My phone and bag’s shoulder strap had established an alternating dance of their own; one slid from my shoulder as the other slid from my palm. As they slid, so did my patience; my attempts at keeping calm were being questioned by every person that brushed hastily past me. Nairobi was always in a rush, a bee line of activity until the day ends. I let the shoulder strap slide a bit longer as I grappled with my phone. I hit the redial button and counted the rings. There’s that lady again, as always the bringer of bad news. Curiously, she never called back to tell me she had found my “mteja”, I even doubt she knew when they were available. I stopped and heaved in sweat, smoke and noise as bodies pushed past me in opposite directions. My torso was almost being ripped apart, luckily I wasn’t the tiniest of the lot; some stumbled as they tried to push me.
I adjusted my bag and scrolled down the glistening keypad and punched the numbers again to the protest of plastic. Suddenly, I felt a cold breeze raise the hairs of my neck, a sixth sense of sorts. I felt eyes on me narrowed with mischief, like vultures circling a carcass ready to swoop in. I look around, everything seemed to be normal. People are still walk-racing down the streets, matatus are still hooting and exhaust fumes well… still getting exhausted. There is a cacophony of conversation in the air; hawkers, conductors, people on phone, people on the same street, people shouting from across the street. Sigh, the symphony of chaos that counts for normal in this city! I look around again just to be sure, adjust my bag and pocket my phone. I join the fray of pushing and shoving, cautious at first then I ease into it.
Walking in these streets, I had seen quite a lot of unscripted Hollywood material unfolding right before my eyes. There was an instance where I saw a mobbing of an alleged thief, poor guy tried to plead as he bled. He was under suspicion of stealing a phone, I bet he rued the day he thought of snatching a phone from someone. I stopped and stared at the spectacle and listened to the irate mob, intrigued and shocked at the same time. A burly guy came past me and asked, “Huyu amefanya nini? (What has this one done?)” “Ameibia ule madam pale simu akiwa kwa gari (He stole from that lady while she was in a vehicle)”. Just like that, he had found a justification to introduce the screaming gentleman to his boots. There were murmurs of setting an example with him, while others projected their own losses to the poor guy. Someone smacked my hand from my chin and told me not to sympathize, if it was my phone that was robbed, I would want the same justice for myself. I shrugged and left the place in a hurry.
In retrospect, I think it is an occupational hazard of all thieves in town. They believe in their ability to snatch/ grab and run. They believe in their knowledge of the streets to be able to duck and cover to the unsuspecting pursuers. Believe that surprise can immobilize and give them those precious seconds to be gone with the wind. They believe in the adrenaline coursing through their veins to give them the turbo charge necessary to overcome any form of resistance. Most of all, they believe in the element of surprise. I bet they also realize that they are always on the clock against their “40-day” trial period, and some day they would be pleading like the guy who was being mobbed. Some were smarter, they conned and used brain than brawn; they tricked and played with compassionate and unsuspecting souls. No wonder no one in these streets could give time of day to a stranger asking for directions, genuine or not.
On the flip side, there are those whose 40-day trial period seemed to have unlimited extensions. Those who always left behind a baffled victim; screaming his/ her lungs out, crying, chasing after ghosts, hands over their heads in consternation or just rooted to the ground. Some have tears streaming down their cheeks, some lose control of their lower jaws and eyelids. Some laughed, some sympathized, some asked for the story, others recreated the scene for those who missed it. Then there were those, like me, who wanted nothing of the drama. We just stopped and stared, then hurriedly crossed the street or boarded a bus to look on from a safe distance. We sigh, and lament at how the city is not a place for lambs.
Someone pushes past me roughly, and my shoulder strap comes undone. I scowl but my angry retort is stuck in my throat; the bag is yanked from my relaxed shoulders and flung across the street. Like a scene in a movie, someone else catches it mid-flight and pulls the lapel open while still in motion. He yanks a black object from my bag and runs into the maze of people. My bag hits the pavement and draws attention to the scene that just unfolded. My mind races with adrenaline, but my body is in parking gear except for my eyes. They take in every single action sequence with relish; this could have been a nice action movie scene like “Nairobi Half Life”. Cue in idle onlookers, gasping in disbelief, others very amused by the sudden turn of events. I walk over and pick my bag from the ground; I know exactly what they took, so I don’t bother checking what was left behind. I adjust my sunglasses and clear my throat, crossing the street in a hurry.
I stop and stare at the scene of the crime, my crime. I feel all sorts of emotion, anger, frustration and despair. I can see the commentators are already in their gatherings, pointing to me obviously making reference to their main character. Some laughed, some threw me a sympathetic look, others the look of “he looks like he can get another by evening”. I saw those who stopped, stared and crossed the road. I keep wondering why no one sprang into action for me, like catch the guys or stop them in their tracks and beat them up as I reclaimed my precious laptop.
I wondered if some of them knew who stole from me, or if they were working together. I wondered how my inertia had made me a victim, why hadn’t I done something myself. I had an odd sense of karma, like I deserved what came to me. For all those times I stopped, stared and did nothing. I adjusted my now light shoulder strap and walked on, hopeful that I had cured my karma.