To be honest, there’s little pride in doing a dirty job. Ask anyone who does a dirty menial job they’ll tell you. If there was a possibility for them to do a ‘clean’ job, they’d sure as death jump on it. [Not that I cannot hear your thoughts wondering what dirty jobs are. I have decided to ignore you and instead offer advice that; if it bugs you too much, Google is your friend.] Please note that I have nothing against jobs classified as dirty/menial, in fact, I don’t mind them – and I’ve done a couple.
As fate would have it, I would one day find myself doing a dirty job (it is true what you’ve heard about karma – she is a bitch). On this particular day, specific instructions were handed down to me as follows; “Wash this car as if it is to be returned to the showroom tomorrow to be resold.” Very clear no? Ehe!
Let me tell you a bit about the car in question. It was as filthy Toyota Wish. As filthy as a fat mans’ SQ. Have you ever seen a fat man’s SQ? And especially if this fat man can code and do things with a computer that a normal human can’t? As in a person who has a super custom gaming machine and who can often be heard saying words like debug, dark net, hack and root; one who rarely leaves his badly lit room to get just a bit of fresh air. A room that has fries and crisps and chocolate and open yoghurt containers and left over burgers and sandwiches spilled all over the place. If you haven’t, then stop pretending – you’re not relating with this. Not that I have anything against such people, no. I appreciate the determination they must have put into amassing the mass they have amassed (I know, I’ve tried). I also imagine that they are the sort of people who can attack a big bowl of crisps mercilessly from all sides, reducing its content to mere crumbles in a time space that no ordinary person can. Anyway, I think that’s none of my business.
It was a Tuesday noon. On this day, whoever was in charge of the sun must have woken up on the wrong side of their bed because, it was so hot that Miguna Miguna would certainly have removed his cap. (Just kidding, it wasn’t that serious). With me were my tools; a bucket of water, a brush, a cloth, Ariel and a vacuum cleaner. Car cleaning activities were already underway. I had never washed a Wish before, let alone a car. This was not the kind of thing I had ever imagined myself doing. After 3 hours of that undertaking, I stood in front of my boss and told him that I had finished. I was sweaty and dirty and stinky and tired and hungry and angry, and embarrassed even. I was also light skin (I have a bit of melanin nowadays).
Now if you have ever come across light skin boys (or men if it makes you feel better) you know that a peacock is not proud and you might have also realised that a cat does not really love itself. This breed of men are born with a certain special sense of self-importance. They are certain that the world revolves around them (forget the archaic flat-earthers). Additionally, they spend 24 out of 24 hours taking care of themselves. They are the sort of men who can shower twice a day – sometimes even thrice, and not feel gay. They also prefer to use cutlery at the table and they feel that it is barbaric for one to use their bare fingers. (“Gosh the germs!”). When they speak, you can hear traces of an accent, even if it’s not coming out right. They have vast knowledge in such things as essential oils and spas, pimples and sunburns, and flowers and colors.
“Are you sure that the car is clean? ” he asked.
“Yes I am sure. Couldn’t have spent all that time doing nothing!” I responded with a ‘duuuh’ attitude, the one that people have when you ask them a foolish question that already sounds like foolish an answer.
“Ok, let us go check!”
And so we went to where the filthy Wish was parked. He looked at it, then at me, then back at it and shook his head. I watched him walk over to the left side, opened the door then ran his finger in between some rubber lining thats usually around the frames of car doors, wiping off fine dust as he smiled.
“How was I supposed to see that?!” I protested, clearly frustrated.
Looking at me dead straight in the eye he said, “Oliver, this car is not clean as clean as I imagine it can be. So put your mind in it and make it clean.” Then he walked off in his suit.
I muttered a little curse word beneath my breath. This was shit. Furiously, I wiped all similar areas and others that I discovered, then inspected the car myself before deciding to involve him (you see I am smart). Standing straight in front of him, I assuredly said, “You can come and look again. I have done my best.”
“Young man, are you sure?” asked this CEO, staring at me with doubt written all over his face.
“As sure as death sir.” I responded, trying to sound like a wise person.
“If this is your best, then God forgive me but your best is BULLSHIT!!”
Evening came and for the 4th time (this time really really crushed) I stood in front of my boss and as if I was pleading I said, “Can I continue tomorrow? There is little light outside so I can barely see, sir.”
He would have been a mean person if he refused. The sort of person who just enjoys seeing other people suffer. But he allowed me to go home under the condition that I shall not refer to him as sir anywhere in my life.
I was not looking forward to waking up on Wednesday. I had no reason to because according to me, washing cars is not a reason why anyone should wake up. But I woke up. The office was in South B, and I was in Ruaka. It is a great distance for those who know it, and even greater for those who don’t. But because I am a good boy, 7 AM had me waiting for Mbuvi to open the office since I did not have the keys. Mbuvi is the office administrator and was my immediate boss at the time. He had been given clear instructions to make sure that I suffer – that I call it quits and go home. He had dedicated his past one week to doing just that. He was always early just to see whether I got to the office at the agreed time – 7 AM. If I was just a minute late, he would cause tantrums. He always made sure that I cleaned the vast office and that I did the mountain of dishes that was always there. I lost count of the number of times I muttered nasty things about Mbuvi under my breath.
When I stood in front of my boss again, he had folded the sleeves of his white cotton shirt. He had in his hands a toothpick and a wet wipe. I watched as he worked on the dashboard of this filthy Wish, cleaning out all the vents and small spaces meticulously. At the end of the activity, almost a whole packet of wet wipes and toothpicks was down. And quite frankly, the inside of the car was in immaculate condition. I had also never seen a whole CEO expose himself to the harsh environmental conditions that are in areas without air conditioning (and all the niceties that CEOs like.)
“This is how you wash a car. You detail it, not just clean it. You have to put your heart into it. You have to change your attitude towards how you treat the car, the cleaning process, the dirt, the cleaning material and just about everything.” he said (with a bit of sweat making its way down to his chin from his forehead). “Change your attitude.” he insisted. Then he walked away.
Later, with joy plastered all over his face, Mbuvi handed me keys to a Chrysler. It would be the 2nd car I wash today – and it was a massive car. The good thing was that it was less filthier than the Wish. Applying the skills I had learnt from my boss, I worked on it thoroughly.
The next time I stood in front of my boss again (I know, I stand in front of him a lot. No one stands behind their boss anyway.) I had a smile on my face. That morning, I had told my mom (yes mom, now start calling me mama’s boy if it makes you feel happy) that I was quitting this nonsense. I was going to let Mbuvi succeed. But mom asked me to remember why I agreed to work here in the first place, and why I had continued to stay despite the struggles. She prompted me to remember the vision that I had seen before I began. The vision was big and clear.
He inspected his Chrysler and said that I had done a good job. That if I continued like this, I was ready to learn a new skill (a post for another day). I was happy. It was as if I had made it in life.
I spent the next 6 months detailing cars and cleaning the office. I toiled my friends, toiled hard. I was living the curse that God said told Adam; “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.” All this without any pay. Not a single penny to motivate me to persevere. All I got were regular motivational talks, reminding me to stay focussed on the goal, not to be distracted by the hardships of life.
People in my village thought I was doing an office job in the city. They were proud of me. Even my girlfriend at the time was proud of me. But she never understood why my palms were so rough, why I was always broke at end month and why I always looked frustrated.
Even though my attitude had changed, many are the times I asked myself what I was doing (sweating in the sun while my age-mates made fun of their old lecturer in the cool of a lecture room). I felt like I was being punished for a mistake I never knew I had done. I would reflect for many hours what life was – what direction mine was taking, never coming up with an answer.
I would one day realise that all the pain I felt was preparation for more pain to come. It was just the beginning. But in this art of washing a car I learnt how attitude affects how one does anything. I realised that always having a positive attitude and approach made you appreciate what you do, and hence you do it better – no matter how menial. So they were right, the motivational speakers who came to your high school on Friday afternoons; attitude is everything you need for you to either or excel at anything or fail.
I also learnt that in washing cars, one develops a certain attention to detail that one was not born with. One’s awareness or alertness levels for errors increases. Attention to detail, as I would soon discover, is important if you don’t want to embarrass yourself.
I would have been a fool not to learn patience and perseverance. Enduring under the infuriated sun and in frustration is not for the faint-hearted. Explaining to your woman that you cannot manage to buy her even a card and you’re working certainly requires a level of mental strength that ordinary men don’t.
If I had more than one cars to wash, I would sometimes request to the gateman to help me out with one. I taught him how to detail a car as well, and he became so good that on weekends he started going round estates to wash people’s cars, making an extra penny for his family. So in the long run, I learnt how to teach other people anything, how to how to manage them and how to talk to them so that they do what I want.
Sometimes I would ask silly questions like what was the difference between a Chrysler and a Wish, and so I developed curiosity. In the morning I would make a plan for the day, so I learnt how to plan myself. I was also able to develop a process of thinking, always asking myself what I needed to do to achieve a set goal – in this case washing cars. This means I would create a strategy, and strategies are important.
Though I cannot say I enjoyed it, washing cars to a great extent made me who I am today. And I am a better person.
Btw, there are many differences between a Chrysler and a Wish and they are not what you are thinking. Ask me I will tell you.