There was a time one confectionery paid kids back for saving sweet wrappers for recycling. It wasn’t a lot of money, just a fifth of what the sweet itself cost. But it didn’t matter. It wasn’t our money that bought the sweets, but it was ours when it came back.
The problem is, I misunderstood how this deal worked. I must have been six the first time I carried a handful of sweet wrappers back to school and got paid for it. The money was only enough to pay for a movie, which was 5 bob, and buy this girl I was flirting with a lollipop. Then that was it, I was broke. But in my head I had made a lot of money. I had invested the time and effort to buy the sweets, eat them, meticulously straighten the wrappers, and guard them jealously for a week.
I took this deal too far. No one explained, until it was too late, that only one confectionery had this promotion. Or even that it was for just one of their brands, and only for a limited period.
Eager to flood the market with my genius, I started turning any money I got into sweet wrappers. I would wait until I had a bagful, if not more, and then I would show up to school and simply be the richest kid on the playground. I would be there thriving, eating mandazi and giving them only to the people I liked. There was no savings plan here, by the way, and I doubt I had anything but a rudimentary plan to reinvest once I made the money.
I didn’t even want to do it in small quantities. I wanted to save up until there was no more space in the lower drawer of my wardrobe and only then would I sell.
I went all out. Any sweet wrapper I got, whether mine or someone else’s, was carefully straightened and placed in the drawer. It didn’t matter which brand it was or how old it was. From the roadside and garbage cans, to making people promise to give me their wrappers if and when they got sweets. I think I even collected a bunch of them from the floor at my cousin’s birthday party one Christmas afternoon.
My stash grew. Within two months, I had a drawer-full of sweet wrappers of all kinds. I would save the universe and get paid while at it.
I can’t remember who found them now, but my old man waited until we were on our annual Uhuru Park date to bring it up.
“I hear you have a drawer full of sweet wrappers?”
“Yes, who told you?” I looked at him suspiciously, still paddling the boat.
“It doesn’t matter. Why do you have so many??”
“I’m going to sell them and become rich and then I’ll buy a big car and several books.”
I was serious, but I hadn’t realized at this point that I actually had several spending plans. They all revolved around the prestige of having loads of money, a limitless line emerging from my investments in the sweet wrapper markets. I wouldn’t tell him the part of this story where I was doing all these things to impress Christine, in the hope that she would agree to be my girlfriend.
He laughed! This man, leaning back and letting his six year-old struggle with the oars, laughed. It wasn’t a spiteful laugh, it was genuine amusement.
“You are going to be a big man then. Where will you sell them?”
He indulged me. From that point until we sat across each other sharing a plate of fries and a burger, he kept with the questions. Only two days later did he ask me whether I knew that only one brand had that recycling offer, and that it had ended the previous month anyway. I thought he was lying, but it turned out he’d actually asked a few people.
So here I was with a drawer of worthless sweet wrappers. They could light a good fire or end up in a garbage pit, but that was they were good for. I was going through a personal depression era, pun here wholly intended. But I didn’t know who to blame for it.
Did I learn anything? Absolutely not.
Every few years I invested time, and someone else’s money, into a new obsession. There was a time it was books, then it was puppies, and at one point three rabbits with three names each. In high school it was writing pads and envelopes, and biscuits, probably the first time an investment ever paid off.
It had taken a decade, but I was finally making money from selling sweet things, or the material to write them down on.