Sometimes a song from your past evokes a memory so vivid, you shut out the world and summon the rest of your senses to fill in the spaces.
You must listen to this song as you read this piece:
I close my eyes, and I am transported to a pot-holed dance floor in Bungoma.
I had been living in Bungoma for about two years, and felt too much of a shagsmodo to deal with the relative fanciness of partying in nearby Kisumu Cirry. Good Friends had become our local.
Good Friends. The name says it all. Not Best Friends, or even Great Friends, which implies a sort of unconditional kinship grounded on years of hapless adventure and mutually embarrassing stories. No, there is nothing unconditional about Good Friends; it would embrace you into its sweaty fold, and then just as soon spit you out with as much ceremony as a Makanga clearing phlegm from his throat.
Conveniently sandwiched between two banks, Good Friends peeked out onto Bungoma town’s busiest street. There was no privacy to be had from this walk of shame. Yet it was at the time, Bungoma’s most happening club. You ducked into the entrance, through a dark corridor, past the smell of released bladders, into an opening, where Ken, the soft eyed, large palmed bouncer perched on a bar stool. It was Ken’s job to keep the unsavoury types away. Let’s be honest, the bar for this was very low, and Ken was not particularly discerning, as long as his large palms were kept sufficiently greased. Despite the edge of menace in his eyes, his saliva lubricated chuckle and habit of saying my name often in the middle of our conversations, endeared him to me.
Once you got the nod of admission from Ken, followed by a large palmed pat on your back, you were in. The dance floor, like a battle ground sporting war wounds from enthusiastic spiky-heeled ladies stomping out their territory, was potholed. Like the roads of Nairobi, you could identify the newbies, as their feet tripped and they collapsed to the floor, victim to the jagged gaping holes, while loyal Good Friend-ers, expertly grooved, their feet familiar with the hilly dance floor terrain.
The dance floor however was not where the real action took place. The ladies of the night would sway in front of the mirror lined walls of the club, gazing at themselves, rubbing their hands all over their bodies, hypnotised by their own reflections, completely oblivious to the lustful stares of men sitting nearby. Men whose status was measured by the number of unopened warm beers lined up like soldiers on the table tops.
The bar was of course caged. The bartender had to be protected from over-zealous patrons, or was it the beer that had to be protected? They had just started serving wine when I was there, juice box sized cartons of sweet red Spanish wine, Caprice, which everyone pronounced as Kaprichey. The maroon box, with its whimsical Victorian vineyard illustration, was the fashion statement of the moment, and for those who could not ‘take it neat’, a bottle of Fanta orange was provided ‘to take the edge off’. I consciously moderated my liquid intake. One of my first visits to the club had left me traumatised. I had swung open the mabati washroom door, only to be greeted by a woman squatting on the floor by the sink. She looked up at me and smiled. There was no hole underneath her, or anywhere near her, but she had simply gotten tired of waiting for the cubicles to be vacant, so had decided to take care of her business. That was the last time I ever visited those washrooms.
I had become a regular of sorts; Bungoma night-time entertainment at that time was limited. I had gotten used to the bizarre mix of music, and now didn’t even giggle when Westlife followed Richie Spice; from the swag of ‘Gideon Boots and Khaki Suits’, to the melancholic yearning of ‘I’m never gonna say goodbye/Cos I never wanna see you cry/I swore to you my love would remain/And I swear it all over again and I’ – we adjusted our singing expressions, modulated our tones and lustily sang along. Every now and then, the DJ would ‘big up’ regular patrons, and I would hear ‘Aleya on the dance floor. Rasta on the dance floor.’ I hadn’t earned a nickname yet. Well, we were still just Good Friends, not Best Friends.
At the end of the night, before the cockrels started crowing, we would hop onto a boda, not bothering to check if the brakes worked, and we would ride back home. I would close my eyes, feel the wind blow through my hair, the music still ringing in my ears, and in the typically amorous way of the tipsy girl turned affectionate, declare my love for Bungoma town. This town that made me feel Kenyan. That challenged the hell out of my beliefs. That infused my Muhindi Kitchen Swahili with words like mbolea and mkurugenzi and stakabathi. That opened my eyes to a well-meaning, but incredibly dangerous saviour complex that maybe I harboured inside me, and instead invited me to experience life outside the bubble that can be Nairobi.
Three months turned into three years.
Before I knew it I had the gait of a Bungoma woman – the ability to sit effortlessly on a boda, perched side saddle, phone in one hand, box in the other, entirely unaffected by lorries hurtling by inches away, as we sped downhill on the precarious Bungoma-Malaba highway.
photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/lightwerk/50968741/”>rayweitzenberg</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>