Hi, this is me. Me- me. If you’re reading this then you’re probably my friend. If you are reading this and you don’t know me, read on, this is about you. Be patient.
Nairobi is a beautiful city. The capital city, the image of one of the greatest countries in Africa. Those that have not been there definitely long for the day they’ll get there. But for those that have been there, the story takes a little bit of a turn. It is beautiful yes, but only if you are looking at it from the rooftop of a tall building in the uptown areas. If you are at that rooftop then chances are you are wealthy enough to stay there without a security guard showing up to show you easier ways to meet your maker. We all know the drill, right? But if you are in downtown Nairobi, scared of carrying that new smartphone in your pocket, regretting why you dressed up in your new clad from Gikomba and that Gold coated watch of yours, because some two suspicious looking guys have been following you around for the last five minutes, you don’t think Nairobi is as beautiful. When you cross the road praying that a matatu will not emerge from the blues and knock you down and speed away like nothing happened, when you are afraid of walking in a group of more than two, because ‘Kanjo’, the city council law enforcement, will arrest you for ‘disturbing the public’. In downtown Nairobi, the beauty comes to you in a different way. The beauty isn’t even there, for some people.
For others, downtown Nairobi is home. Home to gangs and cartels that thrive on taking what belongs to them only that it is in the possession of others. It hosts, within its deepest of crevices, all kinds of fugitives of the law. To them, the law isn’t written down in a certain book they haven’t even ever come into contact with; the constitution. To them, the law is made, enforced, and sustained by the streets. For you to survive, you have to be compliant with the law of the streets. If you cannot do this, you cannot survive.
I am seated at a table in the corner of one of the biggest hangout joints in downtown Nairobi. The Relax-inn bar and grill. To be honest, all I have seen since I started coming here is the bar. I don’t know where they took the grill. But, oh well, I am not here to grill anything. If in any case there’s anything for me to grill, then it’s my liver. A gruesomely awful stench is the first thing that hits any new face that visits the bar. The stench of sweat and spilled beer that has not been cleaned up for a long while, reinforced by the stench of a urinal that was last cleaned in the days of Noah. Like in competition with the urinal stench, the toilets boast of the fact that they have never been redeemed to cleanliness since they were built. Paint has already peeled off the walls and in its place is obnoxious and obscene graffiti, which seems to be an art gallery for some mentally sick individuals who sign their names at the bottom of their pieces of art. All kinds of pictures have been drawn on the walls, revealing several postures that the human race has taken the obligation to make use of during their private moments. Some have even scribbled down their phone numbers at the bottom of their art, which makes me wonder whether you should call them to have them draw similar pictures in your home walls or to try out those postures with them. The floor is dirty; littered by bottle tops, broken glass, ‘miraa’ sticks, spilled beer, and any other kind of litter that could find its way there.
I have been here since 4pm Saturday. Now its Sunday 1:30 am, and I bet that I am on my tenth cup of keg. The bar is still crowded with revelers, some chewing hard on their ‘muguka’ and ‘miraa’, others sipping their beer, and some particular individuals sipping on a 300ml sprite. “The guy drinking sprite is always a thief waiting for you to blackout so he can relieve you of your troublesome wealth.” Downtown chapter 3 verse 8. I choose to be in the corner table because from this position I can monitor everyone in the bar from a 360-degree angle. I take pleasure in observing the many ways in which the Man upstairs created his creatures. There is a guy lying on the floor, blood oozing from his nose after losing a bar fight to his friend over a girl they had both come in with a few hours earlier. They were both too drunk to settle on whose girlfriend she was, and the girl herself didn’t know who she wanted so the two bulls decided to settle it over fists. The victor had carried the prize home leaving his friend to wake up a few hours later to the reality that the girl was taken.
Close to the counter is the table of the bar’s patrons, the table that only people who are recognized as the veterans of the bar sit on. They are offered the best of service by the youngest and most beautiful bartenders, and rumor has it that they were given the freshest keg available. The table is occupied by all six of the not-so-handsome, mean looking guys, with scars on their faces and swollen cheeks, inhabiting the khat they have been chewing on since yesterday. They all seem to be listening to their leader, commonly known around the streets as Popcaan. These guys are the ones that run the streets, to the very last inch of it. Their network is detailed to the very last black market retailer in the streets. They handle the supply of all kinds of narcotics to the street vendors and also have a money lending system that works by their own terms. If you are in their debt and are unable to pay, you disappear, or at least it is rumored so. You will never find a lady seated at their table at the bar. Here, they come to discuss business. Their gang usually recruits girlfriends for them from the streets who usually await their homecoming in the lodgings they have rented for their girlfriends. Their business nature does not harbor room for stagnating in one area of residence. Questions answered.
In other tables, the usual groups of young people sit and idle the night away listening to the loud dancehall music playing, some evidently underage to be in such a place. Downtown Nairobi knows no age, your age is determined by the money you have. These young boys have no idea what they are getting themselves into. They should be at home or in school dormitories awaiting class the next day, but they choose to be here. I don’t care a whit about them, anyway, for they will probably be the ones to mug me on my way home someday soon. Not that I care if they’ll steal anything valuable from me. The only thing I have left to be stolen is misery and dilapidation. If they want it, we can meet down the alley and they’ll gladly have it.
My focus shifts to Maggi, the waitress tending my table, and those of the people around me. She would have won a beauty pageant, in another world and time. The judges of that pageant would also have to be intoxicated on hellish drugs. Maggi is the very definition of a terrestrial being. Let me walk you through this in detail. She has a weave on her huge round head. The weave is too small to cover the surface of her head, and it only covers the middle of her head, exposing the shaggy and undone hair to the back and sides of her head. She has a thick and sweaty neck, wrinkled to every inch. A broad nose, red shot eyes and pimpled face which exposes brown teeth when she smiles, is what you see when you look at her. The front two teeth are missing, somewhat making her look like an overgrown big baby. That is the furthest I prefer to savour of her physique. Down to her chest is a mountain of two sagging breasts, which have never been strapped up since I saw her first. Her protruding belly would give one the impression of her being eight months expectant, and her round waist doesn’t help make the picture better. If she turned around, you would have the perfect definition of a pinpop, for below her waist are two skinny legs, directly disproportional to the rest of her body.
“Wewe! Unakunywa ingine ama unatoka nje?” (You! Are you ordering another drink or leaving?) she interrupts my thoughts of how a sane man could possibly take her to home. This statement is directed at me, with her face so close to mine, I almost choke at the breath coming from her mouth. I glance down at my cup and realize that it has been empty, probably for the last twenty minutes. I take out a fifty shilling note and give it to her, saying nothing. I watch her as she goes to refill my cup of keg, and feel a little embarrassed for the little drama she almost caused. I stand up to rush to the urinal before she is back, and on the way I encounter Amina, the goddess of street twilight business, making her grand entrance. We bump into each other, and she pulls back, looks at me from head to toe, assessing if I look like I have any money on me. Her conclusion is probably negative. “Nini wewe! Huezi angalia kwenye unaenda? Shoga wewe! Heshimu wanawake *****” followed by some insults I chose not to publish due to decency purposes.
Amina. There are many stories about this lady. She has a coastal accent, which definitely tells where she is from. She has spent the last five years or so in the streets of downtown Nairobi and during that time she has become the most sought- after woman by men of all sorts. She is expensive; unusual for someone who has spent that much time selling pleasure to the masculine gender; “the younger and newer they are, the more expensive they are.” Chapter 6 verse 9. She has defied this law. I have never taken the liberty to try and find out for myself, but those that have, say that she is always as good as new. How she pulls that off- no one knows. She is brown skinned, perfect teeth, perfect figure, medium height, brown eyes, and innocent face. The deceptive face that many new faces in downtown Nairobi fall victim to. Some say she ran away from her home in Mombasa after her cousins raped her when her parents had gone to visit her grandparents. Since then they have never seen or heard from her.
I relieve myself quickly so I can beat Maggi to the table, or she will drain my keg down her throat when she finds me missing at the table. I find her there by my table, screaming madly that a second more of waiting would prompt her to drink the keg herself if the owner didn’t come to claim it. She sees me and forces a smile on her face. “ Uko na bahati wewe. Mii ni waiter sio watchman umeskia?” (You are lucky, I am a waiter, not a watchmat, understood?) I node my head in agreement and watch in awe as she takes a sip from my beer. “iyo ni kujirudishia asanti.” (That is thanking myself) She explains to me, leaving my cup almost at half the initial amount of keg she had brought. I don’t understand how such a creature could have been brought to this world. I sit down, amid laughter from other occupants of my table and surrounding tables, who had just witnessed the tragic over-taxation of my keg.
I resume my position on the table and sip on my keg, quietly. I had not expected such an embarrassing situation to come my way, not after the happenings of my Saturday that had brought me here. The last 24 hours have proven to me that your day can only get worse, especially when you convince yourself that you are done seeing the worst that could happen to you. My landlord had thrown me out earlier in the day, after snatching my girlfriend Nyaruiru, due to my rent due for the last three months. He had also confiscated almost all my belongings to pay off his debt. In simple terms my girlfriend had moved out from my house, with my property, to my landlord’s home. But that is a story I’ll give to you on another day.“Uyo ni wakahare achana na yeye. Kama angenieka apo dakika ingine ningekunywa iyo fobe yake na nimulipise igine. “ (That is a useless guy, leave him alone. If I had spent one more minute waiting for him, I would have drank all his beer and charged him for another one.)I hear Maggi boast to some two new waitresses by the counter. I hate being here, I hate the fact that I cannot go anywhere else; for my pocket cannot allow me to. I hate the fact that everyone finds Maggi funny and the fact that she seems to pick on me at every given chance she gets. I hate the noise these people make when they are drunk, I hate the way they dance and the way they smell like water is a vocabulary their ancestors had taken with them to their graves. I hated their naïve way of thinking. I can bet my life on the possibility that the dumbest person alive in the whole universe is in this bar.
I am thinking of how long it will take me to finish this keg- and be forced to take another one-all I have left in my pocket is 950 shillings- the left overs of the 1500 shillings I had hidden in my gumboots and hadn’t told a soul about. Luckily Nyaruiru and her new boyfriend hadn’t known about this particular fact for they would have robbed this money off me too. Women are snakes. Mine was particularly a viper. And she had bitten me when I least expected it.
“Saa utakunywa peke yako kaa msupa kaa mimi nimekaa apa?” (Now you are going to drink there alone whereas a beauty like me sits here?) a voice startles me back to reality. My heart pulse increases as I realize that the seat next to me in the table has been occupied by Linda, the newest twilight girl in downtown Nairobi. Of all people who could have been here, she was the least I expected to be seated right there. I chock on my saliva as I try to compose a reply that could best suit this scandalous situation I was about to get in. I glance around, and all eyes are on my table. The six goons who own these streets look at us, startled why such a beauty should be seated next to a drunk dirty poor and shaggy human, which is me.
Let’s digress. See, Linda is brown, 5 feet 9 ‘ with a body of a super model. She has jewellery that screams of expensive shopping sprees in malls. Her hairstyle could easily take away my month’s salary, her short dress that perfectly weaved around her petite body made jaws drop at the sight of her. She had somewhat overdone red lipstick, which stuck on to the filter of the cigarette she smoked, as she spoke to me. Such girls were from nearby campuses, and belonged to the clubs uptown, rode in expensive SUVs that were owned by pot-bellied- and very manner less sponsors. That’s the Linda that was here. End of digression.
“Ni- nisamehee pole pole-ngoja nikuletee –utakunywa nini? “ I ask, expecting her to ask for a smirnoff black ice that would definitely leave my pocket in shambles. “Kenye unakunywa.” I wake up and head to the counter, shocked by her choice of drink. She isn’t the kind that drinks keg, but ohh well, today is my lucky day-or unlucky. I am still dizzy by the time I walk back to my table holding two mugs of keg. My wrinkled worn out jeans, dirty and faded blazer, cowboy boots and god papa in comparison to her expensive clad surely do not rhyme. I am sure that whatever will happen from here henceforth, will be an event to remember.
I take my seat back, and here she is- I am not dreaming, not fantasizing. Popcaan is staring at me with an eye to suggest that I should already be five miles away from this bar. Such girls belong to the patrons. I know that I should bolt any minute from now, but something tells me to stay. “I know you from somewhere.” She says in English. “ Madam- mii sijui ama tunajuana.” I reply. “ No, I know a familiar face when I see one. The last time I saw you, your suit was way better and cleaner.” Damn she has a sweet accent! A sense of panic takes over me. This is one person that knows my past. The past I have been trying to run away from. The past that is not supposed to find me in such a place. The night could not be any worse.