Koinange street blues
It’s a cursed night for the green city under the sun. Dark. Cold. Gloomy. Lightening flashes as the heavens pour out their wrath on Nairobi. Every street is overflowing with water. A homeless man pulls polythene covers over his legs. He is part of a street family that is huddled around each other, shivering on one of the dry pavements. A toddler scared of the lightening screams in the midst of the group. A slap from her drunken mother shuts her up.
Someone coughs loudly and another responds in kind. There is some movement and after a few minutes the only sound from the group is heavy snoring. On a day such as this, even the most ruthless of watchmen won’t bother kicking the street families off the warm pavements.
I watch from the wet Koinange Street waiting. It doesn’t take long. I see my wife coming. I scream and run towards her.
“I am going to kill you!” I yell. She yells back and we are soon pushing and shoving each other. Like most of our other fights, I am on the loosing side. I pull her roughly, as hard as I can in my drunkard state. She trips and knocks me over. We both fall on the ground. Her short skirt is lifted up and her near naked behind exposed. A watchman pulls me away from her and she slaps me hard. I try to stand but my legs give way. The watchman steadies me and I am on my feet. “Go home you useless man,” she yells.
“Whore!” I yell back.
Michael, another watchman comes over and holds me. He has known me for years. “Tulia boss” he says. I respect the man. I have known him for years, from way back when I worked for the government and the man always called me boss. I hold onto him and he pulls me to a dry corner and we sit there together.
He lights a cigarette and smokes it for a while. Smoking in Nairobi streets is illegal but who will arrest you at night?
My wife, Njeri stands on the road with other girls, all half naked. Some o f the clothes they have on look like beach wear though it’s chilling to the bone. Freeze and shine, they say here. The naked girls run towards every car, whistle at it or stand near the road and shake their waists seductively. They call it ‘catching a client’. Between the waiting for the client and the shaking of waists, joints are smoked, bottles of cheap whisky shared and smoking never stops.
I watch Njeri, tears in my eyes. I pull out a cheap bottle of whisky and sip it. Michael looks at me.
“This shit is no good,” I say showing him the bottle which reads Led Label. “In my days, you remember I used to take the real shit”.
He pats my shoulder and gives me his half smoked cigarette. I put it in my mouth and let it hang there for a while, my eyes on the road. A decade ago I would drive down this road in the middle of the night and pick up Njeri, after dropping my boss in his home. I would then take her to some cheap lodging in Ngara and pay her. Those were the good old days. Days when I paid Michael a tip to take look out for trouble when the money was not enough to pay for lodging and Njeri and I would be forced to do it in the car.
That was way before they introduced the stupid graft bill. When they did and the cases were taken to court, someone had to pay the price. The law changed but the culture remains the same. The only people that don’t get bribed are the idiots. But when things go wrong, it’s only those who have nothing that stupid enough not to known who to bribe get it rough. Someone always pays the price and who better than some stupid minister’s driver. After all, wasn’t I the one who was sent to do the errands; the one that was seen handing and receiving money. My pleas fell on deaf ears and I had to serve three years for not selling him out. And when I left prison the son of a gun wouldn’t even see me. He told his security men to inform me that he didn’t associate with criminals.
Thank God for Njeri. She took me in when no one else would even talk to me. I look at her put a lollipop in her mouth and play with it. She is trying to get the driver of a BMW X6 to look her way but the sleazebag is looking at a skinnier girl on the left. I smile and pull the cigarette out of my mouth.
“The one with a lollipop had a client a few minutes ago. She is no good!” I shout out loud. The driver suddenly is interested in Njeri. He waves her over.
“No you idiot” I shout and try to get up. Michael holds me. “Let it go boss,” he says gently but his grip is so tight, I can’t get out of it.
Tears run down my cheeks and I yell out more obscenities as Njeri gets into the car and the driver takes off, after flashing me a smile and his middle finger. On this miserable street, money is everything.
I am now sobbing uncontrollably. “Don’t take it to heart boss,” Michael says and lights up another cigarette. “Your woman needs to make the money otherwise you both die of hunger.”
I look at him and say nothing. He continues smoking and I keep sipping my Led Label from the bottle. I can’t help wondering what they are doing and it’s tearing my insides out. An hour later, the BMW appears and Njeri walks out. She walks over to me and hugs me. I hold onto her and cry some more.
“Let’s go home sweet heart,” she says. I look at her and see tears in her eyes. “Let’s go home my man,” she repeats and I hold her hand.
“Kesho Boss kama kawaida” Michael yells at us. I turn my head and smile at him praying that we don’t meet again ever.