The Park, is a vast area of a carefully planned, naturally green area that finds itself in pretty much the midst of New City.
It is strategically, or rather coincidentally, located at the meeting point of two important roads; an avenue and a highway, both aptly named after the man both locally, and internationally, revered as the founding father of The Nation – as we know it today.
To access it, one would have to enter it from one of its four, apparently compass directions dictated entrances. From the South, is an entrance which sufficiently serves as the opening for a mammoth crowd that has, to, every few minutes, patiently wait for a plethora of vehicles to drive away, and the traffic policeman’s all important manual signal in order to cross into it. That, they do as if The Park is a deucedly hungry person that has been patiently waiting to feed on them.
From the East, a dishonest driveway which, somehow, persuades impatient drivers that they can escape the unfathomable snarl-up on the road, on that side, and speed through The Park – without any regard for the poor pedestrians using the zebra in the centre of The Park – to join another road on the West side of The Park that is equally jammed and not helpful enough to their short-lived excitement.
The Northern end, like the rest of the other three openings, is both an exit and an entrance. The most favourite, as those who use it as an entrance, pedestrians, do not have to utilise that much thought and energy. It is a simple, unguided slope down the steep part of The Park. The same steep slope which made them sweat and puff and huff as they struggled walking upwards.
Irrespective of the entrance, or, rather, the exit, you use, you are invariably bound to see, meet, run into and rub shoulders with strangers, friends, and, sometimes, unfortunately, foes. People, of and from all walks of life.
As he makes use of the Southern end, The Man In The Suit’s first impression is The Park’s aura of authority and intimidation. A gigantic vehicle finds itself parked at the entrance. It consumes more than half of the tarmacked walkway. Its driver, always on the wheel, dozes off, without a care in the world. The Government has paid top shilling for him to do his job, a job he has done so well, by sleeping, for the vehicle never moves an inch for the whole day.
In the back of the vehicle, are, as ever before, uniformed officers of one of the numerous security agencies. They, too, are doing their job, adequately well, by filling up the wooden benches which they have thoughtfully placed on both ends of the walls of their shaded vehicle. They, when The Man In The Suit glances, are enjoying mandazi, richly yellow bananas, and comparing notes of mucene – gossip in thunderous voices, even for a conversation for a toughly trained, hardened by cases men and women of a presumably professional force.
The mandazi they are munching have been purchased from one of the Mamas who trade all nature of wares; from roasted groundnuts, to sweets, to fruits, to pens, to passport holders, to biscuits, to airtime scratch cards, and to more than a passing eye can ably save.
The Mamas find themselves right after one or two or three Land Rover Defenders – depending on how well or otherwise the drivers on either avenue or highway have behaved – that are not used to tow away vehicles, which the traffic policemen have had arrested for reasons only known to them; a genuinely tired vehicle, a misinterpretation of a traffic signal, or to be able to afford lunch, that being, their mandazi, that the Mamas have seductively displayed.
Between the Mamas and the green Land Rover Defenders, are the arrested vehicles – mostly plastic, second hand, and Japanese made ones. The drivers are, as a matter of course, not anywhere in sight. Not willing to pay a mandatory bribe or appropriate fine imposed upon them, they abandon their vehicles, only to return, later, when the sun is up on high, to drive them away using their spare keys, those made for moments just like these, when the traffic policemen sit in their shaded vehicle, enjoying mandazi, and keeping a feel on the arrested car’s keys, which they have safely kept in their pockets.
The Man In A Suit proceeds with his walk. The pedestrian’s walkway in The Park continues into an uninterrupted view. To his left is what looks like a man-made lake, or reservoir, or natural water catchment area. It is set in a valley, and its waters extend as far as the eyes can only see. On it, are multicoloured, foot peddled, plastic boats which can carry as both few and as many as only two people. Everyone who has grown up in New City has been there, or so they tale. Thanks to school trips, many others have travelled from the farthest parts of the country to sit on those floating boats. Those who are fearful of water opt for the quadbikes and swings which are kept in an enclosure to the right of The Man In A Suit’s vantage. Apparently, that is where the children’s peace park is.
For a couple of strides thereafter, there is nothing to see. The air is fresh, and smells of nothing significant other than just that; itself. It is the undesired scent of taka taka that is collected by the City’s garbage collection service people, who walk in and out of the centre with a reasonable dose of pride on their faces, serve at their pleasure, by gathering it into an enclosed area to the right of The Man In A Suit. It is that air that forces him to raise his head in the quest for much more fresh air.
As he raises his head, he notices a messenger, an albino and a lady with one eye. These messengers, The Man In A Suit has found out, do not want to be known as anything to in any way close to or that sounds like messenger. He or she will whine, and fight to be referred to as an office assistant, in an ofisi kubwa – big office – even where all they are performing is a mundane task of envelope pushing, regardless of the size of the office.
The albino is not an albino. In fact, it is a reference characterised by so much sensitivity that it is shameful to say to anyone that the other person is an albino. They are peachy, patriotic, perky human beings who are only made unique by their colour ya langi – skin colour. Fortunately, The Man In The Suit is well aware of that fact, and discards his ridiculous thoughts on albinism, and walks in. Dog-whistle politics, he quickly says to himself.
As he lifts his eyes from just above the ground, where they were set on the curvaceous calves of this unique individual, The Man In The Suit notices a well-constructed body approaching him. It is a lady draped in a tight denim, a white collared blouse with a black jacket over it. It is clear that she has recently visited a beauty shop and taken care of her hair, and styled it so well that it attractively covers half of her face.
The hodi hodi – knock knock – sound of her heels as they touch the tarmac on the walkway does well enough to attract all of The Man In A Suit’s attention. It is a wonderful moment, and mesmerizing sight, one that only lasts until she uses a combination of her middle and ring fingers to touch and twirl her hair.
Excited, The Man In The Suit readies and opens his eyes widely enough to reciprocate her look. And, BOOM! That is when it happens. He sees it. The one uncomfortable-to-look-at, big, squinted eye, the one that was better kept hidden under that part of her carefully styled hair. It scares the shit out of The Man In A Suit. He tries to look away, at the water, at the tress, at the tarmac, at the clouds, at other people, at the sky, but, with every motion, he can feel that ugly eye on him, following him, everywhere.
Even the sight of young shy lovers sitting on the donated garden seats, unsuccessfully trying to hold each other’s hands, or kiss, does not lighten him. He thinks of taking up one of the seats, but a restrictive DO NOT JUST HERE. DO SOMETHING on their back end of the one he is approaching encourages him to join the many other men, women, and touring school pupils and keep walking.
Ahead, not so far away from the water fountains, whose drinking water is emitted from the metallic pipes, pipes which emerge from the ground, and are held together by concrete pulpits that the not so thoughtful use as disposal bins for their chewing gum and chewing gum wrappers.
Before the public toilets make their position in The Park known, by sending their stench into his nostrils, The Man In The Suit hears the sounds and reflects the sights of the preachers and their worship teams – an act not to miss, not with all their overly loud attention seeking antics. They bellow on. The Man In A Suit walks on.
Vagrant women and aimless children take up a section of The Park, not so distant from the toilets, and somewhere between the public toilets and the bellowing company, and, close to people The Man In A Suit can only appreciate as sleepers, sleepers in the grass, as they are always doing so, and hideously, too. Times can get really tough, and a good afternoon’s nap can be enough.
Street children, witch doctors, and business people find themselves in the same environs. The street children are always there, as they are, sadly, without where to go. The herbalist, whom The Man In The Suit prefers to refer to as a mysterious witch doctor, comes and goes, as if it is clockwork, on a few, as if routine days of the week to showcase, and illustrate the capabilities of his green herbs.
The business people are the most captivating. There is a chatty chap who sells cheap, shiny suits, suits obtained from an immigrant dominated slum, and poorly folded before our eyes, to purchase at giveaway prices, so low that they come with a tie and/or cold-weather-helping-with jacket; if his clients wish.
And then, there is the weighing scale bloke; The Man In A Suit’s favourite. He is a tall, dark, skinny gentleman, one who does not seem to other with the movements about him. The weighing scale bloke has a funny face. He seems to age and wrinkle with every person that walks with every person that walks past him, and ignoring both him and his services. His well-attended to and ever growing moustache seems to grow longer as if in response to his frustrations with the walking world, and to dance with every ground nut he munches as he throws them into the mouth, one after the other, whisker move after whisker move.
Of all the people, and faces, that The Man In A Suit acquaints himself with, there is another, lone man, in a suit, one who surprises him, just before The Park vomits The Man In A Suit back into New City. Cast away and catering to himself, is a well-dressed gentleman, in a three piece suit, one which is made up of a dark jacket, a white shirt, and a red tie, who is curled in a squat, without either his shoes or socks on and, broad daylight, is wholly engrossed in the clipping of his nails, nails which keep bouncing off his laptop backpack conveniently placed right by his side.
D.C, Nairobi, Kenya.
Undated. From Sometime In The First Half Of 2014.