David and Kariuki hit it off immediately and after a month David moved in with his new friend, who lived in a bedsitter in Ganjoni with his brother Ndungu and a friend named Njenga.
‘Lazima unifundishe kusurvive,’ David told him. You must teach me how to survive.
‘Mombasa is like a disco. If you can pay, you are in,’ Kariuki laughed.
Around this time, David, who had until now been carrying the documents he had smuggled out of the Central Bank on his person, felt settled enough to seek a more permanent hiding place for them.
He says he buried them in a safe place, but remains evasive about details. Slowly, with the help of fellow exiled Nairobians Kariuki, Ndungu and Njenga, David eased into the life of Mombasa.
The first few months were rough. Though Mombasa was flush with cash, the young men went through hard times, especially in those first months.
David remembers walking into kiosks so hungry that he would order food without any money in his pocket. Blurting this out after having eaten his fill, he would sit shamefaced and let the inevitable stream of insults wash over him.
Portrait of the waterfront in Mombasa painted by Al Amir Hussein
Such was the difference between Nairobi and Mombasa. In Nairobi, he would have ended up with a beating or in a police cell. These early years were so hard that David remembers his first mattress was a rolled-up wire mesh. Luckily, it was always warm in Mombasa.
Ganjoni is a lower middle-class area of stone houses with makuti roofs. The bed sitter the four young men lived in was a large room that served as kitchen, bedroom and sitting room, with a small adjoining toilet and bathroom.
After a few months, the quartet started experiencing success in fits and starts. They were young and single and so, like moths, they were drawn to the Mombasa bar circuit, frequenting Uncle Sam’s, Kigotho’s, Sky’s and that Mombasa lifestyle staple of the 1990s – Casablanca.
They chased clients trying to sell advertising space by day and were in turn chased as clients of a different sort by night in all the watering holes they became recognisable patrons in.
Kariuki describes the young David as well groomed, intelligent, confident and street-smart. He says their friendship in Mombasa was like that of many other young men forced together in a foreign environment - friendship of convenience.
Moreover, David made a wonderful drinking and womanising companion. Kariuki did observe some flaws in his new friend, though these were not serious enough to warrant a parting of the ways.
David had a sly side to him. He shirked his duties in the house, never cleaning up or cooking when it was his turn. No woman was off-limits to David - including his roommates’ girlfriends, at whom he regularly made passes behind their backs.
Many a time, David would borrow small amounts of money that he never repaid. He could also be pushy and demanding, especially with Kariuki’s younger brother Ndungu.
The earnest, honest young man was becoming an opportunist.
Billy Kahora is a Kenyan journalist and and an assistant editor at Kwani - a literary magazine. He won the 2001 South African short story competition with his story Bookfan. He holds all copyright to this piece.
With thanks to Wambui Mwangi at the University of Toronto, Canada
Pictures courtesy of Inside African Art
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