Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 7.42.12 AMFor a man his size his tone is soft and soothing; almost effeminate.

He says he has a family and is not used to this sort of thing. However, the missus is in a family way, and he is a man, and he has needs.

His beady eyes stare out from under bushy brows. Slowly he undoes the buttons of his plaid shirt and peals it off his wide shoulders. He places it on a solitary metal chair in a corner of the dank room and pulls down his faded blue denim trousers, draping it across the chair’s backrest. His breath reeks of tobacco, stale-alcohol, and some other stuff you can’t place.

“Wish I didn’t have to do this,” he says, pinning you onto the wooden bed, and pumping away, like his life depends on it.

With each thrust you burrow deeper into the lumpy mattress, as if to distance yourself from the act—to be no part of it. Your eyes desperately roam the mottled ceiling above. Just when you think he is winding up, he ups the tempo, your head slamming against the bed’s headboard. You shut your eyes tight and resign yourself to his pummeling. After what seems like eternity, he moans to a halt and lifts his sweaty body off you.

The second guy is a thickset man in grey canvass trousers, Safari boots and a funny green hat. He pulls off his hat to reveal a peanut shaped head. Save for a small patch of grey above his right temple, his hair is jet-black. His alert eyes dart about the room.

He grabs a blue-backed Gideon’s New Testament bible lying on the Formica topped dresser and slips it out of view. Off comes his tight- trousers and checked boxer shorts. His man-hood poised, he reaches for you but you side step him, and un-clasp your hand to reveal a packet of condoms. His hands work franticly around his crotch, the snap, snap sound of stretched latex invading the silence. His sheathed penis in his hand, he leers at your naked body. You pray he’ll not be rough.

You’d been warned—the beginning would be rough. Of course there was the assurance: with time, you’d ease into it. As if it was possible to get used to such things. Was it possible to numb the body and blank the mind; to burrow your feelings deep where they cannot be reached; to disregard the groping, roughness, penetration, violation?

“Women do it all the time. They do it for husbands they don’t love. They do it for men they want favors from. Does it really matter who or what you do it for?,” your street-hardened friend Supu had said.

It was Supu who all along, encouraged you; Supu, who gave you strength to each day drag your battered body off the thin mattress laid out in a corner of the shack you shared. The strength rise and head for the city. It was Supu who, in her optimistic voice; raspy from little sleep, cheap gin, and chain-smoking, reeled out heaps of advice:

“Just shut your eyes and think nothing of what is going on. It’s hard, but after a while you will be able to. Otherwise you will lose your mind.”

Your first encounter with Supu was in Bumba – a poorly-lit, low- roofed, dingy pub at Kangemi. A big-boobed, drunk woman in a trouser so tight it seemed to have been painted on her, had you pinned onto the mud-stained floor, your arms flailing helplessly. A flash of movement, followed by the sound of breaking glass, had your attacker slumped onto the floor, out cold. You got up to find a diminutive girl in tight jeans clutching onto the broken bottle she had used to floor your assailant.

“My friends call me Supu,” she said, grinning.

After the incident you and Supu became tight though you still did not feel ready to open up on your painful past, preferring to spin tales of an imaginary, loving family.

By and by, you let Supu in on the painful memory of a step father who first groped you at age ten. Then you tearfully, recounted how your mother, overwhelmed by work and drink, snored away as her drunken husband tore off your undergarments, and went all the way.

But even confidants seldom tell it all. And so you did not tell her how your mother, who had earlier threatened to cut off the genitals of your attacker, was the very next morning, moaning, while making out with him, and that soon, in her eyes, you transformed from victim to perpetrator.

Pea-nut-head is done. He rolls off you. His big bare feet slap against the cold floor. The realization—he’s pulled up his trousers minus his draught-board-patterned underwear, causes him to frown. His efforts at remedying the situation lands him flat on his bare arse. You smile for the first time. You are about to engage him in talk but suddenly remember Supu’s words:

“Never engage them in conversation after they are through. All conversation must be before the act and only to negotiate terms. When its’ over, their only desire is to put as much distance between themselves and you as possible.”

So you silently watch Peanut-head’s struggle into his shoes. He cranes his neck to one side and averts his gaze from everything but the floor. He slams the door hard behind him.

“Always confirm the money is still where you kept it before the bastards leave. They will think nothing of stealing it back.” Again Supu’s advice.

You stare at your black imitation leather handbag, flat on the floor where you’d tossed it. You wonder if Peanut-head’s crumpled five hundred and the other guys money is still there. You don’t remember any of them going anywhere near your hand bag. But hell! You don’t have the strength to confirm.

Your better judgment screams, so you call it a day. But you let in one last guy, a wiry character in a leather jacket. After all, the rooms got to be paid for and lots of other bills too. You swear he’ll be the last and then off to Kangemi you’ll go.

You’ve barely stuffed his money into your purse before he knocks you over, lawing and strangling you. Chocking, you fight to unclasp his hands from your neck but he hangs on. Arms flailing, legs kicking, you open your mouth and scream, but your screams do not get past his grip. He presses harder and then thrashes about like he is having an epileptic seizure. You kick and knee and gasp for air.

Suddenly he is limp and silent as though all the life has been sucked out from him. You roll off from under him, off the bed, and onto the cold hard floor. You curl up and begin to shiver. Your naked body glistens with cold sweat. It is a while before you feel the warmth creep back in. When you finally summon the strength to sit up, he’s gone and the doors wide open.

It takes a while before you finally gain the strength to limp to the shower. Your tears mingle with the stale water from the plastic Rototank reservoir above. You scrub and scrub until your skin tingles. You stand under the jetting water but the day’s dirt just won’t wash off.

It’s well past noon when you step out into the sunlight, onto the throbbing Luthuli Avenue. The sun’s garish glare and the blare from the countless music stores selling pirated CD’s hit you. You arch your palm to your forehead to shield your eyes from the sun but still have to contend with the cacophony. Despite the noise, you love the crowded street and soak in the chaos. The busy anonymity suits you. You are happy to be just another Nairobian.

A teenager’s ogling alerts you to your short skirt. You’d forgotten you were still in your work clothes. A woman in a multi-colored cotton print dress that flows all the way to her shins gives you a wide berth. Eyes lowered, she drags her toddler from your path as though any contact with you would be life threatening. You quickly pull out a lesso from your bag and wrap it over your six inch mini. Everyone is happy. Nairobians are appeased.

Still sore from the days’ activities, you walk into a chips shop at the corner of the street. It’s the 25th—five more days to pay-day—and the smoky eatery is almost empty. A short, shifty character in a dirty white dust coat snatches the hundred shillings you extend out to him. Sweat stains peep from under his armpits and not even the smell of fries can mask his body odor. Slapping your change and receipt hard onto the oily counter, he never looks up. Quickly, another guy in an even filthier coat, his nails dark with grime, snatches the soggy receipt and shovels out some fries, pushing them out to you. He too never looks up. You wolf it all down; standing. The warmth of a full belly though welcome, does little to soothe your pain.

You cross Tom Mboya Street and head over to the other-side of town. There, the people are better dressed, their talk less aggressive, and matatu touts do not scream out destinations. Instead, they wield numbered boards indicating where they are headed to. Two Matatus crawl by without arousing your interest. No longer eager to leave town, you ignore a third, even though it screeches to a halt right at your feet. You board a fourth, a gold speckled Nissan 14-seater. It hurtles out of town, past the Campus grounds, and on to Westlands.

The boom-box, behind the driver, booms out music. The matatu swerves onto the lane of an on-coming bus which brakes and lets out a terrifying hoot. You join other passengers in screaming and cursing the driver, who curses back even worse. You get to Kangemi. You disembark.

Weaving through the narrow alleys of Kangemi, you leap over gutters; bubbling green with sewage. You pass snarling mongrels rummaging through heaps of garbage and drunken men snoring in the mud and filth. You only stop to greet a friend who is buying meat at Mugos Butchery, where Mugo the butcher slaps your bum, pap, a mischievous sparkle in his eyes. Fat, dirty Mugo has never made a secret of what he would love to do to you. Each time he talks to you, his words drip with lust. He’s always comparing you to his steaks, and you hate it. Even as you walk away, you feel his big blood-shot eyes caressing your body. One would have thought you won’t be bothered, given your line of work. But it offends you.

Next you stop at a fruit stall. You rummage through your bag for coins. As usual Mama-Baby takes her sweet time before attending to you. She busies herself with some other stuff. You flash a smile at her little girl, who quickly looks away. She does not want her mother to be mad at her. She knows if she as much as smiles at you, she will receive a slap from her mother who is from the Akorino Sect, and does not suffer your kind.

“Mama says I should not talk to you because you are a Malaya,” the five year old girl whispers when her mother walks to the opposite stall. She says it like it is some communicable disease, something you catch by shaking hands, or sharing a glass. When you ask if she knows what Malaya means, she says it is people who sell their bodies and will roast in hell. You grab your change, clutch the fruits under your arms and negotiate deeper into the narrow alleys that constitute the labyrinth that is Kangemi.

A hairy black sow snorts by a mound of garbage. Unperturbed, a half dressed infant noisily empties its bowels nearby. You startle a bunch of youth rolling dice on the dusty ground. Realizing it’s you they wave and return to their gambling. You wave back and hurry on.

You come across Jomvu who tries to pull his drunk man routine on you. You shove him aside and tell him you are not in the mood for games.

Jomvu picks pockets by day and mugs drunks by night. Scars from his many misadventures cut across his young face. He staggers off without a word.

Under the awning of a solitary brick house a teenage mother washes a bawling baby in a pink plastic basin. Gleefully it kicks about the soapy water causing it to lather.

“How are you Auntie?” Sophia says.

You greet her back, and she is all smiles. But when you enquire after her baby, she bristles. Sophia is only fifteen and lives with her taciturn, big bellied father behind their brick walled shop.  Her mother died some years back in a fire that razed down half the shacks in Kangemi. The sooty color of the building’s sides still bears testimony to the raging flames no one wants to remember. Everyone knows that Sophia’s father is also the father of Sophia’s child.

You stop outside Shida’s blue door. Down for a better part of the year, Shida has stubbornly ceased taking her Retro-viral pills.

“It really doesn’t matter. My kind of life will finish me anyway,” she tells anyone who tries to remonstrate with her. And so with each passing day, she wastes away.

You enter Shida’s room and brace yourself in anticipation of the odor of soiled sheets and food gone bad.

The door is unlatched and save for wisps of light that spear through holes on the rusted, iron sheet roof above, the room is dark. Slowly your eyes accustom to the darkness, and you make out her emaciated figure in a corner, swaddled in a blanket. You call out her name and wait for response that does not come. You watch a while but see no movement.

‘Shida!’ you call out again, but still, nothing.

You move closer and go down on your knees, sensing, all is not well. You call out again and again and again, but still, nothing. Desperately, you shake the bag of bones on the soiled mattress, and wail at the top of your voice.

You wail for Shida; for Supu; for yourself.



Post image is titled “Memphis to Boston” by Alex Nabaum


About the Author:

Portrait - Patrick OchiengThe writer practices law in the lakeside town of Kisumu, where he lives with his lovely wife and two sons. He has been published in the Munyori Journal and was short listed for the 2010 Golden baobab writing prize.