The rain began to fall down softly, drops tapping gently against the earth. I never felt the urge to run or dash beneath an eave or leafy tree, like everyone else on the street. Instead, my pace slowed and I looked down, forcing my curls to fall in front of my face, to fight the slight breeze that lifted the crochet curls, exposing my cornrows underneath in the pockets by my temple where I had not finished inserting the curls. Strangers were suddenly increasing their pace. I could hear the pitter patter of feet headed towards home at the end of a long hump day at the office. It was 5:30 in the afternoon and the warm Kampala skies had waited as long as possible, grey clouds spewing and brewing as the day progressed until, finally, they could no longer contain the rain their clouds held.
I was aiming to walk to the closest mall, to purchase my contact lens solution. When the rain began to fall, I decided to simply pop into a hotel that suddenly loomed up to the right. I walked up to the guards and, with my American accent, I was ushered in with a smile and softly whispered Welcome. My intention was to find a source of Wi-Fi and to find a socket. A jack. My phone was dying. I needed it alive so I could order a SafeBoda to ferry me home, since I had no actual cash on my person.
The restaurant was blue. An electric blue that was at once soft but also piercing. It was empty, save for a couple who occupied a low table and a mzungu and his African colleague chatting in soft tones at one of the hightop tables. I quickly settled into the corner, immediately noticing that Michael Bolton was gently serenading someone over the restaurant speakers. I also immediately noticed that they had no Hendrick’s on their bar shelves. My disappointment rose so swiftly, it almost choked me.
The couple at the table next to me drew my attention. They sat in silence, slouched into their individual settee chairs, each glued to their mobile phone screens. His Guinness beer sat in front of him and she held a glass with some clear liquid and lemon slices in her right hand. It could have been water. It could have been gin. One thing was clear is that they were together but not really together.
I ordered some red wine. Merlot. Dry. I hoped it was good. It was mediocre.
Then they played Boyz II Men.
A big group had come in and settled in at the corner furthest from mine. Their voices carried easily across the room and I could hear their British accents wafting sharply as they discussed some presentation to the Ministry of Finance…but they also mentioned Cricket and Rugby.
As Wanya hit his crescendo notes, I was the only one bobbing my head to the music. At one point, I started to sing. Looking up self-consciously to see if anyone had noticed my off-key singing, I noticed two large men who had walked in and settled at the bar. One was on the phone, talking in loud whispers in a language I failed to recognize. After a few minutes, he hung up the phone and turned to his friend.
They began to speak in Swahili.
Then I heard one say to the other some words that, when put together, my brain refused to comprehend, but my heart froze in fear. As Wanye petered out and a high-pitched Michael Jackson song floated into the room, I realized what they were talking about and I calculated how quickly they would notice the beaded Kenyan Flag bracelet that I had around my left wrist. And what that would mean for me. And my life.