Liam called me and told me that he’s on quarantine. At the barracks all precautions are being taken to ensure that infections do not arise undetected. So when you return from your annual leave or the short days leave, you are put in isolation awaiting redeployment… Our conversation was as dramatic as usual. He always starts with a complain, an insult or a blank statement that doesn’t make sense. Phone rings, I pick: I say “Hello”, He goes: “Eehh, sasa juu ulioana mimi sio mtu? Sio? Sasa unajiona superstar, sio?, (He has ridiculously many Sio’s in his conversation.) I try to interrupt. But He corners me again. “Weweee waacha, mimi sasa umenisahau, sio?” The last time we talked we planned a date – We were to meet in church. He called me 3 months later – His phone was jacked on Jogoo Road, he said. One time he called me way past midnight, gave me this extra long lecture and insulted me (I usually don’t take them seriously) then he clicked and said “Angalia Mpesa Fala iii…” I said “One Minute…” and he hanged up. Tried calling Him and he was unavailable – For another month or so. He had actually sent me money.
But to bring you to speed, here is Liam I.
I never knew I would be friends with this cartoon character. He was always running up and down the line next to ours while seated on the tarmac. His black suitcase under his arm. After the sifting, division, and company allocation, we happened to land in the same platoon. Platoon number 25. Life continued and at some point we became friends… I really cannot remember at which point, but it had to do with conversations surrounding books and technology. I happened to mention one time the PC games that I had played around that season. Grand Theft Auto, Max Payne, Splinter Cell, and Hitman – Silent Assassin. Liam, was a cool kid – and I tend to believe by the standards surrounding us at the time, I was too… He radiated cool-kidness 😏. We found things to discuss once in a while… Then as the training drew in we got even closer for stuff you cannot even imagine.
While I was the coward type, full of fear and timidness, Liam was the bold breed. A recruit like no other. He was different. He was always on the other side of the “law”. There was a season where a week could not go by without Liam wading through the feared River Chui. For instance my friend Liam happened to be part of the recruits who received the bad batch of Military boots. Oh my God!!! This was like one of the unspoken curses of RTS. That and a stubborn beard. This bad batch of boots never shone. As in you could finish a whole loaf of United bread, spit on it, exhale on it, candle burn it, use a fresh handkerchief on it, but it still couldn’t shine…
What’s worse is he shared a bunker with a guy bred in the Navy Barracks who had learnt to shine shoes from a young age. Double that tragedy is that the navy dude, landed on the good batch. Some nice fancy Franklin boots. They shone as soon as you laid a finger. Military boots made or broke your life at training school. Because, if your boots couldn’t shine, then you had to stay up longer at night, meaning, waking up would be a problem and your day will always be a fight with dizziness. Then you would be salivated on by every instructor because a dull boot kind of triggered their jungle nature. To make matters worse, when you’re frequently wading in River Chui, your outfit is always wet… Always. So Muster parades would be a disaster, your outfit would be disqualified, you would be punished (by returning to River Chui) and the cycle continued… This was the life of Liam.
But we are not here to discuss Liam’s fate. All recruits were destined to suffer. No lying – No spicing. Liam has a true soldier spirit. His boldness as an infantryman – a sniper, deep cover agent was nurtured early in our military career. Our training career. Probably even before he joined the Militay. This recruit was fearless. The Makmende of recruits. For instance, any Facebook update I made between August of 2008 and March of 2009 was made using a phone smuggled in by Liam. A profile that has since been deactivated by Facebook because I was an immature idiot who went overboard with my guns and blood drenched posts. Back then they had zero tolerance to violence and related. He had a fancy for Samsung Phones. And that basically formed my like for Samsung. I use a Samsung to this day. Mulika Mwizis included I would still go for a Samsung.
Anyway… A Samsung J700 – a sleek black slide phone is what we had. What Liam brought in by means and ways I would later come to know. Its until later in life when I wondered how this guy could afford such an expensive phone which costed almost 3 times our remuneration at the time. An amount which was only enough to get us bread and milk because besides that, we would starve of hunger – okay and a very heavy overrated tracksuit code named Sai that we paid in installments for our entire stay at that place. Bread and Milk not because we were not well fed but because a recruit’s metabolism is slightly higher than that of a teenage elephant you would literally be hungry by the time you finished washing your oily mess tin.
The first phone was stolen. And he let it slide. Definitely because not only was it illegal but also would have seen him punished for the rest of His life at RTS. Being expelled was not easy unless you enlisted with forged documents or got pregnant in this perceived monastery that was RTS. Having a phone at military training is like being caught with a stone at a riot on University Way. As in, before they expel you, you will have been eaten alive. I clearly understand the banning of phones, besides cheeky selfies with rifles and leaking training info, or planning escapes. Imagine the tweets I would be having on my timeline… I would probably be kicked out after a few…
This one time I’m enjoying my sleep after we came back from field craft and bush ops in Marigat. By then rules had been slightly eased because we were toning down on training so that by the time our family people came, we wouldn’t bite them in revenge of all the “cruelty” we had faced through training. Liam nudges me and said “Gich… Amka!” – He calls me “Gich Boy”. Local man from Kerugoya understands this was a genge artist or something. I am not sure, aaanyway…
“Gich Boy, Cheki… Amka msee…”
I had only slept for like 30 minutes or 1 hour tops. I wake up to see someone holding a Nakumatt Paper-bag. Inside it were, a few slices of Pizza, sausages, fries, flame grilled chicken and two tubs of half eaten ice cream. This point, I had not tasted Pizza ever in my life, (I am only calling it Pizza because at this point I know what it is, otherwise you all wouldn’t get the intensity of having Pizza as contraband) what I saw was just edible chicken and chips. The last time I saw a tub of ice cream was inside those big red slightly dirty cooler boxes on wheels at General Mathenge Stadium in Nyeri from the ice cream vendors during the music festivals. I thought I was dreaming. Until he told me “Kula msee!!!” I was so scared. So so scared that I cannot remember the taste of those delicacies. But I know it was heavenly. After months of eating batch cooked meals and near death encounters from stale mashed potatoes… This was a five star experience. So we ate. There was a hint of alcohol in his breath but I didn’t care about that. He also told me he got a new phone.
“Gich nimebuy phone ingine pia. Hao washenzzz waliiba hio ingine but ndio hii ingine”. So unaweza text hutwo tudame twako sasa…”
According to Liam I was a player – A mistaken Identity I carried up to my early days at Laikipia Air Base. Probably because I mentioned a 3 year relationship somewhere, and also because there is this chic from platoon 26 who used to enjoy my company zaidi! 😂😂😂 I didn’t have any girls to text, but I flowed. Well, there was only one. I clearly remember texting via the DM my high-school sweetheart, and at one point explaining why I was awake at 2 am every day among other training school related stories. Felt so cool saying I was drying my wet combat fatigues with an iron box 😂 and shining my boots. Anyway… So we ate ice cream and chicken and fries. Days later I asked him, how he managed to sneak to Eldoret a town kilometres away from the training school. Whatever he did is what other recruits tried to do but were always caught in the act. Ooorrr, what they did for the wrong reasons. I mean, all Liam wanted was some fresh, rare civilian atmosphere, with a touch of alcohol and flame grilled chicken downed with some freezing icecream. The walk itself along the railway to the highway was a long distance trade kind of trek. How he did it still amazes me. But I imagine him walking along the railway under the moonlight, gobbling up everything because there was no way to store the grub once it reached barracks. We didn’t even have boxes to store our stuff. Tsk!
What is done in the dark shall surely come to the light. We are rehearsing for the pass-out parade, which had been the new normal since we returned to what had transformed from a torture camp to a fattening camp. Every day was parade day. Every day was rehearsal day. This was within our last few days towards the last day. So every week we had a major rehearsal like the real thing. So during the CGS parade. That was the second last parade before the president came. Back then the CDF was referred to as the CGS. Gich boy here was always at the front rank, so while rehearsing for the CGS (A rehearsal for the rehearsal) who would be inspecting the parade later in the morning, there arose a commotion at the rear platoons. We were over 60 platoons that day. At the front we couldn’t tell what happened. But the all too familiar sound of a riffle falling was always followed by fear because whoever that was, would have the longest day ever. Suddenly…
“Aririririririri!!!!! Wuuuuuuwiiiii Kurutu Natapika!!!! InstRagkTassss!!!!! Kuja hapa!!!!”
About 10 voices in unison: “Nani huyo!!!!! Uuuwiiii!!!….”
It was like an antelope had been caught and all the lions were running towards the helpless animal… All the instructors at the stands ran towards the rear platoons which were nicknamed “State” – because that’s where the not too savvy recruits were placed. I’ll explain later. Happens that Liam threw up at the point when the School Commandant was giving his speech.
“KuRruTtu NataBpika Nyanya na Kachumbari!!! Kurutu aliKula Nyanya WaaBpi aSubuHii? ” BheeT.Is (PTIs) Kamata na shughulikia hii MuTuu!”
As in before you’re treated by the doctors, you would first be “warmed up”. These instructors wondered where a recruit got kachumbari and other unknow diets that were not in our menu as the evidence on the now warming tarmac exposed for everyone to see. I also think that some smart instructors realized that this recruit was not ill. Liam did not speak a thing. He couldn’t explain his stomach upset, more so, veggies after a bread, tea and egg breakfast – in the morning. For someone who was used to the mud and the dampness, the punishment was probably an adventure. But long days followed after that. And he became popular among the instructors and the commandant afterwards. Though I don’t think I would want to be remembered for puking kachumbari during a parade – more so on the ground that is considered holy. For such an incident, you were punished for various reasons – Joint sentencing: Interrupting the commandants speech, dropping your girlfriend (the Rifle), Throwing up, (Sickness was baaad), soiling the holy ground, and of course kuchokesha instructors because they had to “Work on you” – you had to pay for the voice they used to scream at you while punishing you.
After our graduation, Liam would be the one to introduce me to the night life – Day 1 is another listed dramatic day in our life together.
Liam is still a soul full of adventure and bravery. While everyone else was putting their rifles aside for a well deserved rest after days and nights of patrol Liam retracted to his corner in his underground bunker to some Call of Duty on Play Station and a humongous TV. Demo/ trainer infantry man on duty, and when he returns to the city, he’s the proverbial life to the party. All the dark days of training and war forgotten, only remembered by a few, and scars here and there for life.
Till next time…
Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.”Psalm 31:24