Story of Tycoon Who Bought Lunchbox From Nairobi Shoe Shiner

Shoe shiner at work at the Aga Khan Walk in Nairobi
Shoe shiners at work at the Aga Khan Walk in Nairobi

“Did you see how Omanyala nailed it? He cruised to the semis of the 100m World Championships in Oregon, US, with ease,” this man in an expensive suit and neat leather shoes tells the shoe shiner as we cleaned our loafers and sneakers at the CBD.

I guess he is in his 60s. Dyed hair to conceal the white patches. Two Android phones in his hands. 

“Yes, I woke up at 4:30am to watch it on KBC. At least it was on a free channel, otherwise, I couldn’t have paid to watch him make me proud,” the shoe shiner responds as they both laugh.

But it dawned on the man, who I learnt is a wealthy businessman, that it wasn’t a funny joke. It was a fact. He stops laughing and looks yonder into the streets. 

A collage image of Ferdinand Omanyala during the World Championships in Oregon, USA on July 16, 2022.
A collage image of Ferdinand Omanyala during the World Championships in Oregon, USA on July 16, 2022.

“Do you know what the sad reality of our country is?” the shoe shiner wonders.

“No,” the businessman responds. 

“Those celebrating him a lot online are those who were to facilitate his journey. But now they get the largest retweets and likes for congratulating him,” the shoe shiner states.

It draws the attention of the tycoon and all of us at the booths. 

Ferdinand Omanyala is the fastest man in Africa. He was compounded with Visa issues and arrived in the US three hours before the World Athletics Championships 100 meters heats began. 

“If the famous Omanyala can struggle that much, what of us? The commoners? It made me think so much about our identities and ranks in this country.

“Identity my friend,” the shoe shiner continues as he polishes the tycoon’s leather shoes. 

“We are all the same,” the businessman weighs in. 

“Yes, but Omanyala represents the majority of us. Before I cleaned your shoes today morning, I cleaned mine first. We walk in the mud and dust to arrive here. 

“We take care of ourselves first. Nobody cares about me. I worry about myself and my family,” the shoe shiner opens up. Seems he is so bitter with life. 

Matatus at traffic snarl-up along Waiyaki Way in Nairobi

The tycoon jumps in stating that the problem is we make bad choices when voting. 

“Do you vote?” the shoe shiner asks him.

“No, I am always on business trips. I worry about making money,” the tycoon adds.

“Then why are you saying we make bad choices yet you allow us to make those bad choices by not voting. Those same policies affect you,” the shoe shiner criticises.

The tycoon laughs it off, stating whether we vote or not, we all are affected in the end.

“You remember my story about Omanyala and identity?” The shoe shiner revisits. We all nod. 

“I’ll vote with my identity card which will rest in my wallet. My identity is hidden from them. 

“They are only familiar with me when I withdraw money, I am apprehended or vote on the ballot. After that, it's just my name, relevant to me alone,” the shoe shiner adds. He is done polishing the shoes and now chit-chatting with the tycoon.

I learnt that the two are acquaintances. 

“What matters at the end is that I hustle and make that cash. As you sign business deals, I am here cleaning shoes. Heavy is your crown. 

“In the last week, I have cleaned the shoes of the same 10 people. They strive to look neat so that I have food for my lunchbox tomorrow. They pay with the money they would have used to buy a second pair if they had an option,” the shoe shiner discloses.

The tycoon concurs. 

Pedestrians assisted by traffic police at a zebra crossing in Nairobi, on Monday, October 21, 2019
Pedestrians assisted by traffic police at a zebra crossing in Nairobi, on Monday, October 21, 2019
Simon Kiragu

He now notes the green lunchbox and wonders why he has never seen it before.

“It’s my daughter’s. She is in PP1. I came with it to draw her away from crying. She wanted to carry it to school yet we had no school fees. Anytime she sees the lunchbox, she cries, it reminds her of school.

“Funny enough is that it's not for her lunch. It's snacks her mother packs so that she can share with her classmates. She insists on showing them that she is not selfish,” the shoe shiner explains. 

But there was a concealed meaning to it. 

“You know, today morning when I woke up to see Omanyala run and remember the struggles we all go through, I figured that the lunchbox was green. 

“It’s round and that’s how my world is. When I wake up in the morning, I end where I was in the evening, circling around,” the shoe shiner laughs. 

“That’s why you have to vote,” another shoe shiner weighs in. 

The ‘Shakespear’ shoe shiner laughs.

He gives an analogy of an ailing man who has been knocked down by a politician (his policies in this context). The man is enticed by the sound of an ambulance, rushing through traffic.

He is awed by the emergency service providers frantically attempting to save his life and how motorists on the highway are moving aside to allow the ambulance to pass. 

When he arrives at the hospital, the euphoria is gone and now what matters is the sound of his pockets. 

“Everyone calls themselves the 5th. The Biblical Jesus said they all come in the name of the Lord for they know that we are hungry for hope. There is a Lord who fell out with the Romans and now claims to walk and represent the people. 

"Then the Jewish Lord who pledged to lead us to Canaan. He was walking with the people and is now walking with the Romans. The third Pharisee Lord used to preach and advocate justice in the courts and never walked with the people but is now claiming to have the medicine for the people,” the shoe shiner adds. 

An IEBC official coordinates voters at a polling station in Kenya.
An IEBC official coordinates voters at a polling station in the 2013 General Elections.

“What must we do then? We have no choice,” the other shoe shiner laments. 

“Choose your identity. No matter what, the government still eats its own people. Someone in the same government told us,” we all laugh.

“Just make the right choice,” he adds. 

The tycoon whose shoes are now shining digs into his pocket and offers him an envelope.

“Pay your daughter’s school fees. Consider it that I have bought your lunchbox,” he says.

“Thank you sir for buying my lunchbox,” he jokes. “Too bad the owner (his daughter) cannot sell it to you.” 

“I hope next time you won’t pay fees for me. I hope we will have a better economy. I see many people rushing to campaigns to just get Ksh200 to buy unga. At least I am cleaning shoes,” he adds.

The tycoon drives away.

Editors Note: This is a creative analogy to paint a picture of the country ahead of the August 9 polls.