(Originally published in the Saraba Magazine, Crime edition)
The big toe on your left leg hurts. It throbs with a pain so violent that you walk with a limp. Your right leg steps harder than usual. Your left drags lightly above ground.
James, your friend, slows his pace. He is talking about the movie you just watched with him. He paid for the tickets. It was in 3D. He even bought three Tuskers while you watched. At some point you couldn’t tell whether the images jumping out of the screen were visual effects or mere hallucinations from your inebriation.
They come up to you. Two street children. One of them is a boy peddling njugu and smokie mwitu. The other is a girl with empty hands and emptier eyes.
“Save me with ten bob,” the boy asks first.
The girl sees you reach for your pocket.
“Hata mimi!” she shouts.
They extend their hands.
The boy shoos the girl away, saying that he came first.
“Hey! Don’t do that. You should be a gentleman. Ladies first.”
Luckily you have two coins. A ten shilling and twenty shilling coin. You give the 10 to the boy and the 20 to the girl. James fires up. “Not fair! He came first!” He reaches for his pocket and whips out a 100 bob note and gives it to the boy. He scurries off into the dark alley, as if scared that James might change his mind.
You walk on. He talks about how the scales are tilted in favor of women these days. How unfair this is. That these days they just walk into job interviews with tight clothes and painted faces, and bam! They are employed. It is your kind of mentality, he says to you, that will kill the future of men.
You ignore him. James has not had even a passing relationship with any code of morality for the four years you have known him. So you nod and pretend to be sorry for giving the girl a twenty bob and look straight ahead.
Were it not for her unusually long yellow dress, you would not have noticed her standing outside Dominos Pizza, looking out towards Kimathi Street. It has sequins that make her shine; like she’s wearing skin made of golden velvet.
“Wueeh! Jemo is that Julz?”
“There,” you say, staring right at her.
You see it the moment she turns. But she must think you haven’t, so she turns again, this time to give you a different side, and pulls her huge handbag to the other.
You walk closer. Did James see it?
“Hey guys, long time,” she says, her face beaming with expectation.
James gets the first hug.
She smiles again. This time in that familiar way you know. Those lips, you recognize them. You once kissed them. They once drew outlines on your body and made you speak in riddles and sing her name in tongues. These thin stupid lips. You remember the way they curve to reveal a pair of shallow dimples when she cracks a genuine smile. These lips once said to you “I love you, Lucas,” every day until five months ago, when they changed their mind and said “I am sorry, I wasn’t thinking straight.”
You let her hug you. Truth is you can’t deny that you have missed her. A string pulls you from the center of your heart, and you squeeze into her with a thirsty longing until you feel her breasts on your chest.
She withdraws, puts her palms open on your chest, and nudges you away. You oblige.
James asks her what she is doing in the middle of Nairobi at 10pm, on a Friday night, alone. You know he doesn’t really care, just trying to make polite conversation, seeing as all you can do is stare at her face and stomach. She says she is waiting for her cousin. Then she says goodnight, even before you have the chance to figure out whether she has gained weight, or has a bump.
“Eish chief, a private developer has been ploughing the land that you once owned,” James says as you walk away. You wish he could go back to his philosophy on women employment.
At Afya Centre, he gives you a man hug. You thank him for the movie treat before climbing into a matatu. The matatu is practically empty. It’s just you and three ladies perched on the back seat. Yet the conductor is shouting “wawili tu twende!”
Your window is rolled down. You look outside. At this time of the night in downtown Nairobi, you cannot see how buildings stand side by side like stacks of dominoes. But you cannot miss the lady selling boiled eggs, or the girls strutting past in short skirts and radiant thighs that make you lick your dry lips. You cannot miss the filthy looking woman with swollen bare feet planting onions on the street’s flower bed. Other people, mostly men, hover around the matatu, banging its sides, calling on potential passengers.
Your Samsung S4 vibrates in your pocket. You take it out. You look at it.
1 New message-Julz
Excited, your thumb makes to tap on the unread message. That is why you do not see a fast hand approach and snatch your S4. Suddenly, you are only staring into empty hands. No Julz.
You look up. A figure is running across Tom Mboya away from the street lamps. You step out, try to make a chase. Your toe makes you look like a fool.
“Ngoja! The message! That’s all I want to read. Then you can have the phone. Tafadhali. Pleeeaase!”
But the figure is gone. Poof! Into the hellish darkness of the Nairobi night. Your useless shouting is a taunting wind blowing through fingers, daring you to catch it. Your knees turn to jelly and they hit the tarmac. A sharp pain pierces your skin and you say Fuck! so many times.
Luck has forgotten what you look like.