You know how it is. We are all here on one man’s whims. We are at his mercy. Like a football. Tossed around, kicked about. Inflated and deflated at will. One man. That’s all it takes to get you up there. One man. That’s all it takes to bring you crashing down. He has the bicycle pump. He pumps a bit, you swell; pumps some more, and you begin to rise. You stay up there as long as he wants.

I don’t know if you have heard of the story of the old man and the thief. Late one evening, the old man had finished his business in town. He was now on his way back, going to his rural home. He wheeled his bicycle to the central bus stop, up to the country bus that was about to depart. Tiredly, he untied his small bundle and placed it down besides his feet. He then lifted his bicycle up to the loader who was busy arranging luggage on to the bus carrier. Dusting his hands, he reached for his bundle.. It wasn’t there. Some crafty bus stop thief had taken off with it. This was a setback. The old man looked this way and that but could not see the thief. The old man decided he would not go ahead with his journey. Lifting his hands he requested that his bicycle be brought down. Muttering under his breath, he pushed the bicycle to a shade. Sitting down, he let out air from the front wheel. He reached for the bicycle pump, spit on his palms and then methodically, with determination written all over his face he began to inflate the tyre. He pumped once, twice, mumbling `you ungracious man, you thief, stealing what does not belong to you.. Have some more’. The thief had made a clean getaway and was just about to sit down to look at the contents of his loot, when in his belly he felt a sharp pang. The old man pumped again and again. The thief’s belly swelled in response. The old man pumped again and then reached out to test the pressure with his hand. He pressed the tyre once, then again. The thief yelled in pain. The old man pumped muttering `Do you agree to return my luggage?’ He pumped. The thief was in agony, rolling from side to side, clutching his protruded stomach. Another pump, and again. It was too much for the thief. He painfully got and struggled painfully back to the bus stop. The old man stared at him with his rheumy eyes. `So you have returned my goods?’ He pumped once. The thief shrieked. `You will not steal again?’ Another pump. `No..  no.. no!’ cried the thief.  `Are you sure?’ asked the old man as he tested the tyre again, pressing once then twice. `No!”  cried the thief who was now writhing on the ground in pain. `Good’ said the Old man. `You have now fallen into place’. He opened the tyre valve and let all the air out. The thief was relieved. In fact so much so that he began to laugh. You know how it is when your bladder is full and you have to wait and wait. Well, when you manage to pee.. You laugh in relief. Having finished the old man went back to the bus and resumed his journey.

(Story narrated to me by the late Muthiora Wa Thiong’o)

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