I finally met Gloria — the new writer replacing Eddie. I thought she’d be brassy and big-boned with loud African beads dangling from her neck. Instead, her neck was slender like a biblical staff. Instead, she had long beautiful strands of dreadlocks. Ring on her nose. Bright, smart, mischievous eyes. She looked artistic and creative, someone who doesn’t stay to the rails. She wore those jeans that cool kids wear nowadays, the ones that don’t reach all the way to their ankles. Gap between her teeth. Bohemian. She sat directly across from Ivory. I sat across from my friend Angela, the one who used to sing in the girl band, Tatuu [yes, I’m name-dropping]. I warned Gloria, “Don’t step on Ivory’s shoes. It drives her madder than she already is.” Ivory glared back at her. Ivory – as usual – had cat fur all over her black Simpsons jumper. It’s how she makes an impression.
I liked Gloria. Of course I did. She’s an oddball. She teaches Mandarin when she isn’t writing. She’s solid, you can tell. Angela later told me that she seems she can ‘hold her own,” I believe. She seemed a bit wary of Ivory who doesn’t believe in the human concept of smiling. Hell, I’m wary of her too.
Then she left.
Today she’s writing about Juja. She calls it ‘the rhumba of sin.”
Here is Gloria.
By Gloriah Amondi
I texted a friend to ask when he was last at a party and he said: “Now.”
Then (pushing my luck), I asked when last he was in Juja and to my delight, he replied:
They say Juja changes you forever.
Like a sweet, toxic ex who creeps up once or twice in your life to destroy you or to destroy himself. Juja not only leaves you dented, at a certain age when you are still a little lost in your twenties, it leaves you craving for the next time it will show up again.
I have been to Juja twice in my life. The first time, I was going to JKUAT to inquire about a course for my younger sister. (If you’re reading this, should a guard at a gate, any gate, ask you what you are carrying in your bag, remember that “a hairline for you” is not the answer.)
The next time I was in Juja, I was a hot mess, in a cab full of strangers, braless, and as high as the proverbial kite.
You may know Juja for different things, but a lot of us have been there for one reason: to do or to be done. Or like my friend likes to put it, Juja is the rhumba of sin. It is as if we have collectively agreed, as a generation, to sin together, countlessly and shamelessly in Juja.
When I was new in Nairobi — as a first-year in Uni and just fresh from high school — and the urge to ‘know and belong in Nairobi’ was on me, I was (subtly) cautioned against Juja.
However, I do realise that there probably exist other sides of Juja that I have not explored yet, and I may be totally misguided in my judgment. I want to therefore state that I set this matter down, not to prejudice anyone — especially not people who love Juja — but to instruct my (future) self never to live in Juja.
My Juja story:
Up until the moment I found myself in a cab, I had not thought I would end up in a party in Juja that Sunday. Juja parties are a thing. It is where all the sinning takes place, and they are a big deal. I was already high and drunk as a skunk from all the alcohol I had taken from a friend’s place in Roysambu. I watched as Nairobi whizzed past me at an ungodly speed along Thika Super Highway. All around me, conversations were going on about things that I could not comprehend. Once in a while, someone randomly burst out in drunken laughter and the whole Taxi Gang joined in. I paid no attention to my company. My gaze was outside on this new Nairobi where everything happened so fast, they stopped before they even started. It was as though all the life of the city had congregated outside my window in the blurry buildings to greet me as I pressed my face against the window, like one of those big rich dogs at the back of big cars. Past Githurai – Kahawa – Ruiru…Juja.
The next thing I remember, I was in a one-bedroom flat (never call this an ‘apartment on Thika Road’) in Juja with a balcony the size of a shoe-box, it looked like a shoe box, and with a huge crowd, it looked like the concrete would give way beneath your feet, and drop your butt one floor down to the dusty street below. The flat, with a single second-hand flat-screen TV on the wall as its only accessory against bare cream walls, apparently belonged to a friend to one of the strangers I had shared the cab with (none of us in that cab even came from Juja, and only one of us actually knew the owner of the flat.) The feller — a tall, hairy guy with slender limbs and dark lips — smiled at us warmly as we walked in, as if he had been expecting us, and his eyes shone with genuity, the way you would if you saw an old friend, even though he didn’t know the rest of us from Adam.
There was going to be a party. It was inevitable. Two people offered to go get liquor. Our host (in his wisdom and also because he was a drug peddler) offered weed. In a few minutes, everything was set, but we needed more company. Now, a lot of people will not need to be told what an impromptu party is for when you invite them, but there is a special group of people who will ask and insist with silly stuff like ‘Is it your birthday?’ as did one girl with fake eyelashes.
“No,” I said, becoz I can be a spontaneous jerk. “He’s invited us here for his baby shower …”
“Really,”’ Long Fake Eyelashes flitted them at me, and I couldn’t tell if she was joking or she was just dumb.
Soon enough, there were people flowing in and out, down the stairs of the first floor of the five-storey building and up again. First, a group of college girls with long, colourful braids wearing the same sharp, agonizing perfume that smelled of so many different ripe fruits it was simply illegal. It made me think of those prophylactics that come in fruit flavours. There were one or two loners, a couple here, a couple there. The result of all this up-down in-and-out human migration was that in the end, I found myself trapped with a lot more strangers than I have seen in a room my entire life.
There were strangers on the old brown sofa, drinking and trying to converse over the loud music. There were strangers on the bed, visible from the living room because it had no door. Some were starting to get cozy, and others were already passed out. Some strangers sat on the floor playing cards, and others on the balcony smoking. Other strangers were eating banana crisps from a packet badly opened, and in the bathroom, a stranger — me — sat on the floor unable to stop her head from spinning so fast it felt like it may fly off my neck.
A dark cloud of smoke hung around. The air was heavy with a mixture of sweat, body odours, perfumes, cigarettes and weed. Drinks were in plenty. There was, naturally, not a crumb of food.
At first, the music was loud and energetic. The self-appointed DJ — a small, quiet boy with such thick glasses that seemed to suck life out of his entire being, leaving him bony and a little agonizing to look at — looked up from his phone regularly to check the reaction of his audience whenever he put on a new song, and this drug-induced audience, without knowing it, also looked back and cheered deliriously, so that by the fifth song, Bony Lil DJ grew bold enough to play his dancehall playlist without first seeking visual approval, and so didn’t need to lift his head from his phone anymore.
As time went by however, the music got more sensual so that by midnight, most people were in pairs on the dancefloor. They swayed seductively to the beats, and rubbed and groped and squeezed under the dim lights. By 1 am, most people had dropped their guard and the random couples on the dance floor were getting intimate. Everywhere, as long as there was leg space, one or two people stood touching and kissing unguardedly under the dim lights.
Around this time, the lights conveniently went off. The hour of sin was upon us.
Whatever happens, however helpless she looks (and especially when she looks helpless) do not under any circumstance, take a drunk, hysterical girl under your wing.
How I almost saw a drunk, hysterical girl get killed or, more appropriately, how a drunk, hysterical girl almost got me jailed:
I dragged myself from the intoxicating, ungodly situation back to the toilet where some girl had locked herself in. When I knocked, she opened the door slightly and regarded me for a full minute before she found me a tolerable company and decided to let me in. Since she was already taking the toilet seat, I dragged an empty jerry-can and sat on it. She watched me for a while before she blurted, rather carelessly.
“He came with her, that fool!”
That caught me a little off-guard, even though it should have occurred to me that boy problems (other than a splitting headache, of course) would be a huge contributing factor to someone locking themselves in a near health-hazard toilet in the middle of a party.
I sighed deeply and briefly met her eyes, partly to show solidarity, but mostly because my headache had gotten intense and I was getting irritable and didn’t feel like talking. There was a period of silence that followed, during which nobody spoke. I leaned on the wall, closed my eyes partially, and watched her watch me from the corner of my eyes.
“Are you here with someone?” she asked.
I shook my head slightly, without moving or opening my eyes.
“You’re from around?”
I shook my head again, and shut my eyes completely, to register my reluctance in continuing with the conversation.
“You are a tomboy.” She finally said in her careless manner.
It wasn’t a question, but it wasn’t framed as an accusation either. There was something in her tone that was a little soothing though, and I opened my eyes to read her expression, and moved a little closer to her, just so I could really look into her eyes, and swallow her soul whole.
I don’t know for how long that went on, but suddenly there was a sudden silencing of the music, followed by rapid movements, heavy footsteps and soft wails that rose slightly above the movements. Someone shouted something, and in response, everything stopped and everyone moved towards the door. There was a quick knock on the locked bathroom door but whoever it was didn’t try to break in. I looked at the girl to check whether she had understood what was going on. She did, thankfully, but the effect of that was that she was shivering with fear like a freezing puppy. Her eyes enlarged with fright, and she was such a sorry sight that I wanted to give her a hug. I held her gaze, trying to reassure her with my eyes, but also daring her to make a sound.
When the noise had died away and the footsteps receded, I told her to stay behind as I went to check and see how we could escape. She didn’t believe me at first, of course, and regarded me with rather sad eyes from beneath her nest of hair. She thought I was going to run off alone into the night, and she wasn’t wrong.
“Twende na wewe,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.
Moved by the tears, I made a promise to come back, and as a show of commitment, left her my jacket. I slipped noiselessly out the door. The balcony was empty. Covered in the partial darkness, I peeped downstairs and counted about five police officers. Our colleagues were sitting cross-legged on the ground and some more were still coming down. From where I was, I could easily escape without being noticed, but I would have had to jump down from the balcony, then run behind the neighboring building which was completely unlit, then on to the road. With the chaos, my chances were even higher, but I had unwisely made a promise, and to make it worse, I would lose my only good jacket.
So I went back.
“We’re going to have to jump,” I told her.
She nodded, but taking no chances, I narrated to her the police trucks I had seen, and the hundreds of policemen with clubs and shields. The slight exaggeration worked exceedingly well, for she grabbed my arm, buried her face in my chest and let out an exhilarating sigh. That settled, we sneaked out.
I jumped first, then hid in the narrow corridor between the two buildings to wait for her. More than two minutes passed, and she had not jumped yet. I couldn’t see her in the dark, so I could not tell if she was still there – or if she had decided to surrender herself to the ‘bash’ busting cops.
Then suddenly something landed so heavily on my feet and let out such a terrifying yelp I almost ran off in fear and blew up my cover. Occupied with my little mission to scare her, I had made a small insignificant omission. I forgot to explain to her that she needed to hang from the balcony first before jumping instead of her throwing herself down like she owned a pair of secret wings.
Her face twisted in pain, then suddenly went blank. For a moment, in which we all feared the unmentionable had happened- the whole of the universe held its breath. Then she seemed to remember where she was, and sprung up and shot into the dark. At that cue, the universe was released from the short spell that had held it entranced and a hard-as-dried-cement voice yelled.
“Shika huyo anatoroka!”
I ran after her into the narrow unlit alleys. Behind us, heavy footsteps followed closely and persistently. Once or twice, she stopped in surrender defeat, but I dragged her and forced her to go on, her whimpering all the while like a puppy that’s getting a proper whipping. Eventually, we gained a little distance and ran into a randomly opened gate. The guard, a nice old man, locked us in and hid us in the parking lot. The footsteps came a few minutes later, and circled around. ‘Wamekimbia hivyo!’ we heard him say.
Finally, the footfalls fading away, until we could not hear anything other than us breathing and the dogs of the ‘Dog Unit of the Party-Crashing Police Department’ barking in the distance. We left after an hour, despite the guard’s protest that it was still too dangerous to leave. At the road, I stopped a boda. She looked away, but didn’t say anything.
“I don’t know about you,” I said, “but I have had quite enough attempts on my freedom for one day. I’m going home.”
She reached out, hands wide open like a trusting little child, and hugged me as I turned away, and at that moment, I knew I could not leave her there.
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