I drank it, and eventually, after 6 months it was gone, and I had gained, for all my diligence, 5 kilos.
This is proof: the charlatan life was not for me. But true, I failed to be a lawyer but I am an actor—or have been trying to be. The failed lawyer part is easier to explain than the actor part, so let's start there.
Becoming a failed lawyer is easy: don’t graduate. When your family shows up at your graduation ceremony, with two matatus of your village people (village people you’ve never seen before, might I add) let them find no one by your names there.
When your father, who came prepared to boast, goes to enquire where his lastborn is, let him find out you haven't so much as attended a class in one year. Now my father is an incredibly dark man, the kind of dark they call 'midnight blue'; that day, I am told, he turned blue, purple, and red as my mother gazed on in awe as if she was witnessing, with her own eyes, the Northern Lights.When I should have been studying Contracts, I was on the second season of Fargo.
The rest, you can imagine, is history.
The actor part is a bit harder to explain really but to say that people can be divided into two categories - those who know the real names of actors and those who only know their character names. I would very much like to lie to you and tell you I'm the former.
That I can list off for you the names of actors on my fingers, but no, that's not it. I'm the second kind. Mentioning actors’ names to me has the same effect as spewing gibberish: I will look at you quizzically wondering what magic spells you’re trying to cast with your strange, strange words.
All this means is I'm not a 'born' actor, if any such thing even exists. I got into acting by sheer error. It was my first year in Uni and I was looking for one of my classes with little luck. No one could be expected to understand the layout of the sprawling campus ground.
I never did find my class that day, what I did find was a room full of film students rehearsing for a play. And would you know it, someone hadn't shown up and they needed an extra.Instead of reading for my Jurisprudence paper, there I was, eyes glued to the screen as Raised by Wolves played.
Turns out I was good, better than good, 'raw talent' they called it. Now, with the gift of age and hindsight, I wonder if they were being sarcastic. But it didn't matter then, what mattered was that I believed them, that I liked this new world, and that it wasn't that hard. Thus began my education in films. When I should have been studying Contracts I was on the second season of Fargo. Instead of reading for my Jurisprudence paper, there I was, eyes glued to the screen as Raised by Wolves played.
I will tell you this: acting and lawyering aren’t that different. With both, much of what you need is flair, a way with language, and enough creativity to blur the line between rumor, truth, and opinion. I was a quick study and soon stopped attending my law classes spending my days instead in long audition lines, dreaming of my big break. I Am Lacan made me a believer, why was he special? I was somebody and I, too, could become a superstar.
My first audition was one of many lessons in humility I was to receive. Bear with me here, perhaps I am a bit too much of an idealist. In my mind, all it would take was one shot, just one. The lights turned on, bright on my face, and two words later, the entire room would be stunned silent by my genius. They would then and there know that I was a star: destined for Hollywood.
I hope it goes without saying that this was not what happened. First, the audition was for a low-budget production, something much closer to a skit than a film. There were no lights unless you count the yellowing 60-watt bulb hanging off the ceiling. There was no 'room full of people'.
Shoestring budget is an overstatement: this production was held together by a stolen strand of hair from a beggar's head. The director was the writer, the producer and, pretty soon we would learn, he was also the costume designer.
He told us his name was Oz.
We later came to learn this was short for Cosmas.
The difficult thing about this audition was the dog: Simba. Simba did not look like the king of anything. He was one of those strays that jumped at its own shadow. More bones than anything. Cosmas, sorry, Oz had cast him as a guard dog of all things, and who do you think was given the job of playing the part of his handler? It was my lucky day.
That dog couldn't guard a tick on its own body. Half the day was spent with me coaxing him, Simba was more afraid of me than I was of him. Things eventually came to their absurd head when Oz, donning his director's hat, suggested I try barking at Simba. You know, like show him how it's done. Admittedly, it's not my proudest moment, but I did it. I barked at the poor mongrel. What followed was a sight to behold. He froze deadly still, the hair on his back seemed to stand, then suddenly the dog leaped into the air, and off he went, never to be seen again.
We called it a day. I never did hear back from Oz.
I have many more stories like that. I also have a couple of good ones. I've been doing this acting thing more or less full-time for five years now. I've yet to land any major roles but I can feel it in my bones, something big is coming, My father eventually did get over the whole graduation day fiasco, more or less. Enough though, that he asks me how the acting is going. Invariably the conversation ends at:
"Why do you keep picking the evil characters?"
I try to explain to him that one does not choose the role, the role chooses them.
"And the only ones choosing you are... thieves, liars, cheats, and poison-makers?"
I hardly have a response and the conversation crashes and burns at that point. Every time.I tell him about Tiger, he's a golfer, after all. His eyes light up.
But just recently I landed the biggest role of my career yet. The kind of role that really does catapult you to international stardom. I haven't told my family yet, I want it to be a surprise.
I've been dropping hints around the house, trying to get my dad to subscribe.
"Look Ba, you pay 380 bob for 1 month and get two months free."
Now my father loves a deal as much as anyone else but he’s not sold on it yet.
"You said it's for movies? Which movies will I watch there?”
I tell him about Tiger, he's a golfer, after all. His eyes light up. He grumbles, tells me to leave him to watch the news, but I know the old man, he'll get the subscription, I've piqued his interest.I've been attending auditions in secret for a new season of Monica. We just wrapped up episode four and it's now streaming on Showmax.
Now we play a waiting game. I have it all set up in my head - coming over to visit, suggesting we stream Monica, and watching their confusion, their surprise, and finally their glees of recognition when they see me in all my glory on the screen.
But for now, we wait.