Abraham knows he has to choose one of the doors that have appeared in front of him, but he’s not sure why, or how he knows. He’s sure he’s read about things like this, in the short stories in the magazines people leave in the buses he touts for on the main axe slicing through Nairobi. He doesn’t get a lot of choice in life. Here he seems to have all the choices but none of the knowledge, which usually makes choices easy.
The door with the graffiti reminds him of the buses he works on. there’s even thumping music audible from behind, it, making the metal of the door shake a little at every beat. He wouldn’t say he enjoyed the deafening sound, but there was something comforting about it, familiar. He’s glad when he gets home to his bedsitter in a busy, dusty, cramped compound shared with around 150 other families, singletons and fathers that come and go to mothers that aren’t sure if they even need a father in the house. There’s barely space for them all.
This isn’t a silent place by any means, but at least he has some space that he can control and call his own. For someone that lives in chaos and works by the rules of the road, which are mean and unforgiving, Abraham is obsessively neat and organized. His toothbrush, with its little cover to protect it from passers-by who might like to feast or defecate on it, stands next to a clean glass for rinsing, and a clean, folded towel, on the little nightstand that served as kitchen counter, bathroom cabinet and entertainment system all in one. Next to it, a speaker with a slot for an MP3 player, which had been pinched by a street lout only last week, looked sad and empty, but sparkling clean and ready for a new guest when money came through.
But this door didn’t offer any promise of escape, which, much as Abraham refused to talk about to anyone, he longed for. So he moved on to the next. He wasn’t sure if he walked or just shifted his focus of vision, he wasn’t really sure where his body existed and whether the doors were in front of him, or on a screen, but they certainly felt real. This door had no handle. But is definitely wasn’t locked. There was that almost imperceptible gap between the frame and the door that tells you that with a soft push the door would swing open, and however much you tried to shove it closed, it would never quite stay shut. In the same way that Abraham tried to shut out his dreams of something better than working the buses for a living, from 5am to 10pm.
But what good was hoping when there was nothing to cling on to? No door handle. No education. No way out. He’d left school at 13 when his dad got sick and his mum couldn’t eanr enough for him and his five younger siblings. He started touting for the buses and got a good reputation. He worked his way up the ranks and was now one of the most well-respected conductors on his route. His uniform was always neatly ironed and he was never drunk on the job, which was a rarity amongst his peers. But still, no certificate and no Maybe this door was trying to tell him something. Even if there’s no handle, there might be a way out.
Elle allait sonner. Ça serait bizarre d’attendre. Elle devait sonner tout de suite. Dix minutes pour monter les escaliers. C’était déjà bizarre. Il fallait sonner maintenant. Mais elle avait peur. Quand elle fermait les yeux. Elle ne voyait pas son visage. Pas son corps. Rien. Elle avait peur de ne pas la reconnaître. Il y avait derrière cette porte six femmes. Elle avait oublié son visage. A elle. Celle qu’elle venait voir. Son corps aussi. Elle avait passé quatre heures face à elle. Les yeux droits dans les siens. Mais elle ne se souvenait plus la taille de ses cheveux. La forme de son nez. Quand elle ouvrait les yeux. Deux choses apparaissaient. Des yeux noirs qui la regardaient sans peur. Au milieu d’un corps légèrement courbé par un mélange de nonchalance et de timidité. Elle ne savait rien d’elle. Quasiment. Rien. Mais elle était sure. Sure qu’il fallait la voir. et la revoir. Elle avait été invitée. A manger. Elle n’avait pas faim. Mais en ouvrant cette porte elle savait qu’il faudrait manger devant six femmes. Qui avait préparé ce repas. Pour elle. Donc il faudrait manger. Sa vie était pleine de femmes qu’elle avait aimées avant de connaitre. Ça c’était toujours passé comme ça. Une phrase. Un geste et elle aimait. C’était extrêmement étrange d’aimer quelqu’un qu’on est incapable de décrire et pas sure de reconnaître tout de suite. Elle avait l’impression d’être en avance. Un bout de femme dans sa tête qui s’agrandirait peu à peu. Apres des bières. Des thés. Mais parce que ça lui était arrivé toute sa vie. Elle ne doutait plus. Quelque chose au fond de sa tête avait vu le truc en entier. Elle. Non. Pas encore. Mais ça viendrait. Elle n’en doutait pas. Allez. Il fallait sonner. Ça avait commencé quand elle avait seize ans. Une femme. Parce que c’était déjà une femme. Avait installé une capuche sur sa tête au mois d’avril. Juste ça. Placé une capuche sur sa tête alors qu’il ne pleuvait pas. La courbure de son dos, de son épaule formée par la capuche, cette façon conquérante, septique et féminine de marcher. Elle avait été envahie immédiatement par cette certitude. Une certitude obsédante. La même qu’ aujourd’hui. Ce n’était pas de l’amour. Enfin si peut-être. Elle ne tremblait pas. Quand elle est venue face à elle. Elle ne voulait pas lui dire tu es extraordinaire. Elle ne voulait lui dire tu es belle. Elle voulait juste lui dire. Ouf, tu es là. Comme si c’était la seule. Elle ne tremblerait pas. Elle ou l’ennuie. Elle n’avait rien à perdre. Elle était venue s’asseoir en face de la femme à la capuche. A l’époque où tout était effrayant, elle n’eu besoin d’aucun courage. Elle pensa à ça et à ces 14 ans qui ont suivis. Où elle avait bu ces bières face à elle. Elles avaient construit ensemble un parole douce et précise de grandes personnes. Pour exprimer ce qu’elle exprimait à l’époque par des doigts d’honneurs dans des nuits d’ivresse urbaines. Tout avait été là dans la capuche. Un geste. Une démarche. Un manteau avant même qu’elle ne connaisse son prénom. Elle avait été envahie d’elle. Elle avait été sure. Elle va sonner. Maintenant. Elle a ses yeux dans la tête et ça suffit. Ce corps qu’elle ne peut décrire mais qu’elle connait. Elle le sait aussi grande soit-elle. Elle a des doigts d’honneur. Des nuits d’ivresse urbaines. Dans sa vie. Dans sa peau. Elle va manger. Elle va s’asseoir. Juste en face. D’elle. Et attendre un peu. Que peu à peu elle comprenne autre chose de cette femme. Que ces yeux noirs qui n’ont pas peur. Elle sonne.
What do shoes mean to you?
What do shoes mean to you? To me they are a means to the ends I seek: to running, to walking, to driving, to functioning. I think very little about them and I replace them as I need to, not more, not less. I alternate between pairs that offer maximum comfort and are suitable for the setting. They protect my feet, and they don’t hurt them, and I always make sure of this, ever since my mum told me the one thing you couldn’t afford to have as a young child working on a farm was sore feet. I still put them through trials and tribulations, squeezing them into strappy set-ups that do more harm than good for my body but a lot of good for my image (supposedly), and I’ll keep wearing my favourite boots even when they’re no longer watertight, because I’m too attached to them to just let them go. Often overlooked, but we realize when we ask, directly, and unabashedly, ‘what do shoes mean to you?’ that they’re more than the stitched together swatches of leather or plastic we look down on from above.
“Shoes are very important to me because they protect me from injuries and diseases and they act as a symbol of attraction according to my job, whereby I need to be official to attract customers, and agents that I recruit. I’m a inspiration and a role model to many in the street. When they see me smart they get motivated and know they too can be like me”.
“The key thing is their hygienic purpose. They keep my feet clean and prevent injuries to my feet. They make one look presentable and smart and maintain good posture. They also prevent orthopedic problems to the ankle and foot, and build one’s self-esteem by positive self-image. Then they help at the gym and in sports, for performance and comfort whilst doing these activities. They prevent one from getting jigger infection as they act as a barrier. They protect feet from harsh weather conditions and also create employment for those that sell them.”
“Shoes are important to me because they protect my feet and some other shoes make me look smart”.
“Shoes enhance my walk and general look making me feel graceful and feminine”.
“Shoes are an identity. Shoes tell the greatest of stories. And sometimes the most worn out of shoes tell the most beautiful stories.
In life, we’ve heard a million times the phrase ‘keep walking’, and so we must. They come in different shapes and sizes. There’s no one size fits all. We spend a lot of time picking the most comfortable shoes for the journey because only good shoes take you good places.
Some people want the most expensive brand, some people wish they had any, and some wish they had feet to wear any.
Shoes. Also everything women want.”
The opinions are direct quotes from men and women in Nairobi, from a variety of backgrounds, and have not been changed, shortened or added to. Thank you to all of them for contributing so willingly and genuinely.
Like Sarah’ s mother, my mother was a feminist. Like her mother she was in her tweenies in the 70’s. They had Benoite Grould and Simone De Beauvoir on their nightstand growing up. And when they gave birth to their children. They had this sentence in mind « on ne nait pas femme on le devient ». They wanted us to be free. That what they thought. Not really sure how they managed, what did they say exactly but me and Sarah we understood quite rapidly that being a princess was bad. Pink was forbidden. Make up ok for special occasion. And High hills ! no ! high hills was baaad. When we think about it now we don’t really know what did they say exactly but Sarah and me we played with the boys and dress like them at first. For a long time. Sarah ended up liking boys and I ended up liking girls.
The first transgression for me was to love high hills on women. It took me a long time to think it was acceptable. To love crazily expenses dresses. I secretly watched « la montée des marches » of the Cannes festival. But i would not have a discution on it. I would not dare to enjoy a conversation on dresses or shoes that had no political value. I was 27. the first time. Not before. My first partner had 30 pairs of shoes and not once I have dared to enjoy a conversation on one of them.
Sarah is femy now. I love seeing her in all her dresses, wearing all types of jewelry and what i like the most is when she wear her high hills and we go dancing. All her body is already dancing on the way to the party. And when i get very drunk and i come to her: she knows from my smile that i want her shoes.I want to dance with them. Its one of our habits. Switching shoes. right on the dance floor. The hills are so high that it is almost dangerous to jump while dancing kudoro. But i jump. And jump and jump. I love it so much.
Last year Sarah came to my house and brought me a box. And inside the box there were the shoes. High hills.