At a time when we are constantly glued to our gadgets, our devices are akin to having a newborn. We rarely put them down. Lack of charge is colic or is it the constant need to feed? A blue screen on a laptop and having a phone out of commission is the dreaded meningitis and we’ll haunt the device-hospital until our tech babies get better. Having a cloud has helped somewhat just as we now have shots to prevent us from catching some childhood diseases. But just like some parents choose not to have their little ones vaccinated, some people still won’t back up their data. This doesn’t make their human and tech babies any less precious. So, having this guy that I didn’t know take off with my phone for locations unknown was like going back to work after maternity leave. Was my baby safe with him? Would he bring her back? Was he going to fix her right?
Whenever parents interview nannies or babysitters, there’s a lot to consider. Is that the kind of voice that will calm my baby when she’s upset? Will those hands cuddle my little heartbeat just the way she likes it? Can they fix my baby’s food just so and convince the little picky eater to down the chow? They claim they are patient, two minutes in with a tantruming tot, are they? Calm in a crisis? We’re out at peak hour and our little sunshine’s health is not so sunny, what are they going to do? Do they have references? All I had to go on was this guy that I didn’t know and that I found sitting on a rail overlooking two floors and who when I asked for a phone-fundi, asked me, “unataka ule mjaka? Alkuwa apa alafu akahama.” He then offered to show me where this Luo phone fundi had moved to. If he was the first guy that popped into his head, did that mean he was that good or the only one that this guy knew? And was this guy with his blatant disregard for his own safety a good judge? Going on blind faith, I followed him.
The Mjaka phone fundi turned out to be youngish – early to mid-thirties maybe – with a smile that would instantly make helicopter mums trust him and a voice that would calm even the most tumultuous of babies. In his navy-blue Henley, blue jeans and maroon old school trainers, he exuded ease. Okay, he looked good, but could he fix my baby just as good? When I explained what the issue was, he patiently told me my options; the smile never leaving his face even when he had to explain the same thing over and over. He was apologetic as he told me that it might or might not be fixable and that he wouldn’t know unless he opened it up. Was that the famed bedside manner? And still seeing my apprehension, he was like “relax, relax.” He then asked to take my phone with him while he went sourcing for the materials he’d need to fix it. He’d have to test them out on the phone before he bought them.
Left with my sim and memory cards, and sitting on the grey kenpoly stool that he’d given me, I tried not to worry. He would bring me back my baby, right? To distract myself, I focused on the guy in the cubicle-sized shop across from where I was sitting. He seemed like he was having it worse than me as he stared intensely at the white desktop in front of him. He would make faces at the screen and tap repeatedly on his thigh as he moved his leg from side to side. Was it solitaire? Facebook? A story that just wasn’t right and one that he couldn’t figure out how to fix?
Brown cargo pants suddenly blocked my view of the computer guy. I looked up to a guy built like a rugby player, who then asked me where the phone fundi was. “Ametoka kidogo, anarudi tu sai,” I replied as I took down notes. He had a brown – maybe to match his pants – package that he wanted to leave at the shop. I tried to be unobtrusive as I wrote down in my notebook my thoughts on him and the computer guy before him. Was he onto me? I wondered. Or would there be a tiny guy in glasses and a cap, walking up to him, collars raised like an extra from Grease and telling him to be careful because this girl was “takin’ down every blessed word you’re sayin.” Would he like Eliza Doolittle, ask me, “Why’d ya take down me words? ‘Ow do I know you took me down right?” And would he like what he read if he did ask to see and I obliged? Or would he, seeing my small, sometimes hard to read handwriting, tell me, “That ain’t proper writin! I can’t read it.” Well, I could and that’s all that matters. Although now I want to rewatch Grease and My Fair Lady. And with thoughts of those movies, my heart calmed down, worries gone. That my friend is the comforting power of our – well one of mine anyway – security blankets at work.
The cargo-pants guy was now on the phone. “Koro Jeff” and then proceeded to talk a lot about Esther. I wished he’d spoken in Swahili so I could eavesdrop on the conversation and know what he was saying about this Esther. But Jeff, I hung onto that name like a person in danger of drowning would hang onto a floating log or a buoy. I have a pal named Jeff, you see. You can trust Jeff. So maybe I could also trust Jeff the phone fundi. Or maybe it was just the Valium-Xanax combo that is My Fair Lady. Still, on the phone, he walked out and left me there.
With him gone, my view was unobstructed once more. Now writing about it and with Audrey Hepburn in mind, I wish that I had told him, “you’re blocking my view.” And if he’d asked about my view like Cary Grant did in Charade, then I’d have replied, “the one you’re blocking.” Looks like my weekend movie plans just crystallized. But instead of the snow-covered Alps that made skiers the world over drool, all I had to look at was the guy tapping his thigh harder than before, rapidly leaning forward and then back. Sometimes he’d take a break from the tapping to rub his palms together. He stopped tapping altogether and grabbed a stress ball which he then squeezed like he was trying to wring the stress out of it. Either that or he was doing the newly discovered and popular hand Kegels. What the hell was on that screen? Game results trickling in for a game that he’d bet on?
“Sasa ata nikimwachia, atajua ni nani ameacha?” The cargo-pants guy was back and talking to me. Or was he thinking out loud? And man, would he make a good cat burglar! For a man his size, he barely made a sound when he walked. While I, on the other hand, was the queen of false impressions; hear me coming and you’d think a herd of elephants was about to descend on you and you’d dash to get out of the way lest you got caught in the stampede. Only for me to appear, a mouse, squeaking as I ran for cover. Back to his question, did that mean that the person on the phone with him earlier was not the phone-guy? And if he was not Jeff, could I still trust him? It was like a parent getting a picture from the nanny agency of the top-rated nanny that they sent over to watch the baby, and that picture not matching the person who came in and was now alone with their baby. Quick! Something from My Fair Lady to calm me down once more. “Just you wait, Henry Higgins, just you wait!” Nope! Not helping. That sounded like something I’d threaten the phone fundi with after he royally messed up my phone. The cargo-pants guy left again, as quietly as he had come, leaving me alone with my worried thoughts.
Not to be outdone, the computer guy also left his cubicle. Maybe a stroll to clear his head? Or walking to the nearest church to pray for deliverance? He walked up the stairs separating his cubicle from my phone guy’s shop. As he did this, he walked past a woman in a white tee, black distressed skinny jeans and orange sneakers, and who was coming down the stairs like a model on a catwalk in Milan. He glanced back and stared at her, tripping and falling when he missed a step. He scrambled to get up, looked around and blushed when he caught me watching him before running up the stairs. The woman had also disappeared by then, unaware of the effect she’d had on the man.
With my main source of distraction gone, I looked around for something else to take my mind off my little tech baby. There was a guy in the opposite corner. He was on one side of a counter, holding a screw-like tool over a phone as he talked with the two women sitting on barstools on the outer side of the counter. He looked like a mixologist fixing drinks as he practiced armchair psychology on his patrons. Did the same concept apply? Drinks lowered people’s inhibitions, I know. But watching as someone did things that you didn’t understand to your precious phone, didn’t that make you just as vulnerable? Were the two women baring their souls even as they let him tinker with their phone, the keeper of their secrets?
A little nosy and thinking that he might know about the whereabouts of my missing phone guy, I approached the counter just as a short baldheaded older guy walked over, lifted the flap and joined him on his side of the counter. When I asked about my phone guy, the older guy with a surprising soprano and a slight kyuk accent, said while gesturing wildly – I’d hate to ask that guy for directions – “Ni mahari kwigi sana anaeza kuwa; River road, OTC.” The much younger guy/mixologist/amateur psychologist and who had a haircut like Will Smith’s in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, an apprentice maybe, responded. He had a deep voice – a voice that I’d want to listen to all day, have it pour me drinks, fix my plumbing, sorry, phone! I meant to say phone – fix pretty much anything as long as he kept talking. Sorry not-Jeff, you’re out . The apprentice is in. The helicopter mums would agree with me too. This voice would put to blissful, nightmares-free sleep, their little ones as it read them bedtime stories and promised to get rid of all the monsters under their beds. He used that voice to tell me, “tulia tu. Unaeza enda ivo nayeye akuje ivi, mpitane. Lakini hakaangi sana.” He said this as he used that screw-like tool as a pointer. When he used that voice, I listened and tuliad like he told me to.
I went back to my grey plastic stool, noticing as I did, that the computer guy was back. He seemed even more agitated than before, flipping a pair of scissors with one hand while the other capped his forehead. I was dying to see what was on that computer. What could make someone react like that? He did light up though when a girl with bright red lipstick went in seeking change. As if that opened the floodgates, a guy stopped by the stairs. His hand holding his phone to his ear drew attention to his long fingers. He got off his phone and walked to the cubicle just as the girl came out. They did that hug that guys do and then started talking. I was amazed at the transformation. The computer guy went from desolate to animated in less than a minute. He even guffawed at one point. Maybe that’s all he needed, his bud.
“Haya, nimerudi sasa. Ulkuwa umeingiza baridi sana?” Not-Jeff was back and talking to me as he removed my tissue-wrapped phone out of his pocket. That image calmed me. I was like a mother out for the first time in months, sighing as I sneaked a peak at my phone for images and videos from the nanny cam and seeing the new nanny gently attending to my bundle of joy. “Uko na good handwriting. Wewe ni student? Una study journalism?” Not-Jeff fired all these as he worked on my phone, making me guiltily close my notebook. He stopped with the questions to ask me to unlock the phone. “Kumbe ilkuwa rahisi ivo,” he said when he saw the pattern. Pretty soon he’d asked for my sim and memory cards and then had me test my phone to make sure that it was functioning as it should. Woohoo! My tech baby was back! My new favorite person – whose actual name I should have found out before I left – and I, concluded our phone business and I walked out fighting the urge to burst into song, and go around hugging everyone as I celebrated my tech-baby’s new lease of life.