‘Wake up, fool!’
Aidipi stirred, rubbed his eyes and took in Mr. Goatee’s chewing mouth.
‘Time to pay for your sins,’ Mr. Goatee said. ‘The hundred in your pocket could only buy me a soda. The faster you can off-load this stuff the faster you can con someone else.’
‘My mother and sister are dying.’
Aidipi became part of a four-man conveyance belt from the lorry to a cabbage store. Bald Head took count and Mr. Goatee supervised everything while sipping from a litre-bottle soda. The offloading had to stop half way to give way to a passing car. Aidipi saw this for what it was, a godsend, and lost himself in human traffic. And that is when it hit him: he was ransacking a haystack for a pin. None of the Nairobi stories had captured the open beehive. The jostling, honking, shouting and singing made his head buzz. If he spun on the spot he wouldn’t tell one way from another. How did one find his way?
A dirty boy, twelve-year-old at most, accosted a woman who was on her phone. Aidipi could not see the weapon in the boy’s hand but it must have been dangerous for the woman handed over her phone. It was only after she was conveniently away that the woman wailed. The boy, still holding a polythene bag in which someone said was human faeces, strolled away. Passers-by stopped long enough to catch the story.
Aidipi scampered to safety, his legs shaking beneath him, as a car aimed dead at him. He was more alarmed by the indifference in passersby than the near hit.
‘Listen, Empty-head,’ Second Voice said. ‘Get back to the lorry and hike a ride home.’
‘Home, what home?’ First Voice asked.
‘I am warning you!’
‘Who said it was going to be easy?’
‘You better hurry,’ the second voice said.
‘Easy,’ the first voice advised. ‘You’re never lost till you panic.’
‘You are lost, period.’
‘Calm down and think. Easy does it.’
‘Time is running out!’
Summoning God to his side, Aidipi began to retrace his steps. He would offload as many lorries as would earn him a ride home. His mission was insane in every way. He came to an abrupt stop at a crossroads wondering whether he had seen it. The surrounding buildings seemed distantly familiar but utterly unfamiliar after a longer look. If at all he had been here what fork had he used? He decided to explore each fork and branched left, his eyes wide open, his mind straining to fuse scraps of memories. He came upon a school and stopped dead. No, the inverted V canopy on the gate and the uniformed guard manning it were too striking to forget. He dashed to the crossroads.
By the time Aidipi got to the fourth fork his hope of finding his bearing was so dented he walked in small unsure strides. His mind was now a cobweb of buildings and streets. When he got to a bridge under which dirty water flowed he knew he was really lost. Dusk was gathering fast, people were walking faster and he was lost, angry, hungry and deadbeat.
‘Excuse me,’ Aidipi addressed a man hawking mosquito nets. ‘I have lost my way.’
‘Where were you going?’ the man asked.
‘That is the other side of town.’
‘Am I not in Nairobi yet?’
‘This is Eastland Estate. Nairobi town is some distance from here.’
‘I came on a lorry with cabbages. Where does it off-road?’
Aidipi’s legs almost caved in. He was more lost than he thought.