The smell of stale cigarette smoke is hovering all over my head. The sounds of unsophisticated contemporary music is invading the air― Furi Furi by Jimmy Gait being one of them― and I’m left wondering why such songs play here, in this bar, or any bar for that matter. But on second thoughts, the difference between Furi furi and Bend-Over is almost close to none. I always struggle to tell Kenyan Christian music and Kenyan secular music apart. Telling them apart lately, for me, is harder than calculus because the likes of Jua kali and DK Kwenye Beat are all like one jumbled mesh. In fact to compare these songs to calculus perjure calculus. Is it true that Sari sari by D.K Kwenye Beat is a Christian song too?
The bar is full. People are going about their usual Friday business; relaxing, talking, laughing or getting to know each other. All that plus the smelly armpits of the guy who just passed next to me almost sends me on a frenzy.
I’ve been here for the last one hour, give or take. Maybe for a beer or two; maybe just to get distracted from myself. I’m the last person I want to be around and I have a feeling this place is exactly what I need, yes, need, not want.
This dude approaches me and quickly throws a glance at the empty seat next to me. I’m not sure why. Probably it’s because it’s the only free seat in the crowded bar.
“Can I?” he asks, his left eyebrow slightly raised. I nod. I pull out my phone from the front pocket of my pants to check the time; its 8.05 pm. The night is way too young with time moving at a tortoise’s speed. I thought it was ten! Jeez! Time usually plays a prank on us. When you want it to move, it rests pretty; gives you a snobbish look, but wait until you need it. Just wait.
So here I am. The mysterious dude is throwing glances at me back and forth. I watch him from the corner of my eye. God knows I did not come here to socialize. My seat is at the bar’s counter, the high one such that my feet are dangling there briefly before I rest them on the horizontal bars wrapped around it. He sits next to me.
“Southern Comfort.” He says to the bartender.
My eyes are firmly fixed on the upper bottles as the bartender stretches his legs to reach them. If only I could get paid for my short stories, I would buy one of those expensive whiskeys. If only. I’m suddenly engulfed with a longing for the life I never had, wishing for all I could ever be. I’ve always been convinced that my stories are good. My friends tell me as much and so do random acquaintances whenever I get a chance to show them. But I recently read somewhere that it’s not a good idea to subject your pals to that; the argument is, that if he says ‘I’m sorry pal, but this sucks like a vacuum cleaner’, you’ll be hurt. But I’m not convinced that an unbiased opinion is exactly what I’m looking for, not really, so I may not break that ‘showing’ habit soon. A writer’s life is tedious and who better to attest to that than me? If only kwani? or The East African or the New Yorker could write back, just so I know they receive the stories. Just that.
“Hi!” the mysterious dude moves his seat next to mine. “Man-U will win tonight” he says turning his eyes briefly from the large screen elevated ahead of us, to me. I’m not sure what to make of his statement. Is he a supporter of Man-U or an adversary? I don’t want to find out either. Manchester United vs Arsenal FC, the caption on the bottom of the Samsung screen says, 1: 0 at 60 minutes.
I have a feeling he wants to engage in small talk but I’m not in the mood for any of it. I respond to his greeting though, but comment nothing about the match. I don’t have the heart to tell him that I’m no fan of football, and even if I was, I don’t want to talk. My eyes hardly leave the bottle in front of me, not once, hoping he will get the signal and back off. Clearly you can only engage someone who is staring at you right?
He slides his glass in my direction. It misses my beer with a whisper. Lucky for him still, the gold-brown sparkly liquid survives the flight too. Seconds later, his stool is close to mine. I sign and look at him with exasperation.
“What do you want?” I shoot!
“Nothing! do you have some kind of problem with my being here tonight?” he says, managing to extract a smile from me, but only briefly because sooner I can imagine that face I had earlier in the evening when I stared in the mirror while doing my lipstick. A look of misery. A look of pain. A look of disappointment and despair about everything that’s going on. I have been sending out short stories since I was 20 to the East African, New Yorker, etc., and not once has any of it been published. No feedback, no nothing. Now I’m 25. Lately I’ve been thinking about a novel. What if its destiny is like that of the short stories? I want to be all upbeat and invite this stranger into a conversation but nah.
“I’m William!” he says, stretching his hand toward me. Clearly this is one hell of a determined fellow and a bad reader of moods.
“Gabriella.” I lie, in a soft husky voice, finally raising my head up.
He looks fine to me. I want to ask him more about him, like what he does for a living and so on, but I decide not to. Probably he is a trained stalker because his actions this evening have been proof of that. I look away again. My beer is warmer and almost over.
“I’m a writer, an editor,” he volunteers, and for the first time I light up and turn my entire pose to face him. The thoughts of chatting the evening away with a fellow writer are beginning to get more and more potent. He is a middle aged man, probably early forties medium built, dark, and all. I can’t tell how his face exactly looks like because of the dimly lit bar and the black hat on his head. I move to the front of my seat, then I lean back properly. I call the waiter and order for more of the Tusker Baridi. I feel like I suddenly need to access the bathroom so I tell the bar attendant not to open the new bottle as I gulp the remnants of my immediate one. I walk to the bathroom all the while sensing that the mysterious dude staring at me. For the first time I actually feel the desire to get to know him rise in me. I regret why I didn’t get dressed for the evening. I regret my faded blue baggy jeans and the shirt and the old school sneakers and the makeup fee face? Ha! If only I knew! I think to myself, but it’s too late for any regrets now, right?
There’s nothing in my bladder. Oops! False alarm. I stare at myself in split bathroom mirror. I crease off the beige shirt with my hands and smile a bit. I look at my teeth in case of any Sukuma Wiki deposits from my dinner earlier, nothing! Good. I wash my hands and dry them with the discolored paper towels, the only ones I usually use anyway. Beggars can’t be choosers, remember? I look at my face some more. My honey fair skin is not as radiant anymore. Sunburns are all over the forehead and cheekbones. This is the price of being broke. There’s nothing in my purse to spruce it up, not even a compact.
Why am I this worked up anyway?
I settle in my chair, this time more willing to entertain somebody.
“So, Gabriella, how come you’re here alone tonight?” he puts a slur on Gabriella and I can sense he’s not convinced about Gabriella being my real name. Maybe it’s a gift. Most writers tend to detect lies. It’s too late. Can’t change it!
“And why shouldn’t I be?” I say as I watch him remove the hat and place it on the table. Maybe late thirties. His bushy and unkempt hair which should repulse me suddenly has the opposite effect. With the beard and the light mustache well in place, I’m certain that that hair is just a signature look. For some artists, that’s a way of saying, ‘look, I’m an artist!’ “Anyway, you told me you’re a writer; what exactly do you write?” I ask him.
“William.” He pauses. “Samba?” He says, tilting the head from one side to another in a slow motion. Like he’s trying to jog my memory. You know, like I’m somehow supposed to know him. William samba. William samba. I search all the places in me that may have met a person by that name, but nah, doesn’t ring a bell. Use your medulla oblongata kid! The voice of my primary school teacher echoes in my head. Later of course, I learned that the hippocampus was responsible for memory, not the medulla oblongata. But hell? That phrase just never goes away, does it?
Back to the bar. What’s with this dude? Am I just supposed to know him? The guy surely self-possessed, thinking that by just floating his name around, people have to know who he is. The unintended consequence is me wanting to leave. Anywhere else, but next to this guy. I have no time to massage the ego of ‘some celeb’ incase he’s one because I’ve never been good at that. With my beer in my hand, I rise from the stool and push through the narrow crowded paths to the well-lit pool table.
“Guys I’m next!” I book. There are no women here. Since I started frequenting this bar I’ve somehow noticed that women don’t usually play pool here so most of the time I usually play against guys and I usually beat them at it.
“I’m playing against Gabriella” the stalker says right behind me. His voice, halfway between an alto and tenor, echoes in my ears a long time after. I set up the balls. We’re standing on extreme sides and I can see he’s slightly shorter than me by an inch or so, about 5’8, but well-built once he relinquishes his jungle green coat exposing the muscular arms underneath the well-fitting green stripped t-shirt. A short while later, we begin the match. Whoever loses, will buy a drink for the winner, he proposes and I agree. What if I were to lose? God knows how broke I am. Seriously, how can I not be? With my track record on the pool table, I’m confident of a win though. Three matches, my confidence is utterly shattered. What happened to my proficiency in matters pool? I could swear that I’m so good at it, so what is wrong? I’ve been off the edge this entire evening, which I know, but that has never stopped me from kick-assing. I toss my stick aside, look at his shiny forehead, his flat nose and I disguised smile. He’s gorgeous, I conclude. But I still can’t recall who he is or why he may assume that I know him or his name. I manage to smile in surrender. Maybe I should just leave; go home. He invites me for a drink after the match and I say yes.
“So, you’re that good, ha!” I say as we settle onto the low seats at the balcony. The streets of Nairobi are empty. Few cars and even fewer human traffic can be spotted; strange for a Friday night. We are overlooking the entire Tom Mboya Street, mesmerized by the architectural beauty underneath us, a sight that only empty streets can make you see. Then it starts to drizzle outside. Sounds of thunder can be heard from the horizons. From the look of it, the rain won’t be as intense, at least not in the CBD.
“You are good at playing pool. I haven’t met anyone so challenging.” Is he kidding me? After trouncing me in pool like that?
“Wacha kunipaka mafuta kwa mgongo wa chupa! I bet you say that to all the girls you meet.” I say. He says nothing, waving the comment away and sipping his whiskey. So there are other girls! Silence means yes. No comment means yes.
“I’m glad to see you smiling. You look different now. You should smile more.” I do the same exact thing he did a while ago; I wave the comment away.
“So Gabriella, who are you?”
“You’re sure you want to do this? Ask me who I am?” I say, sipping my bottle. “You know my friends tell me that interacting with a writer is something one should be careful about. Whatever you say, they insist, will end up on paper, somehow. It’s not about if, you see, but about when and how. So we sit and talk and before I know it, some story with me in it is shaping up.” I say. He nods and laughs as I tail in the laughter.
“So writers are traitors?” he says. “Writers are traitors.” He says, as if trying to convince himself or to hear himself out.
“More or less.” I say, turning to stare at the rain, sifting through the well-lit street and the brown water flowing towards Globe Cinema, spattered all over by moving cars.
“And what is your non-treacherous profession?” he is bluffing.
“I write too.” I say.
He lights up, but only briefly. I can sense he’s not convinced. Whatever. I conclude that probably even he was lying earlier to me anyway. He probably has added to the Gabriella lie and made it two.
“What a coincidence! Have you published anything?” he asks, trying to be gentle. Published. Published. It must be the worst word of any unpublished author, because society equates being good with being published and being bad with being unpublished. The question sort of rocks my demons.
“Do all writers have to be published, Mr. William Samba?”
“I’m just making conversation Gabriella.”
“Well it’s all inauspicious, mister. I gotta go. This is a complete waste of time.” I say, rising up from my seat, picking up my coat and my handbag.
“Wait!” he says, grabbing my arm. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.” I feel a gush of warmth. I feel some care. Some rare charm and suavity. How nice… nevertheless I snap back. One is to shake him off, the other is just to prove point a point to myself.
“You didn’t mean to be offensive, well, I didn’t mean to meet you here tonight either. Shit happens.” I say, untangling my hand from his palm and jog downstairs.
“Can I at least drop you at home?” he wants a shag, there! Why else would he talk of ‘home’ with a chic he just met just an hour ago? I turn a deaf ear to that. I’m downstairs, at the exit where he has just joined me. What’s wrong with this guy? “No more interrogations. I promise.” I look inside my purse and only a fifty shilling note is staring at me as I inspect the different compartments of my wallet. On second thoughts, I could use a free ride home.
He leads me to a Toyota Caldina parked across the street and starts the car. I’m in a car with a perfect stranger, something I’ve never done before? What if he’s some kind of sociopath who is luring me with his charm and suaveness? I’ve read enough Ann Rule to know that there’s no badge to tell what who is dangerous and who isn’t. So why am I taking chances with some stranger? The long answer is “I don’t know”. The short answer is “I don’t know”. I just feel the need to be here, right now. I stroke his thighs a bit and lean in. I part his lips with mine. They are firm, but softly moistened and sweet. “Gabriella, Gabriella!” he says pulling away from me. “You’re drunk” he says and for the first time I manage to look into his eyes, all wet. I say nothing. I’m not drunk, I’m perfectly aware of what I’m doing, but how foolish could I be?
We do little talking on the way home ―about writing or otherwise. Dago, where I’ve been crashing with friends since I don’t know when, is roughly 20 minutes on a jam free Nairobi. On the way here, the ostensible silence carries the day due to me feeling like I’ve been enough of a jerk for one night and I can sense he’s afraid of saying anything offensive. Deep down I wish I could talk about writing or he would talk about his writing. Anything writing. It seems we’ll never know what either of us writes about, will we?
He pulls over at my gate and gets out, shortly arriving at my door and before I know it we’ve locked lips once more only that this time he’s doing more of the work and my tongue is far too deep in his mouth. I let go, enjoying the sweet kiss and the deeply masculine arms, radiating this nice cologne he’s wearing engulfs my sense of smell and is in generous supply in the air, taking over the drizzly night air. A mild thunder roars and before we know it, heavy painful drops of rain are falling on us. My untended Nigerian Lines with heavy growth are soaking up fast and so is my face with was directly facing the direction of impact. He quickly opens the hind door and with me in his arms, we collapse inside, not untangling from the kiss for one bit. Then we both burst into a loud laughter. We lock lips once more. I’m sober, I was right when I stepped out of the bar and so am I now. Sober like a Pope.
“Are you sure Gabriella?” he whispers several times over through the corner of his mouth, stretches to the front, switching off the headlights and the engine. He then opens up a case and gets protection which he swiftly rips off. Before I know is that my pants are flying off to the front seats, his too, sound of soft mourning and panting are lingering in the air, a short while later, and I’m begging him not to stop. It’s exciting as it is adventurous and my mind is literally spinning at three hundred and sixty degrees.
My thoughts are running wild when I exit the car, probably an hour later. I don’t know what to make of his thoughts. Maybe he thinks I’m a whore. This is new territory for me too. Could this be just a one night stand? I thought that’s the kind of stuff that’s supposed to keep a person, especially a woman, off-balance, used and morally bankrupt and all those mean adjectives that people use, but no. The effect is surprisingly opposite for me. I feel emancipated. And happy. I’d do it all over again if I had to.
I’m sure I’ll never see this dude again, which painful, ironically so, considering how little I know him. I smile with satisfaction as I laid in bed later that night, thinking that that was probably the best shag I’ve ever had.
……….TO BE CONTINUED………