John Naiguran woke up suddenly and blinked, adjusting to the dimness inside the bus. There were people around him, strangers, fellow travellers. And the hand on his shoulder had been shaking him for some time.
Alfred, Alfred, amka. Wake up.
It was the student Janet? on her way to university in Kampala, she had said. They were on the night bus from Nairobi. She had boarded the bus in Limuru, half an hour into the journey. He had told her he was Alfred, a money-changer on his way to Busia at the border.
He felt for the bag beneath the chair. It was still there, still heavy. He sank into his seat and sighed.
Did you know you sleep with your eyes open? You were looking at me as if I stole your grade cow.
This girl whose name eluded him. She was skinny and small and probably more than a little high on the miraa bulging in her cheek. She looked very different from her voice, a rough, rousing roar of four in the morning in those dark little hovels by the roadside, the ones run by fat round women called Rhoda and Francisca who serve cheap lethal brews to broken men in oversized jackets. Now she spat suddenly into a polythene bag magically extracted from somewhere in the complicated folds of her clothes. And then she was unwrapping half of a Big G, chewing it, making rude, rhythmic clicks. She seemed to appreciate the sound more than the flavour. She stared at him the whole time, her large liquid eyes shining out of the khanga that covered her head and framed her face; the rest of it disappeared inside a fur-lined jacket, unzipped half-way down to reveal a T-shirt tucked tight into a pair of worn jeans. Limuru, he knew, got very cold. He wondered what she would do with her jacket in the heat of Kampala. But it was the boots with their steel-tipped points that convinced him this was a malaya, going west to seek new flesh markets. There was no money in Kenya. Everybody was leaving, and lying about it.
And you also talk. Youre a sleep-talker.
No, no, no. His left arm was dead. He shook it vigorously, felt the blood returning.