‘Is the driver insane or drunk?’ ‘What is wrong with drivers nowadays?’ ‘Doesn’t he know that he is carrying humans?’ These were the flurry of questions that the passenger seated next to me was throwing. By my judgement, she was in her mid-thirties. Probably had a kid or two. Her dress-code suggested that she was still in the market for anyone who cared to care for her well enough; a skirt long enough to bring out decency, but short enough to expose her lanky legs. She’d probably put on a push-up bra because the breasts were too good to be true for someone her age. The cleavage had been left for us men to admire and admiring, I did. Only that, the driver had put all of us in a situation whereby the only thing that we thought of, was our lives.
‘The driver probably just wants us to reach home early,’ I said, not that I believed any single word that came out of my mouth. I was saying it to score points by showing bravery in adversity. I wanted this thirty something year old woman to start liking me and the earlier it happened, the better. The mere thought of seducing someone more mature and ten years older, was enough to sooth my very inflated ego. If I triumphed in this, then a twenty-year old girl would be easy to handle, I thought. ‘This driver wants to kill us and that is what you have to say?’ She retorted. She’d started being an emotion-wreck, something I greatly detest. ‘How about you walk towards him and take the wheel,’ I chose to give an instant reply to that. ‘No, let Jesus take the wheel,’ she responded much to my amusement. She never looked like the type that would hum a verse or a biblical connotation out of the blues. But well, in a crisis, a man got to do what a man got to do.
We hit a bump that got almost everyone off their seats. The driver was recklessly overlapping and over-speeding with utter disregard. The passengers were shouting and screaming but he never looked like he cared. The tout; a man who looked emaciated, too weak to even call out on the recklessness, was watching like the rest of us, probably hoping that the journey ends with no casualties. The bump incident had made the lanky-legged woman to hold me by the waist. ‘Imagine if your kid saw you doing this,’ I told her. ‘What kid?’ she let me off faster than she’d held me. Good, she didn’t have a kid. That was a positive. If we survived that absolute horror incident, then I’d have to ask her out for coffee, after a very thorough scrutiny on her life. ‘The streets are cold bro, you might think you are getting good stuff only to realize later on that she was a thot,’ that statement by my friend Patrick, is one that I lived by and whenever I met a new catch, it played at the back of my head like music on repeat. After realizing that her quizzical look had made me uncomfortable, she said, ‘The kid would probably call you dad.’ Damn, she had a kid after all. Okay, it was hard to find out at that very moment what was true, but if I wanted to dig for information, I would. But later.
After the driver had lurched the gas pedal from town and drove for a few metres, it had occurred to me that the journey was going to be nerve-wrecking. At the time, almost all the passengers seemed comfortable, until we went past General Motors along Mombasa road. It started with small murmurs which slowly generated into loud voices. It is at General Motors that I had closed my eyes and told God that if that was the way he’d planned our maiden meeting, then I’d prefer eternal bliss to eternal hellfire. Even as the driver went on with his recklessness, I had a deep conviction that nothing bad was going to happen to us. And if at all anything bad did happen, then I’d end up in the right place.
I’d entered that bus lackluster. It was actually because of the tiredness from the graduation ceremony that I’d attended that had made me board it. On a normal day, I’d have avoided it like a plague. That City Shuttle bus that plies our route is known for recklessness and when you’re unlucky, theft. But the creeping in of lethargy had left me with little option. There was no way that I was going to join the KBS queue. I’d simply have dropped dead.
‘How many kids do you have?’ I had gathered courage to ask the woman. ‘Just one,’ she’d responded, too fast for my liking. She must have been hiding something. ‘Dead beat dad?’ I continued with my quizzes. ‘Very irresponsible man. I wish the juice had been sprinkled in my mouth instead. But the kid’s a lovely boy.’ She was castigating and praising at the same time. Perhaps it is because of the kid that she wanted to live so badly. ‘Now you are open to advances, aren’t you?’ I caught her flat-footed. ‘Not with small boys like you,’ she’d decided to low-key lash out. ‘Not when the big boys are turning out to be dead-beat dads,’ I responded. She smiled, and I couldn’t help it but smile too. ‘Club 64 next Friday at 6 pm. That’s if you don’t die in here. Deal?’ She looked at my outstretched arm, shook it and said in the tiniest of voices, ‘deal.’ And then I alighted.
We met outside Hilton Hotel before making our way to club 64. The attire she had put on had a message behind it. And it was as loud as you’d get; small boy, in another world, this might as well be your mother. It was an African attire with a turban on top of her head. She had literally every part of her body covered. She probably didn’t want me to get caught in a web of thoughtlessness because that’s what that shoddy attire that she’d put on when we had met inside the bus had done. “Decent choice of clothes. Looks like you got into your closet and chose the one that would make you look like my mother,” I told her after we’d met. Her response,” I might not be your mother, but I’m someone else’s.” “If that’s how you’re planning to push me away, by making yourself look too old, then I’m afraid that’s not going to work,” I said. She laughed. Her laughter igniting a glow in a way that struck me. It was awkward and crazy at the same time. I was falling for a woman ten years older. A woman who had had multiple relationships, one of which, had led to the birth of her child, who, I was yet to confirm existed. She, by virtue of age, knew too much about love, about affection, about infatuation. I couldn’t tell if what I was beginning to feel was love or infatuation or anything else, but one thing was for sure; I was falling. It was happening. It really was.
“Mum, let’s get out of this place,” I told her, after noticing that we’d stood outside Hilton Hotel for a while. I chose to call her mum because some onlookers had started to keep an eye. And I didn’t want any of them to raise an eyebrow. The fallacy that Nairobi people mind their own business is a lie that has been told so many times, it sounds like truth. “Why don’t we just get into Hilton and get this over and done with?” she asked. “If I wanted to take you to a classy Hotel, I’d have chosen Villa Rosa or Radisson, now you’ll have to make do with Club 64. Your attire suggests that you’d want some Nigeria jams. They got them in plenty there. And Club 64 is pretty decent,” I shot back. I noticed that it wasn’t the kind of response that she’d anticipated but it didn’t matter. It was either club 64 or no date.
6:30 p.m. and we were seated in the far corner inside Club 64. The waiters taking their time to come and serve us. I could see two of them giggling. They probably didn’t understand how someone would bring their mother or aunt to a club. It wasn’t their business though, to poke their noses into things that didn’t concern them. Their work was to serve customers and that was just about it. So I signaled one of them and instead of ordering, I asked her, “Is this how you treat people who dish out money that’s used to pay you?” “No, sir. We wanted you people to get comfortable first,” she defended herself. “Get me a bottle of Whitehall Whisky, I ordered. “How about you madam?” the waiter asked. “Get me a bottle of water and a glass.” “What the freaking hell. You’re just going to take water?” I asked, upset that she’d ordered just a bottle of water. “You dumb ass. I will use that as a chaser,” she responded. All this time, I had not asked what her name was or where she exactly lived, or what she did for a living. These were things that I would find out.
The whiskey was brought in a black tray. Of all colors, I don’t know why she had chosen to bring it in a black tray. Perhaps it was a premonition that something bad was going to happen. “Welcome,” the waiter said, in an almost rehearsed tone. I figured that’s how it was supposed to be said. The deejay was playing Miriam Makeba’s Aluta Continua and blending it with some old songs. “Seems like even the legendary Miriam wants us to continue with our discourse,” I said cheekily. “Aluta Continua,” I said, lifting my glass after having poured the whiskey then shouted, “Cheers, my lady.” There’s something about old songs that gets me thrilled. There’s something about going down the memory lane that’s purely gold. Old like it’s normally said, is gold. “So, what did your parents name you?” I asked her. “Coincidentally, Miriam. Miriam Law,” she responded. “An awkward second name for an African. Any meanings?” I asked. “It’s a long night. I have so much that I am going to tell you. I’d appreciate it if you were a little patient.”
What followed afterwards was a silence. A silence that brought together Miriam’s hands with mine. A silence that brought warmth and desire. A desire to know Miriam as opposed to know of her.
“You haven’t told me your name yet,” she said, drawing me from my musing. The whisky had begun to get the better of me. Apparently, it was the only drink that could get me to talk to Miriam. There was something about partaking of it that made me ooze confidence. “My parents were kind enough to give me a simpler name. They called me Ken. Ken Okumu,” I stammered my way through the words. Perhaps because I never thought the name was as simple as I’d appeared to imagine. “Heard the name before. You write articles, don’t you?” she quizzed. I was tongue-tied at first. Miriam knew that I actually did write articles! I didn’t know how to react. A total stranger saying she had heard of me was good for the stomach, spirit and heart. I thought of my parents and the one time that I had told them that I’d decided to write articles for a living. Both of them gobsmacked that they’d taken me to University only for me to turn out a writer and not a financial officer. My mother in particular, had asked me to accompany her to church so that our pastor could pray for me. According to her, my declaration was something that needed deliverance. My father on the other hand, said it was okay, but the tone of his voice suggested that he didn’t like the idea. But well, gone were the days when he’d cane me into submission. Now I was grown up. I could make my own decisions and if they turned out to be bad ones, I’d only have myself to blame. Good thing is; I was ready to take responsibility. “Let’s just say I put a lot of words together,” I answered Miriam. “You are pretty good at it. There’s this one time that you wrote…” Miriam please, I cut her short. “We are here to speak words, not talk about them.”
She sipped her whisky one more time. Club 64 was now full of night revelers. The music that was thumping out was loud. “I wanna live and die in Africa…” was the song that was playing, the revelers singing along to it. I wondered if they believed what they were saying. Most Africans would prefer living abroad then coming back to die at home. “You don’t look like you enjoy that whisky Miriam,” I told her. She had been making very weird facials while sipping it. “Yeah, sure. I’m not a fan of alcohol. I rarely take it. I only do when I want to speak about my absolutely dark past. How old are you?” I’d realized that the sound of her voice when she said that she had a dark past, was as shaky as you’d get. I could decode that the sound was both apologetic and regretful. “I’m old enough to be seated in a club at 11 p.m. while drinking whisky,” I answered back, then asked a question immediately afterwards, “Why Miriam? Why Miriam Law? Any meaning to it?”
“Law because my father was a disciplinarian. He was so obsessed with doing things the right way that he ended up naming his first born Law. It turned out later on that it wasn’t the best of choices because I always ended up breaking his laws. How ironical. At sixteen years, I eloped with some guy to Mombasa but it never ended well.” Her voice I could tell, was filled with shame. “He lured me into having sex with him. At sixteen with all the curiosity, I agreed to his advances. And then we fled together. I still consider it to be the greatest mistake of my life.” She was talking with so much pain. The guy who’d eloped with her must have caused her so much pain. I looked at the revelers gyrating and dancing themselves off, and celebrating, and screaming. If only Miriam had been doing that instead of telling me these stories that seemed so hurtful. If her problems had started at sixteen, then there must have been much more that happened thereafter. Considering, by my estimation, she was thirty.
“How did your dad take it?” I asked. “He couldn’t trace me. I came back a year later and found that he…” she started crying. I stood, grabbed my chair then went and sat next to her, holding her so tight. That’s what I figured, could’ve made her feel better.
In my arms, the palpitations of her heart became much slower. She must have felt comforted and possibly, warmth. The gratification that came with holding her was one that I could hardly explain. It was something new to me. It was a gratification that I’d never felt before, even with the multiple women that I’d been with. I used the crumpled handkerchief in my hand to help her wipe away her tears then whispered to her, “It’s going to be okay.” Her response, “I wish all men were like you.” She wished all men were like me was what my girlfriend Amanda had said after we’d just met. When we were breaking up, she wished all men were not like me. I figured that it was the same disease that was ailing Miriam; counting your chicks before they hatch. “There’s something that I want you to help me with Ken,” she retorted. I looked at her for a while because I couldn’t believe that she’d just called me by my name. “Okay, go ahead,” I said. “Can you kiss my lips for me?” she said in the softest of voices. I was startled. “What did you just say, Miriam?” I quizzed, pretending not to have heard. “I said if you could help me with a kiss,” she reiterated. That kind of confidence was something that I’d never experienced before. I wondered if that’s how older women were like; no monkey business, no tactical advances. Simply, a tell-it-to-your-face approach. “I’d want to imagine that’s how you ask for sex as well,” I said, while buying time to maul over what Miriam had just asked. “How about we wait and see,” she said, winking at me. The wink was a message: that we’d just entered into another zone. A zone out of the emotional rollercoasters, the tears, the dark-past. We’d entered into the…flirting zone.
“Let’s take a few shots first. This whisky is not even half way,” I said. There was no way that I was going to do what Miriam had asked without at least being intoxicated. If things didn’t turn out well, I’d use that as an excuse; I was intoxicated! So we took a few shots and then I stood, stretched out my arm for Miriam to hold as we walked through the revelers, music blazing, searching for a dark corner that would be convenient for both of us. “What the hell were you thinking when you wore that attire. How am I supposed to turn it upside down?” I became quizzical as we were walking past. “For starters, I asked for a kiss, not whatever else you are thinking,” she got defensive. “Come on. It’s no rocket science that a kiss is a stimulant,” I lashed out, before we’d located a place that few people would spot us. I wanted privacy in case things got out of hand and we went further than just a kiss. “You seem to know this place well. Ever been here before?” I asked, because it became apparent to me that she must have known the club well enough locate such a place with some precision. She was the one who’d led me towards that direction. “That doesn’t matter. What matters now is you and me,” she answered back, while holding my face with both of her hands. I moved closer, then closed my eyes after I’d noticed that she had closed hers. Slowly, I moved my head towards hers, then used my lips to grope for hers. When they’d met, we kissed with intensity. It was so intense that she reached for my zipper and literally ripped it off making me to stop with the kissing, “Okay, slow Miriam, this was supposed to be just a kiss but it seems like you have better ideas,” I said, before I heard a voice from my back, “Lady and gent, we have rooms for special times like this. And Miriam you know that.” I was shocked that the man knew him. Even more baffling was the fact that he seemed to identify who she was, despite the darkness. The bastard must have been watching us all through. Strange still, I could identify his voice.
“Is that James?” I called out. “Okumu, it’s me,” he answered back. I almost froze. “You started reading the scriptures in the dark. Who would have thought, my friend,” he’d started throwing jabs. “Pretty much. If you’d been one minute late, you’d probably have heard screams of Jesus! Jesus! You denied yourself the chance. You always deny yourself chances. Remember Jacky?” James couldn’t beat me at this sarcasm game and he, most of all people, should have known it. He made me recall the days in high school that I’d preach in front of our class. Those days that I’d harbored thoughts of going into priesthood. It is after I’d met Amanda that things had changed. We had vowed to abstain until marriage but curiosity had got the better of us. The first time we’d had sex, we sat on my bed, wondering what the hell we’d had done. Amanda was so guilty that she walked out of the room without saying anything. And then from then onwards it became routine. “Wait, what the hell are you doing here commanding us James?” I asked. “I run this place. For now, I’m boss,” he answered back. “Okay then James Boss, we’re going back to our table,” I held Miriam’s hand as we went back to our table. I had noticed that all that while, as I conversed with my high school friend James, Miriam had kept quiet, at times bowing her head. There was something about James and Miriam that I was going to find out.
The bottle of whisky was still on the table. I didn’t want it anymore. My paranoia with food and drinks was because of a time that I’d almost died because of food poisoning. Since then, I vowed never to take any chances. If I left food or a drink and went somewhere for a while, that was it. I never seemed to wrap my head around the fact that someone had actually attempted to kill me. Why would someone even want to kill me? “Miriam, care to tell me something?” I quizzed. “Sure,” she answered back fast. “Great. What’s your relationship with James?” I continued. “Well, James…” she appeared to stammer. “He is my boss. I work here at Club 64.”
Everything was sounding surreal to me. I was seated and staring at the nothingness of nothing. All that confusion had made me go into a reverie. I thought of many things. I thought of why I had asked Miriam out. I thought of James, wondering how the hell he’d ended up being a manager of a club. I thought he deserved better, not that being a manager of a club was a bad job. I thought of my traditions and customs and it hit me that what I was doing was what elders would call a curse. What was I doing with an older woman? I thought of why I was inside a club in the first place. I didn’t love clubs because I was of the opinion they were full of youth revelers who came to show off their parents’ money, or to celebrate nothing in particular. I had had so many thoughts, but no answers to any of them. Oh wait, I knew an answer to one; I was inside club 64 because I’d thought of Miriam as a wonderful woman. No, let me rephrase that; I’d thought of Miriam as a loveable woman. I didn’t know however, what she thought of me. Perhaps she thought I was gullible because of my age. Perhaps she hadn’t even thought of anything. I would find out.
“So Miriam, before everything got heated up, we were talking about your eloping with the Mombasa guy,” I said after my reverie was over. “Oh that,” she said, paused then continued, “I was young so the guy took advantage of that. If I were much older, I wouldn’t have done what I did. I left my studies to chase something that I was never sure was going to last. I left school to chase love. I admit that I was bonkers. And it was love that actually drove me crazy, like it has a couple of times.” I noticed the softening of her voice. It wasn’t going to take long before she’d break down again. “The guy mistreated me. He often used to beat me up and because I was at his mercies, I couldn’t do anything. At first, I thought he’d stop with the battering but it went on and on so one day I decided to run away and come back home only to find my father dead and buried.” Her eyes were teary. She must have adored her father despite his sternness. “Did you continue with your studies?” I quizzed. “I didn’t. My mother was so sickly, she could hardly do anything on her own so I decided to take care of her and shelve my plans to go back to school. After three years, she died.” “You know what Miriam, I always thought that I have so many problems, but hearing you speak makes me realize that mine are so minute,” I’d decided to join in the conversation. “Yeah, everyone always thinks that. There are people who are going through worse.” I nodded. It was actually true that there was always someone who was going through worse.
“I started doing odd jobs to earn a living for myself and my child. I’ve met a few men since whose only interest it appeared, was sex. They cashed out, like people do in gambling, whenever they felt satiety while I was left with my heart in tatters,” she continued. “Let me get this clear Miriam, isn’t that the same thing that you want to pull on me? Get sex from a young energetic guy then disappear into oblivion?” I interrupted her. She laughed then said, “If that’s all I wanted, then I’d have gotten it by now.” There was a certain wittiness about Miriam that I liked. If only she had finished school. Perhaps she’d have been a legal attorney. There was also something crisp about her. Her face, when she was serious, spoke of firmness. “Any dreams that you had?” I asked. “I wanted to become a lawyer,” she answered. It now made sense. “You see, I see guys your age coming to this club to waste themselves away. Drink booze, smoke whatever there is to be smoked and I get pissed off. I know I’m miserable myself but even with my misery, I usually feel sorry for them,” she said while nodding her head in disapproval. “You are the one who, a few minutes ago, was just about to commit one of the gravest sins there is. Let those guys be. They’ll grow up someday,” I got defensive.
I grabbed her arm then said, “I am attracted to you Miriam. I don’t care whatever your past is. I want to love you. I want to feel your affection. I don’t care if you have a child or children. I want to try things out with you. Is that too much to ask?” I wasn’t sure I meant what I’d said. But I’d said it after all and I wasn’t going to take it back. “Ken, there’s something I am yet to tell you. If I do, I’m sure that you might consider taking back your words.