Every night, Nairobi dies. She exchanges her glittering dress for a black shroud. Her heart slows – the little lights coursing through her arteries dwindle. Her voice is hushed; from within her, only pale whispers and fearful mutterings rise. The life that filled her during the day vanishes. She lies languidly beneath the stars, and a deathly chill steals softly into her. It isn’t strong or fierce, like the cold of a pale and misty morning in July. It doesn’t strike. It has no fists, no bite. It is a gloved, emotionless hand pulling you into the dark, or the touch of an undertaker closing the eyes of one more corpse, before he heaves it into a hole eight meters deep.
But every day, at sunrise, she speaks again: voices coarse and soft alike chatter, argue, laugh, complain; horn blares fill her streets; a thousand cars purr into life; matatus grumble along and boda-bodas rush past; shouts of “Tao!” and “Todhie!” ring in the air. Every day, at dawn, Nairobi is reborn.
Her children die every night too.
A little girl turns off the lights, slips into her bed, pulls the blanket over herself, and waits silently in the dark.
A middle-aged man, unshaven and unkempt, staggers into a ditch. Together with the stench of cheap alcohol, the darkness surrounds him.
In a forgotten alley, an old man drags the ragged remnants of what used to be a T-shirt as far around himself as they can go. The darkness finds him shivering in a cold and lonely corner where she takes him into her indifferent arms…hers is the only embrace he’s ever known.
Lying on the concrete, a youth, barely bearded, moves frantically away from something behind him, a gaping hole in his side, his eyes wide in the weak light of the hidden moon. Tears run down his face and mix with the dirt beneath him. Then, he hears footsteps. In a sudden burst of energy, he scampers deeper into the darkness. He crashes heavily to the ground, his breathing is quick and labored. “Fala wee! Utaniona leo!” He can’t see the policeman’s eyes, but he knows the cruel glint of them – how could he ever forget?
A brutal kick in the ribs. A heavy thud. A fierce, blinding pain… His hands fall into the wet sludge of blood and dust.
Crouching, the policeman clenches the corpse’s fist around a pistol as “evidence” that the man “fired at policemen during an arrest attempt”. Then he gets up and glares at the murdered man. He spits.
An old woman lies still in a hospital bed, her eyes closed. The tired cringe on her face looks carved into her flesh. In the drawn-out battle against the ravaging cancer in her side, she has lost much: she is thinner, the lines in her cheek cut deeper, her hairs just sparse, grey wisps. Eventually, the darkness passes by, leaving her body behind. But…her body is strange. Though frail, it looks somehow…regal. Hidden in her weary face, vestiges of courage, fire, depth, compassion and nobility shine out – like rays of Eternity.
Somewhere, a child lies defenseless inside his mother’s womb. The blackness throbs gently, and at every beat, nourishment flows from her into his fragile body. Her every breath is shared between them, their hearts beat together. So intimate is their union! But then, she speaks; this time, her voice trembles slightly. It jars him, like a false note. “Yes, I’m ready.” A brief pause. “Do it.” A harsh grinding breaks into the darkness. Something pulls him, pulls him, pulls him… Pain. Wrenching pain. His mouth opens in a silent scream. He thrashes wildly with the two limbs he has left…. Forceps close on his skull and tighten, and tighten, and tighten until – darkness.
Yet these too, like all the rest, wake. They are reborn into a Light that does not fade, a Joy that does not wane, a Day that does not die.
A Life that does not end.