He sits next to the window, eyes steadily fixed outside the window pretending to look at Nairobians buzzing through the streets. In real sense, he is staring at nothing.
Nairobians, you should see yourselves when walking down the streets in town. You walk with a spring in your steps that would make a dejected soul shrink with depression. Why? You all look rich. Comfortable. Happy. And very beautiful. Even the men look beautiful. In some type of way.
Sitted alone, he looks like one of those guys who studied in the primary school next door. Those schools where the friction between your behind and the wooden chair is too high till aeration proves essential over the years. Maybe it is the quirky way his nose keeps twitching or something else I can’t quite place a finger on that makes me think he is the kind that can sing local Kikuyu songs off head. By the way, is there any Kenyan mugithi artist who doesn’t possess a godfather hat bigger than Trump’s mouth?
Having seen the gray side of life, he came to the big city with the hope of seeing the white. With the hope of changing the situation at home. Show me one Nairobian who isn’t a messiah of sorts to his people in the village. The city has not disappointed him. No, Nairobi never disappoints. It is the city under the sun, after all. The place from which people return to the villages with fairer skin, smoothed accent, new clothes and other things. Don’t we all know that impression we Nairobians love to give our folks back in the village?
Njuguna is gradually discovering that the city has the most beautiful and curviest of women. Women who just one look at them tells a lot about the time at which or the mood God was in when sculpting them. Women whose mere movement hypnotizes even the holiest of men. Women who are too symmetrical to be real. Wairimu, his village crush, pales in comparison to this goodness he has seen here in the city.
Like any red blooded male, he’d love to have a woman to go back to when night falls. I mean, who wouldn’t love to have a soft-bodied creature, outside his immediate family, who sees him as something? But, he just can’t afford a relationship at this point of his life. Relationships are expensive. We just never care to admit it.
He paid his rent arrears just the other day, bought 2 more plates and cups and added a sufuria to his small collection of utensils in Kawangware. Njuguna lives in a four-walled house somewhere in Kawangware. When dancing the Yemi Alade type of dances, he can reach both walls with his two hands out stretched. If he ever trips and topples over, he just might find his leg inside the neighbor’s sufuria. During the day, the house is as hot as the oil they sautéed John the Revelator in and cold as a chiwawa’s nose during the nights. It is no palace. But for a guy who has suffered under the brutal hand of relatives, it is a safe haven. Si we all know what happens when you get to Nairobi for the first time and you have to be the designated maid in your uncle’s house even though they promised your mother that they are bringing you to the city to give you a real job.
He is left with just enough to last him through the month till his next paycheck. You see, when you come to the city, the folks back at home believe that the moment your bus lands in the city, you start earning a salary with immediate effect. So, when you don’t send money by the end of the first month, they start calling or sending please call me messages. If you happen not to send by the next month, they send your small brother in jacket with a plump chicken tucked under his arm and a small sack of maize to ‘go check how his big brother is doing’. Mark cue, Njuguna should make sure Kamau returns to the village with something. Something is another name for money. Isn’t it?
He went to town today. Does Industrial area qualify as town? Because that is where he goes for vibarua. He looks clean and smells fine for a guy who spends the whole day breaking his back in his industrial area. Pardon me if I just sounded crass after what I just said. You could call me a Nairobian with a strong sense of smell. In Kenya, your profession greatly dictates how you smell. For example, you can’t miss the excruciatingly strong scent of a campus student’s perfume that goes by a name only a mwalalo can pronounce properly. You also can’t mistake the scent of the middle-class working generation of men in Kenya who are loyal customers to Nivea and Versman. Don’t mention akina brethren, wao hutumia Vaseline.
The last few days have been difficult for him. One look at him and you can decipher that. Trust me, any of us can smell a depressed Nairobian from a distance. Maybe it is his faded jeans or his rather disturbingly dry lips that spikes my curiosity as I squeeze my lean behind in the seat next to his. Or, is it the haunted manner in which his gaze keeps darting outside the window like a man with a legion of demons hot on his heels? I don’t know. One look at his chapped nails and I knew that Njuguna is a Kenyan with a story to tell.
So when the conductor gives him extra change of 450. (he had given out 100 and he was to be given 50 bob back but si you know how these buses in Kenya carry extra people till there is no space to breathe or bat your eyelashes? It looks like the conductor was not having a good day either so his mind must have confused the change or balance.
As he sits next to me all tensed and stiff like last night’s cold Ugali on a plastic plate, . I swear I that I hear the hum of his nerves. He needs the money. God knows He does. He could send it home so that the please call me messages stop coming. Better still, he could use it to buy sugar, his tea was sugarless this morning. He gives me a side glance as if asking for guidance but just like any other Nairobian who possesses white earphones, I keep scrolling nonchalantly on my phone like I don’t give a rat’s ass. In real sense, I am waiting to see how this turns out. A Nairobian’s blood is always brooding for some drama.
Were it in his power, Njuguna would jump out of the moving bus but instead, keeps his narrow behind firm in his seat. A Kenyan knows better than to jump from a moving vehicle. He sits there fidgeting like a guy who is about to ask his crush for a dates, his clammy and sweaty palms clinging to his phone which is chapped at the edges.
For a moment, I am tempted to reach out and touch his arm in comfort or solidarity (lol) but then again, this is Nairobi. I keep my hands to myself and lurch forward as the vehicle suddenly stops at my stage. I sway my imaginary hips off the bus.
All shall be well, I mutter. Half to myself. Half to Njuguna and any other Kenyan who has ever been given extra change by the conductor when they are broke.