The Gatekeeper

 

 

 

They come in a little after midnight. Just about when it begins to get chilly, when the air reeks desertion, and the haze of darkness accepts its fate making the grandeur of the environment look insubstantial and unreal. They are always dropped off by taxi, each time a different taxi. They stagger past my small habitat avoiding my gaze as assiduously as if I was a forbidden fruit they had been warned about. A single look at them tells that they are well buried under the magnificent alcohol haze. They hold each other, always in couples, either trying to keep away the cold, supporting each other from the lack of balance or as a sexual foreplay ritual before the main thing.

 

 
On most days they are four of them. The two masculine figure are not residents here, who I am supposed to stop but I no longer interest myself in the dedication of arguing with drunk people. So I let them pass, I actually think they like me for that. They walk with footsteps slowed to a jarring and unmistakable cadence like zombie footsteps. Past me and into the hostel lobby and later to their rooms and minutes later after the laughing and indistinct loud statements die down, I can hear heavy breathing and low moans. Sex. I always try to create a mental picture of what goes on in that room but over and over, my imagination fails me.

 

 
The rooms are fitted and furnitured for four occupants. Their room particularly has two other roommates when they walk in. Meaning that when the pangs of love can no longer themselves, the action happens in front of two innocent roommates, probably sleeping and another couple who most likely are engaged in the same activity. Somehow, I find myself hoping in between the moans that these two couples have the decency to take upper bunks. I have no idea why that to me assumes the possibility of being more private.

 

 
On more than one instances, I find myself thinking about this situation. My interest predominantly lands on one of the four. I tend to overthink people or situations sometimes. Often I find myself unable to hold back from asking myself about the appearance of circumstances until I am in my humble bed, flipping from side to another unable to solve a conundrum in my head. I do not have much education, you see, I never had a chance for university, therefore, most of the lifestyles people I guard live, are either new to me or coveted greatly in my subconscious.

 

 
Her name is Lucia. A young brilliant tenant from one of the rooms on the ground floor. I find myself under the spell of her plain facial expression when she is sober. A masterpiece of calm, an appearance of strange and dangerous fearlessness. For the two years I have manned the gate since she moved in, nothing appeared to ruffle her or make her upset. When there was a strike in school and students threw stones all over breaking glass and burning grass, she just strolled by me like she was talking a walk in the park. She has a stillness so powerful that molecules and atoms appear to align themselves systematically when she walks into the lobby. This often makes her look more mature than she actually is, older even. However, all this disappears like the sun in winter on weekend nights when she staggers past my watch kibanda. Then, she looks susceptible, open to suggestion and unguarded.

 

 
Yesterday was on a Sunday. She had been out partying with her three other friends and came home later than usual drenched in alcohol like a headless chicken ready for plucking. Her supposed boyfriend held her right arm around himself, half of her weight well on his shoulders. They came in at around three in the morning and after a few amateur moans from room C16 on the ground floor, everything was still and the night went on as usual.

 

 
The following morning, just about when my shift was to come to an end, Lucia comes from the lobby full of grace and glamor in a stripped somehow long dress and make up that must have taken tonnes of patience. My evaluation was that she was headed to church. As she walked past me, she turned her gaze slowly towards me, smiled and waved at me. The usual calm had returned, her ebony oval face revealing a particular kind of smoothness like the bark of a guava tree. This was the first attention to me in two years.

 

 
The other opening day, her parents brought her to school, dropped her off on their usual Toyota Corolla. I have seen her get dropped by her parents each time a new semester begins. They always come in shopping bags and suitcases, walk up to room C16, help her get settled in and then make a family prayer before a series of hugs and goodbyes. That room has seen more mood and moral variations than a husband to a pregnant woman.

 

 
After the parents leave, it is usually not long before her horny boyfriend swaggers past me on the gate. I can almost see two weeks’ semester break dry spell written on his face. They meet in the lobby, hug and kiss passionately before they leave the lobby into C16. The last time he held a small bunch of red roses in his hands. For once, I gave him points for effort in my head.

 

 
Today is on a Monday, my shift begins at six in the evening. I have not been able to let Lucia out of my mind all day long. I should have been sleeping but sleep comes with difficulty these days. I lay in the wake of my distracted mind trying to bring perspective to fantasies. My room is humble, my gatekeeper salary goes to my savings because I do not plan to be one my entire life.

 

 
Financial limitations can only keep a man grounded physically but not mentally. So today, just about the time Lucia comes from town with her boyfriend, a bag of fries for supper in her hands I will do it. Something I have thought about doing for as long as I can remember being a hostel guard. I will request the boyfriend to give us a minute, walk up to her and let myself feel the scent of her presence. It will be the closest I have been to her. I believe myself to be good-looking and a good speaker, so I do not expect presentation to be a problem to me.

 

 
I let her boyfriend past the gate at weird ungodly hours, so I do not expect him to be an issue. He owes me that much. I will let her pretty face reflect all my insecurities and reveal a shine of hope, brighter than the sun in summer. I will have to be quick not to draw a lot of attention from other students passing through. I will be in the best of dressing and smoothness of tongue. It won’t matter how many times I have heard her sexual moans in room C16, or that her parents look as protective as a lioness to her cubs. The only variables will be me, a gatekeeper, and her, a taken a girlfriend standing in the doorway to the hostel.

 

 
This evening will be the day I ask her to be my girlfriend and we will all be here when I narrate to you how it goes tomorrow.

 

 

 

Feature Image of Mukiri Gitiri Captured by Gathige.

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Dear Mother. Part One. By Mukiri Gitiri

 

 
Mother, today I would like you to listen to a story that happened many years ago. I would like to suggest that you lose that judgmental temperament you are always carrying around the house, at least until I am done.

 

 

 

What was that mother? You promise? Okay. Now, it was five thirty in the evening. I remember feeling awfully tired but also happy and excited for my first weekend in the University. I had just survived a five-hour lecture on calculus. Math was never my thing, I will not lie, and I only pretended to like it so that I could make you happy.

 

 

 

Mother! You promised you would be silent! If you start judging this early, I will take this story to father instead. Okay? In my defense now that you asked when I applied for a course in campus I specifically signed up for intense Chemistry and Biology. To this day, I have no idea why there was Calculus, Algebra, and Statistics in my unit courses. To be entirely honest University was a disappointment, I had expected to be marveled by the lecturers, the lecture rooms and the students, turns out the lecturers were just old and tired educated heartless morons, the lecture rooms were similar to the ones in Chogoria Primary, only that the seats were sponged and the students were just a bunch of competitive social climbers trying to figure themselves out. That is a long sentence mother, let me catch my breath.

 

 

 

I hated small talk with my classmates. I disapproved a lot of things. Come to think about it; I was probably a sad and frustrated girl doing more observations that associations. On this particular day, I left the class in the company of a girl friend of mine, headed to the hostels. It was a silent walk. I loath silence but at the moment, my inexperience would have had me talk about Calculus differentiation and broken test-tubes, so I held on to my silence like a mother does her child. I did not want to be the buffoon that brings the classroom out of class. This was University, studying ended the moment you swept across the classroom door frame.

 

 

 

Alternatively, I would have started a chit chat about lipstick, weaves and camel toes but I did not even know what a camel toe was.

 

 

 

What was that mother? No! I am not going to tell you what a camel toe is. You can google after this story is ended. Now, as I was saying, I was really bad in conversations. I had stayed away from the close girl to girl friendships because I could sniff trouble and drama from a mile away. Another reason I was bad at this kind of engagements is that my knowledge outside the classroom was as tiny as a teacher’s pension. I could not even tell the difference between Beyoncé and Rihanna. Yes, mother, I could not tell shit!

 

 

 

I am sorry. Yes, I will mind my language mother. I had cool roommates though. They assimilated me into a gang we called the Room 3 divas. We even had a Whats App group. I had always felt that they were to cool for me. I mean, they could rock a thigh long dress and six-inch strappy heels on their second day on campus. Oh! And Rihanna’s signature red hair covering one eye. They were clearly absolute divas.

 

 

 

Mother, correct me if am wrong, but there is a scowl expression on your face. Can you wipe it off? I do not like it. As, I was saying before you rudely interrupted with that damn scroll, I was one of them, not by any qualification, but by the geographic existence in the same room. They would dress for hours as I watched and learned and then they would ask me how cool they looked. My opinion mattered mother, I was important. I was their coolness thermometer, measuring how cool or hot they looked. When you do this for a while, you are bound to pick a few tricks, soon I had to throw away my baggy trousers and flat shoes you bought me, no offense, and I just had to. I started becoming more like them and less like me. We would dress up together for class now, and take selfies later. I would have shown you those selfies mother but my phone mother, my phone was the Huawei Ideos you bought me, its pixels was almost zero mother. Not that I am complaining, but I needed something that would flatter my face and put some beauty filters, something that would paint me to their standards mother. I am not a liar; I just needed to fit in.

 

 

 

Now this particular Friday Evening, most of the people were headed out from the hostels for drinks and stuff like that.

 

 

 

No, mother, the drinks were neither coffee nor tea. Others were strolling chatting loudly in English with some occasional loud laughs hugging, smooching and touching. Yes mother, touching. I was bored, so when I got a call from my cool friends, the ones from the land of fish and English, I did not even think twice about it.

 

 

 

See what I did with the words mother? Fish and English? Come on, you can laugh a little. This is a funny story mother. That day mother, I rocked a 1950’s floral skirt. Its length would have made you kneel before God. Don’t curse mother; I had a pair of stockings inside, everything was well covered.

 

 

 

When the boys called, I was overwhelmed. All my life I had been a good girl mother, a little backward and uncool, but good. Your kind of good. I was a determined uncool girl. It was the first time a boy had called me on my Ideos Phone mother. I love to stand out mother; maybe I got it from father’s side of the family. I hoped back into my cubicle, took off the stockings and put on grey boots. As I said, mother, I was a determined uncool girl with pretty grey boots, a short skirt, a tiny top that would make you ask where they had taken the rest of the material and an immensely adventurous spirit. That day mother, I left my decency in my dressing cabinet together with the rest of the material for the top I was in.

 

 

 

No. No mother, do not gasp like someone just died. I am still here, am I not? Shall I move on with my story?

 

 

 

Okay, mother. Now, I got to the boys’ hostel across the school. You will not believe what these boys gave me; they handed me a FIFA pad! A FIFA pad mother! You know what that means? They did not look at me like the sexual object I had tried to transform myself into, mother. To them, I was a bro. Maybe my grey heeled boots did not make me tall enough, or my legs were not long enough to be sexy, or even I had always overestimated the prettiness on my face. I was disappointed beyond words.

 

 

 

Do not look so relieved mother; the story is still far from over. These boys mother, were not only from the lake but also from Nairobi City. The good side of the city where there are tarmac roads and gated communities. The kind of Nairobi that is green and cool, colored by flowery yards and fences. The kind that they do not have to use Mwi Sacco or MSLs matatus. A different kind of Nairobi where their fathers made collection cabinets of wines and expensive vodkas. Alcohol that was more expensive than the school fees we paid at school.

 

 

 

The kind of girlfriends these resourceful boys had used to put gel nails; you know what gel nails are mother? I too didn’t know. The only gel I knew is that one girls in my primary school would use to force their hair to curl. Oh and silica gel from my chemistry class. I was a sad little girl mother.

 

 

 

When a boy from the next room came in and invited me to the next room for a private party, I thought that it was your prayers mother, which had landed me such an opportunity. I hear you praying for me in the middle of the night mother, make sure you will never stop mother.

 

 

 

So your prayers landed me to a private party. By the time I got there, there was smoke from all kinds of smokable drugs, even bhang mother. It turns out bhang is not only for demented, hopeless people but also cool kids too. The smoke was mixed with the stench of alcohol that made me flinch with inexperience. In the room, there were guys already rubbing their crotches viciously on the behinds of other cool girls with even lesser material on their clothes than me. It was fucking awesome!

 

 

 

Sorry, sorry mother, I got carried away in the heat of the moment, I will not curse again. Well, if you want me to finish the story here, I can.

 

 

 

What was that mother? No, I am not ashamed of myself. Your tone is rising mother, take a deep breath mother. I would like to continue with my story. Now, this guy, that had been sent by God, courtesy of your prayers to save me from the bro-zone, poured me a drink, and another and another. Only the first gulp was nastier than the look you give me when I pile dirty dishes in the sink. The more I drank, the more my clothes felt loose, and the more I became a better dancer. I swung my hips in all kind of angles, and the boys loved it. They loved me, mother! I swear they did!

 

 

 

I was so drunk that when the party ended, and one of my male party mates carried me in his arms to his room and started to work on my clothes, I did not have the brain capacity to stop him.

 

 

 

Tears mother? Really? You are going to start crying for something that happened four years ago? Well, if it gives you any peace, I did not lose my little pink flower. At least not that day.

 

 

To be continued…

Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri

Beneath a Suit

 

He gets to the office a little after eleven o’clock on a usual day. Usual days are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Monday and Friday are special days, do not even get me started on Saturdays and Sundays. He puts on a suit but what intrigues me is what he has beneath that suit.

First is a smell. A lethal stench that appalls anyone within a twenty feet radius. It is the whiff of fermentation, staleness, anger, hate, boredom and crises. It is the scent of something unwanted and displeasing. A repulsive scent that suggests laziness, bad relationships, failure and neglect. It is the highlight, rather, a drift of the middle age. The smell of last night’s mistakes, arguments, unfaithfulness, overspending, disorganization, chaos and wastage. It is obnoxious.

Then there is his piled up paperwork on his desk. A desk that is accustomed to underutilization. The seat behind the desk stares into space, waiting and anticipating for something that never happens. The computer placed on the desk has its network cable disconnected and the power cable switched off. It is supposed to be processing files, serving customers, fulfilling the company’s mission and vision, instead, it just sits, disconnected from the global village, alone and isolated, feeling odd amongst its peers. The support stuff often dust the desk occasionally but the paperwork is not their jurisdiction so it breaths in all kinds of brown dust.

The first thing he does in the office is to send the guard for the day’s newspaper which he sits in the office for an hour going through. He likes being up to date with current affairs, one would think it is for the noble reason of being informed but a closer look reveals that the paper gives him arguing points amongst his mates in the course of the day. They sit by the office kitchen talking about history of politics and politics of history. Discussing trends, presidents, testosterone and girls.

After lunch is usually the peak of his day. He loudly boasts of the number of beer bottles he poured down his gut during the lunch period. His workmates listen in silence, the scornful ones responding in murmured silences. Deep down they know that he needs help but all of them are either to restrained or solely apathetic. He then engages the office ladies in a heated discussion accompanied in uncanny flattery. He boasts. He loves doing that shit. He thinks of himself as a personality infused with charisma, little does he know how many enemies he creates in every gratification he declares upon himself.

By the time the office clock stops at four, it finds only an after-scent of a combination of his inexpensive deodorant, his ego and his fermented lunch snack in the office. He has managed to get an intern to do his work as well as recruit a peer for an evening politics discussion over two or three. One turns to two then to three and four. By seven o’clock, the peer workmate leaves for his family just about the same time he asks for a half-litre KC vodka to spike his beer.

Eventually, it is only him, a table full of empty bottles and a lot of stories with no one to listen. The clock hits ten and he staggers out to the streets. He heads home to a family he rarely sees or speaks to. He eyes are red as crimson, knees weak as a fig tree, stomach empty as a temple on Friday night and a gut full of toxic death. He gets home on motorbike, barely holding on to reality.

On Fridays, he leaves home directly to his favorite seat by the beer shelves. He never goes home on Friday evenings, On Saturday he comes home, hungry and moneyless reeking of whatever girl got paid to do a job that must never be spoken of in broad daylight.

On Sundays, he is nowhere to be seen while on Mondays he lies on his bed until midday nursing a three-day hangover, occasionally quarreling with his wife or his children who lost trust in him. The people that once looked up to him but now look down on him, waiting and wondering when he will choke on his drink and give them peace because they lost the patience for change. Change is a mere mirage, mainly an outcome of false hope or pretense that never lasts long. People never change. Situations change, relationships too but people hide their wickedness burying the reality behind their dark pupils, but deep deep down, the devil reigns playing catch ball with his horned allies.

Tuesday is the start of this story.

He is a friend, workmate, brother, uncle, dad, cousin, grandfather, follower or ghost follower. We all have someone that needs to slow down on his drink. We don’t want him to do therapy, therapy don’t work on no black man, neither do we want him to join a support group because that’s a Western thing, yet we don’t want to lose him because as much as we have fangs and serpent poison on our tongues, we are still humans before we are anything else. Our cynicism is proportional to the number of times we have been disappointed hoping and praying that he will get better.

He never does, God hates alcohol so he even ignores all words that end in ‘hol’, he spams such prayers and it is then that we have to be little gods ourselves and show that our humanity goes beyond faith and hope. The popular and Iconic writer, Bikozulu, once said, “What they need is simple acts of love from people they care about”. Shove an alcoholic on your bosom and show him love and the alcohol will find the exit on itself. Get him a gift this Christmas that is not a bottle of whiskey or a bible and you will have planted a yearning of sobriety in him.

We all start drinking because it is fun in high school or in college. Turns out it is fun. Eventually, when college is over, a girl walks out on us, a job becomes too hard to obtain, a scar becomes too tough to rub off and life shows us utter callousness and we think to ourselves, maybe we need to have fun like we once did. Maybe we need a little inebriation so that we can reach our fun nerves that make the world soft like toffee and the music fulfilling as paradise. We set on a course that becomes difficult to abandon.

Now we drink when boss man fires us, when girlfriend leaves, when laptop breaks down, when the day becomes slow, when the day was too fast, when we are hungry, when we are full, when we have a lot of work, when we do not have work or any day we find ourselves alive. The scary part is that we cannot stop. Soon we have no any real human connection, yet a lousy job we hate, a toxic relationship, a minuscule salary and a lot of stories with no one to listen.

We are 45 years old now, life is no longer ahead of us but behind us. That is when we get to the office a little after eleven o’clock on a usual day. Usual days are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Monday and Friday are special days, do not even get me started on Saturdays and Sundays. We put on a suit but what intrigues me is what is going to be beneath that suit.

 

Feature Image by Mukiri Gitiri

 

InstagramCapture_51ae2f42-6453-4b96-839b-5e65680bd0c1

Dennis Peters

 

 

Men who do dishes

men doing dishes

I have always found it improper for men to do dishes. It is like using a whole transit lorry, those that are fond of that Gilgil route, very large, very old and very slow, carrying containers written MAERSK, a word I cannot even pronounce, is it an initial? Anyway, unless you have been on that Nakuru – Nairobi highway, you do not get it. It is like that huge truck with that enormous container being used to deliver a single tiny package, say, an infinix phone. It just ain’t right.

All I am trying to put across is that men are born and raised of mettle, their bodies are essentially metal built. When we were young we were often told not to cry like girls and I never not once wanted to be a girl so I never cried. One day I fell from mom’s boutique which was on the second floor in a certain town, Nyandarua County, I rolled over and over down the stairs and even as I went down I knew I would not die or cry. I was not a girl. So I survived. Not a single tear was shed, actually there was, much much later when mom had told me sorry a hundred times and constantly asked if I was okay. Point is I cried because of sentiments not pain. I was not a girl.

But men should not do dishes at all. Have you ever imagined doing that Bachelor of whatever you are doing in school for four dramatic years, I call them dramatic because campus is like Hollywood too much drama of people trying to be who they are not – actors, but that is a story for another day. Then after you are done and graced in a six figure ceremony later you end up updating Internet Explorers for companies for people like us computer scientists. Or running a Kibanda for our School of Business brothers and many sisters. Your talents and achievements have been misused, washed down a dirty gutter leaving you naked and humiliated.

The other day I was coming home from school and my neighbour was doing the dishes outside. The dishes were so many and to add on that he had his kid tied to his back. Any good person would have wanted to help out, take the baby or something but I am no Mother Teresa, I just watched a little then ran to my house to type this story. So there he was scratching a sufuria and turning it round and round, poor sufuria. You could even tell from a distance away that that sufuria was in anguish. Now, this guy is one of those big guys who probably used to play rugby in high school then stopped. He has a very large stature and big hands. I would like to imagine that his kid could comfortably sleep on his palm and turn comfortably! He is huge like that.

I wanted to ask him where his wife was but then that would be wrong, suppose he asked me what I needed his wife for? No. I am very well endowed with martial arts but not enough to face a giant carrying a baby, plus, those large hands would probably snap my neck aimlessly and I would lie there trying hard not to cry – like a girl. My option was only staring, no one can ask you for staring at them unless they are women. Women feel insecure when you stare at them, they will wonder if they have white hair or green kales on their teeth, and if they do they will mock you for stalking. Piece of advice, leave them alone, do not say shit, let someone else do that on your behalf, okay?

The thing with men is that they have got so much energy, energy that can work an entire day in a construction site and come out unfatigued. Hands that can dig or type the whole day and finish without any blisters. It is therefore undermining when we are asked to do dishes. We do not say it but it is true. We will not do it as aimlessly as ladies do. Ladies have a way with dishes that just speak volumes of ease. They will grab that pan gently and scratch it like they are friends, like they have known each other for a while and the pan will assent to be cleaned and the end result is magnificent. I cannot do nothing like that, I have always thought the harder you scratch the cleaner it becomes, No?

I later learnt that Mr big hands had annoyed his girlfriend (not married) the previous night and she had left without the baby and with a whole bunch of dirty dishes lying there. She should have at least done the dishes, don’t you think? Now it may appear as if am quite fond of gossip but I learnt not to cry but never to say NO to a good story. Decent tales add spice to the day, gossip or not, plus the government have always suggested Nyumba Kumi, this is my way of contributing. If Jay was caught red-handed cheating – I want to know, you remember Jay from Moving Out. He was busy with another lady when another lady showed up, dammit! Chuck your phone and take the video and when I come home from school we will share these videos, pity where we have to and laugh a lot even when it is superfluous.

Neighbours are imperative as though it may seem. I remember the first day I had come to Nyeri from Nakuru, the red sticky soil had assailed me quite often and I had to watch how people walk in order not to slip. Hilly and muddy never thought I could one day walk comfortably. But life is all about learning, I bought better shoes, adopted better walking style which lowered my centre of gravity and I owned this place like a bad behaviour. Now Nakuru is a strange place but Nyeri is home. They say a lot about it on the media but those are just outsiders, inside we laugh, eat, sleep and talk the same language and when Chania River, Muringato River, Zaina River and Sagana River continue to flow around us, we feel safe and are one with the flow.

Dennis Peters

Dennis Peters