It’s on a Thursday night, you are attending a launch at a swanky hotel in Westlands, Nairobi. A woman is making a presentation about their new services and packages available. She is in a high-neck sleeveless dress, white pointy toe pumps with matching white-gold pearl earrings and a bracelet.
The guys on your left are arguing about a soccer match that took place the previous weekend in low tones. Maybe not so low. The lady briefly stops speaking, looks in your direction. The fellas shut up. Your eyes lock. Her gaze is intimidating but you stare back. After five long seconds, she goes on speaking about SaaS, DaaS & PaaS. You have no idea what any of that means, however, there is something fascinating about her. She has an alluring presence, assured gait, and a powerful voice.
A few more speeches by top company honchos and their cloud-based services are officially launched amid cheering, clapping & confetti showers. The event host announces that its time for cocktails & networking. Nerdy men & women huddle around tables scattered across the hall as waiters pass plates with an assortment of bites and alcoholic drinks.
As some dude in an orange cardigan and thick glasses is describing to you how his venture is about to launch an app that will put Safaricom out of business you see her chatting with three men on the other side of the room. You excuse yourself and walk up to her.
“Hello, I loved your presentation.”
“Hi! Thank you.”
“I’m Mark Maish. You?”
“Happy to make your acquaintance.”
You shake her hand. She has tiny soft hands.
“So Maish, which company are you representing?”
“Me? No, I’m just here for the chicken & free drinks.”
Luciana unleashes a hearty laughter giving you an opportunity to check her out. She is sporting shoulder-length curls, round unpainted nails, a silver nose stud and brown lipstick. She must be in her late twenties or early thirties.
You strike a conversation about the emerging artificial intelligence industry, Nairobi’s nightlife, and peculiar Kenyan social media habits. The men three men she was conversing with quietly walk away. Good riddance. Luciana is surprisingly knowledgeable in multiple areas, unlike most techies you have met.
A young lad walks over and whispers something into her ear then stands aside with big smile on his face.
“Sorry, I need to sort this out…I hope you are still around.”
“I’m still around.” You reply with a forced smile.
She saunters out of the hall. You walk to the mini-bar, refill your glass then interact with a couple of more attendees but your mind is still on Luciana.
10:12 PM. Thanks to the generous supply of liquor both men and women have loosened up. Those who acted all cultured at the start of the night are now rowdy. You know how Kenyans are around free booze.
While refilling your glass for the third time you see Luciana standing a few meters away, arms crossed on her chest, back to the wall. Two burly men are standing in front of her rather intrusively. They are visibly drunk. You can tell she is uncomfortable. Something is about to go down.
You grab your glass and confidently walk up to her, and gently place your hand on the small of her back.
“Sweetheart, are you okay?”
“No, I’m not!” She shoots back.
She looks really pissed. You can almost see smoke billowing from her nose.
The guy in highly polished shoes takes a step back, looks at you and squirts his eyes.
“Mark, is that you?”
He turns to his friend.
“This is the blogger friend I was telling you about.”
He gives you a bear hug, rather too tightly, steps back
“You didn’t tell me you’re with this Jamaa. He is a great friend of mine.” He tells the lady.
Mr. Shiny shoes goes ahead and heaps praise on you claiming you are tight buddies. The truth is that only met him once or twice back on campus.
“It’s okay man (hiccup)…You have a very beautiful woman…Miss (hiccup) you hold on tight to Mark. He is a great guy.”
He ends the lengthy monologue, staggers to the next table occupied by three ladies, with his silent pal. The lady turns to you.
“Can you imagine your drunk friend, whom I have never seen before, was telling me ati he wants me to give him a baby?!”
You spend the next couple of minutes repairing the damage. Damn! Some guys urgently need classes on the art of seduction.
She says she wants to go home rather unexpectedly.
“C’mon it’s too early to go home plus I’m getting to like you…I don’t want you to leave just yet.”
“Mark, I’m too old for this. I can’t party till 3 am then go to work the next morning. I’m also uncomfortable here since I work with most of these people.”
“In that case, let’s go somewhere else for a drink.”
“Yes, one drink. Feel free to leave if I bore you even for a minute.”
“You are so stubborn but in a nice way!”
She suggests you check out Privee citing it’s less crowded on Thursdays. You request for Uber, which arrives in less than three minutes and takes you there.
Privee has a sizeable crowd for a weekday. All the couches are taken so you take one of the tables closer to the balcony. She orders for a cocktail with a name you can’t quite recall. You settle for Tusker Malt. The change of scenery does wonders. She looks a lot more relaxed. She even kicks off her heels and step on the floor barefooted
Apparently, Luciana did her bachelor’s in one of the city varsity while learning how to develop apps on the side. She got a scholarship to a tech college in California. Thereafter, another scholarship to pursue an MBA marketing option. She briefly worked for a multinational tech company before she was moved to the East & Central Africa branch headquartered in Nairobi.
When you ask about the rings on her fingers, she explains they are just accessories. She has never been married & no kids though she was dating a married man. She broke it off a few months ago.
“I was tired of having the same sausage for three years”, she says with a gleeful wink.
“Holy cow! Three freaking years? How did you survive?”
“I’m that faithful.
“Whoa, I pity you.”
“For real. Why else do you think the universe conspired to make you meet me tonight?”
“Lol…Are you propositioning me?”
It is rather strange how quickly the conversation has shifted to sexual innuendos especially since she has this serious corporate-ish demeanor.
“On whether you are great in bed. From what you just have told me you are pretty inexperienced and I don’t want to engage in lousy coitus.”
“What the f**k? Do you really think a woman of my age can be that green? Who the hell do you think you are? Huh?… “
Her chest heaves with each statement. She goes on a full-scale tirade to a point you can’t hold it any longer.
“What the hell are you laughing about?”
“You look so cute when angry. I had to push your hot buttons just to make sure you aren’t psycho.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I find you freaking irresistible. You are smart, passionate about your work, assertive, gorgeous, have a good sense of humor and such great company.”
In an instant, her anger subsides leaving a puzzled look on her face.
“I hate how much I’m so drawn to you. I met you tonight, I don’t even know your second name yet here I am freezing my ass at 3 am instead of my warm bed because I can’t have enough of you. I hate how much I’m attracted to you because it makes me vulnerable, out of control and gives you the power to hurt me…”
Suddenly she jumps into your lap and places her index finger on your lips cutting you off mid-sentence. Shhh!
You wrap your arms around her. She cups your face with both hands. You tilt your head up, close your eyes and let out a whimper of anticipation. She brushes her lips lightly against yours, teasing you. Her touch lights an inferno that spreads throughout your entire body obliterating any barriers that might have existed between you. You pull her into an embrace so tight there isn’t any distance between your bodies. All that is left are your hearts beating in sync, as the world around you slowly disappears. At first, you draw her into a delicate butterfly of a kiss before switching it up into a fiery, passionate and hungry kiss. You savor her lips until you are both out of breath.
You pull away and stare deep into her eyes. An amalgam of passion, lust and euphoric warmth.
“Thank you!” she says deliberately prolonging each letter.
The patrons on the next table are staring at you. Nosy Nairobians.
At that very moment, the DJ plays some popular Latino song currently playing everywhere.
“That’s my jam!” She jumps out of her seat all excited, “Come dance with me.” She says with her hand stretched out.
You take her hand, stand up and lead her to the open space between the tables. The two Salsa classes you took back in campus come in handy during such times. You dance with her, add some flair to the moves you don’t remember. She is a graceful dancer. Seeing her swing her hips to the beats and spin in her heels warms your heart.
You dance to a couple of more songs till you are both drenched in sweat.
You lead her to the balcony overlooking Woodvale Groove. It looks beautiful at night. You can hear music from the few other nightclubs along the street. A middle-aged man with bulging waistline staggers across the street to a black Prado with a tall slender lady in tow. The lady is supporting the man with one hand and holding a half-full bottle Jameson in the other. She doesn’t look a day older than 22. You can tell she is pissed at the guy. Maybe he didn’t buy her something he promised or maybe he made a fool of himself before her friends. You hug Luciana from behind as you watch the unfolding drama.
She tries to snatch the car keys from him but the man in a grey suit is adamant. He insists he is totally sober and he will drive. The young lady finally gives up, jumps into the co-driver seat clutching at the bottle of whiskey like a lucky charm. After a few faulty starts the powerful V8 engine roars into life. The man drives off in haste and makes a hard right turn on Mpaka Road without indicating. I hope he doesn’t run over someone.
All this time you are both watching them in silence.
She turns to face you.
“How do you do it?” She asks.
“How do you stay true to yourself? I mean you are constantly going against the rules, pursuing your passions and doing whatever you want without a care of what anyone thinks.”
“I don’t know…”
“We human beings are driven by two major emotions, Love or Fear. Come to think of it, that young lady drove off with a clearly drunk old man is putting her life at risk because of fear. She is probably scared that if she goes against his wishes he will dump her, consequently, she won’t be able to maintain her current lifestyle. For a very long time, I have wanted to quit my job and become a musician because that’s what I’m truly passionate about but then I’m afraid of starting over from scratch.”
She scans the bar then continues.
“Look at all these people here drinking on a weekday. They are probably stuck in jobs they hate but are afraid of defaulting on their car loans and mortgages should they quit. Others are in relationships that are clearly not working for them but since they are afraid of being alone they choose to stay in toxic relationships and drown their sorrows in alcohol which never solves a thing by the way. But you, you are clearly happy because doing what you love.”
Her words get through to you. See, when most people look at the few good things going on in your life they assume its all perfect. What they don’t know is that beneath that smooth exterior is a raging battle. Depression, anxiety & multiple-addictions characterize your life. You are walking on a tightrope, one slip and you go tumbling down head-first into the gorge full of jutting rocks.
“I’m driven by fear not love.” You reply.
“How? I don’t understand?”
“Well, I am a workaholic because I am afraid of dying before making a ding. I pursue my passions not out love but out of fear I will regret it if I don’t. Being a man with lots of iniquities I’m afraid I won’t make a great father and husband so I sabotage any relationship that looks promising. The scariest part is how I sacrifice anything and everything just to get closer to my dream hence unable to have normal relationships. What if after all that sacrifice I end up a bitter, lonely old man whom the society will use as an example for those who dare go against its rules? What if I’m simply insane? ”
“At least you are happy.”
You chuckle. Happiness is elusive. You feel happy when you buy a new toy. You take great care of it and feel content whenever you use it but this feeling doesn’t last forever. Three months later you need to buy something else to feel happy. That’s exactly how life is.
“Enough with the sad stuff, I want you to sing for me?”
“Sing for you?”
“Yes, you said you are a talented singer. I want to hear that amazing voice of yours.”
“Wacha jokes it’s 4:32 am, I am clearly wasted and you want me to sing? Right now I can only croak..Someday I will sing for you.”
As if reading your mind the DJ starts playing soft rock. She turns out to be a huge fan. You both sing along, more like to each other. She is even more beautiful. You can’t keep your hands and lips off her.
She opens up about her life struggles so do you. It is unbelievable how much you feel connected to her yet you only met a few hours earlier. This city is full of fake people. People hiding behind a mask, afraid of revealing who they truly are for fear nobody would understand and accept them for who they really are. She, on the other hand, doesn’t care. She is unapologetically raw.
You curse under your breath every time you glance at your watch. Its a few minutes past 5 am. You wish you could turn back the clock so you can hang out a couple of more hours with her but time is a different monster.
“Mark, I really need to go home.”
“I know, I just don’t want to let you go…”
“You are such a bad influence. I had planned to go home immediately after the event only for you to convince me to go on an entire night. “
“I’m happy you did.”
“So am I..shall we?”
You settle the bill then walk to the elevators and press the down arrow. The darn elevator always comes quickly when you aren’t in a hurry. She is feeling cold so you flung your jacket over her shoulders. Then walk out to the parking lot.
You stand on the kerb, in silence, arms wrapped around her. Her taxi arrives in less than ten minutes.
“I like you, like really really like you. Give me your phone.” She says with this longing look in her eyes.
You give her your phone. She dials her number then gives it back to you.
The cab driver is watching the two of you rather impatiently. He has probably worked the entire night and this is his last trip before he goes back to his family. You open the cab door for her. She throws her handbag into the back seat before jumping back into your arms. You kiss for one full minute. She pulls away.
“Tomorrow, I will leave work early so I can meet you. Is 4:30 pm okay with you?”
You nod affirmatively.
“Cool, I will call you.”
She gets into the taxi. You close the door softly and wave as the car sneaks out of the parking.
“Goodbye, Luciana!”, you whisper to the disappearing car fighting back tears.
What you couldn’t bring to tell her is that this is your last night in Nairobi. You are escaping the city for a couple of months in order to heal. Your decision was formed after a tumultuous year of slipping back into your addictions. You need time off the city. Time to heal and regain control of your life. This is probably the last time you will ever see her.
You hail a cab and jump to the back seat.
“Take me to JKIA.”
The cab driver scrutinizes you through the rear view mirror perhaps for signs you are a serial murderer or a carjacker. Who the hell travels without luggage?
“ I will be coming back in the afternoon,” you lie to put his mind at ease.
It works like magic. In a few minutes to you are cruising along Mombasa Road with the city behind you. It is barely 6 am yet city-bound traffic is building up. At Cabanas Interchange you take out your sim card, break it into two, roll down the window and throw it out.
This is a battle I have to fight on my own. I hope she will understand.
Written by Mark Maish