On Friday, we left at 6am for a hectic drive to the airport. Schoolchildren walked through the night in uniform. Motorbikes with full beam lights careened towards us, like stars made very mobile. My stomach and fists clenched when a human silhouette appeared faintly ahead of us – be careful, be careful, that’s a person!
We flew to Nairobi, past a bare-headed Kilimanjaro. Nairobi gets its fair share of hate. Perhaps it even deserves it: a city built on a swamp and on the misery of the poor. Still, Nairobi was my home for five and a half years – or maybe more like two, depending on how you look at it. And despite everything, I love the feverish sunsets, I love the hedges thick with dust, I love the petrol fumes hanging weightily in the air, I love Java House.
Little had changed. The traffic was worse than ever, and the roads were riddled with potholes. It took one sweaty, grope-y matatu journey with twenty others to remind me how much I adore tuk-tuks. Personal space for the win!
I’ve walked these roads most often with a small hand in mine, and I missed that hand – that beloved presence – more than I can say.
I met with two dear friends that I’d left behind a year ago.
I talk to Natalya so often on Facebook that she feels like a next-door neighbour. She is probably the most brilliant yet unassuming person I have ever met. She is also an accomplished globetrotter and a Rhodes Scholar. She is always sympathetic, always interested. We had spoken so recently that we didn’t have to waste much time on ‘catching up’ – we skipped straight to the present, and got really giggly over our eccentric fellow customers.
Then Michelle, my very first friend at boarding school. We have been friends for almost ten years, navigating so many transitions alongside one another. Childhood to adulthood, Africa to the West, back to Africa. We both returned often to see our families, so she’s one of few I’ve seen yearly since we graduated.
There’s no one quite like Michelle for laughter and ditzy chat. She went into spasms of delight over my earrings: ‘Oh my gosh! Are those owls? They are so cute!’ It’s probably obvious that she uses more exclamation points, spoken or written, than anyone else I’ve ever met.
We were only there a night. Mum’s hand tightened on mine as we rose, and Nairobi disappeared into a fog of pollution and memories. The airplane lurched. The wings cut through the clouds as though we were divine.