It is not yet ten o’clock but the place is heaving. The music is loud, the dance floor is crowded and the punters still at their tables must shout to carry on speaking.
In the wash room, Lawrence stands by the sink, running the water over his hands. He shakes his head slowly watching his reflection in the mirror on the wall.
“She is not coming.” he thinks. He considers the situation for a moment. It looks pretty grim. Almost like it has all been a big mistake. A misunderstanding. A whole week of planning and arranging on whatsapp, gmail and by phone. And how eventually they agreed that they should meet here, tonight at seven thirty. She had stolen his heart before she left for Mariakani, nearly three years ago, and now the young and beautiful Irene was not coming.
Lawrence runs the cold tap some more and rinses his face. He has to get back to the bar. He half hopes that the man who was seated next to him has left. His hopes are quickly dashed when he hears the Big man’s booming laughter at the bar. He watches as the giant, surrounded by excited giggling girls, downs another full pint of tusker in one large gulp.
Mister Obnoxious is a foreigner, has to be. A senior Oil merchant from the great country of Angola. The big man is on a stop over on his way to Abuja. He had walked into the pub and pulled a stool next to Lawrence at the bar at eight o’clock. Since then he has regaled an ever growing crowd with his exploits in the oil industry from exploration, drilling, mining, refining and marketing. He tells funny stories and jokes that only folks in the industry would understand.
Mister Savimbi here is accustomed to using his wallet as a lethal weapon buying drinks for anyone within a 2 metre exclusion zone. The punters are not complaining. Lawrence cannot stand Savimbi but he whispers to him to go easy about flashing his cash in case people think that he is showing off. He explains that not all the punters making merry now are toasting his good health.
Savimbi misunderstands Lawrence’s intentions and gives him a sneering look saying “I don’t see why I should be taking advice from an ineffectual activist blogger whose greatest achievement is having six followers on twitter.” He orders another round of drinks and asks for some nyama choma for his growing band of cheerleaders. Savimbi then clears his throat and proceeds to give the assembled party an unsolicited lecture on how to make money in a modern middle income economy.
“Take my situation.” He says. “I was tired of brokering crude oil and making a few pesos per litre from the small shipping lines. I wanted to taste some of the real action, the stuff that was reserved for western and Chinese companies.” He grabbed another tusker bottle and pulled off the cap with his teeth.
“At the time I was seeing a girl whose ma was the PA for the MD of Lubrication Oils of Luanda, a government corporation. You’ve heard of them. They are called LOL.” Savimbi was enjoying the rapt attention. “I bought the ma dinner for a couple of nights and on the third night I booked a hotel room for the two of us in the diplomats’ district of the capital. She had brought with her the MD’s diary. I discovered that he would be attending a lubrication oils conference in Kuala Lumpur and so I booked myself on the same Malaysian Airlines flight. You should have seen the man cowering and shaking in terror up there in first class. I ambushed him right there and offered him a drink from my hip flask. This calmed him down enormously and within minutes we were talking like old friends. He guaranteed me sole agency for Lubrication Oils all over the territory of west Africa.” Savimbi laughed his Big man’s laugh. He added “ I am so afraid of death. It would put an end to making money! Hahahahahahaha!”
Just then the door opens. Irene steps into the pub and on seeing Lawrence she runs towards him arms outstretched. Lawrence stands up in time, picks her up in his two arms and they embrace warmly turning round and round before he puts her down.
“Danger Hatari Lawrence, my hero!” Exclaims Irene. Most people in the room know that his name is Lawrence but they are unaware that his initials are actually D H. Lawrence himself believes that his parents were crazy.
Irene is clearly happy to see him, as he is her. At last she is here and the evening now can only get better. Savimbi reverts to type ordering more drinks and nyama. He asks the waiter for a litre bottle of Courvoisier for the beautiful lady.
The tunes are pumping now and the party is in full swing. Everyone feels pretty gay courtesy of Savimbi’s cognac. Loud laughter fills the whole bar. The phone in Lawrence’s pocket wriggles a little and he moves to a quiet corner to take the call.
It is Shahidi, his flat mate. He is in a heightened state of agitation. He is at the flat. He says that the landlord, Mr Kiwa has called round. He was not very happy. It just so happens that a little over a month ago Lawrence had penned a short blog piece about unscrupulous landlords who increased their rents at a whim. He also wrote about one landlord in particular who had neglected his property leaving it in a very poor state of repair. A newspaper crew had picked up the story taking statements and photographs. There was the dodgy headline: D H Lawrence Living In Squalor. The story had migrated to twitter where it had grown into something quite big. Mr Kiwa was fuming!
Shahidi is telling Lawrence that Mr Kiwa is holding them to ransom. Lawrence must go back immediately, withdraw his complaints and make a formal apology before the assembled reporters. If not Mr Kiwa would kick all the tenants out this very night. He had the thugs and police officers required to carry out this threat.
Irene finds Lawrence standing quietly by the door. “There you are!” she says. “We all thought you had gone home.” Lawrence tells her about the flat. She assures him that he can stay at her place if he is evicted. She has plenty of room. Lawrence asks her to drive him to the flat, to rescue the others. They drive down towards South B and as they get close to the flat Lawrence ask her to pull over. He is wary of walking into some kind of an ambush.
As far as they can see there is nothing untoward happening and everything seems quiet, Lawrence walks up the steps to the main entrance door and pushes it open. All quiet. There is no sign of Shahidi and the other flatmates. He walks back to where Irene has parked her car. They sit and chat for a bit before deciding to call it a night. Lawrence tells Irene that he cannot come to hers tonight as a mark of solidarity with his flat mates. She nods in agreement, turns her car round and drives home.
Lawrence walks slowly back to the flats and up the steps again. Before he can push the main door open, Mister Kiwa and the boys appear from within carrying his belongings to the front door. They throw them at his feet and go back to his flat to fetch some more. In a matter of twenty minutes the entire contents of his flat are scattered by the front door. Two burly policeman restrain Lawrence preventing him from entering the flat. Mister Kiwa puts a new lock on Lawrence’s door. Next he takes out a wad of notes from his pocket. He shares this out between the two policemen and the half dozen or so youths who helped to empty the flat. With that done they all disperse.
Lawrence stands guard over his belongings pondering his next move. He is thinking that things cannot possibly get worse when it suddenly starts to drizzle. He fishes his mobile phone out of his pocket. The battery is dead. There is a phone box a hundred metres away at the corner of the street. He will call Irene. Thankfully he knows her land line number off by heart. He will call her and she will help him sort this out.
The phone rings a couple of times and Irene answers it. “Hey Irene”, he begins. He has turned back to look at the flat where he left his piles of belongings. The self help city boys are quietly carting his stuff away. Lawrence drops the handset, leaps out of the phone box and sprints back to the flat shouting “Hey stop! Stop thieves!” Nobody is paying him any attention. The boys finish loading the pick up and drive off.
Lawrence runs back to the phone box and calls the police. The person who answers begins by asking Lawrence a series of challenging questions which sound as if they are designed to determine whether the caller is of sound mind.
Lawrence replaces the receiver and calls Irene again. This time it rings and rings and rings. He is gripping the receiver really tight in his hand, praying for Irene to pick up. He is just about to put it down when Mr Savimbi answers.
It is also at about this time that Lawrence makes another discovery: the cold Nairobi drizzle in the wee hours is unforgiving.