November 24, 2018
I woke up with a congested chest and downed an antihistamine before I headed out. The night before, I’d steamed myself and emptied my bedroom of books and anything else that could possibly be dusty so I could get some sleep.
On the trip to town, the manspreader I was next to pressed his thigh against mine, and none of my polite noises dissuaded him. A woman wearing a beautiful choker sat across the aisle and grabbed my attention, but I didn’t speak to her. When the manspreader alighted, I had space to read An Atlas of Infinite Longing, and I finally buckled up after strong admonitions from the conductor.
I was going to Karura Forest for a therapy session, so I had to take two matatus. Luckily, Kiambu Road matatus are also on Tom Mboya Street, so I got off my first matatu, and took the last seat in the second matatu. I found myself sharing my half of the 2-person seat with a child whose mother kept referring to me as Auntie and asking him not take up too much of my space. Thankfully, there was no traffic on Thika Road that day so I didn’t grin and bear it too long.
When I got to the bus stop after my session, I found a couple gazing longingly into each other’s eyes. So intently were they staring, that I wondered whether they were waiting for a matatu or if this was their romantic spot. When a matatu arrived, they got on—it seemed the bus stop served multiple functions. There were more seatbelt admonitions on the trip back to town, but not a seat in sight, so the couple and I had to stand till Muthaiga.
I was famished when I got to Baker’s Inn on Simba Street. Every time I’m there it’s being cleaned; the lady mopping always says a warm “Welcome, Karibu.” I believe her welcome, it seems, because I keep going back.
This is the place where I learnt that when one pays via M-Pesa, the vendor sees their name. I paid for my pizza square and the cashier looked at me curiously—I have the sort of name that lodges itself in people’s memories. She remembered I was with Jonathan when last I was here. It seemed appropriate in some way, as I was on my way to Circle Art Gallery to see him and our friend Don.
There was an awkward moment on the 46 bus when I told a man “It won’t fit” as he tried to help me buckle up. There were hot ears and nervous laughter and then a refusal to engage once it became clear that the seatbelt thing wasn’t happening.
I did that quintessential millennial thing and took out my phone for entertainment before I ate my pizza square. If I had earphones I would have watched a video, but I read a longform piece instead. I would have read Atlas but grease on a book wouldn’t be a good look. The square tasted like a slab of bread with cheese and meat topping; I felt ambivalent about it.
When I threw away the bag the square had been packed in, I wondered for a bit if it was unkind to the driver to have a bin, food fumes inclusive, right next to him.
I got off the bus to the welcome sight of sugarcane. Breathing through my mouth had me so dehydrated I’d drank almost three litres of water already but I was jonesing for a drink. I hoped the sugarcane seller would cut a stick for me from scratch, but he gave me a pre-packed bag of sugarcane. It just didn’t feel the same.
At Circle Art Gallery, I found a full house. Don spoke to me in his “gallery voice” when I went in to say hello; it gave me a strange tingle. I was chasing the sun, trying to stay warm enough to not sneeze every five minutes. The chase led me to the garden where I found Jackie Karuti, one of Kenya’s most innovative artists, and Densu, an old friend and filmmaker. Densu and I both sniffled and joked about people with running noses and snorting cocaine.
The work hanging in the gallery was being aired out, pieces from shows put up earlier in the year. It was lovely to sit with different artists’ work, to be surrounded by so much brilliance. I took out a pencil and started to sketch ideas.
I was there to work but it took us a few hours, some YouTube deejaying, and many mugs of cocoa to get to it. Eventually, we were done—me washing up, Don packing up some frames for me, Jonathan making sure we had all our things. We walked up to The Junction to get a bus because the last bus on Gitanga Road drove past when we were too far up James Gichuru to hail it.
The walk didn’t feel as long as it would have if I had been alone. Jonathan kept reminding me to breathe, confusing my mouth-breathing for panting. The bus was in the CBD in no time and Jonathan shepherded Don and I out at GPO and bought us snacks at Baker’s Inn Kenyatta Avenue. We couldn’t resist the urge to call him Pastry Papi.
We walked down the length of Kenyatta Avenue as we ate and, once we were done, we walked Jonathan to Odeon, Don waited for me to get into a Kikuyu-bound matatu at an alley off Tom Mboya Street, and then he headed to his bus stop. The matatu home was lit enough for me to read Atlas, an unusual thing in this particular sort of matatus.
My mother was still up when I got home and we chatted before she went to bed. The day’s rush kept me awake until half past midnight.
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Nyambura “Mike” Mutanyi
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