Nneka looked at herself in the mirror one last time before picking her tote bag to leave. The idea that she seemed too casual crossed her mind. Her satin tights had a slight tear just below her crotch and her t-shirt with its bold message ‘Black Poets Matter’ had a coffee stain just after ‘poets’. It was the third time she looked at her reflection. Her feet were comfortably tucked into her red pair of ngomas and she sighed to herself, feeling overly casual but mostly because a part of her felt a little self-conscious. Unbothered to change her outfit, she turned the door knob of the main door and began her walk.
The walk down the hill after the bend allowed Nneka to take in the environment she lived in. Her ever being on a boda boda every time she left the house to go wherever she was going in her usual hurry rarely gave the time to let God’s greatness over the Limuru views marinate. The rains had done justice to the Jacaranda trees and Eucalyptus plants that were present after every few strides she took. The pungent smell of the fresh manure filled the air temporarily before it lost itself in the wind. Limuru was an awe of green.
Nneka arrived at Milestone apartments and unbolted the pedestrian gate, greeting the askari who sat beside the entrance. His radio blasted Radio Citizen, Chemi Chemi ya Ukweli and his mind’s investment in his phone left him oblivious to her presence let alone her greeting. She walked past him without another word to distract him from his peace.
The door was slightly ajar. Nneka knocked on the door before pushing it open. The three seater jungle green sofa came to view with Benji and Kimani seated on it, their faces down fixed on their mobile screens.
Aye Nneksss. You came! Benji remarked.
She laughed. Honestly. I don’t understand why you doubt me showing up for your plans.
Perhaps it’s because you rarely ever show up! He responded.
He was right. She’d been so consumed with work over the last couple of weeks that she’d barely made it to his birthday dinner the month before or his photo-shoot get together a few weeks back. Benji was always the organizer of plans.
Well, I’m here now so what’s up with you guys? She asked just as Kimani stood up to hug her.
I can only speak for myself na niko poa just grinding he responded as he departed from their embrace.
Answers between she and Kimani had become brief. There were several awkward silences between the three of them. A trio that was once ever loud, ever bubbly, now seemed like polite strangers amidst each other.
Kimani pulled out a zip lock bag and began to roll the weed he intended on serving his guests. It reminded Nneka how generous he’d always been with his herbs. She watched him as he carefully rolled it into a dome shape before filling it with the dried leaves. Once he was done, he smiled at it. The cigarette looking stick that had been perfectly created.
So how’s work? I heard you changed jobs? Kimani asked as he lit the weed with its tail end in between his lips.
Yeah. By the way, you said you changed jobs end of last year right? Benji asked as well, finally looking up from his phone.
Nneka looked into his bloodshot eyes certain that he was as far from sobriety as Nairobi was from the Indian Ocean.
I’m working as a columnist for The Daily Nation
Yo! That’s dope but what exactly does your job entail? Benji inquired further
Writing and editing mostly. I draft articles each week on restaurant reviews among other things. Just focusing on what’s new and hot in Nairobi.
Nneka reached out to take the weed Kimani passed to her. She inhaled it deeply. It had been a long time since her last puff and she craved the high it gave her. She glanced at the wall across from her that was once upon a time a clean cream painted plain wall, now brown and filled with hand prints – an imitation of a mosaic gone wrong. In the middle of the wall was a framed ‘no smoking’ picture. She laughed at the irony.
Where’s your ashtray? She asked Kimani who had his eyes closed and his face towards the ceiling.
Unmoved, he responded, Just ash it in the kifuniko beside you
It was the same tin ashtray they’d been using the last time she was over at the apartment. Nneka looked at the couch both boys sat on and it took her back to the days she visited often. She and Kimani’s cousin Chelil had a youthful affair two years before, often spending their time locked up in Chelil’s room or just embraced in each other’s arms on the green sofa in front of her. When he finally stopped taking her calls and told her he wanted nothing to do with her, she had felt as though an anchor had crushed her soul. Nneka knew it was only an affair but she also learned to cherish her art through Chelil’s – probably why she was distraught after their break up. He was an artist, she was a poet – their love languages matched. Still, he felt he needed a more dramatic companion.
Nneka passed the joint to Benji. He took it hastily and inhaled, blowing further in out loud than he should have
Ai Kim, na si hii bake ni poa? He said
Yeeeh. I got it from that guy downtown. Kimani responded, a grin appearing on his face. Eyes still closed
The conversation seemed to float above Frank Ocean’s voice in Seigfried, I’ll do anything for you in the dark, I’ll do anything for you in the dark
Nneka looked at the smoke that formed a tornado towards the ceiling above them and she thought about Chelil. How he’d pull out a cigarette and place it behind his ear with a blank canvas in front of him – ready to paint and smoke his frustration away. Ready to create art.
I’ll do anything for you in the dark ouhhhh anything for you
She thought about the lust that had on several occasions made itself known as love – only to later reveal itself as a pretence of it all. She remembered the times he touched her, his hands stained from his carelessness with his paint brushes. The ring he always wore on his index finger that somehow justified his appearance as an artist. He was himself.
Nneksss would you like a beer? Kimani asked facing her. He looked unapologetic for not asking earlier
Yes please. My mouth has kaukad kibao Nneka responded, almost choking on her words.
It was interesting how she’d gone from practically a resident of the house to now a guest because of a failed relationship. Chelil had shortly after moved to Ruaka and was living with his current girlfriend. Somewhere amidst the nostalgia, Nneka felt happy for him.
Her head felt heavy but she decided to look around the room and tease her mind into remembering how the room had changed. To her right, there was a potted Weeping Fig on the stand where the television once was. Beside it, a speaker that the music projected from. Nneka thought of the space she was in and imagined how her own first apartment would look like. The idea to move out of the three bedroom flat she shared with her mother had crossed her mind several times but was she going to have boys over? Let alone those that smoked as though they were ever lit chimneys.
The ceiling seemed to slowly compress itself in as the music slowed down. There was a loud thump from the gym that was on the floor above them – or was she just imagining this. She smiled at the thought of her mind possibly exaggerating things. Slowly bringing the bottle of the desperados Kimani had brought her to her lips, she imagined Chelil there with them, would he speak to her? Would he ask her to go to his room? No – probably not, at least because the boys were around but if they were alone, maybe!
Nneka brushed her fingers through her hair, imagining him in between her thighs spelling out the alphabet with his tongue. The sensation – temporary because his skill was ever so brief but still.
Kimani and Benji were oblivious to the look of arousal on her face. Their eyes were now both closed with their faces to the ceiling like they were pioneering their brains the highest point of the sky.
The refreshing taste of the last gulp of beer left her dizzy. Nneka knew it was time to leave lest she drank more with memories of Chelil slipping in and out of her mind. She got up to leave.
So when are we smoking up next? She asked Benji who excitedly responded I’ll hit you up.
She knew that the next time would be months later and the apartment would have more changes – but Chelil’s memories would remain unchanged.