Survival is different from living. There is but a thin line in between in which beggars struggle to escape the dark side of it – they are the Jack of Diamonds. No judging, they didn’t choose it.
I was passing down that alley that branches off Moi Avenue, my head immersed in deep thoughts and that’s when I was interrupted by a shaggy, ‘paralytic’ urchin who was smiling at me – with the kind of smile that gives you the creeps! I was confused for a moment not knowing the reaction to display. The confusion brought when all the toothpaste adverts claim that their brand is the #1 recommended by dentists and you are left there asking which dentist? They should all come together and agree on which toothpaste I’ll be using from now on. The urchin touched the tips of his index with his bandaged thumb to insinuate that I should now be digging into my pockets. Where does a paralytic get such an injury to put on a bandage? And a new one one to add on that. Anyway, the day was great, why not? This was not the day I went to town to play GTA V on PS4 in Trixx. No. I was going to the bank; freshly rewarded by my paymaster. I gave him a 200/= note and went on with it. I was the King of Hearts.
In and out… the bank was a breeze as most banking services can now be accessed from your Infinix (laughter). Magical, isn’t it? I walked majestically high head above shoulders like I was walking on the clouds. There was scrambling, people trying to catch a glimpse of the action. “Mia hadi ngiri, ngiri hadi ngiri kumi!” meaning,“A hundred to a thousand, a thousand to ten thousand!”They did it so smartly that you could not miss it. It was the infamous ‘Pata Potea.’I slipped in between the crowds like a hot knife through butter at least to get a slice of the cake. Trust me, if you were there, we would be pushing each other to see who gets there first.
I watched the thrill game as I also watched my wallet. It was no kids-play. You had to touch your wallet without actually touching I, if you know what I mean. If you removed your wallet to keep it in your hands, people would think you wanted to play and usher you friendly into the den. If you just kept on touching your wallet occasionally, people would see you as a thief. Then if you don’t, well it’s good as gone. The people around me had all manner of testimonies. One said, “I came with a hundred and now I have five!” Another, “Wacha ujinga – thinking he’ll oppose him he says, “I came with five hundred now I have 2K!” Why does it all have to rise in a geometric progression? It was too good to be true. It couldn’t be. They were the Congress (the first ace).
The game was simple. The guy at the other side showed you one card and shuffled it with speeds that could make you go blind. Cards laid out, you were in the hot seat people jeering, insulting and confusing you waiting for you to make a mistake. You just have one brain, best at one task. The guy would then laugh and say, double or nothing as you chose the card that would determine your fate financially. He was the Joker. In simple words, the guy was a conman. Who would give you money just like that? Unless you ‘voluntarily’ gave it up under the supervision of a rungu.
They don’t call it sleight of hand for nothing. With people like me, if you made one slight mistake, I’d be there to catch it. Have you ever heard that a thief needs to be lucky every time but the police need to be lucky one time in order to catch him? One luck was all I needed; and I made sure I would not mess it up. “Who’s next?” The joker said it mockingly as the last client stepped off with a vest and a pair of shorts soaked in tears. Mind you he came up dressed in a suit. “How much?” Joker asks, joker gets reply, “Fifty.” I didn’t want to stir up suspicion so I started small. Addiction was not in the day’s to-do list.
“Alright!” the joker said, “See your card because it might be for the last time.” I nodded as I faked my fear. There was silence amidst the crowd as the joker shuffled the cards with prowess at its finest. He was the joker and that was his gig – pun intended. Suddenly, every thing stopped. The cards, the air, the noise in the background. It was judgment time. I waited in bated breath as I pointed one of the cards randomly. Of course I knew where my card was. “Wrong! Fifty for me. Better luck next time.” You could see the satisfaction in his eyes. Where did I hear that phrase by the way? I was playing him in his own game. “No way!” I shouted as I shammed thinking I thought it was that one. “One lady from the Congress consoled me and in no time I was back in the ring.
You cannot con a conman. Don’t forget that the word ‘con’ comes from the word confidence. The joker was now my puppet. I placed 500/=. You could hear the gasps of shock from the crowd. Not only were they shocked but also ecstatic for every employee would gain wage from my misfortune. The cycle began. Card by card by card. Then halt. I flipped a card and it was the wrong card. What! How could it be? I could have sworn it was that one. Shit, I had to recover. Sleight of hand, spongebob, sleight of hand. I told myself this as I checked the bigger picture, read between the lines. Or fingers. My card was in between his fingers! Truly a master, but with a slight imperfection. I unmasked the injustice and demanded my money back with compensation. To my surprise, I stirred up an uprising against the antagonism. What scares a thief more than death or not getting money? Getting caught? Mob justice. Justice to wipe out the injustice.
The joker gave my double of what I had and I went on smiling just as I smiled out of the bank. Darkness was looming and the night clubs were booming. That was the time for the Queen of Clubs. Red lights, booze and night nurses to care for you after your drunk. All part of the Koinange dream. I was to be cheated out of the money I cheat one out. The night was awesome but I couldn’t stay for long. Back to the alley I first passed branching off Moi Avenue, a couple of shadows zoomed in. Why is money so important? I suspected the joker was now serious.
Before I knew what awaited me, I was in the middle of the alley. Two front, two at the back, each armed with a dagger. I said to myself it was better to die fighting than to die running. The whisper was cut short by a well calculated punch to my adversary that acted as an example. But examples don’t work on thugs, so they say. One is half, a pair is one but four, that’s too much. No cards up my sleeve, I lay prostrate to the ground as they beat me up to a pulp.
Another shadow advanced before me. It was the Jack of Diamonds together with the whole pack – pun intended again. It was group wars and I was the central cause of it or maybe it was my money (I was not sure). After a long hustle, the Jack of Diamonds won the war although they had won the battle against me. I was rushed to the nearest clinic by a means I knew not of. I could not thank him enough. In fact, he thanked himself. Half the money paid my medical bill and the rest – Well…
I limped back home alone from the hospital. I looked like I was struck by muscle dystrophy. I wish you could have seen me. I rested reflecting on my day well spent on a hot latte from Java. Thank you, Jack of Diamonds, for your strong heart!
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