The space they were sitting in was dimly lit, so I could only make out their faces from the screen that sat on the desk in front of me. The guy looked clueless but the girl was anxious, and the waiting seemed to get under her skin by the second. There were three of us on this other side of the hall, and a couple of staff still running around to check if everything was in place. To remain relevant and even entice new audiences, Ken – my on and off boss, had requested me to run a pilot of a show that according to him, was the new frontier media houses wished they could explore. He had the advantage of being the head of a budding media house, so the hurdles he had to cross with his experimentation were fewer. But his ambition wouldn’t allow him to remain mediocre. He wanted something with spice, something that could get his name, or the company’s, stuck in the audience’s mouth. He of all people lived for the chase, so the fact that he asked me to help him out and I accepted left him exhilarated. Ken had dubbed the show ‘This is my Truth’, and the whole idea was predicated on the assumption that we had Kenyans that had things to get out of their chest.
This is the gist of it- our social media manager’s job is to go to the people (on social media) and get 2 individuals that were willing to sit in front of the cameras and answer questions they’d rather not exist. But the point wasn’t to dismantle them in front of the cameras, we sought something raw, something that forced us to look at the reality of things as they are. So this day, Wangari had gotten exes. I hadn’t really read through their profile, but I was hoping my spontaneous intrigues would force me to ask questions I wouldn’t have thought about just by reading their profiles. I wanted everything to be as unpredictable as our fuel prices are, so I didn’t spoil the fun with prior preparation.
Our 2 guests now had their space well lit and their mics fitted, and although the discomfort of scrutiny was now setting in, they were good to go. Ken approached them one last time as if reminding them a small cheque awaited them if they kept everything as candid as possible. The rest of the hall’s lights were shut down, leaving the stage to our show stoppers. It was time…
“Thank you for joining this morning, I’d like to believe you know why you’re here?” the small speaker on their table bellowed. The girl looked at it, then her ex, her shy self almost melting into the chair.
“Msikuwe shy, you guys can use Swahili or English…here at Hornbill, hatubagui, we’re just here to have fun and say a few truths…” That was our director’s attempt at making them comfortable. And yes, the company’s name is Hornbill, don’t ask why, because I didn’t.
“I saw your post on Instagram mkiadvertise hii show so I thought it would be amazing to participate,” the girl answered, the butterflies in her stomach eventually calming down.
“Ooh, thank you… would you please share your names with the audience?”
“Mi naitwa Kalekye…”
“I’m Brandon… her ex” the man across her answered, putting away his phone.
I don’t know if it was just me, but Brandon looked forced to be here. He had this weird demeanour since he came, and he also couldn’t stop fidgeting. I think cameras have that effect on most people, or maybe they had skeletons that would rather remain hidden. Either way, it was too late to back out now.
“So these are the rules; the prize money is 10k, and there are 3 levels to the interview. Pass all 3 levels and the money is yours. But for every question that remains unanswered, 1k is deducted. You can choose to skip a question, but don’t lie… here we just say things that we feel, sawa sawa?” Our director was doing well so far, I bet he wished the 10k was up for grabs by the staff too.
Someone tugged at my t-shirt. It was Ken. “Wee buda, na ukiuliza maswali uulize vitu deep na tricky tusipoteze pesa bure…” that was the entrepreneur in him talking. But I was relaxed, my many years of doing interviews had taught me patience always rewards, so I knew the jackpot lay deep in their broken story.
“So Brandon, before you became exes, what about Kalekye made her special and not any other girl?” Wangari, our social media guru asked. Brandon chuckled at the question as if he found it too easy to answer.
“We huoni venye huyu dem ameiva. Mtoto wa Makueni… ye ndio alikuwa dem wangu wa kwanza campus mwenye mi ndio nimekatia. Unajua hao madem wengine wa primary na highschool ni juu walikuwa madeskie, lakini huyu nilimkimbiza kimbiza kabla ajipe…”
“Haha, you could answer the same question Kalekye…”
She hesitated for a second, then craned her neck towards the mic. “Mi alinibamba juu ya his persistence. Alinikatia like he knew what he was doing…”
“What about him was a red flag all along but you ignored?” I asked, trying to get into the gist of the game.
They both nervously giggled, and I knew I was hitting a nail they’d rather remain hidden.
“He’s a student leader at school. So girls were always throwing themselves at him…” Kalekye answered, tugging at her short skirt. Ooh, okay. This was becoming interesting.
“Brandon, did you ignore any red flags?”
“Aah,zi… mi tayari nilikuwa blind from love saa sikuona kitu, labda aniambie sai…”
Ken threw me a thumbs up from the doorway behind me. He could as well get popcorns for the free show we were giving him. But it was his show to be fair and it was his 10K they’d leave with so having a front-row seat to the drama was the least he could get.
“For how long have you been exes now?” Silence.
“I think 6 months…”
“Ni 8 months. Inafika 8 months hii sato…” Kalekye interjected. She definitely understood her calendar better than we did.
“In the 8 months you’ve been apart, has any one of you slept with someone that was in the other person’s circle?”
“Aaai, hizi maswali zenu bana,haha… si hapo mmeenda deep?” Brandon wasn’t having it clearly, he must’ve had a few things under his rag and here I was trying to get him to clean everything.
“You could always forego the question and the 1k that comes with it…”
“Acha hio itupite, kuna 9k bado” Kalekye looked at him like she had seen a ghost. Or an ex that was sleeping with a person close to her. For her, this was betrayal 101.
“For this next level, tutaingia deep end kidogo…are you guys ready?”
They all nodded in unison, as Brandon poured himself a glass of water. He must’ve known I was going to turn the heat up.
“Whose fault would you say it is that you broke up, go first Brandon…”
“Hio ni rahisi. It’s ours. Tuliparticipate equally…”
“I’m not the one that gave myself a pregnancy scare. Nilikuwa nakuambia usimwage ndani na huskii, so don’t blame me…”
She really did believe what she said. The resolve in her voice was profound. It was like she had waited a decade to give her bottled emotions a voice.
“Si you know sometimes a man can get carried away. It wasn’t intentional. And it’s not like you didn’t consent to us going raw…” Brandon answered, not knowing how ignorant he sounded. He stretched out his arm towards Kalekye but she pulled back, clearly disappointed.
“Yaani ivo ndio unaeza ongea and I was begging you to protect us unaanza kusema utamu itapunguka, by the way usinikasirishe…”
“Calm down guys, it’s okay. Your tally stands at 2k now, do you want to make it more?”
She stared daggers at him for what seemed like an eternity, before falling back to her chair. I felt like a scumbag watching her reel in pain that probably had taken her all those months to heal. But I had questions to ask, they sat in my belly like hot coals and I was dying to get them out.
“Kalekye, what’s the one thing you can’t forgive Brandon for, if any?”
Wangari looked at me surprised, with a cloud of excitement hidden behind her eyes. “You’re cold man…” she whispered under her breath.
Brandon seemed to realize the few thousands they played for weren’t worth the trouble that question would bring. His gaze on her seemed to beg her not to speak anymore.
“Again, you could forego the question, you still have a couple of thousands to play around with…”
“I think he’s the one that released my nudes…” Kalekye murmured, the sombre mood in her voice flooding the hall. Again, pin-drop silence.
Brandon’s heavy breathing filled the speakers as he scrambled for words to save himself.
“I told you it was a mistake… hizo si vitu za kuja kusema kwa camera…”
“Noo. I had to say my truth, si tumeambiwa hivo? And either way, who shares nudes with his boys surely?” Well, this isn’t where I thought we would end up. I felt sorry for both of them really, but maybe this was a conversation they needed to have on behalf of everyone else that couldn’t.
“You know I couldn’t go to the class cause of your stupidity! Kila mtu alikuwa ashaona hizo mapicha na video…”
“Ni msee alijitumia from my phone. I swear I could never do that to you…”
“Msee mgani and I couldn’t even touch your phone when we were dating. So you’re out here sharing your phone with men na mimi your girlfriend I couldn’t ata check the time na simu yako! Unanibeba aje wewe?”
Before anyone could do anything, Kalekye pushed the jug full of water and it toppled over, flooding Brandon’s trousers as it fell on the floor. She then fell headfirst on the table and began weeping, the overwhelming pain now swallowing her whole. Brandon stood beside her wiping water from his phone. It’s safe to say our pilot episode didn’t air, I personally wasn’t for humiliating any of them on national TV. Part of my crew members raced down to where the two were, hoping to quench the already out of control situation. Ken, on the other hand, was over the moon with what he had just witnessed. He came over to where I stood, slapping his heavy hand on my shoulder.
“Buda nilikuambia wewe ndio master wa hizi vitu… lazima tuomoke na hii show!”