He had come to enjoy the whoosh of speeding cars on the highway, rushing to beat the traffic light, only to have the police officer march across the road with his hands raised in the air, almost triumphant in his quest to increase traffic. He smiled at him as he walked across, beaming at the pained motorists who glared at him as he strolled across with Patricia.
“This is a much longer route to the stage,” she said.
“It’s the safer one,” he told her, reaching into his pocket to remove a coin, which he gave the child extending her arm towards him, her mother seated behind her, urging her on.
“You know they might use it to buy drugs, right?” Patricia asked him.
“Really? A mother and daughter on the streets?”
“Why not? Haven’t you heard of people who’ve bought entire plots of land from begging alone?”
“I have, but still…”
“You’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, won’t you?” she asked. He simply shrugged, not wanting to get into another debate with her on generosity.
“It’s good. At least one of us still has their soul intact,” she commented, leaning into him as he wrapped his arm around her.
“Just doing my part,” he said to himself, loud enough for her to hear.
“Oh, no. what did I do?”
“You’ve called me by my name. Am I in trouble?”
“Hmm, do you want to be in trouble, young lady?”
“No, sir. I’m so sorry.”
“You’d better be,” he said. They stopped in their tracks, stared at each other for a while and shared a laugh before proceeding on their journey.
“I just wanted to know something.”
“I ran into one of our former classmates at Java the other day. Guy’s doing well for himself. An investment banker.”
“Wow, so impressive. Tell me more.”
“Do you remember his name? He was in first year with us, right? Tall guy, specs, always wrote notes on his laptop…”
“Morris? I thought he finished with us. You’re probably talking about Franklin or Carl. Those are the only ones I remember leaving us after the first semester.”
“Hmm…yeah, probably,” he said in a low tone.
“Why do you ask?”
“I just thought I’d share that piece of information with you,” he said, hugging her on one side as she kept looking at him.
“Yes, yes. I like to talk it out.”
‘Strange,’ she thought as they walked a few hundred meters more to another crossing, where a smile broke out on Damian’s face at the sight of the police officer, whistling loudly with his arm in the air. Just as they crossed, a din of screams and shouts ran in the air, startling him in the middle of the road.
“What was that?” he asked, standing still. A frustrated motorist blared at him, forcing them to cross faster, all while he looked to his left, where the sounds came from.
“Oh, it’s nothing really,” Patricia said, pulling him away. However, he was already enticed by the distant crowd gathering ahead of him.
“Doesn’t look like nothing,” he said as he headed there. Patricia stepped in front of him, clutching both his hands and looking up at him with angelic eyes.
“We’re almost there,” she said. He nodded and went on with her, neck turned towards the event. She pulled him farther away into the alley to the adjacent street, where touts and middlemen were shouting at the top of their voices to whoever passed them, each trying to convince them to get into the bust to go.
“Apana! Usiingie hiyo!”
“No thanks,” Damian quietly said as he held on to Patricia. Another one approached them less aggressively and said.
“Sawa. Not that one, this one here.”
“I think I’ll go with this one,” she said, turning to face Damian.
“You’re sure?” he asked her.
“Yes, this is it. Thanks for bringing me.”
“Not a problem.” Just then, the cheering crowd made his neck crane past her, wooing him to come and join him. Patricia then hugged him tightly.
“It’s late, sweetheart.”
“It is? Other than the setting sun, I hadn’t noticed,” he quipped.
“Mmm, please get home, okay?” she asked him, stepping back with her hands on his face. He wanted to laugh, but the furrowed brow on her face made him simply nod.
“Bye,” she said, stepping into the bus and sitting by the window looking over the street. He waved at her and walked the same way back. She couldn’t help but check, so she got off and trailed him, eager to see whether he’d go there. Sure enough, the crowd’s excited cheers made him stop at the end of the alley to the other street, struggling to see what the commotion was about.
“Please, please don’t go,” she said, holding her breath as she watched him take a step forward, then sighing with relief as he shook his head and walked the other way.
“Good boy,” she said as she walked back to the bus that nearly left her behind.
Every step he took away from the commotion only served to gnaw at his boiling curiosity. He turned back to see a lot more people gathering, and he just couldn’t help himself, so he followed them, hands in his pockets to protect his belongings.
He squeezed through the crowd to get to the front, where he saw three muscular men in leopard print clothing standing side by side. Then, the one in the middle knelt as the other two stepped on his shoulders, holding each other’s hands to stabilize as he slowly stood up, arms outstretched. The other two then held his shoulder with one hand each and raised their legs high up in a V-shape, all as the crowd cheered in wonder at the young men’s virility. Damian clapped loudest as he watched them; even more, as they brought their legs back down, then somersaulted off to the ground.
They bowed as the people dropped off coins in their bag, some depositing notes. Feeling all too generous, Damian took out a 1000 shilling note and put it in the bag, but not before one of them stopped him.
“Ei, bro. you want to get robbed?” he asked him.
“What do you mean?”
“Thanks, but there’s probably someone here who’ll follow you, seeing that you have so much cash on hand,” he went on, Damian looking around to confirm this.
“Of course. Tell you what, why don’t you buy us a drink with that?”
“Um, okay? Should I follow you or something?”
“Yeah – boys, patron hapa!” he told the others who cheered as they packed up what they had. Afterwards, they slowly walked past the now sparse crowd, occupying the whole street as passers-by stepped off the streets to make room for them.
“I feel like a VIP or something,” Damian commented, the looks of respect on the pedestrians a welcome sight for him.
“Of course you are. One of our most generous donors today,” the man said as they went on. They stopped at a zebra crossing, where Damian was distracted by two young ladies with short dresses standing before them, one in a red one that sharply contrasted her chocolate complexion, and the other in a white one. He couldn’t help but stare at the one in red; how the red silk flowed from her neck, down her back and folding at her hips, accentuating her…
“Bro, relax. It’s just ass,” the man said as the others chuckled. The two ladies turned to look at them laughing, no idea they were the topic, and simply strutted across the road when the light turned green. They got to a rather wide cobblestone pedestrian walkway with low-rise buildings on either side, but it somehow seemed brighter than the skyscrapers they had just passed. Multicoloured light bulbs were suspended on strings tied to the street lights, dangling low enough for him to reach out for one. Young guys were gathered in groups, some seated as others stood, many more dancing with each other to the rhythm of the fast-paced music. He then looked up to see, written on a banner hung with the lights:
“This? This is Boulevard?” he asked him, unable to take his eyes off the scene.
“The one and only!” he said as they all cheered, many others joining them. Damian followed the men into this brave new world, his heart pounding with excitement. He had heard stories about it, he had tried to imagine it, but seeing it in the flesh was a surreal experience to him.
“Come on, bro,” the guy said, ushering him into a building on their left; a tent with the same lighting as the street, with a large bar area and an expansive dance floor, where revellers gyrated to the beat thumping from the obnoxious speakers.
“Mercy!” he called out to the bartender.”
“Hi, Richie!” she greeted.
“Two rounds of shots from our friend here!” one of the others said, watching her bring four small glasses to them and fill them up.
“Cheers, boys! To another great day!” Richie said as they all raised their glasses, Damian awkwardly though. he flushed it down as he saw them do, and immediately after, the drink cut his throat as it found its way down.
“First timer?” Richie asked, tapping him on the back.
“Yeah – yeah you could say that,” he croaked, his throat throbbing, “is it supposed to burn like this?”
“Of course! Call it baptism by fire!” Richie went on, the others laughing hysterically at him.
“By the way, my guy, we don’t even know your name,” one of them said.
“I’m Damian,” he introduced himself, shaking his hand.
“Awesome. I’m Eric.”
“I’m Nathan,” the other one said, extending his hand as well.
“And I’m Richie.”
“Nice to meet you all. You guys are talented by the way,” he went on, watching them smile as he said so.
“Thanks, man,” Richie said, “we’re just trying our best.”
“Your best is fantastic.”
“And your tip is generous, bro!” Eric said, “last round, Mercy!”
“Ai! Easy Eric, we don’t want the first-timer fainting,” the lady added, winking at Damian. he was taken aback by this, something Nathan noticed.
“Bro, you’ve never been here, have you?” he asked Damian.
“NO!” Damian yelled, plugging his ears with his fingers, “AM I YELLING?”
“NO!” they shouted back, dying with laughter.
“Come on, let’s step outside for a bit,” Richie said. Damian’s head felt heavy as he took a step forward, stopping to gain a bit of clarity.
“One shot, my guy? You’re a lightweight,” Richie chuckled as they sat on the pavement. The fresh air and less ear-piercing music was relieving.
“Much better,” he sighed.
“But seriously, thanks for supporting our craft,” Richie went on, tapping his back, “it’s quite encouraging.”
“Ah, I had to. You guys were great, man.”
“Thanks so much. We weren’t even sure we should do this, but with your support, maybe we can take it a bit more seriously.”
“More seriously than what I saw? Are you planning to fly next?”
“Ha! No, man. Like, turn it into a full-time thing, not just on the weekends.”
“You only do this on weekends?”
“Yeah. We got day jobs, man. I’m in IT, Eric’s a lawyer by trade and Nathan’s a banker.”
“Wow! Such accomplished guys you are!”
“Nah, we all wanted something more than that. Funny thing, we all met at the gym and were working out together, then Eric said: “Have to look good when I start my acrobatics career.” Then, we all started talking about it, and after a while, we met on weekends to practice. After some months, we got brave enough to perform, and now here we are.”
“Such an awesome story,” Damian said, “but if you don’t mind me asking.”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“If you’re all working, then what do you guys do with the cash you’re given?”
“We donate it to a charity of our choosing, or we give it to Aunt Jessie to do so for us.”
“Aunt Jessie? You know Aunt Jessie?” he asked him, rather surprised.
“Well, yeah. Everyone here knows her. Coolest grandma anyone can have. How do you know her?”
“She’s one of the biggest donors at our ch…” he stopped abruptly, but Richie smiled and said.
“You were going to say church, weren’t you?”
“Nah, don’t worry bro,” Richie went on, “we don’t judge here. Besides, no one cares.”
“I know. It’s just something I noticed with people. When I say church, they kind of back off and assume I’m judging them.”
“Don’t worry about that, man. We don’t care,” he reassured him as Damian sighed with relief.
“Great. Anyway, I was just wondering about Jessie. I was hoping I’d talk to her about a sermon she delivered today.”
“Aunt Jessie is a pastor?” he asked Damian, eyes wide in disbelief, “for real? That’s not something I’d expect from her.”
“Hang around here long enough and you’ll know why. Anyway, you want to talk to her about a sermon? Why?”
“It’s something she said. I didn’t particularly agree with it, and I kind of have some suspicions about…mmm, I just wanted to clarify something with her.”
“Ai? You want clarification on a sermon? You sound like you’re fishing for marks from God,” Richie said, chuckling.
“I know it sounds weird, but it’s just something that’s bothering me…”
“Nah, you’re being too serious about this. I noticed that about you.”
“Of course. You’re the only one here dressed like you’re going for an interview!” Damian looked at his suit, then at everyone in casual attire.
“My God, you’re right,” he said.
“Yeah! Look, come on in and take another shot with us. Loosen up a bit!” Richie said, carrying him up and leading him back inside, where the other two had found themselves on the dance floor with two ladies.
“Okay, maybe just with me then!” Richie said.
“Okay! One more, then!” Damian said. Mercy poured them a glass each, they toasted and gulped it down. The second time didn’t burn as much, and he actually enjoyed the taste of it.
“Thanks, man! Let me rustle my brothers there. feel free to join in any fun!” Richie said as he disappeared into the pool of bodies, leaving Damian there at the bar. Just then, he felt his arm being squeezed. Turning, he saw a lady dressed in a red dress, leaning on the bar and smiling at him.
“Hey,” she purred.
“Um, wow. H – hi,” he stuttered.
“I knew I recognized you. At the stopover there, you were staring at my ass,” she said. He cringed a bit, shaking his head.
“Oh, wow I – I didn’t think – I’m so sorry about that, I…”
“Don’t apologise. I was flattered.”
“Yes. If I wasn’t, you’d know.”
“Ok, cool. My name’s Damian, by the way,” he greeted.
“I’m Cindy. Now, Damian, you’ve seen something you like. Why don’t you by me a drink?” she asked, eyeing him with a half-smile.
“Um – I don’t have enough – um, maybe a shot? I can’t stay long.”
“Mmm, you sure?” she asked, running her fingers down his chest as he nervously grinned.
“Two? Two shots then,” he said, raising his hand to Mercy. She glared at her for a few seconds before she poured the two shots. He watched Cindy flush both down without as much as a finch.
“Mmm, nice. For that, you get a dance. Come on,” she said, pulling him to the dance floor. She snaked easily through the people while he kept running into someone. Then, she stopped and turned around, wrapping her arms around his neck and whining her waist.
“Don’t be shy!” she said. With that, he held her waist and pulled her towards him, staring at her winding body. He smiled nervously as he brought her closer, their bodies one as they moved to the beat, breathing heavily into each other’s faces and eyes locked together. His hands loosened up on her waist as they slid down her silky dress to her back, grabbing her gently. She bit her lower lip in excitement as he smiled gleefully, grabbing her ass again. She lifted her leg to his waist and kept grinding him, watching him groan in pleasure.
“Wow,” was all he could say as they kept at it for a while longer. His crotch throbbed through his pants with every passing second, his breathing intensifying. He buried his head in her neck caressing her gently as she kept dancing.
“Oh my…” he spoke in her ear. She put her leg down and threw her head back in laughter.
“Too much?” she asked him, still in stitches.
“I’m not – I’m not used to this,” he said as they made their way back to the bar, wiping the sweat from his brow.
“But it was fun, right?”
“Of course,” he spoke, still out of breath.
“Anyway, it sucks you have to leave,” she said, pursing her lips together.
“Yeah, I have work tomorrow, so till next week.”
“This place will be open tomorrow?” he asked.
“Monday to Monday. One big party. So you’ll come?” she asked again, batting her eyelashes.
“Um, I- we’ll see,” he said as she smiled at him, that pesky finger running across his chest.
“I’ll be waiting,” she gave her parting shot, strutting away for Damian to ogle at her; and ogle he did.
“Wow,” he sighed, sitting on the bar stools. Mercy came over to him with a glass of water and started.
“Let’s call this a rookie mistake. Just so you know, she’s a hoe.”
“She’s a lady of the evening, my guy. The streets know her by name!” Mercy stated to a shocked Damian.
“Wait, for real? As in, she’s a…”
“Yes, what you’re thinking. A real one. Many of them come around here to get guys to spend on them, and next thing you know, you guys are singing all the way to Bliss Street.”
“Bliss Street?” he asked her, intrigued, “Bliss Street is nearby?”
“You’ve never been here, have you?” she asked, eyes widened.
“No. you said it was around here? Where exactly?”
“Just around. Look, it’s probably good if you didn’t know more about it. It’s – it isn’t a place you want to be around. Water is on me,” she said as she attended to another customer. He promptly stepped out into the lively street and looked to his left. He started walking there slowly, past the people flitting across from one club to the other, stopping to get a bite from a man grilling sausages by the road for the famished revellers.
“One please,” he said, pulling out a twenty-shilling coin and handing it to him.
“Here you go,” the man said. Damian took a bite of the piping hot sausage and regretted it immediately as he fanned his mouth.
“Is hot, bwana,” the man said, chuckling. Damian kept on walking, trying to cool his burning mouth, but ended up dropping his snack on the pavement. He tried picking it up quickly, but a pair of sneakers unknowingly stomping on it made sure that didn’t happen.
“Damn,” he groaned, moving on. The street got less busy as he progressed, the noise subsided and the street lights had long gone to sleep as he approached a left corner, ahead of which were many cars parked near a cliff overlooking the moonlit river. Beyond it were the orange dots that marked the lights of their neighbouring city. Before he could admire it, he looked up to see a street sign hanging for dear life, ushering him to a street dotted with but a few street lights, highlighting scantily clad women standing outside the ramshackle houses, more so the one in a feathery scarf that approached him with hope in her eyes.
“Hi baby,” she said, “what do you want?”
“Um, wh – what can I get?” he nervously asked.
“I’ll blow you for 200,” she said with a smile.
“Two hundred?!” he asked her in shock.
“We can negotiate. I can take 150,” she went on as he looked at her in pity.
“No, not today. Thank you,” he said as he stood there, wondering:
“This is Bliss Street?”