What do you really call Odeon? Way before, it was Pr. Pius Muiru’s harvest field, a place where he fleeced idiots for days on end before concrete reason did a backflip and turned his fortunes. I thought Odeon was a street, but it is just a name, like a name scribbled on an overgrown cactus.
There is nothing like Odeon street, though everyone calls it Odeon. Odeon is a large brown building that stands on the edge of Odeon, misplaced and edgy, like it doesn’t want any form of association, by proxy or otherwise with this knockturn madness.
Latema road lies adjacent to Tom Mboya Street and stretches past Timboroa road right into the dregs of Nairobi City. Latema street is more likely to be the correct name of Odeon because everything on this side of town has the name Latema as an inscription- buses, plazas and that whole mélange. But Odeon stuck, like a bad vibe or an unwarranted nickname, stubborn like a flea on a nut.
I stumbled into Odeon on Sunday and paid heed to its hubris and ever since, I have been plying myself to this side of town trying to understand what makes it tick. I have bought drinks from the taverns in its corridors, gawked at its near naked hookers, and stood outside its little shacks of hotels still operating as a norm because poor men don’t deny each other food and I have combed through its alleys and pathways to conclude that this is a yawning underbelly.
Odeon is reeling from the effects of the lockdown, and if Odeon is reeling, then the entire of Nairobi is on a death knell.
This whole platter is Nairobi’s School of lifeline hard-knocks, and the Globe roundabout area is where she spins her wizardry. There is no lull to this place, she hits hard, she hits heavy and she hits fast, at times she hits with a reeling subtlety because her charm is effusively poisonous. Odeon is your prime primal bastard, her inhabitants can survive half about anywhere on the planet as long as there is cheap food, almost free booze and half naked women. She is home to those joints where you can buy fries for as little as 15 bob and eat while standing because there are no seats, everyone eating is an Israelite waiting for the skies to open and first borns to be slaughtered. It is an underground teeming with hardened lowlifes, slick tongued smooth operators, small time cons and cats that will foist your life without a second thought if you just happen to step into a wrong alley at the wrong time.
Odeon is a rundown version of River Road. She is the home of the cheap, the base, the frugal and the downright illegal. She comes packaged in whichever way you want it be it a pound of flesh or a contraband that will book you permanent residency in Kamiti, she doesn’t give Twitter fleet hoots, she is your home all under one roof, a proper ratchet, hatchet lass.
She is a peddlers haven, reliable for anyone in need of a fix, hard or soft, she delivers with the same consistency of a setting sun.
She is a street without character because no one needs character here, everyone rides on wit a third eye and incessant chatter, it’s a beehive. Everyone goes on minding everyone’s business.
She is the same place that I got a taste of what mob justice feels like after I brawled with a conductor stupid enough to hold me by the scruff of my neck because I had accidentally stepped on his open shoe. He had demanded for money which I didn’t have. I had had a bad day and I just wanted to get to my place. While he held and shoved me around with a crowd gathering, I sized him up slowly and real proper, he was my size, scrawnier and with less muscle. He had a runny mouth, but deep down I knew that in a proper scrapping, my mother would have disowned me if I had been beaten by this toe-rag. I held him back by his scruff, pinned him on the ground and asked him to stop being a dick. This victory was brief because one of his mates kicked me in the head reminding me that I could not embarrass a player on his home-ground. I scampered but not before the bastard nicked a right hook on my unguarded face during the melee. There is no honor among men in that blasted crowd.
Folks cut shady snappy deals and rove about on a prowl, like starved remoras. Odeon is the home of the violent that take it by force, a thing of the bible. She is a little frilly dusty dispatch when it shines and muddy as a road in Kinoo when it rains, a pulsing metropolis that goes about its way, insanity tottering on a layer upon layer of insanity.
She has as many seedy alleys as an ancient city has catacombs, alleys littered with pubs that ply as M-Pesa shops, again no seats, its all touch and go. Sanity does not reside in Odeon because the souls that ply their trade here are souls flirting with living and surviving and both bitches are playing them, each as elusively enchanting as the other. The men that reside here drink and scheme and the ladies screw and extort any blithering idiot that lacks enough sense not to fall for their charms, here, everyone is playing to their strengths, everyone is game, everyone is predator.
When a conductor owing me change takes almost 40 minutes to find it, I know that things are bleak, because usually money here changes hands faster than a hooker is willing to drop her pants.
Forget the Somali owned restaurants, Odeon is where Nairobi cleanses its money, legally, illegally in whichever way. Products and services are at a fickle toss, some illegal some expensive, there is always something for everyone at a flatfooted bargain.
The curfew timelines messed up everyone’s working plan. Anyone working on a graveyard shift would have to look for a daylight gig, all the moonlighting gigs that were happening in the night met the same sad state as night shifts. Everyone has had to be innovative to survive but when it comes to survival on a menial lifeline, the underground becomes mainstream.
The booze shops in Odeon have no signages, just quiet huddled crowds swigging from clear plastic cups- what they drink is concentrate enough to bore a hole through a priests lungs. The crowd looks sorry and tired of living. Everyone that drinks at such a time in the day and without holding back is a sod drowning themselves to forget the sorrows of their life. They drink because there is no money and the money they have is barely enough to get along and so they drink even more to forget that they have no money. They go on drinking until they forget themselves, their sorrows, and their existence. The chaps who drink from the streets in Odeon are likely to drink themselves to their graves.
I had my boots polished at Odeon this Sunday, an old man that kept referring to hookers as ladies from the night shift did the hand job and when I paid him, he left to look for change. He took a whole fifteen minutes and in this time my eyes had to rove around. The haute couture around here is tight, skimpy and revealing, something for the wind to play with. It is 10 in the morning and all the hookers in Nairobi seem to have congregated here for the Sunday service. There is a maximum Miracle Center Church which was hit with our parents before everyone wrote off the DMX of preacher for being a frigging fraud. Here they collect their tithes as they render services in kind, sort of like a fleshy barter exchange.
The crowds are slow, the sun is mellow, the air is nippy and the streets less busy than usual because it is Sunday and people have no money to waste coming to town.
The night nurses are like touts. I see a dreadlocked lass stop men as they pass by and tries to sell her deliveries in full glare of the sun. I never knew I would grow to see a day where ladies would hawk their wares in daylight but the excitement is dampened by a realization that they are doing this to stay afloat. Locking the country affected their modus operandi and so they had to adapt to survive, something that Posta Kenya and Kodak should have done eons ago save that they are old and brittle, change would crumble their brittle egos.
There is not just one lady standing in the full exposure to the elements, there is a whole horde of them, some bristling with the crowd, engaging and cajoling, some stand stoic like relics of old, cocksure about the ability of their bodies to deliver, almost like billboards on Kimathi street.
Man must survive, woman must live, so goes the adage.
Photo by Alex Mercado on Unsplash