Posters with the face of a grinning girl with red hair are all over the city’s walls. A family of three who have found a home outside an Indian café stitch the posters together into a curtain, her face watching over them. Her name has become infamous. Seventeen murders in the ghettos, no MO, no evidence, and somehow the murders all happen at the same time in the five different ghettos.
The poet has come home to roost. He is in love for the first time after a very long time. He spent the night out with a girl in a leather dress the colours of collage frangipani and a long face under red hair and Bengali bangles and heavy chains stretching from her nose ring to an earring, a girl who would otherwise be living in a hefty loft in the UK with another poet with no medical cover to boast of. A girl who held his hand through the city and showed him her blue blazoned red tongue and the weapons she carried in her nightmares.
He plays something on the record, he’s not sure what it is, as long as it is not silence. Love likes noise. He lives alone now. Once in a while he will miss them, the other poets. They fucked indiscriminately and with few inhibitions, smoked and listened to vintage radio podcasts playing zilizopendwa. There were debates about The Mushrooms. Of course everyone knew, they were all there when it happened, that The Mushrooms had failed in that event of 67 to keep the noontide in its place. The water had come all the way to their feet, bringing with it the dead bodies of children and Chihuahuas from the Italian villas off the coast of Malindi. No one could write poetry after that. They went back to smoking, fucked less, let silence replace The Mushrooms; their father’s favourite musicians had failed them. They listened to their bodies more, the silence of metabolism, spent time fixated on the now obsolete. They all had penises the size of semicolons and made a show for everyone who came to visit. The sky was not enough for them so there were the Octane tanks hidden in the boiler. How many ways Octane helped them re-enact what Marijan Rajab must have felt when he made Zuena, and, more importantly, would Zuena ever come back to him? Their poetry came down to that important question: would the dead lover every return?
They smoked and smoked and danced to the old tunes better than their fathers ever could, twisting waists and shifting disks in their spines. Koffi Olomide’s Andrada and Effracata, first slow then fast, slow then fast again, a recital about dead children as intermission, then the climax. They imagined dance-fucking their own mothers in those fallen hours of the night when it was possible to see certain constellations when you lived next door to the equator, and in this regard constellations of both the southern and northern hemispheres. They had forgotten lung cancer. They worked in advertising and owned holiday homes in Shela and Pate and failed to train Chihuahuas to sit, roll, stay, jump, do not poop on people’s lawns. Some anti-smoking campaign display-glass lungs full of dead babies and filters were enacted next to strip clubs but the poets knew nothing would ever stop them from smoking.
After a while they all had to leave his loft and find another place for their semicolon parade. That was then.
Dik Dik remains one of them. One of them is a phrase he carries with him around his neck, it’s something his mother could never and will never offer him, a place where his bow legs meant nothing, when all he ever wanted was for her to stick out her tongue.
He sits alone in the middle of his living room and thinks about the girl with the red hair. He readjusts a register.
Long hallways of palm frond alloys, boulevards of thick baobab, dead children flying dragonflies, cheap foam life-size GSU and imitation art line Kenyatta Avenue. Beautification programmes. Meja Mwangi, last seen here a long time ago, disappears into Sabina Joy with an amputee prostitute who offers him an hours’ worth of conversation in Gikuyu – no longer spoken here – for ten times the normal rate. She holds his hand tight and smiles like two moons, blush on the cheeks. He disappears inside her, never to be seen again. Some people will stalk his grave and spend fifty years waiting, fasting, praying. Cyborgs will find them there and eat their intestines alive. Alive. Pick, roll, unfurl them in their hands like cashew nuts. He will never come back; the sons will never come back to their mothers. The mothers have forgotten they ever had sons. If they meet in the Matrix Way they will greet each other like strangers, probably sleep next to each other, tired and outworn, and they will kiss with their eyes closed.
The prostitute comes back and the night is on her lips and anyone who asks to kiss her she says yes. What else can she say but yes? Because yes is a sacrifice to all those young twenty-somethings and taxi drivers who have the world in front of them and the government so up their assholes it tastes like the Year of the Colon.
She comes back with those dark lips the colour of night and she is blowing kisses to the night and right there at the equator there is a kind of magnetic borealis – a migration of evolving nova from the 456 regions to the Near Death Kentucky Fried Chicken Canto regions, where it says Dante was just looking for the devil to fuck his ass. She is dying and her body is in this experiment of reverse engineering and she is tearing into ribbons of primary colours – wait wait, are these wings? – no, they are not the wings, they are the roads she must take to get home but as soon as she steps onto the curb they disappear. She goes back to the house, kisses him on the forehead, no eye contact, and he remembers his mother. She just wants someone to accept her love.
She walks out into the street.
A man with an eye patch on his nipple and a single eye on his other nipple pinches himself to look at her. He feels a chill, goose bumps spread across his body – he has not yet learned how not to arouse himself whenever he pinches his nipples. He is a work in progress, he reassures himself.
She sees Dik Dik clear in her closed-eye vision when she finally falls asleep.
He has seen the way many men fall into the night of that smile and never come back so he simply looks at her from the corner of his eye. For her this is enough. She says her name is Chromosome-1972. He has read on a banned billboard the short history of 70s chromosomes so he does not ask her anything else, he is playing it cool – some genuses don’t take too lightly to old-age categorization. Short history and early death appear together in conversations. He does not offer a smile.
They are at Aga Khan Walk, and the blind man is singing. Dik Dik let’s her know he loves the blind man. He doesn’t say what he really means is that he loves his father. She knows this. She shows him her tongue and he sucks some colour from it. His tongue is darker, the contrast of colours not as sharp. No one can save him.
The blind man sings in a baritone. He has long stopped singing in semiquavers. He finds the deepest voices and re-enacts dead street children who would have grown up to give Pavarotti a run for his money. He points his walking stick up, demands that God shut up and the city goes all quiet and he sings the most beautiful ballads, only he is also deaf and Dik Dik and Chromosome-1972 stand there marvelling at such talent.
They are deaf.
The city is collecting deaf people in blue rooms; the governor wants to know what the gods are saying.
‘What do you think he sees?’
‘When he sings or when he dreams?’
‘One is about wavelength, the other is that I’m so damn hungry can we get out of here and get some food?’
Leaving a trail of their favourite love song of distant gunshots, ambulance singsongs and dead children crying behind them, they walk into Mocha Cola where blown-up balloons smile and stick out their tongues to them. Their tongues are made of old turntables, each taste bud a record with a spindle so that, in addition to the love songs, there’s all this beautiful music inside and Dik Dik and Chromosome-1972 just want to stick out their respective tongues and kiss some dolls. They kiss some dolls.
On the wall, on this big red poster is a warning in bold letters: NO KISSING THE DOLLS UNLESS JIMI HENDRIX IS PLAYING. A grinning Chinese man stands below it.
Dik Dik wants to order French fries and some old love songs on the machine. She wants to offer her services to the brotherhood of man and the cleaning of dishes with no pay. Two hours after their meeting they have fallen in love, he knows because she is sticking out her tongue and showing him how many flavours of candy are in the register of her mouth. She’s showing him only, not the Chinese man. Soon they fight for a short while about the range of colours on her tongue and he agrees that she makes better sense. He is Mr Sinister, hates the primary colours. Truth is he is wasting time for some JIMI HENDRIX. The calendar at the main lobby states the date as 1/2/1972, and the calendar in the kitchen says it’s 1/2/1967. He’s not sure if this is an elaborate joke. Maybe they have run out of a register. In a Nairobi filled with disreputable fried-chicken-and-cabbage-sandwich Ssebos hiding guns and lipstick under the white meat of genetically modified chicken and drunk clockmakers who can he believe? He decides to walk into the kitchen and do the dishes if only to prove to her that he can be romantic. To really drive the point home he tells her of this dream he had of transgenders plaiting corn rows on dolls from the one and only most expensive doll shop in Nairobi and possibly all of East, Central and South Africa – The Most Superficial David Foster Wallace Dolly Dolls Shop.
Nairobi, unlike any other city on earth, is a city of visiting poets, men possessed by the love of other faraway places and Samburu festival dolls – Madilu System, Kanda Bongo Man, Les Wanyika, Fundi Konde, Mbilia Mbel, Dik Dik’s long dead absentee father, the man with ears and habits like a September Playboy bunny – all these are poets. Dik Dik is a poet, he has thought of his father as homunculus, as atypical, primitive, strange, as absent and as human, as a man possessed with the ability to discern temperaments in dolls of the same gender and age, as a transgendered doll. But on this night he’s thinking of nothing but kissing this girl and possibly hot dogs later in the park. Possibly dog meat.
He still wants to go back to that park despite the frenzied woman who waits there for boys like him, singing siren songs, songs not so unlike those of the blind man.
Dik Dik pauses. Chromo | Domo – what he imagines to be a funky sexyname he has developed in the rush for her acceptance – pauses too. She does not pause just because he does, no no no. So the lovely couple under a blue umbrella and yellow scissors take a pause. They are so in love with each other a bridge somewhere falls apart at the beating of a butterfly. He takes out an Octane tank and lets her to take three puffs in quick succession. He decides right there this is the only girl he will ever show his Octane tank.
They walk onto Short Lane just when two mellow young boys say goodbye to their ailing mother who has gone out to beg for coins from the big and rich Somali men who now own the city and talk in the language of appreciating dollars. Dik Dik grew up with Somalis, fought with them. He wanted to be them. He loved among them.
Nineteen seventy-seven. He tells her the story he has not told any other girl.
A Gikuyu man spanks a Somali woman. There are unconfirmed rumours that it was a Somali man in a buibui. A Somali man pulls out a sword. Innards the colour of reparations denied and the smell of secessionists spill out into the September sun and into the blocked sewers. Red ceases to be a colour, it becomes everything they know. They are happy to kill and risk being killed in this sweet intermission. War breaks out. No animals spared.
He tells her he was once happy, she smiles and believes the lie, loves him just a bit more for lying. He says he will never forget her name.
She cuts some of the red hair and offers it to him. He puts the hair in his mouth.
The young boys approach them from the darker recesses of the alley; the younger one takes out a tube of hallucinogen and gives it to the other one. Dik Dik gives them a taste of his gin and tonic, a bit of the red hair – if she can belong to him she can belong to them – blesses them in the long way of the cross, a technique he has come to acknowledge as more meaningful than what they taught him to be the truth in catechism classes at an age not so different from the kids he sees in front of him. The initial way of the cross as trailed by the index finger and a reverse of the same, with three insistent kisses on the lips in the fashion of Serie A footballers. It’s all he can do in a city like this. The young boys leave without saying a word, not even their eyes are capable of language. They retreat backwards, eyes fixed on the couple.
A giant drive-in cinema shows an Indian film, no cars in the lobby, say, for a woman who sleeps under the tower with her two infants, the older one teaching the other how to cheat at thumb finger sucking. Children in the rows of houses both in the Residentials and ghettos can watch the fuzzy images of Bollywood in the drive-in; this is how from an early age they learn bhangra. The governor discovered this, and, in a new taxation programme, made sure children paid entry fees. The question of where they enter is yet to be resolved. Kenya, 2067. Happiness index better than anywhere else in the world.
Dik Dik remembers coming to the city as a child, in search of the orchestra of night and smiling lips: drive-in cinemas; white-chested crows; amputees with placards telling the history of their bad luck, wild pigeons; old women walking so slow they turn into scarecrows, maybe one of them was his grandmother, for he’s made sure her grave at Langata Cemetery is empty, so she must be out there, roaming the streets of Nairobi, going around saving the children; the man with long nipples – his father.
The night has a language of empty parking lots, headlights, car horns, incidental white lights on the top of most floors of tall buildings, live bands in famous tourist joints – Miller’s Guide to Nairobi, 2nd Ed, 2067 – rooftop pools illuminated by the light from the eyes of long dead street children. White skin looks beautiful there, like a Standard Chartered banking hall. Bodies come out of nowhere and occupy the empty spaces.
Dik Dik walks into an alley. Some children are born with congenital heart disorders, holes in the walls of the heart as big as black holes, but he’s special enough to be born only with bowlegs. The country missed the World Cup because of these bowlegs. A distant muezzin affirms his belonging to another world, but in a language he will never understand. Come here, child. Be good and be gone. Dik Dik tiptoes. Slowly, slowly. Dik Dik tiptoes. Midway through a whistle – John Coltrane, Carnegie Hall, a lost time – he stops and the language of the arrangement of his bones in the general order of the skeleton appears to say hi to a cobbler in red and green. He smiles, nods back and reaffirms a longstanding discount, ‘You will always have a home here.’ The cobbler’s smile is so wide Dik Dik can make out pools of saliva in the gorges of the man’s toothless gums. A three-headed mousebird tucks its head from under his apron, he pats its crest and tucks it back, smiles to Dik Dik by way of an apology. Dik Dik needs no shoes owing to the size of his feet. The size of his penis begs to differ.
What is home if you don’t have the right size of shoes to take you there?
Dik Dik walks into Marienbad, says ‘Good morning, M’bad.’ The people laugh with their mouths closed, in the burrows of their smiles and creases are incomplete guides to difficult museum pieces.
He kisses each man, slowly, takes time to get the tilt angle just right, just the right amount of aftershave, just the right amount of tongue. JIMI HENDRIX is playing.
Conversations circle around modern architecture. Ah, Nairobi is a riot in July. The sun is out, Hartlaub’s Turacos play in certain gardens. Dead children come out to sing the anthem. So much sun in this city. Wounds fester. Everyone is happy with the government and the children of diplomats are happier with the dollar rate.
Dik Dik had dated the son of a diplomat not a long time back, he tells them. South Sudan. They toast: here’s to wishing for places much further from the Greenwich Meridian.
There was the her – cinematography and choice of costume notwithstanding – he met along the sands of Casablanca. He forgave her for so many things, pretended not to notice other men (and women), as long as she agreed to sign a memorandum stating their memories would not be erased by the happy men at immigration. Casablanca had old men who reminded him of a rundown smoking zone on Koinange Street, but he stayed there for years, long after his parents had left the place and long after they’d stop sending him postcards. He understood the postcards to be a form of their nostalgia, so he forgave them – it was enough that they suffered. He wanted to be near Europe, in Lampedusa, near the cemetery of sunken boats, in commune with so many West Africans he could dream dreams where he spoke with an accent and impressed the women almost enough to make them smile but not enough to take them home.
In the end he left and immigration said the memorandum was a forgery.
Casablanca stayed with him. In a certain dream Dik Dik can smell the loins of a woman who has travelled from Syria through Jordan though Tunisia to Lampedusa only do die at the shallow shores of a European beach. The morning after a child smiles at the shallowness of the shore: she knows it’s easy to conquer the ocean, for her, on this other side; no other truth will be truer than the ocean being conquerable and distance being nothing more than the wet lips of a generous lover between her legs.
Chromosome-1972 calls, says as way of salutation: ‘What Chromosome sees in the eyes of the goat.’ He’s tired but humours her. She’s dialling him in her sleep again. He knows what goat she is speaking of but does not stop her when she goes into the details of its appearance. Finally she returns to the eyes of the goat. They are far from perfect spheres, she explains. What she means is that she felt something in the way the goat looked at her. It’s the same way children born long ago would look at you with tilted heads, thinking: ‘asshole’. It’s the same way he looks at her, not entirely trusting her love and all the tongue she offers him, the dead colours, the dead children she brings to life when she licks his anus and tell him it’s okay, you don’t need to be afraid, there no shame in enjoying anal. She’s saying goat but he hears ghosts.
A beep goes off and he notices his register is running low. He dials for the police and gives them her address.