Where I met my valentine

When I told NyarSindo I wanted to experiment with writing covers for weddings and asked what questions should I ask the couples, it was a no-brainer she said, ask them how they met. But as I found out, it was easier said than done. We had been having a nice cosy dinner with a few beers inside us driving Odiero and Kakwe to the hotel anticipating the trip to Sindo. But NyarSindo knows how to go about this business better, she started telling them how we met.

We all have our versions and this is mine. I was reading Jean-Paul Sarte’s Age of Reason when I decided I will marry NyarSindo. For an uncanny reason, the books I read tend to have an outsized influence on my life. More often than not, I indulge in a little superstition and irrational decision-making based on the chance of picking out a random book on the street and basing life decisions on it.

In the Age of Reason, Jacques says of his younger brother, Mathieu, that his life is an incessant compromise, between an ultimately slight inclination towards revolt and anarchy, and deeper impulses that direct him towards order, moral health, and almost routine. He concludes that Mathieu has reached the age of reason and hence should marry Marcelle rather than opt for abortion as a means of maintaining his independence. I worshipped my independence at the time and the book was supposed to reinforce that; it did not, I took Jacques’ unlikely advice.

Maybe because I had crossed age 30, plus a bohemian only by name, a danger to no one having missed the train of what my peers had attained by this age as Jacques put it. Maybe because I had met Nyar Sindo at a time when I felt strongly that I wanted to live a different life from the one that I had led up to that moment. All I knew was that the stars had aligned, I had reached the age of reason at the precise moment when I met Nyar Sindo on that odd evening along Sunrise Road.

And the fates confirmed it, part of my evolution had involved uprooting myself from familiarity and I had chosen to move from Umoja area. I had taken a drive around the city looking for a new place to live and had gotten a number of options from South B and C, Old Donholm. I fancied that by driving, I had covered a large area but priced myself out of good bargains and so went out one afternoon in my washed-out brown trouser, akala slippers, and an oversized sweater.

I fell in love with Sunrise the minute I set foot on the severely potholed road next to Donholm Primary School. It shushed into silence away from the chaos of Nairobi in an attempt at maintaining the controlled development as Joseph Goldberger had envisioned. It was sparsely populated with the low density of stand-alone houses that at some point must have been dream houses for the city elite.

The roads were lined with trees that soaked the Nairobi exhaust fumes and on that hot afternoon provided a pretty cool canopy. I could take evening strolls here and think about my writing and in the cold morning, this lonesome road would be ideal for uninterrupted jogs. 

I would definitely not have been able to afford a bungalow in Nairobi and was lucky that money issues and generational shift were finally changing the face of Donholm. High-rise buildings were sprouting conspicuously like countable white hair. I came upon this vintage wooden gate opposite Trinity Baptist Church, which had a ‘To let’ sign on a closed compound that had a storey building.

I called the number and it went unanswered. I walked on trying and found another ‘To let’ sign right at the corner of that road and went on to negotiate and agree on a charge for a two-bedroom house. Just when I was about to return to Umoja, I decided to call the number on the wooden gate again. This time round, a groggy sleepy voice responded, she could show me around if I was still interested.

Read also: We are too old for a digital valentine’s day

The wooden gate was where the trees along the road were thick and dense like they had been deliberately planted or taken care of so that they did not die. It was shrouded off by a Kei-Apple fence. I gleefully watched a long-tailed speckled mousebird that I consider my lucky charm chase over the extended branches of an acacia tree as I wanted to be let in.

The girl, pretty young in a rush of colour jacket that screamed green-yellow and incomprehensible cartons stood on a small gate entrance that opened up at the centre of the wooden gate. She had on a black mask for Corona which concealed most of her face save for her brown bright irises that looked like slumbering coals of fire that needed to be stoked aflame.

She happily ushered me into the compound that looked homely, like where I had grown up, and led me on stilts of very long thick coffee brown legs to show me the house. It was a squat for the price she was asking and the kitchen was too small. I joked about my fridge not fitting, she laughed knowingly and I could see a depth in those eyes that I had not seen before.

I started looking for positives in the place, it was a nice, cozy, and quiet place, with a rooftop that stared over Sunrise and where I could watch the sunset and listen to the birds and maybe write better in the calm. But most importantly for now, I wanted so much to see the dark brown girl again, and hopefully, watch her smile without the mask.

I had attained the age of reason, and met a graceful girl but first I needed to test my theory of stars aligning. So instead of putting up a down payment to secure the establishment as she had suggested, I said let me test fate, if the house will still be there in a month’s time when my current lease lapsed, then the house was destined to be mine, and maybe the girl as well! As fate would have it, I waited and somehow, the house waited for me, and I met the girl and married her in Rowo.

That is not how I told it, but that was the hook, line, and sinker that gave us this valentine’s story. By the time we finished our tale, Odiero and Kakwe were giddy about their meeting. Odiero likes his experience jumbo, he says that night he had gone to the biggest bar in Berlin that was housed in these huge spaces.

And I can imagine the legendary German parties of drugs, rock, and bodies crammed up ancient factories, disused railroad warehouses, abandoned swimming pools, unattended underground air raid shelters, and giant breweries of years gone by whipped by the smoke rush and light into a total frenzy.

Odiero says when a flush of light lit up the dancefloor, he saw this remarkable beauty just standing there. He wants to say he made the decision right there and then to approach her but cannot find the right German translation for it. He asks Kakwe for help either with the translation or with the story.

“I thought he was interested in my friend Nicole,” Kakwe says. Recalling the night like it was just the other day. She says Odiero came over and said hi but then kept talking to Nicole. Odiero now interjects to put in his version, he had felt awful for relegating her to a third-wheeler, he was just being a nice guy.

They said the night was magical, Odiero swears the lights were almost mystical parting ways and illuminating his lover that she radiated, standing out of the crowd. At the end of the evening, he offered to drive them home, and Nicole was a bit skeptical, but the man coaxed her. Kakwe asked if we could imagine two young women in a city as huge as Berlin agreeing to this invitation. But then she says she has never been so frightened in her entire life.

Nicole lived closer so she got off after a few leaving Kakwe with the tall German, built over six feet, fit as a fiddle who could snap her in two. The fact that she had left Nicole with the plate numbers or that she was to call when she got home did little to assuage her mounting fears. Every minute in that grinding the German autobahn of perfect tarmac raised hairs on her nape.

Odiero now interjects, “I was the one who was afraid of you,” he says. While he had offered to drop off the ladies as gentleman are wont, one lived nearby. The other, who had indicated she lived just out of town, lived miles away on a road Odiero has never been on before. He figured, what have I gotten myself into, and what if she is leading me out of the city to someplace where they could corner me? He says he saw the city houses thin off into countryside terrain and would not believe he had gotten himself in this situation.

By the time they got to Kakwe, it was nearly morning and he couldn’t drive back immediately. So she let him in and they start talking waiting for the light to break dawn. And they both said they talked. And the way they said it, as if what they talked about was not important, just that two strangers had taken a chance at fate and talked.

We have made sure that our experience in Sindo market, where Lake Victoria meets the land, does not vanish. We have immortalized it in our story and, in the photos, taken by the ‘boy-who-saw-it-all’ and captured it on Canon camera. Happy Valentine’s Day.

“Listen,” I tell them, “I want to do stories on weddings and I would love you two to be my first”. And that is how this valentine’s story, Married in Rowo where the Suba language is fast fading away came to be.

I offer this story as a celebration of love this valentine, hoping to remind our Odiero and Kakwe of that long and arduous trip to the end of this country at a magical fishing village in Rowo. It is magical and surreal, right? Remember what the ‘boy-who-saw-it-all’ told you; that as a child he thought all this was an Atlantis and that the city of lights floating on the lake vanished when he went to the shores the next morning only to find boats, a lot of fishermen, and lanterns. We have made sure that this magical place does not vanish.

We have immortalized it in a story and, in the photos, taken by the ‘boy-who-saw-it-all’ and captured it on Canon camera. The story that took us to Sindo where I met Uncle Ochieng, who sat me down with a fist of a handshake and told me and the white man have found ourselves “Nyithindo ma ler kabisa,” which I believed meant we had found gems from the remotest part of Kenya.

Uncle Ochieng, who accompanied a sentient being of over 90 years referred only to as ‘Mao’ like an old guard over decades of history. Nida, NyarSindo’s paternal grandmother also approaching 100 was also sturdy and alive. So, we did marry in Rowo, into special people who among them live hundred years of human knowledge and understanding which unfortunately may regrettably vanish with the fading language of the Abasuba.

For me, I will take NyarSindo out to buy a few flowers at that corner of the arboretum where I have passed so many times and thought if only I had time to stop by and buy those dazzling yellows. And then I will take her to an old petrol station cafe and buy her yellow ice cream (not sure if it was vanilla taste) and remind her of our first date when she said I should stop looking at her like that.

Here’s Happy Valentine’s Day to all the lovers out there, go out and mark the day in your own unique way!

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