It was one of those days when the sky would open up and then close again. The rains would fall down to the earth in short bursts and be immediately followed by the sun like a person who wanted to say something and then thought better of it. When the sun would shine back down it looked like hell was right beneath the roads, a film of steam would rise from the tarmac and be swept forward by the wind before all evidence of rain would disappear.
At night it rained again. This bout of rain found me at a bar and I went outside to look at it. The best thing about January rain in Kenya is that it’s not too cold and it was possible to stand beneath the shelter provided and allow splatters of it to fall on my hands and if the wind allowed find its way to my face.
Then it was time to go home. I was very alert that day it being one of my low-no alcohol days still I had let too much time pass before I left. Conversation kept ebbing and flowing and taking me in different directions. Added to this I had just received news that made me a little sad. A girl I like had a boyfriend. It wasn’t heart-breaking news, I doubt she knew I liked her but it provoked sadness in me at the thought of paths not taken that never would be. Dreams I had constructed would never have the chance of forming themselves into reality instead they were blown away into mist like the drops of rain that kept falling.
So I walked towards my matatus. It was much later than I had thought it was because there were no more. It’s easy to see when there aren’t any because I take my matatus at Odeon. At night there is row after row of matatus parked down that street like troops in an army and the one you’re looking for is the only one with a beret on its head. A signpost telling you that they are open for business. But I had broken my glasses and I mistrusted my ability to see the beret from so far and I started down the road.
It’s a road filled with light and life even at that time. Matatu touts and drivers and petrol attendants and other pedestrians fill it up going about the business of life. I got close enough to see there weren’t any matatus when I felt someone touch me from behind. In one of those slowdowns of life that happen when you are pumped with adrenaline a lot of things seemed to follow on but in slow motion, “brathe unataka camera?” –my brother do you want a camera?. He said to me. At the same time I moved back into the light taking note of his facial features. He was tall and lanky, he had a long face and a dental structure that was shared by his brother. Oh that was the third thing, towards the direction he was pushing me towards there was another man who was definitely this one’s brother smiling sheepishly at me.
There was now a distance of perhaps 2 metres between us. This was enough distance to turn around and run and shout and draw the attention of all the life that was at my back. But something told me not to make any sudden moves, maybe it was the first man because he said, “unadhani unaweza shinda risasi?” do you think you can outrun a bullet? At this time I had put myself on complete charm offensive. I was smiling and holding out my hands and saying in the most placating tone I could, “relax, relax.” While being ready to hightail it out of there. I walked back like this and then they left and I went to matatu stop number two.
At this time adrenaline was running through me. I wasn’t sure yet what had just happened. Had someone offered to sell me a camera, had someone offered to give me a bullet? The night changes at times like those. It’s not so fluid anymore you wouldn’t notice the rain falling down but maybe you would see the individual drops. Danger has a way of breaking things apart into many tiny, tiny pieces. Of making seconds into mini and micro, of making movements into threatening gestures and preparations to strike, of making people into potential threats and places into potential hideouts.
I noticed someone behind me. He was walking way too fast. I could hear his footsteps even though the night was not particularly deserted. So I stopped and watched him. His hurry seemed to disappear and then he crossed the road. The thing of it was I had to cross this road too and so I kept an eye on him for a while as he kept an eye on me. I watched him walk too far away for it to be possible to turn around and face me. Then I made sure to walk in the midst of people . The streets had that streetlight glow at that time. The yellow bounced down off the puddles of water that had come when the sun had left. People walked alone and in pairs oblivious of anything that was happening. It looked safe but it sure as hell didn’t feel safe.
There are times I hate living in Nairobi.