This afternoon was unusual. It felt as if the city in the sun was turning into a city in the furnace; as if the sun had taken an atmospheric slump. I was sweating. Profusely. And panting, too. I took off my blazer (I had not even realized that all-along I had my blazer on), and walked past Gate B which led to the men’s hostels in the Technical University of Kenya.
The plateful of ugali (maize flour cake) and beans was taking an oxidation toll on me. I longed for a nap. Maybe a cold shower. Or both. Yet, only 20 minutes or so were remaining before the afternoon lessons. “Who can concentrate in class with this heat?” I thought.
A low-flying aircraft hovered over my head. Noisily. I didn’t even raise an eye brow. I think I was tired. No, bored. Maybe pensive. But what was I thinking about? Nothing, really.
“Makori!” Someone called my name out loud. I didn’t turn. I wasn’t in the mood for an engagement. Therefore, I walked straight alongside a clothes-drying line that ran parallel with the first block of the men’s hostels. A few clothes flew with the soft wind, hanging loosely like the flags outside the International House. They looked like rags in my eyes. I pulled the line unconsciously and it oscillated.
As if from sheer intuition, I was conscious of someone following me, and I wanted to disappear into the sweltering air. It could be the one who called my name earlier, and I pretended not to hear. I’m not sure why I did not want to attend to this lady (whoever it was).
I made for the entrance to the Morogo Hostel through a hoard of litter. A majority of first year male students resided here. I wasn’t one of them, but I went in anyway. I climbed the stairs to the third floor in a huff, and walked to the far end of the corridor leading into the left wing. I knocked at the door marked, 104. No one answered. I knocked again, this time harder. No answer still. I turned the knob and it flung open. A cockroach quickly scampered for safety leading the way in on the right of the double rooms.
A girlish chuckle welcomed me. A bed squeaked noisily. In it, a couple lay in an ugly heap, quite oblivious of the unwelcome intruder, nor the heat. I was jolted. It was 1:45 p.m.–15 minutes to class time. The sun was overhead, its rays almost piercing through the corrugated iron sheets. Turning away in silence, I tip-toed to the door and back into the grubby corridor. A bunch of boys were returning from the lunch break, making unnecessary noise. I simply walked downstairs in silence.
On the ground floor, I knew someone, too. His name was Benson, a first year student who had just joined college from my former high school in room 39. The door was slightly ajar. I pushed it and walked in. A girl was seated in his bed, skimpily dressed. A pink tunic top. They call it spaghetti here. A short brown skirt. Very short. Barely covering anything. She was bare foot. Short, study legs. Short hair. She must be liking everything short. I noticed her specs and thought, “She must be short-eyed too.” Her cologne filled the room. Benson himself was not there.
“Where is he?” I asked her absentmindedly. I don’t know why I was looking for Benson.
“Who?” She wore the ‘mind-your-own-business’ face, incessantly tapping on her smart phone on hand. She hardly looked up. I thought this was the height of impunity. I was almost angry at her.
“Benson.” I was abrupt.
“Who’s Benson?” She almost yelled, revealing huge random gaps in her badly arranged teeth. They were short, ugly teeth, holding on to her gums like termites pecking on a wooden post. Her tongue stuffed her mouth. She repeatedly bit her lower shiny lips.
I struggled to keep my cool. “Madam, the owner of the bed you are seated in is called Benson,” I quipped.
“Gosh! I don’t even know his name. He is my classmate though…And my Valentine,” she added with a sheepish smile.
She looked at me as if to ask, Are you from Mars?
“You mean you don’t have a Valentine?” She made it sound like a crime not to have a Valentine, whatever that was.
“What’s Valentine?” I repeated.
“A lover,” she lowered her voice, and cast a probing glance at me.
“So how do you call someone your Valentine whom you don’t even know his name?” I probed her impatiently.
She was obviously irritated. “It’s none of your business. It’s Valentine’s Day and I have a right to enjoy myself and feel loved,” she said with a finality.
I slammed the door behind me and walked away, several thoughts running through my mind. “What has become of this world?” I thought. “This is debauchery! Immoral!” I walked out of the hostels wondering, if at all, I had any moral authority to judge anyone.
At the door to my room, I met Emily. She was standing there like a watchman. I knew her well. She was in first year, too, and the best friend to Marbel who was hunting me down like a turtle dove looking for her mate. I was trying to avoid the girl because I thought we were two worlds apart. My culture and hers were like day and night. I was brought up in the village, where men are taught to be strong. Where it’s a taboo for women to seduce men. Where women are taught to revere men. And she was brought up in the city where women are not taught anything at all, or so I thought. They grow like twigs of weeds. Free style. Or is it free range?
“Hi Emily,” I muttered.
“I called you when you were walking towards the hostels and you didn’t bother to know who it was.”
“I didn’t hear,” I lied.
“Marbel wants to see you after class, at 4.30. In her room.”
“I don’t know. Just come. She may have something special for you.” And with that announcement she walked away. Marbel was the girl who was pursuing me, Emily’s best friend. I was very uncomfortable about it because no girl has ever chased after me. Besides, it’s a taboo in my culture.
My prayers were answered and our afternoon class was canceled. I spent the whole afternoon sleeping. At 4:30 I received a phone call from Marbel and decided to go and see her.
A fragrant smell greeted me at the door to her room. I knocked gently because I didn’t want anyone to see me go into her room. She came to open the door. Marbel was very beautiful, I cannot deny that. She had this soft voice that made you think she was the most fragile being on the face of the earth. When she walked, her gait was spirited, but calculated like a chameleon. She locked the door behind her and followed me into her room. The setting startled me. It wasn’t anything you know of in a student’s room. It was dazzling. A small coffee table was standing in the middle of the room, covered in white. Some stuff were on top of the table but I couldn’t tell what they were because they were carefully covered. Emily was there, too, seated on the neatly made bed, her legs crossed. I sat on a solitary chair which was next to the door. Emily invited me to sit on the bed. I declined. She always plays Marbel’s spokesperson.
Marbel was standing, gazing at me like people new to Nairobi gaze at the Dedan Kimathi effigy on Kimathi Street. She came and planted her hand on my burly shoulders. I smelled her fragrance. Like ripe strawberry. She didn’t say a word. She simply uncovered the contents on the table with her right hand, her left hand still on my shoulders. In so doing, she squatted in front of me. She revealed a set of dinner plates neatly arranged. A brown iced cake peeped through with some pieces of fudge chocolates and a bottle of red wine.
She took a stack of dark green twigs from the table and lodged them into my hands. I recognized the flower. It was a rose flower. My sister once told me that this was the flower of love. Therefore, in my hand, I was holding the twigs of love, holding the flower of love. I looked at her forehead. She was nervous. She began to sob. I was perplexed. I didn’t know what to do. I simply disentangled her, got up from the chair and walked out of the room, placing the twigs of love back on the table. I went straight to my room. I lay on my bed, staring at the hollow roof.
This was my first Valentine’s Day experience.