This piece was first informed by a slight altercation then spurred by bravado. A friend told me that Iâm a âmiddle-class sympathiserâ masquerading behind my yellowish rants as a way of âvalidating and laudingâ the middle-class idiosyncrasies and that I should consider my modus operandi and âstop representingâ the farce that this dated landscape has become.
Bullshit, I spat, I donât representing anyone, and I only write about the middle-class because they are sitting ducks. âSadly, you have become what you write,â she egged on, âand one day, when this middle-class skin has grown old, you will be left un-reinvented and stewing in your own reservoir of inoperable words.â
I asked her, âare you here to knock my head against a wall or is this going anywhere other than badly?â
âGet out of that shell, Biko.â
âBy doing what?â
âLeave what you know. Go to the unknown,â
âUnknown? Like where this conversation is headed?â
âClose. Why donât you one day show that you have the cajones to write about something challenging?â
âI actually like that.â
âWhat, the idea?â
âNo, cajones. People donât use that word enough.â
âOK, fine. What do you want me to write about that you imagine will get me out of my comfort zone?â I inquired.
âWrite about Sabina Joy.â
Enter stage left, Wanjohi Githae. Reporter with The People newspaper. He hails from Kerugoya Town and attended Kaitheri Primary School. By the way when some Kuyus tell you a name of a school they attended you always imagine they are pulling your leg because the names sound like a traditional herb: Riamukurwe Sec School, Ithekahuno Sec School, Gathuki Mundu Pri School (meaning: shake up a guy), Kianguenyi Sec School, Kangubiri Sec School, Kiangoma Sec. School (meaning: the devilâs), Muthuani Sec SchoolâŠIt goes on and on like a horror movie credit.
You meet someone who attended one of these schools and you want to reach out and hug them. Hug them and tell them, âitâs all right, you are here now, you are here, thatâs all that matters.â
I met Wanjohi in 2010 during some KTB media trip where we scored the country from Laikipia to Tsavo. Fun times. On our last stop at Shompole Lodge (now defunct), a top-of-the-range resort clinging on the edge of Nguruman escarpment and charging about 50K per person per night for a view and a bed, we shared a large condo which had two monstrous four post beds, a private pool, no windows or walls facing the escarpment and a view so stunning it looked like a prank.
Anyway, this morning I stir awake because the room is suddenly awash with orange as the sun is rising. From my bed I could see the sunrise without leaving it and as I lie there half-asleep, I see Wanjohi walking across the room, heading to the loo. Heâs naked. Buck-naked. Iâm stunned. Not stunned at his nakedness but at the fact. But heâs nonchalant, shuffling across yawning and scratching his back. Thatâs how life is; you wake up hoping to see the glorious sunset instead you get your sun blocked by a naked man. And you dare complain about traffic? If that were Nyanza it would have been a different story, because the only folk who walk naked at dawn are night-runners. Wanjohi, unbeknownst to him, has that recessive night-running gene.
I called him last week and told him, âBoss, how about you take me to Sabina Joy, I want to check it out. Two hours tops. Iâm buying.â He was confused but agreed.
You might know Sabina Joy as Karumaindo. Itâs legendary, a mythological train that tirelessly keeps chugging and coughing decades of lustful notoriety. Karumaindo has been there since God was a teenager. Itâs ideally a whorehouse, but if you are of the more decent disposition you will call it a bar. Everybody who has been in this town longer than a week has, at least, heard one urban lore about Karumaindo. Itâs revered for its licentiousness; itâs total lack of sympathy to the naĂŻve or the urban-virgins. Depending on whom you ask, itâs the den of thieves and the spot in town where Jezebel hangs her bra. Karumaindo swallows the innocent and spits them out baptised in the roguish ways of Nairobi. Although you might be with people you are always alone at Karumaindo because the quest for the pleasures of the flesh is a journey pursued alone.
And I was dying to see it for myself.
So 8pm last Friday. I leave my wallet, phone and watch in the car, not because Iâm a wuss but becauseâŠOK, because Iâm a wuss. I meet up with Wanjohi and together we walk down Kimathi Street, cross Uhuru Highway at Hilton and past the statue of Tom Mboya that stands forlornly in the dark pointing towards statehouse and in the process turning into a pitiful emblem of the Luoâs reiterated inability to rise to the big seat. Wanjohi reads me the riot act: donât order anything that canât be opened before you, so no whisky, or brandy; donât leave your drink unattended; always keep your eye on the drink; minimise bathroom breaks; donât use a glass; stay close; donât get drunk; donât touch any chic.
âWhat if she touches me first?â I wonder.
We stroll past National Archive, past hawkers and street bums and vagabonds and the evening crowd rushing home with the weight of the day slung over their shoulders. We pass that square before Ambassador Hotel, where all the suited Luos carrying folded newspapers (The Standard mostly) hurdle in circles talking siasa animatedly. You will not find a more boisterous and dedicated political panel of analysts South of Limpopo.
Sabina Joy doesnât announce herself because Sabina Joy doesnât need to announce herself. Thatâs how cocky Sabina is – whoever she was/is. One moment you are walking past the smorgasbord of heaving commerce at the Ambassador stage and the next the entrance is upon you. Only a small dusty Tusker shingle above directs you in.
Once you cross this threshold you have crossed the Rubicon. Now you are in a rabbit hole. (A bit of pun, of course). You walk up a tunnel-like winding staircase, following the thudding sound of the muffled music above. You walk up this tunnel of debauchery with other men, trudging up determinedly and with all that unbridled hope of those led by their crotches.
On the second floor there is a security guy with rheumy eyes the colour of strong tea, patting us down, groping our pockets and impatiently waving us in. We are patted by about four different security guys. Then we walk down this corridor with flashing gaudy disco lights. There are girls writhing around in what in this part of town passes for sexy. Fat girls, slim girls, light girls, dark girls, pretty girls, girls with faces only a mother can love, girls with faces that can fit at Brew Bistro, girls in heels and girls in sandals, girls
with long weave, bald girls, girls with talons for toes, dusty-footed girls, red eyed girls, girls with red lips, smiling girls, scowling girls, girls with teeth from Nakuru, girls with breasts that can asphyxiate you, girls with chests so flat you can shoot pool on themâŠthen iron your shirt off them. They all have one thing in common; they are here for you. At a price.
Karumaindo comes as a sinking disappointment when we walk into the bar. Based on the stories I heard, I pictured a dysfunctional, treacherous and extremely seedy joint. I pictured something smoky with patrons all wearing those Kikuyu hats and tapping their pointed-toed boots to Mugithi songs that Wanjohi was to translate. I expected everybody in there to wear loose pleather leather jackets and big golden chains around their necks. In my head, the common word spoken there was going to be cigana?
Instead it isnât; itâs seedy all right but you donât get the feeling that danger lurks around. And there isnât anybody wearing pleather jackets or pointed-toed boots. Iâm crushed.
The sitting area is T-shaped. Tables are wedged close to each other with men slumped in them sipping their beers. There are TV screens all over, showing National Geographic, of all the things for crying out loud. The men raptly watch a scene of male Gazelles locking horns. There are old posters on the wall, some still proclaiming Lil Kim as the hottest star. How old is Kim now, 60? Fans whiz overhead. At the end of the room is a cage from where the deejay peeks like a caged psychopath. That cage for some reason reminds me of Hannibal Lector. Sabina Joy is packed. And it smells. Not a foul smell, but this smell of blue-collar struggle.
I order two beers. Wanjohiâs Pilsner comes in this titanic bottle that the size of a rocket launcher. Iâm curious to see how he will lift it to his mouth alone. We drink. Girls parade by sipping from plastic bottles. Dodgy looking men pretend to ignore them, like they just came here to watch National Geographic then they will be on their way. Soul music blares from the speakers hanging overhead as 80âs disco lights flash about.
A guy selling boiled eggs stops by our table. We shake our heads, he moves along. Guy selling Kenyan porn next stops by. Again we shake our heads, he moves on. This girl with very dark elbows walks by eyeing us. We shake our headsâŠat her elbows. We drink and make small talk. My beer is warm; I might as well order a boiled egg to go with it.
At 10pm, I call this girl. You know how Tony Soprano used to call those strippers over? Itâs very chauvinistic. It has to be chauvinistic, thatâs the only way it can work. But it wonât work at Mercury. It works here because here is ideally a cave and we are all cavemen and the year is, well, what year was Lil Kim a hot commodity?
This girl I summoned wedges between Wanjohi and I and offers me a smile that is supposed to make me imagine that she is shy. Well, sheâs as shy as a wolf. Sheâs light with a decent face but a body that contests that decency; large belly a flat bum, small legs and a tyre around her just in case El Nino rocks up unannounced. You guys, I believe, fondly refer to it as a âKikuyu bodyâ. Letâs not get emotional. Priss.
She tells me her name is Samantha. No matter, at Karumaindo names mean squat. I tell her Iâm Musa.
I offer to buy her beer, she orders for canned Pilsner, which I pop open for her and she raises it up and we knock up in cheers like decent folk. Samantha has this red tattoo of a Playboy bunny on her right breast. Yes, I was looking. They were in my face, OK? What did you want me to look at instead, the Gazelleâs locking horns? I ask her what the tattoo is and she (I swear) holds the whole poor breast up (jeez Samantha, I forgot to mention I like my tea black) and asks, âHii? Hii ni Playboy, I am a Playgirl.â
âNo, you are a bunny,â I correct her.
âHapana, mimi ni Playgirl,â she insists and Iâm not in the mood to debate. Playgirl it is. Samantha is sort of funny. Wanjohi had warned me not to ask questions that would get us stabbed, so I struggled to keep it light and nonchalant. Iâve always wanted to interview a hooker. Or a Madame. Can you imagine the kind of male insecurity stories these women harbour in them? I say insecurity because I think â and I might be right- for you to pay for sex directly (not by buying Pinot noir at Level 8) is a sign of insecurity. For now Samantha will do even though my hands are tied behind my back because Wanjohi is listening.
But I neednât to because sheâs a talker. She tells me that she doesnât service light older men because she never knew her father and her mother wasnât sure who her father was and she telling her he was either a Kikuyu one or an Ethiopian.
She laughs a lot and when she does she sort of rams her body playfully into my shoulder, like we grew up together and shit.
The guy selling boiled eggs stops by again and looks at me in case Iâve had a change of heart. I shake my head. He looks over at Samantha who asks me if I want an egg. Well, not the one he is selling, I tell her in Kiswahili and it, unsurprisingly, flies right over her weave.
At some point she removes my hat from my head and asks if I wear hats. I tell her all the damn time. She asks why? I tell her to look tough. Donât I look tough? She puts it back on my head and takes a good look at me and says no. She asks if she can keep it. I tell her she can if she lets me keep her Playboy bunny. She laughs and rams her shoulder into mine. Then without warning she gets right to it and asks, âsasa itakuwa Kanu ama?â
Kanu? Like Moi Kanu? Iâm confused, is this a political parties recruitment drive? I ask her what that is and she laughs and says âUko na utoto!â I swear to her that I donât know what she means. She then wags her finger in that Kanu fashion (tingisha kidole fame) and looks at me naughtily. I still donât get it. Then she wags it again, then I get it and laugh. You get it, too, donât you? Wagging finger? You get it now? Alama ya jogoo? Anyone?
Sigh. She means sex and her finger is supposed to represent a phallus. These girls are creative.
I ask her how much. She says five hundred. I snort and tell her she is out of her mind, I aint paying 500bob, not with that belly on you, baby! OK, that last bit I think to myself. She says thatâs the going rate. I talk her down to 300bob just to test my negotiation skills, or her desperation level. She tells me there are rooms on the same floor that go for 200bob for 20mins. There, she says, you are timed, which I gather means no foreplay or asking stupid questions like âhow was your day today?â I ask her to come get me in 45mins that I need to discuss business with my pal first. She leaves obediently. Wanjohi and I sneak out 20mins later.
After all I heard Sabina Joy didnât make look at life different or give me any unique insight into humanity or the trade of flesh. It didnât illuminate me or the people I saw. It didnât bubble to the surface my sense of morality. I didnât find it gritty or profound or humbling in its decadence. Actually it disappointed me. Cheated me. Raised my hope then dashed it. Maybe it’s because Iâm jaded by such novelty. Or maybe itâs the first impression I got when we walked in; that image of grown men watching gazelleâs lock horns on National Geographic. Has foreplay sunk to such lows?
[Photo credit: Agence VU’]