The Untold Pain of Debt Recovery From Friends

By Luke Ameru

I have done back and forth hospital rounds to check on my friend who owes me some money. His name is Njuno, which means ‘proverb’ in my local language. Njuno is as crafty as his name implies, though his sickness appears to have softened him a bit. I have been praying for his recovery, with an eye on the repayment of the money he owes me. Finally, he has been discharged from hospital and has retreated to his home. He seems to be full of energy and vigour and he appears to have put all his health challenges behind him. Looking at him, one cannot help drawing parallels between his recovery and that of a flamboyant evangelical bishop who has been in the news recently.

As soon as Njuno is discharged, I reach out to a lawyer friend of mine, Kiunga Kingirwa for some advice about the debt.
“Don’t worry so much about the debt. In the unlikely event that the fellow croaks, we can always sue the legal representatives of his estate for recovery,” my lawyer friend advises.
“Good legal advice my friend. I presume the biggest challenge is proving about the existence of the debt. Perhaps, when lending to their friends, people should embrace digital challenge like Mpesa. Digital channels leave a trail unlike hard cash,” I respond.
“Duke, absolutely. The trail can form sufficient evidence. However, if you lend in cash engage the fellow in a written conversation.”
I like Kingirwa’s smart thinking, so I respond, “I like that perspective and your Legal mind. I will have to create transactional evidence, without letting Njuno know my objective.”
So, on the back of the legal advice, I draft some communication and fire it off to Njuno. I keep it simple and short, lest I arouse his suspicion. When he delays responding, I send him an SMS followed by a WhatsApp message. Still no response. Njuno is not biting the bait. Instead he gives me a call and asks that we meet for a discussion. He invites me to his home for a catch up and what he calls, “a status update about your money.”
I know, from experience, that one is not supposed to negotiate from an ‘enemy’ territory. But still I decide to visit him when he insists that he cannot leave his house because of Covid-19. My fear is that if I push for a more neutral venue, Njuno would easily cancel the meeting in the pretext that I am exposing him to Corona.

I arrive at his place on a fine Thursday afternoon, I have enough time to engage him and still make it to my place before curfew time. It has been a while since I last went to his place. A lot has changed, and I am pleasantly surprised by the improved aura. Far from his lamentations, whenever I asked for my money, Njuno’s place reflects status of a man eating life with a big spoon. He appears to be doing better than me in every respect. The car parked outside is bigger, his seats too are bigger and better than mine, even his drinking glasses are much better than what I use at home.
He reclines on his seat and rests his feet on a padded footstool, then he strokes his beard. The footstool looks expensive and I silently muse that the footstool could be more expensive than all the furniture that I own. I watch him stroking his beard and note that he is engaging me in mind games. I remain calm, though deep down I am seething.
“So, when are you going back to work?” I manage to ask, resisting the urge of bringing the money issue to the discussion just yet.
“I am not sure man. You know patients are not visiting my hospital. It’s like people are not getting sick anymore,” he complains.
I nod, then not sure if that is the right response I stop midstream and shake my head instead.
See, Njuno is a doctor who runs a small hospital in the outskirts of the city.
“But I have got this great idea.”
“What great idea?” I ask.
“You know with reducing traffic in my hospital, I have been seriously thinking about vertical integration.”
“Vertical integration?”
“Yes, you know when patients die in our hospital we have to transfer the bodies to morgues outside. I have been thinking of building a morgue. In which case if one dies, we just preserve the body and earn an extra coin.”
I give him a bewildered look. How on earth did the discussion metamorphosize to morgues!
“If it is okay with you, you can put in some more money, I complete this project and I can assure you that it will be easy to repay your debt and share the attendant profits.”

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He looks at me, he waits on me. For once I curse coming to his place. It’s not easy to negotiate with a man in his space. But again, the idea of the morgue sounds a bit interesting, especially when he explains the numbers and how much we stand to make if I join him as a financing partner.
“I will have to think about that,” I say and then as an afterthought I add “it really sounds like a good idea.”
Njuno smiles, his face lights up.
And just like that, I find myself thinking about throwing good money after bad.
When I leave his place, I pass by my local for a drink and to think through the morgue proposal. I get so consumed in my own thoughts that I don’t notice a clown doing rounds, hawking, among other things, rat poison. He is godsent, a rat has been disturbing me at home. It’s a welcome relief when he lays his wares on the table. As I check through, I realize that the poison is expired.
“No problem with that sir,” he says.
“No problem?” I ask bemused.
“Absolutely, expired poison is more potent,” he says with a lot of conviction.
His line of thought appears to make sense, and coupled with his confident demeanor, he wins me over. I find myself buying expired rat poison. I am about to find out if expired poison is more potent. The proof of pudding is in the eating. Well, it is the rat that will do the eating.

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