My head is whirling, spinning in circles. I fear heights. They make me jittery. I have always feared heights since childhood. While my age mates crossed the bridge at River Ella to Yao village to play with the kids from the neighbouring community, I stayed behind for fear of falling down the gushing waters. That was before the relationship between the two neighbouring communities was dented by cattle rustling. That was when we still inter-married and traded in goods. When we took our ngege to the people of the hills and they let their mursik, the only thing that occasionally gave me the conviction to cross the River Ella Bridge, flow down to us.
Things happened, some avoidable yet others inevitable. I got an excuse. I did not have to cross the bridge anymore, not for the fear of the brown water winding downstream, but for fear of being taken captive by the warriors from Yao. It came with a price, sadly. I could not visit my uncle’s in-laws at their home in Yao, and they could not see their daughter-my uncle’s wife as often as they wished.
That was sometime back. The relationship between the neighbouring communities was mended, in a way. The big-bellied suit wearing politicians came. Big cars rolled to the villages, again for the first time since the last election. The politicians made promises, trying to outdo each other, fighting to broker peace before leaving the villagers dazed and stunned from the confusion caused by the dust left behind as they left. People from the press came but there was no news about the wars. We blamed it on our faulty radio that could not stop humming from low power supply. The wars raged on, with even increased rates of cattle rustling. My relationship with heights stayed as sour as it had always been, as the mursik from up the hill. We interacted, me and heights, occasionally, but avoided each other as often as we could, the reason for the jittery feeling.
I am standing on no bridge. River Ella is hundreds of miles away. But I cannot avoid the uneasy feeling, at least not like I avoided the bridge. Unlike my relationship with the River Ella Bridge that I failed to mend despite the few occasions that I tried, I stand on the roof of a one-storey building trying to convince myself that it is not too late…that I can do it still. Develop a relationship with heights.
I take a seat on a block of concrete, as a strategy, a mechanism to fight my fears. I draw my roll, light it up and inhale a heavy puff. I try to focus. The smoke will not let me. My eyes become watery, as red as pepper. I do not cough, like I did the first time I tried. I have grown. I am a pro in this. My mind will not forget the height, however safe for business the roof-top is. I look around to distract myself. I realise how every time I came to the roof-top a triumph-like sensation draped my fears. I am on top of everything. All is possible. Even just for a while. I want more of this…the roof-top…and the smoke.
I look to the opposite side, down across the pavement, towards the Cafeteria. There is a guy seated, a loner, reading probably a novel. The Cafeteria is almost deserted except for the guy, and his novel. I take another deep puff, let the smoke scatter slowly, forming chain-like patterns making as if going to the guy at the Cafeteria. I adjust the volume to the music playing on my headphones. Jermaine Cole is playing, Enchanted. I try to imagine what he might be reading, the lone guy at the Cafeteria. Probably some book from Inama Bookshop, somewhere downtown. See how life treats us. Or is it how we treat life? The guy buys a book at a dusty roadside Inama Bookshop and reads it at the Cafeteria…a ‘posh’ hotel setting, considering he is a student.
It could be the book that he is reading, the lone guy at the Cafeteria that draws my attention to where he is. It could be a collection of short stories. He could be reading Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin. My thought process is jolted and I become more conscious of the music that I had set on the repeat mode. I try to concentrate to the music, to “get more than the personal, private, vanishing evocations in spite of not being the artist, but with the hope of triumphing at the end, just like the artist.” I leave him alone; the lone guy and his book. Or maybe it is the smoke that gets a tighter grip of me. You remember the chains?
Max is coming, my most loyal and trustworthy customer. I know he is coming, Max, because he said he would. He, Max, is a man who keeps his word. And that is good for business. So every time he says he is to come I never stress up. Business days with Max are good days. I check and recheck the package in my backpack. Everything is in order. I just need to meet Max, give him his share of the merchandise previously ordered then sell the remaining to a few random customers before finally deciding what to do with the rest of my time.
Max seems to take a long time before he arrives. However, I am not worried because the random buyers are here keeping me occupied. The first one to come, my random customer, is a lady. I think I have sold to her earlier. She exists somewhere in my mind. I cannot remember the details exactly the date, where, and how many of the merchandise she bought. I do not struggle to remember. I need to be in the moment. That is good for business. Knowing and or remembering my customers are also good for business. Helps avoid snitches. She is high, my first customer. She is ever high. The few times I have served her. But she always wants more. So I give her more. That means more cash. Good for business. She forgets a lot. And she looks dazed and lost. I always remind her to not forget her change, which I figured is usually the last penny she usually remains with. She says she loves me, me and my weed; that we keep her day straight. We make her forget all the hurting she has experienced. I never ask for more, more of her woes. We are not here to provide counselling services, bad for business.
Other random customers come in quick succession. I never notice them. Maybe I do but not like I did the first customer. They all come and go, with their sachet. They leave me on the roof top, with company. They leave me with my first customer, who is still trying to get my attention with her woes, and my weed, and of course the pay. Did I forget Cole? I don’t think so. Not with random rhymes. I do not do credit, bad for business. Max comes. We are growing in number, me and my companions. Max seems surprised to find her here, my first customer. Not because she has been here for long but because they know each other. I learn she is called Maureen. She is enraged to see Max, who scowl when they have eye contact. Maureen is mad, mad and high. She tattle and I learn the reason for the animosity. Maureen and Max’s dad had history, bad history. She came out hurt, and used and broken; broken by one person who ought to hold the pillars of the society together, an aristocrat. So she drinks and gets high on weed, my weed hoping that she destroys herself and in the process destroys the aristocracy as well.
I get emotional, bad for business. I cannot help it; my eyes open and close in quick succession as I try to fight tears, my tears. I drop my roll onto the ground and struggle to push the last of the puff down my throat, which is now dry and tight. I feel a heavy and tight grip which will not let me breath or swallow shit. I unbutton my shirt, roll the sleeves then ask Max how many he needed. I receive my pay then head home with even a greater resolve, to sell more Kush to Max and his cohorts.