Here’s to the lady with the white shoes…
A short story about withered youth (and the unsavory feeling of inter-gluteal wetness).
Once upon a time, somewhere in the far depths of Eastern Nairobi, there was a bustling neighborhood named Doni. A main road tore through the middle of it, starting from (the now defunct) Caltex P.S then spilling into Jacaranda roundabout, dividing Doni into two sections: Old Doni and New Doni.
In his fifth year of primary school, our main character (who we shall indefinitely continue to refer to as the “character”) lived in a gated court in New Doni – the busier, lefter side of Doni. However, he schooled in Old Doni.
Mid-2007. The sun -as he remembers- shone brightly yellow, just as it does now; only then, it didn’t choke you. Everywhere in Doni it was cleverly-named hair salons and cleverly-named electronics places and greasy-palmed men violently kneading dough at 7 am. And, of course, the main road.
In many ways, the road was like a river that he waded through every morning: Sometimes overflowing with traffic, like a river almost bursting its banks. Sometimes calm and silent, perhaps only with the sight of a leaf floating by. Though he was never fully aware of it, the road was always to him a surety of arrival. Every morning when he arrived and stood on its curb, though only halfway through his walk to school, he knew subliminally that his journey was over. And he breathed slow.
In one distinct memory, on a school morning, he is holding tightly his small sister’s hand by the roadside, and it is warm, and they are waiting to cross the road. Looking Left. Looking Right. Looking Left Again. Ah, easy days these were for him.
In the evening he would do the same – accompany his sister home, because he was older now and he could be trusted. It was the routine.
Sometimes on his way home from school, in the blistering evening heat that stuck the uniform fabric to his testicles, our character would meet with his mother – a delightful woman with the heart of a swan. And her seeing him hand-in-hand with his small sister, both with an adorable and dusty look, she would think up an enticing offer and she would say to them beneath a smile, “Nani anataka kupigwa picha?!”
And so it was on this evening, a good evening, that our character and his small sister found themselves standing in a photo studio. This was still within the time that photo studios thrived; unencumbered by the advent of high quality Nikons and the cool kids who would come bearing them. This particular photo studio was tucked in between a kinyozi and a grocery place, and it smelt -as our character remembers- of burning film.
The character’s mother stands behind the camera man, watching. And in a bid to inspire some delight into the photo, she blurts, “Chekeni kidogo..”
Then, a flash.
That, friends, is the story behind this picture. A wisecracking mom with a penchant for family snaps.
Still, the intended point of the story of our character’s life – whether his family, or the fragility of time, or his growing attachment to Doni – remains somewhat obscure.
It’s conceivable that the point was Doni. That, on some level, he greatly relished the thought of growing old here: An old man with a blade of grass hanging from the edge of his mouth, who, like Old Bill – a retired pseudo-human sheriff in a HBO psycho-thriller from whose dialogues our character may one day seek himself – will tell people of the mighty showdowns he has seen in his day.
Whatever fates that do befall our main character in the end, good or bad, no one really knows.
Perhaps one day, when he is older and he understands things, when the sun shines not brightly yellow but a brilliant pale white, he will sit alone and stare at this photo, staring yet not looking, secretly trying to suppress his fears – the deepest of which is that one day he will wake up and, in a flashing moment of realization, he will fathom that he has been in the same place for most of his life. Blinded by the convenience of constancy. And as the general reality of it slowly dawns on him making his stomach turn, he will say to himself, “I’m an institutional man now.”
And, finally, as if seeing things clearly for the first time, he will look around and he will realize that he is in a prison.
A prison of his own sins.