The sky is bruised as I get into Tamambo, Karen. Karen is as still as a tomb. Nothing moves. Even though I can feel a slight breeze on my face, the leaves are immobile. A few people sit huddled in the garden. I wonder how people can sit in that cold and have white wine, chilled.
I’m there to meet a friend I haven’t met in ages. It’s not exactly a friendly meeting, this. Once upon a time we had done a job together and he had swindled me a good portion of my cut, something I found out later. He is a snake. But even snakes deserve to be heard. And this is a perfect night to meet snakes; a nippy, still night, in the woods of Karen. A night of long knives, if you are prone to drama.
There is an unspoken rule amongst men who walk the same paths that I do and it is that you only get one chance to throw someone under the bus. But there is also another rule; that because we are men sometimes we have to give people a hearing, their day in court. Of course we pick this from the teachings of Vito Corleone, the Godfather, for those who sleep with Shades of Grey.
He is seated in the shisha lounge, his snake eyes light up as I walk in. He rises to meet me, smoke curling from his nostrils. We embrace, like men in dark movies do before someone is killed. Then I take a seat with my back facing the wall, that way he can’t stab it again. He has ordered a bottle of single-malt, probably paying for it with the cut he stole from me. Ice-cubes are hurled in glasses and the whisky is poured. Then we raise our glasses and exchange the first words since that betrayal: “Cheers!”
Tamambo is a nice cosy place. Across from the main, the work of Zia Manji, the photographer who specialises in water bodies and monochromes, is on display and on sale. His work captures the relationship of water and the other elements. His pictures are minimalist but they evoke some sobriety, or is it sombreness? Whatever it is, they are the perfect backdrop for this meeting.
All around the shisha lounge are Karenites, sucking on their smokes laughing out loud while The Snake tells me about a project he is working on that involves going up to Loiyangalani, in Turkana. “Have you been?” he asks. I have.
He says the money is good. The NGOs he is dealing with are literally stuffing it in his mouth. To be honest, all I want to do at this point is stuff my boot in his mouth.
“Why don’t we go for this project?” he says. “It’s only one week. I need a writer. Touch and go and we are back in Nairobi for Valentine’s Day.”
“Do you have a Valentine’s?” I hear myself asking him. It takes him aback, that question. It’s a Friday by the way, and the band that was setting up by the corner of the bar starts playing. The band is the Calabash Band. They still rock. He says he doesn’t have a Valentines. He says it with an uncomfortable chuckle. Then adds, helpfully, that he can find one on the 12th if he so wishes. Of course, Romeo. Like they are on a shelf in the supermarket marked, “Last Minute Valentines dates.”
As I pour myself another shot of whiskey, I decline that Turkana offer. After all, those two have got no relations at all. Calabash Band cheers me on. We don’t talk about the betrayal with our lips, because we do so with our body language, plus the room is stifled with it…and his cheek. Outside Karen remains still as dry hide. Perfect night to strangle a Snake.