A young man in his early 20’s walks lazily to his balcony to kiss the early morning sun. Stretching his arms out lazily, yawning and scratching his bare chest aimlessly. He is wearing only his mid briefs boxers and kariokor market knock off leather sandals. This is one of the many neighborhoods in Nairobi where lower middle level income earners reside. It is also a well-known area for hostels that are often rented out to young girls who are students in nearby colleges. Like most flats in Ngara area, they are constructed in a ‘face me I face you’ manner. In this case, this young man’s balcony and side of his rented house in his flat faces an opposite flat that is owned by a different landlord. In other words, the balconies of the respective different flats face each other. In between the flats is a major all-weather road riddled with kiosks on the side and is also a footpath for most residents in the area. At night, loud idle banter from drunkards can be heard from the comfort of your bedroom. During the day, you are often interrupted by people hustling to make a living either honking their wares that they sell from the boot of their cars or groceries being hawked by men pulling their carts and shouting “kienyeji tatu mbao, mbao!” (buy traditional vegetables for only Kshs. 20). The loud chants of sales are likely to make any new resident or visitor mute the TV in your house and wait for the hawkers first pass by. This young man’s name is Luther and lives on the fourth floor of his flat.
Luther ekes a living from online writing, so he spends most of his time indoors. Once in a while he plays considerably loud music, a habit with most bachelors. Luther is disciplined in his work and rarely, will you find his idle friends lazing in his house. He loves his space and is a tad bit stingy. He has no girlfriend either. Opposite his balcony in the opposite flat now enter new occupants. Luther has over six months stared from his balcony this empty one-bedroom house on the opposite flat that has remained vacant for this long. The humidity of the area has enabled Luther to often dress scantily indoors unless he is stepping out to buy groceries or minute shopping. Luther is also what many would call an exhibitionist. Proud of his bulging muscles and abs acquired through a daily gym regimen, Luther has no qualms showing off his perfect body to all and sundry at the balcony. He enjoys his freedom from his balcony which allows him to process his thoughts for online writing. Some nights, he often stands at the balcony to allow the cool breeze to engulf him before going to bed. On a good day, he roasts chicken at his balcony. If the law was flexible, Luther would strut aimlessly at his balcony naked. Save for the respect of other neighbors with families, Luther’s custom wear at his balcony was and is only his tight fitting boxers.
On one splendid Saturday, Luther was busy lighting charcoal on his grill at the balcony ready to set his chicken on fire. As he was busy placing his chicken on the fire, sudden movements in the once empty house on the opposite flat awakened his curiosity. The vacant house now has new occupants. They are not just any ordinary tenants as they took turns to smoke at the balcony. Luther counted four ladies in total. His usual idle moments at his balcony have now been filled with a new scenery. One of the ladies who looked slightly older than the rest of the women at the opposite balcony wore a tight fitting sundress that exposed her bra-less saggy huge bosom and a flat derriere. The dress exposed her layered waistline that was an eyesore to stare at. She wore black lipstick and had braids that seemed to make her long face and head seem heavier than normal. Her stinging eyes stared back at Luther as she puffed something through a filter and passed on to one of the girls. One of the other girls had a Mohawk hairstyle with both sides of her head completely shaved, she seemed prettier than all the rest. The four women took turns to sit at the balcony but from Luther’s balcony you could see them chatting back and forth from the kitchen to the balcony. One of the ladies who seemed about 18 years came out to the balcony carrying her thermos of food, sat on the plastic chair positioned at the balcony and begun to eat amidst chatting loudly. The fourth lady only glanced at her lady friends and retreated back in. Like the first lady in a sundress, she wore a similar dress and also looked much older. She was a tan of unnatural yellow, skin bleached to the core with a beautiful smile and hair held in a bun. Luther tried to mind his own business as he carried his roast chicken indoors for dinner.
Like a bad habit, next day early in the morning, Luther woke up to stretch at his balcony in his usual only boxer’s manner and he was met with his new opposite balcony neighbors smoking. The whiffs of cigarette or weed making rings of circles in the air towards his direction. This time, one of the ladies smiled slyly at him. Luther felt uncomfortable and looked the other way. From his bedroom window he could see them still passing one puff to each other at their balcony. It now dawned on Luther that whatever went on in that house was weird. At around noon, a middle aged light skinned spectacled man joined the ladies at the balcony. Dressed in yellow shorts, a tee-shirt and smoking too he seemed to be sharing lewd conversations with the ladies as they laughed loudly in shrieks. At some point he begun gyrating his hips as if in demonstration to his point in the conversation and they laughed again in unison. If you could read lips, you would understand the conversation. They were now becoming a destruction for Luther’s concentration to his work! After a few days of moving in, you now noticed instead of the usual laundry hung by most tenants, these ones hung a dozen white face towels from end to end with off white bathroom robes and off white towels. All faded probably from poor washing or age. Some nights, as early as 7pm you will notice an extra piece of cloth hung over the kitchen curtain and balcony door shut tight leaving no room for any light, in addition, steam forming on the windows. It then dawned on Luther that this was a house rented as a masseuse parlor and probably a brothel too. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, business must have dwindled from their previous rental residence and they had to move to a more affordable area- a residential flat! The man with the ladies was probably their pimp.
The masseuse business has also moved on to the digital platform and if you need after service ‘extras’ , it is very convenient with an easy google search on your phone or computer to get one for a price. Hell, you can even get a girlfriend for the day to satisfy all your needs from a wide range of sites in Nairobi. Some ask for pay, others only require you take care of their dinner and bed in exchange for companionship for the night. The Telegram App I hear is also notorious for this kind of business. Nairobi has indeed evolved on the digital platform. In this case, Luther’s opposite balcony neighbors probably relied on the pimp for client connection (s). They only need to wait patiently in the house rented to them for a client to appear. Those without pimps, even with the Covid-19 curfew you will often see them on the cold streets of Ngara late in the night hoping for a client to save the rent. Ngara is not the only neighborhood thriving in ‘masseuse-like’ business, areas like Kilimani, Umoja, Westland and even Juja have not been left behind. Most residential houses have been turned to brothels and masseuse parlors. With loss of jobs for most since the Covid-19 pandemic, people are striving by any means necessary to put food on the table for all their dependents.
Luther has continued to get more inspiration for writing from his opposite balcony neighbors, and the stinging stares have now moved to shy smiles and uncanny winks from both parties. He continues with his online writing through the night, most times leaving his curtains open. Some nights, his masseuse neighbors stare at him working whilst in his room with lights on and curtains not drawn back as they smoke endlessly from their balcony. He enjoys the attention, it inspires him. In the dead of the night, Luther gives a five-minute subconscious strip tease show to his neighbors. Luther walks naked to his bedroom with the light on and curtains wide open only to slump on his bed till morning. His masseuses’ neighbors continue with business as usual 24 hours; it is only a matter of time before Luther pays them a visit or vice versa.
“In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” – Oscar Wilde
(Disclaimer – Photos used for illustrative purposes only, courtesy. The characters in this story are a not a reflection or identity of real people or their lives.)