If I suddenly got a billion shillings today I would go crazy. I would run into the street, tear of my shirt, stop and pose chest-out like Cristiano Ronaldo.
I would bath in milk like Mariah Kiarie, the famous R&B singer from America. I would travel in private jet and relieve myself on misguided socialite girls like Arrow Kelly the genius. I would probably sniff coke and end-up like Whitney Texas of Houston.
Or I would act more local and get a fire arm license, stock my house with semi-automatic rifles and post selfies with them on social media. I would fund a women or youth group in a slum and get elected to parliament on the basis of my ‘generosity’ and ‘youthfulness’. If I needed to shop for a suit, police would escort me and my entourage would block Kimathi Street with several 2018 Landcruiser VXs and 2019 Lexus 570s. People would know me.
But why do I day dream of a billion? Because lately my country men have been speaking of billions as though it were pocket change. From the bar to the office to the gym, people are talking of billions. A billion stolen here, a billion found there! Twenty billions lost here, eight billions there! Fake billions, real billions, all billions!
I first came across the word billion in a comic book over two decades ago. I still cannot fathom it.
‘Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles in a thundering typhoon!’
These were the favourite curse words of Captain Haddock of ‘The Adventures of Tin Tin’. It was a comic book that I read many years before anyone thought there was money to be made from the HIV-inducing career of a professional socialite.
I grew up on the slum side of a poor town where we had no television and our parents had never heard of comic books. I got to read ‘The Adventures of Tin Tin’ because one of my classmates was child to a single mum who had a far-away European boyfriend. He would visit every July and would bring exotic gifts such as used toys and second-hand comics. Later when I was much older, I learnt my friend’s mum actually had several European boyfriends most of whom were our grandfathers’ age mates. One visited in July, another in December and another in April. She did them for a living.
From that comic book I learnt the word billion. Before then, I only knew of million. I remember once when I was about eight years or so, my mum was ironing in her bedroom on a warm evening. I sat on an old couch next to where she was placing her clothes and engaged her in the usual idle talk that an eight year old would engage with his mum. As I got bored of sitting still I asked her something.
‘Maa, if someone were to offer you a million shillings to sit-still for twenty four hours, do you think you could?’
Mum paused for a while before answering.
‘One million Kenya shillings is a lot of money. You could live the rest of your life off it’.
More than two decades have since gone by. Today a million shillings can at best build you a one bedroom bungalow with amenities. Or it can get you an eight year old used Japanese car together with a sense of achievement over your middle class neighbours. Or you could buy twenty thousand loaves of bread but have nothing left for fish.
As I recall that moment with mum, I realize now one million shillings wasn’t enough to get me to where I am today. If I sum up all the food I ate, all the school fees my parents paid, all the cheap clothes I wore, all the rent and medical bills, I am confident the cost of my life to them was more than a million. Sometimes when I think of all the sacrifices that my parents made, I can’t help but imagine if they had not given birth to me or if they had dumped me by the roadside soon after, they would be millionaires now. Because of me, they are not.
That makes me lucky. Lucky because there are many poor Kenyans on the streets, in slums and in the villages today whose lifetime expenditure will never amount to a million shillings. Yes, the entire lifetime expenditure of a certain Kenyan surviving by God’s grace in dire poverty will never equal the value of twenty thousand loaves of bread and zero fish.
About four years ago, I watched a reporter interview a homeless man on local TV.
‘I am thirty years old and I have never held ten thousand shillings’, he said.
I still remember his look, his voice and his statement. For as long as I live, I am not sure my bloody heart will allow me to forget. Remembering him, I realize a billion shillings is more than a person will ever need. It’s more than a family will ever require for a comfortable life.
So I wonder again, if I found a billion somewhere today, would I grab it and what would i do with it? Would I take the share of a single mum and force her to deal her flesh for food and unwanted comic books? Would I take the lifetime share of a thirty year old and ensure he continues to sleep cold on the street till death for the sake of my own ambition? I don’t know. All I know is some souls accumulate billions as others weep for bread and water. All I know is we are living in a simmering thundering typhoon.
What would you do?