A close shave

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I walked into Sarova Stanley a few days ago, late in the evening to meet a special client. It happens that most of my loyal clients are women. As a man who’s known to shift goal posts, trying to find himself in the events of juggling tens of careers, I end up seizing any opportunity that comes along. You can say that I am an opportunist. And no, it does not make me a bad man. I am just a guy battling with identity crisis; engaging in everything worth my time whilst I wait for time to push me towards the right career trajectory.

Being an opportunist, therefore, puts me in paths where most action happens- sometimes propelling me to grandiosity, and often, pushing me as back as destitution goes because of lack of consistency in doing a particular thing. But in all of this, I have always liked the idea of meeting people with the power to flip my life from that of a jagged one into an existence throbbing with live prospects. Even in these events, still, I hardly know what I want to do or be, rendering the opportunities and my promising connects useless.

My life, as I have known it in my little self, has been without any particular plan- it has been more of spontaneous than planned. I live for the moment; wishing and hoping that one day, I’ll be where I want to be. Not knowing what you want, or knowing it but failing to achieve it can bring a treacherous feeling of self-doubt, self-pity and comparison- all of them being extremely hurtful and destroying.

When I look at the lives of the clients I meet, I see how far in life they are and the feeling of comparison sometimes overwhelms me. I guess it a natural feeling. But it can move from admiration to comparison quite quickly, and this small twist of thoughts can be more destroying than a chronic disease because it hacks your self-esteem.

The doorman on the left smiled broadly in his uniform.

“How are you Sir? Welcome!”

He ushered me in as I went past the checkpoint. The events leading to that moment were incoherent, but not according to plan. I am a stickler to rules; rules that I have stood by for many years when going about my business. One of them is that the deal should never change after it has been set. Late changes in any deal, for me, are signs of bad lack. I can’t stand people who fail to honour promises and those who take deals lightly .

I feel trapped when people change the rules of the game, especially if they have the upper hand. Most of our productive hours are spent playing particular roles, not because we love them but because of the bills that are ever spiraling. This forces us to allow people to think for us and make decisions for us- we even let them think on our behalf and decide what is best for us. It is the same thing that makes me trapped when deals change, they bring into the game unforeseen circumstances that are in favour of your client. Just for the bills.

The receptionists, who apparently happen to be men in most luxurious hotels, looked at me as if I was the only grain of maize in a sea of beans. I was giddy, lost and nursing exhaustion. At any length, all I needed was good rest. The better part of my day had been spent in traffic, on and off vehicles, partly trekking and partly busy with my hands, moving from one end of Nairobi to another, one office to another, one alley into another, trying to fix my client’s mess.

I approached one of the receptionists and told him that I had a dinner reservation with my client. There was a table reserved for the two of us, and my client was due to arrive from wherever she was. As I was being shown to my table at the ground floor, I wondered where she might have been at such a time and why she wanted us to have dinner. My life, as a simple man and a minimalist, doesn’t fancy darkness. You’d find me home at night, nursing a book, punching myself on the keyboard or simply watching a movie.

The latest you’d find me out at night is 9.pm. And this is only when I am obligated to. I prefer dinners at home, around people I like or love, sharing banters and reveling in the bond of friendship or family. Occasionally, a dinner in a restaurant is not a bad thing.

I placed my bag carefully on the seat next to mine and ordered lemon tea with honey. I sent her a text, telling her that I had arrived and that I was knocking down drinks from the cellar like I owned it. She didn’t know I don’t drink and I just wanted to see her reaction. She replied saying that she was ten minutes out and accompanied the message with laughing emojis. Ten minutes out in Nairobi could mean half an hour or an hour. So I prepared myself for the long haul. She texted again saying, “Please leave some space for food.”

As she’d said, she appeared exactly after ten minutes, and for the first time in my current life, I started to believe in human beings again. She was as beautiful as I had imagined, adorned in a black figure-flattering dress that didn’t attract attention but still displayed her fetching curves. I carefully observed her heart-shaped face with blossoming interest, which I usually have when I meet people who strike me as beautiful and cerebral. My pops taught me to never greet older people while seated so I stood up and hugged her before firmly shaking her hand.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,”

She apologized, something that impressed me. Many of us fish for excuses. Admitting that you’re wrong is enough, topping it up with an apology even makes things easy. Next time you’re late to some appointment, first admit that you’re late and apologize. There are people who might be interested to know why you were late; others don’t want to know your reasons because you’re already late. Just apologize, and mean it.

I didn’t say anything after the apology. I just stared at her awkwardly, probably mesmerized by her mere, quixotic beauty. Of course, I like making people uncomfortable and shy the first time we meet with unfettered gazing and appalling silence, as a way of breaking people’s toughness or even nudging them into starting conversations. The trick is not to overdo it because it becomes strange and can turn something great into a horrendous experience. A certain proverb says a good guest knows when to leave. Therefore, I apply the same model in my tactics to rattle people’s comfort.

“You’re so beautiful!”

I finally commented, without going overboard with my eccentricity. Just like any woman, that little girl in her came out, and a wide smile ran across her lips, making her shy and breathless. I knew I had hit the soft spot full throttle, a trick I have mastered over the years to win women over when I know I might not know where to start.

Conversations, in this era, can be extremely difficult to start or even convey if you are new to each other, and more so when you’re years apart. It is even tough for men to run successful conversations with women than the other way. When a woman approaches a man and draws a conversation, most likely, the man will go in full swing and be loose, a thing that might not be the case when a man approaches a woman, even if it is for a genuine conversation.

There is a notion that when a man approaches a woman it is because he wants her. An idiosyncrasy that disadvantages men of lower class whose self-esteem is in a bubble with a thin wall- men who avoid going into conversations because the disposition, of them wanting something from a woman every time they want to talk, can rapture this self-esteem and destroy their mental stability.

I have been one of those men. My own troubles with women and the wrong notions about men’s intentions have embattled me. Gladly, I have learned to maneuver my way through this labyrinth of dispositions to forge my way of holding my esteem high enough to avoid fissures that may wreck me. I, therefore, throw jokes when I can, open my brilliant mind when it comes to it and quickly learn what people want to talk about. If I am in a tight spot, I listen mostly and speak only at the right moment.

We ordered food and drinks and dug into them with immediacy of a hungry lioness. Occasionally I’d throw an eye around the room, catching people as they enjoyed their meals in fancy suits and evening dresses. The sound of cutlery, laughter and low tones filled the dimly lit but warm room. Our conversation had varied topics, mostly about our lives, the ideals we believed in and life in general. If anything, it was an honest conversation, one I hadn’t had for years.

I was so soaked in the conversation that I forgot my troubles for a while, ordering plate after plate of whatever it is that we had, and her gobbling glasses of wine, one after another until her words lost coherence. Then I didn’t know what to do, whether to leave her there or to carry her. She was not dead drunk, but she was becoming a chatterbox by the second and losing her mind. I knew she was seeing me in 3D.

I asked for the bill and paid it- but billed it on my client. She was erratic. Two days before, I had picked up her son from her home although she was not around. I was to deliver him to school where they were having an overseas trip. With my support, I helped her into the car by the door and drove off home. It was my first time to be in the open, commercial road.

It was around midnight, a bad hour for me to be outside. This is the reason why I dislike change of things; it puts you in compromising situations. While my client was enjoying her happy hour, swimming in wine, happy and resting at the passenger seat, I was miserably trying to steady the car on the road. I had trouble locating the button for the lights. So I got stuck for a while studying the car’s dashboard to know what lay where with the help my phone’s torch. It was so relieving that there were a few cars on the road; otherwise, I’d have crashed into someone’s car butt.

Cleaning people’s messes is about foregoing your happiness and prioritizing that of your clients. Sometimes it pays well, sometimes it’s risky, and most of the time, it is a position between a rock and a hard place. Their suggestions become decisions, their decisions become commands, and their fantasies become your burdens. When you’re around, they forget about their worries because they transfer them to you like now when I was finding my way to Piney Estate somewhere in Amboseli, driving slowly not to hit anything.  When my foot hits the gas pedal, it stays constant. Before I remember to ease or press harder, I’d have covered miles or run over someone.

Her car is big and long so I didn’t know how to park it well in the ground parking space because of the many pillars so close to each other. I let the gate man help me park it as I carried my zonked client to the elevator to her sixth floor apartment. In the elevator, I put her on her limbs and put my arm across her shoulder for support.

When the elevator heaved us on the sixth floor, I discovered that the key was in her purse, which I’d forgotten in her car. So I sat her in the elevator and we went down once more. At the ground floor, I left her seated in the elevator as I went for the key. When I came back, someone had summoned the elevator to ninth floor so I had to wait for them to come down. It was a mess. I wondered where someone would be going at one in the night. There was a lot on my slate to think about to worry about where someone was going at one. I had a drunken woman by me, alone in the house.

I’ve heard that when people get tipsy or drunk, they become horny. I’ve witnessed people do shady things while drunk- things they regretted the following day while sober. Once, I’ve shagged a drunk girl but hated it- if both of you are not in the same level of human state, the sex will be horrible for one party and very enjoyable for the other.

When I put her in bed, I knew what was to come. People can be sleepy all the way; suddenly they come into their senses when you put them in bed. Where that kind of nimbleness emanates from is still witchcraft, but if you happen to have clients like the ones I usually get, you learn to expect it. When her body became alive and stretched to reach mine, I was already at the door.

There are many reasons for men like me to die- one of them is to sleep with women you don’t know about. Someone could be married and men can hunt you down, and one day when you’re beautifully sleeping, they will take away your life when you least expect it. People will know that you died because you were licking honey from another man’s beehive.

I locked her door, threw four big cushions on the floor at the living room, and slept, as it was late for me to go home. I was genuinely tired. I slept soundly until a heavy thud on the door woke me up. It was morning. When you wake up from such kind of sleep, you wake in a jerk, and confusion engulfs you immediately. I thought I was in my house, so I went on to open the door.

There was a burly man at the door carrying bags full of groceries in both arms. I’ve never been startled like I was. Both of us looked at each other for a long while. There was actually nothing racing through my mind- only confusion and fear that rang through my entire body. My lips were dry and my energy drained.

“Who are you?” he asked in an unfriendly voice. Honestly, I didn’t know what to say. There was no energy in me to speak even. I whispered “shiiiiiiiit!” inadvertently. He must have heard it. Or he might not have.

I don’t remember how I got out of that house, whether I took the lift or the staircase. I don’t remember the route I took to get home or how I got a bruise on my knee. I don’t recall where I lost my wallet or where my phone lost its cover at. I don’t remember where my clothes collected so much blood from.

I have been trying to figure things out, trying to do recollections and asking myself several questions. It is only a few days later that my client called to ask me where I ran to after seeing her brother. She was laughing hysterically, citing that her brother had told her how I perambulated down the staircase like I’d seen a ghost.


Mzangila Snr

(The supreme hunter is captivity)

Where shall we go, we who wander in this wasteland in search of better selves?

Edited by: Hannah Kageche

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