When I go to pick up Tamms from the salon I see him still seated there waiting for his woman. He’s slouched in his chair, his long legs running endlessly before him like a chocolate-coloured river in Congo. His feet are noticeably large, the size of a preterm baby. He has sandals on – the areas between his toes are flour white. He sips from a porcelain cup balanced on the arm of his chair. His woman is under the dryer; a big woman with cheeks you want to pinch twice.
I sat there and wondered why a grown man would sit in a salon and wait for his woman when he could do a million things to fill that time. What exactly would a woman have to give you to make you wait for her inside a goddamn salon for hours on end as she touches up her bob haircut? You just sitting there in the stewing broth of oestrogen and progesterone, reading those dated and dog-eared girlie magazines, taking up all the room with your long legs?
Is that love? Idleness? Stoicism? Patience?
I sat upstairs at Java Kileleshwa on Christmas morning. I had a bitch of a flu; my head weighed like a brick, my mouth tasted like wet ballast. Christmas jingles spilled softly from the speakers overhead. The 8 a.m. light was soft, warm and seductive. We were a total of three patrons, all men. The other two chaps were engrossed on their iPhones. They never looked up.
I sat at the window, fired up my laptop and read an article on Tatler by Jilly Cooper who I had just discovered. If I met Jilly Cooper’s wonderful mind in a bar having glass after glass of sangria and we drunk some more and talked and laughed and her mind turned to me, locked eyes with mine and said, “Listen, I like inappropriate men like you, let’s go back to my place,” I would ask her mind, “Are you ovulating?” and pray that she said yes because the world needs lots and lots of Jilly Coopers. She’s hysterical. Her mind is like an overripe avocado.
Later I ordered eggs and toast with a side order of guacamole, then I started pecking away on the laptop. By the way, have you noticed that the rotary fan that hangs over the staircase at this Java is branded “Big Ass Fan”? I swear. I stopped what I was writing and Googled ‘big ass fans’ and sure enough they were an American company called Big Ass Solutions, makers of fans for industrial, commercial and residential usage. Somewhere in Lexington there are employees, fathers and mothers, who when you meet in social functions are proud to say, “I work for Big Ass Solutions.”
I don’t want to imagine the type of conversations that guys at the Java management office have. Might go something like this:
Someone sticks his head around a doorway in an office and tells their colleague,
“Hey, how’z it?”
“Sharp. What’s up?”
“What are our people doing about the big ass at Kileleshwa branch?”
“We have a big ass at Kileleshwa branch?”
“Do you work here?”
“Haha. What’s up with the big ass?”
“I don’t know but something’s wrong with it.”
“The big ass isn’t moving?”
“Still like Sunday.”
“Oh boy. I will get James to handle it.”
“James is on leave.”
“Well, one of his people can handle it, then.”
“No, they can’t. Only James handles big asses.”
“Ok, fine, let me try and call him from leave.”
Then maintenance would ring James.
“James, sasa? How is your leave, are you in shags?”
“No, I’m in Nai.”
“Good, because we have a big ass problem.”
“Oh boy, what’s the problem now?
“I just told you, big ass!”
“Yeah, you have to come.”
Shakespeare should have lived during these times, he wouldn’t have said a rose called by any name would still smell as sweet.
An hour later, I drove around because it was so beautiful and peaceful (or “pisiful” as Kisiis say). I fuelled at Shell Waiyaki Way (before their scandal), paid by Mpesa and Safaricom offered me a whole 1 min FREE talktime for paying by Mpesa. (I couldn’t believe it. Is there an end to their bottomless generosity?)
I then slowly drove down a deserted James Gichuru, past Lavington Green and right after Isaac Gathanju Road I passed a muslim guy in a long flowing kanzu, a crate of soda hoisted up on his right shoulder, walking right in the middle of the road, on the broken yellow line. Felt like armageddon. I was playing Teddy Pendergrass, which is the worst possible selection of artists that one can play on Christmas Day.
On Gitanga Road, at the Valley Arcade stage, an Indian man stood carrying a potted flower against his chest. On Dennis Pritt my father called interrupting “Somebody Told Me,” to say thanks for the Mpesa. I asked him if he was going to stay in the boma alone on Christmas and he said he was going up to have lunch with his mother. Then I pictured my mom’s grave in that empty boma on Christmas Day. Mom spending her Christmas alone.
Boy, was I blue after that?
So I killed Pendergrass.
I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in ages at Aga Khan Hospital. She was standing carrying a New-Year baby in a swatch of shawl at the exit of the Maternity Wing. I parted the cloth slightly to reveal a pink brand new baby with peeling raw-looking cheeks. “She’s gorgeous!” I lied. (Newborns are not gorgeous).
She said she was waiting for her husband to bring around the car from the parking lot. “Oh you must meet him,” she gushed, “He’s such a big fan.” So we stood there and waited. And waited. And waited. At some point I turned to her, “He is coming for you guys, right?” I asked somberly, “I think he got cold feet.” Somehow she found that funny because she laughed so hard I thought she would drop the baby.
I know a guy at Jamia Mosque who sells clothes. One of those “Fendi Men,” a dapper guy, never a hair out of place. He says things like, “Niko na look kali sana yako.” I like him, he makes me laugh with his rich colourful language which sometimes I suspect he makes up. He calls me “bazenga”, a sheng word to mean “boss.”
Anyway I go to his shop, pick and fit this shoe that I like, and then this guy comes from nowhere and picks the left shoe of the same pair. I picked it first so it’s mine, right? I loudly tell my Fendi guy (for the other guy to hear) that I will take the shoe but the other guy pretends not to hear. When my Fendi guy tells him that the shoe has been taken he remains adamant, he won’t give it back, says he likes it too. So we are both holding onto one shoe of the same pair, like some type of shoe-stand off.
I don’t want to address him and tell him he’s being ridiculous but he looks like one of those guys who would not reason constructively because he has a silver ring on his pinky finger. I don’t think anyone – a grown man – who has the temerity to wear a ring on his small finger is of sound mind. Plus it’s a few days to Christmas, a time for love, not of splitting hairs over a shoe.
What this guy does next is to tuck the one shoe under his arm while he goes on to look at shirts, a demonstration that the shoe is his and he is willing to hold out for as long as it takes. He has time, and a pinky ring. I’m outnumbered by foolishness. I look at the Fendi guy like, “Is this really happening in 2016?”and he’s at loss because we are both his customers. He’s faced with the same conundrum King Solomon had when he had to choose who the real mother of the child was.
I could easily have told the Fendi guy who the child belonged to.
I eventually back down and hand the Fendi guy the shoe. I conceded not because I was wrong but because he had put that shoe under his armpit. I didn’t want to start my 2017 with a shoe that a man with a ring on his little finger had put under his armpit.
I don’t think I would have achieved my full potential in 2017 with a shoe like that.
“Do you still remember your mom’s number?” She asked.
“Of course!” I said. “07226315–”
She lost her father right before I lost my mom. Her father grew a long beard right before passing, got close to God, prayed often, then he fell down and died. She was devastated. She says how growing up she would come back from high school and place her head on his laps and he would stroke her hair like a baby. She slept in the same bed with her father until she was 13. In India, she had sat, slept by him and nursed him for a whole month as cancer got the better of him. She can recognise death in a crowd of life.
“Are you ever tempted to call that number sometimes?”
“Every few months I call it.” I said.
I fetched my phone, scrolled in my phonebook for “Mum” and called it with the speakerphone on.
She’s still mteja.
I stood at the window and watched a neighbour move out, and I marvelled at how a good looking lady like her could own such a spectacularly ugly bed.
Remember my last post about my mentee who was “let go” by his chic? Well, one Nkatha sent her old laptop to him to use immediately. Then Barbara sent me an email offering to send me money to buy him a new one, which didn’t happen because one Patrick had already bought and sent him a brand new one.
Mr Patrick, may bountiful blessings gallop your way this year.
(I always associate “bountiful” as a word that gallops, as opposed to trots.)
I took Kim to get a shave. As we rode up the four floors in the elevator, a lady smiled at him and made a face. He grabbed my leg shyly and pressed his head against my thigh.
“So cute” She said, smiling at me politely.
“Thanks.” I mumbled.
I still suspect Kim imagined that that compliment was his.
On New Year’s Eve night, I drank two doubles of smoky, blended whisky at a friend’s house, then at 11:30pm I called an Uber that arrived with a pleasant driver called Felix. He had massive thighs, like the trunk of an old fig tree. “Let’s drive around and look for Alcoblow guys.” I told him as I snapped in my seat belt.
“Okay.” he said, as if it was a perfectly normal request that he heard everyday. We set off in silence.
“Why are you looking for them?” he asked, curiosity finally getting the better of him.
“One of them is married to my sister and he hasn’t been home in three days. Just out drinking.” I said straight-faced. I tried not to giggle. People will believe anything if you don’t giggle.
So as the skies lit with fireworks at midnight, we drove around – James Gichuru, Argwings Kodhek, Langata Road, Mombasa Road, Thika Road – but never found them Alcoblow chaps.
When he dropped me off at 2am he said, “I’m sorry for your sister.”
Three weeks ago Betty Kyalo and her partner Susan Kaitany invited me over to look around their new yet-to-be-launched spa – Posh Palace Hair Studio and Spa – on Sifa Towers, Lenana Road. Betty said, “You should be coming here for a haircut, we have a nice barber.” I said I was happy with Sam, my barber. “Plus, I love my wash girl, she’s fantastic! She gives great neck and head massages after and sometimes she rubs my head against her boobs during the massage and it makes this fractured world feel so secure.”
“Who is she?” they insisted, “We want her!” Of course I refused to divulge her name. She is mine!
“But no, seriously,” I said, “it’s not easy to just change barbers, it’s complicated.”
Susan asked incredulously, “What do you mean, complicated?”
“Because we are men,” I said, “We can’t just change our barbers on a whim. I have had Sam for almost ten years now, literally my whole 30’s. If another barber touched my head I would be riddled with guilt. I’d feel like I cheated on him.”
Betty rolled her eyes. “I wish you men would remain that faithful to your women like you do to your barbers and mechanics.”
Susan, one arm akimbo, nodded virtuously.
So they invited me for a haircut and a massage. I went back last Friday (Terrific place, by the way, they should have called it Very Posh Palace Hair Studio and Spa).
I got a haircut from a gentleman called Armstrong with skin as dark as wet coal, a rich beautiful dark chocolate. He’s 33, studied Counselling Psychology but was lured to cutting hair, his passion. He’s from Eregi. (That’s in Western, for you who haven’t gone past Naivasha). He said he has been cutting hair for years. “I do house-calls for Sauti Sol and also Bruce Odhiambo.” He said proudly.
“Kids?” I asked.
“Three, one, the eldest is from outside though, we luhyas have to have one child from outside,”
He winked in the mirror.
I almost winked back.
“What’s all that about, by the way?” I asked.
“I don’t know, it’s just the way it is.”
“Does your wife know about this child?”
“Oh yeah, before we even started dating, I told her about him and even introduced them. She is fine with it.”
I keenly watched him cut my beard. Last time I went to a different barber in Kisumu the guy cut almost all of it off. I was mortified! I left the barber shop feeling like a cock without a crown. My face felt naked and cold. I had walked into the shop a cock and left a feather duster.
“Is this size, OK?” he asked.
“I think so,” I said turning my head slightly to the side. “What do you think?”
“Let’s trim this side just a bit.”
“Go for it.”
So he trimmed it delicately, like he was cutting off an offending appendix.
“Are you paying school fees for this child?” I asked.
“You are not just saying that, are you, kumbe when it’s time to pay you don’t pick her calls?”
He grinned. “No, no, I pay every term.”
“Good. Good. You should, even if you are a Luhya.”
I winked in the mirror. He laughed.
“Do you like a cut here?” He asked indicating my hairline. I nodded.
“Why didn’t it work with the mother, anyway?” I pressed on.
“Well, she was Muslim and her mother wanted me to convert in order to be with her daughter but I couldn’t, so we parted. She was Ugandan.”
“And where is your current from?”
“Waah, from Uganda to Taita, the legend of Armstrong sweeps across the land.”
Then I realised it’s unfair not to declare that I’m a writer. “I will write about you.” I said, he said Sawa, where? I said a small blog that nobody reads. He looked unbothered.
I will say this without embellishing it; Armstrong is a fantastic barber. Take that to the bank. He’s very delicate, dexterous and warm. He also has a very good laid back vibe and his shaver is enslaved to him. Or maybe it’s the other way round.
I later got a wash and a head massage from Julia the wash girl (not nearly as good as my wash girl) then later a Swedish Massage from Eunice. (Sublime).
Later Betty and Susan asked if I had changed my mind about coming to their shop for my weekly haircut but I said no. Sam and I have come from far. “Should Sam retire to shags,” I said, “Or decide to open a barber shop in Kitui, or resort to pig farming, then I will definitely come.”
They wore long faces.
I don’t know how I will face Sam next week with evidence on my head. I’m sure he will be silently impressed by Armstrong’s handiwork, but he won’t say shit because he’s a proud man and his pride won’t allow him to imagine that I even considered someone else.
He will probably ask, “Kwani ulisafiri?” and when I say no, he will know for sure that another man had touched my head. Then there will be that brief but weighty unspoken tension, the air over my head will be heavy as he shaves me and I will wish that they install one of those Big Ass Fans in there to scatter that heavy fog.