News of the death of Mr Machua hit me like a slow-motioned punch on the face, whose pain is felt moments after impact.
As I was walking home, he occupied my thoughts. I made a call, but his phone was off, forever. It is interesting how despite the certainty of death, one still questions if their loved one is gone for good, perhaps praying for a miracle.
I met Felix Machua back in 2017. I was a very young rookie journalist in the Nation Media Group. Mr Machua was an elderly man in the sunset of his working life, serving as an office assistant. It took a while before we got close. Progressively, we became friends.
Because of his elderly status, many of us, especially the young, treaded carefully lest we annoy him. He didn’t like people idling in the kitchen. He also had little patience with anyone who would insist on getting a complimentary newspaper even when the stock had already been depleted. In hindsight, he was basically hinting at us journalists who spill kizungu mingi on paper to use our common sense.
You can’t get what isn’t there! It’s that simple, you know?
In a painful twist, he’s not here anymore, but it will take time for those who loved and knew him to make peace with that.
Even when he was angry, he never insulted anyone, young and old, and that didn’t make him any less of a man. It made him A MAN. Period.
Machua was like an office grandpa to me. Our conversations during tea time and my occasional visits to get hot water from the kitchen hugely resembled those I used to have with my late grandpa, Musau. His departure on the same week as grandpa’s three years ago feeds into the list of similarities they share.
We would talk about many things, including the rain. I would question why it was raining so heavily on the city’s concrete sheets instead of the dry farmlands of my home in Machakos. He would nod back, not so sure whether he agreed with my logic, but I know he nodded back, and that makes me full!
He would ask me questions about the Kamba culture, the crops we plant and other cultural stuff. I would end up disappointed in my very basic understanding of the intricacies of the Kamba traditions. He knew more than me, and yet he wasn’t my tribesman.
One time, I found him chatting with veteran journalist Waigwa Kiboi, whose vast experience in the game stretches wide, including rubbing shoulders with the Great boxer Muhammed Ali during his 1980 visit to Kenya. Mr. Machua introduced “huyu kijana” to Mr. Kiboi, and the engagement was nothing short of nourishing, sipping wisdom and advice on how to remain cautiously professional in the game.
He would always introduce me to his friends and everyone he was talking to whenever I showed up in his space, with a tone of pride in his voice, as if I was some promising son of his. At times he would see me from afar and bellow, “Honourable Joshua! Habari yako?” a title I found to be unfit for a young man from Eastlands fumbling with numbers and words, but a reminder of everything that is possible.
Frequently, he would literally whisper to me about the need to invest in the company’s sacco, and even informed me of the available financial products. On days when the sacco would be holding its Annual General Meeting, he would remind me about it the day before, a Friday. I wouldn’t attend. Come Monday, he would question why I didn’t show up, with a sense of disappointment written all over his face.
One time, after noticing that I had stopped going for lunch, he jokingly wondered why I was depriving the sacco of the income it gets from the cafeteria, and yet still waiting eagerly for dividends at the end of the year!
Where will the dividends come from?
During the evening tea time, after all the guys had enjoyed to their individual satisfaction, he would, without request, stroll from the other side of the office to my desk with the thermos flask in his hand, and pour me an extra cup to push my energies into the final moments of the day.
I could go on and on about my moments with the man.
In my final week at the newsroom, I went and gave him the news of my imminent departure. He was surprised, with a sadness filling the aura, but he didn’t question my decision.
In fact, he never asked me where the hell I was going. He was on a transition of his own too. While for me I was stretching my eyes towards uncharted paths, he was preparing to go into retirement. There was a weariness in his stride and posture, of a servant who had diligently served the company for over 25 years, almost equivalent to my current lifetime!
I tell the story of Mr. Machua from a very personal perspective because that is how I saw the man. He wasn’t famous. A Google search does not pop up his name linked to some big story or flashy social media content. He didn’t hold a high office packaged in pomp and fame. He was an office assistant, doing an incredible job and unknowingly inspiring and touching the lives of many people. I was one of them.
Many people who instil positive impact in the world rarely know when their stories are being told. They just live their ordinary lives, giving life the best shot they can, then they leave the stage. But their stories don’t accompany them. They remain with those left behind, in their hearts and minds. Machua’s story lives on.
Lately, it feels like all the great men and women are leaving, and they’re being replaced by peacocks.
But, stories like that of Mr. Machua remind us, the youth of now, of the tenets of greatness: service, respect, kindness, integrity, love, leadership and family. They remind us not to lose our unique identities. You are the right, God-made tool to bring about positive impact in the environment around you.
Until next time, my friend Mzee Felix Machua. Thank you for your awesomeness towards me, and to all who knew you.
Rest in Peace
Joshua Mutisya is a former Nation journalist.