There are two things you need to know:
One, the Muthithi Road footpaths have gutters on their sides that are so well camouflaged (by the short vegetation and closeness to the house walls) that they remain invisible even in daytime. The gutter slopes are steep and it’s easy to fall inside if you are not careful. When evening falls they become the dark of the night itself.
Two, I live on Muthithi Road. Somewhere in the middle of it, just around the junction which has a road that cuts out from it and leads toward K1.
So it begins:
Night comes early because a nimbus floats over Nairobi by late afternoon. Rain is expected and so are traffic jams across Westlands. The KPLC generators fail and an extra layer of darkness is cast upon the suburb.
I leave Sarit Centre and cut across the roundabout opposite, and walk past Corner Plaza and the rowdy matatu stop next to it. I leave Parklands Road and got on Muthithi Road. I walk past the semi-malls and short buildings. The road is surprisingly empty for a 7pm Wednesday. There are some people on the footpaths, the afterwork debris, the low-wage employees slipping out of the various dukas; some headlights going past; the open-air bar at Bishan Plaza with its single men and their beers. And that is it. The afterwork debris is less than I expect. I walk past the miraa joint at the end of Bishan Plaza and past the Nargis Restaurant and smell tikka aromas wafting out from its ovens. I leave behind the Westlands core and now enter its outer parts, still walking along the long Muthithi Road.
Lights out on both sides of Muthithi. The houses sit in darkness, behind locked gates, some bored Alsatians lie just behind the gates. A little light comes from somewhere, maybe a car taking a turn, and it catches the fur of the Alsatians and I want to touch that fur.
I have my bag on me. Random thoughts give me company. My pace is steady. It is just another walk home.
An arm curls around my neck and squeezes it. I cannot put it in a long thought but I see freedom shutting down all around me. The arm squeezes my neck tighter. Breathing is shutting down. I knew it could happen but I knew it could never happen.
“Nitaua,” it says.
I will kill you.
And I do think it will. Its hold is firm, the arm is strong. It squeezes even tighter, it means it. Its entire body weight presses against me from behind. We are launched by its itness and I land on the mud in the gutter and it lands on me. It uses me as a cushion. My fingers crush against the rough mud and then curl around small stones.
And it squeezes even harder. Hardest. How strong is my neck?
“Nitaua,” it says.
I find some air to talk. I ask it to take anything it wants. So this is how it is. Freedom is just the muddy gutter kissing my lips. Then it lets go of me. It lets me negotiate with it. It lets me sit up. It asks me to remove money from my pocket. Do I have a laptop in my bag? An iPod? A phone? It feels my pockets like I am a foreplay. It takes out my wallet. This makes it relax. I ask it to give me back my ID. It says ok. It trusts me. Again it asks if I have a laptop in my bag. I open my bag and show him the books inside. It puts its hands inside the bag and takes out the books and put its hands inside again, to verify there is no laptop. Then it sits down in the gutter and opens my wallet. I know it will go mad because there is nothing inside.
So I take my bag and books, scramble out of the gutter and run. And I run. I hear it come after me. Its shoes slap the wet mud. I run faster. Faster than it. I am all the tantra in the invisible sky because I know if it catches me it will squeeze my neck the hardest it has ever been squeezed in its life.
I run. I hear its shoes slapping the wet mud but I am faster. There is a pain in my right knee but I cannot feel it. I am crying in fear but without tears because at some level I think it will get me. I am faster but I don’t know it. I run down the road and sometimes the coincidences in life are lucky ones – The gate to the compound of flats where I live is open. I go in and close the gate behind me.
It ends in my bathroom:
In the mirror I see my puffed face. I cannot remember it punching me. My fingers are bleeding. There is blood trickling out of my left eye. After a while I cannot open it. It’s one of those cold April evenings. Rain and thunderstorms outside. I fill the tub with hot water. I am unable to step inside immediately. My right knee pains. The pain has been growing all along but only now I feel it. I can’t bend my right leg at the knee. So I hold the sides of the bathtub with my hands and push myself up and get my left leg over first. I hold my right leg at the thigh and manoeuvre it over the side of the bathtub. I melt into the hot water. I am lying down in the bathtub and can see the mud smoking out of my skin. My body is like some coral reef in the hot water and my pubic hair fans out like a sea anemone. Flakes of mud gently swim around my torso like they are tiny fish. I am peaceful now and so is the world. I am conscious of all the pains shooting through my body. I live in the present for a moment but then I lose it and slip into memories and think about that arm curling around my neck. This one will stay with me for days. Its arm. Its squeeze. How many million emotions are there? The words for them are not many. Anger, fear and so on. Very few words to describe the million emotions fissioning in my mind. I drop my left hand into the water and my grazed fingers sting.