You Know Who

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The plane dips. Then it comes back up again for air. My heart sinks. My soul jumps to my throat. I mouth it back. I’m not ready to go yet. I look out my small window. We are floating in the clouds. The world below us having shrunk into specks of sand. I hold my seat a bit tighter when it dips again and wonder how the people who sleep in planes do it. I can’t wait for it to be commonplace, for me to cozy up with a novel and look at the floating clouds with the boredom that you look at a door with.

I will have arrived then. I will be wearing pinstripe suits (Okay, let’s not get carried away). I will be wearing Levis jeans, and custom-made leather jackets, jumping from continent to continent chasing the stories I want to tell. Perhaps money will no longer detest me so much and I will be flying first class. Sitting next to people like Joshua Oigara and James Mworia. People whose mere presence make you feel as if you have read five inspirational books. We will talk about cigars, business deals, and if I will still be a bachelor they will beg me to take their daughters off their hands and I will get coy and laugh and tell them we will look into it on our next golf tournament.

I’m lost in this pomp and glamour bubble of thought when my seatmate pokes it with a needle of annoyance and I am back to the dipping and rising of the plane.

Earlier, when I was getting my plane ticket the attendant had asked me what seat I wanted and I said a window seat. Thinking about it now, I should have asked for a seat that didn’t have a seatmate with bats in the belfry. Being my first time, I wasn’t thinking that far ahead.

“Have a nice flight.” She chirped.

“You too,” I sang.

She giggled. I wore my embarrassed hat with pride and headed for the gate. They call them gates even though they are simple doors. They want to confuse you so you can say dumb things like wishing the ticketing attendant a nice flight. Don’t let them.

I put my bag in the compartment, settle into my seat and buckle up hoping for a well-adjusted seatmate. She doesn’t have to be a slender girl with nice perfume and a quiet dignity but let them be clean. Don’t let them be too big. If they are big with an odour don’t let them be chatty; God knows I don’t want to hear about politics or what they plan to plant in their backyard in this rainy season. I just want to look at the scenery and daydream about my wedding to a honcho’s daughter.

The plane is filling up. I see her approaching almost in slow motion: She’s tall, round and heavy. I’m in denial at first. No, she’s not coming to my seat, is she? Heh, whatever seat she takes, that will be an uncomfortable flight, I tell myself. I place my hand on the armrest and move my buttocks: left cheek, right cheek till I get comfortable—it doesn’t last. She slows down halfway down the cabin and eyes her ticket then, like a bad dream, eyes my seat and goes on to sit plump next to me, automatically displacing my hand from the armrest.

She eyeballs me and says hi as if everything is peachy and tells me her name. I tell her mine. For the sake of this article she’s, You-know-who. When you try to imagine her manner, think Madea. I guess she picks that I’m easy going from my tone of voice and thinks that I could make a fantastic therapist.

“It’s my first time flying. I’m so scared.”

“It’s also my first time, don’t worry, planes are actually the safest mode of transport.”

“Oh, it’s also your first time, that gives me heart. I thought I would be the only inexperienced one here.”

‘Phew. That’s, that,’ I say to myself and look out the window. The metal bird’s wheels have started turning.

“Oh, let me put on my sunglasses, I don’t want you to see how scared I am,” she trills. And I realize she won’t be quieting down any time soon. She gets into her bag and comes out with those pointed glasses women love that make them look like the witches we see in Disney films. I won’t be eating any apples she offers me.

 The plane jumps into the sky and I start taking photos.

“Take many, so you can send me some on Whatsapp.”

She goes back into her bag and comes out with an iPhone.

“Take a video for me.”

I take the video, almost at boiling point.

“What do you do?”

“I’m in advertising.”

I don’t say I’m a copywriter because some people get excited and they want you to do rusty projects for them for a menial fee or for exposure. No.

“I work for Britam, where are your offices?”

I can tell her where I’m situated and find her there early one morning or I can lie. I lie.

“Around Stanley?”

“Where exactly around Stanley?”

“Around Kimathi street,” I say, the lid almost falling off my boiling pot. She notices.

“It’s just that, you remind me so much of my son,” she says while opening the front-facing camera on her phone. Those cat-eye sunglasses are really not the best for her. I duck from the frame. I can already imagine a photo floating on social media with captions of how young men don’t work nowadays because all they do is jump from city to city with old women. I shudder and move further away from the frame almost falling out into the clouds.

The intercom whirs, “We are now cruising at twenty-two thousand feet.” The pilot’s voice comes alive.

“My ears feel blocked, are yours blocked too?” You-know-who barks.

“Yes, a bit.”

“I wish they could tell us why they are blocked?”

‘I wish they could tell us why they are not entirely blocked,’ I think, but this thought doesn’t last long before she shoves her phone onto my laps again.

“Take a video of the clouds for me.”

I take it half-heartedly. The way employees who are fed up with their jobs work as if they are on energy-saving mode.

“Make sure you capture the really big clouds.”

The only thing that is keeping me going is what she said earlier, that I remind her of her son. For some reason I don’t want to disappoint that lad. I want to be his knight in shining armour. The unseen avenger who took a video of the really big clouds for his eyes.

The cabin crew pass by with trinkets. She orders a White Cap. I think of ordering a Tusker then I think against it. Probably wouldn’t be a good idea to get intoxicated, that’s how Madea turns into Monroe.

“Do you want anything?”

“No, I’m okay.”

“You know it’s not good manners for a child to watch his mother eating?”

I want to say, ‘I think you have it backwards, I think it’s not good manners for a child to watch his mother drinking’ but instead I say, “No, really it’s fine.”

“You know my son is very smart.”

All parents think their kids have excellent brains; wait till he’s thirty and wants a medal for the number of alcohol bottles he can drink in one night.

I respond with, mmh’s, uhuh’s and that’s great.

“What’s your destination?”

“Bondo.”

“Oh, too bad, I’m not going in that direction. When will you be back in Nairobi?”

“Next week.”

“Then we can meet on Monday?”

I want to ask, “What for?” but I stay silent.

“What’s your number?” It’s framed more as a demand than a question. “Flash me.”

I had put my phone on airplane mode just to get to use the setting of the small plane on the notification bar. I tell her my phone is in airplane mode, I’ll do it when we touch down. She shoves her iPhone onto my lap, her White Cap breath pungent in my nostrils.

“Mine is fine.”

I key in my number and feel the same way women must feel when they’re in the presence of a nagging man who thinks he’s God’s gift to them. I think about keying in a different number then I think about her son. No, you have to be an avenger for that young man.

The plane touches down. I busy myself with the window and You-know-who gets lost in the chaos of disembarking passengers. I wait till the plane is empty before I step out. A hot soft breeze smelling of the lake blows in my face. I’m in Kisumu. I sit in the airport and turn on my Uber. ‘No taxis available in your area,’ it reads. ‘What about sexy singles? No? Okay.’ I go to the help-desk, a taxi to Bondo is five thousand bob.

God might not send you Joshua Oigara or James Mworia but he sometimes sends you a pesky madam who can help and when he does you should be wise enough to take her number. I stay at the lounge area for almost an hour before getting a shilling two thousand nine hundred bob taxi. After I’m settled in Bondo, You-know-who calls.

“We got separated at the airport, did you get to your hotel safely?”

“Yes, thank you for asking.” I cross my fingers hoping she doesn’t ask which hotel I’m in.

“Alright, we will chat next week.”

“Okay.” I thumb the red receiver knowing all too well we won’t.

*

Memo: This blog now has an editor, an avenger in our back office making sure I don’t write his when I mean hers, or have a character wearing a blue trouser in sentence one and a neon one in sentence two. Sexy friends meet Michelle Korir, Michelle, meet these damn sexy people.

Adieu!

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