I met this lady in a mat. The guy sitting next to me had alighted just as we got to the Valley Road dip; where there’s a cross over for guys going or coming from Nairobi hospital. It was raining.
The scorched earth and browning grass that looked like a tuft of golden hair on a white mans head must’ve been overly relieved. Like the first beer after a long hard week. We all knew I’d sneak that in somewhere there. If you didn’t know then this must be your first time. Let me just tell you it’s going to be underwhelming. Until the fourth maybe fifth time. When I get my rhythm. Then you might possibly like me. Moving on.
Rain in Nairobi is synonymous with traffic. Nairobi traffic is like instant coffee. Just add water. But at least instant coffee is choosy. You can only add hot water. Nairobi traffic is a whore for water. So cold does fine. Ugly too. Old. Ratchet. Just add water and voila, instant traffic. And, for some reason I was stuck in the only matatu with a law abiding driver. No overlapping. No sneers. The frigging saint Peter of drivers. In heaven there must be a picture of him and a copy of his drivers license and a welcome party. It was like he was up for the spear of the Golden what is that award again? It also didn’t have any music. The seats looked like they needed to take a seat. The raindrops on the windows looked like tears. It was a sad bus. I hate sad buses. You don’t know if you should pay fare or tell them a joke.
She comes and sits next to me. The lady. Probably from the back bench. The back bench is the worst place to sit. You get thrown around more than a chap applying for a passport at Nyayo house. You’re the middle child when you seat at the back. You get ignored. You develop drug problems. You run away from home. You got pregnant at 12. You crave for attention. You just want a warm hug and to be told you’re loved. You want the new clothes and not the hand me downs. You want to be refered to as you and not brother ya nani. The backseat is a whole identity crisis. Like migingo. A gay guy at a lesbian bar. Dating twins. Getting lost in China. Giving the bouncer a fake ID.
She sits next to me. I look at her and our eyes meet. They say hi to each other. Go out for coffee. And have a beautiful relationship. She has a round face. And light skin. The natural light. It’s not like her skin went on a diet. Maybe the gym. And lost weight. No. Hers just came light. Its default setting. Also, she didn’t really smell of anything. No cologne or perfume and thank God no sweat. Body odor follows you home like a stray puppy. She smiled and I sort of smiled back and looked outside the window. I could feel her stare. It wasn’t hard. It was soft. Brushed my cheek and turned my face. So I looked at her. She smiled again and asked where we were.
That’s when I noticed she had an accent. Her accent was different. It rolled out naturally and left her tongue like a model on the runway. She wore it like a sundress at a fashion high tea event. Or it wore her like a sundress at a fashion high tea event. It agreed with her. It was like her words made love inside her mouth and gave birth to amazing enunciated sentences. Each syllable was sexy. Her tongue was thick. Not fat. Not obese. Not overweight. It was thick. A beautiful thick. The Africanness in her voice was heavenly. I’ve never appreciated a voice as much as I did this one. I just wanted her to keep on talking. Seemed like it wasn’t only me because traffic barged. Charmed by her voice.
I looked outside the window and realized we were still on Valley Road. Traffic was crazy and the driver was sane. But we were at some point on Valley Road without any discernible explanation. Like getting caught pants down. Going cliche and giving the whole it’s not what it looks like speech. Wondering why the hell she can’t dress up any faster and leave. We’re right outside chancery. But this Nairobi unless you’re working at Scanad or go to China Plate you’d have no idea where that is. The closest building I can say is integrity center. And so I do. I tell her we’re at integrity center and she looks down the her phone and types away.
I had sort of hoped that question would open up to something leading. Like maybe she asks where we are and I reply with something witty. Like; our eyes are on the third date but we’re going for our first. You know? Wit. But you only think of these after. You hate yourself for it and promise to be better next time. I dare myself to ask her a question. Make conversation. And so I do.
‘Where are you going?’
Those words roll out of my mouth and I feel stupid. A feeling that’s foreign in parliament. Where else would she be going. To heaven? With the driver? Well she might have been as we because she smiles. God bless her soul.
At this point she could say the alphabet and I’d be fine; just listening to her voice. I nod. I want to ask if it’s a boy-friend. But it’s too soon. For us at least. Our eyes on the other hand are already making wedding plans. Plus her voice is Jhene Aiko and mine is Chameleon.
There was an awkward silence between us for a few seconds. A silence that made me shift in my seat. Although from her tone I could tell she wasn’t being curt. I could’ve done with an extra ‘to see my friend’ or ‘to meet someone like you’ or the more plausible ‘because my voice has a scheduled manicure.’ Because let’s be honest her voice looked like the kind to get a manicure. And go for spa dates. And drink sweet reds. And savor dry whites. And enjoy a good book in the tub with scented candles.
She looks at me. At this point our eyes are already at their honeymoon. The jam is not doing me any favors and the rain is down to a lazy drizzle. I figure best way out of this scenario is to tell her I’m walking the rest of the way to town. In my head, I figure she’ll snap up the idea and insist we walk together. She looks like a walker. Extra inches when she sits. If you get my drift. So I do that. Tell her I’m walking. I swear I can see it in her eyes. She’s contemplating joining me. Plus she hasn’t slid over the the side to let me pass. Then she asks.
‘Na hii mvua’
It’s actually more of a statement. Showered in concern. And a heavy ‘this could be us but you want to walk in the rain don’t you see I got a weave’ intonation.
And it hits me. Hard. Like hot stuffy air in a high school classroom. Like an April fools joke gone wrong. Like a nail getting head from a hammer. Like the last econometrics paper I sat for. Like waking up to find I’m a girl and having to choose between pink and fuchsia for my lipstick. Our eyes would now have to divorce.
I’m not really a romantic guy but come on. I appreciate a good walk in the rain if it means getting to town faster than sitting in a sad bus.