Ladies and Gentlemen, Her

The sun is out today. She sits in the shade of a pine tree on the cold grass, lazily stretching her feet till her toes kiss the sunlight beaming through the leaves. Her hands struggle to nestle a pair of headphones in the thick fluffy cloud that is her hair.

It’s dyed a bold white, a stark contrast to the velvety, dark brown goodness that paints her skin. With Nviiri’s gentle, weathered voice wooing her through the headphones, she rests her head back and watches the leaves do a delicate whirl and twirl in the soft breeze.

She lays there for what feels like hours, and her body blooms with serenity, the kind only nature can give.

Then she starts hearing voices from a distance, frantic voices that get more urgent the closer they inch. “Kanjo Kanjo!”

She jolts awake, violently yanked from the dream realm and into reality by the K word. The air quickly goes from woodsy to the musty, industrial smell that blankets Nairobi CBD- the type that leaves a lasting, tainted taste on the tongue.

Her small makeshift cardboard house has all but collapsed on itself. The word kanjo drives her into autopilot. She jumps to her feet, one hand grabbing a small sack, the other gathering her thin cushion and blanket. Then she sprints into the cold Nairobi weather. Others are sprinting too, and she looks back to see that they are indeed being pursued by at least a dozen torches.

All she can think of is how they’ll toss her back in an orphanage if they get her. She remembers the scars on her back, the healed burns on her arms, the tears, the pain, the trauma.

She’d rather die than go back there so she runs, runs like a man gone mad.

However, it’s hard running with torn shoes that look like they’ve never seen better days. It’s even harder running after it’s rained. You see, Nairobi is either a city of streets paved with gold, dotted with high-rise skyscrapers and gated communities, or it’s her Nairobi.

Her Nairobi is an unforgiving place that reeks of lost hope and dead dreams. It’s a crowded, colourless landscape with crudely built shanties. It’s full of smelly dark alleys where men do unspeakable things. It’s littered with mountains of trash where children like her are sent to scout for glass and all sorts of shiny objects.

Her Nairobi is misery.

And when it rains, the ground is canvassed by mud the colour of night. She slips and slides on the mud as she runs, guided by the street lights that stand tall against unopened shops. It must be 3 or 4 am, she thinks.

Everyone’s scattered so she’s sprinting alone. One glance back tells her she’s out of danger for now. She ducks into what she judges to be a safe alley, and wipes her shoes off with semi-clear water that’s pooled in a pothole on the pavement.

On finding a dry spot, she plops down on her cushion and lets out a long sigh. She is spent, all her energy depleted by the run. Her head thumps and her stomach growls, painful reminders that she’s barely drank or eaten the past few days.

She’s lived through worse, she reassures herself. Food will make its way to her once the shrewd mama she collects glass for pays her wages. It’s been two weeks, she’s going to be paid any day now. The mama promised.

Her heart still races fast and she tries to shiver the cold back into the early morning. The blanket acts as a small shield.

To escape the loneliness, she fills her mind with memories of beautiful things. Like the kinyozi who puts the radio on full blast close to where she works. Like the kids she collects with, and how they usually go into the heart of CBD once every week to marvel at tall buildings and billboards with moving pictures.

That’s where she saw the white-haired girl who she embodies in her dreams. The girl was sitting pretty, taking a sip of Coca-Cola on the biggest billboard she’d ever seen.

Sleep soon overcomes her tired body and she drifts off into the unknown.

Soon after, a cloaked figure approaches her sleeping form from the corner of the dark alley. They stand over her small frame and a single tear drops from the face under the cloak. Bending over, they gently scoop her up into their arms. The figure sees a delicate face that’s been hardened by the abrasiveness of life. They see a child whose life solely existed in the nexus between poverty and cruelty.

A child who only ever truly lived in her dreams.

More tears flow from under the cloak, falling on the sleeping girl’s cheek. With the girl still cradled in their arms, they slowly walk away into the darkness. A big whoosh reverberates through the icy air and then silence.

Morning comes and night falls. Hours bleed into days. No one ever notices the dead girl under the blanket till the putrid smell of Death hangs heavy in the air.


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