The slopes has a number of careers, people who make money from the people of the slopes, as opposed to just waiting on the bonus from picking tea. One of these interesting career people is the mole-catcher, a funny character. Mwaura is his name.

Mwaura is a childhood friend to Mugo. They were brought up together on the slopes, and despite their parents’ close relations, there were no blood ties. Everyone on the slopes, including Bethi the bartender believes that Mwaura and Mugo are cousins. Mwaura is the only molecatcher on the slopes, not because the job is complicated, but because he makes people believe that it’s easier to dismantle a bomb than catch a gnawer. Many people have tried to venture into the lucrative business, but Mwaura always has tricks up his sleeve to kill these dreams. A man relocated into the slopes from ruguru, a faraway land who spoke a different tongue. He came with his family, a plump wife, and two equally fattened kids. They looked like they would pop any moment, and they loved Ugali, with the wife constantly seen hovering around the posho mill with a basket of hard maize.

The man’s name is Wepukhulu, and people of the slopes call him Wepukulu, and eat the ‘h’ with mashed potatoes. (very soon we will get a short form of the name for the people of the slopes. Maybe as a reader you can chip in and suggest names in the comment box which most of you have been avoiding like plague).

Wepukhulu landed just as the potato vines were starting to droop and drop flowers. The moles were at their peak, and the people on the slopes were tired of Mwaura’s sluggish response. The more Mwaura took his time, the more the vines died, as the moles ate into their roots. Moles in the slopes are a special breed since they are known to even chew on eucalyptus roots. The people were looking into a very poor harvest if the moles were not dealt with.

‘Mwaura is letting us down again!’ Mugo complained as he waited for Bethi to fill up his glass.

‘Do you mean none of you men can catch moles? No wonder none of you can catch their wives when they are chewed by the shamba boys.’ Bethi laughed. Everyone ignored her.

It was a late Saturday afternoon, and with the tea money already out, men were drinking to celebrate the hard work of their wives.

‘They can’t! Back in the day, our grandfathers used to catch porcupines with their bare hands, but these men of these days cannot catch a tiny rodent.’ Jugs chipped in. Jugs is just the name everyone calls her since she loves the Keg jugs. Nobody knows where she came from, or what her names are, she just appeared and stuck on the slopes like herpes. There has always been talk of ex-communicating Jugs, with church elders claiming she sells her body for the booze. Truth is, she is a hardworking woman in town, who just loves her bottle a little too much. A bit more than Mugo.

‘I can catch them for you people, at a small fee.’ Wepukhulu chipped in. Everyone looked back at him. Instead of the keg everyone was drinking, Wepukhulu loved harder liquor, and some clear liquid sat before him in an almost clear glass. ‘Where I come from, we catch them for fun.’

‘You mean moles eat fish too?’ Mugo asked sarcastically, referring to Wepukhulu coming from close to Lake Victoria, and everyone laughed.

‘No, we farm too, and I bet we are better farmers than you people of the slopes. I have seen how you farm, and it’s not only weird but a bit backward. There is so much for you to learn from this man of the lakeside.’ There was a pinch of arrogance.

‘I hope you do. Mwaura has been a joker! When there are few moles to catch, he carries dead ones from previous catches in his pockets and fixes them in the traps at night. When it’s morning, he will come and show you the catch, and in your stupid excitement, he will charge you and carry it away, unless you have a dog.’ Jug was having the time of her life.

‘No wonder he smells like moles!’ Bethi shouted from behind the counter.

Everyone went silent as Mwaura walked into the village pub. Bethi never noticed him walk in and take his place next to the only window.

‘I know he also eats the moles, have you seen how he has gained weight in this season?’ She shouted, replacing an empty keg with a new one. The sale was going well.

‘Who?’ Mwaura asked, and Bethi reeled back sharply. She was never intimidated, but she also knew better than to anger people on whose money her business flourished.

‘Nobody.’ She said, looking at Mwaura dead in the eye. ‘Leo utakunywa nini mkubwa?

‘I was just telling them that I can help them catch their moles.’ Wepukhulu shouted from his corner. Everyone held their breath. What Wepukhulu didn’t know was that Mwaura held his job sacred, and took matters personally when anyone dared bring any sort of competition.

‘So, you are a better mole catcher than I am?’

‘I never said am better, I just heard the people claim that you are not performing, and the moles are busy feasting on the crop in the farm. Maybe we can join forces and look for a lasting solution to the mole problem.’

‘What do you know about moles anyway?’

‘I know better than to hide dead moles in my pockets!’ Wepukhulu snapped back.

In an instant, Mwaura was breathing in Wepukhulu’s face, his fists clenched. ‘I – don’t- carry- moles – in – my- pockets!’

‘But why do you smell like moles?’ Everyone was surprised by Wepukhulu’s confidence until he stood to face his nemesis, and they knew why. Mwaura may have been the hugest in the slopes, but when Wepukhulu stood, the contrast was evident. It was like Mugo’s thin dog, Bosco standing up to a Great Dane.

‘Hey hey hey, no fighting in my pub. That is the only rule, and it is clearly written in that wall there!’ Bethi shouted pointing to a clear wall. She stood between the two men, reaching them slightly above their navels.

‘Ngefinya yeye kama ukhali.’ I would have pressed him like Ugali. Everyone loved his accent, but even more, they loved it when a bully was taken down and humbled. Mwaura had to sit down deflated, but he knew how to exact his revenge.

After he was done drinking and was ready to walk out of the pub, Mugo leaned on Wepukhulu’s shoulder and whispered into his ear, ‘pass by my place tomorrow, I will pay you for every genuine mole you catch.’

Wamugi Gichuri

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