BY BETT KINYATTI
It’s Saturday. I’m at a bar in tao with Mike and his two pals. They’re all millenials, Nairobi Millenials. They have a playful youthful energy about them that I secretly envy. It’s like they’re bouncing on the balls of their feet. (Well, except Mike Muthaka, my dear boy. But I’m getting ahead of the story.)
The bar is off Koinange Street. I’d never heard of it before today. Se7en. I asked one of Mike’s pals what it’s like and she said, “It’s… you know..?” She swayed her head. “It’s… it’s a vibe.”
I don’t know what the hell that means. I should have spoken in the language of my generation, I should have asked her whether they play Burna Boy (they do) and whether there’d be room for me to dance (there wasn’t), and whether it’d be worth this drizzly Saturday night outside the digs (it turned out to be).
These two pals. The chick has a gorgeous smile. Mike says she’s the nicest girl he’ll never have. (I roll my eyes. I don’t know how he cooks us such cheesy lines.) The guy has a name I’m going to steal. It’s a Kale name from the Tugen community. Kale names rock. One day I’ll ask my mother why she didn’t introduce me to the world as just Chemutai. Yaani between Florence and Chemutai, she felt that Florence would best precede me. There are no cool Florences, you know that as much as I do.
Well it’s 2019. Wakanda Forever. I’m dropping my slave name. Everybody should drop theirs too.
Earlier in the afternoon I’d met Mike for a drink.
I hadn’t seen Mike in donkey years. We’d been chatting on WhatsApp and I’d been seeing him change his Twitter name every often, as if it’s underwear. Half the time I don’t know where he collects those names from. Now he’s MiCole. Micole @mikemuthaka.
We meet at The Tav. Where him and his agency pals sometimes knock back beers and cocktails over happy hour.
I show up and pause mid-stride. “My God, Mike, what the hell happened to you?!”
Mike is washed out with fatigue, blue balls and what I can only call the irony of a salary. He’s traded his youthful glow for money. He looks like a middle-aged accountant.
Mike loves his job but he also hates it. It’s like a bad relationship he’s too afraid to leave. He wants to move out of his bedroom in Kitengela into his own bachelor pad on Thika Road or somewhere. He wants to bang more babes. He wants to keep a pet iguana. He wants to trade his vodka habit for something more healthy, something his Dad would be proud to harp to his pals.
Mike is fading away. He used to speak in fluent technicolour, now he stutters in grays. Even his ass is gone, the poor boy. The only thing going on for him is his hair and that black leather jacket he drapes across his back. It flutters in the wind like Batman’s cape. Wearing it makes it look like he has a pistol strapped in a holster to the back of his leg.
Mike tells me he wants to take a break from life and from the agency and ‘Dusty Rugs’… pretty much everything. I tell him columns never sleep, writers never sleep.
I tell Mike a story.
In 2016, while I was at home nursing Muna on maternity leave, Tamasha shut down. Tamasha was our local in Hurlingham. Our bar. My sisters and everyone in my small circles had had a drink with me at Tamasha. Karaoke night was on Tuesdays. Fridays they played old school. They’d gifted us meal vouchers severally for being such regulars. We’d seen the bar expand into a lounge. One of us had even had a steamy fling with the mixer at the bar (not me). Tamasha was familiar and fun. It was home.
Then they shut down for renovations. They said it was temporary.
“When you close a bar or restaurant, Mike, your customers will find some place else to hang their capes,” I say. “And they’ll master the theme nights. And which waiter is likely to spit in their pork chops, which one has the memory of an African warthog. And pretty soon they’ll be on first name basis with the managers and parking guards and that buff guy at the door with a chest the size of a whiskey barrel.
“So they’ll stay there and have fun. And when your refurbished bar reopens, with all its kinks and bells and whistles, they won’t return.
“You don’t close shop, Mike. You never close shop. Let guys drink with half the floor tiles uprooted and with cement bags in the loo, the roof replaced with a canvas tent. Just never close shop.”
Mike nods. I don’t know if I’ve gotten through to him.
But who am I kidding? I was already tipsy.
Two weeks later, on a Sunday evening, I WhatsApp Mike and tell him to take a break. “You’ve earned it. Resume on July 8. Monday.”
He sends me a GIF of a man in a black leather jacket riding away in a motor bike. The next day he changes the name on his Twitter profile.
I’m not worried about whether you guys will return to our bar to drink.
I’m more concerned about Mike.
I really hope he gets his ass back.
There’s a fabrics shop on Biashara Street I find myself gravitating towards. Some folk go to the bar to seek solace. Others go to the chapel, others to Bookstop Yaya.
I go to Guo Yi on Biashara Street.
It’s three floors of fabric. I love it!
There’s the small question of it being Chinese.
I’m all about #BuyKenyaBuildKenya. I used to hang at Rivatex but they grew lazy with their selection of fabrics. They are fabrics my mum likes. Not to say that she doesn’t have taste – far from it – but we’re running on parallel timelines of style here. Give us both a Singer sewing machine unarchived from the 90s. She’ll put it in the corner of the living room to sew a skirt with, I’ll think of its parts as antique pieces to style my corridor with.
I kept returning to Rivatex, hopeful they’d smell my loyalty and patriotism from the door. Nothing changed. The rolls of fabric gathered dust. The bored attendants aged over the weeks I pop in. The only patriotism they were aware of is the photo of Uhunye above their cashier. Uhunye knows no loyalty.
I left, vowed never to return again. I walked aimlessly about Biashara Street then I stumbled into Guo Yi.
I come here because (a) of the customer service of a chap called Mzee; a patient chatty chap who indulges my indecisiveness (b) I need fabric for our new digs (c) It’s the flesh-and-bones of a side-hustle idea I’ve been harbouring for a while now.
I want to trade in fabrics for the home – bed linen, drapes, sheers and upholstery. Still under Craft It brand. My fabrics will have a twist though. I won’t tell you what the twist is because you could steal it from me, then there goes my marketing edge. And my early retirement plan.
Here’s a question I’ve been struggling with for weeks now: Do you guys think we’re here on Earth to do one thing only and become a grandmaster at it? Or should we juggle several balls in the air, be a jack of all trades?
I want it all. I want to pursue other creative passions while writing.
Besides trade in fabric, I also want to learn a musical instrument and start my own local indie band. I’ll learn how to write cheesy lyrics, about nice girls and their gorgeous smiles. I’ll probably go to Mike for this.
Then I also want to get into product design. I want to design furniture that I can dissemble when I’m not using, or when I have a smaller space.
Like Muna’s unusually large cot. She’s outgrowing it and it eats up too much space in her room. I want to keep it for baby #2 (whenever that will happen. Hopefully before Ruto sits in office. Uterus, we’re looking at you). I wish I could tear the cot apart and wrap the pieces in cling wrap, then store it away for use later.
I’m also considering teaching kindergarten. Kids below the age of three. Maybe above seven but below 10, I don’t know. I want to teach them about music, or about that musical instrument I’ll master. Maybe about creative writing. Maybe about African crafts and culture.
Maybe I’m just smoking weed as I write this.
It’s Monday. Monday May 20th. I recall this date because it’s two days after my kid bro’s birthday. It’s a birthday he shares with the Late Pope, DJ Adrian and that character from ‘Identity Thief’. Oh, and Mimz. This always fascinates me.
Anyway, I’m lying on a bed at Nairobi Hospital waiting for my gynae to arrive. I’m wearing those hideous hospital gowns, the ones in a green the colour of vomit, the ones that expose your ass when you stand. It’s mid afternoon. I want to say 3 p.m., 3.30…. I’m not certain. I lost track of time after GB and my sister-in-law left. I don’t even know how long I’ve been staring at the ceiling, numb.
I’m pregnant. Two months pregnant today. In about an hour, this triumphant declaration of posterity will change to the past tense. And I’ll tell myself, I was pregnant. Was.
Today is Monday. I’ve said that already. I’m saying it again because a few days before – on Thursday – I was at my gynae’s for my first scan. It was a spongey yellow day.
Earlier, I’d dropped Muna at school, then dropped GB at jobo then headed to Westy to meet a henna artist for my Crafts and Culture column in the Saturday Nation. Her name is Leila.
At around noon, I drove across town to Upper Hill to see my gynea. We were about 100 women and three cramped into that tiny reception of his. Some mamis had even come with the men who’d implanted that baby in them. As if it was Noah’s Ark. I always find that hilarious.
My gynae wasn’t in but the older one he shares the consultancy office with, was. He’s a more mature more pragmatic man, a man of banter who understands that sometimes you’d like to rip your health insurance off. Not to say he’s a man of no integrity, he just sees life in more wholesome dimensions.
I drafted the henna artist’s story while I waited at reception. Then I had lunch in the backseat of the car. Then I napped. Then I went back upstairs to the reception to wait some more. Then I read from my Kindle. (Nora Ephron. I read her every day. I’ve read her almost every day since last year June.)
The Ark emptied, the animals walked out two by two.
I went in to see the gynae at around four, right before he was called in for an emergency.
I couldn’t believe how time had folded into itself and brought me back to a previous moment I’d already experienced.
He read from the same script of July 2017: Baby has no heartbeat. He’s not growing as he should be. Actually, he’s not growing at all. He stopped growing at six weeks. He’s stuck in that moment. A scratched CD that loops around the same scratch. He’s been singing the same tune over and over.
This can’t be happening again, I think. This shouldn’t have happened again. How can it be happening yet again?
I chuckle mirthlessly.
I tell myself not to let the tears fall.
The gynae sees the look on my face and turns his body towards me. Decoding his body language, it means he wants me to trust what he’s about to share. He puts down that scanning thingy and places his hand on the gurney. His gloved fingers touch my arm. It’s all deliberate.
He looks into my eyes and tells me something only a wiser older person would. He says firmly, “Getting pregnant is like flipping a coin. Sometimes you flip the coin and you get a bad egg, sometimes it’s a good egg. You’ve flipped two bad eggs in a row.”
I somehow find immense comfort in that logic.
He doesn’t need to tell me what next. I already know the drill. I’ve been here before, remember?
He wants to me to go into surgery the next day, on Friday.
I tell him to give me the weekend to put my shit in order.
Now we have to tell the family we’re pregnant then again that we’re not. It’s all rather funny. GB wants us to keep everything to ourselves. He says, “I don’t want to make a big deal out of it.”
I don’t either because quite honestly, I’m growing tired of being here again.
I’ve somehow become that chick who can’t keep her pregnancies. The miscarriage chick.
Four pregnancies and only Muna has survived.
Such an ugly word. Miscarriage. I hate it. I’m never speaking it out loud again. I don’t want it to define my child-bearing years.
“But it’s family,” I tell GB. “We need our family.”
I’ll need them more. Probably not in this moment but in two weeks, when I’ve gone h.a.m with my spending. Using money to buy useless fun things to fill up the emptiness in my heart. Succulents, papyrus baskets, bed linen, bath mats. Scented candles. God I buy too many scented candles. If I light up all the candles I have I’ll fill up the living room floor.
The rest of the weekend is a blur of routine, avoidance and helplessness.
They take my baby out late afternoon Monday.
I feel horrible.
We move house. I never imagined living anywhere else but Flat 201. I was in love with our house.
Our block was a corner block, every room was more spacious than our neighbors’. There was space for Muna to ride her bike in the digs and for me to run like the Kale I think I am, chasing after her. We had pockets of space to fill up with our dreams.
I found this house courtesy of my pal, Gera. Long story.
What you see when you’re house hunting is the echo of abundance in the living room, what you don’t see is the crazy lady who lives in the flat below yours.
GB moved into that digs as a bachelor with spare necessities, most of which I’d later throw out, hehhe – a bed, TV and a baby meko I absolutely hated.
Then he bagged himself this lovely Kale chick from the undulating landscape of sleepy Kaplong, who brought forth the first in a long line of Kinyattis, who brought with her a nanny, a nanny who rescued us. Before this nanny checked in, GB and I were starving in our filthy house and we didn’t even realise it. Plus, everyone – me included – was fed up of my bad cooking.
We were happy in our homely flat. Our little growing family. Everyone was happy.
Sunsets came and went. Christmases. New Years. Birthdays. Our wedding. Sunday lunches. Hosting drunken parties late into the night, when we had to kick folk out so we could sleep.
Until crazy lady downstairs knocked on our door for the first time. Then a second. Then a third.
Then it was downhill from there.
Even on the days she wasn’t knocking we could still here her silently policing our noise levels.
I eventually fall out of love with our house. I want to live anywhere else but here.
We move out in a haste in the middle of the month.
I’m grieving. I know I’m grieving because I find myself bursting into tears at the oddest of places. I also don’t know what to do with the rest of my year. 2019 was to carry and nurse baby #2. Now I’m just floating about, removed from everything that’s important. Vacant. Absent. The richness of being alive bounces off of me, like water off a duck’s back.
I stop reading. I stop praying. I stop writing for Craft It; I write for my newspaper columns because they don’t demand I look into my soul. I’m on a short leash. Muna’s tantrums drive me up the wall, I catch myself snapping at her without warning. GB won’t stop filling up the silence with words and more words. Nanny Viv writes shopping lists on a piece of paper she’s torn off a corner of the newspaper.
The mothers, my sisters want answers, for closure I suppose. They share all these old wives’ tales about losing babies. I tell them I’d been on prenatal supplements for six months. Omega 3, calcium, that vitamin that makes your blood richer. I’d drank red leaf dandelion tea, for fuck’s sake! Red leaf dandelion tea to tone my uterus. It’s a bad joke, really.
I pussyfoot around my uterus, ignoring how empty it is. It’ll be a month after that my period will return.
Then there’s social media – babies and baby bumps are everywhere. Beaming new parents with their wrinkly new babies. It’s like the yellow bus analogy. As I mentioned, I feel terrible. I feel terrible but I’m immensely glad for their new joy. Does that make sense?
One time I’m at Java Lenana Road responding to Masterclass emails and an indie song I love streams into my YouTube playlist. Jon Bryant, ‘At Home’. We were born into a world on fire/When the smoke and flames build up too high/You clear the air I breathe. I burst into tears.
Another time I’m driving to Upper Hill, and a soul mix is playing on CD. I burst into tears again.
I think it’s the music. I really think I should stop listening.
I’m also out on a limb. I’m neurotic about straightening furniture and aligning the mugs in the kitchen and folding laundry and reviewing my budgets. I feel like shit most of the time.
Some smart fool tells me to write it in a story. Confront my knotted emotions. “You’ll feel better after.”