BY MIKE MUTHAKA
I’m surrounded by nomads. One of them is in the living room, hanging above my favorite couch. Ol’ Man got him for 2K at some beach-side hotel in Mombasa.
It’s a cool painting, really, an abstract; a herder, standing on one leg. He’s watching a herd of dark brush strokes. A spear is planted next to his lean body, and a lonely acacia tree sits in the background – blotchy and colored like milk glass. The nomad has bony legs. His face is turned away, so you can’t really tell if he’s in a good mood or not. The reddish canvas gives the painting a gloomy cast.
The artist signed his name on the bottom right corner: Kiama.
Sometimes, when I’m on the couch – with a book and a mug of coffee – I think about Kiama. What could he be doing right about now? How many pieces has he sold today? My thoughts about Kiama usually run along the fault lines of my own artistic insecurities. Does Kiama have a morning routine? Does he wake up at crickey o’clock to beat on his craft? What about his women? What sort of lady is attracted to a man that paints abstract nomads? How long did it take him to sit and back and say, “Aah, this nomad is finished”?
A nomad, essentially, is a person without a permanent home. Nomads go where the grass takes them. They walk great distances so the cows can have some nourishing cud. The goats and the sheep bleat along to the nomad’s whistle. Together they trample the earth looking for water to irrigate their throats. If you Google the word ‘nomad’ you’ll find a bunch of establishments by that name before getting to the actual definition.
There’s Nomad Beach Bar & Restaurant, in Diani. The Sands at Nomad Hotel, also in Diani. And Casuarina Nomad, a night club in Mtwapa. It’s like everyone in Coasto has a thing for nomads.
Here in Kitengela we have our own nomad: Hotel Nomads, recently renovated, and then renamed Nomads Platinumz Lounge. (Shish!) I don’t know why they had to rename it, for chrissake. Hotel Nomads sounds far much better than Nomads Platinumz Lounge. What sort of name is that, anyway? Platinumz. Sounds like the sort of place that’d play kwa ngwaru every 10 minutes. Or where, by 11 p.m., the only people on the dance floor are big-bellied landlords and skimpy-dressed women in their late 30s, clinging on to some misspent youth.
Maybe Nomads was bought by someone who has a crush on Diamond Platinumz.
But I’m certain no one calls it Platinumz. I bet if you hopped on a bodaboda and say to be taken to Platinumz, the rider will look at you and say, “Hiyo iko Kitengela kweli?”
Until two weeks ago, I’d never been to Nomads. I’d pass there on my way to the movie shop, or to the tuktuk stage, or while walking a lucky girl home, but I’d never wanted to know what goes on behind its dark glass walls. Nomads’ parking lot is usually a stew of sleepy-eyed cab drivers, butchers in white coats, and a cigarette-smoking man around the corner.
Nomads has Reggae Night on Sundays, which is a bummer because I have to be in class Monday by 8 a.m. Surely, why can’t they have reggae on Thursdays like everybody else?
Once, while walking past Nomads, I saw an arm reach out to close a window on the second floor of the building. It was 2 p.m. on a Monday, after class, and that arm kept tugging at me long into the evening – the small wrist, colored like coffee beans, the elegant movement as the fingers clasped the handle. It couldn’t have been a guy’s hand.
Then the window was shut, locking away any chance I had to catch a glimpse of the damsel. I wondered what sort of convo was going on in that room.
“Does it have a name?” she’d ask.
“I haven’t named it yet.”
Her head would be resting on his chest. With the window closed, the sound of his breathing – fast and primal – is even more amplified. A used condom lies carelessly on the floor, along with jeans and socks and lace panties.
“We should give it a name,” she says, stroking his receding shaft.
“Any suggestions?” He’s staring at the ceiling, smug-faced, holding her waist, coming down.
“It’s your thing,” she says, “you should be the one to name it.”
He mulls this over for a moment. Then he says, “Ama we call it Nomads?”
Anyway, a standard room at Nomads goes for 1,500. The deluxe is 2,200, and a conference room is a whooping 8,000 bob. Nomads dabbles as a watering hole, a restaurant, and a breezy haven for daytime dalliances.
I went there on a Saturday night. Nomads’ din poured into the dusty street, and I was just drunk enough to get curious. My company was a girl I’d just met at the movie shop, where I was having a tipple with my movie guy. I bought her some popcorn, she revealed she’s also loves vodka and we instantly hit it off.
Her name was Sylvia.
She didn’t have a curfew, and she’d never been to Nomads either. So I held her hand and we went in.
Nomads’ reception was a cage. Grilled window. Mpesa till number. Accommodation prices engraved on a shiny silver plate. A pudgy-faced lady sat behind the desk. And, upstairs, Nomads was a seething cauldron of beer and Premier League madness. Little rotund men sat in high bar stools, and white-uniformed staff waltzed around the tables. The only spot we could find was one next to a blaring speaker. It was pointless trying to hold a conversation. A waiter came to take our order: KC citrus and a bottle of Krest, I told him. The purple neon lights bounced around Sylvia’s eyes. Her face was sharp and strange and mischievous. I could see her lips move, but I couldn’t hear jack. The DJ was right in the thick of kwa ngwaru, for chrissake.
Finally, I got a sterling idea. I fished out my phone, opened the MemoPad, and wrote: “We can pass notes like naughty children.”
She smiled, and typed, “What am I supposed to say?”
“Why you’re in a pub with a complete stranger, for starters.”
She typed: “Do you want me to go?”
I don’t know why, but I found that funny. I simply couldn’t tell the tone of her question. Her face didn’t betray any emotion. Or maybe I was too drunk to notice, but at the end of the night – just 10:30PM, really – Sylvia made sure I was safely inside a tuktuk and that I had my fare. She said to let her know when I got home, which I also found funny because the people I drink with never say shit like that.
There was something cute about the whole thing. And I promised to text her.
I never did, though. I woke up the next morning and I barely remembered anything. If it wasn’t for my MemoPad I’d have no recollection whatsoever. I thought I’d wait it out. Maybe my memory would wash back after the hangie. But it didn’t.
And when I do the math I should be 450 bob poorer. But I’m not, which can only mean that Sylvia paid the bill. Or the waiter is really forgetful.
No wonder there’s another Memo entry with the line, “I’ll pay you back.”
Now Sylvia probably thinks I’m the biggest asshole in Kitengela. Could it be that love found me at Nomads but I was too drunk to notice?
Follow Mike on Instagram: mikemuthaka