The weather had Nairobi in a cold grip. That kind of cold that condenses your breath on your upper lip and makes you feel like your nose is running; penetrates your skin with its icy sting leaving your fingers numb, your eyes watery. The city streets were bathed in the yellowish hue of her streetlights but they were deserted. Few souls braved this weather. Draped in layers of wool, even they couldn’t get where they were going fast enough. They fleeted across the streets hugging themselves and walking close to the walls of street side buildings. This unforgiving cold hungry for victims reached further than the lights, to the back streets and every nook and cranny therewith. And those it reached it made sure to dig out, or force further away from the world, until all that was left was a ghost town with yellow streetlights and a gripping cold.
Place D, the huge neon sign read, and thus the nightclub it advertised was known. A popular hangout for Nairobi’s youth, it was never short of patrons any day of the night. A freezing Friday night and even the burly bouncers, who usually flank the doors; the crowd of teenagers outside, having been denied access; had moved away from sight. The music from the club spilled out onto the back alley in muffled thumps that lulled rather than roused. Antoine should have been fast asleep in his little corner of the world, but the cold tortured him so. He had tried to curl himself like a foetus, moved so close to the wall he could smell the concrete. His threadbare blanket had somewhat managed to roll twice around him but still he shivered. The floor he had slept on each night for two months now seemed too uneven for comfort, and hunger was gnawing obstinately at his insides.
The streets hadn’t received Antoine too well. That he had made it this far, Antoine thanked his lucky stars. For all the glamour accorded it, Nairobi served up its brutality with bare knuckles. It was a grinding stone that made all your vanity fall away and the grit was all that was left of you. It reduced you to the base of your instinct that only four things made any sense to you: food, clothes, a place to sleep, and cobbler glue for when you lacked the other three and you needed a way to dull your conscience enough to fight another day. Antoine had not yet sunk that far. Only six months ago, he had been in school learning drugs were bad for your health. The street was already grinding away that knowledge though because as he sat there, Antoine wanted nothing more than to forget this was what he was now.
The memory of his tragedy flashed through his mind. He had learnt to shut it down as soon as it came up, for when it did, it flooded him with such complex emotion that he simply broke down and cried. The other street children whose gang he had tried to join made fun of him for it, called him weak. So he had gone out on his own to prove to himself and them that he was anything but. Such was his psyche, Antoine never felt one thing. He would get angry and scared and frustrated and sad when he reminisced on his family. He would shut down the memories but all it took was that flash and his eyes would sting with hot tears. This time, as he futilely hid from the cold and the memory came, he did not shut it down. He let it ignite every nerve in his body and consume him. Today, he wished for death to re-unite him with his mother. The huge neon sign across from him shimmered through his tears as they drained away his hopelessness. The emotion choked him and his swallowing was painful, but he let the memories punish him so he could think more clearly. And indeed with time, the tears began to dry up and he stopped sniffling.