French she spoke, between the sheets, softly seductively. Always after the words, scratch me she did. It was always in the same manner; drinks, French words, scratches. We would meet, those days on Fridays, at the usual pub down on Tom Mboya Avenue. I would have walked from Pangani, where I lived with two friends and she would drive from Kilimani where she had rented a three bedroomed apartment in a gated estate, complete with a swimming pool.
I usually arrived early and hang outside the pub with the parking boys. I would talk to them smoking my rooster cigarette until I saw her red Volvo. Then I would hurry up and get into the pub where I would ask for drinking water and pretend to watch the usual game of pool at the corner.
She would arrive, her high heels making heads turn and her pretty face keeping them looking until she would get to where I am. She would smile and stretch her small hand to me. No hugs, no kisses just a handshake.
She would sit and we’d have three- double Red Label- whisky tots in short fat glasses. On the rocks for her, the ice cubes floating on top of the drink. Classy, she would say of her drink. I took mine with coke, dark and shiny, loved sweet stuff then. The pub would be full. A Congolese guy would sing Lingala songs; Cover songs, nothing original. One minute he would be Kanda Bongo man, singing a song we all thought was about sex. The next minute it would be Pepe Kale lying about love or even Samba Mapangala telling us to dance in our youth.
The fellow has an ability to change his voice like a chameleon changes colour. He did the same with women. But in those days, we all changed with situations. We were a nation of chameleons. Nothing was original. We knew that. We lived with it.
She would sit at the end of the counter, right below the president’s picture. Behind doors, she and I refereed to him as Danny boy. That was before the sheets or sometimes long after. The joke in itself was an offence worthy of capital punishment. At the pub on the Fridays, I would sit next to her, my right thigh touching her left.
The smell of her sweet perfume would drown the smell of too many sweaty bodies stuffed in an old room with no air conditioning. We would stare at the badly arranged counters in silence.
The whisky bottles were in between the bottles of beer. There were several decade old posters of drinks that had only been available during the colonial days. A huge black and white TV was placed on the upper most shelf of the counters. It would be switched on only during news times.
Behind us, the fake Pepe Kale would let his voice rise up, stirring up feelings of frustrations, bent up emotions; straightening and changing them into danceable moves. Call girls would shake their bottoms seductively, trying to get the rich civil servants to take them home. They loved the artists, enjoyed their company but artists couldn’t put bread on the table. Overweight civil servants were the crème’ de la crème’; hate them but you needed them.
Frustrated fellows would drown their beer talking about things that didn’t matter; keeping their real thoughts well tucked into their hearts. A joke about how a catholic father lost in Nairobi for the first time found himself in a brothel was the rib cracker. Its laugh line was that when he was leaving the girls did not call him father but big daddy. Everybody would laugh even when it was no longer funny. At least it was safe. Once in a while a drunk would blab out a truth and his friends would leave the table as if it was on fire. In a couple of days we would hear the usual line. “Did you hear Karanja was arrested?”
Nobody would bother asking why. A close friend could insult him saying he should have learnt to keep his beak shut and that would be the end of it. Spies were everywhere. A friend could turn in a friend and a mother her daughter for nothing. You never knew who was a spy.
The ten o clock news usually started between the second and third tot. It was the cue for the pub to hush up and hear the usual line about the country making progress. It was also her cue to order and she would order for kuku choma and ugali. The cook would hurriedly bring it to her, placing the bill next to her. It was an open secret that she had the money and I had the looks. Not that it mattered to her. We would eat the ugali, she having most of the kachumbari while I took the most of meat. It was the way of those times. When you got, you ate all the “mnofu” you could. She didn’t mind. She could afford it. She worked for an embassy. She knew I was a struggling actor, torn between the National Theatre and V.O.K (The National TV), one foot neither here nor there. The only things I could afford were an array of friends and giving a girl a good time on her money. She preferred the second and made sure I knew I was lucky, very lucky to eat her chicken, sleep in that expensive apartment and hear her Paris taught French as she scratched my back.
In those days, we swallowed our egos, our pride and everything that came between our goals and safety.
Our trip to her apartment was long after midnight; she would by then be a fully fledged French citizen, only without legal documentations and with a wrong accent. In the morning, I would sneak off dawn. She didn’t want her neighbours to catch a glimpse of her “wanna-be actor” leaving.
I didn’t mind. A good night’s rest in a proper bed after a lovely meal and two warm showers were blessings enough. Sometimes I wondered why she liked me.
Sometime in the fifth month after the drinks, the French in between the sheets and the scratches she opened up to me.
We had learnt only to have small talk, nothing serious. She had said it was best for all of us to keep work affairs away from our conversations.
I had smiled at that. Yes her work affairs. What would I tell her about my work, unless she wanted to know which broadcaster was cheating and which female artist was seeing someone else’s husband. But in those days, cheating was the norm.
“I would leave me soon,” she said stretching her small feet out of the white sheets. The toe nails were beautifully painted with blue nail polish.
I looked at her toes then at her.
“Don’t be sad my little man. I have some information that will make me very rich and when I get there, like Jesus, I will make space for you,” she smiled at her own joke.
I smiled back thinking that the Christians are still waiting.
I didn’t see her for two months after that night. I had to see her before I went for my appointment with the president. She was in the interrogation room in one of the many houses that government had in town. She sat, without shoes, her tiny feet and toes dirty. She held a glass of plastic full of tap water and her lower lip was cracked. She looked tired, older.
When I walked in, having my dreadlocks exchanged for a short hair cut and my rugged jeans replaced by a dark suit, she stared at me trying to think. Then it hit her and she didn’t scream. Instead she smiled with knowledge.
I stood at the wall. I was sure she had some lice on her filthy clothes. For a few minutes we stared at each other. I remembered the Friday nights, the drinks, the French and the scratches. I looked at her nails; they were short, bitten and dirty.
I opened the door to leave. She muttered something. I turned. She drank the water slowly then jumped suddenly and scratched me my face. I slapped her hard. She cursed me loudly. It was in French. It was a Friday night. I moved from her arms reach and smiled.
“I have a few things to tell Danny,” I said and walked out to the GK Land rover that was waiting for me.