If you live in Nairobi, you already know how hectic it can be. Maneuvering across the busy streets is arduous and woe unto you if you’re carrying luggage. Here, you’ll be met with all sorts of madness; matatus speeding through wrong lanes, people walking on either direction of streets oblivious of the matatus. The matatus blast their horns at anyone who dares to cross their path. You’d be lucky if you don’t get hit by someone running or a handcart being dashed for an ‘important’ delivery God knows where!
The most interesting part of the city is the hawkers- some on byways, subways, or highways. They seemingly occupy footpaths meant for pedestrians.
I needed to get a pair of silver heels for a friend’s upcoming wedding. Looking the part was not negotiable. I move from shop to shop but nothing I come across meets my standards. Two hours of looking, I decide to give up, after all, I am not the bride in waiting so why the hassle?
I start walking towards my matatu route to catch one and head home when I see a hawker selling very cute shoes. I waste no time. I make my way to this guy- who is a lovely sight to behold. I almost weep when I see a pair of silver heels. They fit perfectly. I quickly pay the lad in case he changes his mind about the price. Now that my search is over, I decide to keep checking out other shoes on display. As I reach out for this pair of brown ankle boots, I notice another hawker next to this lad.
It’s a woman selling assorted fruits nicely arranged on a gunia. She looks very young probably in her early twenties if my guess is anything to go by. She has a beautiful chubby baby girl placed on her lap as she kept shouting, ‘karibu customer’.
The baby becomes restless and the mother unbuttons her green blouse with mix-matching buttons and begins to breastfeed her without a care in the world. As I am about to fit the boot, it is abruptly snatched from my hands, and the lad disappears into thin air.
A tall man in a black jacket, blue jeans, and a hat covering his seemingly bald head appears out of nowhere. He ruthlessly grabs the woman who had no time to make her ‘escape’ from the ‘enemy’. She was busy calling out for customers, breastfeeding her baby, that she missed the signals. Now it is too late.
Her blouse is still unbuttoned. Her breast exposed. Her baby as if on cue unleashes a loud scream. But the man is unmoved. He grabs the woman’s left arm and forces her to be upstanding. She holds her baby with her right hand though not stable enough. The baby is almost falling down as the man insists on pulling the woman who tries to fight back.
Tongue-tied. I am too afraid to take any action. Suppose I get the baby who is almost hitting the ground, then the mother is taken away, where will I take this baby? Suppose I help the mother somehow from this man’s grip, it may buy her some time to escape. What do I do?
I fearlessly stop the man in his tracks “Muache”, I yell.
People quickly gather around to watch how this public spectacle unfolds. He lets go of the woman’s wrist. But ensures he doesn’t lose sight of her. She quickly buttons her green blouse and holds her baby with both hands. “Toka hapa ama niende na wewe pia” he shouts at me as he shoves the woman to follow him.
I remain standing there as they make their way around a nearby building. By this time, the crowd is slowly dispersing because the show is over. I am still glued to the ground. The woman’s fruits are still on her gunia say for the few that had scattered at the time of the commotion.
A street boy passes by and tries to get away with some fruits and like a rattled woman, I scare him off. A few minutes later, the woman shows up and finds me manning her fruits.
She is surprised to find me there. I ask if she is ok, she nods. I ask if the baby is ok again, responds with a nod. I ask why that man manhandled her like that and she smiles. She tells me the man is a city askari a.k.a kanjo. The man wasn’t going to hurt or even ‘arrest’ her. He had come for his dues. Her answer leaves me confused. She reads my confusion then goes on, “I had not given him some money the last two days and that’s why he was angry. But I have sorted it out with him”.
She settles down on her gunia and rearranges her fruits again as if nothing had happened. Shortly after, some hawkers who had ran away peep from corridors and corners to see if the enemy was out of the vicinity. One by one they come back with their merchandises and occupy the footpaths again.
As I later learn, the kanjos and the hawkers are constantly playing cat and mouse. If the cat- kanjo chases the mouse- hawker, it’s party time. But if the mouse gets away, the party is merrier. And the cycle continues. But for how long is the question that lingers.