(An unfinished report of the 2010 Kwani Litfest Open Mic event…I didn’t like it so I didn’t finish it.)
It was a cloudless, Milky Way night. The air was cool. The Museum was quiet and the only sounds were those of the traffic stuck on Museum Hill Roundabout. Maybe there was a hint of Nairobi River’s gush under the bridge.
I came into the amphitheater together with my friend Waigajo. Waigajo wore a green sweater. Waigajo rubbed his hands and brought them to his mouth.
“It’s smaller than I thought,” he said.
“That’s right. I was expecting something truly stadium size,” I said.
Waigajo jumped from the top edge where we stood, his legs spanned out v-shape in mid-air, like those of a fleeing gazelle, and he landed on one of the wide and curving spectator slabs at the bottom.
“That’s all,” he said.
We had arrived early for this special edition of the Kwani Litfest Open Mic session. Unlike the normal Club Sound affairs, big dog literati were expected to attend this one. There would be the sophisticated woof of academic talk, Phd power and doggy-style bending overs when greeting the Ngugi (who would end up seated on the lowest slab). But at that moment we didn’t know the exact scope of the star power we would witness. There were only random nobodies like us scattered around the amphitheater terraces.
To my left was a young lady who I thought looked rather pretty. She had a childlike face — soft nose, softer lips, smooth cheeks. Her head had either a cropped afro or simply overgrown hair combed wildstyle. She had a lean body with perfectly sized bazoom and butt curves horning out underneath her clothes. I said hello to her six times but she didn’t respond. She was looking down at a piece of paper placed on her lap, and with a pen made adjustments to something she had written. Crossed-out scribbles and stuff. Her extra-soft lips whispered out only what was on the page.
To my right was an older lady. Plain looking. She had plaited her hair extraordinarily well, in order to look slightly beautiful, otherwise the others, when they arrived, would be too hard to see. But her attempt was bound to flop because she was gradually putting on the rolls of fat in this her mid 30’s, I think. She’ll always remain plain.
Some arrived early and alone.
Like this one who had a really cubic head such that the spotlight reflected off one side of the head in a perfect right-angle and the other side was then a perfect right-angled dark side.
In front of us, behind the main stage at the bottom, stood the drums and guitars and amplifiers and KORG synthesizers; they stood with no musicians around them.
On the far left, where there was a mezzanine, a fat lady who looked visually stupid was directing some guys to take out hotdogs wrapped in cellophane, from the big bags placed at her feet. The sight of the hotdogs made me feel hungry so I went over. Waigajo gave me some money to also get him one. I came back with nothing. Waigajo opened his palms.
“Do you want to eat a two hundred shilling hotdog?” I said.
I sat down and placed my cold palms under my buttocks.
“The fat one is selling them like that?”
“Stupid woman comes to this kind of place and thinks everyone’s worth selling a two hundred shilling hotdog to. She has no style. The way she has packed them. Kiosk-like.”
“She just stands there watching her houseboys.”
“Yeah. Like that one doesn’t even wear slippers made from leather. He wears tyre rubber slippers. Hand made.”
“I bet he still remembers the the first time he slipped his feet in.”
“And felt the rough of the raw hide.”
“I bet he still remembers his first day walking downtown footpaths in them. Looking for any job. I bet his wife is called Wangeci.”
“And he returns home, and Wangeci bandages the bloodied and blistered feet.”
Standing on one of the terraces below were two men who turned around and looked at us. One looked tall and competent, the other short and conmanly.
“She just stands there watching her houseboys set everything up. She does backseat driving from a vantage point. There is beef pilau, hot coffee, cold beer, skewered mushkaki.”
“What’s her fatness?”
The fat lady is dressed in one of those overflowing Nigerian things, complete with headgear that makes her head look twice its normal size.
“From here, I would say one half of her bulges a little more from the sides then the other half. How to say it?”
“That body doesn’t even obey abstract cubist proportions like in that nude lady walking up the stairs painting. Who did that one?”
“I don’t know, but she’ll make a killing anyways. Literati are conformists despite all the talk they make about being so different and on an entirely other metaphysical plane or intellectual orbit.”
“All their talk is just some psuedo-theoretico bullshit.”
“Unless it’s Ngugi or Tony or Binj, even then you have to wonder.”
I looked at the pretty girl again. Her left hand was now stretched out toward me. It lay on the concrete of the slab of our terrace. I looked at her left hand: Her nails were uneven. The pointing finger one had a serrated edge as if she had a habit of filing the edges of the others with it. And there wasn’t any nail polish on any of them. The thick skin on all the fingers was uprooted in random fashion and it all looked like jagged hills as seen from thirty thousand feet up.
“They are no different from the politicos they like to take pot shots at. Therefore, I am applauding the fat one. She calculated her mathematics perfectly. I bet she reads jack. I bet she can’t pronounce her vowels properly but she knows her calculator well. One literati will see another buy a two hundred shilling hotdog. The spying literati will walk over to the hotdog buying one. There will be some kind of preliminary eye contact. They will start of gently, maturely with some conformist small talk or some talk that appears half way clever, peppered with zingy one liners. The fat one will punch in another hotdog into her calculator.”