January 12, 2009 at 12:00 am (Awakening, Dreamer)

I need change

Here’s something I’ve never said outloud.

I had ambitions of law enforcement, once upon my youth. It was a very brief, very vivid, explosive dream and phase.

Then I received my first standard police issue beatdown.

The story behind it is one I choose to repress. I had just started living alone in downtown Nairobi. One stressful Wednesday night, I made my way to a bar.  After a few beers and cancer sticks, I decided to walk back to my little den and continue smoking in the privacy of my balcony. On my walk back, somewhere between The Hilton and one it’s adjacent buildings, I saw a lady dart accross the highway with complete disregard for the oncoming bus. She was so terrified and frantic, I almost didn’t realize that I recognized her. Not by name, or acquaintance, but by how gorgeous she was. She was one of those girls I’d see in every club I went to, but never approached. But that’s another story for another day.

I didn’t take time to figure out what or why she was doing what she was doing. My upbringing taught me to not meddle; she might not even be a victim after all. But because I was going through my wannabe Superhero phase, I began pacing to the direction she was headed in, halting traffic before she got there. She didnt see herself run into me, as she was looking behind her.

I grabbed her startled frame and asked if she was ok in a calm voice. She shivered, juggling words, whimpers and tears, letting neither one out of her body in its entirety. I asked her again, releasing my grip slightly so I could take off my jacket. I looked around for possible assailants, and saw no vagabonds afoot. My head spun back to her when her head touched my chest. She was now completely bawling, in tears. I wrapped my jacket around her and was about to begin leading her towards safety(my place). She muttered 2 words, 3 syllables, that I  did not discern and decipher until the next morning. Mostly because shortly thereafter, I believe I received a blow to the head that I should really not have forgetten. All I remember is the pain of trying to wake up from it. The pain ringing in my head, as well as the pain of having boots and bats swung at my ribs and limbs.

While massaging my legs and head the next morning, before heading to school, I realized what she had said.

“Ni karao.” *(“It’s police”)

I had flashes of the police rushing past me as I hit the ground, and snatching up the little lady in question. I heard their short exchange regarding me. Loosely translated, it goes something along the lines of:

Cop: (screaming to the lady)Do you know him?

(No response, only whimpers)

Cop: (To another cop) Whoever he is make sure he does not get up. (turns to girl) Give me that jacket.

For the longest time, I thought I was deluding and as a result, never spoke of it. But as time went by, it made more and more sense. About 2 weeks later, I was crossing that very street, walking through the Hilton on my way to a lunch date and subsequently to get my hair braided. Those were the days when smoking out in the open was not shunned, let alone illegal.  I finished my cigarette and flicked it a few feet forward so that I could stomp it out, but misstepped and did not put it out. I turned around to finish it off and did not see myself turn into….

That girl. 

There are situations so awkward that even the most apt and savvy conversationists falter. I stared with no words, and she looked back at me long enough for me to know that she recognized me.  She then looked down and started marching away. I hesitated between following her and extinguishing my cigarette. I looked down to realize that the wind had carried it away, and when I looked up, it seemed the wind had also carried her off with it.

After a brief shrug and sigh combo, I reached into my backpack, shuffling the contents for another cigarette. I continued my trek toward Nandos and while I lit my new cig, spotted the mystery lady somwhere on my right. She was looking around and behind her, possibly for me, so she could move the opposite direction.  I snuck up behind her and stood still, long enough for her to notice the lingering smoke.

A few witty puns later, we sat on a nearby fence and had a random conversation about lighters and bottle openers for about 10 minutes. We found out that she lived in the hood I grew up in. I got her number and promised to visit and proceeded to be late for my lunch with my then ex-girlfriend, and later with my “hair tech”(as she dubbed herself). As a point of information, I used to have long hair…really long.

Later that night, I gave my new unnamed lady friend a call to let her know that I would be drinking at Carnivore, a local club, later that night and that she should feel free to stop by. When she mentioned that she had no wheels, I mentioned that I did, and we agreed that if she had clothes, she would need to have them on by 9.30pm that night.

The music was nice, uptempo and “happifying” as she described it. We sat at the bar outside and found out that outside of our affinity for strolling dangerous streets late at night, we also had a similar brand of humor, and distaste for conformity. And that’s when it happened: the moment I decided that nobody would protect me, but me. She reached over my hand and grabbed my box of cigarettes, nodding and smiling while doing so. I nodded back as I sipped my brew, then she asked me for a lighter and I reached into my pockets and looked around in vain. Right then a hand swung over her shoulders from behind her and lit the cigarette. The man did not even stay for thanks. 

He just put my lighter back in my jacket pocket, readjusted it and continued walking past us, disappearing into the crowd as she blew a cloud into the air and asked the waiter for another drink.


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