The Red and Yellow Flags

He had watched people like me come and go, many times over. I could tell from the way he looked at me. At that time however I looked past his knowings, and my poor acting; I really needed a way out. It was already getting dark. I was sure to have seen them that morning. Whatever went wrong I couldn’t tell.

“Unajua saa izi uko tofauti sana,” Rukia almost startled me from my work. In fact she did, puzzling me with pointless thoughts.

“How now?” I snapped.

“Sura yako ni tofauti na vile ulikuja hapa,” She paused. But I was still puzzled, Where could she be going with this?

“Nairobi ishakuingilia.”

Silence. I was caught off-guard. Glancing up from my work she was smiling; whether at me or at my bewilderment I couldn’t tell. But I was sure she was enjoying herself. It must have been that side of her that liked to see me flinch. Had she not confessed in drains of laughter and whiskey that I really looked stupid when shy? And that she enjoyed seeing me that way!

I hadn’t thought of the wittiest of replies when Remi walked into us. Kwisha mimi. This beauty was a laugh devil. I knew I was in a date with the raccoons.

“Remi, tebu ambia Biko vile alikuwa anafanana alipokuja huku.” Rukia had all the excitement having taken the head start.

“Hehe… Alikuwa anakaa tu hocha.” She giggles. “Na si uongo msee, ulikuwa ni kama umepotea.”

“Na nikimwambia ananiangalia sijui ka nini.”

“Hamskii kuku mgeni hakosi kamba mguuni,”

I finally managed to rescue myself. Or at least attempted to. But the moment I said that Remi made me wish I hadn’t. It was like I had had just turned her on, literally. She was the kind who laughed at you till you pitied yourself.

“Eti kuku mgeni ang’owa?” She was in tears.

“Hakosi kamba kiguuni.” Rukia came up simultaneously amusement all over her voice.

They were a hilarious duo this two. I know I like repeating myself but there’s some fun in that. Especially when you’re speaking of spontaneous workmates who laugh at your newbie face from the countryside. I should have mentioned how they had rejoined in elated high fives after their laughing riposte.

The truth is their fun is not mine to indulg in; I just try to find humor in their mockery, all in a way to survive them. In order to get here I had endured things of which some are not worth telling when am sober but I’ll try.

About 18 months ago I walked into this city; dragged in my brains and stomach as Rukia had once joked about it. It just didn’t click to me that anyone could notice my ‘newness’ from the look on my face quite easily. Or maybe I had underestimated ukora wa Nairobi. Now looking back, I could confidently tell the me-before-the-city that this town is not for the all too trusting, the faint hearted and the coward. Instead I could conjure him to be discrete with people and his eyes… and to be careful not to stare too much; a lot will allure him to, he is to beware of this as it would be the first sell-out. Too much of it will mulika you as a newbie – the easiest target for picketers.

Those who’ve lived here long enough will tell you broadly that ujanja wa Nairobi ni kukaa rada (constantly be on the look-out) for everyone – city council officers, picketers, NASWA – and no one in particular. The latter was recently added out of my friend’s experience with the TV show. What had greeted him at 5 in the evening was his silly encounter with some silly comedians. His words not mine. Ever since has never stopped complaining at how those zombies picked on him. But deep inside the ninja regretted having given in to a deal that later exposed him as gullible thus the excuses and splits of anger anytime that topic comes up. I’ve nothing against the TV show, they make us laugh our ribs out after a day’s hustle. And that feels good, just that not everyone would love to see their faces after an unlikely dialogue turned into a dupe. The details on that story can however wait for another day.

I knew I was lost and didn’t want to admit it. Leave alone show it. This backstreet looked just like the other one I had alighted at that morning. But something was amiss; I couldn’t see my landmarks. Yes, the red and yellow flags by the cafeteria. That’s when I noticed the rider on his motorbike. I was contemplating to approach him but thought not do it just like that. I had to improvise something, come up with a story maybe. A convincing one, but not too much, just a real make-belief. I couldn’t see a guard, with them it could’ve been much easier. My past with interactions with them had worked out so well. So there was no other way.

Do I walk straight to him then pretend to have lost my way just this once and ask of his assistance? No. That’ll be too much work and I may sell myself out. Or do I just walk up to him and tell him am lost. But that’ll be too frank and might look vulnerable. And he might then take advantage. Kachwani he may get the guts to ask. I could see myself stummering out him how broke I was, which definitely won’t be satisfactory. Finally I resolve to fake a limp and walked to him slightly drugging my left leg.

The mister sees me approach and makes to put on his helmet but I flag him down, I see a resentment which leaves me a little bit shaken.

“Hey sasa,” overly shaky.

“Poa sana, hatuendi?” He’s still expectant.

“Eeh, hapana,” he makes a sigh, “Ningependa tu usaidizi fulani kutoka kwako.” I nimble at my words.

He nods.

“Nataka unionyeshe vile kuenda kwa ile hoteli iko na flags za red na yellow.”

“Unaijua nikupelekee?” He gives me a quizzical smile. Come on dude! Why would I ask for directions if I did?

“Apana. Niliiona tu pahali apa.” My eyes wonder. He is bewildered.

I scratch my head. People say I do this whenever I’m unsure of myself. I don’t even know where I got it from. Meanwhile am thinking, does he really know what am talking about? Do I really know what I’m talking about? Afraid he would realise my unsurety I stop. He sees that he can’t help and makes to ask his fellows. As a result two men in motorcycle jackets join us and they all want to know what my red and yellow flag really was.

“They were in front of a cafeteria… I passed by this morning… thought it was somewhere around here” I say.

“Lakini unaona hapa hakuna kitu kama iyo.” One of the men reply.

“Uko sure ni hapa?” My piki man joins in.

“Yes, it had to be in this street.”

“Wewe ni kama umepotea.”


“Kulikuwa na mali yako hapo?”


“Basi mbona unaitafuta sana hivo…”

“Kuna mtu ilifaa tukutane naye hapo.” I lie.

“Uko na namba?” I nod. “Basi mpigie.”

I feel like I’m making a fool of myself. Their blank stares doubled by the whimsical grins on their faces work perfectly to worsen my embarrassment. Then it strikes me. Who could these people be? Why are they so interested?

To my relief the two men walk back to their bikes and am left with the first bike man. A pack of ladies comes to greet them. Short skirts, long boots. They embrace sluggishly and I was afraid the ladies would topple over them. “Na umwambie uko River Road,” the helmet guy shouts back, “hii si place poa kupotea usiku.”

“Ama si umwambie tu akuje tumwonyeshe njia,” one of the duo calls in drunkenly as she’s being pulled away.

“Wewe itakuaje?”

“Um… Nishachapia uyu msee… Ni kumtegea tu,” another lie. I scroll my phone.

The helmet guy’s words were still playing in my head and didn’t know where to take them as a warning or a caution. So as I scrolled my phone, I was desperately forming my next move.

“Halafu, zile magari za Dandora mtu hupandia wapi?”

“Utaenda hivi hadi pale utapata junction,” he motions down into the dark street, “utaona magari ziko na hii pande ya chini zikiitana.”

“Ni hapo?”

“Eeh… Utaziona tu.”

Whoever invented that word ‘halafu’, did a marvelous job: the perfect icebreaker in the street. I start to leave and the ninja stretches his hand. Damn. I reach inside my pockets and gives him a twenty. Nothing’s is really free uh?

“Ni hiyo tu msee… Siko poa.”

“Tutakutana tu.”

God forbid.

It was not until I was in the bus that I saw my folly. A man had walked in carrying all sorts of prints and calling out for buyers. He was waving a polker dotted one with his right. In his left arm were twinned some reds and yellows. As he moves closer to my seat I see they’re all hankies!

Have an awesome week! And don’t take what makes you see things. 😆

Luckily the piki man had given the right directions. What I can’t remember is whether I’d left with my limp. Had the guy been keen, am sure his ribs were aching.

2 thoughts on “The Red and Yellow Flags

  1. Truth is, you can always spot a newbie. The same way you get to spot a highschooler despite them trying to appear civilian with the gray trousers and some funny t-shirts.

    Nairobi is the one place you don’t want to get lost in at night. A pretty habitable street by day becomes a den of all sorts at night. Find yourself in such a place and you will hopefully live to tell the tale. I have had my share of incidents.

    Liked by 1 person

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