South Coast Backpackers is located near Diani beach in a property that suggests holiday. There were maybe 3 dorms and other private rooms. The kitchen was a place of wonders. Ingredients would go in and food would come out, not just food but delicacies. Every morning after my nights of drinking and debauchery I would wake up walk to the kitchen and ask for bacon and toast. I never had bacon and toast taste so good and maybe this is why people stay in hotels. After my meal I would make my way to the hammock. The hammock is hung between these two palm trees, the very picture of tropical heaven. My eyes would close and I would swing my body back and forth as I lulled myself back into sleep.
Near the hammock is an outside bar. My all-time favourite place. The bartenders: friendly, the drinks: plentiful, the company: wonderful. The ashtrays as happens in Mombasa were shells filled with sand from the ocean. When they would fill up they would be disposed of back in the earth. Ashes to ashes… there was always music playing from the bar and I would have the kind of sleep that is aided, not interrupted by music. One day as I lay there a snake appeared and a long conversation ensued about what should be done to it. Finally it was decided and it was taken away. Through this I lay faux-sleeping. This episode that should have been of huge interest to me just lapping at my consciousness and disappearing where it came from like waves from the ocean.
I only made it to the beach on one day. It was a cold, rainy day of the sort that visits Mombasa only once in a while. Perfect for beach visiting. The sky was grey and foreboding, ready to burst its load on the earth; that happy with the beauty that it had the opportunity to witness. The beach I walked to was a small slice of what the south coast has to offer. The tide had risen and I couldn’t see even one of the yellow sands. The ocean rushed back and forth breaking against the beach. Each wave becoming millions of little droplets that would have glittered in the sun but in the weather that I was walking through only became grey, as if a stonemason had been chipping away at a block. It makes me think of when Vassily Grossman wrote:
Yes, if the sea was able to think, then every storm would make its waters dream of happiness. Each wave breaking against the cliff would believe it was dying for the good of the sea; it would never occur to it that, like thousands of waves before and after, it had only been brought into being by the wind.
Then it began to rain. The rain was heavy and loud. I retreated to this little shack where I met a guy who makes his living driving a boat. The shack was all metal roofs and wooden pillars. Potholes in places where the water would gather after it had leaked. The wind could be heard, the spray of the rain felt on your face. The ocean continued to swish back and forth but the rain was trying to drown it. Not its noise, the persistence and energy of the rainwater would make you think that the sky god and sea god were at odds and it was time for the upstart to learn his lesson. We sat and smoked as we looked at this greyness. I had a pang of envy at the life of the baharia next to me. He went out on his boat taking tourists snorkelling. He worked for himself. He worked in the world, on the ocean. Every day he tested himself against the world, doing something whose effect he could feel. Something that I felt brought him great pleasure while I would be going back to sit in an office all day. Sitting for so long indoors that it’s easy to forget how a breeze feels as it tickles the hair on my forearms or how the sea smells when it’s dangerous and just how beguiling it looks at that time. A greyness that can’t be seen anywhere else. A greyness whose beauty may lie just in its danger.
Many of the clubs are located on the beach. I failed to understand how anyone who did not live here could stand to be away from the beach, sitting indoors and swimming in pools as all this lay before us. I went to a party at some hotel. There were great cocktails poured into these pineapples that we used as cups. Large amounts of vodka and just enough tang that it didn’t burn you. Early in the evening the moon began to rise. I was lucky enough to catch sight of it. It was a red moon. Red and small. As red as a hangover. As red as a traffic light. The kind of moon that had bathed in the blood of sacrifices. It looked more than anything like a midnight cigarette. A round globe of fire surrounded by the smoke of the clouds that it was bursting through.
All this time the sound of the ocean’s waves washing the beach were repeated over and over again. The tide was low and there was sand all around. It was still slick with water and reflected light from the clubs all around it. The water itself was far, far away so far I could go and sit 200 metres away from everyone else and just contemplate the water. The rushing in and rushing out. The hypnotic sound that you can tell yourself is brimming with wisdom but that is so hypnotic you can almost understand that someone somewhere walked into it. Someone tired of the chaos of life. Someone enamoured by the promise of that swish. That back and forth. That beautiful sound and that red moon. A girl came to talk to me as I sat out there. She was worried. She told me that the last time she had sat like that there were things in life that she had been trying to put behind her. She wanted to make sure that I didn’t feel the same way. I didn’t. Not really but I could imagine it as I sat there. The peace promised.
At yet another beach club I went as close as I possibly could to the ocean and stood there feeling the water come in and go out. I stood motionless and the water rushed around me creating a sort of vacuum behind me. It would come again and again and again and then finally there would be a huge hole behind me that I would sink into. Sometimes I would catch the waves just right and begin to flow backwards with it. I began to be pushed back to the earth and it felt like flying.
There was one club that we went to and this girl that I had never met looked at me with aggression that should be saved for former lovers she shook her fist at me and grimaced. So I apologised for whatever I may have done wrong and walked away trying not to think about what happened. But that’s bullshit I couldn’t stop thinking about it and then I began thinking that this is what she wanted. To do something to make me think of her.
At the next place we went to I met her again. She asked me to buy her a blunt and I did. We went to the parking lot to talk. Well everyone had an ulterior motive. Hers was to smoke. She asked me if I thought she was beautiful. I did and I said so. She almost smiled. There was the sense of a struggle for the smile to come through that went over her whole body. Her eyes looked almost blank. Black and bleak, breaking. She tilted her head back as she took another puff. The compliment had no effect on her. The smile had withered and died on the way out of her body. Only silence and the smoke from the joint leaked out.
She looked at the moon more closely and with more intensity than I had ever done. She told me she was going to miss it most of all. Something ominous settled between us as she talked. Slowly, lightly, more seriously than I had heard all trip long.
“Kuna kitu kwa kichwa yangu, si aids .lakini itaniua. Mwezi…” there’s something in my head it’s not aids but its going to kill me. The moon….
She looked at the moon again as she took another puff. When I tried to talk to her she turned away and walked back into the club. Telling me that it was all a joke. I’ll never now know the truth or otherwise of that.