At around 4pm on Thursday last week, a heavily pregnant young lady struck up a conversation with me as I was walking through the aisles in one of the city supermarkets. I thought she must have been one of my old students at the university and had recognised me. But as the conversation progressed, I wasn’t too sure about that, and I wasn’t about to ask. She asked me why men are always in a hurry when shopping. “I would guess that just like me they do not like shopping, so they go through it as quickly as possible,”I said.
The discussion then quickly detoured to how life had gotten tough because of Covid-19; how many Kenyans had lost their jobs. She and her husband had lost their jobs in the hotel industry.
And she added that like many, she had learnt that she had to be enterprising and not just count on employment for income. “Have you seen how people from Central Kenya do it? Even school-going children are trying to make an extra coin selling peanuts,” she said.
At that point, I was ready to complete my shopping spree but then she asked another question. “Can you buy me something? I am due in two weeks and I have nothing.” My first instinct was to send her some money via mobile money. But then it occurred to me that I would be sharing my phone number and details if I did that.
I pointed at a packet of maize meal and asked her to get one. She walked around but instead picked a wheat flour packet, obviously more expensive than my earlier pick. That left my head spinning, but I shrugged it off.
Maybe that is what she needed most, I reasoned.
“I will wait for you at the till,” she told me. And true to form, she was waiting. After making payment, she picked up the packet, put it into her bag, and left. No ‘thank you’, no ‘goodbye’. And just like that, she was gone.
Was she genuine or did she just play on my sympathy? I will l never know. She had earlier said she was headed to Kinoo and had just come from a clinic.
Whatever the truth, life is hard. You have seen Kenyans trying to seek audience with President Uhuru Kenyatta. You probably have someone on your phone right now trying to get you to send them some money.
The number of job-seekers is astronomical and I think we need another stimulus package to help small businesses confront the economic ravages of Covid19.
On my way out of the supermarket, I met a man selling a skull of a cow. I am still wondering why anyone would buy that. Is that another indicator of how hard life has gotten?