It was a relatively normal day at Tea Room in Nairobi City. The cars were honking, people were shouting and the resulting din was a comfort to those that conducted business there. Touts shouted out the fares to far-flung regions of Kenya while others helped passengers board their Nissan matatus. It seemed some places,like Nyeri and Kisumu were more popular than others because people pushed and shoved each other to get inside the matatu, sometimes not even allowing the previous passengers to alight.
Amidst all the jostling, a few men and women helped themselves to a few valuables-be it cash, jewelry or food- by simply inserting nimble fingers where they did not belong. These country folk were their easiest targets because once they saw the city with its tall buildings and shiny newness, they became dazzled and forgot to look out for themselves and their valuables. Many had come to the city under the mistaken belief that all their dreams would come true, only to end up on the streets after having everything they owned stolen minutes after arriving in Nairobi.
Through all the commotion very few noticed the girl who was clutching a worn-out Back to School bag tightly to her chest. Her eyes were full of wonder as she looked in all directions as if trying to experience all the sights at the same time. Clearly, she was from the countryside. If nothing else, the dress she wore was a further indicator of that. Made of some dark brown material, it went all the past her ankles and was covered with patches. On her feet were string shoes caked with mud. Despite all this one was eventually drawn back to the eyes which were filled with a combination of innocence, joy and excitement, which drew you in like a moth to a flame.
She was almost giddy with happiness. She had made it. She always knew there was more to life than the village but never at such a grand scale. The buildings seemed to be a hundred times taller than her. However did people reach the top? Or were they just to be seen and admired from afar? There were more cars than the ones she was used to seeing at the village and more people than she could count. They seemed to pop up everywhere.
It finally occurred to her that she had nowhere to go. She had no food, no money and she knew no one.
Don’t panic, she admonished herself. She had come this far all on her own. She would find a way. She was sure of it.
Two weeks later, as she huddled beneath her cardboard shelters, she could have happy sawed off her arm and eaten it. She had not had a bite to eat in over three days. The grumbles and knots in her stomach had become the usual for her;she hardly noticed it anymore.
How did it come to this? Wasn’t the big city supposed to be where dreams come true?
The click-click of heels on the cobblestone herald the arrival of Shiks even before she came around the corner. In her little corner of the city, behind a tall building which she shared with five other families, Shiks had appeared one day and never left. The others regarded her with a lot of suspicion,mostly because she was different. It was obvious that she was not from the streets. It was in the way she carried herself. Some said she’d run away from her well off family and been disowned, others claimed that she was an undercover police agent. Whatever it was,the mistrust was instinctive.
Rumours circulated that Shiks was also a prostitute. She was still not clear on what a prostitute was,but from the snatches of conversation she’d overheard she figured it was a woman who slept with men for money. Why anyone would make such a fuss about sleeping,she had no idea. And to get paid,why, that was incredible!
She had mentioned that to Shiks and had been given an odd look. It didn’t matter to her, though. Shiks was the smartest person she knew. She also always came back from her haunts with a bit of food for everyone.
“Sasa mrembo,” she said in her customary way. Today she wore a really short blue skirt and a maroon fishnet top. The red heels on her feet looked old and worn out.”Shika chakula yako. Leo tunaenda na wewe. My pal is throwing a party and he needs girls. Analipa vizuri na kuna food. “
She had jumped on the food the minute it had been set down. By the time that that little speech was being concluded she had wolfed down more than half of the food. Her hunger was a long way from being assuaged still. Most of the speech went right over her head but the word food stuck and she knew that she would do anything not to starve. Anything.
Two hours later,she was ready. At least according to Shiks standards who was of the opinion that she cleaned up nice, underneath all that village look. Black stuff had been applied to her eyes; red stuff had been applied to her lips. She had been dressed in a short black skirt, a barely there yellow top and heels she was trying not to trip over.
She could not seem to shake the feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach. Maybe it was just hunger.
When the black car stopped in front of them and a man got out, her apprehension grew. It was huge, with tinted windows. To her, not wanting people to see who was inside meant that you were hiding something. She wasn’t sure she was ready to know what it was.
The man came around to where they were standing and just stared at them without saying a word. It seemed that his eyes lingered longer on her, especially on her chest area and legs. It made her very very uncomfortable and she tried not to fidget.
If anyone had a right to stare it was she. Why, the man had pictures drawn on his skin! Surely, he must be crazy. He was dressed in a black shirt and a pair of jeans that hung so low on his hips as to almost fall off completely. He had flashy rings on each of his fingers and a metallic chain around his neck. Was that an earring on his left ear? He was so strange!
He finally looked back at Shiks. “Hey, baby girl. I see you’ve finally brought me some fresh meat. She’s a real beauty too, they’ll love her. Let’s go.”