Nine a.m in the streets of Nairobi was a bitch. It was almost as bitchy as five p.m but everyone was a little less angry and a bit more eager. So, their pushes were friendly pushes but pushes all the same. He noticed the way they shoved him before he realized how he felt about them. As he hoped from a matatu to another, he cursed the pleasures of morning sex and hoped he would make the office by at least nine thirty. It was his third week and this was the fifth time he was late. And like on all the other similarly miserable days, there was a meeting scheduled for that morning. He remembered how everyone was always telling him to get a place nearer to his workplace and how he’d not even thought about it. He thought, because apparently all he could do was think of all possible ways to make himself feel worse, about the first major client seeing them in months who was probably already waiting in the office and how his boss had insisted on promptness. But he knew the futility of thoughts when an ugly, blue and blaring bus almost hit him.
He swung out of the way instinctively and crashed into the tall man in a grey suit who was beside him. He swore some more but didn’t bother to turn and apologize as he made his way. He felt the stranger’s eyes curse after him and said to himself.
“Fucking pass it on.”
She was still lying in bed missing him and feeling the hole that his absence made in her small square one bed roomed apartment when her phone rang. He had left about an hour ago and she knew she should have been out of bed already but she was carefree. All she felt like doing was think of him. It was her classmate on the phone asking for class notes. There was some test scheduled for that day at two in the afternoon. As soon as she hung up, disappointing the desperate lass on the phone, she swung her hips out of the bed. They say that’s the most effective way. Next stop was the bathroom and by some miracle of slow time, it was only thirty minutes later that she sat straight against the headrest and opened her notebook. She tried for a few minutes to concentrate on the pages but after she had turned a few of them, she realized that she could remember nothing. She sighed and leaned back, surrendering to the memory of the first time that she had laid her eyes on him.
It was a particularly quiet Saturday evening as she and her group of three friends made their way up Kenyatta Avenue. They were flanking her on either side, as if protecting her from the unseen dangers of the world. She was in the middle feeling like she would much rather be alone in her house listening to sad music with the occasional dose of inevitable self pity. The past couple of months had come crashing down on her securities like the way a skyscraper crumbles. Fast, loud and with a blanket of choking dust. She was left bruised and bare like she’d been in a fist fight and lost. She was so tender and vulnerable she thought it best to avoid people for a while. But her friends would have none of that. So here they were, an army of will, making soft banter under the yellow and white lights of the city.
The rooftop at PAWA254 had been packed so they stood against the wall, thirty minutes later, waiting for the start of the event. And then he came on to the stage in a scuffle, almost tripping on the little raised platform. Everyone waited patiently. She looked passively at him as her thoughts sailed in the nether regions of her mind. Then she heard his voice and felt it shake as he said his first lines. She came to and automatically sought his eyes. After a while they found hers and she knew that he spoke of the same pain that she felt. As she listened to him rhyme away her sorrows, she began to hope again.
He heard them roar before he saw them charge. It sounded like a deep ominous grumble from the bowels of a whale about to swallow you whole. But he was late and he had to cross that street to get to work. He was more anxious than he was scared. So he used an alley and slipped onto Moi Avenue. And he looked up and saw them begin to run, coming straight his way, behind them a billow of teargas smoke rising steadily. Next thing he heard were loud shots that cut into the chaos and the people lost their minds. Survival instincts kicked in and as they rumbled their way towards him an ugly unity, he saw the deadly force that they were. The few bystanders close to him who had been observing from their amused distance turned on their heels too and took the head start they felt they deserved for being sensible. But he couldn’t run. He did not care to be caught in that impending carnage and he did not care to be late either. So he looked around and rushed past two glass doors and into the fast food joint that was next to him. It was almost empty but for the staff and a few customers. They were all watching the front window from various angles, waiting. He turned and stood safely inside, against a table and saw the guard lock the door hastily.
They came rushing by about ten seconds later. A flood of scared and confused faces with heavy thumps that shook the ground. No one thought to turn and try to get into the joint. They seemed to have a single linear sense. From behind the window, the group watched in uncomfortable silence and dread. Each of them hoping not to be noticed. Half a minute later, the last of the mob sped past like follow up bullets. And their sounds faded into the distance down the street. They all seemed to heave at the same time. Slowly they approached the window and he moved with them. They glanced around in hushed tones before the security guard broke away, unlocked the doors and stepped aside. He broke away too, feeling lucky and thinking that he wouldn’t be embarrassingly late.
When he got to the door, his phone vibrated in his pocket and he answered it promptly, seeing her face light up on the caller ID. He was walked out as he said,
But before she replied, and he walked out into the pavement from behind the shelter of the next building, a single gunshot rang out.
It was nine sixteen a.m when the bullet hit his temple and his phone fell and cracked on the stone.