I went to Nairobi to find a better life, as many Kenyans do. When I hopped out of the bus and looked around at this famed city of many lights, I started praying. I wanted my plans for a better life to work out. All I could afford at the beginning was a one-room house in Mathare, for which I paid 300 shillings per month. I slept on the floor and in the morning wandered around looking for work. The easiest job to find was as a hand at construction sites. I just had to be introduced by a referee at a site and look strong enough to carry a sack of cement or a granite block. I only needed to prove I could hit a nail with a hammer and not miss. I have always believed my life would keep getting better and better. I don’t know where this resolve came from. After working at the construction site for a while, I moved out of Mathare to a one-bedroom house with an indoor shower and toilet in a more decent residential estate. I paid the deposit without knowing how I would keep paying the rent. Somehow I did. I searched for better-paying construction sites. My pay rose from 250 shillings a day to 700 shillings. I was surprised I could live comfortably in Nairobi as a construction worker. I bought everything in my house through that menial job. I saved.
I had some free time on weekends and I would walk around. That’s how I stumbled on a group of men playing netball on an empty field next to a dirty river. As I watched, one of the players came over and asked if I knew the rules of the game. When I said I did, he asked if I could join them for a match. Later, I came to know they were all queer men and the match was a way for them to exercise a feeling of freedom. Soon, we became solid friends. We hung out and drank together. We held parties at each other’s homes. I felt I had finally arrived at a place I belonged; a place that had been out of reach from me for a really long time.
I met Alex online. I was curious about this man, brave enough to put his real picture on a dating app, about his smile and kind eyes. We met for a drink. He chose sweet vodka and I asked why he needed something sweet when he was already sweet enough. He giggled. We went home together and I assumed it to be just another one-night stand. He didn’t leave in the morning. I took him to church. He started spending more time at my place. He took me to see his family. Before I knew it, I had fallen for him—my heart had dropped all the way to the bottom of my left shoe!
Because Alex was a student and I worked multiple jobs, we agreed to keep our Sundays free so we could be together. He would play video games in the living room, feet up my sofa. I would be in the kitchen making pancakes or omelets. If he needed bread, I would lightly fry his slices. Alex always ate my food heartily, as if he were starving. I would tease him, saying he was pretending to be enjoying my meal. After all, he was from a well-to-do family and had grown up with many kinds of interesting meals that I was yet to taste. We would cuddle and watch an array of movies, the smuddling before my eyes because I cared less about following their plots. I just wanted to snuggle with my man.
In the afternoons, we would go to Karura Forest, the Arboretum or the Oloolua Nature Trail. My true joy was to be amid the trees or near a waterfall. I felt happy walking alongside the man I loved, free from the constraints of everyday Nairobi: the traffic jams and endless concrete buildings; the restless buzz from Nairobi people, who never stopped walking, who never stopped hustling. I found bliss in these beautiful parks. I was ordinary and small against the magnificence of nature.
And oh we played! We dared each other to climb trees, to swing from their branches, to jump over high wooden benches. Here I was, sharing tender moments with my boyfriend, the man I was obsessed with, and no one around us could tell. I am sure we were dismissed by passersby as two clownish, immature men.
These carefree moments reminded me of how much open I had become of myself as a gay man. There’s a picture in my father’s living room of myself at fourteen. I am slouching and sour-looking. As blurry as my face is, the fear in my eyes is obvious. I am terrified of the world around me. I am terrified of the photographer. I had begun to feel attracted to men but I didn’t have the language to express that feeling. I hadn’t seen that type of attraction growing up. In the village, boys pursued girls and girls waited to be pursued. I knew I would grow up and seduce a woman to settle with me and have my children. I was surprised to find myself so certain about being with Alex. I couldn’t argue or be defensive about my deep attraction to him. I loved him enough to let go of the pending terrors of my childhood. In the selfies we now took, my images showed a man finally at peace with himself and how he loved.
Alex brought me joy. We would stroll out of the park and buy ice-cream cones along the road. At home, his friends would come over, each of them loud, gay and carefree. Laptops and cans of beer floated around the room as we gossiped and played video games. We laughed and danced as we wanted. I was relaxed around them.
It was Alex who planned my first birthday party. He convinced me to celebrate the day I was born! I felt tense. I was unsure why the day I was born had to be so special. I had grown up knowing one’s death to be more significant for it meant a reunion with the creator. Alex orchestrated the event. He placed fluffy pillows on the living room floor for our friends and us to lie on. One of his buddies with a captivating voice sang me that familiar birthday song, which no one had ever sung to me. I went to the kitchen with the excuse of getting some snacks, only that I wanted to hide and hold in my tears. When I came back, Alex held me as only he could, and we kissed.