One day late 2007, I ran into a big guy in a jeans shirt and trousers on the third floor of Nation Centre.
He had a bounce and enthusiasm in his walk and he glanced at you and then nodded in greeting, his eyes lighting up as, with excessive and often comical politeness, he shook your hand.
We did not know each other but he seemed like a friendly fellow in a newsroom I was getting to learn via the on-the-job training that was part of the Media Lab.
After the madness of 2008 had ended and the first lot from the Media Lab had been deployed, I ended up working with Casper Waithaka in the newsroom.
EDIT HIS STORIES
We were learning how life in the newsroom works and Casper soon realised we could work together, me helping him edit his stories. He worked the City Hall beat and would also cover crime from time to time. His big break came when one day, a man who would emerge as the spokesman of the Mungiki called him to a hide-out in Dagoretti for a press conference. Casper would later cover the killing of Oscar King’ara, reporting breathlessly on phone as we sought to break the story.
Later, when the Mungiki spokesman was gunned down on an evening on Luthuli Avenue, Casper rushed to the scene. Eric Shimoli, the then news editor, memorably told him on phone, “Casper, if you don’t calm down and file a story, I will send someone else there to get that story.”
Casper is the sort of person who would tell you, “You are my friend and we must work together” and that was somehow what he did with me. When his sister was graduating from the University of Nairobi, he ‘booked’ me in advance, saying, “I know you are not working this weekend and I have a plan.”
He hired a Toyota Platz and we joined his relatives, picking Melissa from the University, going to Umoja for a lunch celebration and then driving to Endarasha in Nyeri for the party. Coming from my family, where graduations usually are not celebrated as huge events, I did not understand why Casper was so happy about his sister’s event.
It was while in Endarasha that I got to learn why my friend had organised the event. Casper and her had been brought up by their mother, and she had died a few months to them sitting their KCSE.
“Nobody thought we would amount to anything,” he told me. We cried and clapped when Melissa spoke, talking about their life journey.
Casper was working on Christmas Day in 2010 and when he told me he had nowhere to go after doing his shift, I asked him to come to my village in Githunguri. He did, and became a friend of the Ngirachu family, needing no invitation to come home and often calling my father to catch up and ask about the old Peugeot he had helped fix.
We remained friends even after he left NMG and found a job at East African Portland Cement Company and we collaborated as he got married and then I got married. There was no question about who would be Master of Ceremonies at my wedding. He took it as the launch of a career in emceeing and a test for public speaking as he looked to get into politics.
On a Friday earlier this year, he called and said he was on Lenana Road, near the offices of Oxygene MCL, where I work now. I asked him to come over for a drink and soon he was there, making people laugh with his endless stories and that famous twinkle in the eye that all comedians carry.
A colleague greeted him warmly and as I wondered what the connection could be, they explained: Casper had once written about her, and they had grown to become family friends.
It was that colleague who informed me about his sudden death on Saturday morning and her husband who pieced together his final moments on Friday night.
What has struck me over the last 24 hours is the way everyone who has eulogised Casper remembers him as a capacious fellow with a capacious heart.
One that has stayed with me: Casper is that guy who while going about his business spotted me crying in my car in the parking lot, I had just been replaced for being pregnant and he literally got into my car, sat with me through my sobbing and snorting then told me that once I deliver, I must sue. This was our third physical meeting. And he kept following up with me to find out where I’d reached with the suit.