Cephas stands on the roof, where streaming warmth catches his face and seeps into his cheeks. There is a race in the sky between the rising sun and the cloudwall of the Kenyan monsoon. The cool and fast wind blows south-west and not even a drizzle to breathe in yet. It’s the rare moment when a windhowl warps around his ears and the chaos at street level falls silent. And this is his last second to look directly at the sun, and see the outline of its circle of fire and the wash of its corona. He lets it burn his iris and the brilliant light plunges through his pupils, deep into his head and he thinks he can feel his brain fluids come to a bubbling boil. An airplane breaks the barrier somewhere in the sky.
The cloudwall eats the sun and the light goes out of his eyes and he sees them clearly, the greys of the approaching storm. Long rains and floods and muddy socks in the Omo foam. The wind becomes cooler and now he thinks he can taste it like ice-cream.
‘That’s why you can’t read your own handwriting.’
This is his brother Erabus’ voice. It snaps Cephas from his reverie and the world narrows. Just the city now, the daily life in it. Cephas looks at Erabus.
‘Don’t mind my iris. Did you take the day off because you want to be shown the cloud downtown?’ Cephas asks his brother.
‘Look, ask me your questions.’
This is the signal for Cephas to play the game where little brother becomes the teacher and big brother the student.
‘Did you buy the tickets?’
‘No. But I tried.’
Cephas jumps off the wall like the city spider that he is, landing asprawl, hands and feet hitting the ground simultaneously, smoky dust rising around his sneakers; without breaking his bones because he’s just a kid enjoying the rubberbandiness of his body.
He stands up and sees the city.
Downtown is shaped like a grown lady lying on her back. From left to right, from here, we have her thighs which are the squat buildings on Haile Selassie. Except for the raised knees which are Co-operative House and Times Tower. The flat stomach of Moi Avenue and Tom Mboya Street after that. Then the rising breasts of Johnny Walker on Teleposta Towers. Finally, we go down to her head which is Tusker on Uhuru Flyover.
This is how Cephas reads the city. He takes the five biggest billboards in downtown and makes them his map.
First, a hundred metres down Landhies Road, where he now stands, is Blueband. It has a boy like him eating his slice of buttered bread. A male billboard.
‘You said you tried?’
‘Yes. See for yourself.’
Underneath Blueband, Cephas sees the trails his brother has left on dust caking the tarmac. Erabus walks in slides and not steps. And Cephas makes out the route he took, the trails leading to Machakos Bus Station, tracing the ground from the Naivasha matatus to the Nakuru matatus to the Eldoret matatus and onward to the Turkana ones.
And he sees the witch called Aeron selling books from the back of her blue matatu, and she’s wearing a bikini but it is legal and she knows the City Council bastards don’t want to touch her wrinkly skin or fondle her sagging breasts, and he catches a line of her bipolar monologue booming from the matatu stereo, ‘There is light in the darkness, but the darkness does not understand it.’
Then, still going straight along Landhies Road to where it merges into Haile Selassie Avenue, the eastern edge of downtown, there is the looming Airtel billboard which has a girl calling her mother on her iPhone. He calls her a she. And she casts a shadow on the yellow wall of bananas marking the boundary of Wakulima Market. Past gaps in the wall there are muscular women lifting LG flatscreens and putting them on the stall tables.
At the entrance to downtown proper, just to the right of Haile Selassie Avenue, is the Coca-Cola billboard.
‘The lady drinking the Coca-Cola has what?’, asks Cephas
‘She has curves just the way a grown man would want to see them.’
Coca-Cola is a she.
Then, in a diagonal line westward from Coca-Cola there is the looming Johnny Walker Billboard on Teleposta Towers. The Teleposta Towers has three faces to it and each one has Johnny Walker on it. Cephas knows when he is in the heart of downtown Johnny Walker is always looking down on him. And it’s a male.
When you go past Johnny Walker you are going beyond downtown and westward out of Nairobi and the Tusker billboard flies over Uhuru Flyover.
These billboards are his compass points. As long as they are there, he can’t get lost.
‘So now?’ says Cephas.
‘We try Aeron.’
‘And when we get to the Rift Valley, it will look just like you said?’
‘Yes. It’s too big to change.’
Cephas sees Erabus take out his iPhone.
‘I thought you said you were taking a day off. Now you are taking out your office,’ says Cephas.
Erabus puts the iPhone back into his pocket.
‘Cloud of newspapers,’ says Erabus.
Cephas squints both his eyes and points a finger up at Erabus’ face.
‘Wait until you see it to know what bullshit you are,’ Cephas tells his brother.
A gang of men and women dressed in power suits and even more powerful skirts come out of their houses lined up on Landhies Road and they march like a common army. They are walking to downtown, from Blueband to Coca-Cola, and Cephas gets the nervous feeling that he and Erabus are in their way. He can smell their aftershave and white-collar perfume.
And they are all looking down into their iPhones.
And it’s perhaps a coincidence. The Kenyan monsoon winds flow toward downtown, the traffic on Landhies Road swims toward downtown and the power suits and even more powerful skirts walk toward downtown. And what is this downtown?
Cephas and Erabus turn and walk briskly, as if to make a getaway or at least stay ahead of the aftershave and perfume pack and they see the Times Towering giants and concrete sequoias rising to the sky, Co-operative House and Afya House.
Cephas bumps his knee onto a bench. An old bench.
‘Who sat on this once?’ asks Cephas, rubbing his knee.
‘Grandfather sat on it and looked out to a sprawling green field where there were stumps at the wicket and the Englishmen played cricket.’
The construction companies forgot about the bench and it sat looking at the dirty white walls of the houses on Landhies Road.
They come to Aeron’s blue matatu.
‘Any hardcover, anytime, anywhere in my matatu at a hundred shillings,’ her voice booms out of the matatu stereo.
Her skin matters to everyone standing around the back of her matatu.
‘This is elephant skin.’
‘It’s like looking down at a swath of wrinkly grey Ethiopian mountains from an airplane window.’
There are many here, at the open back of Aeron’s blue matatu where used hard and softcovers are stacked, and it seems books are popular and maybe this is a reading city. An ex-power skirt is flipping to a last page. Thin men with big bones, the underfed and underpaid houseboys from deeper Eastlands, stopping here at Aeron’s and flipping the softcover pages for a minute before continuing their trek to the middle-class suburbs where they will scrub chicken tikka stains off plates and wash shit-farted underwears. The monsoon wind billows their baggy pants. And the fat man in the faded Omo-blue jeans, which he’s about to tear at thigh-level, cradles a softcover with one hand and flips a hard one to the last page with the other. Aeron digs into her sagging left breast and takes out an iPhone.
‘Anytime, anywhere, a hundred shillings. Or softcover me at half price, but I will not take off my costume,’ Aeron’s voice booms.
Cephas grabs Erabus’ arm.
‘Give her the money. Buy them now,’ Cephas says, pulling on Erabus’ hands.
‘Aeron, give us two “Out of Africa” tour tickets,’ says Erabus.
Aeron digs into her right sagging breast and takes out two tickets, hands them over to Erabus.
`Since this young boy is a spider, I will not charge. And I need to give him something.’
Aeron crawls into the back of her matutu, showing off her elephant skin rump. She comes out with an old book. Cephas grabs it. The pages are loose. Bold black title on the white hardcover spells out Human Evolution. He checks out the inside jacket.
‘What does it say?’ Cephas asks, giving the book to Erabus.
‘A cracking and suspenseful thriller of our history based on brand new science. Filled with CG photos and an updated map of our trip out of Africa with exact town locations in the Great Rift Valley. By the obscure American author Olliled Nod,’ reads Erabus.
Aeron then lifts a softcover that looks more like a loose-leaf pad and shows it to Erabus. The softcover is grubby and Erabus can smell the whiff of a wine on the corner of the cover because it is now under his nose.
‘That’s a 110-year-old Eselshoek. Mugabe was drinking it in his toilet,’ says Aeron.
Erabus wants to lean away from the book but he can’t because there is a moving mass of Nairobi bodies blocking his retreat. Cephas spies the power suits and even more powerful skirts army approaching and he sees a title typed on the soft cover, A Sunrise on a Murderous Day in Kampala.
‘By Dambooze Marechera. Yeah, baby, his last book never published. This only manuscript stolen from Mugabe’s toilet. And these are his fingerprints,’ Aeron says as she shows the finger stains to everyone.
‘He held it in his lap as he shat. This is how Marechera wanted his books read. While performing raw human arts like shitting. Fine alcohol ready at hand. Bob was always an avid reader.’
Suddenly, there is a push on Cephas and he dominoes into Erabus, who spills into Aeron, and the three of them tumble and Erabus licks sweat on Aeron’s armpits. A foot of power suit attempts to stamp Cephas’ knee but the spider in him wriggles out. The power suit’s boot hits the ground and he loses balance. The even more powerful skirt next to him starts to wobble as the gyroscopic forces holding her five-inch stiletto heels in place are neutralized and she does something out of a Kodiaga prison movie, swinging her thighs outward, in exact and opposite directions. The slits in her even more powerful skirt part, showing the fine pink lace of her panties. And she lands in a Buddha crouch where the five-inch stilettos keep her skin and clothes from touching the ground and she remains as antiseptic and germ free as in the morning when she came out of her shower and applied perfume in front of a smoky mirror. But one of the stilettos has landed next to Aeron’s arm and punctured Dambooze’s book right through the middle and Aeron, who is still holding the book, instinctively tears it from the stiletto’s clutch, sending feathers of paper floating low into the air.
The Kenyan monsoon clouds come and cover the blue sky. The city lives under a shadow. The wind now has a punch and is ice-cream cool.
Cephas and Erabus pass under Airtel. Downtown-bound matatus are bullying sedans – get off the road mutherfuckers. The matatus are multi-coloured and sprayed wildstyle with slogans: Kuma Ya Aeron, Politica Landscape, Ratner’s Star, Ngugi wa What?, Beer Hunger Wine Hyena, Agwambo Mapambano, Jah in Fallujah, Hague Is Vague. Their colours shine in this grey monsoon world – Capetown Caramel tasty on the sliding doors, Butterscotch Yellow burning around the lights and Kenya Army Green marching on the tyre rims.
‘What time are we leaving?’ Cephas asks his brother.
‘Ticket says four o’clock in the afternoon.’
They walk into the shadow of Coca-Cola. They can’t see the outline of her shadow because it is a dark morning anyway.
They are two brothers walking into downtown. A history of lost parents. Something of their father’s nose or mother’s lip reflects on the windows of a Bakers Inn but they cannot recognize that.
‘See my hands,’ Cephas shows Erabus paint-stained palms.
‘You are playing with the cans again.’
‘Learning my handwriting.’
Thunder cannonades from the sky but it is soon suffocated by beats blasting out from the Jesus Is Alive Ministry. People are clapping hands inside the hall. This is the everyday religion of the city, where sinner and fucker and good guy and nice lady alike are forgiven, every day. Every building in the downtown has its sinners in some corner, like this one looking out of the 16th floor of Co-operative House, smoking something, maybe a cigar, and who knows what that means, because this is the city of Jesus Christ.
Cephas can see Erabus hates it that he didn’t spot the stained hands earlier. He knows Erabus is losing him.
‘It’s like I can feel the weight of that solid ball inside the can going click-click when I see them smudged like this,’ says Erabus.
‘So I can’t eat with these?’
Cephas puts a finger into his mouth and sucks it. The finger and tongue he sticks out gleam with spit and paint. Erabus smacks Cephas’ hand away.
‘What’s wrong with you?’
A matatu stops in front of them. Passengers alight and the sliding door closes and they see Michael Jackson in a glimmer-jacket and rhinestones on his glove and he is posed with his bass weejuns on tiptoes.
‘It tastes like a wild leaf in my mouth,’ says Cephas, licking his lips.
They go past Coca-Cola and are now inside the jungle of skyscrapers. They walk to Mama Ngina Street where Johnny Walker looks down on them.
The Kenyan monsoon comes crashing down. Umbrellas pop open. Those on the open pavements and roads dive under the jutting roofs of ground-floor shops and soon the entire corpus of the city is either indoors, cardoors, or standing in their five million under jutting roofs. There are flashes of iPhone screens as the five million dig into their pockets and bring them out because what else is there to do now? Fireflies in their hands in the daytime.
Cephas and Erabus are squeezed in the crowd. Bad breath and aftershave here. Shoulders rub against each other, creating some warmth in the ice-cream wind. Cephas steps out of the crowd and walks onto the road, into the rain, and in between cars which are now stuck in a jam that will be measured in half-days. He looks at the sky. It’s not grey, it’s not blue, but it has headlines all over. It’s black and white. They are floating in the sky. The skyscrapers are reflecting them but who knows if it’s simply an optical illusion because in the crowd they are all reading the Daily Nation and Standard on their iPhones and the echo effect in the sky escapes them. Blind spot.
‘Kenyan Writer Dies of Book Hunger.’
Cephas wants to read more headlines but an arm grabs him around the stomach and carries him back under a jutting roof. A raindrop trickles down the rim of Cephas’ nose.
Perhaps you should look up and tell me where the rain comes from,’ says Cephas.
Then he hears the iPhone vibrating inside Erabus’ pant pockets.
‘Is there even a Rift Valley? You might be fooling me,’ says Cephas.
‘Look, when we get to the top of the escarpment you will be higher than 3,000-foot extinct volcanoes, peering into open craters, and not a building reflecting the stainless blue-steel sky,’ says Erabus.
‘When was the last time you went?’ asks Cephas.
‘When I was a kid like you.’
‘So how do you know?’
‘I told you – it’s too big to change.’
‘When you see the cloud of newspapers you will know what bullshit you are. I keep saying.’
Cephas is pushed by Erabus into the nearby Java café. It’s even warmer inside.
Cephas opens the Human Evolution book. He sees half-human, half-gorilla creatures. In big handwriting is written: ‘Homo Habilis, born in Nairobi’.
‘My handwriting is much better nowadays. The other spiders respect my territory,’ says Cephas.
Erabus is looking vacantly out of the big Java windows.
‘Do you think they had good handwriting?’ Cephas asks, pushing the book toward Erabus.
Cephas looks away, trying to find a bit of sky.
‘Oh yes, certainly, there is a distinct methodology in their implied process and on paper it comes out in various manifestations,’ answers Erabus.
Cephas jerks his head. This is not a pattern that fits his recognition of Erabus’ voice. And he sees why. Erabus is talking into his iPhone. There is a firefly on his ear.
‘I am positive, sir, I can get eight containers of cornflakes into Rwanda and your supermarkets will eat them.’
‘I keep saying,’ Cephas tries to grab his brother’s attention.
‘Sixty-seven pallets in total, sir.’
Erabus finishes the call. Cephas stands up and screams into his brother’s face.
‘I keep saying you never look up. None of you bastards do. You’re just like them now. We’ll never go, I know. Because you keep looking down at your fucking phone or anything. I am fucking gone, bro.’
Cephas chooses one of the cars parked on Mama Ngina Street, a white Toyota Immaculate, gets on top of the bonnet and reclines his back on the windscreen. The car is wet with raindrops and his clothes get soaked on the underside. But he doesn’t care.
Johnny Walker is looking down on him from the cream Teleposta Towers to his right. Cephas rolls his head on the windscreen glass. He sees Coca-Cola. She looks small and red from here and home is behind her.
Mama Ngina Street, the heart of downtown. Central to everything. It has large pavements and the buildings look down at it from all sides. Power suits swarm the street like ants but here on the car he is safe from their body pushes. It’s an open womb from where he observes the only world he has ever known. Erabus once told him only the lucky get out of the city because it is so big and not everyone knows where it ends. He read a Ladybird book once, a story about a boy like him who was born in a secret house on Landhies Road and went on a great journey to Mombasa so that he could see the Indian Ocean and play in its waves. The boy took matatu after matatu, going past Makindu where he ate a late breakfast at the Sikh Temple skyscraper, past Mtito Andei where elephants from Tsavo had become pets like dogs and were chained to big kennels and did not roam free in the wild grass. The boy only saw straight lines and geometric shapes of modern architecture for all those kilometres and even the trees were carefully manicured. When the boy got to Mombasa he was told the beaches had all been privatized. Out of mischief, the boy climbed over the wall of a private beach bungalow and saw an Indian Ocean without waves. There was a signpost on the sand which said: `To Mumbai. 4439 km. Drive Safely.’ It was no longer an ocean of water but an ocean of skyscrapers and cities. He saw bulbs twinkling like baby novas on the horizon. The sun never set. The water was only in between the different buildings and it was still and filled with mosquito larvae. Then the boy met a witch on the narrowest lane in Old Mombasa and she told him his journey had evolved in the wrong direction and she said something about light and darkness. She gave him a book called Human Evolution. ‘Dear spider, the map to get out of here is inside,’ she said.
But Erabus had that book with him, a little down the street, at Java café. Cephas knew his big brother would not come after him now that he was negotiating his cornflakes deal. There were shortcuts through Tom Mboya that came out directly underneath Coca-Cola and around Haile Selassie there were wormholes which came out under Blue Band and home was then next door. Erabus knows little brother has a complete mastery of these tricks of folding space. And how does Cephas get his food? Like, was he hungry now? Cephas is a city spider, if he knows the wormholes, he knows where in Wakulima market the tastiest rolex can be had.
And the spiders never pay.
The Toyota Immaculate’s wipers scratch his back. Mama Ngina Street is jammed. Unceasing engine purr. Cars stuck in first gear.
Cephas rolls his head and sees the cloud of newspapers.
It’s a black and white sky. A cloud called ‘Africa Faces E-Book Crises, Warns Oxfam’ crawls from Johnny Walker to Tusker and disappears. Now many clouds float in from the sky area around Airtel. They come and occupy the sky in rows and columns. He can see them slowly drifting south-west, being pushed on by the Kenyan monsoon winds. And he doesn’t think it is exactly black or white. Instead there seems to be a luminous backlight switched on behind the clouds, giving them a digital feel, like on Erabus’ iPhone.
The cloud right opposite him now is called ‘Ocampo Four Given Life Sentences’.
Southward: ‘Police Raid So What? Publishers Find Illegal Fiction’. The entire sky is now carpeted with newspapers and headlines. The clouds drift peacefully. ‘Agwambo: I Will Expand Cities in Ukambani’ is reflecting off Lonhro House. Geometric shadows of letters are being cast on Teleposta Towers and Johnny Walker. Around Airtel, eastward, a glint of white space shining off Times Tower. And Cephas wonders if this is why he never goes to school. He learns just by lying down like this on a car downtown and reading what is in the sky. Only his handwriting is bad. He’s never held a pen and whenever he tries, his fingers get confused and it drops out of his hand. Erabus told him he had the same problem with chopsticks. But a spray can is a toy in his hands.
‘Handwriting Experts Quizzed Over Graffiti Menace.’
‘Can you please get off my car?’ a sweet, well-modulated voice says. Cephas thinks he can taste spearmint in that voice. He continues to watch the clouds.
‘Reader Found Guilty Of Possessing Softcovers in Contravention of Save The Trees Act.’
He wonders how the clouds of newspaper are formed. Do books evaporate? Does it rain in letters?
And then his spider sense tickles him. He swings his left foot away in time as a baton comes crashing down on the Toyota Immaculate bonnet. The car’s alarm goes off.
‘Not the car, please’
‘Don’t worry, madam.’
City Council bastards are shouting over the alarm noise. Cephas leans forward, his wet back peels off the windscreen like a sticker, and then he stands up and towers over everybody. He wants to jump off and run toward Moi Avenue, which is the one gap in the wall of skyscrapers surrounding him, but three City Council bastards dressed in their unmistakable yellow aprons block his way. Cephas turns to see if he can rocket away in the opposite direction, toward Johnny Walker, but bastards in yellow aprons waiting for him there too. This is when he smells gasoline in the air and feels a bass thump beating under his feet and knows it cannot be the alarm.
‘We have you by the balls, spider.’
The City Council bastards close in from all directions with some remaining just a little behind, in case he jumps over. The jam on Mama Ngina Street is static and the occupants inside take time off from their iPhones to watch the noose tightening on a spider, something for them to chew on because the digital boredom and monotony makes their minds hungry.
‘Pray to Buddha, boy.’
Cephas’ legs don’t have a muscle memory for this fix. And he knows Erabus is not going to come out of Java because the cornflakes are stuck at Uganda border control.
And then a tumult at the end of Mama Ngina Street where a further road leads toward Johnny Walker. Something blue crashing forward. Grey smoke is spewing from its exhaust, a new jack swing rhythm booming in the air and it becomes clear the blue thing is a matatu.
The City Council bastards are distracted and their yellow aprons flutter in sync with the booming rhythm. A chance for Cephas to spider away but he is transfixed too.
The matatu is gleaming with Omo-blue and polished silver chrome and it wants to get onto the pavement but a Toyota Flawless is in the way, so the beast attacks, sparks fly where their metal meets, the left headlight of the Toyota Flawless pops out and dangles just above road level, its windscreen shatters and glass pebbles bounce on the pavement. The blue matatu shoves the Toyota Flawless aside and comes toward Cephas.
‘Get in, spider.’
At the wheels is the witch Aeron who opens the passenger door. She is smoking a cigarette and ash is falling on the bikini straps holding up her infamous sagging breasts. Cephas has no time to read the slogan emblazoned on the matatu body. He jumps off the Toyota Immaculate’s bonnet, flies over a City Council bastard, lands single-footed on the pavement, and with another leap falls into the passenger seat next to Aeron. Music splits the air. He closes the door and the matatu roars.
Aeron manoeuvres around cars, taking instant right-angled turns, aiming for the gap that leads onto Moi Avenue. She turns down the music and kills the bass stereo.
‘You have been reading the book you bought from me today morning?’
‘No. I left it with my brother’
An urgency in Aeron’s voice. She drives faster. He feels himself pressed into the seat cushion. Tom Mboya waves a hello to them from his statue.
They come onto Landhies Road. The cloud of newspapers is no longer in the sky. There is a break in the sky and the sun shines. The next dark cloud is on the horizon.
Cephas nears home. People are boarding matatus at Machakos Bus Station. He too is going out of this city tonight. Erabus has the tickets.
‘Is one of your matatus taking us away at four o’clock?’ asks Cephas.
‘This very one.’
They arrive just outside the house. The old bench stands opposite the white walls.
‘Don’t worry. Erabus is on his way. I will be back in about half an hour. Check the back,’ says Aeron.
She goes behind the house and disappears.
In the back of the matatu, Cephas finds used books and a box of spray cans. He picks out a ‘Laughing Yellow’ and looks at the white walls across the way.
The sun is shining. The wind is dead.
He approaches the white walls and finds puddles of rainwater sitting at the foot of them. He stands over one and sees the world entire. One cumulus muscling into another; an occurrence of Nairoberry at the Machakos Bus Station, the thief pinballing from Blueband to Airtel to Coca-Cola; someone smoking a cigar getting out of a window on the 16th floor of Co-operative House and shoes come off dangling legs and freefall.
He is not sure what he wants to say on the walls. Usually, he looks at a letter or word and copies it. So he looks for a stray bit of newspaper or a milk or Omo packet the wind may have blown in. He finds nothing. In downtown, he just looks up.
He aims at a white wall and sprays a yellow curl. But this is not what he wants.
He jumps and catches a window ledge. Balances over a puddle. Hooks a leg on a brick jutting out and presses down, a hand grasps the roof edge and he climbs on top. He sees another Kenyan monsoon cloudwall on the horizon. Dark and grey. But no wind yet. He looks down between gaps in the houses, hoping to find a discarded Tetrapak. He finds nothing. He jumps over to the next roof, finds another jutting brick and hangs over another window ledge. And he sees Aeron in a puddle.
She is seated on a chair. He figures out the angle and realizes she’s in his house.
Then the sound of sliding feet. Erabus appears in the puddle. He is back. And at least he has the book in his hands. Cephas aims and sprays ‘Human Evolution’ on the wall. Yellow curls for the ‘o’s and ‘u’s and yellow slants for the ‘v’ and yellow lines for the rest. Erabus disappears behind the house.
Aeron takes off her bikini. The ‘Laughing Yellow’ goes click, click.
Aeron’s sagging breasts rest on her stomach, which is coming out like a small potbelly.
Erabus removes his pants but can’t seem to get out of his underwear. He moves toward the door.
Cephas waits for a word.
Aeron puts a hand on top of her head and pulls her hair. It comes off and drags along the attached skin to reveal another body underneath. She throws the skin at the escaping Erabus who catches it and ends up holding Aeron’s sagging breasts. Aeron has become the Coca-Cola girl. The one Erabus said had the curves every grown man wants to see. And Cephas sees two Coca-Cola girls in the puddle, one at the edge of downtown and another in his house. He sprays ‘Coca-Cola’ and runs out of wall space.
Another jutting brick. Another wall. Another puddle. A different angle of reflection.
Cephas sees himself in the puddle. He sprays a yellow curl out of inertia. He finds cracks in between bricks and puts his shoes inside them and positions himself in ways that express his lust to rubberband. He sees the white wall in the puddle.
Aeron has words and letters tattooed all over her. Cephas can’t see them all because Erabus is stroking his hand over the Coca-Cola’s body. It’s certainly not Aeron any more. Aeron is on the floor, all folded over. Erabus is cupping the breasts and Cephas knows this because the shape looks like the curve of the skyscrapers around Johnny Walker. He looks into the puddle to double check. The words on Coca-Cola are like words on a map. Cephas lets his right hand swing like a pendulum and sprays yellow doodles: ‘Nairobi – Escarpment – Naivasha’.
Cephas is upside down sometimes, somersaulting other times. In the puddle he thinks it looks like he is flying like a bird but he has never seen one. He swings a bit too much and his knee knocks on the old bench. He looks into the puddle and sees Erabus has been bowled out in between his legs and only one gently curving stump is all that remains. Cephas doesn’t understand why they didn’t invite him to join in their cricket game.
Coca-Cola goes on the bed and puts her knees up and spreads them. She is covered with glitter on her body looks exactly like lights on buildings downtown.
More words. ‘Out of Kenya’, ‘John 1:5’, ‘Out of Africa’, ‘Light’, ‘Darkness.’
Then Erabus moves over her and something locks inside Cephas.
Then the puddles dwindle and evaporate and Cephas’ fingers are stained yellow.
He gets down and goes to the matatu. After a while Erabus and Coca-Cola come and join him. A cool wind finally blows. It’s four o’clock in the afternoon.
So Aeron was always Coca-Cola. And she is now wearing Aeron’s bikini and she does not have sagging breasts. And she smells of white-collar perfume.
‘Are you Aeron?’
Coca-Cola smiles and Cephas thinks he can taste spearmint in the smile.
‘You don’t mind if I can still call you Aeron?’
They all sit in the front. Erabus hands over the Human Evolution book to Cephas. The ice-cream wind of the Kenyan monsoon blows in through the matatu windows and Aeron closes all of them.
The matatu roars. Aeron is smoking a cigarette and the ash is falling on her bikini straps. Music booms. They cut through the downtown and city easily, the matatu cares for nobody on the road. It’s the bully and it’s the beast. They go past Blue Band and Coca-Cola, past Airtel and Johnny Walker. Past Tusker. Cephas likes to think they are leaving downtown behind forever. They move onto the highway which will take them to the escarpment.
It becomes a long road. Shining glass of skyscrapers on both sides. Cephas sees uniformed guards with Alsatians, who have their tongues sticking out, at the entrance of every skyscraper. Sometimes he sees a Kenya Army tank. And then domes. Cephas can read out three big signs ‘Nuclear Power Station’, ‘Karen Naivasha Grid Sect 3.4’, ‘Karen Nakuru Grid Sect 3.9’. He then sees a boy wearing torn clothes roaming the skyscraper pavements. He wonders if he is another spider.
Cephas flips through the pages of Human Evolution. First he sees a point on a map written in big bold letters. ‘NAIROBI’. Then on the next page there is a gorilla-like creature sitting on what Erabus once told him was grass. He turns the pages and sees the gorilla becoming upright and on the last pages he is standing straight and looks like Erabus. Muscles and hair on his chest. There are some things next to the sky in the photo.
‘Hey bro. What are these?’
Erabus looks sad and empty. Like he never found something which he always thought was there. Cephas finds a button and turns down the booming music and pokes Erabus in the ribs.
‘What are these?’
‘Those are birds,’ says Erabus.
They look like the small ‘v’s he has sometimes drawn. There is a half-human, half-gorilla picture under them. Bold letters on the next page: ‘Homo Erectus’. He has sprayed that word before. He turns to another page and it almost comes off. He sees a map and he sees more bold letters: ‘Homo Sapiens Trajectory Out of Africa’. And he sees on the map points written in bold letters. ‘Elmentaita’, ‘Naivasha’, ‘Nakuru’, ‘Turkana’, ‘Ethiopia’, ‘Europe’. They are following this route, he is sure.
An early evening falls on the world. The sun is setting, the skyscrapers now look orange, and the sky goes dark.
He opens the pages in the middle of the book. This is the photo he remembered from morning. It’s a valley and there are lakes and mountains and great plains of grass on it. This is what Erabus promised him they would see.
‘Have you really seen it for yourself?’
Erabus does not answer. Cephas sees confusion in him. He sees him looking at the buildings left and right, as if it is all unfamiliar or like they are not supposed to be there.
‘Aeron, are we going the right way?’ asks Erabus.
‘Yes,’ replies Aeron, pinching Erabus’ cheeks.
Then, just like that, Cephas wants to feel the ice-cream wind of the Kenyan monsoon and he opens his window. And, just like that, they arrive at the escarpment and the world entire opens up under them but Cephas has no time to look because the wind ruffles the pages of Human Evolution and sends them flying out the window.
‘No! What are you doing?’ Aeron shouts, and leans over and manages to grab one page.
The other pages fly over the world entire which is the Rift Valley and Cephas finally sees it. There are no lakes or cratered volcanoes like Erabus had promised. The whole of the Rift Valley is lit up with fireflies. The pages of Human Evolution fly away like birds over a carpet of bulbs and neon. And there is a cloud of newspapers in the sky, luminous with a backlight.
Aeron stops the matatu in the middle of the road. She gets off and runs to the edge of the escarpment and puts her hands out wide. With the backdrop of the lit Rift Valley, she looks like the Jesus in Brazil that Cephas has seen in Ladybird books. Cephas and Erabus get off the matatu and join Aeron at the edge of the escarpment. It starts raining but the three of them just keep looking down and get soaked and don’t care.
The fireflies curve over what should have been mountains and dip back into the valley and rise up again over another mountain. Again it looks like Coca-Cola lying on her back and downtown lit up at night. The wind makes the lights shimmer and the locked thing inside Cephas unlocks. In the shimmering he thinks he sees a giant Erabus going over a giant Coca-Cola. There are cricket stadiums lit up down there and it seems the outfields must be very large. There are airplanes landing into the fireflies. Dambooze is shitting in a toilet in the Rift Valley.
It stops raining and there are puddles all over the ground and road, reflecting the neon and bulbs of the Rift Valley. Erabus sits down on a rock and looks into one of the puddles and Cephas sees him.
‘Well, it doesn’t matter. Let’s keep pushing on,’ says Aeron.
As Aeron walks back to the matatu, Cephas gets a look at the wet page she grabbed earlier. It’s a photo of a lady who looks as Coca-Cola as her. There are big bold letters under it: ‘Homo Sapiens’.
The matatu roars. Cephas walks up to his brother and catches him on the arm. Erabus gets up from the stone and the two of them walk away from the puddle.
The blue matatu moves and the shadow of two heads cuts the emblazoned slogan on the blue body – ‘There is Light in the Darkness, But the Darkness Does Not Understand It’ – into a shape. The matatu moves and now an empty road with the very same shadow of two heads cast on it.
Then the lights go out of the world. There is a blackout. The Rift Valley disappears together with the cloud of newspapers. The moon peeps out from behind a mountain and shines on Lake Elmentaita. The crater of Mount Longonot is the open mouth of Rift Valley and it is speaking to them with the voice of the wind. An airplane has lost control and is dropping out of the sky. There are stars in the sky and stars in Lake Elmentaita. Cephas looks at the brightest one. The light plunges deep into his pupils and he sees planets orbiting the star.