This was my idea. Kimani had no clue that I was going to drop this bombshell on him. I just thought that we’d had enough of the kawaida raving in tao. When you go out to the same places every week, clubbing loses flavour. Our nights out needed a little seasoning. I meet him in front of Mojos waiting for me, still dressed in a suit and a brown sling bag slicing across his chest. And after the normal greetings as can be managed between bachelors – often involving shoulder bumps and painful slaps on the back – I pulled Kim aside and said, “Sweetheart,” (a running joke between us), “Aki me I do not feel like doing this tonight.”
“OK sawa babe” hehehe, “So tuende wapi?”
“Let’s go to a strip club.”
The thing about my boy Kim, is that there is no idea too bad for him. You suggest something and he does not consider it for longer than a heartbeat. He shrugs and says “Let’s do it. Lakini si tunaeza enda kuchapa drinks kwanza?”
The first Tuskers are downed at Platinum. Followed by shots of vodka. We thought that would take us to a nice place but where? Walking up Moi Avenue, we are still in mint condition. Sober like a pair of newborns. It is like they served us bitter water. That is when we decide to try and liven up a bit at Scratch. The problem with Scratch is that they force you to buy two bottles of beer at the entrance. Feels like an entrance fee. I detest entrance fees. Of course this is meant for those campo students who come to the club, buy one bottle and then spend the rest of the night on the dance floor, yelling after Bruno Mars ati ‘I’m a dangerous man with some money in my pocket. Keep up!’
So we do not get into the club. We spend the next half hour like this at the downstairs bar, throwing Captain Morgan to the back of our throats until telephones start ringing in our heads.
The logic is simple. When you go a place like Liddos, you are not supposed to drink from an open source. You cannot drink from a glass because you do not know where that glass has been, and you also want to minimize chances of someone adding rice to your drink. Otherwise, you might wake up and it is Tuesday, you are naked, cold and lying under the huge Ngara roundabout. And that is the best case scenario. This is why you get yourself to that tipsy place before you go to the strip club. Not drunk. Tipsy. When your head is floating, eyelids fluttering occasionally, feeling like you are going to be pressed in about 30 mins and there is this urge in your head that keeps on reminding you about what an outstanding musician you can be.
That is the state in which we leave Scratch in, walking past the little beggars whose bedtime should have passed a long time ago with the Gambian election, and the vendors selling overpriced cigarettes and sweets. We go all the way to the Khoja roundabout, where the endless noise of Nairobi nightlife has slowed down to a hum (because Roast House has not yet turned up its volume). It must be 10pm or something in that neighbourhood. It is amazing how nightfall calms this part of town down. During the day, you are better off finding peace inside a beehive, but when darkness creeps in, it settles.
Darkness is an anaesthetic, is what is going through my mind as we walked past Roast House, take the upper right towards Liddos. If you do not know where Liddos is, you may get confused because the signage is above the next door. The main door is grilled, locked and manned by two men; a guard who pats you down, squeezing, nay, groping, your pockets at the feel of a phone or a wallet to make sure it is not a packet of C4 or some other IED, then waves you forward. The second man, who clearly would rather not be here given the sleep in his eyes unlocks the gate and ushers us in. A stair case leads us to a reception where a chick has two books.
“Niaje msupa. Niambie.” I try to sound normal. To act as if I am a regular customer.
“Nikuambie nini?” If I had not caught the seduction of her voice, my heart would have been broken by that clapback.
“Gani ni gani?” I point at the books.
“Hii ni regular tickets for 500 bob,” she points at the one on the right, “lakini hii ingine ni 1000 bob for VIP where the ladies are fully naked. The VIP also allows you to go to the regular side.”
Listen, there is no point of going to a strip club and pretending ati you are not there for the full package. Otherwise, what the hell are you doing there? Beats the logic. You will just end up looking like Tiga Wana in a chart of gospel songs; undecided. There is no for half and half – this is a strip joint, not Java. So we pay for the VIP, get yellow wristbands and start with the regular side. We are told by the usher that there are shows lined up for the night. We find seats and start to observe.
It is funny how such places are called Gentlemen’s Clubs. Two reasons. First one is pretty obvious – there are no gentlemen here, just men. Gentlemanliness is left at the gate with the rest of the hand grenades that the bouncer was patting for (if he ever got any). Second, this place is not just for men; women come here too. I can understand why men come here; some come to forget, others to simply waste moonlight, others to celebrate their birthdays and the rest to quell the mayhem of lust thundering between their legs. It is the women inside here who intrigue me. I wonder if the sight of female strippers excites their loins too. Or do they come for other pleasures as well?
Kim nudges me and then leans over. I imagine he has something important to say..he asks, “Look at that girl,” his head nodding towards a dancer in a white bra and g-string that disappears into her asscheeks, “unadhani hiyo kamba inanuka mavi?” Yaani, we are here, swallowed into all this licentiousness, surrounded by near naked girls gyrating and up and down poles, nostrils clogged with the vapors of promiscuity, and yet this is Kim’s greatest concern? This is what is on his mind? Ati whether or not some dancer’s g-string smells like shit. What are priorities?
I ignore him. And in that moment, in that sinful darkness, my eyes lock with another dancer. If I didn’t know any better, I would have said that we had a Dante Basco moment. She is moving her body, slowly taking off her lingerie and never once taking her eyes off of me. And just when her bra is about to fall off, she holds it. A tease to remind me that I am at the regular section and this is not where you get the full show. She doesn’t loses grip of my gaze – it is as if she is looking right through into my soul, claiming it by birth right. I am thinking she is either the greatest dancer in this place or we have a connection. Something animalistic. Something raw and singular. I do not even notice her moving until she is sitting on the arm of my seat.
She puts one of her legs over my lap. I can feel the heat of her skin through my trousers, and the heat arouses me. She places a hand around my shoulders and leans close enough so that all I can see are her breasts. I fidget, squirming around my seat to hide the beginning of my erection. Then, with one finger, one warm finger, she turns my head to look at her. Red braids. Redder lips. Teeth whiter than the holiest of halos. And, she is chewing gum with her mouth closed. No smacking sounds, none that I can hear anyway. Just an excited jaw moving up and down.
I guess this is where I am supposed to say something.
( I know, I know, please just bear with me.)
A brief silence in which I am trying to find my words.
“I swear this has never happened before.”
“What? This?” she responds, her hand going over the bump in my trousers.
“No. Me being speechless.”
“OK. We do not have to talk. We can go nikupee massage.”
I laugh, remembering the last time I went for a massage.
“Nothing…listen, eerrrm, unaitwa nani?”
(Stop rolling your eyes guys, it felt like a good place to start.)
(Lies. Definitely not her real name.)
“Like Biko Adema? Wewe ni dadake?”
“Dada ya nani?”
“Biko Adema, the rugby player.”
She shakes her head. I go silent again.
“Skiza, leo si siku yangu, ni siku ya huyu boyz wangu hapa,” I say, pointing at Kim. “Can you show him a good time?”
It is only when she is scooting over to perch on Kim’s seat that I notice her stomach. I cannot tell whether it is a kitambi or a small pregnancy. Either way, it looks like an oversized farthingale. Then I call Kim and tell him that for the sake of that and any other conversation this night, he is Pato and I am Sam.
I am finished with Adema. Just as I am finally remembering to breathe, another girl comes round. This one looks too young. Maybe that is how she is – small bodied. Maybe she is nothing older than Miguna Miguna’s gubernatorial ambitions. Either way I am not interested. She dances in front of me and I look away. She continues anyway. Then leans over and says, “Aki baby si uninunulie Tusker Malt?”
“Nitakununulia ukinionyesha ID yako kwanza,” I respond.
I do not know why she thinks I am talking dirty. Maybe asking a dancer for her ID is a euphemism for something else at Liddos. Which would explain why she pulls her underwear to the side, gropes her vagina (it looks painful even) and then puts her hands on my nose. Startled, I jerk my head away, and in the process, one of her fingers touches my upper lip.
I excuse myself to go throw up…and if possible, find some sulphuric acid to cleanse my mouth.
We leave for the VIP.
Which is a huge disappointment. There is nothing up there other than a bunch of men squeezed around on a sofa. In the middle there is a naked girl dancing on a glass table and two others lying on the guys’ laps, everyone trying to grab whatever they can. I feel sorry for these girls. Clearly, if the Titanic movie ever taught us anything, it is that the fun is usually downstairs. We go back.
There is a show starting, and guess who is on stage? Adema! There is a college party that has just stepped in. A birthday celebration. The MC calls the birthday boy on stage. Some shy chap who fights Adema’s attempts to remove his jacket. When Adema wins that fight, with the aid of his entourage, he won’t let her take his belt. Poor boy jumps off the stage, his boys laughing like tickled hyenas. Adema continues dancing, sliding up and down the pole.
Then she does this thing where she undresses, laying stark naked like God’s honest truth on the stage, legs apart pointing to high heaven, inserts a drinking straw into her ginene and then starts making it wag like a stiff tail. I kid you not. Kegels at work my friend. Halafu some jamaa goes on stage and places the other end of the straw into his mouth and starts sipping on Goddess Lilith-knows-what. Now that is a story of courage!
When she is done, she rolls off stage. I call her name. “Adema! Whoooo! Whooo! ADEMA!” I am merely congratulating her on her show. But then she turns, looks at me, and then looks away. I do not register. As if she had not been spreading the fat of her ass on seat less than an hour ago. I feel hurt, man. This girls ain’t loyal bana. Allegiances are as strong as tissue paper, always shifting with break of the wind.
I am still moping over the love of my life when I lock eyes with another girl. This time, this one is different. Fully dressed with no skin showing. White blazer. Familiar face. I know her from somewhere. She walks over to say hi, and as she approaches, I see her full face. I remember that face. It is from my days UoN School of Law. She was in first year when I was leaving.
Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!
I was not counting on meeting people I know. We speak a bit. I lie that it is Kim’s birthday – he even gets a hug for it. We exchange numbers and promises to stay in touch. Then the phone in her hand rings. Caller ID says Mama Ken.
“Shit, my boyfriend’s mom is calling?” She goes away, gives the phone to some chap who storms out in a rush to answer, probably to explain why he’d left the house without doing the dishes for supper (hehe).
This is also my cue to leave.
It is just before midnight when we step out. Too early (and sober) to go home. Kim says he knows some other joint those sides for Tea Room. But warns me that it is not as posh as Liddos. Entrance there is 200 bob only. Why the hell not, right?
We go down Keekorok Road. Very solitary and dead at this time of the night. Only prostitutes come alive once in a while, peeling off dark alleys to ask if we want whatever they are selling.
“Two hadred, daddy, ya chap chap.”
“Mbro job ya fifte.”
“Kujeni wawili niwapee na mia tano.”
The offers fade into silence as we walk along, paying them no mind.
In a small enclave, just before to the junction for Latema Road where the pockets of hookers become much older – motherly kind of older – a man, presumably a matatu conductor, still in his maroon uniform, steps out of the night pulling his zipper up. Behind him, I see a figure pull up stark white panties. I look away almost immediately. I feel embarrassed for having seen that mama like that…ashamed even.
We turn into Latema Road where the night becomes busier. More people on the streets. Where the difference between a hooker and everyone else becomes blurry and you cannot jump to conclusions until you are offered. I walk ahead while Kim follows a step behind, puffing away a stick of Dunhill. The image of that mama dressing up still stains my head. I cannot shake it off however much I try. I am trying to understand at what point a mother leaves her home to come to town and sell her body. What happens? What is the breaking point at which she gives up on all other options? Ama they are here by choice? No answers abound for these questions. It is also incredible how I only ask myself these questions for the older women, but not the countless young girls, as if age makes this entire mess any more or less unfortunate. Enyewe Ahmadou Kourouma was right – God (Allah) is not obliged to be fair about all the things he does here on earth.
I want to tell Kimani that I would rather go home now. That I have lost psyche for this exploration. Perhaps we can reschedule?
That’s when a peculiar crowd appears before us. I notice men bundled together in handcuffs. One man is pulling them in front, roughing them up. It is the police picking up people. But from the look of that crowd, it must be the vagabonds of the night they are rounding up. Kim is in his office suit, with a bag slung across his torso. I do not look like riff raff either with my velvet blazer, chino pants, arafat and fedora from Dubai. The man leading them passes me, but then he stops Kimani. He grabs him by his suit and before I can say anything, he wraps a cuff around his wrist.
This is the kind of situation in which your patriotism is put to test. There is your friend who has done nothing wrong – well, nothing illegal – arrested. It is Saturday night, so that means that if they end up taking him to the cells, he will be there until Monday. That is on one hand. On the other hand, you are one of those people who rant and rave about corruption. Well, here you are now, your own standards put to the test.
You fail spectacularly.
I follow them. As he stops yet another loner, Kim tells me that he is asking for 2000 bob. I pull the officer aside and say, “Mkubwa, niko na huyu jamaa. Siwezi mwacha ivi. Niambie unatakaje?”
“Unadhani nataka nini? Mboro yako?”
“Niko na thao.” (this is the truth, by the way)
“Hapana! Enda utoe…nakungoja.”
I run to the nearest MPESA, withdraw the one thousand bob and go back to where I had left them.
They are not there.
I look backwards and forward, nothing. I ask the street girls and they tell me that they have been taken back towards Khoja. Shit. They are being taken to Central Police Station. If they get there before me, I will have to pay more than 1k. I run all the way but do not see anyone. I call Kim, hoping that they allow him to talk on his phone. He answers. They are down those sides for the Mombasa buses. I sprint back. This time, the women are not asking me for chudex.
I find them standing next to an empty bus. I cannot tell which company it is. What I can tell is one of Kim’s fellow convicts pleading his case. Then the police descend upon him with slaps. They slap the night’s darkness out of him until he sits down. Then they kick his buttocks to stand up.
“Ati two hundred?” They are shouting at him, “Unadhani ni ya kutahiri?”
I look at Kimani. He is asking me secretly if I have the money. I nod. He wants us to run away as soon as the cuffs are opened. I cannot take that chance with Kenyan police. I do not want to be on the news on Sunday at 1pm, gunned down, for attempting to flee legal custody.
The policeman who was beating the other jamaa turns around and asks,”Umeleta?” I extend my hand for a greeting and squeeze two five hundred notes into his pocket. I do it clandestinely. But he untangles them to count if indeed I paid the full amount. They release Kim.
By the time we are a safe distance away, our jailbird warns me not to write about all this. That people will judge me if I do. He knows it is futile. I do not care enough. If anyone wants to judge me for going to a strip club and bribing a police man for not doing anything illegal, then let them. When they are done, they should do us all a favour and post their case files on the Kenya Law Reports website for our enjoyment and delight.
“Sweetheart, did they tell you what they arrested you for anyway?” I ask him on our ride home.
“What was the charge?”
“Smoking,” he says.
I could say I was shocked, but I wouldn’t mean it.