The only reason The Boys decided to meet at Mojos was because Kibz had told us in the WhatsApp group that William Lawson had an offer. Buy a mzinga and get a plate of nyama choma free. Only for the plate to land on our table and it was anything but as advertised. Just some scrawny pieces of cold meat and sticks of chips as hard as trigonometry. It had been a while since we had seen each other, so it was kind of a big deal. A lot had changed since we last met. Kibz and Waf seemed to be doing well, going by the size of the bellies that spilled over when they sat. Especially Kibz, because his belly is so colossal, he does not need the internet to be worldwide. Chess has decided to grow his beard, and he touches it all the time as if to check whether it has grown an inch since he last touched it thirty seconds ago. Mbothe is thinking of clearing the cobwebs to start a legal blog and opening a Legal Consultancy after he is done with pupillage; which is confusing as I have always pictured consultants to be old professionals, who have been in the game for quite a bit. They have held real money – not the kind that people spend on B-Club and leak receipts on WhatsApp groups. Then there is Jamo. The muscle. The security. In case anyone tries anything stupid, he is the guy who steps up and the puppies scamper away. But Jamo seems to be losing muscles slowly. He has grown smaller. At least these days he can get shirts that can actually fit around his neck.
When we meet, I like to let them talk about their joboz. Mostly it is because I try to evaluate how my life would have been had I joined them in that path. Sometimes I feel sorry for them – they are the ones who write legal opinions for clients who cough out KES. 4 million for that service, but their pay checks are still the same. Then, as it turned out lately, they could disappear into a police station in Syokimau and then wash up on a river bank; cold, swollen and dead, with lacerations on their wrists and strangulation marks around their necks. Other times, I am envious. They have a sure path. They know they will not always earn the shit pay they are getting today. I do not have that kind of luxury in my line of work. Not when people keep wondering why they have to pay “so much money for work that is going to take me a couple of hours.”
Mbothe thinks my life is glamorous. With all the travelling and what not. I wish he knew. It is a hard knock life on this side of the fence. We keep chasing people with proposals. The best stories come when I am either in the shower or when I am pooping. They play out perfectly, but then the moment you open a Word document, they disappear. Like a sneeze in a storm. But you never see that part of the struggle on social media. You never witness the grit of the process. I tell Mbothe that the grass is greener on his side. That being famous on social media is like being rich in monopoly. It is all smoke and mirrors.
“And what about all those chicks, dude.” he says and the other boys chime in, “BANA!”
“What chicks?” I ask.
“Boss, kwani wewe ni kipofu bana? All those girls who are always on your timeline kwani ni akina nani?”
I laugh. Then Chess says, “Ah, but you know this one is nowadays zero grazing. He would not know a chick is interested in him even if they stripped naked and slapped him in the face.”
At first, I do not get it. The zero grazing bit, that is. “What does that mean?” I ask foolishly and they all stare at me as if my question confirms the allegation.
Apparently zero grazing means being in a relationship. As opposed to being a wild animal, constantly on the hunt for the next catch; members of Team Mafisi Sacco still playing the field, prowling around, keeping their options open. And at Mojos the grounds were not ripe for hunting, or even poaching. Everyone was watching football, which we were not particularly in the mood for. The place was not happening. The crowd was distracted. Half the faces were pointed at the screens on the wall. The other half were bored to death by the lack of attention from the first half, so they sat with bottles of Black Ice and/or wine in one hand, leaving the other to constantly pull down the hems of dresses too enthusiastic to show delicious, glowing thighs. When a club becomes drab like that, it acquires the personality of a cold sandwich. And that was not good enough for us, so I said we finish up the William Lawsons and bounce.
“How about Scratch?” someone suggested. Nobody saw why not.
Here is the thing about Scratch Bar and Grill. The Grill part is a lie. Here is the other thing about Scratch Bar and Grill. It is the same as many other nightclubs in the CBD. There are certain common characteristics that cut across the clubs in Nairobi. There is no space. It is as if the proprietors of these joints had a meeting one day and said, “Who needs space? Let us cram the floors with tables and chairs whose seats are smaller than the circumference of a bee’s buttocks. Then dampen their heads with booze, loud music and flashing lights. Deal?”
“Deal.” The others members in that meeting chorused. And so they went out and executed this unwritten ordinance.
So for Clubs like Scratch, Tribeka, Mojos, Mist and Edge, do not expect to walk in and have dance room. Forget it. There is always this constant scramble for dance floor space. You take what you can get and you keep what you can hold. That is the way it is. If you want space, go to, well, Space Lounge (never been there, but I assume its name is apt). Or Brew Bistro in Westie – but be warned that people who can afford to club there are those who have recently won government tenders.
Anyway, we check into Scratch at little to midnight. The place is seedy, but when you have a couple of William Lawsons in your head, you could as well be in paradise. We elbow our way past dudes rubbing their crotches on a pair of willing arses until we find a spot near the balcony. The table was occupied, so we had to share it with a party of three girls and two dudes.
And just then, the freelancers in the crew – Chess and Kibz – start hunting. The zero grazers (James, Waf and I) sit back and cheer them on, bottles of Tusker finding a welcoming home in our palms.
I watch the crowd. It is a hobby I have picked up. It is easy to pick up who and who is a couple. Who is trying too hard and is, unfortunately, headed nowhere. Who is leaving the club with a number, or better yet, who is leaving with a bird in hand. On our table, was a couple. An average height chick and a dude with a bald head, and you would know from the way they were constantly cuddling and whispering things into each others ears, and the way she was not dancing with anyone else other than him. Only thing is that, and I do not know how to say this without sounding mean, the dude was short. Like just-a-little-taller-than-Tyrion-Lannister short. Such that when the girl bent over to dance, her booty wiggled on his throat. Good for him. No need to hate. We were taught as kids to appreciate the little things in life.
It could also be that they are not even a couple couple. Maybe she was his date for the night. But the moment that happens, the moment you notice that a dude has declared she is a no go zone, you have to respect that. There are certain lines you do not want to cross. No need to be obtuse. Otherwise your head might end up as the subject of an experiment to determine just how strong or fragile a beer bottle can possibly be.
The other couple did not seem like a couple really. The girl clearly did not want him, but he was constantly overprotective around her. And she had had a glass too many, such that when she stood to dance, she stumbled. Poor dude had to take her and force her to sit down. At one point she wanted to dance with Chess (hell, she wanted to dance with everybody) but the dude would not let her, so she snapped and told him, ”Leave me alone!” as she struggled to free herself from his grip, “You are not my boyfriend!” Then at some point she gave in and settled in her seat and did not stand up for a while. She looked like a truant child being told to go sit in the naughty corner and think about her actions.
Then there was the chick who was alone. The lone ranger. She was in a sleeveless black and white striped shirt and a pair of jeans. The Freelancers tried to get her to dance and got a cold stare in return. At some point they gave up and went hunting elsewhere. But you know what they say about nature. It abhors a vacuum. The moment they left, other dudes approached her.
When I say they approached her, I mean they did that thing that we used to do when clubbing while still in campus. It does not involve walking up to a girl like a gentleman and offering her a drink, making conversation and then leaning over and saying “May I borrow you for a song?” Nope. Far from it. What happens is a dude sees a chick dancing by herself, and imagines that she is asking for a partner. So he sneaks up behind her as she is wiggling and then inches closer and closer until he is sort of dancing with her with his crotch on her diabz.
And to be honest, it used to work. I think. Many a time we got accepted into the fold. On other occasions we would sneak up like that and then the chick stops and gives you the ‘fuck off, dude’ face, and we would recoil to our seats with ruined pride. However looking at it right now, a couple of years later, it seems a lot like an absolutely capital dick move.
I mean, come to think of it, fellas.
Some of these clubbing habits we picked up from our first night-out experiences. You see someone doing it and succeeding, and then you try it and get lucky once and then imagine that all girls are okay with it. So we form this warped assumption that since the approach is so gradual and meticulous, she will not notice you coming, and that once they are ‘dancing with us’ they will be like Oh, OK. Wow, that feels awesome. What a singular erection you have there. Looks like this is what my life is, having a stranger rub himself on my rear. Let’s do this!
It is this kind of struggle that the girl in black and white was facing. She would be dancing and then some chap comes up to me and asks, “Uko na yeye?” and I shake my head, and for some reason he thinks that is open game now. That the fact that I am not here with her was an invitation to feel her up. I felt sorry for her, but then could I do? Punch a nigger in the face? And then what? The bouncers would grab me by the collar and drag my pugnacious ass outside.
I did the only thing I could do to ‘save’ her. I asked her to dance. But because it had been a rough night for her, I could not just walk up to her and say “I love this song. Want to join?” I called the jamaas to do The Thing; basically we stand in a straight line and then once person leads the pack in pulling a similar move. And it is not ati we practice a choreographed move before hitting a club, or that we are thaaaat good at dancing. It is just clubbing tradition we have been practicing since campo. While others dance to be seen, we dance for ourselves. Chicks at the club love it. I think it shows that you did not come to lurk around like the Devil, looking for people to steal, kill and destroy. Rather, you came to the club to have your own kind of fun, to spread good cheer so that the revellers can have life, and that they might have it in abundance. [John 10:10. Can I get an AMEN?]
Girls see us do The Thing and they join in. As did the girl in black and white. When we were done, I went over to her to talk. And sure as death and taxes, her defences came tumbling down like the walls of Jericho.
[OK, I have stopped].
When you are zero grazing at the club, you are on a very tight leash. You can dance, yes, but you cannot rub seductively because you do not want to light fires you know you will not extinguish. Also, back home, Jaber is waiting for you. You had sworn that you would not be out late. That is why my moments with the girl in black and white could not last long. It was already 2:30am when she said, “You dance really well,” and a tingly feeling of pride ran through my pipes all the way up to my head, and I said “Why, thank you.” It is always good to be told that you’ve still got it, even when you have been zero grazing for a while. “Oh, I did not catch your name.” She had not given it, but she caught the drift.
She edged closer and whispered it in my ear as if it was a secret.
“I am Ken,” I lied. And just then, I knew that I had to leave. Here is why.
Two months ago I was at this same place (Scratch) when a guy came up to me and said, “Magunga! Vipi bana! Love your blog.” And because I did not know him, and I looked at him with faux surprise on my face and said, “Huh?”
It is not that I have grown horns. Maybe I have, but that is not the reason I lied. I lied because the moment you are at the club and someone knows you, you will constantly be minding how you behave because they will always be watching. And they will most likely be judging you; what you drink, how you drink it, how you dance, whether you are with a mama or if you are flying solo. I prefer to be the one who does the judging, not the other way round. I like to sit at the club and watch as drama unravels. Fly on the wall. But you cannot be a fly on the wall when you have this uneasiness of someone watching you. You can feel their eyes gnawing at your back.
So yeah, I lied. I looked at the guy straight in the eye and said, “I do not know what you are talking about.”
“You are not Magunga?”
“Magunga. The blogger?”
“No, I do not know Maganga. I am John Odhiambo from KCB.”
“No. Not Maganga. M-A-G-U-N-G-A. Magunga Williams. Google him. You guys look alike. You will thank me later.”
“Sawa. I will Google your friend, William Mganga.” And just before he could lecture me on how to pronounce my own name, I offered him a fist bump and melted into the crowd.
So here I was again. I had just lied to this girl that I am Ken. I do not even know why I chose Ken. Such a short name. Ends just as it begins. Does not even leave your tongue with much to chew on. Mbothe was dancing and Chess had started unbuttoning his shirt. Those are red flags. Indication that their red blood cells had already been soaked with booze. Meaning I could not stay for long. Not with the lady in black and white still around. Otherwise, at some point Jamo would come up to me suddenly, throw his hands around my shoulder and say, “MAGUNGAAAAA! You know I love you like a brother, man, Waaaadefuaaa!” the way he usually likes to shout people’s names and confess his undying love and loyalty when he is drunk, and then my cover would be blown.
I excused myself to go to the gents, and then midway, Kibz bumped into me. The hunt hadn’t not go so well. “Maze Scratch imekauka leo. Hii ni club ama ni JKUAT?” He sucked his teeth and I laughed at his lamentation. As he walked on, I turned right and brexited the club. The night accepted me like a prodigal child returning home. On the Uber ride to the diggz, I thought of her for a brief moment, wondered what how long she would wait for my return. If she would be slightly pissed at my Irish exit; how I severed myself from her existence just like that.
Do not flatter yourself, dude. You were all right, but you probably didn’t mean that much to her. She will be fine, a voice said.
I chuckled and said out loud, “There has to be a compliment in there somewhere.”
“Ati unasema?” The Uber guy asked.
“Uh-uh. Nothing. Ni pombe zangu zinaniongelesha.”
I think she said her name was Faith.