“Don’t worry,” Taryn assured us. “That won’t happen to you while you’re here.”
Well, it did. And it happened on my third night in Nairobi. See, it started as your usual night of bending out on the enclosed front porch of Benji and Taryn’s. Tonight, we drank vodka, not wine, and played a new card game called Rally. It was a drinking game they’d invented, and by the second round we were all nice and buzzed. We decided to play a third. At one point I checked my phone and saw it was 1:39 a.m. A few minutes later, it happened.
Out of nowhere, in the black of night, all the chatter stopped after a flickering light came from the yard.
Taryn said, “You see that?”
“Yeah. What was that?”
I looked out to the yard and thought perhaps it was a neighbor using a light to guide their way along the dark sidewalk through the compound. Then all of a sudden, a man in mask and uniform came onto the porch bearing a rifle with two other men, behind him, and they had rifles, too!
Benji and Omundi, who weighed a sum close to six hundred pounds, stood to confront the men.
“Whose house is this?” the lead gunman asked.
“Who’s asking?” Taryn shot back from the bench.
“Babe. No.” Said Benji.
Omundi replied in Swahili. “It’s my friend’s house. What’s the problem?”
The gunman responded in Swahili. “Who are these people?” They looked specifically at me and Lia. “Uh, excuse me, you are?”
“Babe, not now!”
“We’re all friends,” said Omundi. “Now, what’s the problem?”
“There is a lockdown! That’s the problem,” the man shouted, lifting his gun. “This isn’t supposed to happen.”
“Excuse me, this is my house—” “Babe, will you shut the hell up!”
“Quiet!” the gunman said.
At that point Omundi and Benji took the men inside to talk, while Lia, Taryn and I remained outside on the porch.
After some time Taryn whispered, “I just don’t see why they have to be in my house.”
“Would you be quiet,” said Lia.
“I’m just saying, like, they don’t have to be inside my frickin’ house!” They looked at each other and kept from laughing. I, however, was in no mood to laugh.
Something drew my eyes out to the darkness, beyond the porch light and into the yard. At first, I did not see them, then, after my eyes adjusted, suddenly they were there. A pack of night hunters huddled in the yard staring at us with bloodshot eyes and, yes, more rifles. I pretended I did not see them and peeked inside the house.
There was Omundi, standing in the kitchen with one of the night hunters tapping the barrel of his gun against his waist. He was shaking his head and his hands were up as though he were begging him not to shoot. Behind them, another sifted through bottles of wine on the counter. I saw Benji enter the room and hand one of the men something, but I could not make out what it was.
When the gunmen came back out their masks were down, and they were smiling.
“There is no problem, no problem,” the main gunman said in English. The other two followed along, passing forth the remaining dregs in a bottle of wine. One took a sip, then passed off the bottle. “Sawa,” he said.
We sat together in silent apprehension as they crunched through the yard and drove off down the road. The whole time Taryn had been staring at Benji.
“What the hell was that?” she said.
“Tell you later.”
“What? No. They’re just going to walk inside my house with guns and—”
“Will you quiet? Said I’ll tell you later! Did you not just see the men with guns? Did you somehow miss that? I just negotiated for my life so they wouldn’t fucking shoot us! Somebody called about a damn break-in, and that’s what they were here to do. Shoot somebody!” Benji was flustered and sweating through his shirt. “So now?”
“I had to tell them like five times we all live here and no one was breaking in.” Omundi said. Then he turned to me and Lia. “He kept asking ‘who are the white people?’”
Apparently, there was a reported break-in in the compound, and that’s why men had arrived with big rifles ready for action. Really, though, there was no such report—it was only tea they were after. That’s right, tea. In the end it was Benji’s five-thousand shillings that caused them to finally leave. That and the offer of an old bottle of wine. I had heard rumors about the cops in Kenya, though I had never experienced the hassle until now. And what hassle it was! Even today, we still don’t know if those were real cops or real thugs dressed up like cops. Guess those lines seemed to blur on this side.
Anyhow, after the men left, Benji and Omundi went over to confront the security guard on the compound. His name was Keiboy, and he was a poor man with two daughters and tired eyes. It was sad, whenever I looked into Keiboy’s eyes, for all I ever saw was a lifetime of grief and utter destitution. Often he went days without eating; and he never flat out asked me for help, though I gave him food whenever I could.
Benji and Omundi approached him crossly, embarrassed by what happened. They scolded poor Keiboy and threatened to withdraw this incident from his one-thousand-shilling-a-week pay. Keiboy didn’t respond at first, understanding that he had failed at his job, but then he finally said:
“Sir, if I may explain: Those men come over an say ‘opin tha gate!’ But I tell them I cannot open tha gate foh anyone. An then tell me, ‘iff you don’t, we will climb dis gate an kill you, then opin tha gate ourselff!’ An sir, becuss I love life, I opened the gate. So then they come in, an I think okay, and they go, ‘git down!’ wit a gun to my head like that! an tell me they’ll shoot if I make noise. I prayed to God they wuldn’ shoot, sir! You dun know how I prayed! Me prayed off my life! I have two daughter at home.”
Benji and Omundi felt quite pitiful after hearing him speak. They found room in their hearts to cut him some slack, and gave him a few pats on the arm. “Well, all right, then. Just next time try to keep them out.”
They came over and told us what had actually happened. Our spirits dropped and we all became sore. “Awh, poor Keiboy!” Lia said.
A little later, after we had all come down from the excitement of the night, Taryn looked over to us and said: “Well, maybe it will happen.” Then chuckled, “Karibu Kenya, eh?”
Image: Rod Waddington (modified) on Flickr