By the time S texted to ask if there were any magazines in my parents’ home she could use for a vision board, many now-dead men stared up at my bedroom ceiling. I had spent the morning organising my grandparents’ dusty copies of The Weekly Review into stacks according to their year of publication. The feature story on the first one, from June 23, 1975, was “Amin’s Firing Squad”; the latest one, from July 13, 1990, was headlined “Detentions and After,” and featured Kenneth Matiba. I knew these were not the kinds of magazines S wanted—and my grandmother would knock the back of my head proper if I tried to give them away—but I wanted to show off my hard work, so I sent her a photo of them. S, with all her 21 years, replied, “I remember these. My dad has a whole drawer filled with them—lol these were the times.”
After having a good chuckle at that last bit, I started to get ready to leave the house.
We had planned to hang out on Monday, but S had a medical emergency and we pushed our plans to Tuesday. She had promised me chicken tacos, good news, and lots of loving—all my favorite things. Since she has a reputation for being chronically late—and I was only ten minutes away from the park—I called her at 12:30 to tell her to call me when she was close enough for me to leave, too. As I was about to hang up, she asked, “Do you have avocados? All mine are rotten!” I found one in the fridge, and just as she was texting to say she was leaving the house, she instructed me, “Make guac pls and thanks.”
It was the fastest, chunkiest guacamole I have made in my whole life. I sent her a photo of it when it was done and captioned it, “Wife me, bih,” to which her swift response was, “Since we’re already meeting today, why don’t we just go straight to the AG?,” to which my swift response was, “I want a church wedding pls.” There are three churches up the road from the park: Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran. The plan, then, was to take a lazy walk to St. Paul’s after we were done eating and let them know we intended to wed.
Even with the last-minute culinary demands, I still got there before her. I bought some Juicy Fruit and sat down under a tree to wait. Soon after, a police Land Rover pulled up to park right next to me. I stood up and pretended to be on the phone when the cop inside would not stop following me with his eyes. Luckily, S’s cab pulled up just then. We paid the park’s entrance fee, and she led the way to her preferred picnic spot, right next to a banda under which, she said, a choir frequently came to practice.
I had heard that S could not cook, but the tacos were amazing, and it was not just because of my guacamole. I had to keep reminding her to construct them because she was telling a story and she cannot multitask to save her life. The tacos were magic in my mouth. We sat there eating and laughing and talking about the future, starting with our immediate plan to marry, and chased away a stray cat that just would not quit. Finally, feeling bad for it, S shared some of the last of the chicken. It was such a beautiful day. I got full. I lay on my back.
The blast happened at 3.26 p.m. The series of gunshots came immediately after. I instinctively reached for my phone and opened the Twitter app; S had hers in her hand already. There was no immediate news on my timeline—it had only been 30 seconds—so I tweeted, “wtf was that,” closed the app and called N, who I had left in the house.
“Did you hear the boom, can you hear the gunshots?” She was only five minutes away and it had been so loud, but she had not. “Ok, I’ll call you back,” I said, and hung up to call my mom.
She called first.
“N just said you heard gunshots.”
“I can still hear them.”
“Westlands,” S said. She was scrolling through her timeline.
“Where are you?” my mom asked.
I hung up and opened WhatsApp. Nothing yet. The gunshots had not stopped. It had been three minutes. On one of the groups both S and I are on—it has 30 members, most of whom live in Nairobi—I asked, “Has anybody heard the blast? The gunshots?” In under a minute, we moved from “what blast?” to “It’s at Dusit. Do NOT go in that direction. There are bodies, there are people running in the river.”
Some friends told S and I to leave the park. Others told us to stay put. Everybody else in the park was strolling like nothing had changed in the air. The gunshots would not stop. S needed to pee. The bathroom was locked. We started to walk towards the gate. R called to tell us to wait; the park’s entrance is on State House Road, and she was worried police and military vehicles would be using it to get to the noise. She advised us to call bodabodas instead of a cab because traffic would be bad. From where we were, we could already hear sirens, speeding cars on the main road, screaming. At the gate, the guard warned the driver of a Probox making its way inside that they were closing the park soon.
S and I finally called bodabodas, one for each of us, but a nearby couple asked if they could use one, because they could not call one on their own. That is how S and I ended up on the same bike, weaving through the already-heavy traffic. It started raining halfway to R’s house, and I started to panic, but S talked me through it, told me to hold the panic small and tight until we got indoors. I managed because she was holding me.
The rest of the day at R’s house was spent smoking, scrolling timelines, making phone calls, watching videos, sending messages, holding each other in sadness and re-trauma and horror, trying not to return to the timeline, and failing. With nothing to eat and nobody in the mood to cook, we eventually walked to the Indian/Pakistani restaurant around the corner for dinner, where the TV was tuned into a news channel that alternated between panelists with expert opinions and Inspector General Boinnet’s updates on how secure the hotel was.
I got back to my parents’ house after 10 p.m. exhausted and resigned, made myself a sandwich, and sat on my bed, keeping an eye on my phone so I would know if S got home safe. The magazines I had arranged on the floor that morning drew my attention again: particularly the January 2 headline at the very top of the stack from 1980: Norfolk Explosion. I picked it up and flipped to page 6 to read as I waited.