The Hustler: Safara lays low, until called out by loans

Photo credit: Joe Ngari

What you need to know:

  • Then last Saturday, my alarm woke me up at 6am!
  • No, it was my phone ringing (I no longer needed alarms as I went nowhere).
  • Mr Zhao Li was on the other end. “Mike, come to Vienna hotel in Nakuru by noon. We have to talk about repayment.”
  • Damn! I thought – ‘His Sh160,000 loan is due.’

I have had to maintain a very low profile these last three weeks – staying in the house with curtains drawn, keeping off all social media, letting mobile phone calls go unanswered – because of a WhatsApp message I got from Tasha Sande once I landed back in JKIA.

“Lay low, Michael! They are very annoyed back in Nairobi that you didn’t come back with their cargo, and let yourself get busted at Mohammed Mutala airport.”

“I didn’t even KNOW those suitcases had anything other than Naija fabric,” I had angrily texted back. But since Tasha had already thrown me under the bus, I had no desire to debate my innocence with some peeved ogas, asking for their ‘unga’ from Abuja.

So I lay low like an antelope, emerging from disturbed sleep where I dreamed that I was locked away in the notorious Kirikiri ‘Mox-i-mom’ prison in Lagos.

Several times every night I awoke from my sleep covered in a cold sweat.

I had a kibanda guy called Collo Omollo deliver my egg, ndazi and chai in a flask to my flat every morning, another kibanda lady called Njeri bring chapati madondo to the house for lunch, then once it was dark, I’d sneak to the shopping center and buy mutura from a chap called Muturi, and a quarter of cheap gin I would put in black sugared tea nightly to knock me off – but still the dreams persisted.

Every day I sat down to watch three hours of one of my favourite TV programmes, Law & Order, SVU – typical episodes featuring a congressman falsely accused of soliciting underage girls for sex, a news anchor making an on-air accusation of sexual assault against her boss and a dangerous gang leader ordering an attack on my TV heroine, Olivia Benson, head of SVU.

This made me think of Tasha in Abuja. How is she? Why did she do this to me?

And the big question in those three weeks – ‘how long can I afford to lie doggo?’

Then last Saturday, my alarm woke me up at 6am!

No, it was my phone ringing (I no longer needed alarms as I went nowhere).

Mr Zhao Li was on the other end. “Mike, come to Vienna hotel in Nakuru by noon. We have to talk about repayment.”
Damn! I thought – ‘His Sh160,000 loan is due.’

I dressed in my red jacket and gray khaki trousers – Would I become one of the men known by my one outfit like ‘Safara Koti Moja Nyekundu’ in a short while?’

Then I went to an old chum’s called Ash to hire a Lexus LS to go with to Nakuru.

If there is one thing I have learnt in life, it is that when you want someone to lend you money, or else postpone paying off a debt, it is best to look like you don’t need the money – or that you can comfortably clear your debts in the near future.

So I painfully paid the 10K (cheap for the car) for a 24-hour car hire, then gunned it to Nakuru, where I picked up Mr. Zhao Li from his cosy but small Sh5,000 a day hotel somewhere in town.

“Big car, Mister Maiko Safala,” the small man said, climbing in the passenger seat.

“Small hotel for a big man, sir,” I said, wondering why a man worth a few million dollars, now in Nakuru to build a second Gong Dong Mall, was living so cheap.

“I always t-lie to live very frugally, Safala,” Zhao Li said. “Seek-let to my money!”

I had learned something important – but still thought if I ever got that much liquid cash, I would live like a King – big house, fast cars, spending large, out with Chrome, in with Dom Perignon. Travel too, different places in the world. But not Nigeria!

We went to one of those lovely hotels by the lake, where the moneyed can enjoy lunch and drinks with a breeze, and in his usual way, millionaire Li came straight to the point. “Maikol, you owe me some money from December.”

“160K, yes,” I said, and swallowed hard.

“One-sixty-four back then, as I lend you the money in dollar,” the Chinese mall magnate said.

I picked my phone up and used the calculator. “In that case, Sir Zhao, I owe you just Sh134,000, considering the gains the shilling has made.”

Zhao Li smiled admiringly at me: “You should pray Shanghai Composite, the Futures market on currency. Be may as that is, Safala, you return loan by April 1.”

After I had dropped him back at his modest hotel, my head was in the swirl of a worry whirl all the way back to Nairobi (with my Air BnB biz backfired, and the Abuja import idea dead as a dodo, I could not afford to spend money on a hotel).

Where will I get 135K in a week to repay Mr. Li?

Of course I could always default, as ours had been a deal made by mouth, not contract! But there would be consequences. Zhao Li was too rich and too gentle to send “debt collectors” to auction me (or threaten to break my knee), but I would forever be cut off from the only source of credit I now had (having failed to repay a small loan from my bank app, which I thought I would afford after Abuja).

Again, I cursed Natasha for getting me into this darn money fix.

‘I should have known that girl is nothing but trouble,’ I said as I drifted off to a gin-n-tea soaked sleep. Plus, she was still incommunicado. I was awoken in the small hours of Sunday morning by a phone call – the caller ID flashed ‘Safari Safara.’

“Look kid bro,” I answered groggily, “If you’re on a Sato night nonsense with the cops, I’ve no colour for jail bail!”