Ready to head back to the Kenyan capital to begin the next leg of our trip, we arranged for a matatu to pick us up at Fisherman’s, swing by Crayfish to get our bags, and make the two hour drive back, stopping to pick up and drop off local passengers along the way. Once again excusing myself from the negotiation process, the girls settled on a price with the driver, and we squeezed our tired bodies into the makeshift bus, slumping into the seats utterly spent. Looking back, I can’t remember who, but someone pulled out the Kenya King (a cheap local liquor that tasted like some noxious combination of gin, vodka, and antiseptic) and began passing it around for shots. To chase the vile booze, Lee had picked up some unnaturally orange colored “juice” that may very well have made the mystery liquor even worse. As it turns out the day-glo juice was actually a juice concentrate and we were probably sipping enough of it to make an entire pitcher of Kenyan Kool-Aid with every shot. Needless to say, we tossed the overly potent mixer the first chance we got. Unfortunately, however, it wasn’t soon enough. As the matatu tossed and jostled us down the road at breakneck speed, Mladen’s face began to lose color. All too familiar with the combination of heat, booze, exhaustion, and matatu, I gave up my seat in the corner and let Mladen rest his head against the open window, fighting the urge to boot from the moving van.
Without paying the premium for a private ride, the matatu stopped often between the camp and town, letting people on and off, but also allowing those ubiquitous blow-pop and tiny sausage salesmen to peddle their goods. Stopped for even a moment and lacking a breeze, the heat of the fifteen bodies packed inside the van was stifling. Mladen lay curled up against the window pitifully attempting to shoo away the vendors as they approached. One after another, they came and just as the yogurt lady pushed her ninety-degree dairy product in our faces, Mladen lost it. If there is one thing we learned that day it is if you want to get a stopped matatu moving, puking neon orange out the window will surely get the job done.
After a much debated switch from one matatu to another, the details of which I will not bore you with, we piled into yet another crowded deathtrap. I sat next to Mladen for those two hours on the road back to Nairobi, offering my shoulder for his head and gently rubbing his back, returning the kindness he had offered me just a few days earlier. I knew that it was too close. I knew that holding him, even just in sickness, was too much, too familiar. I knew my feelings for him were too strong to hold him so near and not want for more. Slowly, subconsciously, I started rationalizing the proximity I wanted to have to him. Today I was simply returning a favor, and it’s not like I could ever stay that far away from him, we were on vacation together after all, and I wouldn’t want to ruin everyone else’s trip by creating tensions between us. I must say I have quite a talent for believing my own bullshit. I was still dead-set on keeping the promise I had made to myself, but the desire had already begun to build, and a part of me, a part I was desperately fighting, knew my resistance would be in vain.