Women will be the end of my kiosk, nyasachiel. You can quote me on that however you want and start a hashtag sexy enough to send me to social media hell, but it is the truth. The irony here is, they are the majority of the book buyers on my store. So, it means they are the ones who make me, but also the ones who will kill me. If only baba Spiderman was around to remind them that with great power comes great responsibility!
The year is 2016, sometime there towards the end. The kiosk is still a nyathi, still crawling on its belly like a snake, survives mostly on being spoon-fed, and many times full of shit. It is our firstborn, and so we are mostly pretending to the rest of the world that we know what we are doing. At that time, we are trying to cut back all the costs of running the kiosk, so when an order comes, I am the one who does the book deliveries. This one time an order comes through. It is from a Kisii girl I know from before, let’s call her Nyaboke. At this time, many of our customers are our friends or people we used to know who just found out that we opened a shop.
Lakini regardless of whoever the buyer is, the delivery process is the most traumatic stage of this online biashara. It does not matter whether they are strangers or friends or estranged friends. At that moment when we check the backend of our website and find an order, as a general rule, we treat everyone the same. So, I collect the orders, pack them, call the customers to tell them that their books will be delivered to them at such and such a time, then I leave the house to make my rounds.
On a good day, there is no incident. On a bad one when Satan has decided to squat on your fortunes, a client keeps you waiting and then forgets to even apologize, leave alone tip you something small. Then there are those days that you do not know whether to classify as good or bad. They are just here, as undecided as warm water. Days like the one time I am meant to deliver books to Nyaboke.
“I am in the salon,” she says when I call her. “Unaweza kuleta huku where I am?”
“Ni sawa, no problem,” I remember responding, even though now she has changed her location and fucked up my whole structure for the day. Ati no problem? Of course there is a problem. To get to where this nyako is, I have to cut across to that other loka of this our Nairobi. I know by the time I am done lapping under this heat, my head with be breaking me.
I get to the salon that she has said she is in, but when I throw my eyes around, I do not see her. There are other women, ndio, but not the woman I am looking for. Three are seated under dryers that make them look like they are wearing ridiculous headwraps. Others are having their feet scrubbed, while one has avocado on her face and lemon on her eyes—a waste of food, really, kwanza in this economy!!! I look for this nyako who has ordered a book, but I cannot see her face, so I call her again.
“Umefika?” she asks. I hear her voice coming from the other side of the room.
“Yes, I am inside here kwa salon.”
“There is a mama there at the reception who will show you where I am,” she says and then cuts the phone.
I walk over to the receptionist, and she takes one look at me and asks, “Wewe ndio you were to bring something for Nyaboke?”
“Yes. Ni mimi.”
“Uhm, OK, but she is kinda busy right now, so will you just leave it here?”
I am paranoid about delivery of books. If I deliver, I put it in your hands, not anybody else’s, unless they tell me to (which Nyaboke had not said). If she wanted me to leave the book with the reception, she would have told me owuon. In any case, I can hear her voice from the other side of a wall, so for all I know they could have kidnapped her and ordered her to have a copy of Night Dancer by Chika Unigwe dropped here by 4:00 p.m. or else they start sending her toenails to her family one by one.
I insist that I have to see Nyaboke with my two eyes and give the book to her. If she is being held here against her will, she will blink twice.
I am taken to the other side of the salon, where Nyaboke’s voice is coming from.
Mayie! She is naked!
Well, not naked thiring’ing’i. She is covered by a white sheet, lying on her back, but I can see the outline of her body against the cloth. Also, it is not like the sheet is that opaque. With the light falling on her, I can kind of see her ginene. I look away, embarrassed. There is another lady in this room, melting something sticky with a small fire. Now I am confused.
“What is happening here?” Nyaboke sees me and laughs at the look on my face.
“Did you bring the book?”
“Yes,” I say handing over the package to her, “but answer my question!”
“I am getting a wax.”
The woman melting the sticky brown stuff breaks into laughter as well then says, “Kwani you men do not know we do these things?”
I know women do these things. My mother did not raise a diel. What I did not know is that they use hot wax! I did not even need to see anything more after that. We made small talk and then I left, my imagination taking me through it all. The idea that someone would put hot wax on themselves is scary enough. Now imagine it being put down there! Aaaaaaargh!
When I later got home that day and told this story to my jaber, she just kept quiet throughout the narration and when I was done, she said, “Hmmmh. OK.” I mean, here I was traumatized at the idea of a possible FGM ring in Nairobi and all she could say is Hmmmh. OK?
This issue never came up again. Then one day, months later, when we were arguing about completely unrelated stuff, it did. Apparently, I am going around, taking books to naked girls. Yo! Omera! Bombshell ma pok amanyo anwan’go. I almost shut down this kiosk. We had begun this bookstore with my jaber and another friend of ours to promote African literature, but now here it was shaking the foundations of my relationship. I mean I love books but not that much.
That is when we said you know gimoro? We would rather just get a deliveryman and pass on the charges to the buyers. That way, jaber does not have to worry about me meeting naked girls from the internet, I do not have to tire myself running around Nairobi, and our clients still get their books on time. Everybody wins.
Yeah, until we started getting feedback from our buyers about a particular delivery guy, Edwin. It was not bad feedback. Small small, our orders started stacking up from repeat buyers who insisted that Edwin must be the one to take their orders. And these orders, most of them were to be delivered at home.
How this panned out is a story I do not like telling because it makes me feel bad. I mean, even if I am not as handsome as Edwin and do not ride a beast of a motorbike that thunders between my legs like he does, did these women really have to swell my head like that? (So, I get that in English “swell my head” means I am feeling conceited. Though in my mother tongue, Dholuo, it means something totally different. It means being embarrassed. Isn’t language a lovely thing?) All those times I made deliveries, not even once did we get repeat clients because of my looks, never mind that I gave them Grade A+ service.
Kwani what does Edwin have that I do not have? Is it because of my chipped tooth? Or because I am the colour of blackout while he looks like milk tea? What happened to the good old inner beauty? Ama was Edwin giving these women some kind of, you know, secret service?
One day when I wear my big boy pants, I will beat for you that story.
For now, my ego is not strong enough to handle this head-swell.