In strict terms, our story begins at Kayole. In the depths of truth and nature. Have you ever asked what laws dictate nature? Nobody knows. My landlord recently repainted his house and renamed it from Hard Work House to Leafy Runda Villa. He said nature is change. Now I no longer live in the old brown apartments even though I still live there. If you get lost you just need to say Runda and they will bring you to the Runda painted green on the front side and red in the ribs and behind.
So our story starts there. 7.30pm. But since between Kayole and town there is so much junk and mediocrity, we skip all the damnation along Jogoo Road to a lonely Moi Avenue in town. Everywhere the streets are silent and empty. The end-year should drag so that the witches who litter the City Under the Sun remain upcountry some more. Man, life is fun without them here! But that’s just another dry wish because January 1, 0000hrs, they will be flocking back in herds you won’t even notice the city had been deserted.
We talk. Money changes hands.
We then take a Number-9 bus along Tom Mboya. It is cold inside and smells bedbugs but we don’t complain. We are used to bigger issues these days with little feminazis on our necks for child support and guys in power trying to steal everything they can and everything else they think we will get when our turn to steal comes. What can a cold bus do to such men?
We rattle down River Road and through Racecourse to the heaps of street children sleeping at the Riverside dumpsite and cross the sleeping Kariakor market. Where I come from, the-only-thing-that-defeated-the-madman is the other name for sleep. You wouldn’t agree more knowing how the place is always a factory of treachery during the day. I once lived in Lucky Summer and every time I crossed this place walking to Industrial Area it ignored me completely. Selfish. The narcissists continued beating the scrap metals with all their life and mopped their sweat with bare hands in the name of sex and family. Nobody stopped to say hi, or point a finger to say that is the honourable man who owns a blog with six readers. Those days I had a whopping six adult followers! Yet none of those semi-skilled, semi-literate destitutes of Kariakor gave me attention. Fathers among them never offered their daughters and the young boys learning the craft never broke each other’s toes for a selfie with me. I felt underutilised in the country. Researched a lot about the Zimbabwean visa.
In another world, I would have committed suicide and died. They kept hitting the metals and out-yelling each other in violence thinking they were running away from poverty. Next year they will come back here to hit the metals and worry about food and their women. Then after life has mined the sap from them, they will shrivel up one day and sleep.
When we reach St Teresa the conductor alights and starts slapping the bus saying that this is the final stop. We say but this is not Garissa Lodge. He says who said Garissa Lodge? We are not sure how to take the joke. We say all Number-9s stop at Garissa Lodge. He laughs and now bangs the bus even harder and says final-stop-final-stop with the most indifference only a sinner like him can summon. We tell him we know our rights, eish. By now the other miserable passengers have alighted into the darkness because they don’t want to end the year badly. He says what? We tell him every Number-9 stops at Garissa Lodge, are you new? He goes to the driver’s cabin to get us the paper where it is written that the bus can also stop at St Teresa. Which is needless because the driver has long since switched off the fossil and gone to sleep with his wife the final sleep of the year as we howl at each other trying to prove that we are not madmen.
It is December 31.
We walk through the garbage along First Avenue down south. Ruins don’t look very different. There is no sign of habitation here apart from left-over wrapping papers in the street and the signature Somali perfume. Sometimes I think to live with a Somali all one needs is a life-pack of skin-whitening lotion and litres of perfume for drinking. When you get to Eastleigh at night there is that feeling that they spent the whole day tossing glasses of perfume and now you are left with humans belching to lone rangers the results of what their hands brought forth earlier.
It takes us ten minutes through the ruins to reach Thirteenth Street, to Garage, and down. Unlike the bigger part of Section One, Garage is ever glowing with life even on the last day of the year. Long distance drivers dock here for the night and for the phalluses. Even to a stranger the place smells perfume, driving license, miraa and coitus. We turn left at DD Plaza into a dark street, walk, turn another left, walk, and finally we are at our place for the night tonight.
At the reception I check in assisted by a tall watchman whose badge reads Cornelius Lubanga G of Danger Security Company. G for what? General? Gentleman? A whole man names himself so well then gets tired in the last step? Shame on you.
But as I stand there I realise that the mystery in G is not the most unpleasant thing about this man; he has a terrible handwriting. I feel the pain how he slits my name in badly shaped letters. People should tell him not to undermine me; I was once a great man commanding six followers.
There is nothing I can do. He has an intimidating physique. As the world fights on over male and female chauvinists, we men of small bones should be building trade unions to demand that large men treat us with respect. In just thirty minutes I have met a record two men who think that being tall and muscular will land them a job in heaven. It is traumatising.
Cornelius Lubanga is not a friendly man.
“Where is the real receptionist, bro?”
“Do I look like I wear the same underwear with her?”
“But they pay you from the same customers, perhaps?”
“Stop pretending like you know too much.”
“Boss, where is she, or I go away.”
“Go away after I’ve wasted my time writing this?” he wags the receipt with bad handwriting before my eyes. “Give me the money I don’t have time to waste. If you want Judith, come after thirty minutes.”
I can smell a man who means his word from a distance. This one is too close to miss out. I reach for my wallet and place three one-hundred-shilling notes on the counter.
He asks me where my bags are and I say I don’t have those. He eyes me like to say they will be guarding the doors to make sure nobody leaves with bed sheets because those who do not have bags try that mischief often. Now he asks where I have parked my bus and when I say I am not a driver he grows more unfriendly. It’s like I asked for his head. I leave him there burning in his grudge and take the stairs to room 17 to wait for Judith so I can be served like a hero.
Afterall, it is not their money.
And yes, G for goat.
The corridor is not too dim so I can read a few faces. The girls stand against the wall and for some time I cannot manage their hawk eyes. On a normal day I would walk back. We go with Judith to the end of the corridor where she stops and asks if I’ve seen what I want. I tell her second from right. She goes and returns with a huge woman in a leopard’s mini. Her hair is Eritrean. Face Ethiopian. But she must have stayed here long because she is too huge to be those. I whisper to my tour guide that I meant second from right when walking in, not out. The leopard girl doesn’t seem to like it.
But neither do I like her, so what?
Judith goes and comes back with the one I like.
The person who designed the lighting of Happy Bed Lodge is the type that should be arrested and flogged naked in the streets with school children watching. With such people still at large, the Colonial Enterprise cannot sufficiently claim that they got rid of witches on the continent. We know the place is frequented by drivers who knock down and kill pedestrians but still they have a right to proper lighting. Every corridor sits in that confusion zone where none can say it is lit or dark. The lamp in one end is supposed to serve the next corridor and that next to the next and it is funny people have not carried placards to City Hall to demand their rights. If I were Cornelius Lubanga Goat I would start looking for another job than spend New Year eves at these graveyards. What an amount of pity that man deserves!
Back to room 17. The place has a bed, a plastic seat, a pair of sandals trimmed to avoid thieves, a dustbin tied to the bed, a man, and a woman. There is also a big portrait of Bob Marley on the wall opposite the door. I try to remember anything about him to start a story. I conclude I don’t know Bob and I feel very sick because I know I know Bob. The distance from the leafy suburbs makes me homesick. I need a glass of water.
I tell her to take her rest. I don’t want a woman tonight.
“Then why did you call for me?”
I tell her because I want business with her.
“This is not business. Do you know how you have just wasted my evening?”
I say what is the difference? I will pay. Then I extract another three one-hundred-shilling notes and hand over.
“Are you a policeman?”
I say no. She eyes me and after she misses to see what she should, she slides the notes into her bra. The person who said that we should be men, and not money, denied us life.
“So you want us to sit here and look at each other like this?”
“What is the difference? I’ve bought you. I command you because I have paid. You are my slave,” I say.
“You don’t own me.”
“I do. I own the whole of you, Edna….”
“Wait, who gave you my name? You are a cop?”
“Your husband. He gave me your name.”
“Who is my husband?”
“The man who owns the other share of your life. Father to your three children who now live like orphans because their parents got irresponsible. The one who still loves you.”
“What’s all this? Who are you?”
“AN unknown thing. A ghost of Jomo Kenyatta. That’s who I am Edna. A ghost sent by your foolish husband who is still captive of your love. You live miserably, what does Joe see special in you?”
“I’m calling the security guy if you don’t leave here now.”
This scares me. That goat looked like he can roast my liver for merry.
“Who, Lubanga? Wasting time because he is part of this. This is a man’s world, Edna. You can hide, but that does not mean we can’t find you. We are men, privileged from heaven. Who do you think should be looking after your orphans? Who should be looking after your man? It’s you, woman. Look at yourself. Look at yourself. Aren’t you still serving men even….”
She breaks down.
For the first time I sit on the bed and wrap my hands round her so she can feel what other women feel when embraced.
“Joe is remorseful.”
“Over what? Are his women over?”
“That is a past Joe. The one I speak for is a changed man who wants to settle back down with his family. He is so ashamed of his actions and hopes you will forgive. I wouldn’t be here.”
“Forgive what? When he wanted to kill me, I should forgive that? When he was sending you did he tell you that I spent three months in hospital because of him? Do justice to your time. Just go away and never come back.”
So people in the oldest profession can also be proud!
But again what should make them lesser than other dimwits who think tying a tie to the office every day is fun? And while at it, she is probably better than that teacher who thinks he has accomplished. When people are building their families, he is wasting away somewhere in a cloud of chalk dust telling children how life is worthless without education. Preserving them for cheap labour in the future when the rich will come calling. Why do teachers overate themselves with impunity like we don’t have a government with guns? Same crap they told us. Same crap they told those before us. And they are still free waiting to tell the children of our children.
Life remains life. It was life before the coming of classrooms and it will be life after. It is all there as a fairground for those who make that first step. Like Edna? She could educate her children in more expensive schools as the teacher continues marking books in dusty staffrooms before old age catches up and he one day collapses on his bicycle and dies a year to retirement and people have to contribute for his burial gown because he set the standards but squandered his life on loans.
“I am not going away without you. I promised. Find a place in your heart when you can forgive and set down the burden of hate. Vengeance is for the Lord, not so?”
“What is your name?”
“Call me anything.”
“Okay, Loser, my life could be that very slavery you said. But at least it is a slavery I chose. That makes the whole difference.”
“Are we going back together? He is waiting at DD Plaza. I can call him.”
“Don’t. Return to him and say you failed.”
It is 1am. Everything smells January. I overstayed two more hours so I add money for two more hours. You don’t know the pain of being caught throwing away money until a new year catches you in the act. On a whore. Who is not even your own. Maybe I am better than the man lurking in the shadows hoping that his whoring woman will return to offer him free sex. Why such a grownup cannot move on, only he himself can tell.
Nature is not change. It is the stagnation that maintains itself by wearing the mask of change.