I’m writing this from Maputo, Mozambique. There are no boda bodas in Maputo. That’s the first thing I noticed. None of that passive aggression on the roads, the gauntlets dropped at wheels, the mean stares behind helmet visors, the rat race to Nowhereland. Second thing I noticed is that there is distinctly less honking on the roads. Maybe they don’t honk because they are not as angry as we are. Or they aren’t in as much of a hurry. There are loads of Double Cabins. I know certain people—I won’t say who—who would love it here because of that. They’d write their names on the driver’s doors, complete with their postal addresses in case the car is lost and found and has to be mailed out by post.
People here park on pavements. It’s a bit disconcerting. They actually also believe in traffic lights. They serve chips with everything—it’s like the curse of a nation, this campaign to stuff everybody with potatoes. They have Minute Maid in a can, which also doesn’t make any sense. Thankfully, they are as corrupt as we are. Traffic cops ask for bribes. The people can be as insincere as we can. I went to take a Covid test for my return journey and a skinny guy wearing skinnier jeans ripped at the knees (probably scaling down his morals] pulled me into a corridor of the pathology lab in a nice part of town and said, “Normally we don’t email results but if you pay me 1000 I will email it.” I said, “Come on now.” I went on my phone and converted the Mozambican Metical into Kenyan shillings. I paid for it and went to Inhassoro, a small town 10 hours up North, for work. He never emailed. I called and when he got on the phone he pretended he didn’t understand or speak English. Their matatus plying the longer distance pull a carrier which carries passengers’ luggage. It’s like everybody is off to the beach.
When I checked into a small boutique hotel a couple of days ago, the chap at the reception—a guy with a hairstyle like Mr T’s, tried hooking me up with a hooker. Of course he didn’t say, “Mr. Jackson, do you want a hooker?” That would have been crass and boring. He was subtle. He asked me if I wanted a massage. Thankfully, I come from a land where that word ‘massage”—especially advertised on road signs, is a euphemism for a hooker. I immediately knew the horse he was backing. Of course I said no. Hookers interest me as much as colonoscopy does.
Two hours ago I came back to Maputo from Inhassoro. I had reserved and paid for a room in a different boutique hotel before I left. Quint place; white, big windows overlooking the ocean along Av. da Marginal. They told me they’d reserved room 10. When I arrived, my room was gone. The lady at the reservation desk showed me a room downstairs, next to the reception. I said, no, I can’t stay in that room. What happened to Room 10? She said the boss took it. I asked, Took it where? She said, I mean, the boss came and is staying in it currently. But I already paid for it? Does that not matter to the owner? I cried. She said she was sorry, it’s the boss but this is also a nice room. I said this is not a nice room, I can hear guys in the kitchen banging pans. She said, those are not pans. I said, Then what the hell is that ban—, look kick the boss out, get me my room.” They didn’t, so I got my money back and hailed a cab to the hotel I had stayed in previously. When I walked in I found the same chap at the reception eating a wrap. I said, “Hi man,” and to his hairstyle, I said, “Hi Mr T?”
I checked in; room 12 on the third floor, the top floor. I like rooms at the very top. I dropped my luggage and ran out again to eat dinner at a seafront restaurant called South Beach which had serious-looking folk who peer at the wine list longer than necessary. I ate alone. Rather, I ate with Ken Burns who was talking to me about filmmaking on Masterclass.com. Ken Burns speaks so well, despite his nappy hairstyle. When I came back to my hotel the guy said, “Hey, are you sure you don’t want a massage?” I told him I was sure that I was really knackered. I intend to have a shower and call it an early night. He said, that’s why you need a massage. He was not eating a wrap anymore. Here, have a look, he said, firing his tablet. I said, no really, I’m fine. He insisted, just look okay? Just look. No harm. OK? OK? Here.
His tablet was a mess; it was greasy and it had a cracked screen. I think it had fallen off the third floor a few times. Or a car ran over it. Or he had been caught in an elephant stampede. He used it as a coaster sometimes. The screen looked like it could cause a disease that infects your thyroids. Which reminds me, the other day I was watching Peaky Blinders and there was a soundtrack titled ‘Never fight a man with a perm” where they sing, ‘you look like a walking thyroid/ you are not a man, you’re a gland. I found that insanely hysterical.
Anyway, his tab resembled the underside of the devil. I leaned on the counter with one elbow as he scrolled through a collection of the most unattractive masseuses I have ever seen.
This one is really nice.
No, she isn’t.
And this one?
Wait, this is one I have to show you.
It’s fine. Look, can I have some cold water?
He looked disappointed because I had rejected his collage of masseuses (is that the plural of masseuse?) which meant I had questioned his taste. And men get touchy if you question their taste in women. We get great validation if someone thinks our woman is stunning. Don’t come back as a man if you haven’t already; it’s a life leashed on ego.
He came back with a bottle of water; a big, sweaty bottle by CocaCola called Bonaqua. This is Dasani’s distant cousin. I don’t think they talk. Family. Don’t act like yours is perfect. I said goodnight and carried my water up to the third floor where I swallowed my Nexium tablet. I was supposed to have taken it thirty minutes before my dinner but who remembers these things all the time? I have gastritis. Before that the GP was treating me for H Pylori which infuriated the Gastroenterologist I saw later for a second opinion. She shook her head and muttered, “Why do these people have to treat everybody for H Pylori.” I think there is a conspiracy by GPs who attended a midnight meeting in an abandoned warehouse in Limuru and there they agreed to treat everybody who complains of stomach pains with H Pylori meds. The kit they give you is worse than eating humble pie.
Anyway, after taking my Nexium I showered with very hot water to cleanse myself of Mr. T’s tablet and its contents. I sat on the bed then my phone rang. I went to the table where my phone was. It was Tamms. I stood by a window as we spoke. She said they were having chapos and beans for dinner. I said, “Oh my God, I could kill for chapo and beans.” Yeah, it was nice, what did you have? I said I had grilled chicken and grilled calamari. She said, but you don’t like seafood.
After the phone call I sat back at the edge of the bed and stared at the bathroom door, still steamy. I thought about hotel rooms, how they are a history unto themselves. I imagine that on this very bed and indeed every hotel bed I have sat and slept on, someone had also sat at its edge, held their heads in their hands and cried. Or lay in bed in deep thought. In the bathroom someone had shaved their beard as they hummed a song they loved but didn’t know the words to. In a hotel room, someone had told a lie on the phone or held the receiver against their heads and said, “No, no pickles please. And can I have more ice cubes?” In a hotel room someone had feared for their future or questioned their competence or knelt on the carpet and looked under the bed for their missing sock. In a hotel room someone had known for a fact that after the trip was over, that there was no way they’d be with someone who shaved their pubic hair in the shape of an apple.
I then fired up my laptop because tomorrow is Tuesday and I don’t want folk saying, Biko why didn’t you post? We have waited a whole week! I even borrowed a phone to read the story!
I’m going to try and sleep now. It’s coming to 10:30pm in Kenya.
I just heard a car honk.