I step out of an Uber and into Q-Lounge, right opposite Royal Media offices, a couple weeks ago. I’m here to meet an old friend I once featured during my days at The Nairobian Newspaper; he called, out of the mist, and said he wanted to meet and discuss some business over a drink or two. I wasn’t really feeling like going out for a night on the tiles that weekend but rent was due and I didn’t know where it was going to come from. So I showed up because I figured when a Kikuyu tells you he wants to “discuss business,” there’s usually money involved. And I desperately needed money if I was going to keep the lights on in my house.
It was a Friday, about 10pm, and the weather was chilly-ish; not too cold and not too warm. There was a swarm of kids in funny colorful attire trying to get into the Royal Media offices for what was most likely 10 over 10 show. (Ezekiel Mutua may have his qualms with it but ‘10 over 10’ is the best thing on TV on Friday nights, NMG killed ‘The Trend’ when they gave it to Amina, she can’t handle it.) The parking space at Q-Lounge was almost full, so I told the Uber guy to just drop me at the gate and I would cover the remaining 2 meters inside myself.
I find the guy I’m meeting at the counter, sharing a bottle of Jack Daniels with some Citizen TV anchor. They tell me they have been drinking since 4pm. That they began with beers – White Cap, which I absolutely hate – but the anchor guy said he wanted “something that stings because it’s Friday” so they switched to whiskey. Their eyes are red and their coats hang behind their chairs and, going by how much they’ve had to drink, their manners are most likely out the window. They trade a bunch of silly stories and laugh and stare at the World Cup match going on in the big screen ahead of them and laugh and drink some more and point at beautiful women passing by. They look happy; the kind of happiness that only Jack Daniels on a Friday night will give you.
The bartender passes me a glass and I ask for a bucket of ice cubes and the chaps urge me to catch up. I hate it when people around me are drunk and I’m not; It makes me feel like I’m missing out on so much in the world. It makes me feel left out, like I’m the weird nerdy kid with glasses in the middle of all the cool kids with snap backs and iPhones. And you don’t want to be the weird nerdy kid with glasses in the midst of cool kids because cool kids are mean and heartless and will make fun of your teeth and your torn socks.
Three doubles in and I feel like my bladder is about to blow up. So I get off my seat, dash to the gents for a quick leak and, as I’m headed back, I hear a voice – a woman’s voice – hollering at me from within the darkness.
“Excuse me,” she says, “can you help me.”
She speaks in that sweet Eve voice that convinced Adam to eat the forbidden fruit and got their naked asses kicked out of Eden. She leans out of the wall, from the darkness, and approaches me; the light from her phone illuminating her face. “I’m trying to call a cab but I can’t find one in the area, can you help me out?”
I get a clear view of her when she finally steps into the light, handing me her phone with the Uber app on. She’s in a tight black dress and red heels, with her hair flowing down her back. She has on a dash of reddish lipstick and a stream of bangles on her left arm. She doesn’t look too old, but she also doesn’t look too young to know what ‘lamba lolo’ means.
I take her phone and order the first Uber; some guy called Ali, on the other end, says he’s dropping a client at Nairobi Hospital from Yaya Centre and that “ukipenda unaweza ngoja ama uwache.” I hung up, because I’m not in the business of talking to arrogant people over the phone. (Point to note: This was during that period when Uber and Taxify drivers were on strike.) I hand the phone back to the lady and she says, “Just keep trying until you get one. Kindly, I’m not so sober right now.”
I order the second cab, he says he’s along Ngong Road and where we are – Maalim Juma Road – is too far so he can’t make it. Then I call a third – who is dropping off a client at Valley Road – and a fourth – who sounds like he’s drunk and chewing mogoka in the car so he can’t hear me clearly – and a fifth and a sixth.
Finally, I land one who just dropped off a client at some embassy a few blocks away. I tell him to find us at the Royal Media Services’ gate and he says Sawa. So I give the phone back to the mami, tell her someone’s coming and she says, “Just stay with me until he arrives.” In my head, I’m thinking “Excuse me? Who died and made me your servant?” But I’m three doubles in. I’m a nice guy after three doubles. I can give you my Mpesa PIN after four doubles and I can pretty much jump in front of a bullet for anyone at five doubles. At six, I’ll give you the coordinates to a hole in the middle of Chalbi desert where I keep my savings.
While we wait, she says, “Can you get me two glasses of wine in a bottle from the bar?”
“Wait, What now?”
“Yeah, just tell them to give you two glasses and pour it into a plastic bottle and bring it.”
“And, pray tell, where am I supposed to get this magical plastic bottle? But, most importantly, is that even a real thing; wine inside a plastic bottle?”
“Yeah, it’s no big deal. Just ask them for one. Let me send you the money, how much is a glass of wine?”
[Inner Voice: Woman, you’re asking me the price of a glass of wine? Son of a teacher who doesn’t even know how to use a T.V remote? Mayie. Thunder fire you.]
“I’m not sure, maybe Ksh.300, but I’m not doing that.”
“Why not? It can’t be a big deal.”
“It is. If I want to keep my balls.”
It’s about half past 11 now. She has a coat on but she looks like she’s freezing. I can tell because her lips keep trembling every time she speaks and she has her arms across her chest. Her boobs appear bigger in that midnight breeze. Her lips seem fuller and her palms look so frail and so soft; like a baby’s ass. Even though she’s hammered, she still seems aware of her environment. She looks polished and mature. She doesn’t strike me as the kind of woman that calls men chauvinists for refusing to carry her handbag. She looks more like the kind that has a book club membership; the kind that doesn’t take three full moons to make an order during a date. She seems mature. If we had met under different circumstances, I wouldn’t argue if you told me she was the CEO of some multinational corporation.
The Uber guy calls. He says he’s outside the gate, I tell him to give us a second. I tell her the cab is outside and she asks me to escort her to it. “Hold my hand, I can’t walk properly,” she says. So I put her left arm over my shoulders and – steadily – assist her onto the waiting cab. I open the door, tuck her in and tell her to “get home safe” like we’re bosom buddies who didn’t just bump into each other five seconds ago and, right before I shut the door, she says;
“Can I have your number?”
“Yeah, let me send you something, you’ve really helped me.”
[Inner Me: Take the money! Take the money!
“It’s fine, you don’t have to, I just did what anyone else would have done.”
[Inner me: Really? You broke asshole.]
“You’re such a nice guy. You look so young but I’m 43, you know?”
[Inner Me: No, I don’t know. Who do you think I am, Jesus?]
“I’m not that young either?”
“Good. How can I ever repay you?”
“By getting home safe and having a decent night’s sleep.”
“Okay. But I want to do something nice for you too. Just put your number into my phone, save it as ‘Nice Guy from Q-Lounge.'”
So I keyed in my digits, gave her back the phone and waved the cab away because the driver was already beginning to show impatience.
Dear Cougar, if you’re reading this, ‘Nice Guy from Q-Lounge’ is waiting for that call. Or at least an Mpesa text.
Folks, if you see me cruising around in a Prado next time we meet, don’t ask silly questions.