I don’t like closed shoes. I feel like they drag my soles, they try to decide how I’ll walk, and too many shoe strings pain my ankles, so my preference lies with sandals. I also don’t know how to shop for closed shoes, I used to think that anything went, the reason why, for a very long time I had walked around on these NIKES that I only recently found out were running shoes. I have these maasai ones that are just the winner, sandals now, not NIKES. They wear my feet nicely. They liberate me, and they are a sight to look at from the bottom of the eye. They are comfortable. Isn’t that what these fashion articles are always going on about? Comfort? So I made these sandals my default setting, until the weatherman spoke up. It was time to look for some kicks.
Remember the time that I almost slept out in the cold because a damsel had taken my words very lightly about crashing at her place? And I had visualized a gang of boys mugging me and taking away my shoes? Those are the kicks I had on that scary night, and the day after. (Not like I have any other pair anyway) but this isn’t about shoes, you’ll see.
I turned that into a story, but only partly. I was going to write about Nairobi at night, about the things I came across. Even in the falling darkness there’s still enough to see the two sides of it, this, our Nairobi. I was going to write about the side that’s mostly empty; uptown it’s called, washed with street lamps, and the other side, washed with people. I didn’t find much on the empty side. There are clubs here and cabs there. A watch guard here and there, breathing out warmth in the night air, and traffic lights guiding nothing in particular. Still, it’s a beautiful silence. I’d have written about the other side, where there aren’t skyscrapers, where it gets crowded quickly, where there are panya routes smelling like urine and homelessness, where they have a dozen hardware stores in one building, and too many printing/photocopy/Mpesa shops.
This is the side where markets spring up as soon as kanjo chaps close shop, when the sun goes down. They don’t fight for space, these markets, because anywhere goes. Mats are laid on the ground and farm produce arranged in little pyramids, and then they sit there silently, waiting to be saved from the streets, both the produce and the sellers. I was going to write about the small choir that drums and sings melodiously along Tom Mboya, and the dread-locked chef who dishes out cooking tips along Moi Avenue. (See what I did there? With the dishes?) As I walked slowly to take my place at the back of a long bus queue, with blistered feet caused by…. you guessed it, the shoes, I realized that all these people hide, they hide from the sun and from the back of kanjo trucks. But there’re others who don’t hide for shit, they own where they stand. I saw them as I made my way to town the next morning.
There was a small traffic snarl up getting into the city around Haile Sellasie roundabout, my head was against the window with Kings of Leon in my ears, like I was in some slow drama movie with Keira Knightly (the jaw line on her finishes me lakini) when I saw a bus terminal board reading upesi wa baraka or something like that, I don’t remember well enough, but it was morbid. It made public transport scary. I stepped off and walked the rest of the distance. I was in Muthurwa. I was going to write about the owners of Muthurwa.
I saw a guy peeling off an orange with his soiled hands, I saw an old man dripping with sweat pulling a cart full of sacks, I saw a woman leaning a cardboard over her tomatoes, 3 kwa 10, and I saw a rat. There’s a footbridge around there that I saw no one use, because one side of it was closed by a group of boys with hats and their hands folded behind them, they were listening to another one who looked older, and all of them looked over their shoulders from time to time. I walked slowly because I wanted to hear the voice recording coming from a pesticide stall, and I wanted to know how much shoes cost. I walked slowly because I had blisters. When I walked slowly so I wouldn’t lose my balance on the muddy surface, I saw people who were losing their balance on life. I walked slowly so that I would look for hints of hope from the owners of this place, that life hadn’t entirely put them on their knees, I saw a smile here and there. And I was going to write about that smile, I was going to write a story on strength and hope, and a beautiful struggle.
That story didn’t see the light of day. (And now I leave this here and walk out slowly)