Pretty Boys

I like boxing. It’s crude and primal. It’s blood, gore and aggression. And it’s down dirty. You use your knuckles to pound another man’s head until they submit to you. Until they hit the canvas and see their lights go off. Until the ref looks into their eyes and sees defeat and submission. It’s a man’s sport. And I like Floyd Mayweather, Jnr. I like him because he is a loud mouth, like Tyson, well, that is before he developed a taste for human ears. I like Floyd because although he toots his horn, he ends up pounding you. He puts his mouth where his fist is, or rather he puts his fist where your mouth is: 42 fights and 42 wins should mean something. The man is an animal. One problem though, Floyd calls himself “pretty boy”. Men shouldn’t get to that point where they think of themselves as pretty. Men aren’t pretty; kittens are pretty, women are pretty, flowers are pretty, so are puppies and small babies with pacifiers sticking out their mouths. To say you are a pretty boy is to liken yourself with something feminine, something breakable, something fragile. You know? Something that bruises easy. Men should be men, if you need a nickname it should be
something hard, something beastly or risqué, like Jango or, well, you know what I mean.
Something that doesn’t have pretty in it. But it’s a given that some men tend to wander towards that cliff, where they embrace that side of their feminity. Here is a story I only tell when I’m drunk. Er, sit pretty, this is weird. In 2009, Nov, I landed on Lamu airstrip for the Lamu Cultural Fest. I was there to do some travel stories. If you have been to Lamu, well you know that the plane lands on the mainland then you catch a dhow out to the island some 20 minutes away. During this time, the foot traffic to Lamu is tenfold; tourists, lovers, journalists, honeymooners, drifters, diplomats, voyagers and what not. They come for the cultural fest because the archipelago called. After we deplaned, we – in a large group – set off past the check-out (if you could call it that) and towards the jetty where we were to catch the dhows. I was alone. As I trudged towards the jetty, some guy walked up
alongside me and said, hallo. He introduced himself as Ali, he was Arab looking, bald shaven
and chatty as hell. “First time down?” he asked cheerfully. I said, no, second time. “First time?” I asked him. No, he said, seventh time. I whistled. We chatted, normal stuff you chat with someone you just met. He was a real nice chap, chatty, bubbly and very friendly. I thought we would get to the jetty and we would jump into different dhows and never see each other again. Instead as we near the jetty he asks, “Are you being picked up by your hotel?” I said that I wasn’t that important, I would catch a dhow. He then said he was being picked up by one of his friends, would I fancy a ride? I said, hell, yeah. His pal had a very sexy yellow speedboat, one of those posh jobs you see in movies shot in Florida. As we chopped through the water, he asked me casually what I was up to in the evening. I said, nothing much as yet. He then said, “Listen, let’s have dinner. There is a nice seafood restaurant at the waterfront; lets meet there at 8pm?” I said sawa. At 8pm sharp I was at the café, he wasn’t there. So I ordered and started working my red snapper. Here is where things start getting traction. When he rocks up, he seems surprised that I had started without him. I mean, what, I’m surprised he didn’t fuss that I didn’t stand up from my seat when he showed up at the table. I ignored it. We talk while we dhow. I’m seated facing the night traffic of guys walking by the waterfront, at some point I see a hot white woman with a great, well toned body ( a rarity) and I point at her with my chin and tell him, “Nice, eh?”. He turns, looks at her fleetingly turns back and continues the conversation like he just saw one of the many Lamu donkeys. I’m stumped. But then I console myself that maybe his taste is a bit loftier than mine. We finish dinner and decide to go have drinks at the only bar around – Petley’s. We sit upstairs where the wind breeze blows through. He doesn’t drink. I order my whiskey. Here is where the camel breaks its back. I notice that he is giving me too much attention. Thing is, when men drink, they tend to involuntarily look around and when a pretty woman passes, it’s always only respectful that you acknowledge her by looking at her. Mostly, someone will make a naughty comment, there will be chuckles and guys will go back to their drinks. This guy didn’t care for tail. He was totally oblivious of it. I thought that he was one of those deeply spiritual folk. But then he started looking at me in the eye. I mean he really started like trying to lock eyes with me and I remember starting to feel uncomfortable with this. See, there is a general rule; you don’t look into another man’s eye because there is nothing to see in there, it’s not a crystal ball.You don’t hold eye contact. To show rapt attention to what another guy is saying, you
look at the ridge of his nose. Never into their eyes, that’s reserved for women. This guy was looking into my eyes and he was making me shy damn it! Me, shy? Jesus, I was feeling shy or spooked! Something was wrong, and when he started laughing and holding my knee as he laughed, I knew definitely we had a problem. I mean, when you sit with a guy you don’t try to be funny. With a woman you can try and be purposefully funny because everybody wants to be the one who made the lady laugh. With guys, you talk and if someone says something funny you all laugh. Period. And nobody holds anybody’s anything. You might do a high-five, you might shake hands vigorously, but you don’t hold someone’s knees. It’s a no-knees policy. But if you really feel that the joke was just too tight and you need to hold something, you hold the armrest of your seat…or your drink, or your own knees. But you definitely don’t hold another man’s knees! But this guy kept holding my knees and at some point I became afraid to make any funny remarks. I tried to be as boring as I could, I wanted to finish my drink and get the hell out of there.
So I finished my drink and said I had to leave. He said it was still too early, I said I was tired, he said, fine, let’s go. I said, no, don’t leave on my account, you hang around, enjoy the evening, we’ll catch you next time. Then he said something that still makes my skin crawl to this
day, he said, “My hotel is not too far from here, maybe we should go there?” When he said
those words, I remember the noise in the bar quietening down, like that Richot advert, the one for inner peace. All noise fell away. I remember my tongue sticking to the bottom of my mouth and my skin feeling cold like that day a lizard fell from a wall in and slipped into my shirt. And lizards are cold creatures. I remember feeling confused and then angry. Angry at him and angry at myself. “What?!” I whispered horrified. He looked a bit taken aback. He shrugged and said, apologetically, “You know, I thought that…” then trailed off. What did he think, that I was called Jackie? That I wanted my thighs bloody stroked? I stood up and, without saying a word to him, walked out and through the narrow, labyrinth- like dark streets of Lamu to my hotel. I felt his hands on my knees and I remember wanting to chop it off (his hands, not my knees), and toss it in the sea. When I got to my room I sat on the bed and slowly went over the evening in my head. My head spun. I recalled paying my bill at the café, so that meant that I wasn’t looking at being taken care of. I remember buying my own drink that also meant strength… I think… no? How did I sit? Did I cross my legs like a chick? Was my posture not masculine enough, which is to say, did I sit back, legs apart and arms spread out? I wondered how I walked; did I sway like I had goddamn hips? I mean, I no ass to sway, and I don’t walk like a girl. The very thought that he might have checked out my ass made me green around the gills. I was in a fitting black tshirt and my pants weren’t tight, so my dressing was appropriate. My voice is not shrill, I have an Adam’s apple…ahem, if you look closely. I don’t say, “Whatever.” I don’t bat my eyelashes. I don’t use lip-gloss or colorless nail polish. I don’t wear skinny jeans. My cologne was masculine. There was nothing about me that tilted towards the feminine, nothing, yet this guy thought he could tap my ass? I was pissed off! Oh, I was bloody pissed off. And scared, a bit. I went to the bathroom and observed myself closely in the mirror, like I was seeing myself for the first time. I have beard. My skin is not smooth. I have one missing tooth damn it, that can’t turn on a man and if it does, I’m getting a fake tooth as soon as I go back to Nairobi, I thought. The man looking at me in the mirror was not feminine; you wouldn’t describe me as pretty, no matter how drunk or desperate you were. “You are a man, Biko. You might not be the man, but you are a man.” I told my reflection over and over (I was drunk) in a fake deep voice until it started feeling silly at me trying to convince myself that I was a man. Being hit on by another man makes you question your manhood. It makes you wonder what weak thing they saw in you that excited them. I remember not being able to sleep well that night. I wanted my mommy. I wanted someone – a woman – to tell me that I was all man. I would have paid to have a woman reassure me that I was real man, preferably while stroking my beard, not stroking my knee. The next morning I remember feeling a bit paranoid every time a guy looked at me. But mostly, I was afraid that everybody who had seen me with him thought that I was his
girlfriend. So I made sure, that I made tons of female friends and hanged out with them. All
the time. I avoided men. Lamu is a small place; you will run into the same person five times. I
was there for three nights and it was inevitable that I would run into Ali again. One morning I
saw him standing outside the museum, and I did something foolish; I ignored him, walked right
past him like he was a pillar. But then five meters away I realized that that was exactly
what a woman who you are vibing and doesn’t feel you would do. So I plucked all the courage
I will ever muster in my life and went back and told him calmly that I was as straight as a Zulu
spear. That I have always loved women. That I will always love women. That women are my
thing, not men. He nodded, apologetically, like a true gentleman…or lady, I dunno. That
conversation lasted less than a minute and then I turned around before he could say anything,
and I walked away. But I was very careful not to sway as I walked away

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