ROBERT

I met him one Saturday morning when I’d decided enough was enough with my nails and I couldn’t hide them any longer, considering I’m very expressive with my hands when I speak and I need them to look good Every. Single. Time.Plus one must not let oneself go just because one is married or “hasn’t found time” because that’s the shit that makes one’s man or woman wander.

Anyway, that chilly morning, My Lover had taken one look at me and decided he needed to help me fix this situation, so he offered to pay for my nails and a massage (Jesus bless him!). Now My Lover is not your typical Kikuyu man: he doesn’t expect me to meet him a third of the way in and just be happy I have a good man, he reads my needs and goes iiiiiiiiiinnnnn! By that I mean he also offered to drop me off at the spa (not “beauty saloon”) and pick me up. And I am eternally grateful.

So I walk into my appointment at Wild Earth a few minutes late and about an hour later walk out of the massage therapy room after what I believe was the briskest massage in the history of massages ever, I meet Robert.

He’s tall and slim, with these very unpretentious baby locs. His jaw is well defined, he has this shy, polite smile that reminds of someone brought up to respect people and not hit them with the yap the minute introductions are done.

He gets me settled into my seat and proceeds to work his magic. I hadn’t looked at his hands before and even as I sneaked in glances in between reading the Cosmo, didn’t think anything of them…until he got down to work and good lord didn’t he work those fingers!

I didn’t see him again for about two months, during which I was cheating on him with a less than worthy nail tech (I am ashamed), before I decided to look for him again. The guys at Wild Earth were honest enough to admit that he’d moved, even sending me his number when I said I wanted him to do my nails again (bless them).

So next time I see him he’s working at Saffron Spa, a beautiful, serene place on Muthangari Drive – and my new favourite joint.

Now I’m not one of those people who feel the need to chapa stories while my hair or nails are being done. I’m usually nose-deep in a book or magazine because this is my special time and I’m paying for it and I have every intention of relaxing so you see, conversation really doesn’t fit into this equation.

Anyway, for some reason this time we start talking, and I don’t remember what I asked but he told me of his childhood in Central, and how he risked losing his relationship with his dad to follow his passion.

Now if you know African dads, having their sons study anything to do with beauty is not something they can deal with. They want their sons to be in medicine and engineering and law and all these other “strong” professions. I think there’s an innate fear of them finding out their sons want to be around females because they’re gay, never mind that there’s lots of gay men in “manly” professions.

So anyway, Robert studied to be a paramedic, had a decent job with Kenya Red Cross, but hated it all. He wanted to help people, but not in the “let me clean up your blood and stitch you up and save your life way.” He wanted to make people feel beautiful. So when he certificates were ready he picked them up, took them to his dad, said thank you for paying the fees but I’m going to pursue my dreams.

And he was promptly kicked out.

He’s saved up a little cash and moves into a tiny rented room those sides of Chaka, but it’s only enough to last two or three months and when those are up, he packs up his few belongings in a paper bag, and comes to Nairobi.

He’s never been to Nairobi before, and if you’re a first-timer Nairobi is a big, bad city. He’s dropped off somewhere near Ruiru, because he’s convinced it must be Nairobi and he doesn’t want to be pitishwad. He doesn’t know anyone, and spends his first few nights out on the street wearing all his clothes every night to avoid losing them. He figures nobody will try to rob him if he looks and acts a little crazy.

He’s fast running out of the little money he came to Nairobi with; he needs a plan. So he befriends an older lady who sellsnjugu karangaby the roadside, offers to help her sell her stock in return for a small commission. With that commission he’s able to move into a small room. And because the guy is smarter than most of these Nairobi kids (me included) he starts saving up. Before long he’s able to graduate to the mitumba business, then the jewelry from China business (which sees him spending a lot of time evading kanjo goons), and then enough to pay for beauty school at Ashleys.

Ashleys turns out to be the break he needs. The guys from Revlon notice him and sponsor him for a two-year course in SA.

All this time he’s keeping in touch with his younger brother, who updates the rest of the family once in a while. Everyone is proud of him except his dad, who’s still bitter about his eldest son choosing to study beauty, something he cannot bring himself to respect.

When graduation rolls around his uncle borrows a car and manages to convince his dad to accompany him and the rest of the family to celebrate their son, and by some stroke of luck the old man actually agrees.

The rest is history.

All I ask is that if you ever need your nails done by someone skilled, passionate, kind and hardworking, look for Robert. Tell him Shiro sent you.

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