“Should I take off my clothes?” I ask.
I’m standing against the wall. She’s standing across the table. She has glasses on. The room is small and bare and functional, a place you could sustain any form of ritual. There is a cheap clock on the wall. The type you get at supermarkets for 400 bob. It’s a diligent clock. Diligent and quiet. Not one of those loud clocks that tell the time and make a ruckus. This one is a well-behaved clock that knows its place in society. It doesn’t announce itself. You only know the time if you want to know the time. And the time now is just after 11am. The sun is bright outside.
“You can,” she says, “depends on what you want.”
I want to feel better. I want to escape. I want her touch. I’ve been told it’s magical. Because people talk, you know. People talk because they want to share unique experiences. That’s why when someone eats a good burger they won’t shut up about it. You will run into them in the lift and say, “It’s been a while, my friend.” (Always refer to people as “my friend” if you don’t know their name.) And they will say, “I’m just around, how are you?” And you will say you are fine, you are just from lunch and you ate a terrible beef burger. The people in the lift will pretend not to be listening to this inane conversation as the people in the lift will often do. Except for this one lady who’s carrying a fruit salad in a plastic container wrapped tightly with transparent polythene. She’s a size 10 but in her head she feels like she’s a size 18, so she eats fruits every lunch and salad for dinner, no carbs. Plus, she has a wedding to attend and there is a dress to look good in. Also there is a rumour that her ex-boyfriend will be coming for the wedding because they share mutual friends. That douche bag. She wants to look good. Then ignore him.
This is the lady who looks up at you when you say you just ate a bad burger. It’s the mention of beef in that statement that makes her head turn towards you. It’s the palpitation of her heart at the very idea that there is someone in close proximity that just ate beef! The other guy in the lift will chuckle and say, “Well, if you have to eat a burger then eat a Jay’s burger.” We realise that we sound like spoilt influencers. Before you can say something, there will be a ping as the lifts stop on the third floor and he will say, “Well, this is me.” Then he will hold the door for the ladies to step out because not only does he know where the best burgers are, he was also raised well. The lady will step out and she will be followed by her self-inflicted fruit salad. “Going up,” the Chinese accented voice in the lift will announce.
I take off my t-shirt, fold it and place it on a chair in the corner. I notice my reflection on a small, rectangular mirror running along the opposite wall. I don’t know about you well-adjusted men out there, but there is always a reflex when I accidentally see myself in a mirror; I tend to instinctively curl my arms to flex my biceps. It’s a boyish thing that I’ve never been able to get over. They are not much as far as biceps go, but I flex them nonetheless. I then step out of my khaki pants and they join my t-shirt on the chair. I remove my watch and my silver bracelet (a gift from Patrick Mavros himself, whom I interviewed many moons ago when he opened his jewellery shop in Village Market. Go check it out. His work is art.) I stand there in my black underwear and my socks. A thought occurs to me; that there are men out there who make love in their socks. They take off everything and leave their socks on because apparently their feet get too cold. Oh, golly. If I was a woman and a man refused to remove his socks he wouldn’t get into my bed. Especially those men who wear happy socks. I’d ask him, “Should we wait a moment as you also fetch your red nose?”
I lie down on the table, on my belly, against the cool, clean sheets. She presses a hand on my back. Her hands are warm and reassuring. She hasn’t spoken much since I walked into this room, but suddenly she seems to be saying a lot with her hand. “I want you to relax,” she says. I close my eyes. I hear the passing cars along Ngong Road. There is a beep-beep of a small delivery van reversing downstairs. (I have a friend who can’t reverse-park without half her tongue out.) Her small “clinic” is right at the Shell Station, at the junction of Karen and Ngong Road.
Her other hand touches the back of my neck. “Tell me about yourself,” I say. She laughs a sharp, whip-like laugh that’s frayed on the end. Which means she doesn’t want to talk about herself. Not to me, at least. But my feelings are not hurt. All the hurt in me is in my neck.
She’s called Louise Tumaini. She’s visually impaired. She is, by my estimation, in her late 30s or very early 40s. She lost her eyesight ten or so years ago. She doesn’t tell me how. I ask her, of course, but she doesn’t tell me. She just sighs. When she lost her eyesight she joined Machakos Technical Institute for the Blind where Japanese trainers from JICA’s self-improvement program teach students the art of Shiatsu. This is a form of Japanese massage that uses finger pressure to correct internal malfunctions, promotes good health and also treats specific diseases. To mean they can touch some place inside your feet and your constipation will end. Or touch some place in your neck and your anxiety will end. I read that this method of massage lowers blood pressure, helps with blood circulation, headaches and migraines and is also good for your sex life. They don’t say how (I checked), but I hope it can help somebody lose their socks in bed. That is usually a good start, me thinks.
Anyway, I have been having insomnia lately. That and a ruined neck. When I stopped folding my pillows and went for physio at Sports Injuries and Wellness Clinic, my neck improved but the insomnia didn’t. I don’t know what causes insomnia, but if you threw a pebble in a supermarket queue, you would hit someone who knows the cure for insomnia. Nairobians are all doctors and psychiatrists and therapists and businessmen and detectives and cooks and social commentators and political analysts and soothsayers. Everybody has a cure for something. There are people who will tell you which herbal tea to drink to cure insomnia. I tried all that. I tried chamomile. I tried green tea. Some school of thought had it that if I switched my gym routine from dawn to evening I’d kill insomnia. It didn’t work. Some said sex at night helps with insomnia. Those are the same people who wear socks during sex. I read somewhere, in a group, that if you stand on your head for five minutes before bed, and all the blood leaves your feet and collects in your head you will have a great night’s sleep. It’s bollocks. When you stand on your head before bed you only end up feeling like your dinner is coming through your nose. That can’t cure insomnia.
Insomnia is a strange thing. You wake up at 2am or 3am and you can’t go back to sleep. You listen to the sounds of the night. Dogs barking and frogs squabbling in a nearby stream. You toss and turn. You read until you get tired. You go to the loo and then come back and watch something on Youtube. You giggle in the middle of the night. Some nights you hear a neighbour come back home playing a strange song from the 70s. Or 60s. You sit still listening to him reverse, the music loud enough for anyone to hear. It’s such a great song. After he has stopped his car, he sits in his car for a minute, waiting for the song to end because normally your favourite jams always start when just you get home.
The song goes; darling you, save me/ I know you save me/ darling you, save me/ honest you do/ honest, whooaa, darling, you save me/
Of course I’m curious to know what lovely song this is. So I get off the bed and stand at the window with my phone sticking out and I try and Shazam it but it’s too far off for the app to pick. It frustrates me. The song ends and the man slams his car door. I know I will never ask him about the song because he’s one of those old chaps who never talk to neighbours. He comes and goes, leaving only a trail of his cigarette smell. In bed, I’m bereft with the thought that I will one day die without ever knowing what song that was. As it turns out, many weeks later, I will hear the song at a bar and get pretty excited! I will promptly Shazam it and learn it’s by Sam Cooke, recorded in 1957, titled “You Send Me” and not the “save me” I was hearing.
The thing with insomnia is that it leaves you alone with yourself and with your thoughts. Your mind drifts as you lie there in darkness, the bedside clock glowing red like a dying ember. You think of things and people and events. You toss and you turn. Sometimes an idea will occur to me on something I’m writing. An idea to have a character with one leg. It will seem like a brilliant idea. I will know exactly what this character will say and how he will say them and I will get off bed, buck naked, and go to my desk and switch on the table-lamp, fire up the laptop, and when I sit to write this character with one leg, it will not seem as exciting anymore. I will think to myself; is this character interesting because of his lack of one leg or in spite of it? Would he get away with saying bad shit because he has one leg? Do I have to tell people why he lost his leg or should I keep the likes of Cliff Tall, here, guessing?
Then someone told me that Louise and her Shiatsu would heal my insomnia and my neck. And now she’s pressing my neck and my back and the soles of my feet. I don’t know what she’s using, because I’m lying on my belly and my eyes are closed. She could be using her fingers but sometimes it feels like she’s using the round end of rolling pin for cooking chapos. Or marbles other times. It’s not painful. It’s soothing. While she kneads and presses she often lets go of air through her lips, as if it’s a song or a tune she is releasing. I ask her if she thinks being visually impaired makes her better at Shiatsu. She says, “Definitely. Because I feel using my fingers. I see the pressure points with my fingers.”
“What is it like to massage very hairy people?” I ask. I’m just being problematic. She chuckles and doesn’t answer. She’s not the type who talks during these massages. She’s now on my lower back, pressing it through the thin sheet spread on my back.
“If someone came in here and never said a word,” I press on, undeterred, “and they lay on this table. Would you know what race they are by just touching their bodies?”
She thinks about it for a second, perhaps trying to remember which pressure point in a body can be pressed to shut someone up for an hour. “Well,” she says, “obviously, Asians are more hairy than black people like us.”
“True, but there are also some very hairy black people,” I say. “I know a guy. He’s all hair. You can see hair coming out of his collar–”
“Yes, but our hair is different from say a white person’s, or Asian’s hair. Ours is thicker. Also our skin, as black people, is tougher. White people were blessed with softer skins.”
“How is that a blessing? We are the ones who are blessed with tough skin. An animal will struggle to eat a black person,” I say.
Then I nod off. I always sleep during massages. It’s a bad habit. I can’t help it. The masseuse never seems to mind, unless I snore, which I wouldn’t know because you never really know when you are snoring. Speaking of which, there are certain don’ts that we, as well-adjusted Kenyans, should observe during massages. First, go easy on the moaning and groaning. It makes the masseuse uncomfortable. You are not in a blue-movie set. If you feel good – and you will feel good – just try and not get too dramatic with the sounds. Never say, “yeah, there! There!” Another rule, most places will offer those dreadful disposable pants that make one look like they are in a mental asylum. If they provide those, wear them. Don’t be that guy who insists on going commando. Some masseuse will gently register a complaint for your complete lack of clothing. ( “But I’m not completely naked, I haven’t removed my necklace!”) But also there is a difference between being nude and being naked. Nude is when you sit on a wooden stool for an artist to draw you. Naked is running across from the bathroom to the bedroom, covering your nether regions with your hands because you forgot the towel. Also, if you are going for a massage and you intend to keep your panties or boxers on, it goes without saying that they should be clean. Actually it’s good practice to keep them clean even if you are going to the dentist. And please none of that underwear with cartoons on them. You will only end up making the masseuse giggle and you will think they are giggling over what they are seeing. Also, most importantly; don’t ask for a happy ending. It’s not that party.
When I wake up from the power nap, I’m confused. It takes me a moment to wonder why I’m in only my underwear. That night I go to bed (without socks) and I read a bit then drift off to sleep. I do seven hours. I feel young. I feel light. I don’t know if it’s Louise who did her magic or if it’s my body that decided to succumb to sleep. I call Louise later and tell her that I slept. That she might have helped. Or the universe did. Or her fingers did. I wonder if she has insured her fingers. She should. They see. You could try her out if you are not sleeping or if your digestion is crap. Or if you just want to relax. Go because seeing is believing as the Stanchart Marathon [ http://www.nairobimarathon.com/) strapline goes. Louise might disagree, because she’s already believing even though she isn’t seeing because seeing is more than just having eyes. (Her number, 0726893141)
Ps: Have you registered for the writing masterclass? [email protected]