Any Matatu driver will drop you at Tassia road if you say you want to stop at Tassia. From the beginning, the road assaults your senses. No hero’s welcome for you. Your first attempts to walk in and you have to stand aside, as long-horned Maasai cows assume the right of way. These cattle carry a certain grace from the past, walking with the same languidness they would have if they were being herded across a savanna by a shuka-clad, ochre-painted warrior. There are the lorries too; and men pushing mikokoteni laden with bananas and potatoes. These men sweat profusely, making the strong veins on their hands and necks glisten.
It is not a road for those who want their peace, but it is a road for the curious. The road for those who want to see life. And it is all there. All the different faces of life; the middle-aged woman in a leso, selling tomatoes and onions in a stall, who tells those who come to buy from her that they need to turn their hearts and minds to Christ; the young girl who for sure has taken time to plait her hair and to do her face just right, and who walks daintily through the mud, determined to soil her clean jeans as little as possible; the drunken man lying on his urine, singing a song of his own special madness; the crowd watching video clips of child soldiers in West Africa from tiny Chinese television sets being sold by the roadside.
It is a determined road this one. It leads on forever, unstoppable. It rides over broken sewage tanks and murky, polluted rivers. It squeezes between the narrow spaces left by multi-storeyed flat apartments which stick so close; the assortment of clothes hanging from their balconies, turning them into medieval witches. There are people walking everywhere; coming out and going in; all kinds of faces; old and young; disturbed and peaceful; and also that one Imam walking with the stiffness of old age, gently rubbing his prayer beads in his hands.
It is the industry that is amazing; tiny kiosks bursting with all that anyone could need, packets of milk fighting for space with banana fibre-wrapped tobacco, all squeezing against the wire-meshed counters like prisoners desperate to breathe air outside a prison. The shop-keepers themselves are a mystery, invisible in the darkness of their kiosks. They give an almost imperceptible nod when you ask for what you want, followed by a quick flurry of hands in the darkness and a moment later your good appears. There is a brief showing of their bodies as money is exchanged but it is quickly over. Mystery seals them back into her shell, ready to unfurl them again when the next customer leans against the counter.
Someone is clean here; someone cares, for there are neat piles of rubbish collected along the road which are burning on a low fire. Papers and plastic bags disintegrate in the heat, leaving behind a Viceroy bottle and a Sportsman cigarette packet. Children are running everywhere. They sing along the rough, heavily synthesized gospel beats of an artist selling his music. His song is coming out in heavy tones from Kenwood speakers standing outside video shops.
Here you might also see the mad woman; that is if you are lucky. She is an enigma, a frightful human being who walks barefoot. She has a far-off gaze, as if staring at something cataclysmic only she can see. She never makes eye contact nor does she speak other than making deep, guttural groans when she sees food. You are advised to sit far from the window if you are eating in one of the open air food stalls. She is quick to grab food and run away. And, she never lets go of food she has in her hands. A customer ones lost 150 shillings-worth of chicken drumsticks. 150 shillings. Do you hear that?
But these change. They are never constant. On a lazy afternoon, the most reassured thing on Tassia road is the sun. It is just the right kind of warmth to the skin. A warm, luxurious bath. But if you stick too long, the tall medieval witch buildings will trap you in an icy shadow.