Growing up, it was technically impossible to talk to a girl in peace.
You could not visit her home unless her parents were confirmed to be in Ecuador and only returning after seven months. And the confirmation had to be both physical location, and verification at the visa office.
She could not visit your home because in the first place our homes were not girlfriend-friendly.
Everyone was either holed up in the smoky kitchen taking hot tea or sprawled like lizards on the grass outside, while not busy working somewhere in the shamba. There was no time to relax on the sofa entertaining your guest with juice and biscuits.
The option of going to entertain your girlfriend in the sitting room was considered sacrilegious. We all lived outside the main house like livestock.
ALL ROOSTERS CHEAT
Indeed, we only entered the main house with hens as they were coming home to roost. That was after all the roosters had visited their girlfriends in the neighbourhood, because all roosters cheat in their relationships.
And because of these acts of infidelity, the neighbouring roosters always end up engaging in a fierce fight of passion until one of them is fatally injured.
But before the loser rooster dies, you rush and cut its neck. That evening you have chicken for dinner. Everyone goes home happy. I digress.
If you wanted to talk to your girlfriend, you had to keep on walking.
However, you could not stop by the roadside to chat with our girlfriend because all roadsides had owners.
If you stopped by the roadside, the owners of homesteads adjacent to the roadside naturally assumed that you were their visitors.
They would come out and greet you heartily and invite you for tea or the fruits in season in the shamba.
They would proceed to waste an hour of your dating life regaling you with stories about how their cow gave birth to a healthy bull.
You could not go and sit or stand in the secluded places near the bushes or by the riverside watching frogs jumping or birds singing in the trees.
That was likely to be interpreted as the initial signs that you wanted to convert the innocent girl a young single mother.
You could not talk in a hotel because after the Hotel Chief Executive serves you tea, he comes and sits with you and tells you stories about the most recent heist of a sewing machine from the shop next door.
After you finish your tea, he quickly picks the metal cup and plastic plate and wipes the table with a dirty cloth, a subtle sign that it is time for you to pay and leave.
However, Wa Hellen was different.
She did not entertain the idea of us being seen loitering up and down the village like taxis in a busy estate.
She encouraged us to bring our girlfriends home and make them some tea and pancakes.
THOUGHT IT WAS A TRAP
Of course this further discouraged us from bringing friends home because we all thought it was a trap. And our friends were afraid of traps too.
Once in a while we got friends who were daring enough and ready to risk it all for the sake of love. Or who loved our pancakes. Or who would rather pretend to be courageous for the sake of the pancakes.
So when I came to Nairobi, I had a culture shock. I maintained that visitors should be entertained in the house. I could therefore not come to terms with why girls found it strange to be invited to my bedsitter for tea and pancakes.
After all, there was nowhere to walk in Nairobi unless you went to the Arboretum. And going to the Arboretum was a suicidal move, not because of thieves but because of law enforcement.
There were guys always walking around calling themselves Security. They would wait until the two of you had settled down somewhere secluded.
In the serenity and tranquility of the Arboretum as birds chirruped in the trees, you would open up your heart to the damsel and quote for her from Songs of Songs 7:3-4 that says:
3 "Your navel is a bowl well rounded with no lack of wine, your belly a heap of wheat surrounded with lilies".
4 "Your two breasts are two fawns, twins of a gazelle”.
Then the security guys would strike and accuse you, falsely, of intending to consummate your relationship on government land. You would part with money in exchange for your freedom because you didn’t want to end up in Kamiti and have hardened criminals consummate their jail terms with you.
So the two of you walked home dejected and humiliated. You escorted her to Koja Stage so that she could board a matatu back to Banana. You were likely to never see her again after that lucky escape from a prolonged jail term.
You went back to your bedsitter broke and loveless, which is the most dangerous combination a man has ever had to deal with.
When you see some of us talking about our troubled past until tears well in our eyes and lumps form in our throats, it is not in vain.
Some of us require intense counselling and very powerful support groups.