As you walk down the hallway towards the elevator, you can feel the red carpet below swallow your feet with every step. For a moment, you contemplate passing by Room 321 to pick up Kevo, but you decide against it. Unlike you, Kevo prefers to have a proper night’s sleep before a big day. You, on the other hand, cannot sleep. Your nerves won’t let you. It is only a few hours before your presentation tomorrow, and you have gone through the slides four times now. You know everything you are going to say, how you are going to say it. And it is that certainty that won’t let you sleep. At the back of your mind, there is this itching feeling of something missing. You have never been the kind of person who believes in anything being enough; there is always more to be done. You find discomfort in comfort. That is why you when you laid down to sleep having put all your ducks in a row, ready to stand in front of your potential investors tomorrow, your eyes refused to shut. You try to push it out of your mind, but you can’t. You can’t forget things that give you so much to think about. It’s pointless to even bother trying.
The Tune Hotels Nairobi website said that the mattress you are sleeping on is the same kind that the Queen of England sleeps on, and the beds are customized Hypnos beds (hypnos? Like, hypnotize? Sounds dreamy) and you imagined that its cushy reputation would take you to the land of Nod. It does not. Not that the Queen’s mattresses make you feel like you are sleeping on asphalt. No. Quite the contrary, actually. It is not the Queen. It is you. Your dreams are not the kind that play around in your head when you sleep. They are big. They keep you up at night. You are constantly wondering whether the investors will be moved enough to put some money into your invention. You question the user friendliness of your app; if people will download it, and for how long?
You are in a terrible need of a drink.
The elevator is not the kind that has an invisible female commentator who spectates on everything you do, but when its doors part on the twelfth floor, Hozier’s voice ushers you into the bar. His voice seeps through the whispers, sombre as always, but for the love of God you can never hear what he is saying. It is like he swallows his words, but it does not matter because you do not need to hear what Hozier is saying to understand what he is trying to communicate.
It is a little past ten when you perch on a stool in the bar, look at the badge of the man standing in front of you and say, “Vipi Stano,” The badge says Stanley, but you know the way we Kenyans are – we are always too lazy to pronounce people’s full names, so we add Os at the end to make them short and hip. At least we think that kind of appropriation makes them hip. That is how Kevin, your partner, ended up as Kevo and now Stanley became Stano. It is almost second to nature how we brand people pet names, even when they are strangers. You assume that his friends call him Stano, and that he likes it, or at the very least, he does not mind.
Perhaps Stanley prefers being called by his full name, or if that is a mouthful, Stan. Perhaps he has a terrible memory of somebody who first called him Stano- a brother, a mother, a wife – who passed away, and so every time someone calls him Stano, flashbacks he would rather forget puncture his heart. But Stanley does not seem to mind you calling him Stano. If he does, then he keeps his emotions under his hat.
Instead he smiles and says, “Poa sana. What would you like to have?”
“Cold, please. Definitely cold,” you say in the most emphatic way. You have never understood people who drink warm beer. You imagine that people who drink warm beer must also like red apples, call chips fries, and describe Jimmy Gait’s music as soulful.
You are not used to the way Stanley serves you beer. You are not used to people who bring you beer and then serve it for you. You feel pampered. Spoilt. Your local back home in Nakuru has this lady who has been waiting tables for so long, she must own an autographed bible. She brings your drink to your table and then opens it in your presence, because as Kenyans, we grow up having trust issues with waitstaff. So she flips open the beer and the bottle top goes scattering across the table, then walks away to the next table. Only then do you pour a finger of your Tusker into a glass, swirl it around, rinse it intently to remove any potential grains of ‘rice’ before pouring out the frothy beer.
Presently, however, Stan brings you the beer. with a tall, frosty drinking glass. He opens the top gently, such that the lid remains in his palm. Then very cautiously, he tilts the glass and pours the alcohol inside. When he is done, your glass is a resplendent gold that wears a thin white crown. The perfect serve. “Enjoy,” he offers with a smile and then walks away to talk to next customer. A few stools away from you, a dude is whispering things into the ears of a mama, things that makes her curve a smile as broad as daylight. She is wearing red stilts, you notice, and very briefly you wonder if she is matching them with something you cannot see.
You look away, sipping your Tusker. And that is when you see her.
She sits facing sideways, and in the dimly lit lounge area of the bar, it is hard to make out her face. You can only tell its outline, thanks to the light from her tablet that partly illuminates one side of her face. You see the way it stretches down and, just before her chin, dips a little bit, just before curving upwards again. She is not spectacular or remarkable. But there is something about the way she is staring at that tablet without ever looking up. She is just scrolling lower and lower. Because there is free wi-fi at the bar, you imagine that perhaps she is reading a book on her Kindle. Or a blog. Or she follows one of those people who write long ass Facebook posts that should be novels instead. But not once does she raise her head. She is like a swimmer who does not come up for air.
At first, you think that she is going to look up from her tablet soon. That she will be done with whatever she is doing and perhaps come to order something. She doesn’t. She keeps touching the screen and then sinking deeper and deeper into the world of the author’s making. If it is indeed an author she is reading. And the more she does not look up, the more curious you get, wanting to see her face. You start guessing what kind of person she is. If she wears makeup or not. Is she is a lipstick kind of person, or does she prefers lip-balm? Does she think The Mindy Project is funny? Can she watch an episode of Young and Hungry without actually feeling hungry? Does she drink anything other than coffee? Wait, is she a tea or a coffee type of girl? Whatever her choice is, all you know is that she does not drink anything while reading. She would not remember it.
Minutes pass and more people come and go. The lady with the red shoes has long since walked away, dangling in the arms of her Lothario. You would have gone too already, but now you are too curious to see this girl. By now you are halfway through the second bottle, trying to make sense of her. It is a Wednesday night in July. She is at a rooftop bar, consumed by her tablet, severed completely from this world and into another one that only she and the writer she is reading survive. Is she not in a hurry? Doesn’t she have anything to do tomorrow? Why is she so comfortable here? Tune Hotels is not exactly a chain that makes you feel at home. It is a stop over for people who nip into the city for a quick meeting before going back to their town. But here she is. Making the bar her sitting room. You wonder if she is so lost in her reading that she has forgotten her way back. Or if she is about to undo something and settle in completely. You want to walk over to her and say hi. Your gut imagines that since she is alone, reading, then she must be lonely. You think that she needs saving.
Just as you are calculating which of your stupid opening lines will be good enough to divorce her from her tablet, she moves. Something has interrupted her. Her phone. She tips slightly on one side and picks up a handset, has a brief conversation and then stands up to leave. You watch as she gets up. She is nothing taller than 5’7”. She is wearing a flowered blouse on top of blue jeans. Her hair is short. As she makes for the exit, your eyes meet. You mutter a soundless, “Hi,” that she does not acknowledge, and then she is gone. Into the elevator and out of your life. She has wounded you, no doubt. Definitely not a Mindy Project girl.
A swig of your drink numbs your pain. You do not even know why you are hurt over someone whose name you don’t even know. Perhaps it is not pain, but embarrassment. Whatever it is, it makes you look outside. From The Sky Bar, you can see the whole of Westlands. How it never sleeps and how the streetlamps pierce the night so much it almost looks like dawn.
“Another one?” Stanley interrupts. You shake your head. You are done. “Goodnight then,” he says. You get up and leave, hoping that Stanley did not witness your pathetic little heartbreak.
You find yourself back into your room, standing at the centre of it, seeing things you had passed over like a Jewish holiday. The room is rather compact. Red seats hang off the wall, stapled into position by joints that make them foldable. But it is not like you need more space. You are just here for the night. Your bag lies reposed on the bed, still zipped. You have not touched it since you got here, but the contrast between its deep brown and the saintly white of the bedcover makes you think, for some reason, of coffee beans floating on milk. You will not switch on the flat screen mounted on the wall, because you have no desire to watch Animal Planet and its rigmarole of mating animals. You turn and look at the other side of the wall, which plays host to a painting of a man pushing a bicycle on what looks like a murram road. On his carrier are four crates, stacked up high; he reminds you of the jamaa who supplies your local kiosk with bread. At the bottom of the painting is the name Tom Mboya, written in black in sloppy handwriting. A huge mirror above the bed’s headboard looks back at you. You still have your jacket on. And suddenly you feel hot. Your finger finds a switch that makes the air conditioner exhale the winds of July that inspires colonies of pimples sprout from your skin.
It was by sheer luck that you got this kind of room for only KES. 995. You bumped into it on Potentash, and the writer was going and on about how Tune Hotels just opened up in Westlands and they have this offer that will be running till 31st August 2016. For less than a brownie you get 3 star ‘no frills accommodation’ with the personality of a 5 star hotel. All you had to do was book using the special promotion code PROMO995 at the hotel’s website at www.tunehotels.com/nairobi . You guys wasted no time jumping onto that deal with the same exigency that excited lovers jump to conclusions. Just one week later, a cab dropped you off on Rhapta Road, in front of a tall red and grey building that rises up to steal a huge piece of the sky – on top of it, a wooden roofing that curves like the edge of a fedora hat.
You peel your velvet jacket off, then your shirt follows it to the floor. Then pants. You get into bed, and this time the Queen of England mattress receives you with the warmness of a royal envoy. The final winking thought you have before blacking out is the image of the Nairobi skyline from The Sky Bar. You try to imagine what it looks like during the day. How Nairobi’s buildings stand side by side all the way until the sky meets the blue hills in the distance. You know that if the stars align themselves in your favour tomorrow, your investors’ wallets will breathe life into your app, and soon you too will have an office with a view like that. This far you and Kevo have been blessed with beginners luck, so you remain cautiously optimistic.
That image reminds you that there is still work to be done. That to enjoy the view, you must first of all climb the stairs.