In cool quirky blue suede Oxford shoes I had thrifted in Ngara the day before, I thrusted deep into the treacherous streets of Nairobi’s downtown sometime two years ago on a wintry morning. I waltzed down the maelstrom of Luthuli avenue, mauling the street in brisk strides with the stealth of street cat on the prowl. I have this lousy habit of walking fast even when I don’t need to. I’ll be out of your scope at the drop of a hat. I bet pickpockets loathe me to their core. Got it from my old man. He walks fast, gliding through the air effortlessly, like he bores a streamlined soul the air yields to.
That is the rule of thumb when you find yourself walking the streets downtown; walk with resolve. Like you know where you’re going, even when you don’t. If you by a stroke of bad fortune you happen to fall on the last bit of that premise; just continue going until you see suave men and chic women dressed in suits, then get your bearing from there. Downtown folk wear dustcoats and whatnot, you know, blue-collar shebang. So if you meet a dapper folk that would be your cue to prompt Google Maps if you’re dubious about human trust.
I know my way around downtown Nairobi. I have been there a substantial amount of times – you know – business he-he. And no, it has nothing to do with River Road’s famed lewdness or debauchery. OK, you got me. I’m not badass. I used to patronise the forlorn streets of River road on Sundays as a shorter way to church (when I used to go) to avoid the city centre. I walked the whole street, under the Ngara overpass and into the defunct Globe Cinema. It’s a colossal church now. A bigger business, maybe.
I transversed downtown’s essence, crossed the dicey disposition of River Road and sunk into the bowels of an old building whose stairway was illuminated with fluorescent lights. Almost like the one in Diamond Plaza’s IMAX, only a tad shabby. An elderly man, probably a security guard tenuously snored on the threshold of the first floor. Suffice to say the building was protected more by the blood of Jesus rather than the vigilance of that man.
In my pockets was Ksh. 18,000 in soft cash – the most money I have made for myself yet. Well, technically but not really. I had made a kill off something my old man had gotten me. I got some chap that wanted to pay almost double what the now malfunctioning thing initially cost. What shrewd businessman would let that chance slip? I took it with both hands, closed the deal and walked away, a sound track playing in my head. Probably ‘Eye of The Tiger’, that is befitting, no? That was the day before. That night, I tossed and turned. I don’t think I slept a wink. How could I when I was smothering in cash. The dead presidents in my pocket haunted me with insomnia. Beautiful problems to have those ones.
I elaborately shuffled to a specific stall number. Then I set eyes on her. There she was, beckoning at me. Inviting me to her presence. She sat hoisted, studiously, exuding her calm aura. Outside, where business went in manic fashion lay here silently in disregard. She stared back like she had been waiting for me to pick her up. She was right. She was this elegant brown semi-acoustic Fender guitar I had called to inquire before. I bought her, not that she was a price to be won but she was a price to be won.
I walked out with her large frame bobbing on my back in a black canvas guitar back, her name emblazoned in Italics; Fender. Wary and overprotective of her because, I clutched her strap tighter akin to an insecure lover. A tad tighter, and it would snap in two. You know what they say about overprotective folk; they love the hardest. That was me to her on that day and more to come. My subconscious gloated in achievement as escaped downtown’s snares and into the city centre.
I was actively trying to pursue music then. I was a fiend for acoustic music and I’d burn hours listening to stripped music on a loop. I was intent on becoming the next Jimmi Hendrix or Curt Kobain in the guitar realm. I cradled that guitar before I slept. I plucked her G-string (tight pun, admit) and strummed her croonies to hear the intrinsics of her heart. I patted her like you would a good pet. I cleaned her everyday, ceremoniously, to keep up its lustrous mien. I kissed her. In turn she mellowed back beautifully, thawing my heart in its conquest.
Then I stopped.
I don’t know why I stopped smothering it with fondness. I inexplicably alienated it. Leaving it to sit in the corner, glum, coveting for the day I’d pick up her again, dust its surface and wipe the tears from her eyes. She was reduced to something to bedeck my bedsit. Something birds would marvel at; ‘Wooow you have a guitar!’ And I’d play their hoopla all cool like it was something every guy had. They’d ask me to play something for them. And I would decline with with flimsy excuses. Not because I didn’t want to. But because I never learnt to play the fucking thing. I spent more time adoring her than learning my way around her. I had halted my pursuit of being a guitar virtuoso.
Time scattled down a year sans me opening getting her once from her case. Then I did, circa two weeks ago. Hey there stranger, remember me? ; it seemed to say. I picked her up. Her strings were intact, even the G… OK, too much. Albeit loose, they didn’t break. In spite of dust infiltrating its core, it still shimmered. I pick it up and strummed it, its sound filling the room.
Now, I’m learning to play the guitar in earnest. I’m putting more work into it this time. I’m going the whole nine yards. I’ll bend over backwards to learn its ways. And the thing is, learning guitar is excruciating man. No, really, it’s writhing. It hurts worse than your last heartbreak. Well, maybe not; I’m dubious a guitar is malignant enough to break up with you on your birthday, but notwithstanding it is searing. The strings furrow into the tips of your fingers. At some point, blisters might fester. The thing is, you have to persist at it. The pain is your fingers acclimating to new pressure. Overtime, you build calluses; a tough skin for your tips. It is like learning to ride a bicycle. You’ll fall a couple of times, but it’s in that you learn to find your balance.
It is in the guitar realm that you could correctly say; hey baby, just the tip and not attract sneers nor raise eyebrows. Hehe. But really, primarily, it’s all about the tips for the chord hand. I could choose to get protective pads for my fingers but I’m not a wuss. I don’t want to pussy-foot my way around honing this skill. I want to indulge the traditional way, like a macho, through the wringer.
I’m exerting at this to learn to play this one song that intrigues me. Well, and for the girls too. Maybe. Probably. The other I was watching Ed Sheeran’s interview on YouTube and at one point I was cracking in laughter. He said (not verbatim), God thought; this dude is so ugly he’s going to need help getting girls so let me give him a guitar. Suffice to say the girls came, in droves. Maybe I need that too ho-ho.
So maybe it’s about the birds. What’s a story without a girl.
Anyhuu, who’s single.
No, I’m just joking.
Thanks for reading.