The two hospitals that determine the locals’ social status cannot disinfect the stench of struggle floating in the air. All this while, a boys high school and a gas station stand facing each other in a staring contest at the corner.
Welcome to Langata.
This is the colosseum for young Nairobi men looking for a fight with fate. They are hustlers of every shade. Men in suits who stand by Kitengela Road at 6.00am with sleepy eyes, waiting their turn to go spin cogs in the wheel of the newly-rebased Kenyan economy. They are accountants, interns at a law firm and tax somethings- in all but name. They are artists; writers, poets, spoken word artists and graffiti men hustling to push their craft out for no other reason but reason itself.
At lunch, the hodgepodge of mama pima joints are full with customers debating on the all too important question of the year “Who drew the most glorious homecoming crowd? Baba or Kamwana.”
There are dark married men of course; shadow-skinned neighbours with little kids lighter than the hope of the second coming. But the most noticeable, the proudest and most loyal inhabitants of this hood are us. The ones who simply refer to it as LA with such fond conviction. Us. The real bachelors of Langata.
Take a seat and let me break it down for you.
You arrive here fresh from campus, broker than a lame joke because there is no more HELB. Some toe the line; work in an office 8-5, hoping to work their way to the top. Others are rebels. They do not take the bull of life by its horns. They grab it by the balls with such furious pragmatism, knowing that that’s the way Langata will love you back.
You get a two bed-roomed house. It costs 19k a month. The person who takes the master bedroom pays 10k because it is more spacious and comfortable. You find someone who is flying abroad. If you are lucky, you will find one going Russia or Ukraine or some other cold country in the same time zone as Kenya; but where the sun does not have a sleeping schedule like Kenya’s sun. In June the Ukrainian sun sets at 3pm, and in January it might set at 10pm, like it needs a shrink or sleeping pills. All of these people are going away for further studies. Buy stuff from them, they sell them so cheaply; they are desperate for money. Make sure you wring them dry. Give no quarter, because you do not give two damns about someone who leaves Kenya for an insomniac sun.
You do not let your boys visit until you have the basics: A bottle of something German in the fridge and a screen from South Korea. The more 48’’ LED Samsung Smart TV it is, the better. You download your favorite games from the Smart TV app store; billiards. Jagero, billiards is what the French call pool.
As for the ladies, it depends on who is coming.
When it is a Jaber you want to impress for more than just a single night of illicit coupling; make sure the 13kg gas is filled so that you cook from the oven. When she calls to ask for directions from the bus stop, tell her to switch on her wireless and follow the connection titled Jakom to a white gate. Tell her to press doorbell 1, and when you open the door to your house, watch her jaws drop with amazement at your huge ass TV. Then gently whisper to her left ear “Bebi, my anaconda don’t…” Make sure its the left ear. Cupid is very anal about these things.
The thing with Nairobi houses is that in most cases, the loo and the bathroom are in the same small room. She will definitely want to pee at some point. So you tell your housemate to remove his hanging underwear, flush the toilet for the third time, and spray that Glade again until his nose begins to itch. This shit is real bana. You line up the sill with little bottles of Mada Hotel shampoo, shower gel and body lotions stolen from your last trip in Amboseli. These are evidence that you have travelled far and wide.
If your breath smells like glory, and you cook her spaghetti mbolonye (old magical campus recipe), then nothing else can stop the inevitable that rainy night. Frightened, you will fold your arms about each other. You holding her quietly. Her grabbing your back with a burning urgency as if they are the warm shoulders of a September midnight.
On her face, you will read her questions: Why is he shaking, and why isn’t he kissing me? It will be drizzling in Langata. The windows weeping, but not one bit sad. A half smile. Depth over distance. Trouble, trouble, trouble.
As a rule of thumb, you do not bring sucias to the mansion. This is a goon mansion, not a playboy mansion. You will know she is a sucia if you met her in Oxygen, and she is wearing a red and white bandana. You will know you treat a girl like a sucia if she asks you how she looks like in a black sequin dress and all you tell her that she was fearfully made.
But since you are not sure 100% about who you live with, you might one day check the trash when taking it out, and find square packets of different colours written; Lemon, Apple Pineapple, Banana, Avocado etc. And you will imagine someone’s knickers smelling like a bowl of pudding.
However, regardless of who is visiting, you do not tell them how you got house items, even the TV. Tell them a South Korean friend gifted it to you. Brag, omera, brag. Thump that chest. Blow that trumpet because nobody will blow it for you; and what good is a silent trumpet anyway? When you put yourself on this pedestal, people tend to respect you for more than just your beard. And now that you have fooled them that life is good after campus, you need to plan how to keep up appearances.
I moved in with Mukundi. The one from Mugutha fairytales. A royal bullshitter, a bender, and a friend. We are alike in uncanny ways; he is a man in search of his father, and I am running away from Karua. We are similar because we are in search of something; a peace of mind. LA isn’t so bad. We like it. The hardest part of moving (just like for any man) is having to change your barber. The challenge is in finding one who knows how to navigate your head; one who knows the difference between punk, box and fade.
The biggest sense of local pride in LA is drinking and football. And when Gor Mahia wins a game at Nyayo, the neighbourhood struts on your houses with green and white jerseys proclaiming the greatness of mothers and grandmothers.
The people are rather friendly, compared to Madaraka where neighbours bury handshakes and social graces in their pockets. Mpesa ladies of Langata giggle at you even if you are only withdrawing Ksh. 150 for fare. Strangers here always anxious to help you out. Our caretaker is said to take Mukundi for kamoja tu when I am away. Issorait. Once in a while, Kibera miscreants from the other side of the fence find their way into LA, causing little trouble- but that is no headache for the good folks at Langata Police Station.
Mukundi and I sit on the carpet staring at this Smart TV thinking about where to start. The boys visited and left a mess. Empty bottles of Gold whiskey litter the table, a humming empty fridge, greasy dishes, and a broken toilet handle. We are supposed to clean up, but both our heads are spinning from blurry hang overs. Nobody remembers who cleaned up last. Gold does that to your memory. I say it’s his turn to clean, he says it is mine. These are the moments I look at the Smart TV with all it can do, and wonder how in holy hell the South Koreans forgot to make an app that can clean up after boys. These are the downsides of having married men designing Smart TVs.
We agree to settle this like true gentlemen of Langata. We wager it on a game of pool on the smart screen. The high score to beat is my 239 points. The loser cleans up.
My tipsy ass gets a royal kicking.
Also watch the video by The Boys here:
[Cover Photo Credit: OJ by Kinoti M. Photography]