Wisdom passes two street boys enjoying a blunt behind Post Bank, paces to City Market, and sits on the empty steps. The stench of fish offal is overwhelming. He sneezes and curses, breathes in and curses the heavens again. He loves Christmas because it sends city folk to their ancestral lands. Toast stands akimbo, his back leaning on a column on the opposite side of the street. He sees Wisdom and motions him over. They meet midway, fist-bump and walk down Koinange Street.
“What you bumpin’ mate?” Wisdom takes the earphones off Toast’s ears and plants them on his own.
“Forever young, I wanna be forever young
Do you really want to live forever?”
He sings along to it, the way a familiar song plays itself on one’s lips, vibrating vocal cords involuntarily, forcing one to rap along. He remembers how his Mom used to hum along to Daudi Kabaka’s Taabu ni kwa Mwanaume when doing the dishes or his Dad singing along to Mushrooms’ hit song Ni Kufuge Ndege Gani when washing his old Peugeot 504.
“Forever young, I wanna be forever young
Do you really want to live forever?”
“Fuck man! Who wants to live forever?”
“Me I want forever young and life after death. Double deal,” Toast says.
“Ha! Who gives a fuck about life after death Tos?”
“I do, billions do. But if I was to choose I’d prefer living in this same body forever.”
“It’s an illusion. I don’t want to live forever. I always tell my friends that life is finite, because space here on earth is also finite. Instead of this forever thing, maybe peeps should be recyclable.”
“Like plastics?” Tos cuts.
“Sure. Imagine if people could be recycled—like for food? Like I can decide that I’m going to die on December 25th, 2114. When I reach that time I can ask my family and friends like you to allow me to die in a place of enchanting scenery, poetry, and music. When I’m gone you guys can recycle me for food or if you won’t love the taste of my mazigwembe, you can just cremate me or flash freeze me or dissolve me in chemicals and just pour me out into the sewer, or just feed me to the fishes like throw me down Kilifi Creek to return to nature.”
“Ha ha! Kilifi Creek sounds befitting,” Joseph says.
“So whassup, wherefrom?
“I was in the Main Library. Not a soul in there. Place is deserted like Siberia.”
“I thought you guys were done with exams. No?”
“Was reading some shit there. Some old Philosophy shit I stumbled on.”
Few people are walking on the streets. Save for fast-food joints, retail outlets are closed. It is a good thing to see a city freed from bodies jostling for space. Clean streets. No cars. No curses. No beeps. No hoots.
“Asali said Hi.” Toast says.
“Ah super Tos. You guys have been together today? Love. Love. Love is something I’m trying to figure out.”
“So what’s this shit you say you have been reading?”
“Some God stuff. Something called the Epicurian Trilemma. Deals with the problem of evil in the world. Was walking from Campus and there’s this place next to Java House with a Nigerian preacher. The usual noise. Every time I pass the howls, I’m thrown back to that trilemma.”
“I don’t think I get you.”
“The Epicurian Trilemma. Oh sorry!” Wisdom laughs. “I talk to myself most times, and often assume everyone has been party to my mind conversations.”
“Understandable. It is a lonely world.”
“Not entirely lonely if you have people talking in your head. Now Epicurus was a Greek Philosopher. He is a case study in our Philosophy class. He died way back in 270 BC. I have been scouring his writings every free second. Epicurus was flummoxed by the idea of evil. I like the word flummoxed. It has a raspy ring to its belly. It’s a word that can scratch balls.”
Toast laughs and says, “This Epicurus thing must really be interesting.”
“Yes. Very interesting. It deals with the problem of evil. He asks three questions to establish God’s relation with evil. One – Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Two – Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Three – Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Isn’t that interesting? Epicurus wondered why people call him God if he is neither able nor willing to stop evil. First time I read it, I was flummoxed beyond measure. What do you think? Does the idea flummox you?
“It’s difficult for me to accept. What did you call him – this Philosopherman of yours.”
“Yes Epicurus. I cannot accept it because I believe in the goodness of God.”
“Look at it closely. Does it not climb your conscience that evil can spring from the very essence of goodness? That he, this God we are talking about, has not taken any significant step to shield his vulnerable minions from evil? Look at it closely.”
“I can’t wrap my head around it.”
Toast knows Wisdom and churches are not friends, that he believes he will live to enjoy life in a post-Christian, post-Islamic Africa, that he is incensed by religion and all the noise around it, but he also knows Wisdom is a man of bounteous humour and life and his cynicism is flesh-deep, not bone-deep. Toast thinks the predictions of a post-religious Africa are obese, yet old enough to accept that times change and nothing lasts forever. Young people no longer harbour the ludicrous piety of their parents. Toast can neither remember the last time he opened his mouth to receive the body and blood of Christ nor when he last obeyed the call for penance.
“Anyway, most people spend decades looking for God without realizing that God lives in their pockets,” Wisdom says.
Toast bursts into laughter. Wisdom fishes out a brown leather wallet from his pocket. It is frayed on the edges and the zipper hangs out in a loop. Toast appraises the stomach of the wallet. It has been rained on. It is not a desert like the last time they were at Hot Babes Pub. Wisdom pulls out a wad of Kshs. 1000 notes. He calls them a herd of elephants. Toast does quick Math. 20 or 25k. Solid stuff.
“This is the face of God, Tos,” Wisdom says swatting them. “This is the favour Pastor Mukwasi prays for. It is the elusive manna. It runs from pockets of miracle-hungry followers to Pastor Mukwasi’s bank account. What’s the plan today?”
“Not that shitty place again. Something upscale man. Something swanky.”
“Now you are talking. By the way this cash is legit. Legitimately earned to be legitimately spent. Stop pulling your facial muscles into an ugly knot. Relax man!”
“Not that I’m accusing you. Shit can get crazy sometimes. Good to know it is safely earned.”
They bump into Tomiso who says “Hey bros, what’s the plan?” just in front of that Firefighter’s place on Tom Mboya Street, but Wisdom ignores him. Toast fist-bumps and doesn’t stop. They all know he has never been a buyer. They’ve bought him drinks so much they lost interest in perpetuating his not-buying-impunity. They are the last to jump into the matatu and it lumbers out of the bus stage and heads to Westlands.
“Dude’s a parasite,” Wisdom says.
“That dude is a pirate,” Toast laughs. “Always on the lookout for the next ship to hijack.”
“Too bad for him. Today our ship is well guarded. No pirates.”
They alight at Museum Hill roundabout, walk towards Parklands Sports Club envying the sleek rides passing through its gates, turn to Taarifa Road, and enter an expansive compound with a quaint 1940s Georgian Colonial house, now an arts emporium, and a two-storied block—Champion’s Paradise—surrounded by frame tents.
“Paradise is a classy joint for champions in life,” Wisdom says and orders a tot of Gilbey’s Vodka.
He is served. The bartender, with a pumpkin for a head, pours Toast a tot. They toss and let it water their throats. Wisdom says ‘another’ and the two look to the ceiling again and feel the heat running from their throats to their bellies, bodies embracing Gilbey’s. Three tots later, they pick a tent and order Tusker beer to cheat their bodies that they are withdrawing from alcohol, becoming sober minded men, not talking trash and believing in God. From the change, Wisdom notices that liquor prices are not sky-high here, which is good.
“One must live to fight another day,” Toast jokes.
“Man, we just started!” Wisdom cuts.
Toast always says “one must live to fight another day” when the heat of Gilbey’s reaches his toes and sprinkles of sweat start flowing from his forehead.
“We are just starting. We can order nyama choma to buffer Gilbey’s. So how are you and Asali?”
“Ah, Tos! Details man. I’m not asking for abstracts. Flesh it up man. So how is it? I also want this love thing?”
Toast smiles. A sun of a smile. It is easy to talk about girls when they don’t mean much to you. It is very difficult to talk about women who have kidnapped your heart and imprisoned it in some cage floating far off into the Atlantic Ocean buoyed with a balloon to keep it from sailing astray. The thought of some seagull flying into that balloon, deflating it and sinking the cage has always given his heart a real workout.
“This is how love is,” Toast begins, “when it is true, you don’t talk about it too much. You cannot hide it because it glows on your face. When it is not, you talk about it in passing. Your face does not light up. When it is very hot and potentially unstable, you cannot keep your mouth shut. You talk and talk and the more you talk, the more it burns until it becomes ashes. The hurry to know everything about love kills love, and denies love the benefit of surprise.”
“Now you are going all complex on me with this love thing, Tos. Asali is a good woman. Such grounded women are rare.”
Wisdom raises his hand for the bartender.
“A tot each,” he says.
“A tot of?” the bartender asks.
“Are you not the one who served us when we walked in?”
Toast realizes that this is a different bartender. Wisdom seems not to notice.
“We changed shifts three hours back,” the bartender explains.
“Gilbey’s man!” Wisdom shouts.
Toast looks at his watch and realizes they are well past midnight. There is a group of petite women gyrating, parrot-storying and populating the air with laughter. They don’t seem to be attached to any man. He looks at Wisdom and catches him distractedly ogling at the women, the tot forgotten between the table and his lips. He sees Toast watching him and bursts into laughter.
“I’m not saying anything man,” he says.
“I don’t expect you to say anything.” Toast laughs and extends his glass for a toss. “Let’s drink to good life, mate,” he says.
“Let’s drink to good life.”
And Gilbey’s rolls down their throats to the tips of their fingers and toes and closes the door to the 2 AM Westlands cold settling on the feathers of their shoelaces, the hairs on their ears and nostrils and the threads of their jackets.
“We should eat something.”
“We can ask the bartender.”
“Is there food in this goddamn fuckin place?” Wisdom shouts to a bartender who doesn’t seem to hear. “Is there food in this goddamn freakin’ fuckin place?” This time Wisdom is a level louder than the first time. The bartender is very far away, and there is loud music, and Wisdom does not seem to notice. Toast guesses that the heat of the vodka has reached Wisdom’s toes because sprinkles of sweat are sprouting from his brows.
“One must live to fight another day,” Toast says.
“Wait man. Let’s see how this goes,” Wisdom says and stands.
He walks to the flock of birds baked in beauty and fashion. They give him a quizzical look. He doesn’t budge. He has been in these streets for so long he’s lost concern for rejection. He thinks he knows their kind. He’ll try.
Just one voice replies. The rest are silent. Toast watches. He cannot hear anything from where he is. The music is too loud, but can see lips moving. Wisdom seems to be making progress. The ladies laugh, long beautiful laughter like Wisdom just downloaded one of his old jokes, gave it a new shade of Dura Coat paint, and launched it on the women. Toast wants a woman too, unfortunately, his wallet is a desert and you cannot ask woman money from your friend. Wisdom and a fuller woman inch away from the group and start to walk to where Toast is seated. He is feigning seriousness and drinking when they arrive.
“Tos, this is Amanda. Amanda, Tos,” Wisdom gestures.
“Pleasure to meet you,” Toast says. “Have a seat.”
The bartender who could not hear Wisdom’s shouting has miraculously appeared. He is holding his hands in front of his body like a school child, like how one does when one is standing in Communion line in church, how one humbles oneself before the Priest lands a thin white cookie of Christ on the tongue.
“Another tot. Gilbey’s. And a round of Tuskers. Amanda?
“Double Jameson,” she says.
Wisdom is chilled out and gentle as fuck, cracking new intelligent jokes, not the old ones he rehashes when they are smoking trees. Amanda is laughing, a unique kind of laughter. It is restrained when it starts – a chuckle – then explodes with fullness and freedom, fragrance and youthfulness.
“By the way, Amanda is a Finance Manager at Keroche Wine Agencies,” Wisdom ropes Tos into the conversation.
“What can I say,” Toast starts. “Working with Keroche must be the best job one can ever get.”
“Only if you drink man.”
“Actually only a few of my colleagues drink.” Amanda says.
Gilbey’s, Tuskers, and Jamesons arrive.
“Let’s drink to this new friendship.”
They toast and warm their throats.
“So which courses are you guys taking?”
“In my last year, Medicine”
“Mechanical Engineering,” Tos says. “Last year as well.”
“Really big courses!” Amanda says and empties her glass.
“We want to register a company next year. Yet we are not even sure what services we will provide. I’m a Doc. Tos is an Engineer.” Wisdom says.
“Any common business interests?”
“I suppose there are,” Tos says. “We haven’t just stumbled on them. We want something that can keep us both engaged.”
A lady, in a high neck, tight-fitting long sleeve, is alone on the dance floor. She reminds Toast of Filomeninha – the unfortunate crumpling girl in Mia Couto’s Girl With a Twisted Future whose father, Joseldo Bastante, tied to a drum every single night to model into a contortionist. Bastante’s experiments killed Filomeninha. But here, now, in Paradise, Toast sees her reincarnation, no longer a slave to the impresario. He maps her with a laser gaze, x-rays the choreography of her bones, sees when her muscles tighten and soften, twitches his toes when her ass ripples. When she shimmies, he lusts after her like an art collector would an original van Gogh displayed at knock-off prices in Gikomba.
The music is infectious and Wisdom and Amanda join the jamming dance floor. With feet light, Amanda sashays and holds Wisdom close. They are lost in passionate entreats, as if it was George Michael’s Careless Whispers.
Toast is not amused when a man the age of his father joins reincarnated-Filomeninha on the dance floor. He becomes visibly angry when the DJ scratches and reincarnated-Filomeninha pushes him to a nearby seat and grinds him the way a traditional stone grinder grinds pearl millet grains. Wisdom and Amanda are daggering. Toast nurses his drink to divert his lusts.
When they get back to their seats, Wisdom looks Amanda in the eyes and asks, “Do you believe in love?”
“Oh no. Lust maybe,” she gives him a side-eye, “I think love destabilizes a person.”
“I can’t say I know what love is either,” Wisdom says. “I stumbled on this rugged little book called Faber’s Book of Madness. A random read. Those books you pick off the shelf and peruse without any intention of sinking your teeth into, then I see an excerpt from Plato’s Symposium and I’m like how the fuck did this land here!”
“Wisdom is crazy. Who reads a book on madness?” Toast says.
“Nah!” Wisdom laughs. “This particular symposium was on eros and melancholy. Hear this story. I’m in the library. You know I love the Lib, Tos. So I take my ass back to my seat, put my lecture notes aside and read Diotima storying to Socrates how when Venus was born, all gods came to a banquet. Among the gods was Porus, a god of plenty and inheritor of good counsel. Penia also came – a god of poverty – and she sat at the gate begging scraps. Porus became drunk on nectar.”
“So gods drink nectar? At least I learnt something new today,” Toast says
“Say the Greeks, bruh. Now Porus drunk on nectar went to have a stroll on Jupiter’s garden, where, inebriated, he fell to profound sleep. Penia followed his footsteps and found him asleep and in the warmth of the garden they fell into each other’s arms and Penia conceived and gave birth to Love, who took the attributes of courage, goodness, and wiliness to contrive new tricks from his father. Unfortunately, Love also inherited his mother’s beggarliness and is always walking around without a blanket and sleeping on the streets.”
“Poor Love.” Amanda says. She makes a sad face.
“How did this story of love find itself in a book of madness?”
“I was coming to that, Tos. Aristotle says that love is desire and desire is a kind of madness, that love is a lunacy of passion.”
“This Porus god, why could he not find an equal? Why is he fucking humans?” Tos asks.
“Ah simple. When he is drunk he becomes careless and can seek imperfect partners and take pleasure.”
“Then that Porus is an irresponsible god.” Tos says.
He is tired, struggling to keep his eyes open. He is hearing this Porus story for a hundredth time. Wisdom tells it every time vodka begins to collect in his toes. But when they have new company, he has to feign interest and play inquisitive as a child hearing a story for the first time. In the beguiling warmth of body sweat and stories, one hour has turned into two.
“One must live to fight another day. One must fight to live another day,” Tos says.
“Wha-a-a-at! What did he say?” Amanda’s lips find Wisdom’s ears.
“That one must live to fight another day.”
“Oh my God! You guys are nuts.” Amanda bursts out laughing. Wisdom and Toast join the laughter.
“So I have to leave.” Toast says and stands.
“Cool man. I’ll give you a call.”
“Can I see you aside for a minute?”
Wisdom walks Toast to the entrance to the club.
“She is class, my friend.”
“Why do you say so?”
“I’m not blind,” Toast says.
They laugh. Wisdom pulls out his wallet and gives Toast an elephant to take a cab to the University Hostels.
“By the way, when do you want to leave? It is almost 4AM?” Amanda asks when Wisdom returns.
“Anytime. I think I’m done here.”
“Good. I came with my car. I can drop you home,” She says.
The Campus Parking lot is almost full with sleek rides. Wisdom spots a free space and tells Amanda to check it out. She squeezes her RAV4 between a Nissan X-Trail and a Range Rover Sports. The Range is silent but the X-Trail is dancing. Topsy-turvying. Wisdom knows it must be one of the middle-aged corporate gurus with Viagra-induced lust exercising with one of the prized untouchable beauties in the University. Not that he is complaining. To each their own. She kills the engine.
“So when do I see you again?”
She doesn’t answer but leans and kisses him full on the lips. It’s a long one. He loves the smoothness of her tongue, the fullness of her lips, and accepts to be bathed with the warmness of her breath, unsteadily rising, and the ambitiousness of her long, slender nails clumsily looking for his zipper. She reclines her seat, and slides to the back seat.
“Come,” she says.
She is bossy and eyes him like a woman looking down on a boy, appraising his slenderness, imbued by his vulnerability. Amanda knows he is young, maybe ten years younger, but she also knows you cannot see the fight in a dog by looking at its size. Whether it’s a miniature Pinscher, Chow-chow, or a Belgian Sheepdog – dogs are known to bite.
The position is awkward but Wisdom has a fetish for kissing toes. His tongue encounters a beaded anklet, but its dark and he cannot see the colour of the beads. He adores beads, those patterned skilfully by buxom Maasai women from Narok. He licks her toes, the way a kitten laps milk, and lets his tongue trail the smoothness of the legs to her inner thighs. Amanda giggles when Wisdom says her panties have a Roseberry fragrant, and squirms when he gets ditzy – bites her panties and pulls it down her ankles like a puppy toying with knitwear. She is the taste of salted violets. Wisdom lounges and lifts her astride, undoes his belt and pushes the jeans to the floor mat. Soon they are topsy-turving on a parking lot of dancing cars in the wee hours of a silky Nairobi night.
About the Writer:
Richard Oduor Oduku is a post-cynical humanist, a researcher, writer, editor and poet. He studied Biomedical Science and Technology and works as a Research Consultant, in Nairobi. He is a Founding Member of Jalada Africa, Program Manager for the Trust and was the Festival Coordinator for the 2017 Jalada Mobile Festival, Board Member of Youth on the Move (NGO, Kenya), and Nonfiction Editor at Panorama – The Journal for Intelligent Travel (UK), among others. He has been published widely and was longlisted for the BSFA Awards 2015, shortlisted for the 2016 Brunel International African Poetry Prize, as well as the 2017 Brittle Paper Award for Essays/Think Pieces.