BY MIKE MUTHAKA
The curse of the black leather jacket
The muscly wide-nosed bouncer at Milan wants to see my ID before letting me into the club. I’m with my office mates, and today we’re celebrating the departure of a colleague.
Everyone’s a bit sad she’s leaving, not least because she gives the warmest hugs and says things like: “Where did you get these numbers from? Did you pull them out of your ass?”
This isn’t the first time I’m being frozen. And it makes me seethe. My young facial features have made it impossible for me to get into clubs with a strict 25-and-above policy. Sometimes you get a bouncer who doesn’t do the math correctly, so that when I show them my ID, they look at it for a moment, in the manner of someone with official state powers, only for them to let me in.
But the one at Milan is sharp as a whip. There’s just no fooling this guy, with his sleek black coat and pumped chest. Oh, you’re 24? Only one year below the limit? He simply couldn’t give a damn.
So you’re there, watching your mates disappearing into the din, and the girls at the reception are looking at you with their doe eyes and powdered noses, and you just know they’re stifling a chuckle because you look so silly, pleading with the bouncer.
“Boss. Nimekuja kulewa. Shida ni nini hapa?”
But whenever I wear my black leather jacket, the bouncer is less apt to freeze me. You know my leather jacket. The one I wear to feel like a badass. Last Friday the bouncer didn’t even bat an eyelash. He padded me down and said, “Vipi.”
Hehe. I almost ran into the club before he changed his mind.
Anyway, trouble is, whenever I wear the jacket, something bad happens, an inconvenience of sorts. I lose track of time. A girl turns me down. I get shitfaced and smoke cigarettes. I deplete my bank account because the girl tugging at my sleeve and whispering in my ear would like another Long Island cocktail.
Whenever I wear my leather jacket, I get home no earlier than 2 a.m.
2 a.m. in Nairobi
At 2 a.m., the leather jacket feels heavy on your shoulders. The bodabodas break the rules. They overload and gun on the wrong side of the road. The matatus play reggae. At Railways roundabout, the touts chew fat and khat. A girl squeezes a bottle of ketchup over her paper-wrapped smokie. You look at the smokie like a distant lover. Like it packed its bags and went off to Belgium.
How you’d give anything for a smokie right now. How does a smokie taste like at 2 a.m.?
The waitress at the Fish and Chips wipes tables and scrubs the floor while she endures more bloody small talk from the watchman. You’ve had too much gin. You feel like there’s gravel under your skin. You zip up your jacket.
You feel the hair on your neck rise when the girl at Kenya Cinema beckons you over, training her gaze on your person, inviting you over with her shapely legs. And just for a moment you consider accepting her advances.
It sure would be nice to have your exhausted, formally-employed, tax-paying body next to a woman’s bosom. Maybe later she’d let you to cuddle, and you can tell her about your jacket, and how your Nairobi Millennial series is going. Then she’ll say something profound that you think about for days on end.
But your Catholic-bred ass would never allow a second look at those thighs. You stagger on. It’s oddly peaceful at 2 a.m. You don’t feel scared about some bugger snatching your phone from the matatu window. Everyone is going through it. Wandering souls. Ships in the night.
The Count of Monte Cristo
I don’t read the classics. I struggle with old speak. ‘Hath’. ‘Thy’. ‘Doeth’. These words are beyond me. They’re way over yonder. What tense is ‘thy’ anyway? I don’t know how Shakespeare did it. How could he write entire plays like that?
I read that he died of syphilis. Of course he did. You use ‘doeth’ enough times and that’s the sort of death that befalls you.
But I found Alexander Dumas’s ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ on Wattpad. I’m about 17 chapters in and I’ve already decided that this will be a significant book in my 20s. I suspect I’ll read it many times. I’ll come back for the sharp, witty, philosophical dialogue, and for the French words I can’t pronounce.
I’ll come back for the “dusky, piquant Arlesian sausages, the lobsters in their dazzling red cuirasses, prawns of large size and brilliant color, the echinus with its prickly outside and dainty morsel within.” I’ll also come for the beautiful Mercedes, a rich man’s daughter with a horny cousin enthralled by a 19-year-old sailor.
I haven’t read any reviews about this book. All I have is a flimsy reference from ‘V for Vendetta’. The movie adaptation is obviously not as good, and sometimes it’s a complete slog to read it on my phone. But I’m a sucker for quotes. Here’s one:
“Man does not appear to me to be intended to enjoy felicity so unmixed; happiness is like the enchanted palaces we read of in our childhood, where fierce, fiery dragons defend the entrance and approach; and monsters of all shapes and kinds, requiring to be overcome ere victory is ours.”
The Girl on the balcony
It happened gradually then suddenly. Maybe it happened when she stretched her arms out to explain her tattoos, or when she offered to give you her woolen sweater because you were cold and her sweater was cozy.
When you threw it on, as the fabric stretched and settled onto your skin, the smell of her clasping onto your shoulders, you knew, without a doubt, that you were falling hopelessly in love.
You’ve had many nights on the balcony, giggling like cheeky children, or sitting in a pool of silence, never wanting to prick this bubble of comfort. You meet at the balcony during smoke breaks, or during lunch, or – two weeks ago – to kiss.
She flips a coin whenever she has to make a banal but necessary decision.
She ties her dreadlocks back with a rubber band. She has three tattoos, one of which is the chemical structure for THC. Every time you hang out, you open yourself up a little bit more. You reveal one more secret, one more intimate detail.
You’re complete opposites. It’s hard not to love her, really, and vice versa. It’s hard to read her, too, and vice versa.
She says she’s into struggling artists. She has a boyish walk and you can usually smell marijuana on her hair when you hug. In fact she has this particular blue jacket that looks stunning on her.
From your desk you have a clear view of anyone going into the office kitchen. Every morning you see her fetching coffee. Most times she doesn’t see you watching her. But when she does, she smiles, or waves a hand, and it’s only after she’s gone back to her desk do you notice how long you’ve been staring. You didn’t see this coming.
And now you’re left with one all-consuming question:
To doeth. Or not to doeth.
Follow Mike on Instagram: mikemuthaka
Sans the black leather jacket