There is nothing more unsettling than standing naked in front of a woman you do not know. Insecurities make you fidgety. It is such a terrible feeling because you do not know what to do with your hands. You do not even have a pocket to hide them in. So you fumble with them clumsily before resting your hands on your crotch, head drooping, like a child being scolded for breaking the flower vase. A lot of things rush through your head. What is she thinking? Is she looking at the paunch of my growing tummy or is she staring at the size of the bulge from my boxers? What does she think of us- the growers, vis-a-vis showers? And what does she think of my boxers? Wait, what ngotha am I wearing today? Are they my Saturday Cowboy boxers? The one you wear when all the other ones are dirty? You find yourself in this state of utter disorientation and mental incoherence at a massage parlour, standing in front of an impatient masseuse. Questions abound. You try to guess how many men she has seen naked. You wonder how you compare to those men in her eyes.
Okay. You are probably wondering how you ended up in this position. So it is only fair that we start this story from the beginning.
You are a bachelor trying to wade through life. You are a rebel. You refused to follow the constant trajectory of the normal Kenyan man whose life is pretty linear from childhood straight into adulthood. The assured path of graduating from primary school to a good high school that leads you into a good university, which in turn drops you at the bottom of a corporate ladder that you will spend the rest of your life climbing. If you are lucky, meaning you make it past 40 without buying a Range Rover, ditching your family and driving off into the sunset with a jaber in whom all you see is a sparkling face, a distracting heinie and a wet hole, you will die old and tired and proud of a file of papers that only mean you passed exams.
Lakini you have never been the kind of person to bend to rules. You are a goon. You make your own goddamn rules – which you break soon after just to make life interesting. You can as well get up and leave with that jaber the moment you strike 30 and you could not care less. So you and your long time friend, Societal Expectations, part ways the moment you leave campus. You dump it via text message, egg its bloody car and then walk away with nothing but a middle finger protruding from the centre of your fist- a fucking goodbye.
You leave to become a writer.
All the glamorous presumptions you had about writing as a career are shattered the moment you step into the profession. Preconceptions turn out to be misconceptions. You realize that no matter the profession you find yourself in, there will always be a ladder to climb. And this one, this one is even steeper for you because you know nothing at all about writing. You did not study it. You know zilch about journalism or creative writing. All you have is nothing in your pockets and a heart full of hope.
Your first job is shitty. But you keep it all the same. People say you are good. It gets to your head. Some even offer to publish your work in their websites and magazines – problem with some of these people is that their currency does not make sense. Their currency is Exposure and Potential. Your landlord does not accept such forms of currency. Neither does Kenya Power nor matatu operators. Hell, not even the mama mboga will see Potential in you and offer you three tomatoes for it. So you tell those publishers to scram with their offer – well, you do not exactly say that. You are polite. As polite as a hungry man can manage. Biko, your go-to guy, says ‘Kill them with kindness. But always have a sense of self preservation. Know your worth. When the deal is not good, walk away.’
The trenches never rejected a good soldier. You keep writing. You bang copy until your fingers hurt.
Then one day something happens. Serendipity smiles your way. Things come up roses. Someone pays you a hefty cheque for a promotion exercise on your blog. Suddenly your future is clearer than a glass of sunlight. You are stoked. You do not know how you even find yourself in Ngara all the way from Lang’ata. You are walking past the market, constantly feeling your back pocket for your wallet, which by now is heavy with Ksh. 8,000. Money does that to you when you are not looking- it takes you places. It took you to this market place that is awake with the stench of hustle.
As you walk by Equity Bank you look to your left and there it is. A reflection of you. You consider the person looking back at you- the one in a fitting red T-shirt, jeans that are the vogue these days- the kind that are torn at the knees- and open sandals from which your toes peep out cheekily like a gang of rascals looking for trouble. Then there is your hair. Steel-hard and curled into tiny matutas because you do not remember the last time you ran a comb or shaving machine through it. That has to change, you say to yourself as you walk ahead. You have to do something about your hair.
A few steps ahead leads you to a chain of barber shops. Some of them have drawings of shaved men the wall – sketches of people who must have died of embarrassment from bad haircuts. Outside these ones, a bunch of boys sit on benches chewing miraa that turn their teeth from white to the colour of envy. They sit there beating stories and burning daylight. You pass them without looking twice. Surely such unreliable, morally ambiguous drunks are not worth your candle. You are rich. You have Ksh. 8000 in your pockets and an awful lot more where that came from.
Further on you find a proper barber shop with the word Kinyozi drawn at the entrance in tasteful calligraphy. You can feel the weight of your wallet urging you to ignore the fact that it cost 250 bob for a shave in this place.; which is 200 bob more compared to what you are used to. But come on now. A bunch of Jomo Kenyattas are kissing your ass today. What do you do? You walk inside.
In your kawaida barbershop, shaving is a rather simple and straightforward exercise. You have no facial hair. Your chin is smoother than aged whiskey. There is no need to run the machine over there. What usually happens at your Lang’ata local is that you walk in, sit in line to wait for the other clients, and watch the men with chins as rough as a Subaru’s groan get themselves fixed.
When your turn comes, you sit on that swivel chair and allow Johnnie to wrap you with what is essentially a used bedsheet. Johnnie talks too much while combing your hair and even more when shaving. He talks about German football a lot. He’s even taken to talking like a German; a simple greeting sounds like a threat, with spit following every word that exits his mouth. When he is done, Johnnie trims your hairline meticulously, even though most of the time he is a little bit too meticulous that he slices a bit of flesh. That is before wiping his hand on his jeans, squeezing methylated spirit on his palms and then running them around your head. That shit stings so bad that you can feel it in your eyes. You always close your eyes, bite your lower lip so hard that your mouth hurts more than your torn scalp. Because somewhere along the way of growing up you decided that pain you inflict upon yourself is more acceptable than that inflicted by someone else.
Lakini today you are having none of that. Today, you are going to get a kick ass shave from a kick ass barber for a kick ass pay, and whoever tries to talk you out of it will have his sorry ass kicked.
This kinyozi smells of elegance. At least to you it does. You walk in. There is a big wide wall mirror and a receptionist who looks at you, considers your Clarks for a second and then says “Karibu sana,” with a smile and a gesture for you to keep walking to your seat, where a dude in a white coat is waiting a bit too eagerly. Who gave barbers the idea that they should look like doctors anyway?
The machine in this kinyozi hums slowly. It does not choke and splutter like Johnnie’s. The light buzz sends you to sleep. You only wake up to the barber telling the girl at the reception to take over.
And that is where this story really begins.
This woman is supposed to wash your head after the shave. Then she is supposed to give you a little rub to open up your scrambled neck muscles. A token that should make you go back next time. She takes you to this slanted chair where you are made to lie back with your head over a sink. She squeezes liquid soap on your head. It is cold, this soap, one would imagine it was harvested from a witch’s tits.
Warm running water rinses the cold away. She stoops over you as she scrubs your hair. She leans a little bit too close. You can feel her warm breasts pressing on your chest. You do not mind.
Naturally, something wakes up in your pants. Naturally, you do not want her to stop. You want her to wash your hair till Kingdom come. Or until you do. Nothing lasts forever though. Most definitely not a hair wash. It ends as soon as it begins. And with that her breasts are gone.
She takes you back to the shaving chair, squeezes oil on her palms and starts to rub your head. She has the softest hands, you admit. Her hands are the kind of tender that can only be best enjoyed with eyes closed. Those heavenly hands that knead your neck muscles, slowly at first like a tease, before going down harder on your shoulders.
She makes you exhale.
“You seem to be enjoying this. Si you let me give you a proper full body massage? Massage ya maana.”
That is an offer you cannot refuse.
That is how you find yourself in the backroom of this kinyozi, standing in your boxers in front of this woman you do not even know. She is telling you to undress and lie on the bed in the room. A massage will cost you a thousand bob more, she’d said. Money is no object. You stand there, wondering what to do next because you have never been to a massage parlour before. You do not know how this works. To you, massages are one of those things that never happen in real life. Only in movies or books to move the plot along.
“I remove everything everything?” You ask.
“Unataka nitoke? I can come back if you are uncomfortable.”
You do not answer at first. That must be a trick question, you think. If you say yes, she would know that you are shy, that this is your first time. If you say no, she might think you just want to flaunt your mhoigos. But before you can answer, she hands you a surprisingly white towel and walks out, followed by her ass that leaves you trying to hide the beginning of your own erection.
And now here you are. Waiting for your massage ya maana. You do not know where to put your trousers. In them there is your Ksh. 8000 bob and your Samsung S5 which by now you are convinced this woman is trying to steal from you. You imagine that she is planning to massage you to sleep then steal all your clothes and leave you there. Naked, confused and embarrassed. So you hang your trousers on a wall hook, remove your phone and wallet, put them under the pillow of the bed, cover your black buttocks with the towel and lie face down on the bed.
The door opens. She walks in. You promise yourself that whatever happens, you are not going to sleep. Neither are you going to get a hard on. Your breathing is shallow now. Shallow and fast. You can feel your insides quake as if they have just been invaded by America. Shit, this is happening. This is indeed happening. Oooooh, it is happening. You cannot believe this is happening. Your thoughts find your voice. “Shit. This is happening.” She hears it.
“Ati unasema nini?”
“Aaa…uhm…hakuna. Never mind.”
“This is your first time getting a massage?” she asks.
“Psssssh. Nope. What are you talking about. I have been massaged a million times.” You lie even though we all know you are not fooling anybody. She is breaking your massage virginity, and you cannot believe it because you think there is a chance that she is might be a hooker. Those sly ones that do not stand outside Sirona Hotel, but lure clients into this small den where she entices them with body rubs. You imagine that she will fire you up real good; to the point that by the time your little goon rises to the occasion like the good soldier it is, all it will want is some action.
You are still thinking of whether you have condoms when her first touch lands on your back. It is tender and slippery. It kneads the hard flesh on your shoulders with gentleness so calming it manipulates you into whispering the name of the Lord in between silky moans of ‘aaaah’ and ‘fuck yeaaah’.
Now you know that you will definitely need condoms. Even your little goon nudges you beneath the towel in celebration. You try to lie still and let this woman touch you. And with every touch you feel your body respond to her. It opens up to her like a sinner seeking redemption. Her fingers do impossibly beautiful things to you as she trails the back of your body with them down to the back of your thighs, to your inner thighs, and then up till you can feel her touching your balls.
You do not move. Part of you wants her to leave. To go. You want to yell, “Get thee behind me you Jezebel!” but the other part of you reminds you that it is a little bit too late to be quoting scripture. Temptation has you by the balls. Literally. Plus you are no Joseph. You do not run away from pussy. You either eat it or fuck it. Or both in that order.
Then she says, “Turn around.”
Then it hits you. This woman may not be moonlighting as a hooker. She is probably just an honest masseuse trying to earn an extra shilling. Yet here you are with your erection giving her a hard time. At that moment you start imagining ways to return your boner back to a limp. You try thinking of things that put you off. Like vegetable samosas, teeth infections, math problems and people who call chips fries. None of them comes through.
“Si you turn,” she says again. “I have to massage your other side.”
Oh my God! What will she think of me? Will she think that I am easy? That I am one of those weak men who get hard too quickly and probably come just as fast? Your mind is in turmoil.
“Aki nanii. Pinduka.” There is shade of anxiety in her voice this time.
You turn, holding on to the towel to cover your embarrassment.
“Can I remove this?” she says pointing at the towel which your pecker is already trying to hand over.
She takes it away slowly, unwrapping you like a present. You lie there looking her at her in that dress. You look at the little dimple on her thighs and think of how you want to plant kisses in it. If she lets you, that is.
As the towel sheds off, your nakedness is revealed. Completely. Like the truth at a confession. You catch the surprise in her eyes when she looks at your mhoigos. It is a surprise that is accentuated by a chuckle and a question that falls from her lips, “Haiya! Kwani wewe ni wa Western?”
Your head responds.
Just not the one on top of your shoulders.