Living in Nairobi means there’s things I can’t wake up to do; like watching the sunrise, dancing in the rain, or smelling the coffee. I’d love to watch the sunrise. Feel the virgin warmth of the first rays caress the cold goose bumps on my skin. Watch the sleepy city rouse from its deep slumber as the weariness of dusk settles into the smooth yawn of dawn: and write about it. But, I love my sleep. I love my sleep like the newspaper guy in a red newspaper jacket which is sometimes a blue newspaper jacket loves the tipple.
I like how rowdy he is in a non-nauseating way. It borders on charming. He kind of grows on you, like a kindergarten crush. His sobriety is an urban legend. People talk about it but no one has ever seen it. Or seen him, un-staggering, un-reeking of cheap dyed methanol, un-blood shot eyes, un-funny – not that his humor is tied to his sobriety but… He is always up, before the rest of us. But I don’t think he enjoys the sunrise. Unless sunrise is the name to a sister vodka brand that’s named after the moon. His name is Nyaga.
Short guy, stuck in the no man’s land that is skinny and fat, with rheumy eyes and always has something to say. Always. Might have something to do with the fact that he sells newspapers. But you could be talking about the Oscars and he will weigh in. Or chip in. Depending on the weather. God knows he knows he doesn’t know what the Oscars are but he will claim to know the guy. Swear on his sober days that they once grabbed a drink and dare you to prove they didn’t. He wears red sandals that are worn thin and have straps akin to bikini bottom. Akin, *chuckles* what am I? Fourteen? He carries around a bunch of newspapers under his arm like a bad decision. He is always whistling, this Nyaga guy. Might be to the first thing he heard in the morning or the last thing.
For the past two weeks he has been missing in action. The stage hasn’t been the same without him. He is one of those people that you don’t really pay much attention to until they are gone. Kind of like not watching weight. You’re just a normal slender guy with nothing to worry about. Two jobs, liters of beer, kilos of ribs, two girlfriends and a side chick later the doctor starts telling you all these unromantic things. Unnecessary things.
‘Boss you should watch what you eat’.
‘Is that a new movie? Series? Sitcom?’ you quip.
‘Doc, let me be straight with you…’ you will continue. Like all your life you’ve been gay with him. Like during those moments of endoscopy Marvin Gaye was playing in the background. Like when the cold stethoscope sent goose bumps down your spine you swore you could hear him hum to Rihanna’s Russian roulette. Specifically that part. That part she talks, or sings, about hearing a heart beating. That part the song hits a climax. Yes, that part.
‘My movie guy is shit’ you will say. ‘He takes the latest tag on his signs too literally. Never has anything new. Never. I doubt I will find that. Si you hook me up with your guy?’
‘Very funny Shad. But listen…’
When doctors use the words but and listen together their tone changes. Shit gets real. Your life is about to change. It’s like when you say “I do”. Two words that change your life. Some for the better, some for the worse and some for both better and worse. Damn vows.
‘Your pressure is off the charts. Look at this, does it look normal to you?’
He won’t even let you answer. He knows it doesn’t look normal. He also knows you wouldn’t know what normal looked like. So he keeps going. Like your opinion is invalid. Unwanted. Like your wife in your mother’s kitchen.
‘You need to lay off the beer buddy.’
‘What about the women?’
‘What about them?’
‘Do I lay off them too?’
‘Yes. You’ll crush them, with the weight.’
‘Very funny doc. Very funny.’
‘Take care. And remember, lay off the beer.’
As you walk out you will turn and think about asking about his movie guy. Because it’s true, your movie guy is shit. But you just walk away, out of the hospital, past the maternity ward and you finally hear it. Your labored breathing.
So, Nyaga, missing in action.
It’s weird that after all this time; the rains, the dry hot winds, the ill-dressed ladies he gives a piece of his mind to, the running after cars to slide in the daily, I had never looked at Nyaga as a fellow human. A man like myself. He was always just an idea. That fellow that got up early in the morning to get the paper so the rest of us can wake up in the morning and get the paper. I did not think about his family or lack of one thereof. Did he have children? Did they have children? Past his groggy voice clouted in drunk self-confidence I’ve never really noticed him. Like him him. Not the newspaper seller in a red jacket sometimes blue, worn sandals with bikini bottom like straps; who knows a guy named Oscar.
But I think it’s mutual. Every time we meet I can see it in his eyes as he tries to remember my name. A name I’ve never told him. He knows me by the house number. So in my world he is an idea and in his I am a number. Maybe, just maybe I will catch the sunrise this week. In the process, hopefully catch him too. Tell him my name and joke about this imaginary doctor that thinks I should lay off beer.