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The Man With Bullets in His Socks

It’s easy to make friends in Mombasa. Not so easy to lose them.

She wanted to be my girlfriend. I didn’t really understand why such an attractive Kenyan girl would be interested in me. I explained that I would be flying out of Mombasa the next day but she said that it didn’t matter. To be honest, I didn’t see a lot of future in it.

She wanted to come up from reception to my room but I was hot and thirsty and the hotel had had no water for days. You could smell the shared bathrooms from the end of the hall. As I hadn’t talked to anybody all day I invited her to the restaurant next door for a soft drink. The Indian owners had been friendly to me before but seemed cold and dismissive towards the Kenyan girl. They made me feel like I’d brought in a dirty animal from the street. She claimed to be a student but failed to elaborate. My questions were met with raised eyebrows and she seemed to be losing interest. Suddenly she remembered that she had something to do and offered to meet me outside the hotel later on.

I wandered off on my own again, pumping out sweat as I traipsed up and down the grimy Mombasan streets. It wasn’t long before I was approached again. They all seemed very friendly. As I had nothing else to do I accepted his offer to join him for a drink in a local cafe. He seemed to be genuinely curious and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Not long after we had sat down and ordered the drinks, his tone and manner changed abruptly. He revealed that he was an illegal immigrant and desperately needed money. I explained that as I was leaving tomorrow I had very little left. Still he persisted, growing increasingly aggressive. I didn’t want to take out my money in front of him so I put my hand into the pocket of my shorts and wriggled out a single note to pay for the drinks. When the waiter returned with the change I left it on the table as I didn’t want to open up my pocket with the money in it again. He decided to stay and have another coke with the money I had left behind as he was really thirsty.

The Kenyan girl hadn’t returned to meet me, as promised. I stood outside the hotel, propping up the doorway, hopefully looking out at passers by. A young lady whose stomach was bulging out of her tight, stretchy trousers, stopped to check me out. I told her that I was waiting for a girl but she suggested that I had her instead. I was going to explain that it wasn’t like that when I realized that it might have been. She suggested that I cut my long hair to my shoulders, like hers, and offered to do it for me. I preferred the other girl. Suddenly I remembered that I had something to do and returned to my room.

It wasn’t long before the sweltering heat and the stench of blocked toilets drove me back on the street. A man grabbed my arm, flashing his ID as he pulled me into an alley. I had been seen with a man who had just been arrested. They had found bullets in his socks. Eventually I was let go but warned that I might be brought in at the airport for questioning.

I lay in my sweat soaked sleeping sheet on the bumpy, stained mattress. The ceiling fan ground around, pushing fetid air from wall to wall. I woke early, after little sleep, and poured the remains of my mineral water over my armpits and between my legs. I could only afford to wash my potentially most smelly parts.

I tried to remain inconspicuous in the long queue to the airport but my small, grubby backpack stood out amongst the large, leather suitcases of the middle aged tourists on expensive safaris. One of the armed guards gazed over to me and whispered to a colleague. I tried not to catch his eye but he waved his gun at me and demanded to know if that was all of my luggage. When I nodded my ascent he pulled me out of the queue and guided me through to departures.

Tom Coote

Tom's original plan in life was to become an international rock megastar. Unfortunately, nobody understood his art. Now he's a travel writer. Check