A mangy dog yelps past propelled by the sheer force of my boot against his backside. I pluck a leaf of nappier grass and use it to wipe a spot where the new and tan leather of my boot has been soiled by its collision with the dog. Well, maybe the dirt is not particularly evident but you can never be too sure in these places- what with rabies, tetanus and all.
I continue to walk down the slope. It is 2.00pm and the sun is perched high up in the sky leering furiously. Nairobi has been so hot lately but today it is scalding. Maybe it is this place. There are no swimming pools and trees and hyphenated cocktails here; those rose coloured glasses that turn the African sun into an endearing tourist attraction. In this place the largest water mass is a gallon-full and it is in a chang'aa brewery. The only trees, here, are burning: the charcoal and the marijuana.
“Potash....” It is some kid straight out of a Save Africa commercial. Too bad I have not brought my camera. That there would have been a great image for the blog. Nothing like a photo of a mud-streaked African child running towards a camera (towards the salvation that invariably wears a white face?), to get that hit counter dancing.
The kid runs towards me, his arms outstretched, his ribs pushing against his dark skin. It is the kind of moment that international careers; fame and fortune, are forged out of. Imagine the savage beauty of that photograph. The boy, caught in mid air and his smile photoshoped into an enigmatic grin, looks like an outcast grasping at the straws of the (international) community. His puny frame, his bare feet- everything about him, scabs, ringworms and all- captured in one frame. Africa freeze-framed.
“Wee, mtoto...Usinipake matope!” I yell at him while he is still at a distance from which I cannot see the ubiquitous skin lesions and fungal infections that mark childhood here.
“Mimi si mtoto... kwani umesahau jina yangu?” Damn it, it can walk and talk.
The child is so close now I can see his swollen eye. He parts the distance between us enough for me to recoil from his slum fragrance: urine and dirt. The boy is upon me but not before a blob of mucus can swing out of his nose and perch on the sleeve of my polo shirt.
“Baba Potashi...” he coos, his emaciated arms attempting but failing a stranglehold of me and his messy nose succeeding in grossing me out.
“Karis...” I say holding him by the arms, lifting him up and looking into his eyes.
The son of my brother is my son.
All my yuppie affectations melt away. Is this child me two decades ago? What chance, for a decent life, does Karis stand in this place? What can I do for him that would be worthwhile; more meaningful than all that sneakers, fresh fragrances and material bullshit? Love, affection, mentorship, what?
Karis' eyes lock with mine, the good one at least. I run my thumb lightly over his infected eye. It all reminds me of a time long ago when I sat in a corner trying to read for an exam. Only one of my eyes was working because I had caught an eye infection from my cousin who had caught it from our other cousin on and on ad infinitum. It is not the discomfort that I remember from that night though, it is that the lamp ran out of fuel. Such a long time ago, I mutter inwardly and hug Karis closer. Is there a me in him, I wonder
“...You have grown,” I say to Karis. I use that sing song voice adults speak to children with and it doesn't feel cheesy or awkward, to me at all.
I put him down and with his hand firmly held in mine we walk together into the sunset. Okay, okay... I put him down and we walk into that place I once called home.