Mass of Appetites: A Nairobi Bar Horror Story
April 27, 2005 10 Comments
I was wondering what to post and then thought of Buffet Park in Nairobi, which is a collection of bars and nyama choma joints in posh Hurlingham. I spent a number of entertaining evenings there this past December and was struck by a sense of being in a space built to accommodate appetites: intense longings and ambitions for position and power. You could tell from the way everyone’s eyes constantly scanned the room rating, dismissing, pleading and dissecting all. Whatever you had done during the day established your position in Buffet Park at night, and perhaps the reverse is true as well. Daytime victories in business, government or politics were reflected in nighttime winnings of sex, food and attention. Two sides of a coin. So I started thinking of a man who has been at this for a while, whose spirit is corrupt during the daytime and how he would behave at night. I called the guy Mass of Appetites and wrote this very short horror story about him. Enjoy the experiment, if you can.
The Mass of Appetites is always on the make, out on the town most nights of the week, like a shark that cannot stop swimming and hunting for a single moment lest it drown. His German automobile turns into the bar parking lot slowly, ponderously, with the drivers behind him hooting their exasperation. Appetites drives carefully and his car is always very clean. It has one of those pine tree air fresheners dangling from the back mirror alongside a small smiling green troll doll bought on a trip to Dubai last year. The inside of the car is immaculately cleaned and the outside polished to a dull sheen. He looks for the parking space that will afford the most people a look at his car and is willing to wait interminably for one to free up. He crouches in his seat, taking in the sights, with his soft paw-like hands holding onto the velvet-bound steering wheel. When the watchman informs him there are open parking spaces further down, he chooses his response carefully from his two-item menu: threaten or cajole.
He takes in the other cars in the lot, which are mostly Toyota Corollas bought from Dubai – the unmistakable mark of the striving classes. In the old days the ladder’s steps were: servant quarter in Golf Course, house in Buru Buru, a plot in Githurai, house in Plains View and the final move to Kileleshwa. Now it is about modes of transport: mathrees for a few years, the Shuttle, a used Nissan Sunny, new Corolla, used BMW then finally the Mercedes Kompressor. They will never rebel he thinks with an amusement laced with contempt, they will only keep switching their modes of trajectory to account for every national failure. Finally parked, he heaves his distended belly out of the car by first putting both feet on the ground then with a heavy grunt rising. He maintains surreptitious glances at the car, nervous that it will be stolen and also curious what everyone thinks of it.
Appetites ambles into the bar, beady eyes darting in all directions as he seeks friends and targets. His eyes take in the girls barely out of school, judging the firmness of thigh, the weight of buttock and most importantly the state of finance. He can guess within a few hundred shillings how much everyone has in their purse or wallet. Pocketing, he fingers a wad of notes with one finger and then subtly rubs it against his penis which is already semi-engorged with possibility. As he walks toward fellow appetites with whom he’s done ‘Tender business’ in the past and who he calls his friends but secretly loathes, he notices a girl, dressed in a tight black dress that hugs a curvaceous body, who is eyeing him with what she imagines is a knowing eye. A frission of excitement runs down his sweaty back. She is the best kind – the ones who imagine that they KNOW, who want to eat into his wad, to use him. He chuckles inwardly knowing that he is unusable and cannot be lied to because he has achieved the exalted state of decadence which is the truest form of freedom. It does not matter that she has coupled hundreds of times or has a boy she loves and comes to this bar only for the money, he can smell the remaining strands of innocence woven into her firm youthful flesh. He likes to be the final nail in the coffin. She will not know that when he heaves his hairy thighs off the bed with his fang dripping semen, he will have pulled the last bits of innocence out of her and transformed her into the undead.
He calls for a triple shot of Johnny Walker Black and three kilos of roast meat – fuel for the hunt – while loudly ordering a round of drinks for the table. Miming conversation with his fellow Appetites, who do not mind since they too are busy, he sweeps his eyes across the room taking in the men this time. He wonders whether they present any competition for his mission. He casts around seeking those that appear to be in love, wanting to watch them for little lapses that betray the futility of their attempt to find happiness. Spotting one such couple seated with the girl in black he notes the boy’s eyes occasionally glazing over as they covertly take in the sight of strangers’ thighs and arses. Soon the girl will be ready for Appetites when she finds out that her beloved, but slightly disappointing boyfriend is pawing her sister or sleeping with her best friend. He has seen betrayal a thousand times, but gets a delicious charge each time.
The girl in black gets up to go to the bathroom and Appetites, now in full Nosferatu mode, eyes her proud back which tapers to a point before her hips and buttocks explode outward and then settle onto thick hard thighs and thin calves. She walks slowly, uncomfortable in heels that are a bit too high for her, tottering and parting her way through the crowd with a subtle caress here and a hip nudge there. She will do, oh yes, there will be a feeding tonight. But first he must seek that dark, strong thing deep inside him that attracts his prey as surely a flame draws a fly to its destruction. He has never put a name to it, but knows that it emerges in the presence of Black Label, a wad of money, noise, low lights and innocence.
The meat arrives and he reluctantly invites the other Appetites to partake. They fall to it with unembarrassed relish. Tearing, guffawing mirthlessly, wiping grease off bulging, sagging cheeks and holding forth on “prots in Dadora”. Appetite matches them bite for bite, caressing his pot belly to summon the confidence monster who must emerge soon if the girl is not to fall to one of his companions. Here she comes.
She is heading for her table but her eyes are fixed on the table of Appetites, aware that they are rich and on a hunt. She thinks herself their equal in worldliness, confident that her beauty, which she has used to toy with many men, will see her through an encounter with any of them. Appetite watches her amused glance and snickers inwardly knowing that like everyone uprooted and thrown into the thousand universes that are Nairobi she belongs to many and yet to none – she longs for anchor and is seeking it without recognizing her desperate need. She has one of those new fangled Rasta hairstyles made of artificial hair. This strange combination at first puzzled Appetite who had only ever seen locks in pictures of Bob Marley and Dedan Kimathi. He has since come to realize that they have nothing to do with political struggle. They are a flag for a painful process of self-remanufacturing, a response to any one of a thousand traumas faced by the child of a middle or upper-middle class family that has tumbled to genteel poverty. Such girls always tell teary tales of the mistakes Daddy and Mummy made as the to-be-Rasta attended some fancy private school and then went abroad to find Me, he feels a surge of hatred. They make for the easiest prey. He knows how to lay a trap that allows them to feel the greatest degree of freedom even as the noose tightens – it is how they prefer to be ambushed. His first move must confirm her opinion of him and then there will be nowhere to go but up, all the while borne by her pleasant surprise.
‘You are a ngao and you need to imbibe liquids’
‘Yes, I need absorption because I am fleeing from the center – centrifugal as they say’
‘I do not know you, but I think that you are more centripetal – that you are seeking the center’
‘I guess so but what do you intend to achieve by these means of disturbance, surely not twinning?’
Ah, she has moved too fast, resisting even before he attacks. Vulnerability. Appetite is listening beneath her words, seeking food for the dark thing. And it is stirring, detecting that as confident as she sounds and looks there is a wistful undertone that betrays a need of something soon to be determined.
‘In the beginning was nursery and the sound of gasps and grunts when your Mummy left the house, then came primary school when you heard the impact of hand-cheek collisions. You need to know you were the critical element in the causation, it was your fault,’ he breathes as he opens his legs slightly wider so that she is standing between them.
‘What is your name and why are you here seeking to still your misery?’ Her question betrays her ignorance; does she not know she is conversing with desire?
‘I am Appetites son of Starvation.’
‘And I am Needs daughter of Fallen Success.’
‘You seek a port and slavery’
‘Perhaps I do, though I dare say that I believe it to be open sea and freedom’ she retorts with spirit. He feels a surge in his loins as the dark thing arrives in its full magnificence, it has not been this excited in months!
He loudly orders a round of drinks. And then slowly, as a hunter will part the reeds before delivering buckshot, he brushes a sweaty hand against her hip awaiting her reaction. She eyes him, eyes full of questions and suddenly turns to walk away leaving appetites staring at her receding back, the excitement in him battling with hatred. His companions are in full stride talking of plots and deals, and fat man versus fat man politics. They feed on so little he thinks; money to them is the thing. They want prestige and to be feared. How petty when there are souls to be taken and broken, do they not know how much energy there is in a human body that is expended at the moment of death? Appetite has learnt over millennia that there are many deaths and that he can draw succor from all of them. He ambles towards her, using his belly to push his way through the crowd.
‘I’ve been looking for you, Needs, do you know why?’
‘Yes, you seek flesh and what lies underneath it. You want to love me, and you resent me for that.’
‘I know exactly what you mean, you are perhaps wise.’
Appetites likes the way it is going.
(c) MMK 2005